What We're Watching: Tunisian referendum, Lavrov on African tour

What We're Watching: Tunisian referendum, Lavrov on African tour

Protesters rally agains the constitutional referendum in Tunis.

Mahjoub Yassine/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

Tunisia holds constitutional referendum

Tunisians go to the polls Monday to vote in a referendum over the new constitution pushed by President Kais Saied. The vote is scheduled on the first anniversary of Saied sacking the government and suspending parliament in the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring. At the time, he justified the move as necessary to prevent a bigger crisis, but his opponents called it a coup; since then, Saied has consolidated power by taking it away from any institution or group that challenged him, including judges and trade unions. The president's growing dictator vibes have upset many Tunisians who initially supported him, but he still has fans among younger people tired of corruption and dysfunctional parliamentary politics. Most opposition groups have boycotted the plebiscite, so the "yes" vote is likely to win (albeit with a low turnout). If the new charter is approved, Saied promises to hold legislative elections within six months. But they'll be less decisive under the revised constitution, which vastly expands presidential power at the expense of parliament and the judiciary.


Russia reassures African friends

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in Africa this week with a double mission: shore up Moscow's ties across the continent and fight criticism that the invasion of Ukraine has triggered a global food crisis that's hitting Africa hard. Lavrov touched down Sunday in Egypt and will later go to Ethiopia, Uganda, and the Republic of Congo. Egypt is the largest global importer of Russian and Ukrainian wheat, while some 40% of Africa’s wheat comes from both countries. For the most part, African countries haven’t taken sides in the war, but Russia’s blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea has made it impossible for Ukraine to export wheat by sea to Africa and the Middle East. In recent years, the Kremlin has sought to expand its African footprint by courting nations across the continent with weapons, energy, and commodities deals (along with Russian mercenaries to back some of the regimes it supports). But many African countries are wary, especially as Russia's weekend airstrikes in Odesa threatened a long-sought deal to resume Ukrainian wheat exports signed on Friday. No worries, says Lavrov, who insists Russia will deliver on guaranteeing grain shipments to its African clients.
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