What We're Watching: "Apocalyptic" unrest in Senegal, Biden's Afghanistan plan, post-COVID tourism

Supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was indicted and released on bail under judicial supervision, attend a demonstration in front of the court in Dakar, Senegal March 8, 2021

"Apocalyptic" protests in Senegal: At least five people have been killed in clashes with police as protests over poverty, unemployment, and the jailing of a popular politician rock the West African nation of Senegal. Ousmane Sonko, who heads the opposition Movement to Defend Democracy (M2D) and is considered the most viable challenger to current president Mackie Sall, was accused of rape in February and arrested last week. Sonko says the charges are a politically motivated attempt to remove him from politics before the 2024 presidential election. His supporters immediately hit the streets, voicing a range of grievances including joblessness and poverty. Though youth unemployment has fallen over the past decade, it still exceeds eight percent and close to two-thirds of the country's 16 million people are under the age of 25. As Sonko supporters pledge to continue protests this week, Senegal's head of conflict resolution says the country is "on the verge of apocalypse."


Biden's Afghanistan roadmap: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wants to speed up peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, according to a new memo. In a letter addressed to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Blinken proposed a peace summit in Turkey to finalize details of a plan under which new elections would follow the installation of a transitional government. The missive comes just weeks after intra-Afghan peace talks resumed in Qatar after a hiatus. The Biden administration is still playing coy on whether it plans to honor a Trump administration commitment to withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by May 1. Blinken has not ruled out a full troop drawdown by that date (2,500 US troops are still in the country nearly 20 years after the US first invaded), but skeptics warn that a hasty withdrawal before all details have been ironed out — including protections for women and minority groups — could lay the groundwork for a violent Taliban takeover.

Tourism post COVID: The pandemic has clobbered the global tourism industry, inflicting a crippling blow on many economies that rely heavily on outside visitors to stay afloat. But as tourist hotspots look ahead to life after all the testing and social distancing requirements of COVID, some overcrowded destinations are starting to think about ways that post-pandemic tourism can be more sustainable, less disruptive to everyday life, and healthier for the whole economy. Part of that, as the US island paradise of Hawaii has found, is about better-controlling the flow of tourists to specific destinations, but it's also about crafting a tourism strategy that is as responsive to the needs of locals as it is to the needs of visitors (about two-thirds of Hawaiians now say they don't want tourists to return, according to a recent poll). As economies around the world look to bounce back after the worst year in decades, tourist destinations will have hard decisions to make.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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