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What We’re Watching: Japanese PM's health woes, ISIS in Mozambique, Eastern Med tensions rise

What We’re Watching: Japanese PM's health woes, ISIS in Mozambique, Eastern Med tensions rise

How sick is Shinzo Abe? On the day that he became the longest-serving prime minister in Japan's history, Shinzo Abe went to the hospital. His visit on Monday to the Keio University medical center was his second in little more than a week, and while Abe says it was just a follow-up to go over earlier tests, concerns about his health and political future are now swirling in Japan. Abe is known to have a chronic intestinal condition called ulcerative colitis — back in 2007 the disease flared up so badly that it forced him to quit after a year in office. He was elected again in 2012 and has stayed in power ever since. But recently, his aides say, Abe has become badly fatigued as the Japanese government struggles to manage the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The economy has just suffered its worst quarterly contraction on record, and Abe's approval ratings have been sinking for months. His term is set to end next October, but if the leader of the world's third largest economy can't make it that long, his deputy would take over as caretaker, setting off a furious succession struggle within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.


Mozambique vs ISIS: The Mozambican army is preparing a major assault to reclaim a strategic port in northern Cabo Delgado province taken over two weeks ago by fighters affiliated with the Islamic State, which for the first time is gaining a foothold in Southern Africa. The troops — assisted by foreign mercenaries from a South African private military contractor — aim to wrest control of the port away from the rebels, partly to keep international investment flowing to major offshore liquified natural gas projects that Mozambique desperately needs revenues from to prop up its weak economy. The wider story is whether ISIS will capitalize on its unexpected success in Cabo Delgado to target other countries in the region. The list would include South Africa, which the jihadists have already threatened to attack if Pretoria supports Mozambique's efforts to eject them from Cabo Delgado. Over 1,500 people have died so far in clashes between Mozambican troops and the rebels since the latter first tried to seize the port in 2017.

Cool it, Greeks and Turks: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Tuesday called on Greece and Turkey to de-escalate their dispute over offshore hydrocarbon rights in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, as both countries hold separate naval drills in the contested region off Cyprus. The latest episode in this saga started when Turkey over the weekend deployed a maritime research vessel in waters claimed by Athens. Since then, both sides have engaged in a back-and-forth of fiery rhetoric that has made many fear that these two historically bitter Mediterranean rivals — which have long quarreled over ethnically divided Cyprus and EU-bound refugees, and more recently turning Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a mosque — may now be on the brink of war. The Greeks have threatened to pursue EU sanctions against the Turks if Ankara refuses to halt its plans to explore for oil and gas in disputed waters, while Turkey insists the area is part of its own continental shelf. We are watching to see if Germany succeeds in the diplomatic effort to ease tensions, and whether France (another Mediterranean player) will weigh in, probably to support fellow EU members Cyprus and Greece.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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