What We're Watching: Johnson's political mess, carnage in Kabul, Algerian plot twist

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a hand to his chin looking concerned

Boris Johnson's hot mess: Analysts across the British political spectrum seem to agree on one word to describe UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's pandemic response: chaotic. After recently saying there would not be another nationwide lockdown in England, Johnson reversed course on Saturday after the UK recorded over 1 million COVID-19 cases and neared 47,000 deaths. (Around 1 in 100 people in England were infected with COVID-19 in the week between 17 and 23 October, according to the UK's Office for National Statistics.) Public health experts say that these new measures come too late, having recommended weeks ago that the government introduce new nationwide restrictions to tackle the country's soaring caseload and surging rate of hospital admissions. While offering support for the lockdown, Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer accused the Johnson government of gross incompetence due to its inconsistent messaging. Johnson has also faced opposition from inside his own Conservative party, with some MPs saying that another lockdown will be ruinous for England's economy. (A leaked memo Friday caused Johnson to make an ad-hoc announcement about the planned lockdown, blindsiding some members of his own party.) Meanwhile, pro-Brexit warrior Nigel Farage is also capitalizing on the chaos and outrage, saying he will change his Brexit Party's name to Reform UK, switching focus to fight the government's COVID lockdown: "Building immunity" would be a more effective strategy, Farage said.


Carnage in Kabul: At least 19 people were killed — mostly students — and scores more injured when gunmen and a possible suicide bomber stormed the biggest university in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday, leading to an hours-long standoff with Afghan security forces. The deadly rampage coincided with an Iranian book fair on campus, which was set to be attended by Iranian publishers and dignitaries. The Taliban, long locked in a battle against the US-backed Afghan government, says it was not involved in the gruesome attack. Attention is now on Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan who claimed responsibility for a similar attack on an education center in Kabul last month that killed 24 people. (ISIS-linked groups gained a foothold in Afghanistan in 2014, and have targeted Afghanistan's minority Shiite community in particular.) This latest bout of violence comes as representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban are trying to iron out a peace deal in Qatar, while the US is looking to bring its troops home from Afghanistan soon after nearly two decades in the country.

Another political plot twist in Algeria: For more than 18 months, the gas-rich Mediterranean nation of Algeria has been gripped by political drama. Last year mass protests led by students succeeded in toppling long-ruling dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika. But his successor hasn't pleased the streets, and protesters say the same corrupt cabal of military men still run the country. Over the weekend, the government held a referendum on a new constitution that it hoped would meet protesters' demands for more government accountability and economic security. But while those who voted overwhelmingly approved it, total turnout in the country of 44 million people was just 24 percent, raising big questions about the popular legitimacy of the document. One big reason for the weak showing at the polls was a boycott by the "Hirak" (the leaderless protest movement) which says that although the new constitution includes more guarantees of social and economic rights, it was drafted without sufficient input from civil society and still reserves too much power for the president. It's not clear what happens next — but if the government thought the referendum would draw a line after more than a year of unrest, it may be in for a rude surprise in the coming weeks.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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10: Joshua Wong was sentenced along with other Hong Kong democracy activists to 10 months in prison for participating in a vigil last year marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Wong is currently behind bars for participating in separate pro-democracy protests, and will only start this new sentence after that term concludes in November.

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What's the biggest foreign policy misconception that Americans have about the US's role in the world? According to international relations expert Tom Nichols, too few Americans believe that the US, in fact, has a critical role in the world, and that the things Americans enjoy, from cheap goods to safe streets, are made possible because of American global leadership. "Americans have become so spoiled and inured to the idea that the world is a dangerous place that they don't understand that the seas are navigable because someone makes them that way. They don't understand that peace between the great powers is not simply like the weather, that just happens," Nichols tells Ian Bremmer. Their conversation is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television – check local listings.

Watch the episode: Make politics "boring" again: Joe Biden's first 100 Days

The cover story of The Economist declares that Taiwan is "The most dangerous place on Earth," because China might finally be ready to plan an invasion of the island. But are the consequences of such a move worth the many risks to China and its President Xi Jinping? Ian Bremmer breaks out the Red Pen to to explain why a US-China war over Taiwan is unlikely.

We are taking our red pen to a recent article from The Economist. The Economist, you ask, how could I? I love The Economist, I know, I know. But you'd lose respect if I give this piece a pass. In fact, it was the magazine's cover story this week, so I had no choice. The image and headline say it all. Here it is, Taiwan is now "the most dangerous place on earth" as US/China relations continue to sour in the opening months of President Biden's administration.

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Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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Would China really invade Taiwan?

The Red Pen

India’s COVID crisis hits home

GZERO World Clips
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal