What We’re Watching: Mali’s “imam of the people,” Chinese fishermen busted, Bulgarian PM clings to power

What We’re Watching: Mali’s “imam of the people,” Chinese fishermen busted, Bulgarian PM clings to power

We need to do something about... Mali: The leaders of 5 West African countries are in Mali, negotiating a solution to the country's worsening political crisis. It's quite an impressive show of regional mediation force, but will it be enough to force President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to step down? For weeks, thousands of protestors have been saying they are fed up with rampant corruption, election fraud, a military incapable of stopping rising jihadist attacks. The key player in this crisis is Mahmoud Dicko, an immensely popular Muslim cleric who still supports the president — although his followers don't. Dicko says, for now, he would rather Keita stay in power and address the people's grievances. But outside parties like the UN and the powerful Economic Community of West African States are worried that continued unrest in Mali could further destabilize a region where jihadis are gaining a foothold, and they want Dicko to take over and restore stability fast.


China's illegal fishing armada exposed: A "dark fleet" of almost a thousand Chinese fishing boats has been operating illegally in North Korean waters since at least 2017, together catching over $440 million in squid alone, according to satellite data in a new study. If they paid for legit licenses to fish from North Korea, that would be a violation of a UN embargo on most activities that would allow North Koreans to earn foreign currency. Japan and South Korea also have some beef with China here, as the previously unidentified vessels could explain why squid stocks in their own nearby territorial waters have declined over 80 percent since 2003. And to make matters worse, China's "dark fleet" is now also being blamed for chasing away hundreds of North Korean fishing vessels boats that later washed up as "ghost ships" on the coast of Japan, likely after they became stranded and the crews jumped overboard after running out of scarce fuel, facing inclement weather or having engine trouble.

A Turkish kingmaker in Bulgarian politics: After surviving a no-confidence vote in parliament, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has reshuffled his cabinet in hopes of putting an end to the worst anti-government protests the country has seen in almost a decade. Young Bulgarians have recently hit the streets to demand that Borissov step down over graft scandals, including the allegation that he gave Ahmed Dogan, a businessman and political ally, private control of a public beach on the Black Sea. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that Dogan's Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a party that represents ethnic Turks in Bulgaria, is an essential part of the prime minister's coalition. The opposition has pooh-poohed Borissov's new cabinet, arguing that the changes are cosmetic and that the prime minister himself must face the music over Dogan's preferential treatment. Thirteen years after joining the EU, Bulgaria remains the bloc's poorest and most corrupt member state — is there an opportunity to change that now?

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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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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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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