What We're Watching: Syria's Shame, South Africa's Land, and Kenya's Women on Wheels

What We're Watching: Syria's Shame, South Africa's Land, and Kenya's Women on Wheels

Syria's overlooked killings – In the past 10 days, Syria's military, backed by Russia, has killed more than 100 Syrian civilians, including 26 children, according to the UN. We've written before about Idlib province, which is supposed to be protected from attack by a 10-month old truce brokered by Russia and Turkey. That agreement spared the province's 2.7 million civilians an all-out government attack. But Bashar al-Assad's military has relied on strikes that kill smaller numbers over time to avoid international condemnation, and that strategy appears to be working. In three months, government attacks have forced 330,000 from their homes, and the story has gone largely unreported. For a look at what the Assad family shares in common with The Godfather's Corleones, check out the latest from Ian Bremmer here.

New promises, and fears, over South African land – Whites make up less than 10 percent of South Africa's population, but 25 years from the end of apartheid, they still own nearly three-quarters of the country's individually-owned farmland. President Cyril Ramaphosa faces pressure to address this disparity. He doesn't want to damage South Africa's economy by throwing property rights into question, but he faces intense criticism that he favors big business over small farmers. This week, a presidential panel proposed expropriation of land without compensation—but only for land that's rented out or held as investment property. For more on South Africa, click here.

Kenya's all-female biker gangs: Throttle Queens. Piki Dada. Inked Sisterhood. Heels of Steel. We're watching these all-female biker gangs cruising through Kenya, a socially conservative country, because the photos show that they're impossibly cool. They've taken their share of criticism but, says a member of Inked Sisterhood, if you're a woman who wants to join, "there is a community here waiting to learn with you, grow with you, ride with you."

What We're Ignoring:

A Greek smoking ban - Nine years, 10 months, and 27 days ago, Greek lawmakers voted to ban smoking in all public places. With the arrival of new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, it has been announced that the nearly decade-old ban will now be enforced inside the parliament building itself. Ashtrays have been removed from hallways. We can now ignore this story, because we're sure that lawmakers—to say nothing of patrons in bars, clubs, and restaurants—in the heaviest smoking country in the EU will now fully abide by the rules. Definitely.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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