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What We're Watching & What We 're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

Joseph Kabila's Intentions – The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) says he will leave office after elections on 23 December. Kabila has been in power since 2001, when he took over after his father's murder. He was supposed to step down in 2016 but has repeatedly postponed holding a presidential election.


The upcoming vote pits Kabila's former interior minister, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is currently under EU sanctions for human rights abuses, against opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi and businessman Martin Faulu Madidi. The sprawling resource-rich country has not had a peaceful transition of power since winning independence from Belgium in 1960. Mr. Kabila has left open the possibility of returning to power in 2023, which the constitution permits.

Shops that sell construction clothing in Cairo – As the seventh anniversary of the Tahrir Square revolution approaches, the Egyptian government has quietly cracked down on the sale of reflective yellow vests. Why? The authorities are worried about the potential for copycat protests inspired by the "gilets jaunes" movement in France. It's been decades since people thought of Cairo's belle epoque downtown district as "Paris Along the Nile" – and after the recent surge of violent protests in the French capital, Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sissi would just as soon keep it that way.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

Russian bombers in Venezuela – On Monday, a pair of Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed at an airbase outside of Caracas. The US, which just last week made a rare reconnaissance flight over Ukraine in a direct dig at Russia, won't like the display of force on its proverbial doorstep in the Caribbean. This looks like a simple tit-for-tat by Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed at shoring up a struggling ally. Maduro walked away from a trip to Moscow last week claiming to have secured $6 billion of financial assistance for Venezuela's struggling economy and 600,000 tons of food aid. Whether those promises materialize is a much more important issue for Venezuela than a temporary flyby.

British MPs behaving badly – A Labour MP was kicked out of the UK's House of Commons on Monday after he grabbed the ceremonial mace symbolizing the royal authority required for Parliament to meet and pass laws during a heated debate over Brexit. We're ignoring this for two reasons: first, it's been done before. Second, because the MP in question handed it back without a real fight. If you're going to make a spectacle of yourself by stealing a 400-year-old ceremonial club, you should at least give it a symbolic swing or two to make things interesting.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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