What We’re Watching: Zuma in court, Ebola in the big city, and Italian neo-nazis

What We’re Watching: Zuma in court, Ebola in the big city, and Italian neo-nazis

Jacob Zuma on the witness stand — The 77-year-old former president of South Africa will be in court in Durban throughout the week to answer questions from a judge investigating endemic corruption, influence-peddling, and "state capture" by business interests during his tumultuous nine-year tenure. Zuma has denied any wrongdoing and says he's the victim of a "conspiracy." We're watching to see whether the ex-president uses his time on the stand to undermine his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been struggling to unite the ruling African National Congress since guiding the party to an election victory in May.

Ebola in the city — The second-worst outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever has reached a dangerous new milestone: On Sunday, the Democratic Republic of Congo's health ministry confirmed the first case of the disease in Goma, a city of 1 million inhabitants on the border with Rwanda that serves as a hub for people traveling throughout central Africa. While local authorities say the situation is under control, the presence of Ebola in a big city increases the risk that the disease could spread further. Nearly 2,500 people have been infected and more than 1,600 people have died in the current outbreak.

Heavily armed Italian neo-Nazis Italian police who launched a series of raids on a neo-Nazi group in the northern city of Turin on Monday seized a substantial arsenal of illicit weapons, including a French-made air-to-air missile that once belonged to the Qatari military. The raids were tied to a broader investigation into Italians who had fought alongside Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. We are watching this as a grim illustration of the reach and (fire)power of transnational crime groups and non-state actors of all stripes.

What We're Ignoring

Saudi Arabia's allure for dissidents Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is making a fresh push to convince opponents of the Saudi regime to come home. One exile anonymously quoted by the Financial Times said a go-between had promised "there would be no harm or jail time" if they decided to return to the country and stop criticizing the government's human rights violations and lack of accountability. Nine months after dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered (as part of a plot in which the crown prince was allegedly involved), we doubt many of the young monarch's critics are buying it — and neither are we.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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