30 Nov Important things you may have missed due to Covid and the US elections
Important things you may have missed due to Covid and the US elections
While the world is following the US Presidential election, bickering about Covid-19 lockdowns, regulation or loss and saffas focused on the state of our economy and clashes over farm murders, there are important things which have occurred (or are underway) abroad which you may have missed.
Rand Rescue takes a look at some of these things and why they are important to follow.
Worldwide: first recessions in decades
2020 has been a bizarre year, and though the pinch has been felt most strongly in healthcare and travel, the secondary knock-on effect has been perhaps most vivid and universal—the impact on economies.
Hundreds of countries have seen retracting economies and are either knee-deep into, or on the brink of recession.
Strangely though, the fact that the ‘recession’ is a global one makes it problematic to gauge the extent of the damage. In previous years we would, for instance, compare South Africa’s poor economic performance to the leading economies, and the message would be clear— we are faring poorly comparatively.
In 2020, however, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to draw accurate comparisons as the variables are simultaneously expanding in definition and quantum.
One may look to some of the poorest nations in the world today, and the impact of Covid-19 would most probably be far less devastating within their borders than the impact on our economic powerhouses. When a nation is riddled with poverty, reliant on rudimentary health services, adapted to living and operating on a small scale using simple systems, widespread company closures, job losses and impact on peripheral services and industries would be relatively low. But such nations also risk losing whatever long-term industrial and economic progress they’d made over years while simultaneously standing to lose the financial backing of foreign nations.
As the great nations band together both internally and as a team to save their ruling economies, they will undoubtedly have less time and money to hand out to other nations.
The other side of the coin
Conversely though, some nations and businesses have extended tremendous olive branches to others despite the pressures of 2020. South Africa was granted leniency for loans from the World Bank and other institutions and nations. Nations who had been tiffing for eons had called a temporary ceasefire and individuals have donated massive amounts of capital in worldwide aid and assistance.
Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been one of the greatest givers this year, donating billions through financial aid, PPC distribution, test kits, medical training, economic impact reduction and research. Ma, who has significant influence worldwide, has recently received backing from the Chinese government to offer priority Covid-19 vaccine access and distribution to Africa.
Though many people have been sceptical of this philanthropy given the widespread faux news and conspiracies floating around, it should be noted that the Covid-19 vaccine was not developed by China, nor do they have any patenting or distribution rights. Countries, medical institutions, celebrities, private businesses and philanthropists the world over have merely pooled financial, technological and research resources to develop a vaccine, and as with all things in life each party pushes their funding into medical research companies—which is a gamble at the best of times. Pfizer and BioNTech got the all-clear on 2 December 2020 to roll out the Moderna vaccine which was developed primarily due to funding by none other than Dolly Parton.
The famous US country music star voiced her surprise at her contribution being théCovid-19 breakthrough funding. And her words are an accurate reflection of reality—of philanthropists not being in control of medical research and development around the world, despite laymen and inflammatory news agencies confusing the public and using financial investment to motivate narratives of fear and paranoia worldwide.
Bill Gates and Jack Ma have, for instance, contributed far more to vaccine development financially, but the breakthrough just happened to occur at Moderna (Vanderbilt University), whose research was funded primarily by Dolly Parton. Both Gates and Ma have responded with congratulations, relief and enthusiasm; stating that they will use most of their remaining and future Covid-funding to make vaccines and treatments available to developing nations without cost or return.
This is a rather bold statement given that many governments and investors have interests in Pfizer and BioNTechwhich could see the vaccines being limited either by political and geographic borders, or due to economic bias. In essence, these big businessmen accused of widespread harm and self-interest have stated that they would foot the bill of buying vaccines or paying registration/usage costs levied by big pharmacological companies. They are proxy buyers for poorer nations and people who have the buying power and means to carry the costs.
It is also an important point to reflect on given the radical polarisation we’ve been fed by the media worldwide. The primary source of divisive media stating that the virus is a hoax, and that any vaccine would be questionable, has been the USA—its sitting president and radical right-wing groups being the main proponents of such messages. Yet the vaccine was developed within US borders, at a US university receiving funding from these selfsame groups, and the ‘opposing’ nations and businessmen have welcomed the breakthrough while indicating their intention to take the vaccine worldwide at no cost. Or, whatever cost there may be (the highest ‘co-payment’ indicated was $1 for private groups), cannot compare to the possible income these businesses can generate through normal business pursuits.
France calls for stricter border control
A wave of terror attacks in France over the past year has prompted French President Emmanual Macron to urge the EU to consider more robust border protection and restrictions.
Although Macron is not in the camp of Europe which is excessively nationalistic, his request for Europe to rethink the open-border Schengen area places European countries in a tight spot.
Given the complications of Brexit around the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, placing further restrictions on nations within the EU is likely to add fuel to a volatile mix of reactory agents. On the other hand, France’s concerns are justified—attacks have all been committed by perpetrators from other world regions. Then again, the push for border control may just spark a new wave of xenophobia. Following Syrian conflict, a massive influx of refugees had dispersed throughout Europe, and many countries had imposed their own border controls to prevent illegal immigrants from entering.
It remains to be seen how Europe will deal with this issue.
Denmark: Coronavirus mutation leads to mass mink culling
Following a revelation that a coronavirus mutation was detected at mink farms had spread to people, Denmark decided to cull all mink in the country. As the biggest supplier of mink fur to the world, this is a huge economic blow for the country. It has also placed a spotlight on the country from an animal rights perspective.
Though animal rights groups have certainly bumped heads with farmers of all kinds worldwide, the situation in Denmark has fuelled their stance that animals should not be farmed for their skins, fur or any other part. And since up to 17 million minks will need to be culled, this means 17 million new minks will be bred at lightning speed to make up for the shortfall.
Poland seeks to outlaw abortion
The abortion debate has been a controversial one over the ages and one which has also seen much heated debate worldwide.
Turn this heat up by a few hundred degrees, and you get an idea of what has, and is happening in Poland at the moment.
The Polish government has already outlawed most abortion, but the country had thus far made allowances for extenuating circumstances – such as pregnancy due to rape or incest, foetal malformation or disabilities and if the mother’s health is at risk.
Earlier this year, chief justice Julia Przyłębska ruled that the existing legislation which allows abortion of malformed foetuses (98% of abortions in Poland) was incompatible with the constitution. The country has been swept up in a flurry of dissent following the ruling, which has prompted the Polish government to hold off on repealing the previous legislation.
Human rights groups state that this would be a devastating restriction which would merely push women to seek out illegal and dangerous abortions elsewhere.
The ruling has even come under fire from certain pro-life groups who state that although they believe in the sanctity of life, it would be irrational to force women to carry foetuses to term which will not survive, or will only survive with extensive lifelong care. The pending legislation will place a tremendous emotional and financial burden on parents’ shoulders.
Germany: court okays longest submerged railroad between Germany and Denmark
In more upbeat news, Germany has okayed construction of the Fehmarnbelt Tunnel (Fehmarnbelt Fixed Link) between Germany and Denmark.
The tunnel will be the longest immersed tunnel in the world at 18 kilometres, and descend up to 40 metres beneath the Baltic sea. Completion of the tunnel has been earmarked for 2029, and will cost an estimated R130 billion. It will comprise double-laned motorways, service passageways and two electrified rail tracks.
The Fehmarnbelt Tunnel will cut travel between Germany and Denmark to a mere 7 minutes. This will make travel for business or pleasure far easier and more practical than other traditional routes.
Belarus kick-starts powerplant funded by Russia
On 3 November 2020, Belarus connected the first reactor of its first nuclear power plant to the grid. The plant is known as Astravets and is being built and financed by Russia’s state-owned nuclear company Rosatom.
The construction has come under persistent fire from Lithuania which expressed concerns about safety and Russia’s primary oversight and investment in a foreign nuclear project. Such is the country’s dissent, that they have banned imports of electricity from Belarus from the date that the reactor went live.
Belarus’s president Alexander Lukashenko stated that the project makes sense as it would carry one third of the country’s electricity requirements and is ‘greener’ than other types of electricity generation.
It is not clear whether Lukashenko’s views are mirrored by his citizens given the widespread protests following his re-election on 9 August. Many Lithuanians believe that he is retaining power through rigged elections. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.
Western Sahara: tensions mounting
Also dubbed the Guerguerat crisis, the 2020 Western Saharan clashes are an escalation of age-old unresolved conflict in the region.
The Western Sahara is a geographic region which is split between different political factions. On the one hand we have the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) which controls 75 – 80% of the region, while Morocco controls 20 – 25% of the region.
The SADR is supported by the Polisario Front, which is a multinational politico-military organisation which has strived to end Moroccan control of the Western Sahara in northwestern Africa since 1973. The Polisario Front is mainly comprised of indigenous inhabitants of the Western Sahara (the Sahrawis). When Spain ceded control to Morocco and Mauritania (1976) and partitioned the Western Sahara accordingly, the Front relocated their base to Algeria.
After Mauritania reached peace agreements with the Front in 1979, Morocco annexed Mauritania’s portion of the Western Sahara. Though the UN had been involved in peace talks between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government from the early 90s, a peace agreement was not forthcoming. The UN facilitated talks in 2007 and 2008, and once more in 2018, but little headway was made.
In November 2020, the Polisario Front began obstructing a key trade route between Morocco and Mauritania, prompting Morocco to launch a military insurgency to dismantle the blockade. The Polisario Front responded in kind, but stating that they would no longer abide by the 1991 peace plan.
To add to the tension, the Sahara desert has been expanding dramatically in recent years due to climate change. Since 1990 the region has expanded by 6 000 square kilometres, which adds to the political tensions as different factions have to extend their reach geographically as well.
Brazil: Flavio Bolsonaro charged with financial crime
President Jair Bolsonaro has been a contentious figure in Brazilian politics, and with the lowest approval rating of any president in Brazil’s history, his divergent and divisive decisions and statements have rocked the country to its core.
Much like Trump, Bolsonaro’s primary focus has always been industrial growth – whether this be at the expense of the environment, human health, indigenous rights or simply due to personal preference.
Though Brazil’s leader has been relatively untouched despite controversial moves, the same cannot be said for his son, Brazilian senator Flávio Bolsonaro. Following accusations of numerous crimes in October 2019, Flávio responded with a sequence of denials we know all too well – that it was fabrications, lies based on badly engineered tales and fake news.
Flávio was formally charged with grafting and money laundering as part of an investigation into theft of public funds. The investigation extends to Jair Bolsonaro, though it is not yet clear what the outcome will be for the president and his family.
Mozambique: northern insurgence displaces hundreds of thousands
If you ask foreigners, they would probably not be able to point to Mozambique on a map, so the relatively silent Islamic insurgency which has been growing over the last few years would probably not make it into their casual conversations.
In fact, many South Africans only became aware of the brewing trouble as the violence perpetrated in Mozambique made it onto mainstream news in 2020. The alert was sound as an army of +/- 1 000 members of Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama (ASWJ) assailed Mocimboa da Praia, the strategically and commercially pivotal port in Cabo Delgado, roughly 70 kilometres from the Tanzanian border.
Though ASWJ – a local Islamic group – has been active in the region for a few years, their allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2018 has seen an influx of foreign fighters familiar with similar insurgencies in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. ISIL claimed their first attack against Mozambican security forces in June 2019, and the combined groups have displaced more than 300 000 Mozambicans fleeing for their lives while actively beheading any parties who oppose them. The attacks which initially saw individuals in ASWJ attack rural villages at random had been systematically bolstered to strategic and complex dual-front attacks on district capitals and islands off the coast of Mozambique. This systematic assault on numerous locations had culminated in the occupation of Mocimboa da Praia – the takeover, of course, preceded by maritime occupation before the fact. Claiming the port will of course have been rather futile had the northern border as well as northern coastline not been secured in advance.
The group’s strength is further strengthened by fighters from Tanzania, Somalia and Kenya who follow the extremist notions of radical Kenyan cleric Aboud Rogo. Rogo’s followers settled in Tanzania following his death in 2012 but moved further south over the years – breaching the border between Tanzania and Mozambique in 2015.
SWJ and ISIL are radically anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-capitalist, anti-equality and pro-Islamic to the extent that they have been actively barring access to educational institutions, businesses and hospitals not overseen by Islamic leaders.
On the opposing corner are the Mozambican Armed Forces (FADM), Mozambican Police (UIR), Wagner Group mercenaries, Dyck Advisory Group mercenaries, Zimbabwean military mercenary contractors and the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) Special Forces. These groups outnumber ASWJ by thousands, but unlike ASWJ, the respective forces don’t have a finite focus – they serve various causes locally and abroad – nor do they have a central leadership and definitive strategic oversight.
It’s highly concerning for South Africans given this insurgence is rapidly growing in force, moving south, moving over sea and land, and have no political allegiance of honour. Given SANDF is already involved, South Africa is already invested in the warfare and will have to . It seems likely that South Africa will have to amp up our counter-offence alongside our Southern African neighbours to ensure the safety and livelihoods of all people in Southern Africa.
Unlike Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, of course, the powerhouses of the world have little concern for happenings on the Southern tip of Africa. Support from abroad would be hard to motivate, and if motivated may also come at a high cost for Southern Africa. Countries willing to interfere in foreign conflict are not really known for their tact (or willingness to leave regions they occupy). We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, but there’s every indication that matters are accelerating.
Qatar: world cup stadium deaths under scrutiny
There has been a lot of controversy around Qatar’s World Cup Stadium construction, as the construction has seen an unprecedented number of worker deaths.
Though the official figure stands at 34, the International Trade Union Federation (ITUC) places this figure at 1 200+. So where does this disparity come from?
The ITUC holds that much of the construction relating to the World Cup is not focused on the stadium itself, but on other infrastructure projects such as roads, hotels, malls and other related projects. Much of the work is also performed by migrant construction workers. The ITUC has come under fire for including nearly all migrant worker deaths (in construction) and it has also been criticised for not taking into account that many of these workers will have died in their own countries anyway.
The ITUC responded to this criticism stating that although some workers may have died in their home countries, the mortality rate in Qatar is far lower, and general health, safety and wellbeing far higher—which means that these migrant workers should already have had a better quality of life and lower mortality rate in Qatar than their home countries. It also stated that although risk in construction work is generally higher than other trades, the migrant workers approved for working on any World Cup projects have had to undergo rigorous health checks and are all generally young and fit—they present a far lower risk than many workers involved in other construction projects.
The Qatari government is none too pleased with the criticism meted out to them, which is understandable. But even if they were to cite the official figure to date a 34 and limit this to stadium construction alone, it’s still a rather large number compared to similar projects elsewhere. In South Africa, construction for the World Cup in 2010 claimed 2 lives in total, 1 worker for the London Olympics, 1 for the Vancouver Olympics, 10 for the Brazilian World Cup, 17 for the Sochi Olympics and 6 for the Beijing Olympics.
India signs defensive agreement following Himalayan standoff.
Following Chinese military activity in the Himalayan region, India reaffirmed their defense relationship with the USA.
Trump’s disdain for China is not exactly a secret, so the US’ willingness to jump onboard to defend India against a possible Chinese threat was not exactly surprising. Despite the two nations banding together against China, it’s not clear how the president elect will handle such treaties made by the sitting president.
The conflict between China and India relates to an ill-defined 3 440 kilometre border in the Kashmir region. As the border is defined by geographic and natural landmarks, the movement of rivers, lakes, snowcaps and other natural markers presents a problem as the border is prone to shift and often sees military from opposing countries moving into territory claimed by either of the countries.
Although the conflict has been ongoing for decades, 2020 marks the first year since 1975 that the skirmishes led to fatalities. We’ll have to wait and see how the Biden presidency will approach these two nations and their border disputes.
See you soon!
Check in again for our next blog, where we’ll be covering some of the more upbeat advancements and happenings of 2020 which you may have missed.
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