Week of January 30th
Chilean wildfires from January, 2017.
President Barrow Arrives in The Gambia
Just weeks ago, former President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia seemed poised to fight for his lost seat as their nation’s head of state. With Senegalese military intervention inevitable, he reluctantly sought asylum in Equatorial Guinea to make room for incoming President Adama Barrow. On Thursday, President Barrow arrived to crowds of Gambians excited to see their new, democratically elected leader take office. His election marked a stark transition from a 22-year authoritarian reign to a truly democratic presidency. However, amidst joyous celebrations of democracy, several tests await the incoming President. He must reconcile ethnic tensions between the majority tribe of which he is a member, the Mandinka people, and the minority Jola people of which former President Jammeh identified. He will also face the enormous task of rebuilding trust between Gambians and their government leaders, after Jammeh left a legacy of human rights abuses and oppressive rule. Barrow has stated publicly that he will not prosecute Jammeh for these abuses, and the former President will enjoy the benefits of immunity granted by Gambian law.
AFCON Reaches Semi-Final Stage
Over the weekend the quarterfinal matches of the African Cup of Nations were played. On Saturday, Burkina Faso defeated Tunisia 2-0 while Sadio Mane’s Senegal squad lost to Cameroon 5-4 on penalties following 120 scoreless minutes. Egypt and Ghana, the 2 remaining regional giants, both won on Sunday. Ghana beat the DR Congo 2-1 behind goals from brothers Jordan and Andre Ayew. Meanwhile, seven-time champions Egypt moved one step closer to extending their record for most AFCON titles with a late victory over Morocco. Each of the remaining teams have done so with their own The first semifinal will take place on Wednesday and will see Burkina Faso take on Egypt in a matchup that pits the best defence in the tournament against one of the more potent offenses. Egypt is the only team yet to concede a goal in tournament play, while Burkina Faso is the only remaining team to have scored in every game it has played. In the other semifinal Ghana will hope that their star attacker, Andre Ayew will be able to lead them to victory over Cameroon on Thursday. The final will be played at the Stade de l’Amité in Libreville on Sunday, February 5th.
Chile Hit by Deadly Forest Fire
Recent hot, dry weather in the Chilean heartland has created conditions for wildfires to ravage homes and countryside throughout southern and central Chile. President Michelle Machelet has called the fires “the greatest fire disaster in our history.” In the Maule region, the town of Santa Olga was reduced to ash and rubble. The devastation was shocking, even in an area prone to earthquakes (there was a 8.3 earthquake in September 2015, and floods). The mayor of the city called the fire “literally like Dante’s Inferno,” and resources and firefighters are stretched thin across the countryside, leaving many residents furious at the national government and local officials. Fires are also aided in their spread by dry pine and eucalyptus trees, which are non-native and grown in factory farms. This may call the tree industry into question in the aftermath of the destruction. The weather in the coming days will be ideal for more fires-- high winds, dry temperatures and low humidity.
China Sees Opportunity in Trump Era
Amid the chaos of Donald J. Trump's first few weeks in office, Chinese officials see an opportunity to be the new champion of globalization. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, President Xi Jinping encouraged business leaders to invest in China, and spoke of the benefits of a connected world. The contrast with President Trump's isolationist priorities could not be starker. China's drive to become the world's leading, global superpower is not without its challenges, however. Many officials in China's powerful Communist Party are skeptical of globalization efforts. It remains to be seen if Xi Jinping can convince them to fall in line.
Love It or Leave It in the Netherlands
Like so many of their neighbors, the Netherlands are currently facing a tumultuous election season complete with the party politics so indicative of recent election cycles. Incumbent PM Mark Rutte, exasperated by what he sees as the deterioration of his homeland’s values, has taken steps to regain his lead in the polls against his rival Geert Wilders. In an advertisement run in many Dutch newspapers and his party’s website, Rutte issued a shocking ultimatum: “Act normal, or go away.” This mandate resembles in some ways the position of Wilders’ far-right party, focusing on harassment and violence instigated by immigrants that undermines Dutch traditions. As pointed out by political scientist Cas Mudde, Rutte’s message carries noticeably nativist tones in an effort to appeal to Dutch citizens calling for stricter immigration and refugee policies. Rutte did note, in the advertisement, that blaming entire people group for one individual’s actions is not the solution, subtly hinting at highly controversial remarks made previously by Wilders. Stay tuned as this ever controversial election season moves forward.
Middle Eastern Countries Respond to Trump’s Immigration Restrictions
On Friday, January 27th, U.S. President Trump issued an executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” effectively banning the entry of non-U.S. citizens from 7 Middle Eastern countries, among them Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. The executive order left dozens of visa holders detained at U.S. airports, generating confusion by immigration authorities both in the United States and abroad. Iran responded almost immediately, reciprocating with its own ban on entrants from the United States. The blanket ban on both refugees and immigrants drew sharp criticism from the affected nations, but the grander consequences of President Trump’s policy remains to be seen. Reports indicate that Iraq’s parliament is considering a reflexive ban on American citizens from entering the country, leading to concerns that it may complicate the fight against ISIS. As President Trump’s policy enters its first week of implementation, the reaction in the Middle East and beyond will be important to watch.
ALI N. HABHAB