Tag Archives: Jacob Zuma

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been an interesting week in the news. While the domestic political scene has been dominated by President Barack Obama’s comments regarding the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, the real issues of health care reform and reforming the U.S. financial regulatory system appear to have fallen by the wayside, at least temporarily.

In news from outside the United States in the last week:

1. George Mitchell, President Barak Obama’s special Middle East envoy, met with Syrian officials on Sunday. Although no specifics of the meeting were reported, it is believed that Mitchell’s visit is part of Obama’s strategy of improving relations with Syria as part of the broader goal of achieving a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute. The visit was Mitchell’s second trip to Syria in two months.

2. The political situation in Iran appears ready to destabilize, as the government faces both opposition from opposition political parties as well as a standoff between fundamentalist elements within President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s cabinet. On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned opposition leaders that they faced “collapse” if they continued protests over last month’s disputed presidential elections. Last week, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president, lent support to the opposition, speaking at a protest against Ahmadi-Nejad’s re-election. Rafsanjani’s position was closely watched, particularly given his position as head of two powerful conservative bodies in Iran, the expediency council and the experts assembly.

In other developments, over the weekend, President Ahmadi-Nejad fired two cabinet ministers, Hossein Saffar-Harandi, culture minister, and Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, intelligence minister. The firings, which are rare in Iranian politics, represent the latest developments in a political standoff between Ahmadi-Nejad and conservative forces in his government. It was reported on Wednesday that four ministers, including the two fired over the weekend, debated the president’s decision to name Esfandir Rahim Mashaei as first vice president. Mashaei is a close ally of the president, but managed to draw the criticism of conservatives when he argued last week that the position of the Iranian government should maintain a friendly disposition towards the Israeli people. After the appointment was made public, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as the country’s supreme leader has the final word in governmental affairs, wrote to Ahmadi-Nejad, urging him to fire Mashaei. Ahmadi-Nejad initially refused, but Mashaei nevertheless stepped down over the weekend.  

3. The International Monetary Fund approved a new $2.6 billion loan for Sri Lanka on Friday. The loan is intended to help Sri Lanka rebuild after its 25 year civil war, which ended several months ago after the government launched a series of attacks which incapacitated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group. Despite the end of the fighting, however, the government continues to hold thousands of ethnic Tamils displaced by the fighting in detention camps. The detention of so many people led some human rights groups to condemn the IMF’s decision, arguing, as Human Rights Watch did, that the loan “is a reward for bad behavior, not an incentive to improve.” The United States and the United Kingdom both abstained from the decision, an unusual move for the two countries which collectively control almost 22 percent of the voting shares in the organization.

4. Government services in townships across South Africa have been disrupted by a strike by municipal workers demanding higher pay. The strike follows weeks of protest by residents of poor black urban areas in South Africa, who are demanding improvement of water and electricity delivery, better government housing, and reductions in corruption. The protests represent the most significant political challenge to President Jacob Zuma’s government, which came to power on the platform of reducing poverty and addressing corruption. Zuma promised last week to crack down on protestors, but such a strategy appears likely to exacerbate the political crisis facing the government.

5. The standoff in Honduras continued to develop last week, as ousted President Manuel Zelaya visited the Honduran border on Friday. Zelaya vowed to return to power and symbolically crossed the border, briefly stepping in to Honduras before quickly stepping back into Nicaragua to avoid arrest. Talks between Zelaya and the interim government of Honduras appeared to break down this week, as both sides have refused to cede any ground on the most fundamental question: who should be president. Meanwhile, western governments have stepped up pressure on the interim government of Honduras. On Monday, the European Union announced it was suspending all aid to Honduras while the United States has suspending military aid to the country and has threatened to suspend economic aid if progress is not made. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, heavily reliant on coffee for export earnings.

Advertisements

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It was mostly bad news for the U.S. economy again last week, as official figures show an increase in the unemployment rate to 8.9 percent—the highest level in more than 25 years. Attempting to put a relatively positive spin on the news, President Barack Obama noted that the number of job losses declined in April, marking the smallest monthly loss in almost six months. During that period, a total of 3.94 million jobs have been lost, the largest total on record, exceeding even the number lost during demobilization after the second world war. In the finance sector, stress tests performed by U.S. banking regulators concluded that ten of the country’s largest banks were undercapitalized and require an infusion of at least $75 billion to survive an economic downturn.

In news from outside the United States last week:

1. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez initiated a new round of nationalization in the oil industry, seizing 60 oil service companies, at least a dozen oil rigs, 30 oil terminals, and 300 boats. Chávez announced the move during a visit to the country’s main oil producing region, stating, “To God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Today we also say: to the people what is the people’s.” Venezuela is home to the world’s second largest oil reserves, with 172 billion barrels of proven reserves. But PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, has suffered serious losses in recent years as a result of declining oil prices and a shortage of hard currency. Analysts expect global oil prices to increase next week on the news.

2. Jacob Zuma was sworn in as the third president of post-apartheid South Africa last week, following the ANC’s victory in nation-wide elections late last month. After taking formal control of the government on Saturday, Zuma announced a cabinet reshuffle intended to placate weary business interests. South African businesses had feared that Zuma’s election might result in a political shift to the populist left. But in promoting former finance minister and key Mbeki ally Trevor Manuel to the powerful position overseeing central planning, Zuma seems to be demonstrating his interest in maintaining a positive relationship with the center-right wing of the African National Congress.

3. Experts are warning that the German welfare state could collapse this year as a result of the continuing economic crisis and poor economic measures by the government. In a move criticized by economists last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel de-linked increases in pension payments with the prevailing national wage rate. Legislation passed by the ruling party and signed into law by Merkel last week prohibits future cuts to pension rates. Economists have criticized the move as an attempt to appease retired voters ahead of a general election scheduled for September. Germany is in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, raising concerns about political stability and economic growth.

4. Next month’s presidential elections in Iran will be contested by four candidates. In addition to Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, who is seeking re-election, the Guardian Council is expected to approve three other candidates as meeting the qualifications to stand for office: a strong educational and political background and a proven commitment to the Islamic regime and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The three other candidates will be: Mir-Hossein Moussavi, a leftist and former prime minister of Iran, Mehdi Karroubi, a noted reformer and former speaker of parliament, and Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the revolutionary guard and noted hardliner.

5. Pakistan’s offensive against Taliban militants in the northern part of the country continued last week. The offensive focused on the Swat valley region, where the government had made a number of concessions to militants last month, including permission to introduce sharia law into the region. Full-scale operations began on Thursday, but the government eased a curfew on the region to permit civilians to flee on Sunday.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It was a busy week in international diplomacy. President Barack Obama removed some restrictions on travel to Cuba. But the U.S. continues to demand political reform in Cuba as a precondition for further opening of relations between the two countries. Much has also been made of the encounter between Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Chávez gave Obama a gift and signaled his willingness to improve relations with the United States. The United States, however, opted not to attend a United Nations conference on racism due to the conference’s inclusion of Zionism on its agenda.

1. A draft of the final communiqué of the G8 meeting (the final communiqué will be released on Monday) concedes that the world is unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goals agreed to in 2000. The MDGs include measurable targets to improve the plight of the world’s poor by 2015, including halving the number of hungry, having the number of people who live on less than $1 per day, eliminating gender disparities in all levels of education, and cutting child mortality rates. While the G8 statement will stress the need to achieve a consensus on agricultural reform, it does not include any specific financial pledges. For most observers, this makes the meeting—the organization’s first to deal specifically with agriculture—a failure.

2. Journalist Roxana Saberi was sentenced to eight years in prison after being found guilty of espionage by an Iranian Revolutionary Court. Saberi holds dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship and has been employed as a freelance journalist by many leading Western news agencies, including NPR and the BBC. Saberi’s sentence was longer than most observers had expected, and the trial and sentencing were condemned by the U.S. government. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is urged the judiciary on Sunday to permit Saberi to defend herself in court.

3. Elections scheduled for Wednesday in South Africa appear to be on track, and the ANC appears well-placed to secure another two-thirds majority in the national legislature. Barring an extraordinary development, Jacob Zuma, the leader of the African National Congress, will be the next president of South Africa.

4. A suicide car bomb killed 25 soldiers and police as well as two civilians in Pakistan on Saturday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which injured more than 60 people, and said that the attack was a response to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

5. The International Monetary Fund agreed to unlock a $16.4 billion standby loan for the government of Ukraine. While the move is seen as a reflection of the growing confidence the international community has in the Ukrainian government, it also signals the continuing challenges posed by the global economic crisis. As part of the package, the Ukrainian government unilaterally adopted a series of tough concessions, bypassing parliament and undermining popular support.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

John McCain decided to participate in Friday’s presidential debate, which was predictably dominated by questions on the economy.  The status of the U.S. economy continues to garner significant international attention, but other stories also developed this week.

1. In perhaps the most important development last week, Congress reached a deal on a $700 billion bailout package for the financial sector.   Progress towards an agreement had collapsed last week after House Republicans withdrew their support for President Bush’s initial proposal and Democrats refused to move forward without their support.  The impact of the financial collapse (and bailout) in the United States has yet to be felt, but already some—including Germany’s finance minister, Peer Steinbrück—are arguing that the crisis means the U.S. has lost its “financial superpower status.”

2. In the most recent development in souring Russian-American relations, Russia and Venezuela moved to cooperate more closely in areas of energy policy.  This follows on the announcement that Russian naval vessels and aircraft would participate in Venezuelan war games in the southern Caribbean.  Since 2005, Venezuela has used a portion of its oil wealth to purchase more than $4 billion worth of weapons systems, including fighter aircraft, helicopters, anti-aircraft systems, and armored personnel carriers, from Russia. 

3. The vast expanses of space are becoming a bit more crowded, as China and India expand their own space programs.  China launched the country’s third manned space mission on Friday.  The mission culminated with a successful space walk over the weekend.  Meanwhile, India is planning its own launch intended to map the surface of the moon.  According to some observers, the Chinese and Indian governments are engaged in a new space race, echoing the U.S.-Soviet rivalry of the 1960s.  

4. On Saturday, the Syrian capital Damascus was rocked by a car bomb which killed 17 and injured 44 people.   Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, suspicions have fallen on resurgent Sunni fundamentalist groups.

5. South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki abruptly resigned last week.  Although the African National Congress’ leader Jacob Zuma is likely to be elected president in the upcoming election, Kgalema Motlanthe, former guerrilla and union leader, was selected as the interim president on Thursday.  Motlanthe says his agenda will focus on maintaining economic and political stability.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Events this week have been dominated by the continuing crisis in the financial sector and the chaotic week in world markets

1.  In an effort to address the ongoing financial crisis, the Securities and Exchange Commission took the unusual step of banning short sales of some companies’ stock.  Announced on Friday and confirmed by similar bans in the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Ireland, Australia, and other major markets, the move was intended to prevent future downward pressure on financial stocks.  According to an FT analysis, many hedge funds may be hurt by the move.  In an even more dramatic move, the Bush administration has proposed a $700 billion relief package for Wall Street.  The package, which will require the ceiling on the national debt be increased from $10.6 trillion to $11.3 trillion, would be the largest rescue package in the history of the country.  

2. On Saturday, South African President Thabo Mbeki agreed to step down from office after his ruling party, the African National Congress, called for his resignation.  It is widely expected that Jacob Zuma will replace Mbeki as the new President of South Africa.  There are considerable questions about what will happen to South Africa’s economic policy under a Zuma Presidency.  Mbeki moved the ANC’s economic policy towards a more open, free-market system at odds with the party’s strong union and activist base.  It remains to be seen in what direction Zuma will steer Africa’s largest economy.

3. Relations between the United States and its South American neighbors took a hit last week, as Bolivia and Venezuela expelled the U.S. ambassadors.  The United States responded by expelling the Bolivian and Venezuelan ambassadors.

4. On Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared to making an overture towards Israel, confirming his close ally and vice president Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei’s assertion that Iran was “a friend of [the] Israeli people.”  The FT speculates that the move may be part of a broader strategy of improving relations with the West.  However, Ahmadinejad’s history of calling for the destruction of Israel and denial of the holocaust suggests that he may have a great deal more work to do if that is indeed his intention.  Further, Ahmadinejad’s move was countered on Friday by a statement from Iran’s supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said it was “wrong” to claim that Iran could be a friend of Israel.

5. On Sunday, militants in Nigeria called an end to a week-long series of attacks against oil facilities in the Niger River Delta region.  The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had claimed responsibility for the attacks, which it claims are part of its effort to establish local control over the region’s oil resources.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Over the past week we’ve seen a lot of news from the domestic U.S. political front: Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin for his Vice Presidential candidate.  What’s been going on in the rest of the world?  Here are five important stories from the past week.

1. The worldwide economic downturn continued last week.  On Friday, the Japanese government announced a new economic stimulus package.  Analysts are holding out little hope that it will make much of a difference.  In the United Kingdom, Chancellor Alistair Darling conceded that the current crisis will likely be “profound and longlasting.”  He forecasted that it might be the worst economic crisis faced by the United Kingdom in the past 60 years.  Similarly, figures released by the Canadian government last week show that the country is on the brink of recession, with gross domestic product growing by  a mere 0.1% in the second quarter.  All of this suggests that the current economic crisis is global in scope and potentially long in duration.

2. Ongoing political violence in Thailand last week culminated in the closure of three major international airports and blockades of the country’s rail, road, and port infrastructure.   Earlier in the week, protestors had laid siege to state buildings.  The protestors—a loose coalition of business, royalists, and activists under the banner of the People’s Alliance for Democracy—are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his government.  So far, the military has refused to become involved in the political crisis.

3. In an interview on Tuesday, Zwelinazima Vavi, leader of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, declared that South Africa would need to radically change its economic policies to avoid the “ticking bomb” of poverty, unemployment and crime.  Vavi is a close ally of Jacob Zuma, the leader of the African National Congress and the person mostly likely to become president of South Africa after Thabo Mbeki’s term expires next year.  Many analysts believe Vavi’s views reflect the policies favored by Zuma.  Many South Africans believe the economic policies pursued by Mbeki have not improved the quality of life for ordinary people.  His complete interview is available through the Financial Times website.

4. The North Korean government announced on Tuesday that it would suspend the processing of disabling its nuclear facilities and was considering reactivating the Yongbyon reactor.  The announcement, which North Korea maintains is a response to the failure of the United States to make good on promises made during the six party talks, raises new concerns about the effectiveness of the talks and the progress made there.  On Thursday, South Korea announced that it would drop the label “main enemy” when referring to North Korea in its biannual defense white paper.  According to Major Seo Young-suk, the decision to drop the term “does not mean that we have changed our stance.  North Korea is still a substantial and present threat.”

5. In a report issued Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) condemned health inequalities between rich and poor around the world, describing them as “unfair, unjust, and avoidable.”  According to the WHO “a toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and policies [was] killing people on a grand scale.”  The complete report, entitled Social Determinants of Health, is available through the WHO website.