Tag Archives: Robert Mugabe

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Poor economic news continues to flow out of most of the world. In the United States, new jobless figures released last week show unemployment up to 8.1 percent, the highest rate in 25 years. Malaysian exports have collapsed, placing pressure on the government to find a solution to the ongoing crisis. And the banking sector in South Africa, Canada, and Mexico (among others) continues to face problems, and the International Monetary Fund is urging greater coordination to address the crisis. 

But the Chinese government is asserting that things are improving there already, forecasting 8 percent growth this year and denying the economy is in a downturn. If they’re correct, perhaps we’re starting to see the beginning of the end of the global economic crisis. I, however, remain cautious.

Here’s important five stories from the previous week:

1. Hillary Clinton continued her charm offensive in Europe last week. After shifting to a more diplomatic strategy with Syria, the new Obama administration has announced its intention to conclude a new arms control agreement with Russia by the end of the year. The effort to improve diplomatic relations with both Syria and Russia are seen as part of a wider effort by the Obama administration to distance itself from the hardline policies of the previous president.

2. A suicide bomb attack against Baghdad’s main police academy killed 28 people on Sunday. Although the number of attacks has declined since the height of the sectarian violence in 2003, the attack nevertheless illustrates the challenges that Iraq continues to face.  On Thursday, a car bomb attack in Babil province—a region that has enjoyed relative peace for months—killed 12 people and injured 40. 

3.  Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Saturday announced his intention to resign. Fayyad was appointed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. But Fayyad was a controversial figure, and Hamas regularly criticized Fayyad for being too closely aligned with the United States and Israel. Fayyad’s resignation is seen as an important step towards the development of a unity government for Palestine, which itself is viewed as an important first step in the Middle East peace process.

4. The Good Friday peace accord in Northern Ireland faces its most serious challenge since it was signed in 1998, after two British soldiers were killed Saturday night in an attack by Irish nationalist groups opposed to the agreement. Though no group has yet claimed responsibility, several groups, including the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA, and the Irish National Liberation Army, oppose Sinn Fein’s effort to develop a powersharing agreement and peace deal for Northern Ireland.

5. Last week, President Hugo Chávez stepped up his effort to nationalize foreign agricultural producers in Venezuela. After last month’s referendum, which granted Chávez the right to remain in office indefinitely, Chávez announced his intention to move forward with the nationalization of key industries, including oil, steel, and cement. Chávez accuses foreign agricultural producers of exacerbating the country’s economic problems.

And in a bonus story for this week:

6. Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was injured in a car accident on Saturday, and Susan Tsvangirai, his wife of 31 years, was killed. According to witnesses, a truck swerved from the oncoming lane and struck his car, the middle in a convoy of three cars, head on. Some within Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change have accused Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, of masterminding the attack in an effort to eliminate his political rival. Although Tsvangirai has since said he did not believe the accident was part of a broader plot by Mugabe to eliminate him, Tsvangirai did accept an offer from Botswana’s President to recouperate across the border, fueling speculation about the nature of the accident. Zimbabwe’s national unity government remains an unstable coalition of rival groups, and the government has been unable to effectively address the ongoing economic crisis there.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Recent data about the U.S. economy indicates that the current crisis is worse than economists had believed. On Wednesday, the government announced that initial jobless claims spiked unexpectedly, reaching the highest levels since 1982. About 667,000 people made initial claims fro the week ending February 21, sending the total number of unemployed people in the United States over the 5 million mark for the first time in the country’s history. The official unemployment rate stood at 7.6 percent, the highest level since 1992. Consumer sentiment also fell to record lows in February, as housing prices fell precipitously. Housing prices declined 18.5 percent over 2008, and have declined 26.7 percent from the peaks of July, 2006.  Although the Federal Reserve is forecasting an economic contraction of 0.5-1.3 percent this year with an unemployment rate of between 8.5 and 8.8 percent, many economists are offering more dire predictions, calling this the worst downturn in U.S. post-World War II historyThe U.S. economy shrank by an annualized 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 (its worst performance since the recession of 1982).

And now for five important stories outside the ongoing economic crisis:

1. On Friday, President Barack Obama announced a plan that would see the majority of U.S. forces withdrawn from Iraq by August 2010.  Obama’s plan was greatly coolly by anti-war Democrats, who were disappointed that the plan did not accelerate the drawdown in forces. Congressional Republicans appeared more supportive of the president’s plan.

2. The Bangladeshi army has reaffirmed its support for the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after an attempted mutiny by paramilitary forces was put down earlier this week. On Wednesday, a paramilitary force of border guards—the Bangladeshi Rifles—mutinied over a pay dispute, but violence quickly spread throughout the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. The government was able to reassert control over the region as members of the Bangladeshi Rifles surrendered. At least fifty people are believed dead in the fighting, and the whereabouts of 168 officers who were in the building where the mutiny began are still unaccounted for. The discovery of a mass grave in the building has led to speculation that the number of dead will rise. 

3. Tobias Billström, who is slated to become president of the European Union when Sweden takes over the position from the Czech Republic in July, has indicated that immigration reform will be on the agenda. Immigration and asylum have long been controversial issues in European politics, as countries have vastly different policies. But E.U. member states have been hesitant to transfer responsibility for coordinating policy to Brussels. Billström has suggested that the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg would have final discretion over asylum cases.

4. The new power-sharing government in Zimbabwe appears to be making good progress in addressing the economic meltdown in the country. According to the African Development Bank, Zimbabwe has made an impressive start on addressing the problems it faces. The ADB has called on Zimbabwe to make progress on repaying its external debt as a precondition for securing more outside assistance. The new Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangarai, has said that Zimbabwe urgently needs $5 billion in foreign assistance to repair the economy. Meanwhile, the power sharing agreement itself appears to be at risk, as President Robert Mugabe’s party has been accused of creating its own parallel government, effectively attempting to bypass the power-sharing agreement. Further, members of the opposition party remained jailed, and the push for land reform has intensified.

5. In an attempt to address growing concerns of farmers over poor forecasts, the government of Argentina has agreed to increase protectionist measures, including waiving some export tariffs and granting subsidies to small producers. Longstanding drought conditions in the country have led to declining yields, and farmers are forecasting the worst harvest in forty years. The crisis has exposed deep political divides in Argentina, resulting in a weakening in the ruling alliance and the resignation of four senators and two deputies over policy differences.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The meeting of the Group of Seven, or G7, took place in Rome on Saturday.  And while anti-poverty campaigners appealed for the group to address the problem of increasing global inequality and rising poverty, the primary focus of the annual meeting was the global economic crisis.  Following the dispute over the inclusion (and subsequent removal) of buy-American provisions in the U.S. economic stimulus package, the G7 felt the need to include a commitment to use “the full range of policy tools” to address the global downturn while simultaneously renewing commitments to avoid protectionist measures.  This amid news that the Eurozone has now entered its worst slump in fifty years, with the Eurozone GDP falling 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, and the German GDP falling by 2.1 percent of the same period.  Amid the poor economic news, the European Central Bank is expected to cut its prime interest rate to 1.5 percent, its lowest rate ever.  The U.S. Federal Reserve’s federal funds rate has already been effectively reduced to 0 percent.

In other news from the previous week:

1.  A U.S. missile strike in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan (along the Afghan border) on Saturday killed at least 25 al Qaeda-linked militants.  The drone-launched missile was the third such strike since President Obama took office.  The Pakistani government has been undercut the influence of militants in the region, believed to be a bastion for al Qaeda.   But the continued strikes by the U.S. also threaten to undermine the legitimacy of the Pakistani government.

2. Israel announced it would not agree to a ceasefire with Hamas unless an Israeli soldier held since he was kidnapped in a cross-border raid in 2006.  The Israeli position appears to complicate efforts to reach a permanent ceasefire.  A series of rocket attacks and retaliatory strikes (or strikes and retaliatory rocket attacks, depending on whose press you read), has made establishing a lasting ceasefire between the combatants more difficult.  Further complicating the situation were Israeli elections held last week.  The elections handed Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadmina party a narrow one-seat victory over the rival center-right Likud party under Benjamin Netanyahu.  The close victory has left both parties scrambling to line up potential coalition partners, leaving the final outcome of the election uncertain.

3.  The outlook for the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe appeared to brighten a bit last week, as a unity government took office.  Under the terms of the agreement, Robert Mugabe will remain President of Zimbabwe.  His political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, will become the country’s prime minister.  The government of national unity appears to have—at least temporarily—brought to a close the country’s ongoing political crisis.  But how long this remains the case is unclear.  By Friday, the arrest of Roy Bennett, Tsvangarai’s nominee for deputy agriculture minister, on charges of treason raised questions about the degree to which the new government represents a real break with the past.    Further, the heavy lifting of addressing a national cholera outbreak and brining the country’s economy back from total collapse remains on the to-do list. 

4. The situation in Afghanistan appears to be deteriorating.   A series of bombings and well-coordinated attacks by gunmen over the last several days has left dozens of people dead.  While such attacks had become increasingly common in the Taliban-dominated areas along the Pakistani border, the most recent attacks occurred in what had historically been viewed as the safest region of the country—its capital, Kabul.  Analysts view the attacks as an indication of the increasing support and sophistication of Taliban-backed forces.  The attacks come amidst indications that the Obama administration is considering a request to increase by 30,000 the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan.

5. Disputes between European Union member states over the structure and nature of efforts to address the global economic crisis have led to tension within the Union.  On Tuesday, the Czech Republic’s prime minister (and current president of the European Union) accused the member state governments of engaging in policies that threaten to “deform” the Eurozone.  On Wednesday, in an indication of how serious the dispute is, the European Union scheduled two emergency summits to address the crisis, suppress protectionism, sustain employment, and prevent the bloc’s political fragmentation into old and new member states.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The big news this week was John McCain’s surprise choice for running mate choice: Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska.  There were many developments outside the United States and its presidential race, however.  Here are a five important stories you might have missed:

1. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called for new elections, which will take place on October 14.  Harper’s Conservative Party has ruled Canada as a minority government since February 2006.  The election is expected to be closely contested, as the Liberal Party, under the leadership of Stéphane Dion, mount their challenge.  With Canada’s economy tittering on the brink of recession, the economy figures to be the central issue of the campaign.  The outcome of the election may also signal a fundamental shift in Canadian politics, as the Bloc Quebecois appears to be losing its regional support in Quebec, creating the possibility of a Conservative majority in the national legislature.

2. There were two important developments in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute last week.  On Wednesday, the Palestinian Strategy Study Group released a report which indicated that Palestinians may be willing to endorse a bi-national state with Israel should the U.S.-backed two-state solution fail.  The proposal would mark a dramatic change in the structure and intended goal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  In an unrelated development, Israeli President Shimon Peres on Friday called for direct talks between Israel and Syria to address outstanding issues.  The two countries been engaged in mediated indirect talks for a number of years, but relations between the two have generally been poor since 1947.  Normalization of relations between Syria and Israel would have to be a central component of any comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian question.

3. In a not-so-subtle confirmation of the flood of divestment from the country following the conflict over South Ossetia, the Russian central bank was forced on Thursday to intervene to support the rouble.  According to some estimates, as much as $21 billion in foreign currency has been withdrawn from Russia over the past several weeks, leading to a dramatic decline in the value of the rouble.  This represents the worst currency collapse for Russia since the 1998 crisis.  But despite the crisis, the Russian government still have the third largest currency reserve in the world—estimated at some $582 billion—thanks in large part to the dramatic increase in oil and natural gas prices over the past few years.

4. In Paksitan, Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People’s Party won Saturday’s presidential elections as expected.  Zardari, who is the widow of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, now faces a number of challenges: reinforcing the fledgling democracy amidst growing political and economic instability, normalizing relations with the west in the face of strong opposition in key regions of the country, and establishing a stronger degree of national unity while addressing growing violence within Pakistan. 

5. Talks between Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and the ruling ZANU-PF suffered their most serious setback to date last week.  The MDC announced it had lost faith in negotiations intended to bring about a power sharing agreement, accusing South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating the negotiations, of trying to force through a deal which would see ZANU-PF’s Robert Mugabe retain political power.  The MDC also refuses to sign an agreement under which Mugabe would retain control of the country’s security forces, which they contend have been used for the political gain of the ruling party.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Headlines this week have been dominated by two stories: Michael Phelps’ success at the Olympic Games and the Russia-Georgia War.  With all the attention paid to these two stories, here are five other developments you might have missed.

1.  Russia’s Poland Threat:  After Russia’s move into Georgia last week, Poland decided to permit U.S. interceptor missile bases to be housed there.  The bases, part of the Bush Administration’s strategic defense initiative program, had been frozen due to American resistance to Polish demands that a Patriot missiles battery be stationed in the country as part of the deal.  After the Georgian conflict, the United States appeared willing to give in to the Polish demand.  In response, Russia warned Poland that it was now a target for their nuclear arsenal.

2.  Musharraf’s (Possible) Resignation:  Facing possible impeachment, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf indicated on Thursday that he will be stepping down.  Impeachment proceedings had been set to start early next week.  Musharraf’s resignation was likely intended to avoid that spectacle.  As part of the agreement, Musharraf will avoid prosecution and will be permitted to remain in Pakistan.  His departure, however, signals an important shift in Pakistani politics, a key country in the war on terror.

3.  No Diplomatic Solution in Zimbabwe:  Negotiations intended to resolve Zimbabwe’s longstanding crisis have so far failed to reach a peaceful settlement.  At issue is who will lead Zimbabwe.  Robert Mugabe, the current president, has been in office since 1980 and has increasingly relied on force to maintain his rule.  Morgan Tsvangarai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, won the first round of presidential elections last March before being forced to cancel his campaign in the second round of voting due to political violence.  Despite extensive pressure being placed on the country by South Africa, Mugabe appears so far to be unwilling to share power.  Negations continue, but few are hopeful that a settlement will be reached.

4.  Lugo Wins Paraguay Election:  Continuing a leftward shift in many Latin American countries, Fernando Lugo won the election in Paraguay, marking the end of 61 years of one-party rule by the Colorado Party.  One of Lugo’s first acts as President was to decline his monthly salary of approximately $4000, declaring that “the money belongs to the poorest.”  Evo Morales, the leftist President of Bolivia, said that Lugo’s victory would “deepen democracy” in the region.

5.  Syrian-Lebanese Meeting:  In the face of a declining security situation in Lebanon, the country’s President, Michel Suleiman, agreed to re-establish full diplomatic relations with neighboring Syria.  The agreement, part of a package that seeks to normalize relations between the two countries, marks the first time the countries would exchange ambassadors since both achieved independence in the 1940s.