Week #13 (02-08/09/2019)

The late Robert Mugabe during the 12th African Union Summit in 2009. | Credit: Jesse B. Awalt


Saudi Arabia’s Aramco (03/09), the world’s most profitable company, has replaced the company’s chairman with Yasir Al Rumayyan, the current head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, who is seen as more sympathetic to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s IPO ambitions. The change of leadership is considered a “necessary step” toward the IPO, an attempt which subsumes under Salman’s Vision 2030 to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy.

Speaking from Alexandra, South Africa (04/09), Gauteng Premier David Makhura pleaded with the community to cease the hostilities as xenophobic sentiment (05/09) has caused a spate of attacks and looting targeting foreign-owned businesses and migrants from other African countries, including Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. He also stated that the government would consider calling on the military if the police force failed to control the situation. Whilst South Africa’s President Cyricl Ramaphosa condemned the attacks and called them “totally unacceptable”. At least five were killed and 189 arrested during the outbreaks of violence, of which prompted retaliatory actions in Nigeria such as looting that targeted South African-owned brands; the country’s pulling out of World Economic Forum which is to be held in Cape Town; and Nigerian pop star Tiwa Savage cancelling an upcoming concert in South Africa. Additionally, Zambia also refused to play in a friendly football match against South Africa. The retaliatory attack in Nigeria has caused South Africa to temporarily close their diplomatic missions in Lagos and Abuja.

Zimbabwe’s revolutionary and former president Robert Mugabe passed away (06/09) in Singapore at the age of 95. Despite his past despotic, corrupt, and incompetent regime, Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party declared the former leader a “national hero.” It’s also worth noting that, notwithstanding the human rights abuses, Mugabe had actually once led the country through a golden period of economic growth and educational development that was the envy of Africa.


Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, clarified (03/09) that she would not quit despite a leaked audio recording proved otherwise. In the recording, Lam could be heard saying she would resign from her position if given the opportunity. Speaking in front of reporters, Lam commented that she “never tendered her resignation to the central people’s government” and that her choice to stay was “my own choice”.  

Debates on Kazakhstan’s prohibition of wearing religious symbols at school, the ministerial decree which was issued in 2016, intensified (05/09) as school started. The law particularly has become the concern of Muslim parents in Aqtobe, whose daughters wear head scarf. In response, Aqtobe Deputy Governor Marat Tokzhanov argued that the hijab is not necessarily part of Kazakh culture and that “if we change the requirements because of a demand from a small group of female students, then tomorrow everyone would do whatever they like.”

India and South Korea have agreed (06/09) to bolster defense bilateral ties, particularly on enhancing cooperation between firms of the two countries and extending logistical support to each other’s navies. The agreement was conveyed during a high-level meeting in Seoul, which invited CEOs of defense firms from both countries. They have also formulated a road map for joint production and research for military system, which listed a number of proposed areas of co-operation in sectors of land systems, aero systems, naval systems, research and development co-operation and collaboration in testing, certification and quality assurance.

Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has detected (08/09) on average over 600 hotspots across Southeast Asia from September 4-7, with numbers fluctuating between 515 and 728. The hotspots spread around Indonesia's provinces of Riau, Jambi, Sumatera Selatan, Kalimantan Barat, Kalimantan Tengah, and Kalimantan Selatan, and other countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Timor Leste and Thailand. The agency also added that they didn't detect any transboundary haze from Sumatra Island to Malay Peninsula, refuting foreign media claims.


Duncan Lewis, the director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, told the Lowy Institute Forum on Wednesday (04/09) that the issue of espionage and foreign interference is by far and away the most serious issue going forward in Australia. Different to terrorist attacks that attracted intense public attention, the threat of espionage was often harder to immediately recognize. Lewis said Australia remained a “rich target” for state-sponsored cyber-attacks. Meanwhile, although he didn’t mention China even once during the discussion, it’s implied from the forum that Chinese influences and maneuvers have become a concern for the Australian government, which is striving to find the right balance between zeroing those who intend to harm and while not vilifying the rest of their demographic or their community, e.g. Chinese Australians and/or Muslim Australians.

The woman’s body found at Kalinga Park, Brisbane, Australia (05/04), has been identified as 26-year-old Ioli Hadjilyra. Police are still continuing their investigation as they still don’t know the cause of her death and for how long her body had been in the park.

The New Zealand government announced on Wednesday (04/09) that they had made a raft of changes to their flagship “KiwiBuild” policy, including walking away from the pledge to build 100,000 affordable new homes within a decade. One of leading policies in Jacinda Ardern’s government, “KiwiBuild” failed to reach the first benchmark of 1,000 houses, with only 141 houses constructed in its first year. “‘KiwiBuild’ isn’t working so we are changing it,” Housing Minister Megan Woods said, adding that the government have a commitment to not bloody-mindedly pursuing a policy because they said it a few years ago. “We’re actually having the courage to call time on it, say it hasn't worked, and make the necessary changes. When policies aren’t working we are honest about that and fix them.”

Despite criticism from the United States (U.S.), Marshall Islands presses forward (05/09) with its plan to issue cryptocurrency. The U.S. argued that the act will be outweighed by the costs due to economic, “reputational,” and money-laundering risks. On the other hand, David Paul, a top advisor to President Hilda Heine, said the digital currency will help the country become more connected to the global financial system as it’s considered tamper-proof and completely secure. The attempt to issue digital currency is initiated partly due to a crackdown on money laundering by the U.S. in recent years that has raised the cost of compliance and made it less profitable and more risky for international banks to work with nations like the Marshall Islands.


The Council of Europe has urged Finland (02/09) to reform its rape laws and criminalize lack of consent. Despite being a leader in furthering gender equality, Finland continues to categorize rape according to the use of violence or threat, limiting the forms of sexual violence that can be criminalized. The urge came after Finland’s supreme court failed to charge a man who sexually abused a 10-year-old due to the absent of evidence that the crime involved violence or that the child was overcome by fear.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a heavy defeat (04/09) after the Commons voted 328 to 301 to pass a bill designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Twenty one rebel Tory MPs joined opposition parties in an attempt to delay the United Kingdom’s (U.K.) departure from the European Union (EU). Johnson responded by planning to hold an early general election on October 15. He also removed the whip of the 21 rebel Tory MPs (04/09), including Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames. A day later (05/09), Johnson suffered another loss after his own brother, Jo Johnson, quit as MP and minister over “unresolvable tension between his family loyalty and the national interest”. Johnson also lost the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd as she left parliamentary Conservative party on Saturday night (08/09). In her resignation letter, Rudd accused Johnson of “an assault on decency and democracy” and “an act of political vandalism” after he fired the 21 Tory MPs who backed the bill to stop a no-deal Brexit. Responding to Rudd’s resignation, Ian Lavery, the Chairman of the Labor Party, stated, “The prime minister has run out of authority in record time and his Brexit plan has been exposed as a sham. No one trusts Boris Johnson. Not his cabinet, not his MPs, not even his own brother.”

A national debate (05/09) about whether Germany is being blinded to China’s human right record has sparked following the birth of Berlin Zoo’s rare panda twins. China has lent the cubs’ parents, Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, to the zoo for €1m a year since 2017 and with an agreement that is valid for 15 years—a move that is known as “panda diplomacy”. The German media including Bild and Der Tagesspiegel have called on Berliners to name the cubs Hong and Kong to highlight the brutality of Chinese politics that lies behind the panda diplomacy. Even Hong Kong’s leading protester Joshua Wong chimed in the debate, suggesting the cubs to be named Democracy and Freedom. He added, “That way Germany could send a very clear signal to China.”


The death toll of the Hurricane Dorian, the strongest hurricane ever to hit the Bahamas, climbed to 30 (06/09). The number is expected to soar even more as hundreds, up thousands, of people are still missing. The hurricane has especially devastated Grand Bahama and Abaco Island, leaving some parts of the areas with only detritus, to the extent that no walls were left at Grand Bahama’s only airport; and even new homes built under more stringent building codes were destroyed.

An increasing number of people in Latin America (07/09) feel discontent with their countries, nearly a third of them, according to the pollster Gallup, want to emigrate. Fed up with poverty and violence, people in countries such as Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are emigrating en masse. Crime, weak economies, and corruption are among the reasons that cause the exodus.


Reporting from San Francisco, the United States (U.S.), Facebook announced (04/09) that it might no longer display the numbers of “likes” a post received so that people can simply focus on the content of each post and stop worrying about winning approval from other users. Previously, Facebook-owned Instagram has hid the like counts in more than a half-dozen countries from everyone apart from the account holders. Moreover, The U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders faced a backlash (06/09) after arguing that women in “poor countries” should have access to birth control as part of tackling climate change. Responding to the remark, conservatives accused Sanders of wanting to have fewer “brown babies” whilst social media have likened him to Thanos, a Marvel movie villain who killed half of the world’s population to keep the balance of the universe. 

Just days after devastating the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian has arrived in Nova Scotia province, Canada (08/09). The hurricane hit Halifax on Saturday with winds of 100mph. People living near the shore were advised to evacuate and the military would be deployed to help recovery efforts. Meanwhile, the Canadian Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna has been given extra security (08/09) as levels of abuse on environmental campaigners increase. Climate change has become a topic of heated debate in Canada, with the country’s two main parties taking opposite views on the subject and many environmental activists becoming the targets of violence. McKenna has been called “climate Barbie” and received sexualized insults and threats against her family.