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Transnational Thursdays 15

This is a weekly thread for people to discuss international news, foreign policy or IR history. I usually start off with coverage of some current events from around the world. Feel free to drop in with coverage of countries you’re interested in, talk about ongoing dynamics like the BRICS expansion or the Prigozhin assassination, or even just whatever you’re reading.


Last week I reported that Gabon’s election would almost certainly result in a victory for Ali Bongo, current heir of the Bongo family that has dominated Gabon since 1967. He did win, but apparently the military had other ideas, because they have staged yet another African coup and declared themselves in power. This is a little different than the coups that have happened in democracies, because Gabon was basically a dictatorship with a thin veneer of fake elections, but represents another startling addition to the trend of coups.


Lula has been somewhat stymied so far in his agenda by his Worker’s Party’s minority in the legislature:

Despite progress on certain bills – including the passage of looser limits on public expenditure, and approval in the lower house of long-awaited tax reform – Lula has suffered a series of parliamentary defeats. Lawmakers thwarted plans to roll back privatisation of the water and sewerage sector, before stripping powers from the environment and newly created indigenous affairs ministries.

He seems to have now hammered out a larger coalition with two right wing parties that previously supported Bolsonaro, the Republican Party and the Progressive Party (I know, I swear it’s on the right). The details aren’t fully finalized yet but it seems that both parties will get cabinet positions, and possibly one of them the administration of Brazil’s state owned bank, Banco do Brasil. In exchange they will help support Lula’s spending packages and measures at environmental protection and worker’s and minority rights. It’s a pretty unique coalition and presumably these parties will still not give Lula a blank check, so it will be interesting to see how things go.


President Gustavo Petro was elected on a “Total Peace” platform to significantly reduce conflict with the country’s cartels and revolutionary groups through peace talks and by legalizing some drugs. There have been some big successes, including a ceasefire with the ELN and ongoing negotiations with the active remnants of FARC (Petro’s previous organization). However, Insight Crime has released a rather critical assessment of Total Peace overall, based off this (Spanish language) think tank report:

During its first year, the Petro government has overseen a significant reduction in confrontations between state security forces and armed groups…

Between July 2022 and August 2023, there were fewer than 100 clashes, while in 2021 there were more than 170…

But not everything is positive. The report's data show that disputes between the country's main armed groups have increased as they look to maintain and expand their territorial control. Clashes between armed groups have grown by 85% during Petro's first year in office, making it the highest figure in the last decade.

During this period, the ex-FARC mafia, ELN, and AGC have reinforced their ranks. Their combined total membership is now 7,620, according to the report. They are also supported by a network of at least 7,512 people, exceeding the figures reported in previous years, which averaged 6,000…

Although homicides have decreased by 1.5% in comparison to the last year under former president, Iván Duque (2018-2022), violence has continued unabated in the departments where armed groups have a strong presence.

The island of San Andrés and the departments of Sucre and Vaupes, where the AGC and the ex-FARC mafia have operations, have seen homicides increase by 72%, 59%, and 50% respectively. Bolivar and Putumayo also saw increases of between 10% and 20%.

At the national level, kidnapping have risen by 77% and extortion by almost 15%. In both cases, these are the highest figures in the last decade and contrast starkly against the goals of Total Peace


Things continue to look bleak in China. The government has stopped reporting youth unemployment numbers. Evergrande (the real estate giant from the fiasco in 2021) had their stock fall by another 80%, leaving them (if I read correctly) at under 1% of their value as of three years ago. China does appear to be taking a few scattered steps to address the situation:

Also on Monday, China halved a 0.1% tax on stock trading to "invigorate the capital market and boost investor confidence".

Major share indexes in Hong Kong and mainland China rose after the news. The move came days after the country's central bank cut one of its key interest rates for the second time in three months, in the face of falling exports and weak consumer spending.

Time writes on the global ripple effects, some negative:

Global investors have already pulled more than $10 billion from China’s stock markets, with most of the selling in blue chips. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley have cut their targets for Chinese equities, with the former also warning of spillover risks to the rest of the region.

Asian economies are taking the biggest hit to their trade so far, along with countries in Africa. Japan reported its first drop in exports in more than two years in July after China cut back on purchases of cars and chips. Central bankers from South Korea and Thailand last week cited China’s weak recovery for downgrades to their growth forecasts…

as the world’s second-largest economy, a prolonged slowdown in China will hurt, rather than help, the rest of the world. An analysis from the International Monetary Fund shows how much is at stake: when China’s growth rate rises by 1 percentage point, global expansion is boosted by about 0.3 percentage points…

Many countries, especially those in Asia, count China as their biggest export market for everything from electronic parts and food to metals and energy.

The value of Chinese imports has fallen for nine of the last 10 months as demand retreats from the record highs set during the pandemic. The value of shipments from Africa, Asia and North America were all lower in July than they were a year ago.

…and some positive:

It’s not all doom-and-gloom, though. China’s slowdown will drag down global oil prices, and deflation in the country means the prices of goods being shipped around the world are falling. That’s a benefit to countries like the U.S. and U.K. still battling high inflation.

Some emerging markets like India also see opportunities, hoping to attract the foreign investment that may be leaving China’s shores.


The Islamabad High Court (not the Supreme Court, but kind of like the equivalent of a circuit court for the Islamabad Capital Region) has suspended Imran Khan’s prison sentence and ordered that he be released. This is still evolving and the government is resistant for now, insisting he needs to remain in jail for now. It remains to be seen how things will progress.


Predictably, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won last week’s election, keeping their 43 year hold on power steady. Incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa AKA The Crocodile, who took power from Mugabe six years ago in a coup, will continue to govern. South Africa and the US have acknowledged criticisms of the election but have for now called for peace. Under the constitution this is Mnangagwa’s last legal term. Most people think he will try to run again anyway, though he’s currently 80 so it’s up in the air whether he will even be alive in 2028.


Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan met to negotiate over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GRED) across the Nile. Ethiopia put nearly $5 billion into GERD and would be able to generate vast amounts of electricity for its energy-deprived populace, but it would reduce the flow of water to Egypt and Sudan (the Nile is the only major river that actually runs south-to-north) which Sudan is wary about and Egypt considers an existential threat to the 85% of its water supply that comes from Ethiopia. The latter two nations are demanding a legally binding agreement as to how the dam will be operated, filled, and maintained. Ethiopia, uh, doesn't want to do that. Reportedly no progress was made; the next round of talks will happen in Addis Ababa with the hypothetical deadline for an agreement in October.

Also, updates on the Ethiopian conflict in the Amhara region, following President Abiy’s attempt to integrate the Amhara paramilitary Fano into the overall military (mirroring his political project to integrate the ethnic political parties into one coalition loyal to him):

"At least 183 people have been killed in clashes since July, according to information gathered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights", the OHCHR spokeswoman continued…

"We are very concerned about the deterioration of the human rights situation in certain regions of Ethiopia", said Marta Hurtado, stressing that the state of emergency gives the authorities wide powers.

In particular, it allows them to arrest suspects without a court order, impose curfews and ban public gatherings, she detailed."We have received reports that more than 1,000 people have been arrested throughout Ethiopia under this law.

Many of them are young people of Amhara ethnic origin suspected of being supporters of Fano", she said."Since the beginning of August, massive house-to-house searches have reportedly taken place", she added."We call on the authorities to put an end to the mass arrests, to ensure that any deprivation of liberty is subject to judicial review, and to release those arbitrarily detained", she said, calling on all those involved in the conflict "to put an end to the killings, other violations and abuses".

NPR also has a retrospective on the conflict of the past few years, “How did Ethiopia go from its leader winning the Nobel Peace Prize to war in a year?”, which I’m partially sharing because the guest is one incredibly named GEBREKIRSTOS GEBRESELASSIE GEBREMESKEL.

Jump in the discussion.

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Is the "Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam" named unironically?

Thanks for the update on GERD.

My new Finnish news recap.

DEBT-FILLED BUDGET: The government has presented the proposal for its first budget. The process has been led by Finance Minister Riikka Purra, this being her first major task that doesn’t involve navigating the racism scandal or internal government squabbling.

On its face, the budget is more moderate than expected. It introduces a slew of cuts (budget and tax cuts), but that’s not the most notable thing about it. No, probably the thing leading to the most discussion is that, after all the promises of cutting debt and solving Finland from the previous government’s claimed debt disaster, the new budget contains a 10-billion-euro deficit per year.

In other words, the government will take the same amount of new annual debt as Marin’s government. It’s worth underlining here to what degree the new government’s parties, particularly National Coalition, fought the last election on the platform of there being a looming debt disaster on the horizon and them being the only ones able to avert it, somehow.

This has led to much mockery. Cutting debt was the one thing they were supposed to do, according to their promises! Well, that and cut various taxes – this they have included in their budget, which of course just makes the questions about their supposed fiscal discipline louder.