what happened last week - Liberia's democracy 1 – Trump 0

what happened last week in Asia, Africa and the Americas


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After issue #358, you'll know the who's who of Liberian politics (and you will have listened to Hipco), you'll get a pretty detailed breakdown of the resistance and pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, and learn how to interpret the latest International Criminal Court ruling on Syria's torture tactics in its prisons. Plus, an Indian superhero movie to distract you from doomscrolling, an investigative podcast on the mysterious case of Grenada's revolutionary leader Maurice Bishop, an online database that saved countless lives in post-earthquake Morocco, a visually stunning but super sad documentary about what it means to live in Mauretania's Sahara region, and... AI girlfriends. And so much more.

Have a great week and read you soon,
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Map 3, Addicted04, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Liberia has a new president – here's what you need to know

What happened
Joseph Boakai is the new president of Liberia.

Why this matters
Liberia's been through a lot; think two civil wars, Ebola. You may also know this region as the military coup region. "Not in Liberia, though," writes the European Union's Election Observation Mission. Here, this election was able to peacefully transfer power from one political leader to another. The election, first held on Oct. 10 with the runoff last Tuesday, was the first one managed solely by Liberian authorities without international funding or assistance since the civil war ended in 2003. On a more concrete level, this election may also decide whether the country is going to move forward with a controversial and very huge deal with a company from the United Arab Emirates. Some five million people live here, 60 percent of them are under the age of 25.

Tell me more
Boakai is 75 years old, was vice president for 12 years, won the election with 50.9 percent of the vote to 49.1 percent of the sitting president George Weah (57, used to be an international football star). Yes, it was this narrow. "I urge you to follow my example and accept the result of the elections," he said, adding that "our time will come again" in 2029 when Boakai’s six-year term in office ends. (Is former U.S. president Donald Trump subscribed to this newsletter?) The last time these two competed against one another was in 2017, Weah back then got 62 percent of the vote. Boakai will be sworn in two months.

How is Liberia doing?
The World Bank will tell you that Liberia’s economy grew by 4.8 percent in 2022, mainly driven by mining and a relatively good agricultural harvest. The World Bank will also tell you that more than 80 percent of the population is food insecure, and prices of basic food products and fuel have gotten way too high this past year, with over half of Liberians living below the poverty line, on US$1.90 a day.

Did you know that Liberia declared independence in the 19th century, a century ahead of most African countries? Their democratic political system was/is modeled on that of the United States.

Tell me more about that deal you mentioned
"A company established by a Dubai sheikh is finalizing agreements with African nations to manage vast tracts of their forests and sell the carbon credits. Critics are concerned the deals will not benefit Africans and will just help foreign governments perpetuate high emissions," Fred Pearce sums it up for Yale Environment 360. The sheikh is Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, a member of the royal family of Dubai. His company wants ten percent of Liberia's forests for 30 years. George Weah was in favor of it, Boakai is much more skeptical. I go into more detail for my German speakers in "Die Wochendämmerung". 

Not politics: Have you ever heard of Hipco? It's a genre of hip-hop from Liberia. I added some famous Hipco artists to this newsletter's Spotify playlist, Go Global Weekly, so you can check it out. 

The military in Myanmar is slowly losing control

Refresher: Remember back in February 2021 when the military took over in a coup, putting the democratically elected leaders behind bars? They claimed election fraud but didn't really show any proof. Since then, the people of Myanmar haven't exactly been sitting quietly. There's a mix of ethnic groups and pro-democracy fighters, all armed, trying to wrestle back control of their country.

What happened
Fast forward to October 27, and things have heated up. Three armed ethnic groups, collectively known as the Brotherhood Alliance, launched an offensive in the northern Shan State. They've managed to snatch several key towns from the military regime. This operation, dubbed Operation 1027, has unfortunately led to over 150 civilian deaths, as reported by rights groups. The military, or the junta, is now teetering on the edge, potentially losing control over major border crossings crucial for their trade and tax revenue.

Why this matters
The stakes are high. The Myanmar Assistance Association for Political Prisoners tells us about 25,000 people have been arrested, and over 4,100 killed by the military. The UN reports at least 1.7 million internally displaced, with another million having fled the country.

Tell me more
These resistance groups aren't new; they've been around and fragmented across Myanmar. But now, they're gaining momentum, thanks to the Brotherhood Alliance's recent successes. Richard Horsey from the International Crisis Group suggests caution in declaring this a game-changer just yet. However, analysts agree that this is the biggest challenge the junta has faced since their 2021 power grab.

What about political opposition to the junta? 
Absolutely. There's the National Unity Government of Myanmar (N.U.G.), formed post-coup. It's a mix of ousted government members, activists, and ethnic minorities. They haven't been formally recognized globally but are doing significant work, like providing health and education services in resistant areas. They're funded by a global diaspora – from housekeepers in Bangladesh to tech entrepreneurs in Singapore. They have yet to produce a federal constitution to protect Myanmar's diverse ethnicities. The New York Times' Hannah Beech did an in-depth profile on the N.U.G. office in Washington D.C. that opened a year ago. Think virtual meetings, entire office is barely larger than a cubicle, etc. They dream of more support, akin to what Ukraine receives from the U.S., to bolster their cause.

Details: The N.U.G. is diverse. It includes a Rohingya member and someone who previously wouldn't even acknowledge the Rohingya's existence. Talk about a complex political landscape.

Did you know the national football coach in Myanmar is German? Michael Feichtenbeiner is his name. Deutschlandfunk Kultur just did a piece on him – it's in German, but hey, that's what translation tech is for.

What about the international community? 
On the global stage, the U.S. is trying to make moves. President Biden signed the BURMA Act last December, aiming for sanctions against those stifling Myanmar's reforms and supporting pro-democracy groups. The results are still up in the air, though. Recently, the U.S. targeted sanctions on Myanmar's state-run oil and gas enterprise. Let's see how this unfolds.

The International Criminal Court finally commands Syria to protect its civilians

What happened
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has made a big move. On November 16, they directed Syria to actively prevent torture and other abuses. This is more than just a routine order – Human Rights Watch is calling it a landmark decision for civilian protection in Syria.

Why this matters
This ruling is a first of its kind. It's the initial response from an international court to the abuses reported in the Syrian conflict, which has been ongoing since 2011. Around 14,000 people have reportedly died from torture or in prisons under Syrian forces. And that's just part of the story. The Assad regime has been linked to massive destruction, millions displaced, and an estimated 470,000 lives lost.

Tell me more
Back in June 2023, the Netherlands and Canada decided to take Syria to task, accusing it of going against the Convention Against Torture. The ICJ's response on November 16 is all about "provisional measures" – basically, urgent steps to stop the bad stuff now and set the stage for more legal action down the line. These ICJ orders are meant to be followed, but making that happen can be tricky. Balkees Jarrah from Human Rights Watch points out how crucial this ruling is, especially for those in Syrian detention centers right now. The court's gearing up for a full hearing, but let's be real – it's going to be a long haul. And just to be clear, this order doesn't mean Syria's been found guilty yet; it's more like the court saying, "Let's take a closer look at this."

What's Syria's take on this? 
Despite loads of evidence from the UN and groups like Human Rights Watch, Syria's been pretty firm in denying any torture claims. But there's a chorus of voices – torture survivors, activists, families of the detained or disappeared – who are rallying behind this case. They've been key in keeping the world's eyes on holding Syria accountable, leading to some successful legal actions in Europe.

Dig deeper: Syrian lawyers and activists are getting creative with international law, scoring some wins in courts around the world. They're taking pages from other international cases, like those involving the Rohingya, to bring Syrian officials to justice. The Intercept's Maryam Saleh got more details.

Zoom out: Despite Syria's troubling track record, some Arab nations, like the UAE and Jordan, are moving towards normalizing relations with its government. The Arab League even welcomed Syria back after showing them the door in 2011. Meanwhile, big players like Russia, Iran, and China are diving into Syria's reconstruction projects. Human Rights Watch is urging these countries to think twice, to wait until Syria makes amends for its human rights record.

Is there any more legal heat on Assad's regime?
In a related twist, French judges have put out international arrest warrants for Syria's president and three of his associates over war crimes and crimes against humanity, linked to chemical attacks in 2013. Them showing up in a French court might be a long shot, but these warrants could throw a wrench in Syria's improving diplomatic and business ties.

And what if, after all that, nothing changes? 
Thinking about a Syria after Assad or a time of justice and healing seems tough right now. But the push for accountability is important in itself. Documenting what's happened, giving victims the spotlight, and making sure the entire story of the Syrian conflict is told are crucial. It's all about remembering, and, as Human Rights Watch highlights, ensuring that these stories aren't forgotten or rewritten.

what else happened

Philippines: A magnitude 6.7 earthquake hits southern Mindanao, Philippines, killing at least seven people and leaving two others missing. (Bloomberg)
Dominican Republic: At least nine people were killed after heavy flooding across the Dominican Republic. (Reuters)
India: Efforts to rescue 40 workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand, India, were suspended due to concerns of further cave-ins. (AFP via Dawn)
We'll see
Madagascar: Elections took place. Results are not expected for at least a week. (BBC News)
Nepal / China: Following a New York Times article, anti-corruption officials in Nepal are investigating an airport financed and built by China. (The New York Times) In the same week, Nepal banned TikTok, citing misuse of the app that "disturbs social harmony and disrupts family structures and social relations". (Al Jazeera)
DRC: Four major Congolese opposition parties formed a coalition to contest President Félix Tshisekedi in the upcoming election. Martin Fayulu's party remained absent from the agreement. (AFP via The Citizen)
Sudan: The Sudan Liberation Movement, the Justice and Equality Movement and other smaller rebel factions declare war on the Rapid Support Forces, having previously remained neutral in the conflict. (Sudan Tribune)
Argentina: Argentines voted for their president in a run-off election between Sergio Massa and Javier Milei. (AP) At the time of writing this issue, the results had not been published yet.
Haiti / Kenya: The Parliament of Kenya approved the deployment of its police officers to Haiti as part of a United Nations-backed multinational security mission to combat the gang war in Haiti. (AFP via TOI)
Guyana / Venezuela: Venezuela announced that it will proceed with a referendum on the status of Guayana Esequiba, despite Guyana's petition to stop the referendum from being held. (Reuters)
Bangladesh: The Bangladesh Election Commission announced that parliamentary elections will occur on January 7 next year, following weeks of violent protests by supporters of the opposition. (Al Jazeera)
Russia: Russia began its shipments of free grain to Africa as part of President Vladimir Putin's pledge to send 200,000 tonnes of grain to six African nations. (AFP via The Moscow Times)
South Africa: South African startup Lelapa AI is trying to use machine learning to create tools for Africans and African languages. Right now, it can handle four languages common in South Africa: isiZulu, Afrikaans, Sesotho, and English. (Technology Review)
UAE: The Al Dhafra solar farm, the largest solar farm in the world, comes online in the United Arab Emirates. The solar farm is expected to power around 200,000 homes. (Electrek)
Malawi: Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera suspended all publicly funded international travel for government officials, including himself, until the end of March, as part of measures to address the country's economic challenges. (AFP via The Citizen)
United Kingdom: The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that the British government's Rwanda asylum plan, where illegal immigrants would be relocated to Rwanda for processing and resettlement, is unlawful. (BBC News)
Myanmar: Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom formally join the genocide case at the International Court of Justice against Myanmar, accusing Myanmar's military junta of committing genocide against the Rohingya people. (Al Jazeera)
Azerbaijan / Nagorno-Karabakh: The International Court of Justice ordered Azerbaijan to facilitate the "safe, unimpeded, and expeditious" return of displaced people to Nagorno-Karabakh, following the country's offensive, and to ensure freedom of movement for those wishing to leave or remain in the region. (AFP via RFI)


Read... "How an Interactive Database Brought Earthquake Relief to Off-the-Map Villages" (article) by Soulaimane Bakbach for reasons to be cheerful. The earthquake that hit Morocco this year was the biggest in 60 years. Over 2,900 poeple died, 3,000 got hurt, and many more became homeless overnight. Local authorities said about 2,930 villages got smashed up pretty bad. The hardest hit spots? Totally off the usual map – we're talking remote mountain villages that even locals barely know, let alone international aid folks. Seisme Maroc Data, a super detailed database was a game-changer for aid groups. Nabil Boutrik, a top-notch Moroccan topographer, was like, "This is déjà vu from the early Coronavirus days – total chaos and no solid info." Back in 2020, he whipped up his first online database to track COVID stats and bust myths. Post-quake, he knew it was database time again. Boutrik set up this bilingual (Arabic-French) online database that not only shared info but also mapped out the disaster zones within 50 kilometers. Super quick, the database was up and running, covering 123 regions, loads of villages, and 54 aid groups. The constant updates made the database a real winner and meant no wasted donations.

Listen to... "The Empty Grave of Comrade Bishop" (website), a new investigative podcast by The Washington Post. In October 1983, Maurice Bishop, the revolutionary leader and prime minister of Grenada, was executed alongside seven others amid a power struggle in the island nation. Ever since, a mystery has persisted: What happened to their bodies? The whereabouts of Bishop’s remains is unknown, and for the past two years, Washington Post journalists have been trying to find them. It's SO well-narrated.

Watch"Minnal Murali" (trailer), a 2021 Indian Malayalam-language superhero film directed by Basil Joseph and produced by Sophia Paul. The film stars Tovino Thomas and Guru Somasundaram. The story follows the life of Jaison, a young tailor who gains superpowers after being struck by lightning, and transforms into a superhero. Writing for Hindustan Times, Devarsi Ghosh wrote that Minnal Murali has "finally cracked the superhero formula for India." Sajin Srijith of The New Indian Express stated Minnal Murali as "the best superhero film made in India". It is the third Indian film to be in Netflix's Global Top 10 list of non-English Movies. According to LiveMint, more than 5.9 million viewing hours being recorded for the film during its premiere on 24 December 2021. Btw, the film’s success on Netflix is partly attributable to translations: filmed in the South Indian regional language Malayalam, the blockbuster was eventually dubbed into Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, and English as well as subtitled in over a dozen international languages. rest of world's Andrew Deck and Nilesh Christopher wrote about the translation industry in India in the era of a streaming boom. Think increased workload, competitive pricing. It's getting real tough.

video of the week

"Fleeing the shifting sands of the Sahara desert, due to climate change", a mini-documentary (15 min) about what it means to live near the desert in northern Mauritania in times of climate change. People here are seeing first-hand the impact of climate change. Temperatures getting higher, the Sahara desert expanding, people are forced to leave their ancestral homes and look for a better life elsewhere. The Sahara covers almost 70% of Mauritania, mostly in the northern part of the country, while the south gets more precipitation, especially during winter. This was truly an impressive piece of journalism closely following a father's search for a better future for his children.

on a funny note

A bunch of people got unexpectedly dumped by their AI girlfriends last week.

Forever Voices, this AI company, had launched a bunch of celebrity-inspired "virtual girlfriend" chatbots on Telegram, and everything was going fine until suddenly, they went dark on October 23. Why? Well, their CEO, John Meyer, got himself arrested for allegedly setting fire to boxes on his apartment balcony in Austin, Texas.

He's now facing charges of arson and making terroristic threats, with his bail set at a whopping US$120,000. 

Yeah, that’s the guy in my head when I think of the CEO of an AI girlfriend company.

Hey, I'm Sham, the person behind this newsletter. Since 2014, I email a bunch of strangers once a week, curating news headlines from Asia, Africa and the Americas. I work under the assumption that, here in the West (I live in Berlin, Germany), we don't read or know much about the global majority, aka the rest of the world. 

My goal is to help you burst your Western-centric bubble.

If you want to know more about me, visit my
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