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The Olympics: Beyond Sports, A Billion-Dollar Business with Political Overtones



Olympics: A Billion-Dollar Business with Political Overtones

The Olympic Games, an iconic global sporting event, are much more than a gathering of elite athletes competing for glory. They are a massive business enterprise generating billions in revenue and a stage for geopolitical maneuvering. Here’s an in-depth look at how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) operates and the broader implications of the Games.

The IOC, headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, is a not-for-profit organization that generates substantial income primarily from broadcasting rights and sponsorships. In the latest four-year cycle ending with the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, the IOC earned $7.6 billion. Broadcast rights accounted for 61% of this revenue, while sponsorships contributed 30% . Despite its not-for-profit status, the IOC operates like a business, reinvesting 90% of its income back into sports, although athletes receive only a small portion directly .

Hosting the Olympics is a costly endeavor, often burdening host nations with significant expenses. The official cost for the Tokyo 2021 Games was listed at $13 billion, with over half funded by Japanese government entities. However, audits suggest the actual cost could be twice as much . The financial strain can overshadow local priorities, raising concerns about the value of hosting such a large-scale event.

The IOC is composed of about 100 members, including several royals and influential figures. The longest-serving member is Princess Nora of Liechtenstein. Despite being labeled as volunteers, IOC members, particularly the president, enjoy significant perks. In 2022, President Thomas Bach’s expenses, including an annual indemnity and tax liabilities, amounted to $370,000 .

The Games rely heavily on unpaid volunteers, who are essential for smooth operations but often face economic exploitation. Paris, for instance, is seeking 45,000 volunteers for the upcoming Olympics, while Tokyo initially sought 80,000. The reliance on volunteers can be problematic, especially in economically challenged regions where locals cannot afford to work for free .

Despite the IOC’s claim that the Olympics transcend politics, the Games are inherently political. They serve as a platform for nations to showcase their prowess and influence. The presence of world leaders at opening ceremonies and the nationalistic fervor surrounding medal counts underline the political dimensions of the event. The IOC’s observer status at the United Nations further cements its political significance .

The bidding process for hosting the Olympics has evolved due to high costs and political considerations. The 2024 Summer Games saw only Paris and Los Angeles as contenders, with Paris winning the bid and Los Angeles securing the 2028 Games. The 2032 Games were awarded to Brisbane, Australia, significantly ahead of time, partly due to influential lobbying by IOC member John Coates . Studies have shown that hosting the Olympics can be a financial loss for cities, displacing essential public services and infrastructure investments .

The Olympics have frequently been marred by scandals and corruption. The Tokyo 2021 Games were tainted by bribery allegations, and the 2016 Rio Games faced severe financial mismanagement. The 2014 Sochi Winter Games were overshadowed by a state-run doping scandal. Historical examples, like the corruption in the bidding process for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, highlight the ethical challenges facing the IOC .

The Olympics, while celebrated for their sporting excellence, are deeply entwined with significant financial interests and political agendas. Understanding these dimensions provides a clearer picture of the complexities behind this global event, emphasizing the need for transparency and reform to ensure the Games’ integrity and sustainability.


How Militia Groups Capture States and Ruin Countries: The Case of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces



Sudan’s descent into chaos, orchestrated by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), reveals the terrifying blueprint of how militias can infiltrate state institutions and wreak havoc on societies. Originally established in 2013 by dictator Omar al-Bashir as a private protection detail, the RSF has morphed into a predatory force vying for control of Sudan, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

In April 2023, Sudan plunged into war as the military attempted to suppress the RSF. This conflict has ravaged the nation, including the capital Khartoum. By June 2024, the carnage had claimed at least 15,500 lives, displaced over 6 million people, and pushed more than 25 million into acute hunger, according to the United Nations.

The RSF’s rise to power mirrors the strategies of other militia groups that infiltrate and co-opt state institutions. This approach is multifaceted, encompassing military, economic, and political dimensions. These groups exploit conflict to expand their influence, armories, and ranks, generating revenue through illicit businesses and forging alliances with foreign states and international smuggling networks. They secure political support by providing jobs and patronage, seeking to embed themselves within institutional roles.

As a political scientist specializing in conflict studies and irregular warfare, I have dedicated over a decade to researching insurgents, paramilitaries, militias, and other armed groups. My recent work delves into the phenomenon of “state capture” – the covert and gradual infiltration of state institutions to influence policy. In addition to examining Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shia militias in Iraq, I scrutinized the RSF in Sudan. Through interviews with academics, political analysts, government officials, and individuals affiliated with armed groups, I uncovered a consistent pattern: militias initially pursue their objectives without openly antagonizing the state, presenting themselves as pro-government while signaling the devastating consequences of any attempt to neutralize them.

Over time, these strategies enable armed groups to gain political influence and formal institutional roles, allowing them to shape public policies to their advantage. When militias achieve state capture, they undermine governmental effectiveness, contributing to institutional breakdown and state failure. In Sudan, the RSF now controls vast swathes of territory, although it hasn’t yet secured total control of the country.

The RSF’s roots trace back to the Janjaweed militias, notorious for their role in al-Bashir’s genocidal campaign in Darfur. In 2013, al-Bashir restructured the Janjaweed into the RSF to counterbalance the army and prevent coups, appointing Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, a former highway robber turned Janjaweed commander, as its leader.

Al-Bashir’s backing allowed Hemedti to deploy thousands of fighters across Sudan to secure strategic locations, including the capital, borderlands, and economic hubs like gold mines. Capitalizing on this positioning, the RSF expanded its involvement in gold mining, smuggling, and trading, even generating income by supplying mercenaries for conflicts in Yemen and Libya. Al-Bashir’s regime tacitly endorsed these activities, likely seeing them as a cost-effective way to maintain the RSF.

Initially collaborating closely with Sudan’s army, the RSF did not oppose the military’s decision to oust al-Bashir in 2019 amidst anti-regime protests. During the political transition, Hemedti became vice-chair of the Sovereign Council, tasked with guiding Sudan towards democratic elections. This institutional role shocked many within Sudanese civil society, though some argued that dismantling the RSF would spark conflict. Both the army and the RSF had established secretive business networks generating billions, sharing a short-term interest in protecting their power and assets from civilian interference. This alignment facilitated the October 2021 military coup, abruptly halting Sudan’s democratization process.

Under the new regime, the RSF grew more powerful, profiting from gold mining, smuggling, and business deals with the, Russia’s Wagner Group, and Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar. Bolstering their arsenal and expanding their ranks, the RSF positioned themselves as champions of ordinary Arabs from Sudan’s rural provinces and borderlands.

The Sudanese Armed Forces, alarmed by the RSF’s growing power, attempted to integrate the militia into the military command. However, by the time the military launched its offensive in April 2023, the RSF had fielded 100,000 fighters equipped for urban warfare. They quickly inflicted heavy losses on the military, seizing control of most of Khartoum, as well as Gezira, Darfur, and Kordofan, fracturing the Sudanese state and society.

In areas under their control, the RSF has committed crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing, massacres, rape, torture, and widespread looting. The Sudanese army, which controls Port Sudan, has blocked humanitarian aid to RSF territories, exacerbating an impending famine.

The prospects for a peaceful resolution in Sudan appear bleak. Even a temporary ceasefire to facilitate humanitarian aid seems improbable, given the divided United Nations Security Council and the lack of a viable plan from the African Union. Western powers have squandered their political capital in Sudan, failing to support the 2019-2021 democratic transition or reverse the 2021 coup.

Russia bear significant responsibility for the current situation, their support for opposing sides deepening divisions and thwarting peace efforts.

Local neighborhood committees, once pivotal in grassroots democratization, have been marginalized by armed actors. International actors aiming to help Sudan must recognize that these civil society groups represent the country’s best hope. They possess a deep understanding of Sudan’s most pressing needs, including unimpeded humanitarian aid and the exposure and curtailing of armed groups’ military and financial lifelines. Supporting these efforts could pave the way for a political transition free from the influence of armed actors.

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The Internal Threats: A Dire Warning for Somaliland



The Untold Story of Waddani’s Alleged Treachery and the Looming Peril

Somaliland stands at a crossroads, with the potential to become a dominant force in Africa if it secures international recognition. The nation’s vast oil, gas, and mineral reserves promise a prosperous future, but only if the current administration can navigate the treacherous waters of internal betrayal and external aggression.

In the shadowy corridors of power, a silent war is being waged within Somaliland, threatening to unravel the very fabric of the nation. This urgent intelligence report exposes the nefarious activities of the Waddani party, allegedly conspiring with external enemies to destabilize Somaliland. As the nation teeters on the brink of chaos, President Muse Bihi’s government faces an existential crisis, infiltrated by traitors and undermined by clandestine forces.

Somaliland’s strategic importance has never been more apparent, drawing the attention of global powers such as China, the US, and Russia. However, this spotlight has also illuminated internal vulnerabilities that foreign adversaries are eager to exploit. The enemy within has found allies among Somaliland’s political elite, with the Waddani party at the epicenter of this betrayal.

Secret intelligence reports, now declassified, reveal a web of corruption and propaganda meticulously woven by Waddani operatives over the past seven years. The former Speaker of the Somaliland Parliament, Abdirizak Khalif, emerges as a pivotal figure in this conspiracy. Khalif, with deep-rooted ties to the Daarod clan, has publicly renounced Somaliland, inciting unrest in Lasanod and beyond. His actions echo the violent legacy of the former Somali dictator, Siad Barre, who orchestrated the massacre of half a million Somalilanders.

Khalif’s ascent to the highest echelons of power, allegedly facilitated by the Waddani party, raises unsettling questions about Somaliland’s security apparatus. How did an avowed enemy infiltrate the government so effectively? Why has the administration of President Muse Bihi, despite being aware of these threats, failed to act decisively?

The internal threat is exacerbated by media manipulation funded by Waddani’s dirty money. Journalists, compromised by bribes, disseminate fake news designed to erode public trust and fuel anti-government sentiments. This insidious campaign aims to destabilize Somaliland from within, rendering it vulnerable to external aggressors.

President Muse Bihi’s tenure, marked by relentless battles against both visible and invisible enemies, underscores the complexity of his predicament. How can a leader combat adversaries embedded within his own administration? The answer lies in decisive, unprecedented action. The government must investigate Waddani’s treacherous activities, expose their corruption, and bring them to justice. The Secret Waddani Files, containing damning evidence of bribery and propaganda, must be made public. Only then can the nation begin to heal and fortify itself against future threats.

The shocking reality is that individuals complicit in this betrayal are poised to compete in the upcoming elections. The failure to address Waddani’s actions signifies a dangerous complacency within the government.

Somaliland’s geopolitical significance, underscored by its alliance with Taiwan, has made it a target for Chinese interference. China, eager to undermine President Bihi’s administration, has allegedly invested in Waddani and other opposition figures. Berbera, once a lesser-known port, is now recognized as Somaliland’s diamond, a critical asset coveted by international powers.

The stakes are high, and the time for decisive action is now.

The forthcoming elections on November 13, 2024, present a critical juncture for Somaliland. It is imperative to delay the elections to root out internal enemies and cleanse the government of traitorous elements. A minimum one-year period is required to implement these necessary purges, ensuring the safety and integrity of the nation before any electoral process resumes. The election committee must prioritize the security of Somaliland over procedural timelines.

Intelligence reports have uncovered a chilling plot by Darood elites to incite a civil war in the western regions of Somaliland, echoing the unrest in Lasanod. Anti-Somaliland elements from the Awdal region are allegedly conspiring to ignite conflict, a scheme that, if left unchecked, could plunge the nation into chaos.

The government must act swiftly to neutralize these threats, imprison unelected clan leaders, and counter media disinformation.

The unsettling truth is that some of President Bihi’s trusted Politicians are implicated in this conspiracy. These individuals, driven by personal gain, have been working with foreign adversaries to destabilize Somaliland from within. Many lack the educational background and relevant experience for their positions, raising further questions about their loyalties and competence.

Somaliland stands at a crossroads, with the potential to become a dominant force in Africa if it secures international recognition. The nation’s vast oil, gas, and mineral reserves promise a prosperous future, but only if the current administration can navigate the treacherous waters of internal betrayal and external aggression.

In conclusion, Somaliland faces an urgent and existential threat from within. The Waddani party, driven by corruption and aligned with external enemies, poses a significant danger to the nation’s sovereignty. President Muse Bihi’s administration must act decisively to purge these internal threats, delay the elections, and secure Somaliland’s future. The time for complacency is over; the survival of Somaliland hangs in the balance.

This is an updated version of an article originally published March 14, 2023.

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The Impact of Trump Assassination Attempt Photos on the U.S. Presidential Campaign



How a Single Image Could Shape the Political Landscape and Fuel Divisive Narratives

It’s a photo that has reverberated around the world: a bloodied Donald Trump, his fist raised, as Secret Service officers rush the former president from a stage. Captured by Associated Press journalist Evan Vucci, this image freezes the immediate aftermath of the attempted assassination of Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, potentially altering the course of the presidential election.

Described by some U.S. media outlets as iconic, the photos from that day hold significant power. They not only document a moment of intense drama but also serve as a potent symbol in a highly polarized political climate. The enduring legacy of still photography, even in the age of ubiquitous video, remains potent, as it can encapsulate and immortalize pivotal moments in ways that moving images often cannot.

Ron Burnett, former president of the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Canada, underscores the powerful impact of such imagery. “The iconic effects of a photograph are not to be underestimated at all,” Burnett told VOA. “Icons actually always are of greater effect than truth, which is a really scary thought, but which is true.” This photograph, in particular, reinforces the Trump campaign’s narrative of a beleaguered leader fighting against formidable odds. “The photo suggests, among many different things, that he’s in a war and already in constant danger,” Burnett added.

This notion plays directly into the hands of Trump’s rhetoric, framing him as a martyr of sorts in a relentless battle. The imagery supports his portrayal of being perpetually under siege, an angle that could energize his base and evoke sympathy among undecided voters. In a political landscape where perception often trumps reality, this photograph could wield considerable influence.

Subramaniam Vincent, the director of Santa Clara University’s journalism and media ethics center, points out that the portrayal of the moment will inevitably become a part of the political discourse. “The real ethics of it, I think, comes in interpreting where the picture is, what it stands for in the narrative about American culture, politics, guns, violence,” Vincent explained. The photo will be dissected and analyzed, each interpretation potentially adding to the already charged political environment.

For Vucci, capturing the shooting and its aftermath was not just about documenting an event, but about fulfilling a crucial journalistic duty. “I knew that this was a moment in American history that had to be documented,” he said. “I mean, it’s our job as journalists to do this work.” This commitment to documenting history, however, also opens the floodgates for various interpretations and misinterpretations.

As the news media work to verify the events surrounding the rally, social media platforms have become breeding grounds for misinformation and conspiracy theories. Claims falsely attributing responsibility for the attack to political parties on both sides are proliferating. Journalists are working tirelessly to debunk these falsehoods, but the polarized and emotional climate complicates these efforts.

David Klepper, a reporter for the AP, highlighted the challenges in this environment. “There’s no evidence for either of these conspiracy theories, but they reflect the kind of claims that are spreading in this very polarized emotional climate in the immediate aftermath of the assassination attempt,” Klepper noted. Despite these efforts, the spread of misinformation remains a significant concern.

Two days after the attack, Trump was back on stage at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a move that signals resilience and a refusal to be cowed by violence. Data from cyber analysts PeakMetrics shows that social media mentions of Trump surged in the hours following the attack. While many posts expressed sympathy, PeakMetrics also found others that sought to seed conspiracy theories or spread false or misleading claims.

In the coming weeks and months, the photograph of Trump’s assassination attempt will likely remain a focal point of discussion and analysis. Its impact on the presidential campaign could be profound, serving as both a rallying point for his supporters and a catalyst for further polarization. As the U.S. navigates this tumultuous political period, the power of a single image to shape narratives and influence public perception stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of photojournalism.

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Beauty in the Crossfire: Miss Somalia Pageant Amid Violence



Amid Explosions and Controversy, Somali Women Defy Odds in Groundbreaking Beauty Pageant

On a night when most of Somalia tuned in to the Euro football final, a very different kind of spectacle unfolded at Mogadishu’s Elite Hotel. Hundreds gathered to witness the Miss Somalia pageant, a daring celebration of beauty and resilience in one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a woman. Just a kilometer away, the grim reality of Somali life was underscored by a car bomb explosion that killed five and injured twenty. The militant group al-Shabab, notorious for its reign of terror over Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The juxtaposition of a beauty pageant with such violence highlights the schizophrenic nature of life in Somalia. While pageant contestants paraded in glamorous gowns, the nearby explosion shattered the night, a stark reminder of the pervasive threat of terrorism. This contrast paints a vivid picture of a nation grappling with its identity and future.

Hani Abdi Gas, founded the competition in 2021. In a country where Islamist militants and conservative traditions dominate, her initiative is nothing short of revolutionary. Gas, who grew up in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya before returning to Somalia in 2020, sees the pageant as more than a beauty contest. It’s a platform for lifting women’s voices, fostering unity, and empowering Somali women.

Gas believes that Somalia, long deemed one of the worst places to be a woman, is ready to join the rest of the world in celebrating female beauty and aspiration. “I want to celebrate the aspirations of women from diverse backgrounds, build their confidence, and give them a chance to showcase Somali culture worldwide,” she said.

This year’s contestants reflected this diversity. Among them was a policewoman, a powerful symbol of women breaking barriers in a traditionally male-dominated society. However, not everyone was pleased. Many Somalis view beauty pageants as affronts to their culture and religion. Clan leader Ahmed Abdi Halane expressed disgust, saying, “Such things are against our culture and our religion. If a girl wears tight clothes and appears on stage, it will bring shame upon her family and her clan. Women are supposed to stay at home and wear modest clothes.”

Some women also oppose the pageant. Sabrina, a student, criticized the contestants for appearing in public without covering their necks, saying, “It is good to support the Somali youth but not in ways that conflict with our religion.”

Despite these criticisms, the pageant proceeded with its vibrant display of Somali culture. Aisha Ikow, a 24-year-old university student and make-up artist, was crowned Miss Somalia, taking home a $1,000 prize. Ikow, representing South-West state, vowed to use her platform to combat early marriage and promote girls’ education. “The competition celebrates Somali culture and beauty while shaping a brighter future for women,” she said.

The judging panel, which included Miss Somalia 2022 and a representative from the Ministry of Youth, found it hard to choose a winner. They assessed contestants on physical beauty, public speaking, and stage presence. An online vote, costing $1 per vote, funded the event and future international pageant participation.

The glitzy event in a luxury hotel contrasted sharply with the harsh realities faced by most Somali women. Four million Somalis, a quarter of the population, are internally displaced, with up to 80% being women. The UN ranks Somalia near the bottom on the Gender Inequality Index, with alarming rates of gender-based violence and female genital mutilation. Traditional practices still dictate that a rapist must marry his victim, and legal protections for women are severely lacking.

Despite these challenges, the Miss Somalia pageant signifies a slow but significant change. The fact that such an event could be held in Mogadishu, even amid nearby violence, indicates a shift in societal attitudes and an improvement in security.

The crowd at the Elite Hotel stayed until the early hours, undeterred by the attack’s proximity. They were engrossed in the pageant, the sound of the explosion drowned out by the waves crashing on the nearby beach.

In a nation torn by conflict and conservative values, the Miss Somalia pageant stands as a beacon of hope. It is a testament to the resilience of Somali women and their determination to carve out spaces of empowerment and celebration. As Somalia continues to navigate its complex identity, events like these are crucial in shaping a more inclusive and progressive future.

Kiin Hassan Fakat, reporting with Bilan Media, and Mary Harper, author of two books on Somalia, provide a lens into this transformative moment, capturing the courage and aspirations of Somali women amidst a backdrop of turmoil.

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The End of the French Exception



A Fragmented Election Demands a New Political Culture of Compromise

In the wake of a chaotic snap election, the word “ingouvernable” has become a buzzword in France, capturing the nation’s sense of political paralysis. With no party securing an absolute majority, France finds itself at a crossroads, facing a political deadlock that could stall administration and rattle financial markets.

This scenario might be business as usual in other EU countries, where coalition governments are the norm, but for France, it marks a dramatic departure. President Emmanuel Macron’s gamble to call a snap election to counter the rise of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally didn’t fully pay off. While Le Pen’s party didn’t win, the left-wing New Popular Front, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, claimed the most seats, leaving Macron’s centrist camp in second place.

Now, France’s political factions are compelled to consider alliances—anathema in French politics, where compromise is often seen as betrayal. Macron, in a letter to the public, urged the creation of a new political culture based on coalition, a plea that underscores the gravity of the situation.

However, embracing this new culture won’t be easy. The French political elite, long unaccustomed to power-sharing, faces a steep learning curve. Joseph de Weck of the Foreign Policy Research Institute highlights this challenge, noting that what seems ungovernable in France is merely routine in other European parliaments.

During the election, a rare cooperation emerged to thwart Le Pen. Macron’s centrists and the left-wing alliance reluctantly joined forces in the second round, uniting the anti-Le Pen vote. This temporary truce underscores the difficulty of forging a lasting coalition, especially given the stark policy differences between Macron’s liberals and Mélenchon’s far-left movement.

This election could signal the end of France’s “exception” in the EU, where coalition governments are standard. Gilles Gressani of Groupe d’études géopolitiques observes that France, along with Malta and Hungary, has avoided coalition governments for a decade. The task now is to find a prime minister capable of navigating this fragmented political landscape.

The New Popular Front claims the right to propose the next prime minister, given its electoral success. Macron’s camp, meanwhile, is exploring alliances with center-left factions or even the right-wing Republicans. These negotiations are unprecedented in modern French politics, where the constitution and majoritarian system typically ensure a clear majority aligned with the president.

This election has exposed the system’s limitations. For the first time in two decades, France faces the possibility of “cohabitation”—a president and government from rival camps. In 2022, Macron managed to appoint a prime minister from his camp despite losing the parliamentary majority. Now, with his bloc coming in second, he must appoint a PM who can secure parliamentary support through negotiations.

Unlike Germany, where the chancellor leads coalition talks, or Italy, where the president consults party leaders, France has no clear protocol for such negotiations. Macron’s ally François Bayrou suggests the president should break the deadlock by picking a compromise PM. However, Macron’s outsider status and aloof demeanor might hinder his ability to mediate effectively.

In his recent letter, Macron emphasized the need for a “solid, necessarily plural” coalition, urging calm and respectful compromise. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, however, dismissed Macron’s message as a “royal veto” against the left.

The fragmented parliament has reignited debate over France’s electoral system. The current two-round system, which forces a polarizing choice in run-offs, may no longer be fit for purpose. Some argue for a proportional system, better representing smaller parties, akin to the European Parliament or Dutch model.

Voting reform has been discussed before but never enacted. If the current fraught negotiations are any indication, France’s journey to embrace coalition politics might still be a long one.

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Xi and Putin Unite at Central Asian Summit to Challenge U.S. Hegemony



Leaders of China and Russia Strengthen Ties Amid Growing Influence in Central Asia

In a bid to counter what they see as U.S.-led dominance on the global stage, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin held pivotal talks at a security summit in Kazakhstan. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, which aims to address Eurasian security concerns, saw both leaders reaffirming their partnership and discussing strategies to enhance their influence in the region.

Established in 2001 by China and Russia, the SCO serves as a forum for these two powerhouses to project their influence across Eurasia. Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov highlighted the significance of this gathering, emphasizing that the SCO, along with BRICS, represents “the main pillars of the new world order,” advocating for genuine multilateralism in global affairs.

The BRICS coalition, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, recently extended invitations to six more countries: Argentina, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, underscored the importance of the SCO summit, stating it would “build more consensus among all parties and promote security, stability, and development of member countries.”

This summit also provided Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations an opportunity to bolster their ties with these influential neighbors. Notably, the timing of this summit is crucial as China and Russia continue to deepen their relationship. In 2022, China declared a “no limits” partnership with Russia, and since then, Beijing has portrayed itself as a neutral actor in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Xi and Putin last met in May when Putin visited Beijing. Since then, China has extended diplomatic support to Russia and emerged as a primary market for Russian oil and gas. Despite their burgeoning ties, Central Asia remains a contested space for both countries. For Russia, the region comprises five former Soviet republics with deep-rooted cultural and economic ties. For China, Central Asia is crucial for its Belt and Road initiative, raising concerns over potential threats to Russia’s influence.

Analysts suggest that the summit’s discussions may have underlying implications, as both nations need to balance their competing interests in Central Asia while pursuing closer cooperation.

Eoin Micheál McNamara, a research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, noted that the SCO allows China and Russia to engage in collective dialogue with Central Asian states, helping manage mutual suspicions about each other’s intentions in the region.

“The SCO is therefore useful to keep the China-Russia alliance together as a force in wider great power politics,” McNamara explained. Carol Saivetz, a senior fellow at MIT’s Security Studies Program, anticipated that participants would discuss security in abstract terms and focus on economic projects. Historically, there was an implicit understanding that China would handle economic issues while Russia acted as the region’s security guarantor. However, with the ongoing war in Ukraine, China might exploit the instability to expand its influence.

Saivetz highlighted Xi’s early arrival to meet with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and his subsequent visit to Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, as indicators that China is not limiting its options to multilateral formats or Moscow. Despite the war in Ukraine overshadowing the summit, public discussion on the topic is unlikely due to differing opinions among Central Asian states.

Tina Dolbaia, a research associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, echoed this sentiment, suggesting that discussions about the Ukraine war would probably occur behind closed doors. She emphasized the relevance of the Ukraine conflict to the power struggle between China and Russia in Central Asia. “Putin is currently willing to underestimate and overlook China’s rising role in Russia’s ‘backyard’ due to the importance of countering the West in Ukraine and establishing a multi-polar world order,” Dolbaia explained.

Despite the significant influence wielded by China and Russia in the region, Central Asia’s loyalties are not firmly aligned with either. Dolbaia noted that Central Asian countries understand the need to navigate their relationships with both powers carefully. As the SCO summit concludes, the delicate balance of power in Central Asia remains a focal point for both Beijing and Moscow, highlighting the intricate dynamics of their partnership amid growing global tensions.

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Ramaphosa names bloated new South African Cabinet



South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has unveiled a new Cabinet for his government of national unity. This comes after weeks of intense political deal-making, as Ramaphosa strives to bridge the gap between a fractured electorate and a parliament now teeming with a colorful mix of characters — from a former armed robber to a white Afrikaner nationalist.

The need for this unprecedented coalition arose after the African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid, suffered a stunning blow in the May elections, losing its majority. Ramaphosa’s solution was to form an inclusive government, bringing together 10 opposition parties, each with its own agenda and history of animosity towards the others.

To appease these factions, Ramaphosa has created a somewhat unwieldy Cabinet, now bloated to 32 ministers and 43 deputy ministers. “The establishment of the government of national unity in its current form is unprecedented in the history of our democracy,” Ramaphosa declared, emphasizing the necessity of this approach to advance national interests and reflect the election results.

Despite the noble rhetoric, this government must confront serious internal contradictions. The ANC secured 20 of the 32 Cabinet posts, while the Democratic Alliance (DA), long a thorn in the ANC’s side, took six. The remaining posts went to smaller parties, resulting in a diverse yet potentially discordant mix.

John Steenhuisen, DA leader and the new agriculture minister, acknowledged the challenges ahead. “The road ahead will be difficult,” he conceded, yet he pledged to work towards making this coalition successful. “It is now up to all of us — including the voters who created this multi-party government — to ensure that it delivers on its promise.”

This coalition is born from necessity. The ANC’s plummeting popularity, down to 40% of the vote, reflects widespread dissatisfaction with economic mismanagement, soaring unemployment, and rampant corruption. Conversely, the DA, which garnered 22% of the vote, is tasked with revitalizing key economic sectors, including agriculture and public works and infrastructure.

However, not everyone is on board with this unity government. The uMkhonto weSizwe party, led by the corruption-tainted former President Jacob Zuma, and the radical Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), both refused to join, citing objections to the DA’s involvement. These parties, now relegated to the opposition benches, will undoubtedly continue to challenge the coalition’s initiatives.

Other smaller parties, however, have joined the government, bringing their own controversies. The anti-immigrant Patriotic Alliance, led by ex-gangster Gayton McKenzie, has seen its leader appointed as minister for sports, arts, and culture. Meanwhile, the right-wing, white nationalist Freedom Front Plus has its leader, Pieter Groenewald, taking the helm at correctional services.

The irony of the DA, a party that has long criticized the ANC for bloated governance and cronyism, now participating in a government with 75 ministers and deputies, is not lost on observers. David Everatt, a politics professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, highlighted this paradox, noting that the DA now finds itself in the very position it once lambasted.

This government of national unity faces a monumental task. It must not only navigate its own internal contradictions but also address the critical issues that led to the ANC’s electoral decline. High unemployment, economic instability, and systemic corruption are just the tip of the iceberg.

Moreover, Ramaphosa must balance the demands of his coalition partners while delivering tangible results to a skeptical and impatient public. The success or failure of this bold political experiment will shape South Africa’s future and possibly redefine its political landscape.

As South Africa watches this diverse coalition attempt to govern, one can’t help but wonder: Can such a disparate group set aside their differences for the common good? Or will the internal strife prove too great, leading to another chapter of political turmoil in a country already weary from decades of struggle?

This bloated Cabinet may be South Africa’s best hope for stability and progress, or it could be a recipe for disaster. Either way, it’s a political gamble with high stakes for all involved.

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Is an Israel-Hezbollah War Inevitable?



By signaling its unwavering support for Tel Aviv in any potential campaign, Washington may be edging this looming conflict closer to reality. The exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah have been a persistent feature over the past eight months, recently intensifying to an alarming degree. This situation has the potential to escalate into a full-blown war in two primary ways.

One possible route to escalation is for the current tit-for-tat exchanges to spiral out of control, leading to an unintended and uncontrollable conflict. This could occur as each side attempts to deter future attacks by responding forcefully to the most recent ones. The second potential path to war would be a deliberate decision by one side to engage in full-scale conflict. Hezbollah is unlikely to choose this route. The organization has made it clear that its actions are in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza and in support of Hamas, rather than a desire for an all-out war with Israel. The 2006 conflict, which resulted in significant human and material costs for Hezbollah, serves as a cautionary tale.

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Israel, on the other hand, might consider launching a full-scale war in Lebanon in the coming months if the situation does not spiral out of control first. Reports suggest that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has conveyed to Arab officials his belief that Israel is intent on invading Lebanon. Such an invasion would likely be driven by internal political and emotional factors rather than a clear-eyed assessment of Israeli security interests.

One of the driving factors behind this potential escalation is the plight of approximately 60,000 Israelis displaced from northern Israel due to security concerns. These individuals represent a significant political force advocating for decisive action to improve security and allow their return. Although a full-scale war might initially worsen the security situation, there is a misplaced hope that aggressive military action could lead to a long-term solution.

The personal political and legal situation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also a major factor. Netanyahu’s hold on power and his ability to avoid corruption charges may hinge on maintaining a state of war. With the “intense phase” of the war with Hamas seemingly drawing to a close, Netanyahu might see a new conflict with Hezbollah as essential to his political survival. His coalition partners, such as Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, are also hardliners who favor military action against Hezbollah.

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An additional factor is the belief among some Israelis that southern Lebanon is part of “greater Israel” and should be subject to military conquest and settlement. While this idea is on the fringe, it has gained some traction in recent years.

Israel’s previous military operations in Lebanon suggest that a new conflict would not achieve lasting security. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978 and again in 1982, maintaining an occupation of southern Lebanon until 2000. Despite these efforts, Hezbollah remains a formidable force. The 2006 war demonstrated Hezbollah’s resilience, and the group has only grown stronger since then. Estimates of Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal suggest it could inflict significant damage on Israel, despite the sophistication of Israeli air defenses.

The Biden administration genuinely seeks to avoid a new Israel-Hezbollah war, but its efforts face significant challenges. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which aimed to resolve the 2006 conflict, provides a potential framework for peace. However, the current negative atmosphere and Hezbollah’s solidarity with Gaza Palestinians complicate these efforts.

UN Chief Warns: Lebanon Cannot Become Another Gaza

The administration’s declaratory policy, including assurances of support for Israel in the event of a conflict, may inadvertently encourage Israeli aggression. If a full-scale war does break out, the world is likely to view the United States as complicit, leading to diplomatic isolation and increased anti-American sentiment.

Ultimately, an Israeli invasion of Lebanon would likely result in extensive destruction without achieving long-term security. Instead, it could further entrench Hezbollah’s role as a defender against Israeli aggression and exacerbate regional instability. The Biden administration’s challenge is to navigate these complex dynamics and prevent a conflict that would have far-reaching and devastating consequences for the region and beyond.

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