A large crowd wearing masks commutes through Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, Japan, Mar. 3, 2020 (AP photo by Jae C. Hong).

For everyone around the world, in every country and continent, 2020 was dominated by a single story: COVID-19. For all of us, though the date may have varied, there was a definitive before and after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The thirst for thoughtful analysis of such a historic world event—from big picture articles examining the broad sweep of the pandemic’s global impact to more focused pieces detailing its implications for particular countries—is reflected in our list of this year’s most-read stories. Of course, WPR also closely covered the U.S. presidential election, the Black Lives Matter protests that spread […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the president of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, at the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, Russia, Oct. 23, 2019 (TASS pool photo by Gavriil Grigorov via AP).

Following Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s approval last month of a new naval base to be built on Sudan’s Red Sea coast, official Kremlin statements have billed the facility as a logistics center that will be defensive in nature—for principal use as a resupply station for Russian warships. In spite of these assurances, Russian media outlets have touted the base as Moscow’s gateway to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, widening the reach of its naval forces. The basing agreement’s terms, which were released on Dec. 8, appear to support this latter view: In exchange for military aid, Sudan will […]

Ugandan presidential candidate Bobi Wine shows a photograph depicting a victim of recent electoral violence, at the Electoral Commission in Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 2, 2020 (AP photo by Ronald Kabuubi).

A crowd of supporters was swelling around Ugandan presidential candidate Bobi Wine during a rally late last month in the eastern Luuka district, when security forces in riot gear began firing tear gas, pepper spray and bullets into the crowd. The popular singer-turned-parliamentarian was bundled into a police van and thrown in jail, accused of violating COVID-19 guidelines. “Be nonviolent,” he shouted as he was arrested. “We want freedom.” Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is running against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking a sixth term in next month’s elections. At 38, Wine is half his opponent’s […]

Photo by 692 Productions, courtesy of Dambisa Moyo.

“It’s very easy for us to forget that things in the global economy and geopolitically were already somewhat precarious before COVID hit in earnest,” says Dr. Dambisa Moyo. “As we start to think about what a post-pandemic recovery looks like, I think it’s very important to have that context in mind.” This is why, for Dr. Moyo, “COVID is an accelerator to the challenged environment that was already occurring.” Dr. Moyo is a widely acclaimed economist and author of four New York Times bestselling books, most recently, “Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth—and How to […]

A protester waves the Sahrawi flag during a demonstration in front of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Madrid, Dec. 10, 2020 (Photo by Diego Radames for Sipa via AP Images).

U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise move last week to recognize Morocco’s claim to the disputed region of Western Sahara, in exchange for Morocco normalizing relations with Israel, ushered a long-frozen conflict into a new and more volatile phase. In one sense, it is formal acknowledgement of the reality that Morocco has cemented its de facto control over most of Western Sahara. With U.S. backing, Morocco now has even less incentive to cooperate with the United Nations in its decades-long effort to determine the fate of the coastal desert territory through a referendum on self-determination, promised after the U.N. brokered a […]

A group of schoolboys are escorted by Nigerian military and officials following their release after they were kidnapped last week, in Katsina, Nigeria, Dec. 18, 2020 (AP photo by Sunday Alamba).

Editor’s Note: Africa Watch will be off for the holidays the next two weeks. It will return Jan. 8. More than 340 Nigerian schoolboys, abducted by armed men in a nighttime raid last week, were freed Thursday and are being reunited with their families. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for kidnapping the boys from their boarding school in northwestern Katsina state, and the celebration of their release was tempered by concerns that the jihadist group may now be expanding beyond its traditional base in the country’s northeast. Government critics are also questioning whether President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is equipped to contain […]

Egyptian girls at a rally in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 25, 2012 (AP photo by Maya Alleruzzo).

CAIRO—With hundreds of women flooding social media in recent months with accusations of sexual harassment and assault, a growing #MeToo movement is taking Egypt by storm. Their online testimonials have garnered massive public support and prompted reforms to the country’s sexual harassment laws, like granting anonymity to victims and witnesses in sexual assault cases. More broadly, they are challenging the culture of victim-blaming that is often associated with sexual harassment and assault in Egypt. Activists are hoping to build on this momentum in a country where gender-based violence has become all too common. After the Arab Spring protests in 2011 […]

A young girl waves a Moroccan and a Palestinian flag during a protest against normalizing relations with Israel, in Rabat, Morocco, Sept. 18, 2020 (AP photo by Mosa’ab Elshamy).

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. The United Arab Emirates got armed Reaper drones and the coveted F-35, becoming the first Arab county to fly the most advanced U.S. fighter jet, despite Israel’s initial objections. Sudan got much-needed economic aid and the promise of being removed from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, freeing up billions of dollars in more international […]

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s president, Felix Tshisekedi, arrives to a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Nov. 12, 2019 (AP photo by Francois Mori).

Editor’s Note: Every Friday, Andrew Green curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Africa Watch by email every week. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s uneasy ruling coalition collapsed last Sunday, when President Felix Tshisekedi said in a televised address that his party would end its alliance with former President Joseph Kabila’s grouping. The announcement sparked violent clashes in Parliament this week between members of the two factions, raising fears of a prolonged power struggle in the conflict-wracked country. Tshisekedi moved quickly to take the upper hand, as […]

A U.S. Army sniper stands guard during an unloading operation at an unidentified location in Somalia, June 28, 2020 (photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa via AP Images).

In a nod to his campaign promise to end U.S. participation in conflicts abroad, outgoing President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Somalia last week. The announcement came a week after Trump’s acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, capped a whirlwind Middle East tour on Nov. 27 with a three-hour stop in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. Under the Pentagon’s new reduction plan, nearly all of the 700 special operations forces currently deployed in Somalia are expected to leave on Jan. 15—just five days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration—with many of them redeploying to Kenya. The withdrawal complicates Somalia’s efforts […]

Chinese naval cadets march in formation at Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, Sept. 30, 2019 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

In 1998, during a year at the University of Hawaii on a language fellowship as I prepared for a career shift from West Africa to East Asia, I sat in a darkened room one afternoon to take in a briefing about big, looming changes in the western Pacific. The scholar who made the presentation used a projector to dramatic effect as he argued that in the decades ahead, it was almost certain that China—then very far from a peer competitor with the United States, whether in military or economic terms—would eventually make it impossible for American aircraft carriers to operate […]

A member of the security forces walks past a wrecked vehicle outside the Elite Hotel following an al-Shabab attack, in Mogadishu, Somalia, Aug. 17, 2020 (AP photo by Farah Abdi Warsameh).

NAIROBI, Kenya—Federal elections that were supposed to be held in Somalia starting this month are behind schedule due to a dispute between the president and his political rivals. According to the electoral plan, legislative elections were to be held throughout December, followed by a vote in the Federal Parliament in February to elect the country’s next president. But opposition candidates are protesting the membership of two committees charged with overseeing the balloting, claiming they are packed with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s allies, allegedly giving him an unfair advantage as he seeks reelection. The president, widely known in Somalia by his […]

A woman holds her child inside a temporary shelter at Umm Rakouba refugee camp after fleeing the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Dec. 7, 2020 (AP photo by Nariman El-Mofty).

MEKELLE, Ethiopia—During the past two years, whenever Haileselassie, a wood trader in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, placed an order for supplies from the capital, Addis Ababa, he would lie awake at night, restless with worry. “I don’t sleep,” he told me in late October, sitting at the back of his shop in the central market of Mekelle, Tigray’s capital. “I don’t believe it will arrive safely.” By then, insecurity and lawlessness had spread in different parts of Ethiopia, and tensions between Tigray and Amhara, a larger region that neighbors Tigray to the south, had decidedly worsened. The roads, […]

Refugees and migrants wait to get on a bus after their arrival at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, May 4, 2020 (AP photo by Petros Giannakouris).

COVID-19 is a global menace, but its impact falls heaviest on the most vulnerable. In the world’s poorest states, the pandemic-induced recession threatens to throw decades of development into reverse and place hundreds of millions in desperate circumstances. Last week, the United Nations released its Global Humanitarian Overview, outlining the additional devastation in store if the multilateral system fails to close the yawning gap between urgent humanitarian needs and funds available to meet them. In other words, the list of global challenges the incoming Biden administration will face just got longer. For the world’s poorest nations, the main threat is […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan attend an official welcome ceremony in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 15, 2019 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

Reports this week that the United Arab Emirates is potentially financing Russian mercenaries in Libya affiliated with the notorious Wagner Group, according to a Pentagon watchdog, appear to be sending mini shockwaves through Washington. But the UAE has long had a fixation on mercenaries, and the fact that Russia is a regular supplier of soldiers of fortune should surprise no one. Much more worrying is the lack of policy coherence in Washington on what to do about it. A seemingly insatiable appetite for proxy wars and hired guns has helped fuel the rise of these shadow armies. President-elect Joe Biden’s […]

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at his office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nov. 30, 2020 (AP photo by Mulugeta Ayene).

Editor’s Note: Every Friday, Andrew Green curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Africa Watch by email every week. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory last weekend in the government’s month-long military operation in the northern Tigray region, after federal troops captured Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital. Despite Abiy’s proclamation, aid workers have confirmed fighting around Mekelle is ongoing, with heavily armed Tigrayan forces appearing to have dug into the surrounding mountains. Experts are now warning the conflict could transform into a drawn-out guerrilla war. Tigray has […]

Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, after the funeral of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Accra, Ghana, Sept. 13, 2018 (AP photo by Sunday Alamba).

President Nana Akufo-Addo’s bid for a second term in Ghana’s upcoming general election took a hit last month, when the country’s anti-corruption czar, Martin Amidu, announced his resignation, citing political interference and lack of support from the government for his work. The incident is a setback for Ghana’s anti-graft campaign, which has seen mixed progress under Akufo-Addo’s government. But while it is a significant development that is injecting some uncertainty ahead of next Monday’s polls, it is unlikely to definitively swing the election result in favor of the opposition candidate, former President John Mahama. Amidu stepped down as special prosecutor […]

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