A man holds a portait of Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba who has taken the reins of the country in Ouagadougou, Jan. 25, 2022 (AP photo by Sophie Garcia).

In the latest in a series of military coups in West Africa, a group of army officers in Burkina Faso has overthrown the government of President Roch Kabore. In a televised address on Burkina Faso’s state broadcaster on Monday, the group—which has dubbed itself “the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration,” or MPSR—said that it had deposed Kabore, suspended the constitution, closed the country’s borders and dissolved the government and the legislature. The group affirmed that Kabore remains safe and in good condition.  The announcement came after two days of confusion and pandemonium in the capital, Ouagadougou, amid reports of […]

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony for a French soldier killed in action in Mali, at the Invalides monument in Paris, Sept. 29, 2021 (AP photo by Thibalt Camus).

When historians look back and try to explain how France lost its historical position as the dominant outside actor in West Africa, the oft-repeated line that Ernest Hemingway used to describe how one of his fictional characters went bankrupt will undoubtedly come to mind: gradually, then suddenly. The signs of a gradual deterioration of France's ties in the region have been apparent for some time. But if the past 12 months are any indication, 2022 might very well be the year that process comes to a head suddenly. Since May, military coups in Mali, Guinea and most recently Burkina Faso […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at his watch at the end of his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 23, 2021 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

The United States and NATO have delivered written responses to  Russian demands for security guarantees, rejecting Moscow’s insistence on a withdrawal of NATO forces from Eastern Europe and an assurance that Ukraine will never be granted membership in the alliance. That firmly puts the ball back in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s court, while doing nothing to reduce the prospects of a Russian military invasion. Now European governments must consider the practical realities of what a war in Ukraine would mean, particularly in neighboring EU member states. Following a meeting of the NATO security council on Tuesday, Slovakian Defense Minister Jaroslav […]

Workers assemble the Olympic Rings onto a tower, Beijing, China, Jan. 5, 2022 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

Beijing is in a frenzy to conclude its final preparations for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, as the countdown begins toward the Games scheduled to begin Feb. 4. With fewer than 10 days to go until the opening ceremony in Beijing, operations in steel mills and high-emission businesses across the capital, as well as in the neighboring province of Hebei, have been brought to a halt, in order to clear smog from the atmosphere and deliver clear blue skies for the gala affair. As the first host to rely completely on artificial snow for the Games, China has deployed machines to pump out […]

People inspect the wreckage of buildings after they were damaged by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, in Sanaa, Yemen, Jan. 18, 2022 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

A ballistic missile attack on a U.S. military base in the United Arab Emirates yesterday, the second attack on Emirati soil in a week carried out by Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, marks a dangerous escalation in regional tensions. It also underscores the difficulty of achieving a diplomatic settlement to bring an end to years of violent conflict between Iran, Saudi Arabia and their many partners and proxies across the Middle East.  According to statements from U.S. and UAE officials, two missiles were intercepted Monday near Abu Dhabi. A spokesman for the Houthis claimed that the attack targeted U.S. airmen stationed […]

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting, Jan. 21, 2022, Geneva, Switzerland (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

If Russian President Vladimir Putin has no intention of invading Ukraine, he sure has a funny way of showing it. Roughly 100,000 Russian troops remain massed on the two countries’ border, with units continuing to be deployed. And a joint Russian-Belarus military exercise scheduled for February is set to position even more still to Ukraine’s north, adding a potential vector of attack. Russian officials continue to deny that an invasion is imminent, but there is a palpable sense of foreboding across Europe and in Washington that the continent stands on the brink of what would be its first major interstate […]

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and Kenyan Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya, Jan. 6, 2022 (AP photo by Gideon Maundu).

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi completed a tour of Eritrea, Kenya and Comoros, continuing a tradition dating back three decades by which Chinese foreign ministers open the diplomatic year with a trip to Africa. The visit—which comes just over a month after the conclusion of the eighth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, held late last year in Dakar, Senegal—illustrates how China’s engagement with African countries is evolving. Beijing is apparently ready to play a bigger role in mediating some of the region’s conflicts. Whether those efforts will pay off is an open question for both China and […]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, Jan. 19, 2022 (AP photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth).

Over the past few weeks, a steady stream of revelations about parties held at No. 10 Downing Street during periods of government-mandated lockdown has British Prime Minister Boris Johnson fighting for his political life. The most damaging revelation yet came this week when the public learned that Johnson attended a “bring your own bottle,” or BYOB, party in the garden of No. 10, which doubles as the prime minister’s office and official residence, on May 20, 2020, during the U.K.’s most intense wave of coronavirus infections at the onset of the pandemic. The gathering almost certainly violated his own government’s lockdown rules, […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil, Nov. 14, 2019 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

Amid the looming threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western nations continue to use a wide-ranging toolkit of policy options, including diplomacy and security assistance, to avert the risk of a full-blown war in Eastern Europe. The U.K. is supplying short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Canada is deploying a unit of special operations forces. And a delegation of U.S. senators met Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, followed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken today.  But while Western countries have reacted vocally to the buildup of 100,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, China has mostly kept silent. Speaking in […]

From left, Syrian women Samaa Mahmoud, Mariam Alhallak and Yasmen Almashan hold pictures of relatives who died in Syria, before the verdict in front of the court in Koblenz, Germany, Jan. 13, 2022 (AP photo by Martin Meissner).

The conviction by a German court last week of Anwar Raslan, a Syrian intelligence officer who oversaw the torture and murder of detainees in that country during the early years of its civil war, represents a high-water mark in the ongoing quest for accountability against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the difficulty of securing a war crimes conviction for even a mid-level bureaucrat like Raslan also underscores the difficulty of pursuing accountability for Assad himself. If it’s a long shot to prosecute a low-level perpetrator like Raslan, then how likely is it that Assad will ever be brought to […]

A supporter wearing a T-shirt showing Col. Assimi Goita, head of the junta that staged the Aug. 18 coup and now Mali’s interim president, in Bamako, Mali, Sept. 25, 2020 (AP photo).

The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, has closed regional borders with Mali and slapped a new round of sanctions on Bamako, after the country’s interim military government sought to postpone elections it pledged to hold in February, as part of the country’s return to civilian rule following a 2020 military coup.  Sunday’s announcement followed an extraordinary summit of the bloc’s 15 leaders held in Accra to discuss a proposal by Mali’s provisional government for a five-year transition plan that would culminate with a presidential election scheduled for February 2026. That would be four years after the date Mali’s ruling […]

President Joe Biden meets with the White House COVID-19 Response Team to discuss the omicron variant, Washington, Jan. 4, 2022 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

With the explosive spread of the omicron variant throughout the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, the coronavirus pandemic seems to be entering yet another new phase that is generating as much uncertainty as all the previous ones that have preceded it. Once again, the habits of thought and preventive reflexes acquired over the course of the past two years are being called into question, this time by the new variant’s ability to evade immunity—whether from vaccines or previous infections—as well as its combination of heightened contagiousness and seemingly reduced severity. That combination has raised hopes that COVID-19 is now transitioning from […]

A rapid swab testing site in Rome, Italy, Dec. 30, 2021 (AP photo by Andrew Medichini).

The omicron variant continues to run rampant in Europe, leading the World Health Organization, or WHO, to warn that half of Europeans will have been infected by the new coronavirus variant by the end of next month. But omicron’s unique combination of extreme contagiousness and comparatively mild symptoms is prompting a rethink of the policy measures that governments have adopted to contain the pandemic since its onset. On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gave a radio interview saying that Europe’s coronavirus strategy needs to shift from a focus on tracing, quarantining and social distancing to an approach based on vaccination […]

A man is tested for COVID-19 in Beijing, China, Dec. 5, 2021 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Around the world, strict restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic—including lockdowns, curfews, lengthy isolation periods and quarantine—are giving way to community mitigation measures and, more broadly, a relaxed, more pragmatic approach. But in Hong Kong and China, where authorities continue to favor a more ironclad response, there remains no end in sight to a “zero-COVID” strategy, two years on from the onset of the pandemic. China is now on high alert after detecting the first local outbreak of the omicron variant, weeks before the country is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The northern coastal city of Tianjin, […]

Populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2021 (AP photo by Anmar Khalil).

Negotiations to form a new government in Iraq have entered a final, decisive phase, with the process shaping up to be a dispiriting contest among several factions that unfortunately share broadly similar authoritarian characteristics. The disputes over power-sharing arrangements and government positions are complicated, and the final lineup is still taking shape. But underlying the post-election jockeying for power, which ultimately determines the makeup of Iraq’s central government much more than the actual election results do, are three more fundamental questions about the future of Iraqi politics. First, will Iraq continue to divide government positions among all of the country’s factions and […]

A Senegalese soccer fan holds up a scarf during the African Cup of Nations final match between Algeria and Senegal in Cairo International stadium in Cairo, Egypt, July 19, 2019 (AP Photo by Hassan Ammar).

Fear not, for this isn’t about to be yet another piece forecasting or making “predictions” about the new year. Rather, the intention of this newsletter is to follow up on my final edition of 2021, which took stock not only of lessons learned from having written this newsletter weekly for six months, but also of some of the key developments shaping African affairs last year. Those included the geopolitics of vaccines, military coups on the continent and Africa’s international relations with the world, particularly the great powers.  To that end, here is a rundown of four major trends, developments and events […]

Candles are placed on the steps of the Capitol to mark the one year anniversary of the violent insurrection by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, Washington, Jan. 6, 2022 (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, in an effort to disrupt the congressional certification of the 2020 presidential election won by Joe Biden.   The events of that day seemed to epitomize the difficulty in characterizing what, if any threat Trump posed to U.S. democracy. Was it a well-planned attempted coup? A spontaneous insurrection? An angry riot? A protest joyride? That followed four years of endless debates during Trump’s presidency over whether he was a determined but incompetent authoritarian, or simply a pathological narcissist. And as for the […]

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