Blackwater founder Erik Prince arrives for a closed meeting with members of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 30, 2017 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

It may take years to unravel the tangled web surrounding “Project Opus,” the bungled 2019 mercenary operation to prop up Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, which allegedly included efforts to deploy a special hit squad to Libya. Few observers tracking the burgeoning global market for privatized armies, however, were likely surprised by reports last week that U.N. investigators suspect the involvement of former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince. The recently leaked U.N. report makes only glancing mention of Prince’s alleged ties to the operation, but it marks the second time since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that Prince’s company, Hong Kong-based Frontier […]

Pensioners attend an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, Nov. 16, 2020 (AP photo).

KYIV, Ukraine—After Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on the mass protests that erupted last August in opposition to his clumsily rigged reelection victory, many Western countries spoke up in dismay at the level of repression he unleashed. More than 30,000 people have been arrested, according to human rights groups, and brutal beatings of detainees are common. In response, the United States and the European Union imposed several rounds of sanctions, targeting scores of Belarusian officials with asset freezes and travel bans, while issuing statements emphasizing the Belarusian people’s right to a fair vote. But more than six months later, […]

A woman casts her ballot during elections in Niamey, Niger, Feb. 21, 2016 (AP photo by Gael Cogne).

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. Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate of Niger’s ruling party, has won last Sunday’s runoff presidential election, setting the stage for one elected leader to succeed another for the first time in the country’s history. Provisional results released Tuesday showed Bazoum with 55.75 percent of the vote to 44.25 percent for his opponent, Mahamane Ousmane. The poll was marred by violence, though, including two attacks on Election Day that killed […]

Then-Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit in Los Angeles, Sept. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Kelvin Kuo).

One of former President Donald Trump’s principal legacies was to elevate the attention that U.S. foreign policy accords to China. His administration argued that America’s erstwhile “engage but hedge” approach had failed and that it was time to take a tougher line. The results of his policies, though, suggest that adopting an overly China-centric U.S. foreign policy is mistaken. Listen to this article: [soundcloud]993031504[/soundcloud] Pursuant to its more confrontational approach, the Trump administration imposed steep tariffs on Chinese exports and, having concluded that Beijing’s technological progress posed a particularly pressing threat to U.S. national security, took a number of steps […]

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 19, 2021 (AP photo by Eraldo Peres).

Investors stampeded out of Brazil on Monday, tanking its markets, after President Jair Bolsonaro’s completely unexpected move to replace the head of the national oil company, Petrobras, with a retired general. Bolsonaro announced the decision Friday, and later declared he had plans to intervene in other firms. The huge market sell-offs, which also struck Brazil’s currency and sovereign bonds, reflected fears that Bolsonaro may be preparing to intervene much more aggressively in the economy, with the aim of boosting his sagging polls ahead of the 2022 presidential election. Bolsonaro is still the favorite to win, but the surprise popularity surge […]

Workers produce clothing items on the assembly line at an apparel factory in Accra, Ghana, Nov. 13, 2007 (AP photo by Olivier Asselin).

The modern development aid industry is fundamentally flawed, writer and researcher Efosa Ojomo argues, because it is based on “the idea of seeing a need, seeing that a community lacks a resource, and then leaning in with the best of intentions to provide that resource without the fundamental mechanism that will sustain it.” That mechanism is what Ojomo and his co-authors call a “market-creating innovation”—an advance that spurs the creation of new businesses, customers and tax revenues that allow for improved public services. Ojomo is the head of the Global Prosperity research group at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive […]

A woman walks by a market in Lagos, Nigeria, Dec. 31, 2020 (AP photo by Sunday Alamba).

Most African countries have fared relatively well in their responses to the coronavirus pandemic, reporting rates of infection and mortality that are far below those seen across much of Europe and the Americas. Yet Africa is expected to take a huge economic hit from the pandemic and its associated containment measures, with the African Development Bank forecasting that an additional 50 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty across the continent. Vaccination drives and economic relief packages will certainly be important to contain the damage. But according to author and researcher Efosa Ojomo, emerging-market nations should be aiming to […]

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference in Hong Kong, Jan. 19, 2021 (AP photo by Vincent Yu).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR contributor Rachel Cheung and Assistant Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curate the week’s top news and expert analysis on China. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive China Note by email every week. When Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp won the city’s local elections in a landslide in 2019, securing 17 of its 18 districts, their unprecedented victory was a slap in the face for the Hong Kong government, and for Beijing, whose puppets suffered a humiliating loss. But that victory was short-lived, as the authorities in Hong Kong are now making sure the opposition won’t be […]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony in Beijing, Oct. 28, 2014 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

For much of the past couple of decades, Afghanistan has been a rare exception to the strategic competition between India and China in South Asia. New Delhi never believed it could be the preeminent power in Afghanistan, unlike in other nearby countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal. Following the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, India was happy to engage with Kabul under Washington’s security umbrella, while taking solace in China’s initial unwillingness to get more involved. A joint desire for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan even seemed to raise the possibility of cooperation between the two rivals. But […]

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, attends a videoconference meeting as U.S. President Joe Biden appears on a screen, Paris, Feb. 19, 2021 (pool photo by Benoit Tessier via AP Images).

“First thing I’m going to have to do, and I’m not joking,” candidate Joe Biden said last September in a campaign interview about America’s European allies. “If elected I’m going to … get on the phone with the heads of state and say America’s back, you can count on us.” In the end, he delivered his franchise tag line not by phone, but in a video address to a “special edition” of the Munich Security Conference during his first round of trans-Atlantic diplomacy last week. And he added a slight twist: “America is back. The trans-Atlantic alliance is back.” The […]

Martin Helme, head of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party, or EKRE, makes a hand gesture that is often associated with white supremacy at an event in Tallinn, Estonia, May 2, 2019 (Aripaev photo by Liis Treimann via AP Images).

On Jan. 13, the government of Estonia fell, after then-Prime Minister Juri Ratas resigned over allegations of corruption and influence-peddling that implicated his Centre Party. The party did not remain out of government for long, however. A few days later, it joined a “grand coalition” government dominated by moderates and headed by Estonia’s first woman prime minister, Kaja Kallas of the center-right Reform Party. The change in government was perhaps more significant for what it means for the far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia, which prior to entering Ratas’ government had been treated as a pariah in Estonian politics. Known […]

Opposition soldiers during a visit by a cease-fire monitoring team, at an opposition military camp near the town of Nimule in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan, Aug. 28, 2019 (AP photo by Sam Mednick).

Few nations have seen their dreams and hopes dashed as quickly and ruthlessly as South Sudan. A mere two years after thousands thronged the streets of the capital, Juba, to celebrate independence from Sudan’s autocratic rule, the country descended into a brutal civil war. The fallout between President Salva Kiir and Vice President-turned-rebel Riek Machar, and the subsequent fighting, exerted a terrible toll. Between 2013 and 2018, up to 400,000 people were killed and 4 million—a third of the country’s population—displaced, amid numerous reports of ethnic-based atrocities like rape and massacres. Listen to this article: [soundcloud]991358545[/soundcloud] The world’s youngest country […]

Front pages of Australian newspapers featuring stories about Facebook, in Sydney, Feb. 19, 2021 (AP photo by Rick Rycroft).

Perhaps we’ll never know if Facebook’s surprise decision to cut Australians off from all news sources on its platform was a carefully planned strategic move, or the result of a tantrum in Menlo Park. Either way, Australia woke up to a unilaterally imposed news blackout on Facebook last week that raises important policy questions about democracy, corporate power and access to information. There had been no prior warning from Facebook, no tests—just an algorithmic change. Not only were News Corp., ABC and other mainstream Australian media shuttered on Facebook’s News Feed, so were services that might not consider themselves to […]

Abortion rights activists celebrate after Congress approved a bill that legalizes abortion, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec. 30, 2020 (AP photo by Natacha Pisarenko).

At dawn on Dec. 30, a sea of humanity outside of Argentina’s Congress in Buenos Aires fixed their eyes on the nine giant screens the government had installed to broadcast the parliamentary session taking place inside. For 12 hours, Argentina’s Senate had been debating a bill, already approved by the House of Representatives two weeks earlier, that would legalize abortion through the first trimester of pregnancy and offer it free of cost in the country’s public health system. The crowd, too, had been there all night, occupying the streets in a vigil that was both festive and solemn, designed to […]

Primary school students in a classroom in Eastern Province, Rwanda, 2012 (photo by Tim Williams).

Children in Rwanda finally started heading back to school last fall, after months of learning from home. It was a bit of bright news for the country, given that schools had been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. But now, many students are facing a brand-new challenge: Having to learn in an unfamiliar language. Rwanda’s government has begun implementing a controversial language change that requires all primary schools to instruct their students in English, rather than in Kinyarwanda, the national language spoken by nearly everyone in the country. However, only 38 percent of the primary school teachers who […]

President Joe Biden signs an executive order on climate change in the State Dining Room of the White House, in Washington, Jan. 27, 2021 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

This is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for international cooperation on biodiversity, though you might not know it. American news outlets have focused most if not all of their recent environmental reporting on climate change. On one level, of course, this makes sense. Climate change is the most daunting collective challenge that humanity has ever faced, and nations have fallen far behind the emissions reduction targets they set in Paris in 2015. Given these stakes, it’s certainly front-page news that President Joe Biden has called climate change a top-tier U.S. national security threat. What’s more, he has also […]

A poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad with Arabic that reads, "Congratulations victory," at the border crossing between the Iraqi town of Qaim and Boukamal, Syria, Sept. 30, 2019 (AP photo by Hadi Mizban).

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 images are shocking, but they aren’t new. The photographs of tortured, emaciated and brutalized prisoners and detainees—some of their bodies wrapped in plastic, others dumped on the ground, but all of them catalogued with sinister precision—are a reminder of the horrors of Syria’s civil war. Broadcast by CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday night, they are, […]

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