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This Week in the World | 11.20.17


Protests in Paris, photo credit Zakaria Abdelkafi, Getty Images

CNN report this week documented the horrifying modern slave trade in Libya, prompting protests in Paris and Libya. With hidden cameras, CNN reporters witnessed and recorded dozens of Africans being auctioned off in the capital city of Tripoli. Though it is suspected that the slave trade in North Africa has been going on for quite some time now, the CNN report, followed by reports in The Guardian in April and Reuters in May, confirmed long-held suspicions about the magnitude of the slave trade in Libya.

With a number of countries in Africa experiencing severe conflict and subsequently high levels of human displacement, Libya has seen a notable uptick in migrants, many of whom plan to migrate northward to Italy on the treacherous Mediterranean sea route. In fact, as of 2015, an estimated 150,000 migrants had been rescued by Italian authorities. Though northward migration has slightly decreased recently, CNN has posited that the decrease in migration has resulted in a larger number of African migrants living in Libya, making enslavement all the more common.

The African Union, the United Nations, and a number of other governments have called for immediate action and the Libyan authorities have promised to launch an investigation. Though this may be a step in the right direction, migrants living temporarily in countries like Libya are often forced to live in crowded detention centers without food, water, and electricity. To make matters worse, Italy has reportedly paid off warlords in Libya, in an effort to stem migration flows. This has resulted in more migrants being held in Tripoli, and may even be tied to the burgeoning slave trade. The problem will thus require much more than simply investigating the current slave trade.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel

In October, we covered the election of Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany, her fourth term in office. Since Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) failed to win a majority of the vote in the election, she was tasked with forming a coalition in order to secure a majority, as per German Bundestag law. This past week has shown the limits of Merkel’s coalition-building power, and has forecasted a grim future for Merkel and the CDU.

After nearly four weeks of tough negotiations, Merkel was days away from forming her much-needed majority, with three other minority parties, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens, a left-leaning and environment-oriented party. Much to Merkel’s dismay, on Sunday, the leader of the FDP announced that he would break off talks with Merkel, shattering her hopes at forming a majority. One of the reasons cited, according the the FDP, was a lack of substantive migration laws. Germany, which has taken in over a million refugees in the past few years, has faced much domestic criticism, resulting in increased support in the October elections for the right-wing, xenophobic Alternatives for Germany (ADP).

If Merkel is unable to form a coalition government with the parties listed above (or other parties, like the Social Democrats (SDP)), there is a chance that new elections will need to be held. Though this appears to be the worst option, Merkel’s inability to form a coalition and the pushback from a number of leading parties may force Germany to make drastic decisions.

Germany, which has long been seen as a leader in Europe and around the world, will likely lose a notable degree of credibility if it is unable to efficiently stabilize its government. Indeed, France’s Emmanuel Macron is being touted by some news outlets, like The Economist, as Europe’s top leader, following Merkel’s declining popularity and the rise of fringe parties like the ADP. There is clearly much at stake here for Germany.


University students protesting Mugabe’s presidency. Photographer: AFP/Getty Images

This past week, President Donald Trump returned from a 12-day trip to Asia, for the APEC conference. His temperament was uncharacteristically restrained, with only one Twitter frenzy during the trip, during which he called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “short and fat.”

Following the United States’ decision to not join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal involving a number of Asian countries, as well as Canada and Mexico, Trump’s Asia policy has been regarded as a major departure from President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” approach, which sought to establish the United States as a leader in a rapidly rising Asia. President Trump’s wary approach to taking action in Asia was somewhat evident during his trip last week. Experts from all different political backgrounds saw Trump’s trip as largely uneventful, with the United States largely echoing long-standing commitments with allies like Japan and South Korea, while reaffirming trade deals with China. In fact, despite Trump’s claims to counteract the growth of China and negotiate the current $300 billion trade imbalance, there was apparently no actual negotiations between Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In short, there were no major developments in Trump’s Asia policy, and it appears that not much will change. The trip was “all fluff,” as Professor David Shambaugh described it in an article for NPR, and mostly consisted of Asian leaders like Jinping showering Trump in gifts and lavish dinners without making any effort to concede to Washington’s economic demands.

In Danang, Vietnam, Trump’s speech seemed to mimic his nationalist campaign rhetoric, and he reiterated that the United States will pursue its own economic interests around the world, while working to open up markets for trade. Given the United States’ departure from the TPP, it is unclear how the U.S. will involve itself in Asia, and Trump’s trip to Asia did not establish any clear policy objectives with respect to Asia.

Interestingly, attitudes toward Donald Trump are relatively more favorable in China than in other countries. However, growing tensions between a rising China that is seeking to expand its economic and political reach through initiatives like Open Belt Open Road, and a United States that still has significant power in international institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund, still make for a somewhat strained China-U.S. relationship. Though Trump claims that him and Jinping are “friends,” there is evidence that China plans to advance “Chinese values” within international institutions and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.


Robert Mugabe. Jekesai Nijikizanza, Getty Images

Big news out of Zimbabwe this week. Two weeks ago, the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, fired the leader of the military, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa has long been seen as the successor of the 93-year-old Mugabe, who for years has refused to resign despite concerns about how his old age might be affecting his governance abilities. It is believed that Mugabe was protecting the presidency for his wife, Dr. Grace Mugabe. The firing of Mnangagwa prompted the military to place Mugabe under house arrest last week, and has also been met with heavy criticism both within Mugabe’s party (the Zanu-PF Party) and among the general public.

Early last week, it seemed like Mugabe would resign, and allow for a peaceful and democratic transfer of power. But by late last week, it became clear that Mugabe wasn’t going down without a fight. On Sunday, he released a message vowing that he would preside over the Zanu-PF Congress in a few weeks, a direct slap in the face to his own party, which has actively opposed him ever since the military placed Mugabe under house arrest.

Andrew Quilty, Washington Post

On Monday, November 20th, the Zanu-PF Party announced that it would pursue impeachment charges against Mugabe. Specifically, Mugabe will be charged for failing to uphold the Constitution of Zimbabwe and by attempting to usurp power to his wife. If convicted and charged, Mugabe will be forced out as president and as the military’s commander-in-chief. In his place, it is likely that Mnangagwa will take over.

Robert Mugabe has been a controversial figure in the international arena for quite some time now. Zimbabwe is currently facing a deep-seated economic crisis, and Mugabe has a questionable human rights record, namely a state-sanctioned persecution of LGBTQ+ people living in Zimbabwe. Still, he played a central role in Zimbabwe’s independence, holds 7 degrees, and is seen as a powerful anti-colonial voice in international politics.

Despite his role in fighting for Zimbabwe’s independence, he has lost a significant degree of credibility in the past decade, following allegations of corruption, redistributing land to members of his party, and kidnapping and torturing opposition activists. Emmerson Mnangagwa on the other hand is a young, energetic, and relatively more popular politician within Zimbabwe.

The impeachment trials are expected to last a few days, and will conclude by Wednesday. At that point it will be clear if Mugabe will officially be forced out of office.


Afghanistan’s deeply entrenched opium trade, which we covered in This Week In The World 10/30, is finally being met with a concerted effort by Afghan and American forces. On Sunday, November 19th, air strikes attempted to target and destroy Taliban drug depots, in an effort to try and stem the flow of opium money into the Taliban’s coffers. Though the strikes only hit 10 of the opium production facilities, the shift to targeting the source of about 60% of the Taliban’s revenues may constrict the Taliban financially, if successful in the long-term.

There is still a lot to do in Afghanistan when it comes to the opium trade- it makes up about 16% of Afghanistan’s GDP, and generates an estimated $3 billion a year. Afghans have been suffering for years from drug addiction, and it continues to be one of the most “addicted” countries in the world. The devastating impacts of drug use in Afghanistan have contributed to sustained poverty and public health issues, and the incredibly cheap price of heroin ($6 a gram) makes it an inexpensive alternative to buying food, as heroin use often reduces the side effects of hunger. Helping stem excessive drug use in Afghanistan may help reduce the instability and poverty that the Taliban exploits in the region, but in the short term, targeted air strikes will go a long way to counter high levels of opium production in Afghanistan.

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