Catch up on global affairs with a selection of articles you may have missed from September 2020. Articles this month include a look at the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev, and Africa’s relationship with the EU.

Gorbachev Reassessed

To commemorate 30 years since German reunification, Roman Goncharenko considers the role that the last Head of State of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, played in the process.  

The author presents two main criticisms of Gorbachev 

  • that he failed to block NATO’s eastward expansion; and  
  • that he agreed to significantly less money from West Germany than he should have.  

Critics quoted in the article state that Gorbachev “wasted opportunities” to protect Russia’s interests, especially regarding NATO. In the final settlement, it was agreed that there would be no nuclear weapons or NATO troops in the territory of former East Germany. However, the article states that many wanted Gorbachev to go further in his demands; for example, by insisting on the withdrawal of British and American troops from united Germany. The merits of this view are then questioned, with the historian Martin Aust suggesting such demands “would not have been accepted” by the other sides.  

Next, the article turns to money. Critics of Gorbachev say that he did not negotiate a large enough sum for agreeing to reunification, especially at a time when the Soviet economy was “in serious trouble”. The article claims that West Germany may have agreed to pay up to 100 billion marks, compared to the 12 billion that Gorbachev accepted as part of the deal.  

The article concludes that critics of Gorbachev have overlooked the “positive aspects of relations” between Russia and Germany since the 1990s. The author believes that actions such as Germany’s support of Russia’s membership to the International Monetary Fund reflects a “remarkably strong” strand of Germany’s politics which wishes “to be an advocate for Moscow in the West”. 

Read the full article: Roman Goncharenko, ‘Russia and German reunification: Opposing views on Gorbachev’s legacy’, Deutsche Welle2 October 2020 

Covid in Brazil

This article considers the impact of Covid-19 on an indigenous tribe in Brazil. It focuses on the plight of families in Parque das Tribos (Tribes Park), a settlement home to 600 families from 35 ethnic groups, which was “abandoned by local and central government” during the crisis. The author tells the stories of three women from the settlement: 

  • Vanda Ortega, a health professional who works in the local City, Manaus; 
  • Nazaria Melo, an 86-yearold grandmother; and 
  • Caludia Baré, a young woman who helped the community after the death of the tribe’s chief. 

She gives a brief snapshot of what life has been like for the three women. For example, Ortega visited different families and treated those with Covid symptoms with paracetamol, as well as traditional medicine, such as jambu (a leafy green plant with a tiny white flower brewed into tea)Nazaria Melo left the settlement to return to her house further into the forest at the beginning of the pandemic. She said she would “wait out the pandemic on her own” in an area about an hour away from Parque das Tribos. Claudia Baré came to the settlement six years ago and served as an evangelical pastor. Her family was greatly affected by the virus and, after the death of the tribe’s chief, she stepped into his shoes to look after others affected by loss. She organised aevent to raise money for the tribes whilst suffering the effects of coronavirus herself. She told the author she “didn’t want to complain”.  

The author ends the piece by describing the impact on some of the other tribes in the area. She notes that in areas populated by indigenous people, the coronavirus death rate is 250% higher than the general population of Brazil. In some cases, she states, the virus was brought into the community by “careless” government workers 

In conclusion, the author reflects positively on the community spirit which bought the settlement together during the crisis 

Read the full article: Sarah Esther Maslin, ‘Abandoned in the Amazon: How indigenous Brazilians fought Covid-19’, 1843, 25 September 2020

Africa and the EU

This article is part of a series of articles which considers whether Africa can rebuild its economies after the Covid-19 pandemic in a more environmentally friendly way. It looks at the upcoming summit between the EU and Africa in 2021. The author views the summit as an opportunity for Africa to “forge with the EU a common and equitable path to prosperity”.  

The author believes Africa’s current relationship with the EU “requires fundamental change” as Africa seeks to diversify its economy. Current EU policies allow raw materials from Africa, such as cotton, to be exempt from customs taxes, but impose “heavy” taxes on processed exports from the continent.  

The article argues the EU should instead support self-sufficiency, whereby Africa could consume what it produces. For example, the continent could start its own international brand by developing a textile industry using small-scale hydro or solar energy and its own cotton. This kind of business would also promote intra-African trade, which is a key objective of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. 

The article also lists a few instances of internal short-term thinking which has contributed to the lack of structural transformation. This includes the decision by West African leaders to classify military spending as public investment. This meant that resources such as development aid could be redirected to military spending, rather than reaching schools or clinics.   

The author concludes that Africa must “stand firm” and present a “strong vision of a green and industrialised future” when it meets the European Union at the summit next year.  

Read the full article: Kako Nubukpo, ‘Greener Africa: Time for free trade but also fair trade with Europe’, The Africa Report, 8 October 2020