Current Affairs Digest: World Affairs

Catch up on articles on world affairs you may have missed in June 2020, including on the impact of coronavirus on Africa’s informal workers and on the relationship between Venezuela and Iran.

Coronavirus in Africa

Coronavirus has affected informal workers significantly in Africa. This article reports that 86% of jobs in Africa are in the informal or traditional work sector, and in Nigeria 60% of the country’s GDP is made up from informal work.

Brice Ngameni considers the impact on the sector. The author writes that government-imposed measures intended to stop the spread of coronavirus have had a negative impact on informal workers’ income. These measures have included:

  • The need for workers to regularly spend money on new masks or face coverings;
  • A reduction in the number of passengers able to ride in taxis; and
  • Early curfews, limiting daily working hours.

In addition to challenges associated with coronavirus, workers in the food supply chain in East Africa have had to contend with plagues of locusts destroying their crops.

In order to make up for lost revenue and help informal workers in the future, Ngameni says governments should pursue measures to pump capital into small businesses. His recommendations include:

  • Lending through non-traditional channels;
  • Suspension of rent payments and some assistance for utility bills; and
  • Suspension of back taxes and an exemption of tax payments for the first few years.

He argues that these benefits should only be offered to workers who agree to register with the state. This will bring a whole group of workers under the state’s remit for the first time, which Ngameni believes will be the first step towards “a stronger and more resilient Africa”.

Read the full article: Brice Ngameni, ‘Coronavirus: Now is the time to build a future for Africa’s informal workers’, The Africa Report, 3 June 2020

Understanding Iran and Venezuela

This article looks at the historic relationship between Iran and Venezuela and uses this to urge international policymakers not to overreact to Iran’s shipment of fuel tankers to Venezuela in late May 2020. The author explains that Iran’s decision to send fuel went against the US’s current sanctions against Venezuela, a country facing fuel shortages. The author discusses how international onlookers may view the two countries’ relationship as concerning, as they have both “consistently harboured anti-U.S. sentiment”.

The author explains that Iran and Venezuela’s diplomatic and commercial relationship began before the former’s revolution in 1979. He argues that the two countries were closest during the presidency of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela from 1999 to 2013. In 2012, he states that Iran’s investments in Venezuela were valued at $15 billion. In return, Venezuela’s cooperation helped Iran make further relationships with Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

He notes, however, that this relationship has not yielded particularly prosperous outcomes, as initiatives were not seen through to completion. Since the death of President Chávez in 2013, the article states that the two countries’ relationship has declined. But he views the fuel shipment as “a renewed commitment” between the two states that have found themselves to be otherwise internationally isolated.

Ultimately, the author argues that the world should not see this cooperation as a threat, as Iran cannot be relied upon to deliver the goods or services needed to sustain Venezuela long-term.

Moises Rendon and Antonio de la Cruz, ‘Understanding the Iran-Venezuela relationship’, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 4 June 2020

US Protests

Many commentators have linked the protests in the US, following the death of George Floyd in police custody, to those during the summer of 1968. In this piece, Julia Azari states that comparisons can be drawn from several events in US history.

First, Azari considers the links between recent events and those of 1968. She notes that both protests had similar goals and that the rhetoric of “law and order” from President Nixon and President Trump has been similar.

The article then discusses events during the 1990s; for example, the beating of Rodney King by police officers in 1991 that was caught on a hand-held video recorder. Azari states that the recording of the event, as with the video of George Floyd, prompted wider recognition of police brutality.

The author also looks at the Reconstruction era (1865–77). Despite the recent abolition of slavery, Azari states that a number of practices were used to undermine the freedoms of black Americans. The author again compares President Trump with his precedent, President Andrew Johnson, who Azari says “allowed” this treatment of black Americans to continue.

Finally, Azari highlights the work of black activists during the 1900s. This period saw the creation of groups such as the NAACP and a move towards using the courts to force policy changes. The author compares the current actions of the US Senate to stall a bill intended to make lynching a hate crime, with similar efforts to pass the same bill in the early twentieth century.

Read the full article: Julia Azari, ‘1968 isn’t the only parallel for this political movement’, Fivethirtyeight, 9 June 2020