How Qatar can shake off its infamous reputation and Durban’s renaissance in South Africa.
It’s hard to look forward to this election: the electoral commission has been accused of bias, corruption remains rife and the same old guard will be fighting it out for the top job. Fears of a re-run of 2008’s post-election violence may be overplayed but little has been done to ameliorate the ethnic tensions that sparked it.
President Paul Kagame came to office in 2000 and last year changed the constitution to allow him to stand for three more terms (he could stay in office until 2034). He has overseen economic improvement and kept peace inside his borders but his crackdowns on the opposition prove Rwanda is no longer a real democracy.
The Iran nuclear deal has already played a part in the US presidential election – you can be sure it will be a major issue in Iran’s presidential poll too. Hassan Rouhani can run again but it will be interesting to see how far he pushes a reforming agenda.
Qatari officials like to joke that they were accused of everything during the Arab Spring, from funding Islamists to buying Egypt’s pyramids. Five years on, Doha still needs to shake a nefarious reputation and draw crowds to the 2022 football World Cup. That will mean not just quashing rumours but also addressing the truths that sometimes underlie them.
Doha has long turned a blind eye to individuals in the country bankrolling al-Qaeda and other extremists; fiercer critics say that the government itself has directly funded Islamist militants. While the truth is likely to be somewhere in between, there are plenty of people who associate Doha with the bad guys. “The ball is now in Qatar’s court to prove that it is a responsible member of the international community,” says David Weinberg, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.
Qatar’s transformation for the World Cup was planned at a time of record commodity prices, which have since collapsed. Although still boasting the highest per capita income in the world, Doha now has to keep an eye on how much it spends on new roads, stadiums and hotels. Doha is also a conservative city where knees mustn’t be shown, alcohol is confined to hotels and a public statue of footballer Zinedine Zidane once sparked an outcry over idol worship (it was subsequently removed). Readying the locals for an influx of rowdy football fans will be no small task.
More than 90 per cent of workers in Qatar are expatriate, and human-rights groups have long decried harsh working conditions. Now Fifa faces a legal challenge over health-and-safety hazards to labourers constructing the €185bn- worth of infrastructure needed for the games, and key sponsors have raised red flags. In response, Doha has so far only tweaked at the margins of reform and failed to unravel a visa system that accommodates exploitation.
It’s all change in Jordan after September elections brought both secularists and Islamists into parliament. Among the MPs heading to the Dome is Qais Zayadeen of the radical new Ma’an List, which took two seats on the promise of greater gender equality, democracy and – most controversially – secularism.
“Zayadeen’s victory underlines the fact that these principles are being supported by middle-class Jordanians, especially young people, regardless of their religious and ethnic background,” says Osama al-Sharif, a political commentator.
Few politicians in Jordan share the Ma’an List’s views and affecting change will be a test. In the same election there was a resurgence for the Muslim Brotherhood after years of boycotting polls. “They have ended their political isolation and underlined that they still have support in the street,” says Sharif.
South Africa’s third city is in the throes of an urban renaissance. The municipality has developed a blueprint to regenerate the gritty inner city by 2040, with a focus on reclaiming abandoned buildings, offering social housing and luring investment. Meanwhile property developers are transforming derelict buildings into bustling mixed-use precincts such as Station Drive and Rivertown, which have encouraged a clutch of entrepreneurs to set up shop downtown.
Go!Durban, a new zar22bn (€1.5bn) integrated rapid-transit network, will connect fast buses to light rail and create 190km of new roads. The project’s first phase should be completed in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2022.
The new Chinese-built Nairobi-to-Mombasa railway line has been dogged by controversy for speeding through a national park. However, it should take freight off the roads when phase one opens in 2017.