The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Thursday 23 November 2017

Diplomacy

Image: Getty Images

Firm friends?

China is beefing up its presence in Africa – and Djibouti’s president hopes to further boost relations.

Djibouti’s president, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, has been in China this week tending to a very special relationship. In 2017, China deployed soldiers to man its first overseas military base in the tiny but strategically important country on the Horn of Africa, and a number of major Chinese-funded infrastructure projects there, including a railway link with Ethiopia, have now come online. But the timing of the visit could have been better: China’s shadier activities in Africa are currently under scrutiny. It's because a former Hong Kong politician has been arrested as part of an investigation into bribes allegedly paid on behalf of a Chinese energy company to officials in Chad and Uganda. It was also revealed that Zimbabwe’s military chief visited Beijing right before staging the coup that brought down Mugabe. Awkward.

Urbanism

Image: MF Monocle

Culture club

Bandung’s design festival highlights the city’s transformation from ugly duckling to beauty queen.

The Indonesian city of Bandung’s first design biennale opens today and it’s a fitting showcase for a city that’s reversed its fortunes over the past four years thanks to some smart urbanism. Bandung’s journey from a shabby cityscape to a culture-orientated destination has largely been down to the urban-planning expertise of its mayor Ridwan Kamil, also an architect, who has worked closely with the city’s creative community to create parks dedicated to art, music and film. He’s also championed the festival, which will feature more than 30 exhibitions, markets, public shows and conferences centred around a converted 1970s military warehouse complex that’s symbolic of the city’s considered turnaround.

Ecology

Image: Alamy

Oman’s botanic plan

The Arabic nation out-greens its neighbours – and the rest of the world – with a record-breaking oasis.

Unlike its more arid neighbours, Oman’s flora is as varied as the landscape it inhabits and is home to more than 1,200 species of plants. This botanical diversity is about to get the conservation and recognition it’s long deserved, as a sprawling 420 hectares in the foothills of the Al Hajar Mountains is set to become one of the world’s largest botanic gardens. A collaboration between Grimshaw Architects, Arup Engineering and Haley Sharpe Design, funded by the sultan’s decree, aims to both preserve and showcase the sultanate’s diverse native habitat as part of a broader push to increase Oman’s tourist draw. The undulating waves of desert sand that encircle the oasis will be reflected in the design’s oscillating structure, which also serves to shade eight separate habitats within.

Business

Image: Getty Images

Paying the price

Is it time to lighten up about Black Friday? Not if you’re a retailer, it seems.

Black Friday, the annual shopping frenzy that sees retailers around the world offer discounts on everything from kitchenware to designer dresses, lands tomorrow. Researchers predict that sales will be up by 15 per cent on last year – but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Michael Ward, the former managing director of Harrods, once famously said that retailers supporting Black Friday was like “turkeys voting for Christmas”. The thinking is that consumers will buy gifts in the holiday season irrespective of whether they are discounted – and by offering slashed prices, retailers shoot themselves in the foot. In addition, the success of smaller shops is premised on building enduring relationships with customers, not luring one-off shoppers via knockdown prices. It may result in a fair few bargains but for those on the other side of the till, Black Friday is a costly day indeed.

From Monocle 24

Beach Rats

The Cinema Show

Director Eliza Hittman discusses the sensitive story that underpins her new drama Beach Rats.

From Monocle Films

Perth: opportunity and regeneration

As Perth attempts to shed its reputation for being nothing more than a mining city we explore the architecture, art and hospitality initiatives that are shaping this outpost.

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