Tuesday. 9/6/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Fair exchange

It should be clear to everyone by now that anti-racism protests around the world triggered by the death of George Floyd mark something of a watershed moment. An example of one convention that might be upended: the tradition of many international organisations – particularly economic and finance-related ones – being governed by Westerners.

For decades there has been an unspoken diplomatic alliance ensuring that the leadership of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund is divided between the US and Europe respectively, despite the fact that both emergency lenders have operations that are heavily focused on countries that are not in the West. At other institutions there have been clear gaps in representation; the World Trade Organization (WTO), for example, has never had a director-general from Africa. But speculation is rife that that could soon change.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (pictured), a two-time Nigerian finance minister and former managing director of operations at the World Bank, is emerging as a consensus candidate for African nations. Her nomination could yet be thwarted by African nations themselves – Egypt and Kenya are said to be opposed. It could also be stopped by Europe, which is considering putting forward EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan; if appointed, he would be the WTO’s second Irish director-general.

This isn’t about ticking boxes. Okonjo-Iweala is a respected, no-nonsense international figure known for tackling domestic corruption and who, as an outside voice, might be able to help break through the ongoing trade spats between the US, Europe and China. Despite her excellent credentials, she was already sidelined for the World Bank’s top job in 2019 in favour of David Malpass (the World Bank’s 13th American head). Europe should set a better example.

Defence / US

Home win

President Trump is reportedly preparing to withdraw 9,500 US troops from bases in Germany, where since 1945 their presence has been a symbol of America’s commitment to its Nato allies and has stood as a deterrent against Russian aggression. It’s thought that the proposed move is due to an overall increase in Nato spending, which would reduce the need for such a large US representation on the ground – but German government officials are anxious. After all, any plans to cut the number of soldiers could further strain the already fraught relationship between Berlin and Washington. “Nato members have certainly been taken aback by these reports,” says Paul Rogers, Open Democracy’s international security adviser. “But what is clear is that Donald Trump is desperate to show his supporters that he is scaling back US involvement abroad.”

Politics / Brazil

Leading the way

Jair Bolsonaro (pictured) might have downplayed the coronavirus pandemic but that hasn’t stopped Brazil from becoming the country with the third-highest total number of Covid-19 fatalities. Now mayors in some cities are breaking ranks with federal policies and, in doing so, are weathering the worst effects of the outbreak. Chief among them is Gean Loureiro, mayor of Florianópolis, a beach destination and capital of Santa Catarina.

The southern city only has 12 hospitalised patients with coronavirus and the transmission rate has remained low even after its gradual reopening. How has the municipality achieved this result? An early lockdown, investment in testing and strict health checks at the city’s airport are all factors. Perhaps the success will prompt other courageous mayors to fight back against Bolsonaro’s fatal choices.

Elections / Singapore

Ballot proof

Singapore officials released a set of safety measures yesterday to implement in the case of a general election during the pandemic; some say that a ballot could be called as early as July. Guidelines suggest a 25 per cent increase in the usual number of polling stations to prevent crowding and the allocation of “time bands” to safeguard the morning of polling day for the elderly. Voters would be asked to wear gloves and masks, and to undergo temperature checks as they enter voting venues. Though organising elections for Singapore’s 2.65 million voters with these measures in place will undoubtedly be a logistical challenge, South Korea’s legislative elections in April suggest that it can be done. There, 29 million cast their ballots with guidance not dissimilar to Singapore’s – and not a single new case of coronavirus linked to the elections was recorded in the following two weeks. The US would be wise to take note: with November elections fast approaching, Americans will need to devise the best ways to exercise their own democratic right.

Urbanism / Melbourne

Park and rise

Inspired by the massive popularity of New York’s High Line, many cities are considering elevating open spaces above street level to bring greenery into densely built urban areas. Yet parks that are hidden up flights of stairs or on rooftops often don’t feel open to the public even if they are – because of the very fact that they are disconnected from the street. Last week initial designs for a new 21-storey office tower and elevated park in Melbourne’s Southbank neighbourhood (pictured) were submitted for approval. The city’s planning team will need to ensure that the new green space welcomes – and is visible to – the general public. Otherwise they’ll be at risk of creating a space inhabited only by the block’s office workers. They would do well also to push for further investment in greening projects nearby to draw people into the elevated park and make it part of a green corridor along the river.

M24 / Meet the Writers

Robert Reich

Robert Reich is a US economist, professor and political commentator who has served in three national administrations, including as US secretary of labour. He has written 17 books, and he discusses his latest, ‘The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It’.

Monocle Films / Norway

Celebrating fashion in Oslo

After lagging behind its design-minded neighbours, the Norwegian fashion industry has finally moved out of its comfort zone and stepped up its game. We meet Oslo’s most promising designers and see how they are being taken seriously on the international stage.

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