Wednesday. 30/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Maria Klenner

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

Beginning again

It has been a difficult year for us all but few have experienced it quite like the Lebanese. There was a wave of optimism back in October 2019 after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Beirut to call for a new and more representative political order. That positivity quickly shifted to disbelief as the country embarked on a downward spiral with astonishing speed. The currency collapsed, banks imposed arbitrary and unofficial capital controls and two successive coronavirus lockdowns devastated an economy already on its last legs. And then, on 4 August, the capital was ripped apart by one of the largest non-nuclear explosions the world has seen; a catastrophe caused by dangerous chemicals that successive governments had known were being stored at the port for years.

The international community, which had been holding Lebanon’s government at arm’s length for its refusal to engage with IMF negotiations in good faith, stepped in to alleviate the humanitarian emergency the blast had inflicted. Emmanuel Macron became the new hero of Beirut, walking the destroyed streets and glad-handing the families of victims as he promised change, and held two foreign-donor conferences for Lebanon. But the change he proposed was to install a new leader atop the same old corrupt, nepotistic political system that Lebanese protesters had called to be axed nearly a year before it allowed the deaths of more than 200 Beirutis out of sheer neglect.

Lebanon’s politicians are no longer fit for purpose; they have abandoned even the pretense of public service. And while they hold sway in the parliament, neither is the seat of government. If the country is to begin to rebuild itself from the ashes, not just physically but politically, it needs support from international leaders willing to find new Lebanese partners who have the interests of the many, not the few, in mind. Only then might a small measure of the hope palpable at the start of the year re-emerge in 2021.

Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s correspondent based in Beirut.

Image: Getty Images

Trade / Global

Trading places

Despite an overwhelming majority of votes in her favour, the election of the former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (pictured) as leader of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was halted in November by opposition from Donald Trump’s administration. The process was then delayed in the hope that US president-elect Joe Biden might give the appointment the green light in the new year. If elected, Okonjo-Iweala would be the first woman and first African to hold the organisation’s top job. She would also take over the Geneva-based organisation at a time of tremendous tumult for global trade. “It’s clear that the WTO is never going to fulfill the original grand vision of governing trade that many members had for it,” says Kimberly Ann Elliott, a visiting scholar at the George Washington University Institute for International Economic Policy. “WTO negotiations to update its own rules are likely to remain hamstrung, and that means that the rules will be less well-suited to growing trade problems around the world today.”

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Iran

Back on track

Iran could once again take centre-stage next year as a new US administration under Joe Biden is likely to re-engage in efforts to revive the stalled nuclear deal. Trust will be the key challenge after the Trump administration pulled out of the original 2015 deal and reimposed sanctions, with Iran reneging on some of its commitments in response.

This is where the E3 group of the UK, France and Germany – parties to the original 2015 deal along with China and Russia – could be key, having gained credibility by seeking to keep the deal alive (barely) over the past four years. “Europe, or more accurately the E3, can play an important role as a united front and mediator between the two countries by providing a roadmap that guides both sides back into compliance,” Holly Dagres, non-resident fellow and Middle East expert at the Atlantic Council, told The Monocle Minute. “Without this, there is a risk that tensions could escalate.”

Urbanism / Sierra Leone

Leading by example

Mayors of big African cities, unlike their counterparts in Europe, Asia, or the Americas, have a relatively low global profile. Instead, presidents and prime ministers dominate the continent’s international political discourse. But it’s a trend that Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr (pictured), mayor of Freetown, has been bucking since her election in 2018. As well as making steady improvements in Sierra Leone’s capital, from tree planting to transit infrastructure, she has also worked hard to form international partnerships. For proof, look to her involvement in a knowledge-sharing network established earlier this year with Barcelona, Mexico City, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo. For the sub-Saharan metropolis of 1.1 million people, association with these global cities has given it a presence that could lead to more foreign interest and investment – and raise its profile too. Other African mayors would be wise to follow Aki-Sawyerr’s lead and play a more prominent role on the world stage.

Hospitality / DRC

Here to stay

The first five-star hotel in Goma, a city on the shores of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has opened. The Serena features more than 100 rooms and all the trimmings: a conference centre, restaurants, spas, a swimming pool and a gym. Goma, known until now as more of a military bastion in the war-stricken nation, might seem a puzzling choice for such a venture. Investors have typically veered away from the DRC’s turbulent east but this latest project, which has been in the works for a decade, suggests that the region’s tides are turning. Goma’s recent spate of start-ups has hoteliers betting on business visits to the region and the nearby Virunga National Park should serve as a draw for nature-loving tourists, thanks to its spectacular volcanoes and endangered mountain gorillas. “It’s a very good sign for the DRC,” says Andrew Sangster, owner of hospitality news site Hotel Analyst. “Hotels are the first indicator of a country coming back into the international fold.”

Image: Getty Images

M24 / The Foreign Desk

2020: The year in review

It hasn’t been an easy 12 months to keep up with, but ‘The Foreign Desk’ has done its best. We pick out our highlights in an attempt to make sense of the 21st century’s weirdest year yet.

Monocle Films / France

The secret to baking bread

Paris baker Christophe Vasseur runs the successful corner shop Du Pain et des Idées and knows the secret of the perfect loaf.

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