Monday. 12/7/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Louis Harnett O’Meara

Reign down

Almost three years of my childhood were spent in Eswatini, the tiny southern African nation then known as Swaziland. The EU had granted my father the unenviable task of working as an economic advisor to the Swazi government, an opaque bureaucracy beholden to Africa’s last absolute monarchy in which the king, Mswati III (pictured), showed more interest in amassing a formidable collection of fast cars, beautiful wives and celebrity connections than tackling the widespread poverty of his subjects. There was a rumour circulating when we arrived in 2000 that aid money granted to Eswatini to combat Aids was redirected toward King Mswati’s new private jet. In the years since, the country of 1.2 million has regularly recorded the world’s highest prevalence of HIV.

So recent headlines describing protests for democracy should come as no surprise – but the violent reaction has been disheartening. Demonstrations erupted some weeks ago following the death of a young law student in his car, seemingly killed by police in murky circumstances. Ever since, domestic security forces have deployed live rounds of ammunition on activists. Dozens have been killed, while lawlessness and looting has spread throughout the country. Peaceful protesters continue to demand the end of absolute royal rule but act in a climate of fear.

Progress has been fitful: last week the Swazi government agreed to enter into talks with opposition leaders and though many believe the gesture to be hollow, some remain hopeful. “We are expecting that King Mswati must fall,” Zweli Dlamini, editor of news site Swaziland News, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Dlamini stressed that pressure from international organisations such as Amnesty is aiding the cause. The situation remains volatile but, at a time of escalating authoritarianism around the globe, witnessing the formation of the world’s youngest democracy would be a moment worth waiting for.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Northern Ireland

Past is prologue

In the UK, 12 July is a controversial date. It commemorates the 1688 Glorious Revolution and 1690 Battle of the Boyne fought between King William of Orange and Catholic King James II on the island of Ireland. For Protestants it’s traditionally a day of celebration (“The Glorious Twelfth”) of the moment when their denomination became the primary religious force in the British Isles. For Catholics it has rather less exultant associations. In Northern Ireland, loyalist Protestants famously dress in orange and march through the streets banging drums and flying flags. After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, parades that would often intentionally pass through Catholic areas became less confrontational. Then came Brexit. It’s unclear what effect the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol will have on today’s parade, which is the first since the UK officially left the EU. Clashes between loyalists and police earlier this year do not portend a glorious event; might we suggest that both sides resist the urge to revive this date’s most troubled past.

Image: Getty Images

Health / Asia

East resistance

Southeast Asia has seen a resurgence of coronavirus cases and its uneven vaccination campaigns are having a major impact on local life and economies. Here’s a snapshot of what’s happening in the region.

  1. Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug commonly used on animals, is being dubbed a “miracle cure” in Indonesia and neighbouring countries. While there is no research proving its efficacy, it has gained immense popularity through social media. Sales have boomed – and authorities are urging caution.

  2. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have reached new records of daily infections. The highly transmissible Delta variant accounts for the vast majority of active cases.

  3. Stay-at-home orders have been imposed in Ho Chi Minh City (pictured), which has become the country’s worst hit region. The Southeast Asian Games, which were planned to take place in Vietnam this year, have been postponed.

    It’s a reminder that while Europe is progressively reopening borders and returning to normal life, few countries have been spared the scars of the pandemic. All nations need to push on with vaccinations to prevent resurgences in the second half of the year.

Image: Rapha

Cycling / France

Gearing up

After a blockbuster weekend, today marks a quiet day on the sporting calendar for champions to soak in victory and fans to nurse their hangovers. Even the world’s top male cyclists are kicking up their feet in Andorra on the second rest day of this year’s Tour de France. Lonely the road will be, then, for Australian cyclist Lachlan Morton (pictured) this morning as he pedals towards Paris on his so-called Alt Tour. Morton is riding the 5,500km route in 23 days with no help, his race bike weighed down with a sleeping bag and camping stove, fuelled by baguettes and the odd glass of French wine. He’s raised more than €250,000 for World Bicycle Relief, which distributes bicycles to help people get to schools and workplaces in developing countries. It’s a nod to the original Tour in 1903, in which cyclists raced without supporters or teams bearing gear, and a reminder that there’s more to sport than a championship trophy.

Image: Reuters

Travel / Switzerland

Parting shot

On the same day that the EU agreed to recognise Switzerland’s vaccination certificate (pictured) for travel into the 27-nation bloc, a referendum challenging the very idea of such certificates for the doubly vaccinated was handed in to the Swiss house of parliament in Bern. The fact that Switzerland, as of last Friday, became the first non-EU country to have its certificate recognised by the EU highlights the importance of the Alpine nation as a transit hub and destination for European professionals and tourists alike. Still, more than 150,000 people signed a referendum petition decrying the certificates for discriminating against the unvaccinated. The vote is only likely to take place in November and, in any case, the certificates will remain valid until the beginning of 2022. With many Swiss set to enjoy a summer of fewer restrictions and more travel in the meantime – in part thanks to vaccine certificates – will they really turn their backs on the idea in November?

Image: Getty Images

M24 / Music

The Global Countdown: Rwanda

Monocle’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco looks at the top songs in Rwanda this week.

Monocle Films / Zürich

In praise of balconies

Look up as you stroll Zürich’s streets and you’ll see these outdoor living rooms everywhere. Monocle Films visited the city to outline this architectural feature and how it improves quality of life.

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