Tuesday. 28/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

State of turmoil

The past year has seen Lebanon rapidly transform from a country in crisis to a state in full-scale collapse. The value of the Lebanese pound has plummeted from 1,500 to the US dollar to 24,000. Many residents with the option to flee abroad have done so; almost 40 per cent of the country’s doctors have left. The medical system has disintegrated, with basic life-saving medicines scarce. Those left behind have had to live with as little as an hour of mains power a day (pictured) and the rocketing price of petrol, when it’s available, has made transport a luxury reserved for the wealthy. The UN estimates that by January, 80 per cent of the population will be living in abject poverty and facing severe food insecurity.

There’s little hope on the horizon for 2022. Efforts by foreign governments to force Lebanon’s leaders to act have fallen flat, whether it’s the carrot (offers of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid if they undertake reforms) or the stick (sanctions imposed on the overseas wealth of Lebanon’s politicians). Parliamentary elections are due in March but some in the political classes are already trying to move the date, warning that, given the fragile security situation, the vote could be unmanageable.

Some political insiders believe that the government hopes to delay the election until next November, when the next president will be chosen, so that the current parliament can choose their man: Lebanon’s politicians select the president, not the public vote. Even if the election goes ahead as planned, few Lebanese believe that the country’s current or future government can bring about meaningful change. To avoid further collapse, Beirut needs fresh contenders who are ready to take on the entrenched political classes at the polls. But even if some emerge, there’s scant hope that they can reverse decades of mismanagement and neglect.

Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s Beirut correspondent.

Image: Getty Images

Health / Africa

Calling the shots

The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa (pictured), was perhaps inevitable. Scientists had long warned that coronavirus can spread and mutate more easily in the unvaccinated and, according to the World Health Organization, only 7.5 per cent of Africa’s population was fully inoculated by early December. Hoarding by wealthier nations is partly to blame but it’s not the whole picture. Rollout faces other hurdles, including logistical challenges and hesitancy; the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change says that 40 per cent of doses already delivered to African countries have not been used. Some smaller nations have done better: the Seychelles has fully jabbed almost 80 per cent of its population of 100,000 and Cape Verde (population 600,000) is at almost 45 per cent of adults. But pockets of success are not enough. A year after vaccines were first unveiled, richer and poorer nations alike need to redouble efforts to inoculate their citizens.

Image: Shutterstock

Sport / Qatar

Goal and globe

The first Fifa World Cup to be hosted by a Middle Eastern or Arab nation will get underway in Qatar in November, when the Gulf state will host 32 national football teams. According to Fifa, awarding the tournament to Qatar was part of its attempt to broaden the sport’s international appeal. But allegations of corruption in the bidding process and human rights abuses continue to dog the organisers.

“The World Cup is Fifa’s biggest and most important global product,” Paul Brannagan, author of Qatar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup: Politics, Controversy, Change, tells The Monocle Minute. “It has consistently argued for the need to take the tournament beyond South America and Europe. From an organisational perspective, Qatar will put on a fine show but it has perhaps come too early. The country has too many political and social problems that threaten to undermine what could be a great World Cup.”

Image: Getty Images

Elections / South Africa

Sole focus

After decades of essentially one-party rule, South African politics could be on the verge of major change. For the first time since apartheid ended in 1994, last month’s municipal elections saw the African National Congress (ANC) win less than half of the vote, marking the most serious blow to the party’s popularity since its foundation. The reason has been largely attributed to corruption, mismanagement and record-high unemployment. But it also revealed a new trend in South African politics: the rise of independent candidates and small parties. In January, independent candidates led by former opposition leader Mmusi Maimane’s (pictured) One South Africa Movement will formally band together to launch an Independent Candidate Association to push for electoral reforms that would favour those standing as individuals over parties. “There is now a snowballing consensus that single-party hegemony over South Africa is fast coming to an end,” says a statement from the collective. “The future of governance in South Africa is independent.”

Image: AFROCHELLA

Culture / Ghana

With one voice

Ghana’s annual music festival, one of the biggest in Africa, is in full swing today in the capital Accra. Afrochella (pictured) always strives to amplify diverse voices and the work of entrepreneurs and creatives across the continent. This year it’s launching a series of exhibitions showcasing the best of African art including works by Ghanaian-American artist Rita Benissan, who will present Mmae a Eda Nsow (A Remarkable Presence). Its first section displays photos from Benissan’s archive foundation, Si Hene; the second is an installation that showcases a reinterpretation of the royal umbrellas (Kyiniye), which have long been a part of Ghanaian culture. “The aim is to reimagine individuals’ experience of the regular use of the object, not just as a protector from the weather but as an object that embodies power,” Benissan tells The Monocle Minute. “My hope for my displays is to broaden the way in which people interact with history – and with umbrellas.”

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk

War and peas: food in diplomacy

As millions of families tuck into their Christmas turkey and load up their plates with leftovers from the festive season, we examine the role of food in global politics. What is culinary diplomacy? Is the kitchen really the new venue for foreign policy? And what exactly goes into preparing the menu for a state banquet?

Monocle Films / Turin

The new urban rowers

We wake up bright and early to meet creative director Luca Ballarini at the Circolo Canottieri Caprera, a rowing club on the banks of the river Po in Turin. We follow his slender boat and glide along the river beside charming palazzi, castles and bridges, while the rest of the city comes to life.

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