Thursday. 5/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Push and pull

When Donald Trump was in power, Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador – also known as Amlo – frequently rallied against his policies towards Latino immigrants and the increasing militarisation of the border. Yet, for all his talk, Amlo has also been willing to do the US’s bidding. The Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” programme, which keeps migrants in the country while their US asylum requests are being processed, has continued under Joe Biden – and Mexico has sought to impose tougher restrictions on its own southern border.

But policing migrants does nothing to address the problem of why Central Americans are seeking refuge in the US in the first place, which is why recent discussions between the US and Mexico are encouraging. Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, and his US counterpart Antony Blinken (pictured, on right, with Ebrard) have been discussing “a common initiative for the creation of jobs in Central America”. Their meeting in Washington this week was a follow-up to a phone call between Amlo and Biden at the end of April that, according to the White House, discussed the need for “safe and sustainable livelihoods” on both sides of the Rio Grande.

The word “safe” is key here. Creating economic incentives matters but there’s a cycle of violence in many Central American countries that is spurring the exodus. If crime can promise more money and power than a menial job, gangs will continue to recruit. Recent efforts to address the challenge range from a Trump-era “Marshall Plan” for Central America to a Biden administration initiative to spur private-sector investment in the so-called “Northern Triangle”. The latest flurry of talks comes ahead of the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles next month. Leaders should view that gathering as an opportunity to agree on meaningful steps that finally go beyond the talk.

Image: Getty Images

Economy / Kenya

Bitter taste

Over the weekend, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta blamed rising food and fuel prices, and the ensuing long lines at petrol stations, on the war in Ukraine but many took his comments with a pinch of salt. While the fallout from Russia’s invasion has undoubtedly affected economies around the world, many Kenyans accuse the leadership of using Ukraine to hide its mismanagement of the country. Tensions are similarly high in Nigeria, where fuel prices have doubled, and the Horn of Africa, whose dependency on wheat imports from Ukraine and Russia has heightened food insecurity. “Inflation was affecting Africa before the Ukraine crisis, though it has worsened since the Russian invasion,” Alex Vines, the Maputo-based director of Chatham House’s Africa programme tells The Monocle Minute. “There was already a peppering of violent protests over increased cost of living in late 2021. We should expect many more in 2022 as people find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.”

Hear more from Alex Vines on the war in Ukraine’s effect on Africa in today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Jussi Puikkonen

Diplomacy / Netherlands

Two wheels good

With more than 37,000km of cycle paths and a population that makes a quarter of its journeys by bike, the Netherlands is arguably the world’s most cycling-friendly country. But according to the Dutch Cycling Embassy, an organisation that exports the nation’s expertise in this area, it wasn’t always that way. As recently as in the 1970s, the Netherlands was transitioning towards a car-first economy but protests over child safety, quality of life and fuel prices stopped this in its tracks. Cycling is now second nature.

“People choose the bicycle simply because it’s the easy choice within the city,” Chris Bruntlett, the embassy’s communications manager, tells Monocle. That’s the message the organisation carries abroad as it helps connect local and national governments with cycling experts in the Netherlands. Recent clients include cycling success stories such as those in Paris and Austin. And with forthcoming projects in Milan, the Philippines and India, it’s only a matter of time before the embassy’s reach expands to a city near you.

Read the full story in the May issue of Monocle, which is out now.

Image: Lemaire

Fashion / France

Breaking the chains

For more than 25 years, French fashion designers Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran have run their flagship boutique in Le Marais in Paris. Now they're doubling down on the area. This week they opened a second outpost on Place des Vosges, a short walk south of his first operation.

Occupying a ground-floor unit, the shop features new interiors by Italian architect Francesca Torzo and looks out onto a leafy public square. The result is an inviting space that’s ideal for browsing Lemaire’s wide range of men’s and women’s bags, shoes and small leather goods. While this new opening is a boon for shoppers, it’s also good news for the historic central neighbourhood, where chains have been replacing more specialised boutiques in recent years. It shows that the neighbourhood is still an ideal spot for considered retailers in the French capital – a move that we certainly celebrate.

Image: Tetra

Media / Italy

Right angle?

Launching a publishing house is not easy at a time when the cost of paper is through the roof but Italian newcomer Tetra has a novel approach. Its name, which is Greek for “four”, alludes to its guiding idea: four short stories by four different authors to be released on the fourth day of every month at a cost of – you guessed it – €4 each. The new titles will be published in a square format. It might sound like a gimmick but niche propositions with a strong identity, which makes them feel like collectable special editions, have legs in print.

Focusing on short stories is also a smart move: portable in size and manageable in length, these compact books can offer a sharp burst of fiction for the time-strapped and their affordability might attract a few occasional readers to pick up a copy. Here’s hoping that Tetra’s business model squares up.

Image: Wu Qingshan

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Open Architecture and ‘Alloys’

We hear how Beijing-based practice Open is leading the way in terms of cultural architecture in China and reflect on fascinating collaborations between architects and sculptors in mid-20th-century America. Plus: a new project exploring Mexico’s plentiful biomaterials.

Monocle Films / Italy & Japan

The talent-seeker: Ryutaro Yoshida

To celebrate last year’s Milano Design City – a downsized version of the annual Salone del Mobile – we take a closer look at one of our favourite exhibitors. Here we trace the collaboration between Italy’s Boffi De Padova and Japan’s Time & Style all the way to the remote region of Shimane, meeting the artisans that craft these special products.

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