Thursday. 11/8/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Emma Searle

Balancing act

For the second time as America’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken is touring Africa. The US secretary of state was in South Africa earlier this week before heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. His trip comes amid a flurry of charm offensives on the continent by Emmanuel Macron and, most recently, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Blinken has taken a more subtle approach to this ongoing tug of war: his main message has been that any partnership ought to be equal. But cordial meetings with his South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor (pictured, on right, with Blinken), failed to mask differences over the war in Ukraine. Many African governments, including that of South Africa, have adopted a neutral stance and refused to publicly criticise Russia for its invasion.

South Africa’s relative ambivalence might partly be motivated by nostalgia for the Soviet Union’s support for their own liberation struggles; many members of the ruling African National Congress were trained in the USSR during apartheid. By contrast, the Reagan administration was blasted – including by Joe Biden, then a young senator – for not taking a strong enough stance against racial segregation. Relations between the US and South Africa have been mostly amicable since; Barack Obama received a particularly warm welcome when he visited in 2013. But ties once again became strained under Donald Trump, especially after the former president’s disparaging comments about African and other developing nations.

Biden has taken pains to repair relations during his time in the Oval Office. But given the complicated history, support can’t be taken for granted. With Beijing, Moscow and Washington competing for influence in one of the continent’s most developed economies, South Africa will make the most of its leverage. So while Blinken’s visit is a good start, the US will need to up its game if it hopes to revitalise relations with the region in the long run.

Emma Searle is a producer for Monocle 24. Hear her full report on Blinken’s trip on ‘The Monocle Daily’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Japan

Unholy alliance

Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, reshuffled his cabinet yesterday in a bid to distance his party from the Unification Church. Founded in South Korea in the 1950s, the religious group expanded to Japan and soon established ties with politicians to bolster its legitimacy. While not officially linked to Japan’s ruling party, its lasting political connections were brought to light after the assassination of Shinzo Abe: former prime minister’s killer blamed the church for taking money from his mother and revealed that the government’s ties it had served as motivation. Kishida (pictured, front centre) has seen a significant dip in public support since Abe’s death, as about a dozen party lawmakers have disclosed connections to the church. His firing of two cabinet members marks an effort to draw a line under the matter but that’s not likely to be the end of it. Expect ties between Japan’s politicians and religious groups to face closer scrutiny for the foreseeable future.

Image: sergireboredo/123RF

Society / Finland

Heat is off

The ongoing energy crisis has hit a veritable Finnish institution: one of Helsinki’s best-known public saunas has temporarily closed its doors due to gas price hikes. Founded in 1929, Sauna Arla (pictured) is the capital’s second-oldest public sauna and has a loyal clientele. The man at the helm, Kimmo Helistö, has signalled a willingness to reopen the sauna if he can find a way to make the business more profitable. One option is to start heating it using wood, as it did until the 1970s when it switched to gas due to neighbours’ complaints about smoke, or electricity.

The good news is that sauna-goers still have many other options: most places never stopped burning wood. And considering the role that Sauna Arla has played in the Kallio neighbourhood of the Finnish capital, many are willing to support its efforts to reopen – perhaps even those residents who complained about the smoke in the first place.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / Kenya

Neck and neck

It’s two days since voting officially closed in Kenya’s presidential election (some late-opening polls are still open) and the result remains too close to call. To win, deputy president William Ruto (pictured) or opposition leader and former prime minister Raila Odinga must receive more than 50 per cent of the vote or face a run-off. This year’s campaign has been dominated by the cost-of-living crisis – particularly pertinent to a country that relies heavily on Ukrainian and Russian grain imports. But corruption and inequality in East Africa’s largest economy are also under the microscope. Underlying this has been the fear of mass violence, which has blighted Kenya in its past three presidential elections and led many to leave Nairobi prior to the vote (perhaps one reason for a relatively low turnout of 56 per cent). Outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta, who has reached his two-term limit, has endorsed Odinga, his former adversary, after falling out with Ruto, his deputy. But it’s the latter who most polls have as being slightly ahead.

Hear more about Kenya’s election from Nairobi-based journalist Naveena Kottoor on the latest edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Véronique Hoegger

Urbanism / Switzerland

Seat of learning

Are you sitting down for this one? The city of Zürich, in co-operation with Swiss research university ETH, is collecting information about how people sit in public. The pilot project has seen small white boxes affixed to chairs in two of the city’s squares, featuring sensors that will gather data on just about anything happening around them: the temperature, humidity, noise level and the location of the chairs, as well as the occupancy and dwell time.

Zürich is already gathering data about the traffic flow of cyclists but there’s little to no information about the behaviour of pedestrians. The pilot could offer some surprisingly valuable insights into how residents use public areas – information that could inform future projects. So go ahead and take a seat; it’s in the name of science, after all.

Image: Studio Ignatov

Monocle 24 / The Menu

Recipe edition: Norbert Niederkofler

The three Michelin-starred chef introduces a freshwater fish recipe that he serves at his Alpinn restaurant in South Tyrol.

Monocle Films / Paris

Swimming in the Seine

As Paris embarks on a project to clean up the Seine ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games, we look at the process of readying the city’s river for its water-seeking dwellers, explore how it could affect the city and meet the guerilla urban swimmers who welcome the move.

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