Wednesday 29 November 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 29/11/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

March of progress: William Ruto, Kenya’s president, inspects the guard of honour

Image: Getty Images


Bringing down the barriers

If there’s one thing that Kenya’s president, William Ruto, has perfected since assuming office in 2022, it’s the art of public diplomacy. While traditional diplomatic heavyweights such as South Africa, Nigeria and Ethiopia have been preoccupied with domestic problems, Kenya has been projecting an image of being the champion of the continent’s great causes. From organising a summit on climate change in Nairobi in September to announcing a surprise public holiday on 13 November dedicated to tree planting, it has made headlines both at home and abroad.

Ruto’s latest idea was announced during a state visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo in October. From 2024, Kenya plans to allow visa-free access to all African citizens. The dream of a visa-free Africa is not new: it’s a key aspiration of the African Union’s Agenda 2063. While ageing Europe is increasingly being accused of being a fortress, in Africa, the continent with a younger population than any other, aspirations for free movement are very much alive. The Seychelles, Benin and the Gambia have already scrapped visa requirements for Africans. Soon, Rwanda is planning to join them.

But Ruto’s commitment is significant: with a GDP of about €106bn, Kenya is by far the largest economy in East and Central Africa, and the biggest economic player on the continent to remove travel barriers for its citizens. By opening its borders, Ruto is not just wielding Kenya’s growing soft power. His hope is that the removal of visa barriers will accelerate the creation of a continental free-trade area in Africa. But at home the announcement hasn’t been greeted with universal enthusiasm. Faced with high taxes, a currency crisis and rising inflation, some Kenyans fear that opening the borders could lead to wages being undercut. While the dream of African free movement might still be alive in Kenya, concerns about its effects echo those in Europe.

Naveena Kottoor is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi. Monocle’s December/January issue, containing our annual Soft Power Survey, is on newsstands tomorrow. Subscribe today so that you never miss an issue.



On the defensive

The Berlin Security Conference, one of Europe’s largest summits on defence policy, kicks off today as its host country contends with budgetary and energy crises. With the war in Ukraine continuing, concerns over migration and new sources of power have dominated the proceedings ahead of the conference. Yesterday, Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, told the Bundestag that his government would go ahead with its plans to modernise the economy and give crucial sectors such as chip-making a leg-up.

This came after the constitutional court ruled that the government could not transfer unused debt that had been authorised at the height of the coronavirus pandemic into a climate fund – ripping a €60bn hole in the country’s public finances. Questions are now being raised over how much military aid Berlin will be willing to commit to Ukraine. It has promised that it will double support to €8bn in 2024 but economic uncertainty might make it harder to maintain public support for the pledge.

Bright lights, big city: Bangkok’s bustling “Em-district”

Image: Shutterstock


Scenes from a mall

The hottest party in Bangkok this Friday night will be taking place in a shopping centre. At the grand opening of The Emsphere on Sukhumvit Road, events will be held on various levels across the six-storey complex, which includes a 6,000-seat concert hall and an Ikea.

Supaluck Umpujh, chairwoman of property developer The Mall Group, will be leading the celebrations at Tribe, her “beach club” on the fifth floor. The Emsphere is the third and final part of her “Em-district” in the Phrom Phong neighbourhood and the swim-up pool bar at Tribe is as good a place as any to take it all in. Emporium, across Benchasiri Park, is for luxury shopping, while Emquartier offers lifestyle brands. The new Emsphere will serve as the group’s entertainment hub. Given Umpujh’s impressive track record, industry rivals will be watching closely to see whether this new opening can pull in the crowds.

Riding high: Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787, powered by sustainable aviation fuel

Image: Reuters


Up in the air

The first transatlantic flight by a large passenger plane powered only by alternative fuels took off from London’s Heathrow yesterday afternoon, bound for New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport. Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787 had no paying passengers onboard and was filled with 50 tonnes of sustainable aviation fuels, which can be made from crops, household waste and cooking oils.

But not all aviation analysts are convinced. “Virgin is pretty confident that this will be like any other normal flight,” Murdo Morrison, head of strategic content at Flightglobal, tells The Monocle Minute. “The fuel is different but it performs in more or less the same way. The issue is the availability. No matter how virtuous the industry wants to be, there just isn’t sufficient sustainable aviation fuel. But this is the only solution that airlines have at the moment, apart from operating fewer flights.”

For more on Virgin’s green flight, tune in to Tuesday’s edition of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.

Beyond the Headlines


Event horizon

As you approach the end of the year, your calendar is probably starting to fill up. Here, we highlight three major events over the next two weeks that are worth making time for.

World Architecture Festival 2023, Singapore
29 November to 1 December
This three-day festival, which begins today at Marina Bay Sands, is the world’s largest architecture event. It features talks and seminars from international practices such as The Jencks Foundation, Herzog & de Meuron, Mario Cucinella and 73 others.

International Luxury Travel Market, Cannes
4-7 December
Taking place at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès in Cannes, this four-day luxury-travel expo is an essential networking event for travel-industry specialists and hospitality brands.

Miami Art Week, Miami
4-10 December
Art collectors and enthusiasts will be flocking to Miami for the city’s art week and its satellite events. Among them will be the Scope Art Show, which will be holding more than 150 new contemporary-art exhibitions; the 19th edition of Design Miami, featuring collaborations with local designers and architects; and Art Miami, an international fair running for its 32nd year with a selection of work from the world’s biggest galleries.;;

Image: A24

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Culture

‘The Eternal Daughter’

British director Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter stars Tilda Swinton as a mother and daughter who book into a grand but chilly country house hotel for a birthday holiday. Robert Bound is joined in the studio by Clarisse Loughrey and Christina Newland to review the eerie new film, which swirls in a gothic fog.


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