Wednesday 31 January 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 31/1/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Hand in hand: Burkina Faso’s interim president Ibrahim Traoré with Vladimir Putin

Image: Reuters

Opinion / Naveena Kottoor

Lesser of two evils

The Economic Community of West African Nations (Ecowas) was supposed to start the year by celebrating its 50th anniversary. Instead, its leaders are now confronted with an unprecedented crisis as three of the bloc’s founding members – Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – have announced their intention to leave. All three are under military rule following coups that have left regional unity in tatters. Previous efforts by Ecowas to use economic sanctions as a way of returning these countries to civilian rule have backfired, opening up a vacuum that has been filled by a number of bad actors, most notably Russia.

While the Ecowas sanctions were shrugged off by generals, the public bore a heavy cost. When Niger, the region’s largest onion exporter, was barred from sending its goods to neighbouring countries, it saw its economy come to a grinding halt as commodity prices skyrocketed. As a result, the public blames Ecowas for its faltering economy and barely batted an eyelid at the announcement to leave the bloc. But their impassivity might yet change. Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are all landlocked countries that depend on the ports of their Ecowas neighbours for imports and exports. An economic crisis might soon be added to the region’s parlous security situation.

Russia already has close ties with Mali – Moscow-backed mercenary group Wagner is currently deployed in the country – and Burkina Faso, to which it donated 25,000 tonnes of wheat two days before the country announced its departure from Ecowas. It’s a tricky diplomatic balance to strike but the bloc must make efforts to prevent this break-up with an olive branch. One solution would be to ease economic sanctions and increase security co-operation with these three countries, which are in desperate need of both. This might not bring back democracy but it would keep Moscow – and further hardship – at bay.

Naveena Kottoor is a journalist based in Nairobi. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Retail / Global

High and low

Venerable German retailer KaDeWe Group has filed for voluntary insolvency. The department store chain’s majority-owner, Central Group, is having a roller-coaster 2024: Thailand’s largest retailer began the year on a high with the announcement of record annual sales at upmarket Italian chain Rinascente, which it acquired in 2011 and overhauled. KaDeWe’s insolvency, however, could ultimately be a mere bump in the road for Central. Debt-laden Austrian property company Signa, founded by René Benko, sold a 50.1 per cent stake in KaDeWe to Central in 2015, hoping to secure its long-term future. Though KaDeWe’s department stores in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich reported strong sales last year after receiving award-winning upgrades, the group was required to pay rent on the three properties to another Signa entity at a rapidly increasing rate. KaDeWe is likely to emerge from insolvency on a sounder footing and firmly under Thai stewardship. Having taken control of London’s Selfridges and Switzerland’s Globus – two other co-investments with Benko – Central could soon establish itself as European luxury retail’s undisputed leader.

Drop in: Monocle’s Copenhagen pop-up

Fashion / Denmark

Cut above

Editors, buyers and stylists from across the globe are in the Danish capital for the autumn/winter 2024 edition of Copenhagen Fashion Week, which runs until Friday. Over the past 10 years, the city has established itself as a key fashion destination, known for brands such as Saks Potts and Ganni, and their commitment to ethical manufacturing and playful design. Emerging brands from Mfpen to Nicklas Skovgaard are also gaining ground.

Among the trade events taking place this week, Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF) is perhaps the hottest ticket, with its ability to bring together best-in-class brands under one roof, expand to new categories (such as beauty) and help foster industry connections. That’s why Monocle Radio is hosting a pop-up space at CIFF, talking to designers and industry experts about the new season and the growing appeal of Scandinavian fashion.

Attending CIFF at Copenhagen’s Bella Center? Then drop by our pop-up radio station – we’ll be there until Friday. Cosy up with our February issue, meet the team and watch Monocle Radio’s programmes and interviews in real time.

Slipping away: Toboganning in Toronto’s High Park, circa 1910

Image: Toronto City Archive

Society / Canada

Risky business

Toronto’s city council has banned tobogganing on 45 public park slopes that have been used for generations due to safety concerns. This has forced locals to use “designated” hills that are inspected regularly and are free from hazards such as trees and fencing. Thankfully, Torontonians are pushing back. Some are sledding despite the signs, while others are taking to social media to express the need for “risky play” for healthy growing children.

Councillor Brad Bradford in particular has become a local hero after declaring that he intends to make a motion at the next city council meeting on 6 February to reverse the ban. It’s high time that these policymakers hop on a toboggan themselves and take a turn on one of the city’s finest hills. Perhaps they’ll understand that the essence of a Canadian childhood lies not in the face-tingling wind as you surge down the slope or the laughter at the bottom, but the very real possibility of a good old face plant.

Beyond the Headlines

Water view: Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

Image: Getty Images

The List / Tall buildings

Going up

It’s easy to dismiss some tall buildings as vanity projects but architecture at such a scale takes plenty of innovation. Skyscrapers can also help to improve a city’s quality of life. Here are four projects that we’re keeping an eye on.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Since 2019 there have been plans to expand the Marina Bay Sands by building a fourth tower, adding 587 rooms to the existing 2,561. Topped with a swimming pool, it will boast panoramic urban views.

Boardwalk at Bricktown, USA
Oklahoma City could become home to the tallest skyscraper in the US. Once completed, the Boardwalk at Bricktown complex will stand at 581 metres and is expected to boost the city’s luxury-retail sector.

Jeddah Tower, Saudi Arabia
The Jeddah Tower, meanwhile, aims to be the world’s tallest skyscraper, exceeding the height of the UAE’s Burj Khalifa. As the city’s population grows, Jeddah is building upwards.

C6 building, Australia
Perth is hoping to set the record for the highest hybrid timber housing project. The C6 building will be almost 190 metres tall and run exclusively from renewable energy.

Image: David Mellor

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

Maison & Objet

We meet South African designer Yaniv Chen, as well as Kevin Frankental, co-owner and creative director of furniture brand Lemon.


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