September 18, 2020
PARIS — Meanwhile, in China… As Europe struggles to sort out what stage of the epidemic it is currently experiencing (Is this a kind of detour of the first wave? The start of the second?), the Middle Kingdom gives the impression that the virus is already history.
To symbolically mark this return to normal life, a mega-techno party was organized last month in Wuhan, where the coronavirus began. And the past few weeks, fashion companies like Dior, Louis Vuitton and Prada have gone back to organizing public events in Shanghai.
Harbingers of the general climate, luxury brands are once again registering strong sales. The largest Louis Vuitton boutique in the Chinese megalopolis even broke sales records in August ($22 million). Chinese citizens are venturing out and consuming. It's clear they trust the authorities who have handled the health crisis. And for companies in this sector, China is undoubtedly the only country in the world, or almost, where real money can be made between now and the end of the year.
The Chinese economy as a whole has picked back up. For Beijing, the first bit of good news is the latest manufacturing sector index, which rose last month at a pace unseen for nearly a decade. Export orders also appear to be coming back for the first time in a long time.
The Chinese economy as a whole has picked back up.
Indeed, the world's second-largest economy has managed a quick overall recovery from the repercussions of the coronavirus crisis. And if we're to believe the official statistics, China seems to be just about the only large country to have avoided recession, as defined by a drop in GDP for two consecutive quarters. After falling 10% in the first quarter, the economy grew 11.5% in the second, even if sectors such as tourism and restaurants continue to struggle.
Globally, the other major economies still look worse for wear. Brazil, Latin America's largest economy, reported a record GDP collapse of 9.7% between April and June, and to date, more than 132,000 people have died there as a result of the virus, according to John Hopkins University. India has taken a huge hit too, the U.S. economy contracted 9.5% in the second quarter, and in Europe, which has also seen double-digit growth losses, the scale of the rebound is still unclear.
No one has to believe the official COVID-19 statistics in China, where fewer than 5,000 people have reportedly died since the start of the epidemic. John Hopkins does not include China in its mortality analysis. There are indications that the real death toll is higher, though how much higher is anyone's guess. What is clear is that the Chinese people feel confident about the measures taken by their central government to curb the virus and react quickly and effectively when new clusters emerge.
The truth about the health situation China won't be cleared up anytime soon, especially since the World Health Organization shares incestuous ties with Beijing, as French investigative journalist Pierre Haski revealed in July on the French network Arte (two interviews are still available to watch). But the systematic policy of measuring the temperature everywhere and all the time, as well as the impressive use of digital tools, bring useful lessons to Western countries, many of which seem confused still about what to do.
Here we continue to hesitate. There they have a frightening policy of absolute, top-down control. Surely there is an in-between approach.
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The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.
David E. Kiwuwa
October 27, 2021
This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.
In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.
The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.
A popular uprising may be inevitable
The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?
Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.
But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.
Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.
For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.
Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.
A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.
File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020
Generals in suits
Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.
For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.
This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.
Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.
Demands of the revolution
The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.
First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.
Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.
The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.
Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.
Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.
The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.
Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.
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