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Geopolitics

Symbolism To Action, A Belgian King And Minneapolis Mayor

Monument of King Leopold II in Brussels paintbombed with pink paintin 2018.
Monument of King Leopold II in Brussels paintbombed with pink paintin 2018.
Bertrand Hauger

Among the many villains through Europe's colonization of the African continent, a case could be made that Belgium's King Leopold II was the worst. Responsible for the genocide of an estimated 10 million people, the 19th-century monarch ordered his troops and administrators to pillage the central African colony known as Belgian Congo, renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after its independence in the 1960s.


With that history in mind, the images over the weekend of protesters defacing statues of the king across Belgium — in Brussels, Halle, Ostend, Ghent, Tervuren, Ekeren — is shocking only insofar as the rest of the world discovers that so many public statues of Leopold still exist.

BLM in Bristol

Protesters stand on the statue of Edward Colston after it is torn down in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter rally — Photo: Simon Chapman/ZUMA.

The same could also be said for other lesser known figures such as 17th-century merchant Edward Colston, whose company forced some 84,000 African men, women and children onto vessels that crossed the Atlantic Ocean to be sold into slavery in the sugar and tobacco fields of Caribbean islands. The world found out Saturday that a statue of Colston was on display in the British city of Bristol, where protesters pulled it down and threw it into the river Avon.

This crisscrossing of time and space, of course, comes amid a burst of global consciousness across the same Atlantic, following the police killing of yet another unarmed African-American, George Floyd, in the city of Minneapolis.

The question of symbols such as statues — and the symbolism of tearing them down — may help us to face our past. But real action must follow to push change forward. And that brings us back to Minneapolis, and what appears to be the potentially truly momentous news this past weekend, when a majority of city council members said they favor dismantling the existing police department, saying it was simply not reformable. By all accounts, it would be an unprecedented response to the question of violence and systemic racism in U.S. law enforcement.


For the moment, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, says he doesn't support the measure. Until now, the first-term 38-year-old progressive Democrat has seemed to do and say the right things on the question of police violence and racial inequality. Standing about as far as one could imagine from the likes of Leopold II, Frey must still know that history will be watching.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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