International news summary: August 4 – 8

Elections in Afghanistan

The two candidates of the Afghanistan presidential elections, Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani (who both claimed victory) have agreed to a new deal brokered by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. While an earlier attempt to reconcile the opponents through a recounting of the votes failed in June, the new agreement promises to be more durable. It links the recounting of the votes to the agreement of both sides to honor the result. Additionally, the deal includes many propositions for a sharing of the power between the contestants, for instance by strengthening the executive power of the prime minister vis-a-vis the president.

The dispute between the candidates reflects the tensions between different ethnics in Afghanistan. Mr. Ghani received votes from the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, and Mr. Abdullah draws his electorate mostly from the Tajiks. With the detailed propositions of the new agreement, both sides commit to the creation of a national unity government in order to prevent the widening of political cleavages between the different groups.

Russia Sanctions the West by Banning Food Imports

A day after president Putin’s announcement on Wednesday, prime minister Medvedev signed a law in power banning food imports from the U.S., Europe and other countries who joined forces in sanctioning Russia over its involvement in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Whilst the list of banned goods is long, most European observers expect a limited impact on the economy as trade with Russia in agricultural goods already declined significantly over the past two years when Russia started to ban such goods by referring to “problems with their hygiene.”

Russian officials stressed that the impacts should not have an impact on their own citizens – a claim doubted by observers as Russias metropolitan centers import more than half of their food. Even if Russia succeeds in boosting its own production or securing new suppliers like countries from Latin America, the prices are likely to increase for consumers. Accordingly, officials said the state wants to keep the prices in check, without further specifying how.

Earlier this week the sanctions by the West claimed their first victim when a subsidiary of Russia’s Aeroflot, Dobrolet, had so suspend its operations. Dobrolet offered daily flights from Moscow to Crimea with planes leased from a European company. Before the bans on food imports went public later this week, the speculations revolved around a potential ban for Western airlines to use Russian airspace. This would result in longer flights from Europe to East Asia and higher fuel consumptions. However, Aeroflot itself generates about 300 million U.S. dollars in revenue per year from the rights granted to the Western carriers.

Africa Business Summit in Washington

With the invitation of most of Africa’s leaders to the White House during this week, president Obama increases his commitment to the continent, which so far has been perceived as falling short of efforts by his predecessor George W. Bush. Instead of widening bilateral development aid, the current administration tries to emphasize mutual opportunities for economic development.

However, in order to create closer economic ties, president Obama seeks to change the US perspective on Africa. For many U.S. Americans, the narrative of a fledgling Africa prevails ignoring the impressive record of economic growth in many African countries over the last decade. The Africa Business Summit in Washington resulted in pledges for investments in infrastructure, energy and IT for more than 17 billion US dollars by companies and the World Bank. The investments in Africa are also of strategic importance to the USA after it has lost ground to China in many parts of the continent and is only the third most important trade partner with Africa today, behind China and Europe.

The summit was met with demonstrations against the invitation of undemocratic leaders to the White House. Regarding some governments of Africa, it could become a dauntingly difficult task for the current U.S. administration to juggle the insistence on more democratic structures with the interest to strengthen economic ties with the same governments – especially with China at its heels, known for its relaxed attitude towards undemocratic regimes.

Expansion of the Suez Canal

On Tuesday, Egypt announced its plans to build a new canal parallel to the existing one capable of servicing larger ships than its 145 years old predecessor. The Suez canal is an important source of revenue for the Egyptian government, generating about five billion US dollars every year. Officials expect to boost these figures to more than 13 billion dollars per year with the new waterway.

According to Egyptian’s President Al Sisi, a former army general, the armed forces will be charged with supervising the construction of the 72 kilometres long channel. In addition to the extension of the canal, the government has plans to develop commercial space adjacent to the water way to establish the region as a regional logistics hub. Experts say this move could ultimately prove more valuable than the extension of the canal itself.

US airstrikes against ISIS

President Obama decided to complement efforts to deliver aid to the civilians threatened by the Islamic State (IS) with targeted airstrikes against positions held by the group. Even the Kurdish militias in North Eastern Iraq have not been able to significantly slow the advances of the fighters of IS towards the capital of the Kurdish region, Erbil. At the same time IS has displaced or killed religious minorities in the territory under its control and most recently drove the Yeziden people into a mountain range in Western Iraq where they, without any supplies and defense could become victims of a genocide.

While the consensus remains that no U.S. combat troops should be send to Iraq, the recent development have finally led president Obama to order direct actions against IS after he had previously opted to only lend logistical support an intelligence to the Iraqi army. For Obama the decision to intervene, although on a very limited mandate, is especially difficult as he came into office by pledging to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, whether the limited actions will stop IS or tilt the balance between them, the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraq’s regular troops remains to be seen.

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