In Episode 189 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes that despite all the tankie pseudo-left enthusiasm for the BRICS summit in South Africa, the notion of a unified bloc against Western hegemony is illusory. The Johannesburg confab was immediately followed by a diplomatic spat between China and India, sparked by Beijing's release of an official map of the territory of the People's Republic—showing two Himalayan enclaves claimed by India as Chinese territory: Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, which have both been the scene of border skirmishes in recent years. The map also shows an island in the Amur River, by mutual agreement half controlled by Russia, as entirely Chinese. Moscow, depending on China's acquiescence in the Ukraine war, has lodged no protest over this. But the border disputes between nuclear-armed India and China have the potential to escalate to the unthinkable. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi has threatened to terminate the mandate of an East African Community military force that deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year. The force was set up to contain an insurgency by the Rwanda-backed M23 rebel group, which has uprooted nearly a million people in the country's east. The EAC claims the rebels have pulled back from occupied areas thanks to their intervention, but Congolese officials say the group remains at large and accuse the EAC of inaction. The regional mission was unpopular from the outset among Congolese, who are mindful of the destructive role neighboring states have played in their country. Yet new military interventions are being prepared, with the Southern African Development Community (which includes South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania) announcing plans to deploy troops. The focus on the M23 is, meanwhile, pulling attention away from DRC's other armed groups, some of which are intensifying attacks and expanding their territory.
Tropical Storm Ana battered three southern African countries this week, killing more than 70 people, washing away houses and infrastructure, and leaving around 350,000 people homeless and without public services. Ana began over Madagascar's eastern Analamanga region on Jan. 24, with wind speeds of up to 100 kmph, causing flooding and landslides that killed more than 40 people and forced 72,000 from their homes. It then made landfall in Mozambique, causing significant damage to the central provinces of Zambezia, Nampula and Tete, and leaving at least 15 people dead. Next hit was Malawi on Jan. 25, where 19 were killed and more than 217,000 people fled their homes. The storm downed power lines and forced the closure of the country's main hydropower plant. That also affected water pumping stations, resulting in water shortages in the main cities of Blantyre, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. A new storm, Batsirai, is brewing in the Indian Ocean and may follow a similar path.
A record number of environmental defenders were murdered last year, according to a report issued this week by advocacy group Global Witness. The report, "Last Line of Defense," counts 227 activists killed around the world in 2020—the highest number recorded for a second consecutive year. Many of the murders were linked to resource exploitation—logging, mining, agribusiness, and hydroelectric dams. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the organization found on average of four activists have been killed each week.
Rwandan and Mozambican troops retook the port city of Mocímboa da Praia on Aug. 9 from Islamist militants—their last stronghold in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado province. The 1,000 Rwandan troops, who arrived in the country last month to help the government battle a four-year insurgency, have proved their effectiveness in a series of skirmishes. They are also being joined by units from regional neighbors Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. But analysts are warning that the insurgents—known colloquially as al-Shabab (see list of alternative names)—are choosing not to stand their ground, preferring to retreat into the countryside. Military force doesn't address the drivers of the conflict, nor does it prevent ill-disciplined Mozambican troops—who often struggle to distinguish between insurgent and civilian—from stoking further tensions through abuses of the populace. More than 3,000 people have been killed and 820,000 displaced by the conflict.
In Episode 83 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes signs of hope on the 76th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, with the city's Mayor Kazumi Matsui calling on the world's nations to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. President Trump walked away from US-Russia nuclear arms control treaties, and China is now rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal. Ukraine and Syria are ominously likely flashpoints for superpower conflict. But South Africa provides a shining example of progress—under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, newly post-apartheid South Africa became the first and only nation on Earth to willingly dismantle its nuclear weapons.
The violence and looting that left at least 117 people dead in South Africa may have diminished after thousands of troops were deployed onto the streets of the main hotspot provinces. But the unrest was the worst seen since the end of apartheid, and has disrupted a stuttering vaccination program amid a Delta-driven COVID-19 third wave that is straining health services. Protests erupted after the July 7 imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma, who had refused to appear before a corruption inquiry into the "state capture" allegations that blighted his rule. However, the unrest reflects broader frustrations, as pandemic restrictions result in job losses and deepen poverty in one of the world's most unequal countries. As one bystander in Johannesburg told a television crew: "The matter is not about Zuma. People are hungry."
Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi is usually wary of foreign military intervention. But the grim situation in Cabo Delgado seems to have forced his hand. Last week, Rwanda began deploying a 1,000-strong police and military force to the insurgency-hit northern province. And troops from the Southern African Development Community regional bloc are also set to arrive in the coming days. Some reports suggest the Rwandans will set up around the Afungi peninsula, where a multi-billion dollar gas project is located. Their battlefield enemy—known locally as al-Shabab—is formidable and entrenched, as Mozambique's army and its mercenary allies know well. Lost in the military chatter is much mention of Cabo Delgado's worsening humanitarian crisis: More than 700,000 people have been uprooted—68,000 since late March—and close to a million are now facing severe hunger.