THE first rule for public-relations firms is not to become the story. In South Africa Bell Pottinger, a British firm, has done just that. In May, e-mails between one of the firm’s employees and Duduzane Zuma, a son of President Jacob Zuma, were leaked to South African newspapers. Bell Pottinger had been hired by a company owned by the Gupta family, a trio of Indian businessmen brothers who are chummy with the president, to bolster their image.
One can see why they might seek such help. A report by a former public protector last year accused them of orchestrating “state capture” on behalf of the president, and their names have become a campaign slogan for the opposition. The e-mails showed how the firm had proposed to push the idea that criticism of the president—and the Gupta family—was
Osinbajo the loyal
POLITICS is the survival of the fittest, and Nigeria is no exception. “The Hyenas and the Jackals will soon be sent out of the kingdom,” the first lady, Aisha Buhari, wrote on Facebook on July 10th, in response to a senator who had described her husband as “the absent Lion King”. Muhammadu Buhari has been in London being treated for a mysterious illness since May 7th, after spending a seven-week stint there earlier this year. His only recent communication has been a few written statements mourning deceased politicians.
Despite many rumours, Mr Buhari is probably not dead himself. The vice-president (and acting president), Yemi Osinbajo, rushed to London for a few hours last week. On his return he said his boss was recovering fast and would be back “very shortly”. But
FOR two years Ghanem al Masarir al-Dosari, a Saudi satirist, has fronted an online comic look at the news in a show called “Fadfada” (Natter), which pokes fun at his kingdom’s royal highnesses. He portrays the young crown prince and de facto ruler, Muhammad bin Salman, in nappies, and calls him “al-dub al-dasher”, loosely translated as “fat crumpet”. His YouTube channel attracts millions of followers, most of them Saudi. “Back home, I’d have lost my head,” he says. But Mr Dosari broadcasts from the safety of a north London suburb, he hopes out of reach of the royal sword.
Ever since the leading pan-Arab newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, launched in Britain in 1978, London has served as an Arab media hub. Fleeing the censors at home, journalists found freedom in exile. Fresh crackdowns, censor
Not the real thing
THE traditional way is not always the most successful. Saudi Arabian border guards this month arrested a Sudanese man accused of smuggling more than half a million drug tablets into the kingdom from Jordan on the back of a camel. Just as tastes in food and drink vary from region to region, so do preferences for drugs. The one the Sudanese man was allegedly trafficking, known as Captagon, is the Arabian peninsula’s most popular illegal drug. True Captagon (generic name: fenethylline) was produced as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. America banned it in 1981 after its addictive and other pernicious characteristics became clear. Most other countries have followed suit.
The pills flooding into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states sometimes have a fe
WHEN a group of teenage boys scrawled “down with the regime” on their school wall they lit the powder that ignited Syria’s civil war. Ever since their torture at the hands of state-security agents in March 2011, the boys’ home city of Deraa has become synonymous with the rebellion to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But Deraa may yet turn out to be the place where dreams of overthrowing the regime finally die.
The guns fell silent over the battered city at noon on July 9th as a ceasefire brokered by Russia and America came into force. The truce, announced by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin after their first meeting, is the latest in a string of failed attempts by the two powers to quell more than six years of violence that has killed perhaps 400,000 people. Its succes
FIRST came the Iran nuclear deal; then the Cuban thaw. But less remarked upon at the time was Barack Obama’s rapprochement with another old foe: Sudan, whose president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of orchestrating genocide. In January Mr Obama temporarily lifted economic sanctions on Sudan that had first been imposed 20 years ago by Bill Clinton. The move was a reward for “positive actions” by Sudan. The regime has co-operated with America in fighting terrorism, allowed more aid workers to reach civilians hurt in Sudan’s conflict zones and tried to end its wars with rebels in the south. Yet the decision on whether to end sanctions permanently fell to Mr Obama’s successor.
On July 11th Donald Trump ducked the decision for another three months,
THE smell hits you from a mile away. On the southern edge of Gaza City the crystalline blue Mediterranean is being transmuted into a vast, bobbing pool of raw sewage, the product of half a million people with nowhere else for their effluent to flow. A three-way row between Gaza, the West Bank and Israel has seen electricity supplies cut to a trickle. One casualty has been the strip’s sewage treatment stations.
It is ten years since Hamas, an Islamist political party with a lethal military wing, took over Gaza. In June 2007 it threw out its rivals from Fatah, the nationalist faction that runs the Palestine Liberation Organisation. A year earlier, it had beaten Fatah in elections held in the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 war. The split left Fatah to rule the West Bank, Ha
Gabbay’s a gamble
ON JULY 10th Israel’s Labour Party elected as leader one of its newest members: Avi Gabbay, who joined only six months ago. He represents a leap into the unknown for Labour, which was once Israel’s party of government but has not been in power for 16 years. It has changed leaders eight times since then.
Mr Gabbay is the former chief executive of Bezek, Israel’s largest telecoms firm. He entered politics in 2014, helping to found Kulanu, a centrist party, and served for a year as environment minister (though he failed to be elected to parliament). He resigned in May 2016, denouncing the coalition’s rightward shift, and joined Labour. Last week he came second in the first round of its leadership election, beating Isaac Herzog, the leader for the past four years, into th
Welcome to South Africa
SOUTH AFRICA’S crime lords can be audacious. This month they waited until the country’s top security officials were busy preparing for a briefing on rampant crime at Johannesburg’s international airport, then struck again, hijacking a truck loaded with valuable cargo as it left the gates. The incident was the latest of many. In a particularly brazen heist in March, gunmen impersonating police officers stole 20.7m rand ($1.5m) as the bags of money were being loaded onto a flight to London. A few weeks later, thieves attacked a cash-laden van on a busy highway near the airport, blowing it open with explosives. This dramatic episode was caught on video.
After years of steady decline, serious crime is on the rise in South Africa. Aggravated robbery has jumped by 31%
DOWNLOADING a movie, legally or not, is prohibitively slow in Ethiopia, thanks to glacial internet speeds. Bootleg DVDs are everywhere, but even so it can be hard to find a reasonable-quality version of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Only one cinema in Addis Ababa, the capital, screens foreign hits. Resourceful pirates spy an opportunity.
Last year yellow ATM-style kiosks began to spring up around Addis Ababa. The brainchild of three Ethiopian science graduates and their software company, Swift Media, the Chinese-built kiosks allow customers to transfer any of 6,000 pirated foreign movies or 500 music albums onto a USB stick they insert for as little as 10 cents per file. The kiosks are located in large malls in full view of authorities, who show no interest in shutting them down.