The role of France in Mali’s complex political, economic and humanitarian situation

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt


The political, economic and humanitarian situation in Mali is very complex. After a second military coup in less than a year, Mali’s political instability has further increased. In reaction, France first threatened to withdraw troops if “political instability leads to greater Islamist radicalism” and then implemented the threat by temporally suspending French troops from Malian territory (BBC, 2021; Vincent & le Cam, 2021). The military coup further isolated the landlocked state as international organisations like the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced to suspend the country (Berry, 2021). In this article, I will analyse the political, economic and humanitarian situation and elucidate the role of the international community in the conflict resolution.

Political background

In 1960, Mali became independent from France. The new socialist one-party state had a rough start suffering from “droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship until democratic elections in 1992” (BBC, 2021). The military coup in 2012 significantly worsened the situation as Islamist militias started occupying Northern Malian towns (BBC, 2021). After the military coup Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta won presidential elections in 2013 and 2018 (Burke, 2020). According to BBC (2021), President Keïta “proved unable to unify the country”. People increasingly protested against “government incompetence, endemic corruption and a deteriorating economy” (Burke, 2020). In August 2020, Keïta was overthrown in the context of a military coup (BBC, 2021). ECOWAS then helped to introduce a transition government appointing a new civilian President, Bah Ndaw, and a new Prime minister, Moctar Ouane (World Bank, 2021).

Recent political development

Assimi Goita, leader of Mali’s most recent military coup, fired and detained President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane causing a storm of protest from the international community (Deutsche Welle, 2021). Last week, Mali’s constitutional court approved Goita’s position as new interim president (Deutsche Welle, 2021). Goita justified the coup by saying that the former government has shown a “demonstrable intent to sabotage the transition” (Deutsche Welle, 2021). Furthermore, he promised to hold elections next year, which, however, remains to be seen (Al Jazeera, 2021).

Factors increasing political instability

An important factor increasing the political instability in Mali is the lack of territorial control and the spread of Islamist militias in the North and Centre of the country. The state has difficulties to ensure access to basic services as health care, education, water and electricity in many parts of the country (Klatt, 2020). The impoverished population is getting more and more vulnerable to the influence of Islamist militias. Islamist rebels successfully recruit people for their purpose promising an income with drug and arms trafficking (Klatt, 2020).

Climate change further aggravates the situation (Klatt, 2020; Römer, 2021). Droughts increasingly pose an important threat to food security. They impede the population’s food supply, take away people’s income and thus increase the country’s conflict potential (Römer, 2021). A large part of the population still depends on agriculture and livestock farming making climate change a serious threat (Römer, 2021). The fight for resources increases success chances of Islamist militias as people suffering from consequences of droughts are more vulnerable to recruitment (Römer, 2021). The violence of Islamist militias not only threatens Mali, but also Mali’s neighbours. After an attack on Nigerien villages in January 2021, the Nigerien government sent troops to the Malian border region (Der Spiegel, 2021).

Economic and humanitarian situation

The economic and humanitarian situation suffers from the political instability. According to World Bank (2021), the pandemic and the socio-political crisis have led to an economic recession. Unemployment and increasing prices for food lead to frustration amongst the population further increasing political instability (Klatt, 2020). Mali is a landlocked country (a country without access to the sea) which is economically “undiversified and vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations“ (World Bank, 2021). This, in turn makes the country more vulnerable for political conflict creating a vicious circle which is difficult to escape.

Role of France

One year after the military coup in 2012, France started to intervene militarily in Mali to assist Malian troops in the fight against Islamist militias (BBC, 2021). The French intervention was initiated “at the request of the government in Bamako [capital city of Mali] and with the UN’s blessing” (Baig, 2013). Francois Hollande, French President at the time, justified the choice to militarily intervene in the name of the fight against Islamist terror. The intervention was thus framed as counter-terrorist measure (Ganley, 2020). Since then, the French were massively involved in the fight against Islamist rebels in Mali. Until recently, there have been 5000 French soldiers in the Northern region of Mali.

The perception of French troops shifted over the course of time. As already mentioned, French troops started the intervention on request of the Malian government. At first, they were successful at helping Mali to regain the territory occupied by Islamist rebels (BBC, 2021). However, over time, their ability to stop Islamist militias decreased (Wiegel, 2021). In the long run, the situation did not improve, on the contrary, political instability increased and Islamist militias got more and more influential (Schaap, 2020; Wiegel, 2021). In the last months, the French have increasingly been perceived as “occupiers with a hidden imperialist agenda” (Ganley, 2020). People even protested on the streets against French troops. According to Ganley (2020), they “carried signs decrying the former colonizer”. 

The role of international organizations

As response to the military coup, the African Union and ECOWAS suspended Mali (Berry, 2021). Furthermore, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres increased pressure on Goita calling for the release of (former) President, Bah Ndaw, and (former) Prime minister, Moctar Ouane (BBC, 2021). The UK demanded the same and condemned the military coup (Deutsche Welle, 2021). In the context of MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), not only French troops were in Mali, but also troops from other UN-members as Germany. Despite the French troop withdrawal, Germany announced keep supporting Mali (Der Spiegel, 2021).

In conclusion, the political, economic and humanitarian worsened as a result of the military coups Mali experienced. The effect of the international pressure and the French troop withdrawal, however, remains to be seen.

person in camo attire near other people at daytime

Photo by Clovis Wood Photography published on Unsplash


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Klatt, C. (2020, November 04). Mali. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from

Römer, J. (2021, April 20). Wie der Klimawandel Terror und Gewalt fördert – ein Bericht des Forschungsinstituts Sipri. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from

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Vincent, E., & Le Cam, M. (2021, June 03). La France suspend sa coopération militaire bilatérale avec le Mali. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from

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World Bank. (2021, April 28). The World Bank in Mali: Overview: Context. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from

Voyage to EU-Membership: The Case of North Macedonia

Article by Elena Simidzioski

How it began

North Macedonia is one of the key states waiting for EU-accession as part of the EU’s enlargement plan to the Western Balkans. One can trace back North Macedonia’s initial efforts towards EU-membership to 2005. Yet, North Macedonia’s attempts to join the EU are still unfolding, as the country faces a multiplicity of constraints. To join the EU, it was an indispensable condition for North Macedonia to resolve its longstanding name dispute with Greece (De Munter, 2020). After more than a decade of trying to put the matter to sleep, the dispute was finally concluded with the ‘Prespa Agreement’ (De Munter, 2020).

Where we are now

At present, accession negotiations have been open since 2019 (De Munter, 2020). Currently, Bulgaria challenges the origins of the Macedonian identity and language (Koutsokosta, 2021). Therefore, Bulgaria demands from North Macedonia to accept its language and identity as Bulgarian in origin (Koutsokosta, 2021). These demands are opposed by the Macedonian government and have resulted in significant backlash among the Macedonian population. Importantly, as denoted by Reuters (2021), Bulgaria’s interim government shows no signs of change in its position regarding the contested issue. As such, the veto is likely to stay in place over an extended period. Thus, the question is now, is there a way for North Macedonia to move forward in its EU-accession negotiations. Furthermore, it remains to be seen ehat challenges the prolonged negotiations pose to its domestic affairs?

Consequences of stalled EU accession

Rising Euroscepticism

In several instance, the European Union has failed to deliver on its promises made to North Macedonia (Zsiros, 2021). This in turn undermines the very credibility of the EU as an organization and allows Euroscepticism  to take its toll among politicians and the domestic population (Zsiros, 2021).  Despite constantly striving to meet EU demands, and essentially achieving them, the EU has failed to keep its promise to proceed with North Macedonia’s  EU-accession and integration. This can be seen in that individual member-states give rise to new disputes with North Macedonia.

Increased polarization

The EU-negotiations impasse is increasingly dividing the Macedonian population in two camps: one pro-European integration, and the other opposing such efforts. Whereas pro-European views were prevalent initially, a significant share of the population is starting to provide impetus for nationalist and anti-European rhetorics (Brzozowski & Makszimov, 2021). This can only further impede North Macedonia’s process of EU-accession.

Outflow of human capital

Partly arising from the EU-deadlock, an increasing brain drain is taking place on Macedonian soil (Parrock, J. 2021). The country falls short on several matters, such as educational, economic, and political development. All of these inspire even pro-European youngsters to make a living elsewhere (EWP, 2021). Having lost faith in EU-accession, individuals are incentivized to acquire EU-nationality by securing Bulgarian citizenship, which partly fuels the aforementioned dispute between the countries. Thus, North Macedonia is facing a serious problem with shifting demographics, where the educated labor force decides to migrate. Joining the EU would aid the problem as the implementation of the rule of law and a growing economy due to the free market will diminish major drawbacks for leaving the state.

Is the Sisyphean fate inescapable?

Essentially, after many years of trying to join the European family, Macedonia’s efforts seem like a never-ending cycle of failure and new endeavors to fulfill EU-membership conditions. Yet, is North Macedonia’s journey destined to resemble the myth of Sisyphus in reality? Frankly, two streams of assistance may serve to further pave its way towards EU-membership:

  1. Financial assistance

As the country faces drainage of human capital and malfunctional state infrastructure, financial assistance can aid the general well-being of the economy and encourage increased government expenditure on state infrastructure, education, and implementing the rule of law (European Western Balkans [EWP], 2020). Financial support may thus help to improve overall rates of completed higher education. Further, one-time grants aid the development of infrastructure, however, recurrent costs cannot be realized which causes infrastructure to erode. It is equally vital to implement the rule of law – political development must take place. State institutions need to undergo substantial reforms as they constitute breeding places for patronage, corruption, and pork-barrel politics. Inconveniently, hardly anything can be realized without assistance, given the country’s GDP of 12.546 billion dollars (World Bank [WB], 2019).

  1. Political empowerment

North Macedonia’s EU trajectory has been marked by persistent games of power politics. This is illustrated by the dispute with Greece, contesting North Macedonia’s constitutional name (De Munter, 2020). Further, it is illustrated by the current dispute with Bulgaria (Stamouli, 2021). Thus, the country is in need of political empowerment by powerful actors from the Western bloc who need to create a level-playing-field for North Macedonia vis-à-vis its challengers. Only then, North Macedonia can have a strong-enough-backbone to defend its stance in ongoing disputes, and eventually attain its long-desired EU-membership.

blue and white flags on pole

Photo by Guillaume Périgois published on Unsplash


Reuters (2021, May 12). Bulgaria interim govt to maintain veto on North Macedonia’s EU talks.

Brzozowski A., & Makszimov V. (2021, May 10). EU faced with ‘deep disappointment’ in Western Balkans. Euractiv.

European Comission (2020, July 16). Coronavirus: Macro-financial assistance agreement provides for €80 million disbursement to North Macedonia (2020, July 16) [Photograph].

De Munter, A. (2020, November). The Western Balkans. European Parliament.

Koutsokosta, E. (2021, May 11). Splitting EU membership bids of North Macedonia and Albania ‘not possible’. Euronews.

Parrock, J. (2021, April 29). The President of North Macedonia calls for more EU presence in the Balkans. Euronews.

European Western Balkans (2020, November 20). Rule of law essential for the EU accession process, but new tools are required

Stamouli N., (2021, May 19). North Macedonia PM: EU risks losing sway in Balkans. Politico.

Telarico A. F., (2021, April 13). North Macedonia’s Journey to the EU. Modern Diplomacy.

World Bank (2019). GDP (current US$) – North Macedonia.

European Western Balkans (2021, May 19). Zaev warns about increasing Euroskepticism in North Macedonia due to EU accession impasse.

Zsiros, S., (2021, May 7). EU’s credibility ‘undermined’ if North Macedonia delayed from joining the bloc. Euronews.

Sexual violence against women in Tigray

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In Ethiopia’s Tigray region sexual violence against women has dramatically increased. According to Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator of the OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), sexual violence in the Tigray region is “used as weapon of war” (Nichols, 2021). Women’s rights groups confirm this assessment: Saba Gebremedhin, a women’s rights activist from the Tigray region, warned that rape is increasingly used as means of humiliation and dehumanisation against Tigrayan people (Africanews, 2021). Weyni Abraha, another Tigrayan women’s rights activist, also stated in an interview with the BBC that women are raped “purposely to break the morale of people, threaten them and make them give up the fight” (BBC, 2021). In this article I will focus on the situation of women and the reaction the international community and the Ethiopian government.

Cruel reports of sexual violence

In the last weeks and months, more and more cruel stories of sexually abused come to light. There are reports of individuals who were “allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence” (BBC, 2021). Many other women reported that “rocks, nails and other objects have been forced inside [their] bodies” (Walsh, 2021). The physical and emotional injuries are unimaginable. There are women who suffer from “sexually transmitted diseases and injuries that rendered them incontinent” (Houreld, 2021).

Lack of access to medical help

The access to medical help is thus more than ever important to women. According to UNICEF, however, only thirteen percent of the medical facilities in the Tigray region are functional (UNICEF, 2021). Most of the health clinics have been plundered, damaged or destroyed during the conflict (Walsh, 2021). This further exacerbates the situation of affected women. It is more and more difficult for women to get access to medical help, anti-STD medication and emergency contraception (BBC, 2021)


Dr. Fasika Amdeselassie, a public health official reported that there have been at least 829 cases of sexual assault since the beginning of the Tigray conflict (Nichols, 2021; Houreld, 2021). The estimated number of unknown cases, however, is assumed to be much higher. There are two main reasons for this: lack of medical facilities and stigmatization. Ethiopia is a very conservative country (Clark & Kyte, 2021). Many women are afraid to report sexual violence because rape is highly stigmatized in Ethiopia (Houreld, 2021). Those women who are willing to tell their trauma are exposed to a “risk of reprisal” (Clark & Kyte). Furthermore, officials are sometimes unwilling to report sexual violence due to fear of facing retaliation from the military which “could target them for documenting the crime” (Walsh, 2021). Women are thus increasingly living in a situation of fear and insecurity. Many women who experienced sexual violence are no longer able to “care for their children and support their families” (Clark & Kyte, 2021).  This has devastating effects on children. The calls for support of Tigrayan women and girls are thus getting louder.

International reaction

The increase in sexual violence against women has captured the attention of the international community (Houreld, 2021). France, Italy, Germany, the UK, the US and Canada “condemn[ed] the killing of civilians [and the] sexual and gender-based violence” (Euronews, 2021). The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, “demanded that the UN act at the highest level to apply resolution 1325 to the crimes in Tigray” (Clark & Kyte, 2021). This resolution (which has been adopted in 2000) calls for the protection of women and girls from violence in conflict (Clark & Kyte, 2021). In April 2021, the Security Council finally agreed on a public statement. The members of the Security Council “expressed their deep concern about allegations of human rights violations and abuses, including reports of sexual violence against women and girls” (Nichols, 2021).

Reaction of the Ethiopian government

In March 2021, Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia acknowledged the atrocities and promised to punish offenders (Houreld, 2021). Furthermore, Ethiopia’s minister of women, children and youth, Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed, initiated a task force to investigate cases of sexual violence (Africanews, 2021). The Ethiopian government thus reacted to the international pressure.


Already in August 2020, Human Rights organizations as Genocide Watch expressed their concerns and warned the international community of potential atrocities (Ochab, 2021). It is thus very sad that it needed so much time for the international community to find a response to the violence in Tigray.

silhouette of person on window
Photo by Maxim Hopman published on Unsplash


Africanews. (2021, March 09). Survivors allege rape by soldiers in Tigray. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

BBC. (2021, February 15). Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: ‘I lost my hand when a soldier tried to rape me’. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

Clark, H., & Kyte, R. (2021, April 27). In Tigray, sexual violence has become a weapon of war. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

Euronews. (2021, April 02). G7 ‘seriously concerned’ about human rights violations in Tigray. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

Houreld, K. (2021, April 15). Health official alleges ‘sexual slavery’ in Tigray. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

Nichols, M. (2021, April 15). Sexual violence being used as weapon of war in Ethiopia’s Tigray, U.N. says. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

Nichols, M. (2021, April 22). U.N. Security Council, for first time, declares concern about Ethiopia’s Tigray. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

Ochab, E. U., Dr. (2021, February 16). Mass atrocities, including the use of rape and sexual violence, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

UNICEF. (2021, April 27). Statement on gender-based violence in Tigray region of Ethiopia. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

Walsh, D. (2021, April 01). ‘They told us not to resist’: Sexual violence pervades Ethiopia’s war. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from

Sofagate – A serious blow for the European Union

An article by Lea Schiller

It is a video that is uncomfortable to watch – Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, is left standing while Turkish President Erdoğan and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, take the two chairs in the centre of the room in Ankara. This incident is now widely known as “Sofagate”. It turned a meeting meant to improve relations between the European Union (EU) and Turkey into a diplomatic scandal. Side-lining one of the EU’s leaders, a female one at that, to a sofa while the two men self-evidently take the chairs has prompted discussions about sexism and the relationship between the European Commission and the European Council – for good reason. In the following, I will lay out why this situation cannot – and should not – be brushed aside.

Official responses to the incident

Later in the month, von der Leyen gave an impassioned speech to the European Parliament, describing her discomfort in the situation and blaming sexism for the incident: “In the pictures of previous meetings I did not see any shortage of chairs. But then again, I did not see any women in these pictures, either” (Boffey, 2021). It is a strong choice of words – especially when compared to Michel’s response. The President of the European Council claimed the incident was “regrettable”, but also did not apologise in this initial statement on the situation (Gray, 2021). After heavy criticism from women’s rights groups as well as members of the European Parliament, Michel expressed regret and his apologies for the situation (Boffey, 2021). Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Minister put the blame for the lack of chairs on the EU, arguing that the seating arrangement had been made based on the demands made by the EU. Council president Michel however, blamed Turkey’s strict interpretation of the EU’s protocol rules (BBC, 2021). This is a blame game that does not leave either Turkey or Michel in a good light. Turkey, because the agenda for the meeting included Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention of Violence Against Women. Michel, because of his seemingly instinctive decision to sit down while von der Leyen was left standing.

Sofagate and its consequences

Sofagate is no laughing matter, and its ramifications are twofold. Firstly, the EU has made itself vulnerable to scrutiny of the relationship between its Council and its Commission. There have long been rumours of tensions between von der Leyen and Michel (Herszenhorn, de la Baume & Barigazzi, 2021), and this incident has only added more fuel to the fire. Afterwards, Michel struggled to explain his inaction as von der Leyen was left standing – his reasoning being that he did not want to cause a diplomatic incident and compromise the success of the meeting (von der Burchard & de la Baume, 2021). While this is a fair objection to those demanding he should have insisted on a third chair, its argumentative power wanes in light of Michel’s later complaints that the controversy around the situation had overshadowed the actual meeting – a questionable comment from one of the two people who were provided with a chair.  And secondly, the EU has visibly failed to take a stand for women’s rights, and perhaps even more importantly, for respect towards one of its highest representatives.

Why Sofagate affects the European Union as a whole 

Instead of discussing the results of the EU’s talks with Erdoğan, the attention is now on the missing chair, and the clumsy way it was handled by the EU. The European Union was left standing divided between two of its big powerhouses, having failed to stand up for itself and for women’s rights. This comes to show that incidents like these cannot be written off as funny or unfortunate mistakes – they expose a deeper incoherence in the EU’s internal power structure, and they make us painfully aware of the sexism that is deeply rooted in the highest ranks of the EU. Us – that is not only European citizens, but also those working within the EU. In the words of Sophie in ’t Veld, who is a Dutch MEP in Brussels: “Europe will never become a strong, geopolitical force until it learns to stand up for itself by speaking with a single voice” (in ’t Veld, 2021). In the end, it is not only Michel and Erdoğan who have been tainted by “Sofagate”, but the European Union as well.

teal flag under cloudy sky
Photo by Sara Kurfeß published on Unsplash


BBC News (2021, April 8). Turkey blames EU in ‘sofagate’ diplomatic spat. Retrieved from:

Boffey, D. (2021, April 26). ‘Sofagate’ snub would not have happened to a man – von der Leyen. The Guardian. Retrieved  from:

Gray, A. (2021, April 7). Charles Michel on Sofagate: Not my fault. Politico. Retrieved from:

Herszenhorn, D.M., de la Baume, M., & Barigazzi, J. (2021, August 29). Presidential power wars: von der Leyen vs. Michel. Politico. Retrieved from:

in ’t Veld, S. (2021, April 9). What Sofagate says about Ursula von der Leyen. Politico. Retrieved from:

von der Burchard, H. & de la Baume, M. (2021, April 8). Charles Michel on Sofagate: ‘I deeply regret this situation’. Politico. Retrieved from:

Witch-hunts in Tanzania

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In Tanzania, socially vulnerable and discriminated groups such as the LGBT+ community, elderly women and people with albinism are running the risk of being murdered in the context of witch-hunts. The murder of people who are suspected to be practicing witch-craft is not a new phenomenon in Tanzania: Already between 1960 and 2000, around 40,000 people have been murdered after being accused to practice witch-craft (Müller & Sanderson, 2020). Certain communities try to find a scapegoat for their problems; they try to blame, for instance, “diseases such as HIV/AIDS or female infertility on witchcraft” (Müller & Sanderson, 2020). Tanzania is not the only country facing this problem: witch-hunts are practiced in 36 other countries around the globe (Müller & Sanderson, 2020). In this article, I will focus on the situation of elderly women, people with albinism and the LGBT+ community.

Elderly women

In the last 20 years, thousands of elderly women have been murdered in the context of witch-hunts in Tanzania (Müller, 2020). Most vulnerable are those women who are not protected by their families (Müller, 2020). Oftentimes, poverty plays an important role. If there are no pension systems, elderly women are dependent on the help and financial support of others to make their living; they are thus perceived as a burden. The introduction of a pension system could contribute to a safer environment and provide “an incentive to keep them alive” (Migiro, 2017). According to Migiro (2017), another reason for witch-hunts is land: If the husband of a women dies, the widow has the right to live on the land the husband possessed. Only after the death of the widow, the land can be passed on to male relatives of the husband (Migiro, 2017). This can increase likelihood of attacks. Accusing the widow of practicing witchcraft represents a method to get rid of the women and to get access to land (Migiro, 2017).  Elderly women are thus particularly vulnerable to be victims of witch-hunts.

People with albinism

In comparison with other African countries, the rate of albinism is very high in Tanzania: It is estimated that “around one in 1,400 people have albinism in Tanzania, while in most other parts of Africa it occurs in one in every 5,000 to 15,00 people” (Velton, 2017). Between 2000 and 2017, “around 80 people with albinism in Tanzania have been murdered” (Velton, 2017). People with albinism are believed to be “ghosts or haunted beings” (Chang & Thompson, 2017).

Some parts of the population also believe that body parts of people with albinism can be “used to extract potions against all sorts of ailments” (Müller & Sanderson, 2020). Witch doctors spread the idea that “bones and other organs of persons with albinism if mixed with a magic potion” will make clients rich and successful (Chang & Thompson, 2017). People with albinism are thus dehumanized and exposed to an immense threat.

The LGBT+ community

In 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet warned of a “witch-hunt (which) could be interpreted as a license to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT” (Burke, 2018). The threat of a “gay witch hunt” has spread a lot fear among the Tanzanian LGBT+ community (Bhalla, 2018). Since President John Magufuli’s election in 2015, attacks against the LGBT+ community have risen (Bhalla, 2018).


Overall, social vulnerability is an important factor (Migiro, 2017). All the mentioned groups (elderly women, people with albinism and the LGBT+ community) are socially vulnerable in Tanzania. These groups need particular protection and support. The pension system for elderly women (which would make them more independent and less prone to attacks) is a good example of how this protection can be achieved.

grayscale photo of human palms
Photo by Om Prakash Sethia published on Unsplash


Bhalla, N. (2018, November 01). Gay witch-hunt sparks fear and panic in Tanzania’s LGBT community. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from

Chang, J., & Thompson, V. (2017, December 28). Retrieved April 5, 2021, from

Migiro, K. (2017, March 21). Despite murderous attacks, Tanzania’s ‘witches’ fight for land. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from

Müller, C., & Sanderson, S. (2020, August 10). Witch hunts: A global problem in the 21st century: DW: 10.08.2020. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from

Müller, C. (2020, August 10). Witch hunts, not just a thing of the past: DW: 10.08.2020. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from

Velton, R. (2017, April 25). The ‘silent killer’ of Africa’s albinos. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from

The EU’s vaccine export controls are only the tip of the iceberg

Article by Lea Schiller

In the last week of March, the European Union once again found itself in a controversy over its vaccine campaign, when the Commission proposed a rule which would give the bloc extensive powers to curb vaccine exports for six weeks. This action received mixed responses inside the EU and criticism from outside of it. But while the critique has valid reasons, the debate around these restrictions is misplaced – because while the EU might be stirring up conflict with other rich, vaccine producing nations, the developing world has largely been left to its own devices. In the following, I will lay out the reasons behind the restrictions, the mechanisms with which they work and the implications they have for the global vaccine trade

What led to the decision to impose export restrictions?

The EU is mainly exporting the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine. The rest of the exports are made up of Moderna and AstraZeneca shots, the latter of which has been the source of many conflicts in the past months. The main problem is that AstraZeneca has failed to meet its contractual obligations with the EU. In the meantime, the EU has been exporting millions of AstraZeneca doses to the UK, with none coming the other way – even though the EU invested thousands of Euros to expand manufacturing capacities in the UK (Herszenhorn & Deutsch, 2021). On top of that, Italian authorities discovered a stockpile of almost 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine (Martuscelli, 2021). It’s still unclear who these doses were meant for – the Commission has stated that there were no exports planned in the near future, and the company denied that the find was a stockpile in the first place (Martuscelli, 2021). In conclusion – weeks of mistrust between the EU and AstraZeneca, on top of a slow vaccination campaign within the EU have led up to the risky strategy of imposing vaccine export controls.

How do the export restrictions work?

The new rule, which went into force on the last day of March, allows export bans to countries on two conditions. One targets countries that restrict exports of vaccines or raw materials needed for vaccine manufacturing to the EU. The second applies to countries which have a higher vaccination rate than the EU or are experiencing a less severe COVID-19 outbreak. The first part of the regulation is clearly aimed towards the United Kingdom, which practically put an export ban in place when it signed a deal with AstraZeneca that states the company is to supply the United Kingdom first, before it is allowed to ship vaccines to other buyers (Herszenhorn & von der Burchard, 2021). The EU’s new export restrictions will affect millions of doses that are destined for the UK, which could slow down Britain’s fast-paced vaccination campaign.

Why vaccine export restrictions are controversial

Responding to the Commission’s proposal, Britain appealed to collaborative values and stressed that the fight against the pandemic is an international effort (Stevis-Gridneff, 2021). But such statements seem empty when some of the richest nations have been refusing to supply other countries with vaccines since the beginning of the vaccination campaign. The EU’s push for export controls may be ill-advised because it risks retaliation by other countries, specifically those who export the raw materials needed to manufacture the vaccines (Cendrowicz, 2021) – but this is only part of the problem. For one, other developed nations such as US and the UK have had practical export bans in force since the beginning of their vaccination campaign. And secondly, the UK, the US and the EU all opposed a proposal by developing countries to waiver the intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, which could have boosted the vaccine production in poorer nations (Reuters, 2021).

The bigger picture

The provisions that have long been in place that allow richer nations to hoard vaccines and the profit they generate are keeping life-saving vaccinations from millions of people in need. So, while it is debatable whether the export restrictions will leave the EU better off in the long run, they are a mere fraction of a regime that is keeping the vaccine supply catered towards the richer part of the world. The West is not only creating divisions between themselves and the developing world, but also actively endangering the fight against the pandemic by allowing COVID-19 to spread unhindered in these regions. Until all countries have reached herd immunity, new mutations are free to emerge – and with them comes the threat of variants that vaccines cannot protect us from.


Cendrowicz, L. (2021, March 25). An EU ban on vaccine exports would make its wretched rollout take longer still. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Deutsch, J., Eder, F., & Herszenhorn, D.M. (2021, January 26). Enraged at AstraZeneca over shortfall, EU calls for vaccine export controls. Politico. Retrieved from:

Herszenhorn, D.M. & von der Burchard, H. (2021, March 24). EU moves toward six-week vaccine export cut. Politico. Retrieved from:

Martuscelli, C. (2021, March 24). Italian authorities discover 29M Oxford/AstraZeneca doses: La Stampa. Politico. Retrieved from:

Reuters (2021, March 10). Rich, developing nations wrangle over COVID vaccine patents. Retrieved from:

Stevis-Gridneff, M. (2021, March 28). E.U. will curb covid vaccine exports for 6 weeks. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

The threat of low fertility rates in South Korea

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In South Korea, low birth rates pose an important threat to society. The current fertility rate is estimated at 0.84 children per women (Lee, 2020). This means that the population is increasingly shrinking. At the moment, many Koreans decide to delay or avoid marriage (Kown & Yeung, 2019). The causes for this are multi-faceted and range from discrimination at the job market to the burden of care work. The government tried to counteract this development by providing financial incentives to young couples. Whether this approach is sufficient remains to be seen.

Causes of low fertility rates

The job market poses an important problem. Many women feel that they have to choose between a career and children. They have the impression that children are a significant impediment to a career (Gladstone, 2021). Women are expected to care for children, so that a return to the previous full-time job is very unlikely (Stangarone, 2019). Women may also face “questions about their marriage status and plans for having children when applying for a job” even though these questions are technically illegal (but the fines in case of law breaking are relatively low, so that firms are still willing to ask these questions) (Stangarone, 2019). Furthermore, the gender pay gap is with 35 percent the highest pay gap among OECD countries which have an average gap of 13,8 percent (Stangarone, 2019). Additionally, the work culture is very challenging with an average of 1967 hours of work per year (37,8 hours per week) (OECD, 2019).

The burden of care work

There are also social factors contributing to the decrease in the fertility rate. Koreans point to unsatisfactory childcare services as reason for not having a baby (Lee, 2020). Women carry most of the burden of care work (Peters, 2020). They work four times more in the household as men (Peters, 2020). It is thus not surprising that women prefer to work and earn money (instead of doing unpaid care work at home).  

Living and housing conditions

Suboptimal living conditions are also playing a role. Housing and rental prices are continuously rising and it is hard to find and adequate housing arrangement (Lee, 2020).  It is thus difficult for a young family to find an affordable and appropriate home.

Implications of decreasing birth rates

A shrinking and ageing population poses certain risks. It is important for a society, that there is a balance between the number of old people and children born. A decline in birth rates and an increase in life expectancy means a burden for the labor force. However, if the birth rate is too low to “stabilize its population”, migration might be an option to reduce the burden for the labor force.

Reaction of the South Korean government

Moon Jae-in, the South Korean President, tries to incentivize couples to get children. At birth, a couple is rewarded with 2 million won ($1,826) and there will be an extra amount of cash bonus every month (Gladstone, 2021). Furthermore, a young family may also expect “increased medical and other benefits” (Gladstone, 2021). In terms of the working conditions, the maximal number of working hours has been reduced from 68 hours to 52 hours per week in 2018 (Peters, 2020).


The causes of low fertility rates in South Korea are multi-faceted. The working conditions for women, however, seem to play a very important role. Especially for working mothers, it would be important that burdens for childcare are eliminated and that the working conditions are more flexible (Stangarone, 2019).

photo by Rod Long published on Unsplash


Gladstone, R. (2021, January 04). As Birthrate Falls, South Korea’s Population Declines, Posing Threat to Economy. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from

Kim, S. (2021, February 10). South Korea’s jobless rate hits 21-year high as COVID cases rise. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from

Kwon, J., & Yeung, J. (2019, August 29). South Korea’s fertility rate falls to record low. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from

Lee, D. D. (2020, December 27). Can South Korea lift the world’s lowest birth rate with cash incentives? Retrieved March 5, 2021, from

Peters, K. G. (2020, March 07). Südkorea: Warum viele Koreanerinnen keine Kinder möchten. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from

Quick, M., & D’Efilippo, V. (2019, October 14). South Korea’s population paradox. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from

Stangarone, T. (2019, June 14). Gender Inequality Makes South Korea Poorer. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from

OECD (2021), Hours worked (indicator). doi: 10.1787/47be1c78-en (Accessed on 05 March 2021)

How far CETA can – and cannot – go

Article by Lea Schiller

The EU is Canada’s second largest trading partner, trailing only the United States, making up for 10% of Canada’s external trade in goods. On the EU’s side is a big export surplus – the EU’s exports to Canada in 2017 were worth 14.4 billion Euros more than its imports (European Commission, 2020). It’s no wonder that both partners sought to make the most of this relationship. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) does just this – by abolishing 98% of all tariffs between Canada and the EU, it gives valuable opportunities to both partner’s businesses, consumers and economies. Or so CETA’s advocates claim.

What is CETA?

CETA is a bilateral trade agreement between Canada and the EU. Its negotiations were initially launched in 2009, but it would take until 2017 for it to provisionally enter into force. Provisionally – because in the eyes of the EU, CETA is a mixed agreement, meaning that it includes issues that are under the competences of member states. In practice, this means that all member states have to ratify the treaty themselves before it can fully go into force. Currently, 12 EU member states still need to ratify CETA, including the Netherlands (European Council, 2020). The benefits of this treaty are obvious. It opens the door to the Canadian market for European businesses by reducing trade barriers; the elimination of tariffs will save EU companies millions of Euros every year (Carleton University Center for European Studies). But that’s not the whole story.

How far can CETA go?

Because CETA is currently only provisionally applied, not all parts of the agreement are in force yet – namely, provisions for investments and regulations for the transparency of administrative proceedings. Other parts of the treaty, such as the elimination of tariffs, will come into place gradually. However, based on both the contents of the treaty and its reception in both Canada and the EU, it’s possible to make a first assessment. Firstly, CETA doesn’t eliminate all tariffs. Exceptions apply for “the most sensitive agricultural products” (European Commission, 2017); among these are for example beef, pork and cheese. CETA’s limits are also already being tested in Canada as a response to the EU’s announcement that it would put export controls on COVID-19 vaccines. Under CETA, export controls are illegal – but there are exceptions to this rule, and these exceptions include essential supplies (CBC News, 2021). CETA is therefore, though a free trade agreement, not particularly constraining when it comes to delicate areas of trade.

Why is there so much opposition to CETA?

In Europe, there is concern that opening up the market to Canada will have negative consequences for environment and food safety standards. Public pressure prompted Emmanuel Macron to commission a group of experts to assess the impact of CETA on the environment and health if it were to be fully enforced. The report found that “it is not possible to entirely exclude the risk of undermining the EU regulatory framework concerning food, animal health and welfare … but it is also currently impossible to provide an objective assessment of this risk” (Foodwatch, 2017). In other words, CETA does not incorporate enough safety provisions to rule out the risk of compromising the EU’s high food and environmental safety standards – but there are also no explicit risks that can be derived solely from the text of the agreement.

Is it worth it? One thing is for sure – the pandemic will have significant negative effects on both the EU’s and Canada’s economy. Fostering trade with a country that the EU has an export surplus to will give a much needed boost to its exports. CETA also doesn’t mean a loss of control for the EU – after all, its most vital interests are protected by the exceptions that are granted in the treaty. Granted, there are legitimate concerns about the effects of CETA on the environment and consumer health. But considering that there were no explicit problems listed in the expert report on CETA’s impact on the environment and health – it’s a calculated risk that is worth taking for the EU.

waving Canada flag
Photo by Sebastiaan Stam published on Unsplashed


Carleton University Center for European Studies.Reception of CETA. Retrieved from:

CBC News (2021, February 1). No written guarantee on EU vaccine shipments, says international trade minister. Retrieved from:

European Commission (2020, April 23). Countries and regions: Canada. Retrieved from:

European Commission (2017, July). Guide to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Retrieved from:

European Council (2020, December 2). Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Retrieved from:

Foodwatch (2017, November 1). The impact of CETA on the environment, climate and health. Retrieved from:

Reactions to racial discrimination against the African community in Guangzhou

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

The African community in Guangzhou (China) suffered from increasing incidents of racial discrimination in April 2020. Many Africans were banned from certain locations as restaurants or hotels or even forced to leave their apartments (Tang, 2020; Burke, Akinwotu, & Kuo, 2020; Mules, 2020). Pictures of evicted Africans sleeping on streets were shared on social media platforms and started attracting considerable attention (Burke, Akinwotu, & Kuo, 2020). How did this come about and what were its implications?

Some Background information about the African community in Guangzhou

In the course of China’s Silk Road initiative, migration flows from Africa to China increased. The African diaspora in China grows continuously. As Guangzhou is a strategic place for international trade, the city attracted many African traders (Vandenberg, 2019). The African community is accordingly very large. There are officially about 14,000 people from African descent, the actual number might, however, be higher as there are many Africans without documentation (Human Rights Watch, 2020). African traders have been moving to Guangzhou since the 1990s (Vandenburg, 2019). The existence of the African community is, thus, not new to the Chinese population.

Corona fuelled pre-existing racial tensions

According to Human Rights Watch (2020), there have already been incidents of discriminatory practice in the past. Africans suffered, for instance, from unequal payment and employment discrimination (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Racial discrimination was also visible in advertisements and on television (Human Rights Watch, 2020). In 2016, for instance, a washing powder advertisement showed a Chinese woman who “shoves a black man into a washing machine only for him to emerge as a shiny, clean, Asian man” (Castillo, 2016). When the rate of COVID-19 infections increased in Guangzhou, “fear and misinformation” dominated the situation (Mules, 2020). Corona exacerbated pre-existing racial tensions and thus fuelled discriminatory practices (Mules, 2020).

Wide-spread international criticism

The implications of the increase in discriminatory practices in Guangzhou were far-reaching. Hashtags like “#ChinaMustExplain and #DeportRacistChinese” were increasingly shared on twitter (Albert, 2020). Politicians from various African countries started expressing their anger and criticizing the Chinese government (Albert, 2020; Burke, Akinwotu, & Kuo, 2020). Even the United States criticized the Chinese government. Two US diplomats also warned “African-Americans to stay away from the Guangzhou metropolitan area” (Mules, 2020). This reaction, however, is somewhat ironic as the US itself has a problem with structural racism (Sieren, 2020). Reactions also came from NGOs as Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch reminded China of having ratified the ICER (the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) in 1981 (Human Rights Watch, 2020). The reactions from African governments, however, seemed to have the most important effect.

China’s reaction

Chinese investments in Africa strengthened not only economic, but also social and political ties. The reactions from African governments represented a threat the Sino-African relationship. At first, the Chinese government was “denying any form of discrimination against ‘African brothers’” (Mules, 2020). However, China “moved quickly to deal with the initial accusations of discrimination” by ensuring African countries to “take immediate action to safeguard the legitimate rights of Africans concerned” (Burke, Akinwotu, & Kuo, 2020). Chinese authorities then made efforts to calm the situation my adopting new measures against discriminatory practices in Guangzhou (Mules, 2020). This shows that China is interested in maintaining a stable, well-functioning relationship with African countries. China’s engagement in Africa thus has implications for China’s domestic policy options in terms of the treatment of the African diaspora in China.


In conclusion, the cascade of reactions to the discriminatory practices in Guangzhou not only unveiled pre-existing racial tensions, but also showed that the increasing interconnectedness between China and Africa has implications for China’s domestic policy options with regard to the African diaspora.

black car
Photo by Sean Foley published on Unsplashed


Albert, E. (2020, April 27). African Countries respond to Guangzhou’s ‘Anti-Epidemic Measures’  . Retrieved February 5, 2021, from

Burke, J., Akinwotu, E., & Kuo, L. (2020, April 27). China fails to stop racism against Africans over Covid-19. Retrieved February 5, 2021, from

Castillo, R. (2016, August 14). The “racist” Chinese washing powder ad and the truth about Afrophobia in China. Retrieved February 5, 2021, from

Human Rights Watch. (2020, October 28). China: Covid-19 Discrimination against Africans. Retrieved February 5, 2021, from

Mules, I. (2020, April 14). African expats accuse China of xenophobic response to COVID-19 resurgence fears: DW: 14.04.2020. Retrieved February 5, 2021, from 

Sieren, F. (2020, April 15). Sierens China: Afrikaner – Freunde und Sündenböcke: DW: 15.04.2020. Retrieved February 5, 2021, fromündenböcke/a-53131187

Sieren, F. (2020, April 28). Rassismus in China in Coronazeiten – Schwarze als Risikogruppe eingestuft. Retrieved February 5, 2021, from

Tang, D. (2020, April 14). ‘No blacks’: African migrants kicked out of homes and banned from shops in Guangzhou, China. Retrieved February 6, 2021, from

Vandenberg, L. (2019, July 31). The evolution of Afro-Chinese dentity. Retrieved February 5, 2021, from

What the EU’s conflict with AstraZeneca means for the fight against COVID-19

Article by Lea Schiller

On Friday the 29th of January, the EMA (European Medicines Agency) approved AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for use, making it the third vaccine to be used in the EU’s joint effort to vaccinate the bloc. But for this one, tensions were already brewing before the EMA gave its green light. AstraZeneca cut the expected quantity of vaccines to be delivered by 60%, citing problems in a factory in Belgium – but the European Commission insists on received what it has been promised. In a time where the relationship between the EU and the UK is already being put to the test by Brexit, and a time that has shown us a worse side of the pandemic than ever before, we cannot let this become a test of political strength – after all, thousands of lives depend on a sensible solution.

How AstraZeneca sees the debate

According to AstraZeneca, the conflict originated both in the contract and with the point in time that it was made (Collins & Herszenhorn, 2021). The EU originally signed the contract in August, three months after the UK placed their order with the company. This led to a situation in which AstraZeneca was already in a contract that it was committed to fulfil – namely, the 100 million doses it had promised to deliver to the UK. The contract with the EU therefore, 400 million doses in total with 80 million to be delivered by March, only states the company would make its “best effort” to deliver the vaccines (Collins & Herszenhorn, 2021). It’s the phrase AstraZeneca is now using to argue that they technically are not in breach of their contract.

The EU’s response

AstraZeneca’s announcement to cut vaccine delivery sparked outrage rarely seen from the European Commission. Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s Commissioner for Health, stated that AstraZeneca’s “best effort” argument is “neither correct nor acceptable” (Deutsche Welle, 2021). The contract, which was made public on Friday, mentions production sites in the UK – sites which the EU helped expand last year in a costly effort to increase the amount of vaccines these factories can produce (Herszenhorn & Deutsch, 2021). The EU now demands these factories be used to make up for the shortfall of those inside the Union. And it doesn’t stop there. The EU also signalled that it found AstraZeneca’s reasoning for the delay insufficient, with Kyriakides saying, “the European Union wants to know exactly which doses have been produced by AstraZeneca and where exactly so far and if or to whom they have been delivered” (Deutsch, Eder & Herszenhorn, 2021).

The fallout

AstraZeneca eventually offered the EU 8 million extra shots, which the EU was not satisfied with (Guarascio & Siebold, 2021). Instead, it initiated export controls on vaccines made in the bloc. In practice, every vaccine export will have to be authorized before it can be shipped to any country outside of the EU. These authorisations are not expected to be given should the supply of vaccines within the bloc be threatened by exports (Wishart & Baschuk, 2021).  The rest of the world was not pleased – Boris Johnson as well as the WTO called on the EU to rethink its decision, to prevent vaccine nationalism from spreading all over the globe. But most gravely, the export controls endangered the open border between the EU and Northern Ireland, which was guaranteed in the Brexit deal and a sensitive agreement to begin with. Mere hours later, the EU announced it would not introduce checks at the Irish border – averting a possible crisis.

What does this conflict mean for the fight against the pandemic?

This situation shows how the vaccination effort goes beyond a mere public health operation. For the EU, it also means a test of the trust citizens have in the Union, while for the UK, it is an important chance to prove itself after Brexit. However, with millions of lives on the line, this is not the time to play the blame game and alienate one another – what is most important now is to find solutions to the vaccine shortages. The current conflict between AstraZeneca and the EU could put this goal in jeopardy. Both sides need to engage with the other constructively. Otherwise, we could lose focus on the actual goal: stopping the pandemic. 

person in brown long sleeve shirt with white bandage on right hand
photo by Steven Cornfield published on Unsplash


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