Up to Speed, Issue 5: Millionaire “Prophets” and the Largest Free Trade Agreement

(Collage by Hal Wiersma Tatham)

In the midst of non-stop reports, statistics and exclamations about the 2020 U.S. presidential election, other events and news from around the world may have escaped your attention. But fear not – The Herring’s biweekly current affairs summary helps you stay up to speed. In today’s edition: Among others, Peru goes through 3 Presidents in just over a week while a pop-star turned politician is causing an uprising in Uganda. 

Deadly Protests in Uganda for Pop-Star Turned Politician, Bobi Wine 

The arrest of Bobi Wine caused a deadly outrage in capital Kampala on November 17th. Protesters blocked roads and burned tyres to which police responded with teargas and bullets. So far, at least 37 people have lost their lives. Those living in Kampala claim that the sounds of gunshots did not stop until the evening. 

Bobi Wine, born Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested in the town of Luuka when campaigning for his upcoming election in January 2021. He was charged for violating coronavirus measures at his rallies, which would require him to address less than 200 people. Wine had already been arrested on November 3rd when he registered his candidacy. At the moment, his exact whereabouts are unknown and his team claims that he has been denied access to lawyers and a medical team. 

Bobi Wine was until recently a huge pop-star in Uganda. His criticism of the President Museveni’s government had drawn many of the youth. Museveni has been in power since 1986 and will be running for a 6th term in 2021. 

(Source: Associated Press, DW, African Arguments)

A Millionaire Self-Proclaimed Prophet, Malawi, and South Africa

Malawi just released self-proclaimed prophet and multimillionaire Shepherd Bushiri, who had fled South Africa without a passport ahead of his trial. Bushiri was charged with money laundering, theft, and fraud by South African authorities and had already been arrested last year for a fraudulent investment scheme that raked him $6.6 million. The Malawi magistrate has claimed that the charges were illegal in support of Bushiri

The country does have an extradition treaty with South Africa but given his release, the magistrate’s comments, and the fact that President Chukvara of Malawi is a Pentecostal church leader, Bushiri’s extradition looks unlikely for now. That said, the request is expected to be filed by South Africa later this week. 

Bushiri founded the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. He is considered to be a prosperity gospel, a brand of the Pentecostal Christianity, preaching to congregants and the impoverished. He has made preposterous claims like being able to walk on air and cure people of HIV. With at least a million followers in South Africa alone and several branches in other African countries, his church is one of the fastest-growing on the continent. 

(Source: Al Jazeera, The South African, The New York Times)

Peru Sees 3 Presidents in Just Over a Week

President Vizcarra was removed from office on November 9th after opposition accused him of taking more than $630,000 in bribes for two construction contracts while being a governor of a small province years ago. The congress relieved Vizcarra of his office using a clause dating back to the 19th century that allows a powerful legislature to impeach a president for “permanent moral incapacity“, which is yet to be clearly defined as Vizcarra denies any wrong-doings. 

Manuel Merino, the principal leader of the impeachment, then took leadership as interim president. But he was met with an immediate civilian uprising led by the youth who accused the congress of “kidnapping democracy” by conducting a parliamentary coup. The protests ended up with the death of two university students after the police decided to fire pellets and teargas to repel demonstrators.

Shortly after this, politicians called for Merino’s resignation which was promptly conducted when Merino made a televised address to the nation. He was expected to serve until July 2021, when Vizcarra’s term was due to end. He will be replaced by social liberal lawmaker Francisco Sagasti. Will he be able to bring some sense of calmness to a destabilized nation? 

(Source: Associated Press, BBC, Reuters)

A New Free Trade Agreement in Asia-Pacific

Last week, ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, China, Australia, and New Zealand all signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at the 37th ASEAN Summit held virtually in Hanoi. It is the largest regional free-trade agreement that encompasses almost one third of the world population and GDP. That said, the actual impact of the partnership is not expected to be substantial given that 83% of this year’s traded goods pass the new agreement conditions already. Therefore, its purpose seems to be better organizing the existing trade agreements between member states.

The timing of the RCEP, however, is fortunate as member countries are still recovering from the the economic impacts of the covid-19 pandemic. Beyond boosting economic recovery, the partnership also aims to enhance e-commerce sectors of the participating states and personal information protection. Though comparing it to the TPP, its faults are substantial with the lack of labour and environmental standards

Strategically, the RCEP is significant for various reasons. Firstly, considering the US’s absence in the partnership, this trade agreement is a step-forward for China to strengthen their economic influence in the pacific region. Secondly, it’s the first time that the rival East Asian Powers of China, Japan, and South Korea have entered into a joint free trade pact. Thirdly, India is missing from the agreement after dropping out of negotiations. Lastly, the RCEP cements Asia as the emerging continent of trade in light of the fact that intra-Asian trade is already larger than Asia’s trade with North America and Europe combined.  

(Source: Bangkok Post, The Economist, South China Morning Post)

Author: Koh Okuno

Political Science and Economics Major

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