Your Monday briefing: Russia seeks support in Africa

We cover Russia’s campaign for support in Africa and the WHO’s decision to declare monkeypox a global emergency.

Russia’s top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, has embarked on a tour of four African countries – Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo – seeking to blame the West for grain shortages linked to the war that raised fears of famine.

It is likely to find a receptive audience in a region that has sought to maintain access to Russian exports despite pressure from the West. Seeing no benefit in alienating either side, several African countries have tried to simply stay out of the conflict.

The global grain shortage caused by the war looked likely to ease on Friday when Russia agreed to a UN-brokered deal with Turkey allowing Ukraine to export its grain. The next morning, however, Russian missiles struck the Ukrainian port of Odessa, raising questions about Moscow’s intention to honor the deal.

News from the war in Ukraine:

  • Russian forces have tortured and beaten civilians in areas of southern Ukraine they control, Human Rights Watch said.

  • Maksym Butkevych has made a name for himself in Ukraine campaigning on behalf of refugees and internally displaced people. But after his capture in late June, his reputation made him vulnerable to mistreatment.

  • During an 80-day siege at the sprawling Azovstal steelworks, a relentless Russian assault met unyielding Ukrainian resistance, resulting in incomprehensible horror. Here is the story of the battle.

Over the weekend, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox – which spread in weeks to 75 countries and infected more than 16,000 people – a global health emergency.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, canceled a panel of advisers, who could not reach consensus, to declare a “public health emergency of international concern”. This distinction, which has been used seven times over the past 15 years, is currently used to describe two other diseases: Covid-19 and poliomyelitis. Monkeypox has been a concern for years in some African countries and has only recently spread worldwide.

Almost all infections outside of Africa have occurred in men who have sex with men. Many in the LGBTQ community have blamed monkeypox for not getting the attention it deserves, reminiscent of the early days of the HIV epidemic.

What this means: The WHO statement signals the need for a coordinated international response, such as investing significant resources in controlling an outbreak and encouraging nations to share vaccines, treatments and other key resources.

China launched a huge Long March 5B rocket into space on Sunday afternoon carrying new modules to its space station.

Now, for the next week or so, the 10-stage, 23-tonne rocket booster that was needed to launch the heavy payload will catch the eye of spacewatchers as it falls back to earth. Unless China secretly changes the rocket’s design, nothing will control where its debris will land.

The few tons of metal expected to survive to the ground could end up anywhere along the booster’s path, which includes Los Angeles, New York, Cairo and Sydney. The likelihood of it hitting humans is low but significantly higher than many space experts consider acceptable.

Background: Space has immense prestige for the Chinese government, which is the only country other than the United States to land and operate a rover on Mars. “China hasn’t done anything and hasn’t done anything the United States hasn’t already done in space,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the US Naval War College. “But it is reaching technical parity, which is of great concern to the United States”

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr became the first writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win France’s top literary prize last year. A subject of his novel was the French literary establishment, which he describes with a mixture of harshness, ridicule and affection. Now he wonders if the awards are an endorsement or “a way to shut me up.”

The film “One Second” – directed by renowned Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou – follows a prisoner who escapes from a labor camp. The plot mirrors the 2011 novel “The Criminal Lu Yanshi”, written by Geling Yan.

But when the film was released in 2020, Yan’s name was neither in the credits nor on the promotional materials. She and her husband have started asking companies in Asia, Europe and North America to add her name, but so far have received no response.

In fall 2018, a literary adviser to Mr. Zhang told Ms. Yan on WeChat that “One Second” could not credit “The Criminal Lu Yanshi,” according to screenshots of their correspondence. The adviser said it could create a legal problem for the director as he had an unrelated copyright dispute with a Chinese production company.

Yan, who has publicly criticized the Chinese government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, said she was not surprised to see her name removed. Still, she said, she thought the companies distributing and promoting the film outside of China might agree to credit her in some way.

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