the brief: issue eleven


The reconstitution of African art has begun
by Neo Allert

image credit: Joachim Huber (Flickr – originally DSC_0285)

The 9 November was a truly emotional day for almost all Africans around the world as it marked the beginning of a process that has long been overdue: the reconstitution and repatriation of African art stolen during the days of colonial oppression and exploitation. On this day the French President Emmanuel Macron turned his promises into action by handing back 26 artefacts that were looted from the palace of Abomey during the French campaign against the Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1890s.

‘This is our soul, Mr. President’, Patrice Talon, President of the Republic of Benin, remarked: for Benin these objects are more than just “cultural artefacts” (the term used by the French to classify these treasures). However, this can only mark the beginning of a long process as 90,000 objects remain in France, not to mention the thousands of objects lying in British, Belgian and German museums.


Xi Jinping and the great Chinese dream of rejuvenation
by Harry Padoan

image credit: Joseph Ndikumana (Flickr)

Xi Jinping has recently overseen the passing of a “historical resolution”, being the first to do so since Deng Xiaoping in 1981. But what exactly does this mean? A historical resolution is a summary of the Chinese Communist Party’s history, outlining past triumphs as well as setting out future plans the government has for the nation.
Xi is only the third party leader to publish a resolution, raising his status to the likes of perhaps his most famous predecessor, Mao Zedong. This follows a major legislative adjustment in 2018 which saw the end of the two-term limit to the presidency, meaning Xi’s grip on power is stronger than ever. With this resolution however, Xi Jinping is seeking continuity – only then, it seems, will China reach what Qu Qingshan has called ‘the great Chinese dream of rejuvenation’.

Reviving the Iran nuclear deal

by Caleb Pell

image credit: mostafa_meraji (Pixabay)

The UK has urged Iran to back a deal that would revive the agreement to clamp down on their nuclear activity. Under the original deal in 2015, economic sanctions would be lifted providing Iran restricted its Nuclear ambitions; however this agreement has been broken since 2018 when the US, under Trump, pulled out.

Iran’s head negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, came to the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office advocating for a lifting of sanctions, whilst the West are more cautious, noting concerns about Iran’s growing stockpile of enriched Uranium. The outlook remains pessimistic, especially since the election in June of a hardline government led by Ebrahim Raisi, but the US and UK are keen for a new deal to be ratified as soon as possible.


Searching for belonging at the Belarussian border

by Rachael Ward

image credit: Grzegorz W. Tężycki

Thousands of refugees are among a growing population seeking settlement within the EU at the border between Poland and Belarus. Most migrants have fled from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen before coming to Belarus in the hope of using it as a stepping stone to reach the EU. As the cold climate sets in on the border, the political climate is heating up. Merkel is among those to have raised suspicions of Russian puppeteering of Lukashenko’s regime.

Unsurprisingly, Russia has dismissed allegations. A statement from some western members of the UN security council have condemned the mistreatment of migrants by the Belarusian authorities. In response, Lukashenko accused ‘emptyheaded’ nations of threatening sanctions, warning them that he is willing to tamper with global gas supplies in retaliation. Politicians and political communities are left pondering, what can be done for the refugees used as pieces in this grand political game?

Uncertainty despite hunger strike

by Eleanor Austin

image credit: Frank Augstein / AP

Five and a half years since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was first wrongly imprisoned in Iran, her husband Richard has undertaken a hunger strike for over three weeks. Whilst his wife serves her second sentence after accusations of propaganda, Richard aims for this hunger strike to lead to her release. He urges the UK government to pay a historic debt of £400 million owed to Iran. 

On 11 November, government officials met with Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, in Whitehall. An aspect of these talks was the future of those wrongly detained. However, it remains clear that for Iran, the route to release is by the UK paying the debt. Despite previous speculation of support from the government to fulfil this, inaction remains, which for Richard and many others means the lives of those detained in Iran are faced with further uncertainty.

Conservatives on the defensive in corruption scandal

by Iwan Roberts

image credit: TheDigitalArtist (Pixabay)

Speaking from the COP26 summit last, Boris Johnson asserted that the UK is not ‘a corrupt country’. This insistence was a response to allegations of corruption directed at his party, with the most notable target being former MP Owen Paterson. The Commons Select Committee on Standards found that he had used his position to ‘benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant’ and recommended a 30 day suspension, a recommendation that was blocked by Tory MPs who instead voted to reform the policing of parliamentary standards.

Following a media backlash, the government reversed this decision and Paterson resigned. With previous corruption allegations around lobbying and lockdown rule-breaking still alive in recent memory, polling suggests voters are paying attention with some polls reporting Labour in the lead for the first time in a year.


Austin University

by Ellis Holden

image credit: Argash (Wikimedia Commons)

Last week there was an announcement from a group of professors, fed up with illiberal university academic and social atmospheres, that they have formed a new university in Austin Texas. This University claims to pursue truth unlike other leading American universities with mottos such as those of Yale with “lux et veritas” which is Latin for “light and truth.”

This has relevance to the United Kingdom, after University of Sussex lecturer Kathleen Stock was hounded out of the university by students for accusations of transphobia. She has since joined the list of lecturers and presidents joining this southern project. Whether it’s a success for this university at winning the war for free speech over safe speech, only time will tell.


Has the reason behind AUKUS been revealed?

by Connor Crout

image credit: OpenClipart-Vectors (Pixabay)

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton has said that there is no chance Australia would not back the US in protecting Taiwan in the event that China and Taiwan go to war, potentially revealing the reason why Australia formed a security deal with the US and UK in September, ‘going back’ on a multi-billion submarine deal with France.

Back in April, the Taiwanese government said that China had flown military jets into its air defence zone, the largest amount in one year, and in October this number was apparently exceeded, leading the Taiwanese National Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng to say that China-Taiwan relations were at their worst for over 40 years.

Australia seems to have allied with the US and UK due to the growing likelihood of war – however this hasn’t been confirmed.


Time to raise a toast to South America 

by Owen Buchan

image credit: Kym Ellis

Wine production in South America is increasing. This is being driven by significant rises in Wine production by Chile and Argentina in particular, but also by Brazil and Uruguay. Chile’s wine production is predicted to increase by up to 30 percent this season because of ideal climate conditions, meaning some 13.4 million hectolitres of wine will be produced. Argentina’s wine production is expected to rise by 15 percent this season to an overall sum of 12.5 million hectolitres of wine.

Overall, both nations will greatly benefit from filling the void in the wine market after Australia banned selling wine to China. This success has not been global, with global wine production predicted to drop by 250 million hectolitres due to distorted climate conditions in leading countries like Italy, Spain and France. 

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