Somewhere between the Hindu Kush and the Horn of Africa. Perhaps Tamrida, on the island of Socotra (in Sanskrit: island of joy) — Tiz

Chronicle of Sudan’s Arranged Marriage with Israel

Do you promise to love her and honour her, for better or worse, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, for as long as you both shall live?

Don’t you just love arranged marriage novels and movies?* The plot is one most readers and movie watchers have encountered at least once and it just never gets old. Also, if not especially, in international politics. …


Haile Selassie sits quietly in his office. It is 2 September 1935

Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King is one of the books longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020 and, regardless of the final result, the book I have enjoyed the most in this unruly 2020.

A book that is worth recommending per se, but even more so considering Italians’ recent expressions of interest –genuine or convenient or both– in our past (brutal and inhuman) presence in Ethiopia.

The following is a series of excerpts –all related to today, September 2, or ነሐሴ 27– that remind us of a major historical event which occurred around this time 85 years ago: the looming Italian invasion of Ethiopia, officially launched in October 1935. …


Iran’s Fires and Explosions, Put in Perspective

Amid growing interest from international media in Iran’s fires and explosions over the past few weeks, some analysts stressed the need not to overemphasise these events. Especially in the summer, especially in a country with a record of (quite some) neglected infrastructure, these events are just ordinary.

It makes sense that local media such as Irna.ir track each of these occurrences. However, international media’s obsessive attention seems a bit inappropriate.

Digging into IRNA archives –only Irna’s archives, because Irna generally offers good media coverage and because I wanted to be consistent in the identification of these events over time– I collected data on major fires and gas explosions which hit Iran in mid May–end July one year ago, in 2019.


Using Google Trends data to observe asymmetries in how the public follows the GERD developments

Inspired by a recent and creative analysis by Synaps on mining underused data retrieved from Wikipedia pages’ visits and by slightly older research by the Pew Research Center on using Google Trends data to observe how public interest shifts as a crisis unfolds, I decided to do something similar about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as Ethiopia may soon begin filling the dam.

Google search data track users’ behaviour online by recording all the queries we type into its search box. Without overstating their explanatory power —because those data can only capture the ‘pulse’ of users who have access to the internet and use Google to search for information, and cannot say anything about the reason why they conducted those searches— these data can still provide descriptive information about the existence of public concern, interest or curiosity to learn more about a certain issue by searching for more information about it via Google’s search box. …


Sudan’s Transition as an Art Exhibition

More often than not, there’s more to a country’s domestic politics than classic pre-election oversimplifications and rigid dichotomies such as reformists vs conservatives, or ruling coalition vs the opposition, or the military vs civilians. After Iran and Ethiopia, the new episode of Political Parties Series is on Sudan.

An Art Exhibition in Three ‘Paintings’

Roughly one year after Sudan’s post-Bashir transition was launched, and few days away from the long-awaited peace agreement and donor conference (the former was to be reached in Juba by June 20 but is likely to be postponed again for a short time, while the latter is scheduled in Berlin for June 25), it seems legit to wonder: what do people usually refer to when today they talk about ‘Sudan’? This has actually never been very clear even before, especially at the time of the Bashir-Turabi diarchy, but the ousting of Omar al-Bashir on April 11, 2019 did not make things any easier: Sudan was and still remains an incredibly complex and multi-faceted affair, where it eventually becomes natural to speak of many and various ‘Sudans’ (geographically, ideologically, economically, and culturally). …


Exposure to Shocks in the Gulf

Inspired by the excellent work by Afshin Molavi for the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW), I used the preliminary 2019 data of the World Bank’s Bilateral Remittances Matrix (still unpublished as of today, but previous data are available here) to examine the GCC-HOA remittance flows.

As a premise, remittances have recently become the largest source of external financing 📈 in developing countries, having overcome also foreign direct investments. So, they do matter.

And they do so also in the eastern lands of Africa, where they are both a blessing and a curse. Preliminary data for the year 2019 on remittance flows to the greater Horn of Africa — Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia — clearly show significant dependency on the economies of the Gulf region (GCC, Gulf Cooperation Council):
• 64% of total HOA remittances hail from the GCC
• two countries alone, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, account for 45% of all the incoming remittances
• looking at the region’s individual countries, percentage shares of remittances hailing from GCC economies vary a lot, from a peak of 75% in Egypt to 0% in Djibouti and Kenya, with Sudan’s 47% and Ethiopia’s 23% in between. …


Political Parties Series — Episode: Ethiopia

More often than not, there’s more to a country’s domestic politics than classic pre-election oversimplifications and rigid dichotomies such as reformists vs conservatives, or ruling coalition vs the opposition. A new episode of Political Parties Series takes us from Iran to Ethiopia.

This episode was not supposed to be published now, but as Ethiopia’s electoral commission has just decided to postpone elections because of the coronavirus outbreak, it may be useful to the current debate on the political implications of the pandemic (especially in Africa, as Judd Devermont points out, but not only). …


Sull’(ab)uso di pasdaràn

«Quando il 21 febbraio [1979] il governo annunciò che avrebbe creato il Corpo dei guardiani della rivoluzione […] fu la prima volta che si rivolse ad essi come corpo, sepah…»

Complice un (perlopiù ignoto) anniversario sul tema, il giorno 21 di febbraio offre una rara occasione per riflettere sull’(ab)uso (tutto italiano) del termine pasdaran.

È noto, ai più, che nella Repubblica islamica d’Iran esiste una forza militare para-statale chiamata “Corpo dei guardiani della rivoluzione islamica” (in persiano: Sepāh-e Pāsdārān-e Enghelāb-e Eslāmi, سپاه پاسداران انقلاب اسلامی). In Italia, e in Italia soltanto, tanto nel mondo accademico quanto in quello giornalistico, è ormai diventato uso comune abbreviare questa lunga dicitura in una sola parola: pasdaràn.


Coming soon in Riyadh | A data-driven look

UPDATE: It was postponed, again, to an unknown date because of COVID-19. The summit had already been postponed twice, plausibly enough because of disagreement over the participation of the Polisario Front (already the cause behind the boycott of the 2016 Summit), which remains pending.

According to various Arab press reports, the 5th Arab-African Summit will be held in Riyadh o̶̶n̶̶ ̶̶M̶̶a̶̶r̶̶c̶̶h̶̶ ̶̶1̶̶6̶ /i̶̶̶n̶̶̶ ̶̶̶m̶̶̶i̶̶̶d̶̶̶ ̶̶̶s̶̶̶p̶̶̶r̶̶̶i̶̶̶n̶̶̶g̶̶̶/sometime in 2020.

Originally scheduled for November 2019 before being unexpectedly put off, this summit comes after those held in Cairo 1977, Libya 2010, Kuwait 2013, Equatorial Guinea 2016.

Why should we look closely at Gulf powers’ African engagement? …


Mapping domestic politics — Episode: Iran

There’s nothing better than an amended quote by Rumi to describe the main reason behind this new series on political parties around the world:

Out beyond labels of conservatives and reformists there is a (research) field. I’ll meet you there

More often than not, there’s more to a country’s domestic politics than classic pre-election oversimplifications and rigid dichotomies such as reformists vs conservatives. …

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