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Sensemaker, 21 October 2020

Wednesday 21 October 2020

What just happened


Long stories short

  • In a lawsuit that could remake the internet, the US Department of Justice accused Google of years of anti-competitive behaviour.
  • Hatice Cengiz sued Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince over the murder of her late fiancé, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • The UK government imposed new anti-Covid restrictions on Manchester after failing to agree a compensation deal.

#EndSARS to #EndSWAT. The decision by armed police to fire live rounds at a protest in Lagos yesterday was probably deadly and in a sense appropriate: the unifying theme behind weeks of protests across Nigeria has been police brutality. Casualty numbers at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, where police opened fire as night fell, are still not clear. Reports of up to 20 dead were impossible to confirm. What is clear is that President Muhammadu Buhari faces a challenge from young Nigerians that’s unlikely to be beaten back with guns.

  • It’s national. In addition to the Lagos protest there were others yesterday in five states including Kano in the north and Edo in the south, where hundreds of inmates were freed from a prison in Benin City. Roads in and out of the capital, Abuja, were also blocked.
  • It’s international. Marcus Rashford, John Boyega, Mesut Ozil and Hillary Clinton are among those who promoted the #EndSARS online movement to disband Nigeria’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The movement took its cue from the murder of George Floyd in May and has since morphed into #EndSWAT to reflect Buhari’s forlorn effort to change the subject by replacing SARS with a new federal SWAT team.
  • It’s got all the ideas. The thousands who’ve blockaded the Lekki toll gate on Lagos’s prosperous coastal strip for most of the past two weeks were brought together by outrage over an Instagram video of a young man apparently shot by police who then stole his car – a Lexus 4×4. But they represent more than outrage: most are connected, employed (or self-employed) and frustrated by the mismanagement of an economy in which half live in poverty and the richest five people have a combined net worth of $30 billion. Placards include “To be modern is not a crime” and “We are techies not thieves”.

Buhari has repeatedly tried to align himself with the protesters. They’re not impressed by his record or his crisis management. “We are not who you think we are,” Chika Agu, a radio host and de facto spokesperson for the movement tells the BBC. “We are not going to be who you’ve imagined us in your heads to be. So we can ask for things to change, but we can also be the people who go out and get it by force if you do not give it to us willingly.”

This isn’t over. In fact it feels like it’s just beginning.

In the app today… Read Chris Cook and marvel at his data – if not its implications – on day three of our file on the coming recession. Spoiler alert: “Almost no one has had a good year, and lockdowns do carry a cost.” Sign up for tonight’s ThinkIn on the British companies that have profited from slavery and for tomorrow’s conversation with Elizabeth Day on how to fail brilliantly.

Please share this Sensemaker with your friends and colleagues.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Boomtown Bozeman
Imagine being a fortunate, friendly college town in beautiful southwestern Montana, with affordable housing and outdoor activities for the kids every day of the year. Now imagine being that place in a pandemic that’s upended job markets from LA to Seattle and made urban life feel dangerous. You are Bozeman, and you’re suddenly overwhelmed. The Washington Post has a fine profile of a once-enviable town where median house prices are soaring out of reach of locals and all the new cars have California plates.


New things technology, science, engineering

Solar superhighway
It’s happening. Or at least it’s one step closer. Two Australian tycoons have earmarked 50 square miles of arid ranchland in Australia’s Northern Territory as the site of what will be the world’s largest solar power plant if built. It’s land once owned by a third Australian tycoon, Kerry Packer, and the plan is to produce 10 gigawatts of power there and send it all to Singapore, 2,500 miles away, by undersea cable. Sensemaker is fascinated by the potential of modern solar and has persuaded the rest of Tortoise to pay attention too. So find some shades and watch this space.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

“It never happened”
Donald Trump lifted the lid on a strange world of blackmail, bribery and reckless environment despoliation at a campaign rally in Arizona yesterday. It would have been an extraordinary confession were it not all – obviously – hypothetical. Responding to reports that his campaign is running out of money, he told the crowd how he could raise a billion dollars in a day “if I wanted to”. He’d call, say, the head of Exxon, and ask: “How are you doing? How’s energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits?” He said he reckoned the permits would be worth $25 million to his campaign. So blurred has the line become between fake and real in this race that Exxon saw fit to tweet: “Just so we’re all clear, it never happened.” Thanks for clarifying.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public policy

Life after Covid
Want to know what life’s like when you stop worrying about Covid? Go to ChinaDer Spiegel’s Beijing correspondent says once you’ve got used to wearing a mask much of the time, and to rigid quarantining on arrival from abroad, and to being tracked everywhere by your phone, you don’t even think about the risk of infection. How has China managed this? By taking the virus very seriously and not taking individual rights seriously at all. That movement-tracking data churned out by your phone is not anonymised, and if it changes your status from green to red, prepare to hunker down. When 12 new cases were reported recently in Qingdao, whole neighbourhoods were sealed off and 9 million people were tested. (At current rates it would take the UK nearly two months to test that many.)


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

New dawn
Etihad, the UAE airline based in Abu Dhabi, is launching a Hebrew website. Its first commercial flight to Israel landed at Ben Gurion airport on Monday morning, a month after the Trump-brokered deal normalising relations between the two countries was signed in Washington. Palestinians reject the deal as a sellout by former allies more interested in US-built F-35 jets than Arab solidarity, but UAE and Israeli citizens – especially businesspeople – will welcome it above all for its visa-waiver scheme. All they need now to visit each others’ countries is a passport.

By the way, this Oscar-winning short about love and falafel on the West Bank looks a little dated now but it has good pedigree.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell@GWhittell