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Sensemaker: The missing 300

Monday 1 March 2021

What just happened

Long stories short

  • At least 18 people were killed in protests in Myanmar fired on by security forces controlled by the military junta. 
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York apologised for language that has left his administration reeling from sexual harassment allegations. 
  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm won best comedy at the Golden Globes, voted on by a supposedly international group of journalists with no Black members.

The missing 300

Not long ago the headline that hundreds of schoolgirls had been kidnapped by gunmen in northwestern Nigeria would have been the signal for news bureaus in Abuja to scramble resources to cover every angle of the story. This time it’s been oddly under-reported. 

We know that 317 teenage girls were taken from their beds in a boarding school in mainly-Muslim Jangebe sometime after 1am last Friday, by about 20 armed men on motorbikes. Soldiers at a nearby military checkpoint apparently failed to intervene. In some respects the kidnapping recalls that of 276 girls taken by Boko Haram from their school in Chibok in 2014, 100 of whom are still missing. In others, this looks different.

  • No one has claimed responsibility.
  • The Chibok kidnapping was of Christian girls by Islamist extremists in northwestern Nigeria. This one took place 600 km to the west in a region where crime gangs have turned kidnapping into a business. 
  • The government in Abuja denies it but there’s a pattern of ransom payments – and rumours were circulating yesterday that the girls could be released at any moment. 

As of this writing, though, they are still missing. One parent, Aliyu Ladan Jangebe, told the AP he had five daughters at the school and that four of them were taken. A spokesman for the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, said security forces were being cautious for the sake of the victims but that the government would not be blackmailed and had “the capacity to deploy massive force against the bandits in the villages where they operate”.

Really? The question of the Nigerian government’s capacity to control its own territory is one that was never properly answered in the Chibok case. Since then school kidnappings have become commonplace. Buhari’s promise is that this will be the last, but it’s unclear how he intends to keep it. 

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Glass half full
A Washington Post columnist who’s been spending time in the Clubhouse palace of online chat says journalists there are reflexively negative. Not so the FT’s Chris Giles, who kicks off budget week with a report that thanks to the UK’s rapid vaccine rollout the Office for Budget Responsibility will forecast the fastest growth in 50 years for 2021. That would put output back at its pre-Covid peak by early next year. This is good and bad for the chancellor, Rishi Sunak: good because it could shrink the Covid-shaped hole he has to fill with tax increases; bad because the epidemiological basis for the forecast will cause his backbenchers to yell all the louder for a rapid reopening of the economy, just as the Brazilian variant shows up in six different places in England and Scotland. Slower is better, and surely cheaper in the long run.

New things technology, science, engineering

Power grab
The electricity being used to mine and trade Bitcoin is equivalent to the total power usage of Argentina. And unfortunately a lot of the mining is being done in China, two thirds of whose power is still produced from coal. The Guardian has a story on these and other unsettling findings from the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index. Bitcoin’s environmental impact would be finite if the mining of new coins was the only power-hungry process involved: there are only 21 million coins available, and 18.5 million have already been mined. But running the blockchain software to buy and sell them takes power too – more for a dollar’s worth of bitcoin than a dollar’s worth of copper, gold or platinum.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Cost of carbon
The Biden administration has raised the social cost of carbon used by the US federal government from $8 to $51 per ton. What does this mean? Broadly, that preventing the release of a ton of CO2 equivalent is worth $51 to the US economy when the costs of climate change-related drought, crop failure, illness, migration, extreme weather events and mitigation are taken into account. A higher price provides a rationale for tougher rules for greenhouse gas emitters and more generous subsidies for renewables, energy storage, fast-charging infrastructure and a smart grid. This price is set by science and committees, not by markets, and experts say it needs to go higher – probably to around $100 a ton – to begin to have a serious impact on overall emissions. Still, this counts as progress.

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

Hello, Brazil variant
The UK government has ordered surge testing in South Gloucestershire after three cases of the Brazil Covid variant were confirmed in England and three in Scotland. One of the six carriers is still being traced. The variant carries the E484 mutation, which may be resistant to some vaccines, and which caused a huge spike in infections and deaths in Manaus, capital of Amazonas state in Brazil, months after an earlier spike of the original virus led some to hope the city had acquired herd immunity. It’s possible to feel numb to these developments, but worth remembering how the UK is seen from the outside – as a war zone. The NYT has gone out of its way recently to depict Britain as failing on all fronts, but its latest frontline dispatch complete with video from desperately overcrowded intensive care units is still sobering for anyone who needs sobering.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Read this rune
Blimey. The stage from which Donald Trump addressed fellow conservatives in Orlando at the weekend was shaped like an old Norse rune used as an emblem by a unit of the SS. Coincidence? So many people found that hard to believe that images of the stage juxtaposed with the rune on SS uniforms went viral, and Hyatt hotels, which hosted the conference at which Trump spoke, issued a statement calling hate symbols abhorrent. The group also said it took the theory that the stage shape was not coincidental “very seriously”. The chair of the American Conservative Union called it outrageous. In other Trump news, he didn’t rule out running for president again, but did rule out starting a new party.

The week ahead

1/3 – shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds delivers Budget speech; Crisis publishes annual Homeless Monitor report; former prime minister David Cameron appears before joint committee on the National Security Strategy, 2/3 – Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service due to hand down decision against former Team Sky doctor accused of ordering banned substances for its cyclists, 3/3 – chancellor Rishi Sunak presents UK Budget; Office for Budget Responsibility publishes economic and fiscal outlook; Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon gives evidence on government handling of harassment complaints, 4/3 – MPs take select committee evidence on vaccine take-up among BAME communities and women; Plaid Cymru party conference begins; annual NSPCC conference begins, 5/3 – one year since first UK Covid death; court hearing for group charged with murder of NHS worker David Gomoh, 7/3 – Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe scheduled to complete five-year sentence in Iranian prison; Prince Harry and Meghan Markle interview with Oprah airs; Queen delivers annual message to mark Commonwealth Day

1/3 – Syria Commission of Inquiry launches report on detention in Syria, 2/3 – ONS publishes analysis of all-case mortality data across Europe in 2020; FBI director Christopher Wray testifies at US Senate committee hearing on Capitol insurrection; PwC publishes annual Women in Work Index; Canada releases fourth quarter GDP, 3/3 – Brazil releases fourth quarter GDP, 4/3 – Turkish trial resumes for suspects accused of involvement in murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; new WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Australia prime minister Julia Gillard discuss gender bias at Brookings Institution event, 5/3 – US court hearing for Isis ‘Beatles’ charged with murdering American hostages; US court hearing for Jake Angeli, alleged Capitol insurrectionist better known as the ‘QAnon Shaman’; 99942 Apophis asteroid due to pass by Earth; China’s National People’s Congress takes place, 6/3 – Ghana celebrates anniversary of independence from UK; Ivory Coast parliamentary elections

Thanks for reading, and do share this around. 

Giles Whittell

Xavier Greenwood

Photographs Getty Images

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