Is It Portugal’s Turn to Gain ‘Freedom’ From Angola?

  • Forty-five years after Angola gained independence from Portugal, the tables have turned. Angolan investors now run many of Portugal’s major businesses.
  • With a new regime in Angola, those ties might come undone. Is it Portugal’s turn to gain economic independence?

José Eduardo dos Santos’ State of the Union address to Angola’s Parliament in October 2013 included a shocker: Trade with former colonial master Portugal — for which the country remains the fourth-largest export destination — would be stopped, the then president threatened. “There have been misunderstandings at the highest level of the state, and the current political climate does not encourage the implementation of the previously announced strategic partnerships,” dos Santos said. 

The presidential rebuke was prompted by Portuguese investigations into financial dealings of the Angolan elite, including members of dos Santos’ family. It didn’t help that Portugal’s foreign affairs minister, Rui Machete, had publicly withdrawn his apology to dos Santos under pressure from the Portuguese public. And Luanda was willing to flex its muscles, aware of the economic lifeline it provided to Lisbon. Relations improved. Today, Angola and Portugal are witnessing a remarkable turnaround in their relationship, 45 years after the Central African state gained independence following 400 years of colonial rule.

PORTUGAL-FINANCE-BANK-BCP

Pedestrians walk past a Millennium BCP branch in Lisbon.

Source PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty

Angola’s economy grew from a state of chaos to stability in the years following the 2002 end of the country’s civil war, expanding by more than 8 percent in 2012. Around the same time, the Portuguese economy was smarting from the eurozone crisis.

So when Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho went hand in hand to beg the Angolan presidency in 2011 to invest in its privatization program, Africa’s second-largest oil producer, brimming with Chinese investments and billions of petrodollars in revenue, rose to the occasion.

In Angola, they call Portugal ‘the laundromat.’

Ana Gomes, former member of the European Parliament

Angola’s elite began investing in Portugal — while the latter’s middle and lower class increasingly started migrating to the former colony for work and business opportunities. Ties between the elite of both countries go back many years “to the time some were in the same schools or got to know each other in the formative years,” says Carlos Lopes, a professor at the University of Cape Town and a former executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

For a decade now, Angola’s state oil corporation, Sonangol, has been a major shareholder in Millennium BCP, Portugal’s second-largest bank by assets. A third of the popular soccer team Sporting Lisbon is in the portfolio of Luanda-based holding company Holdimo.

Portugal’s Golden Visa program, which awards residency to non-EU citizens after investments upward of 350,000 euros ($415,000), has also lured many Angolan oligarchs and politicians to spend — and launder — money in Lisbon. “In Angola, they call Portugal ‘the laundromat,’” Ana Gomes, a Portuguese diplomat and former member of the European Parliament, says wryly.

The most influential of them remains Isabel dos Santos, the former president’s billionaire daughter who chaired Sonangol for almost two years until she was fired by her father’s successor, João Lourenço, for corruption. In 2015, she acquired a 65 percent stake in Portuguese power corporation Efacec for 200 million euros ($236 million). According to the Luanda Leaks investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists earlier this year, she is also part owner of Portuguese bank EuroBic and holds significant interests in the country’s telecommunications and real estate sectors. 

The new relationship between Angola and Portugal hasn’t always been smooth. When oil prices plummeted in 2014, causing the Angolan economy to contract for a few years, the heat was felt 3,600 miles away in Portuguese households whose breadwinners were affected by the economic fluctuations.

The combination of reduced oil prices, limited access to credit and the crisis surrounding Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht — the company at the heart of Latin America’s infamous Operation Car Wash scandal was also a major public works firm in Angola — was a “rude awakening” for Angola, says Lopes, who grew up in Guinea-Bissau, another former Portuguese colony. It has led to a fiscal deficit and has eroded the purchasing power of the Angolan kwanza, he says.

When Isabel dos Santos’ accounts in Lisbon were frozen earlier this year as part of investigations by the Lourenço administration, that also created a ripple effect. Angolans are now divesting many of their shares in key Portuguese corporations. “There is no appetite in the current regime in Luanda to pursue the approaches of the past,” Lopes says.

That shift could potentially hurt both economies. But decades after Angola gained political independence, the transition could perhaps grant Portugal financial independence from its former colony.

The Biggest Challenge for Apple and Spotify in North Africa: YouTube

  • As the streaming services enter the region, they’re up against an older giant — YouTube — which cultivated North Africa when others ignored it.
  • A very visual culture and better mobile data connectivity also help YouTube over its rivals in the area.

Beirut-based music streaming service Anghami was founded by necessity, as many startups often are. After struggling to play music while vacationing at a Lebanese ski resort in 2010 — iTunes was unavailable in the country then — founder Eddy Maroun raised funding to build a solution. Tailor-made for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, it has amassed exclusive rights to titles from prominent musicians and signed deals with mobile operators. By 2019, it had crossed 60 million mobile downloads, with 21 million monthly active users and 1 million paying subscribers.

Anghami’s success points to the massive potential of the North African market, which is frequently excluded from African music charts and discussions, even as sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) remains the darling of Western music industry stakeholders. It was only in 2018 that Spotify and Deezer launched operations in North Africa, within months of each other. This April, Apple Music came to Tunisia and Algeria. But while they’re now focusing on the region, they have a long way to catch up with the one global player that beat them all to the region — YouTube, which has served North Africa since its birth in 2005.

North Africans are a very visual people.

Titilope Adesanya, head of West African operations, Africori

Across the continent, the newcomers continue to be dwarfed by the heights that streaming giant YouTube has hit in North Africa. In 2015, Moroccan pop singer Saad Lamjarred entered the Guinness Book of World Records with his song “Lm3allem,” which became the most viewed Arabic video on YouTube after garnering over 500 million views in three months; it has 841.7 million views as of July 2020. His duet with Egyptian singer Mohammed Ramadan, released four years on, racked up 100 million views in a month — numbers that American superstars dream of.

By contrast, no song from SSA has ever hit the 300 million mark. The closest, at 296.6 million, is “Magic in the Air” — and that involved a collaboration between Ivorian veterans Magic System and Moroccan singer Chawki and was released just in time for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It benefited from the global soccer rush and the name recognition of both parties, but still falls short of the glory of fully North African videos.

Titilope Adesanya, who oversees West African operations at Africori, a pan-African digital music distributor, says that “North Africans are a very visual people” who place a premium on visual delivery. “North Africans for the most part have better visuals than we do,” she says. “They’ve got structure and on YouTube they are knocking us out of the park.” 

The data backs her assertion: Middle East and North Africa residents consume 6 hours and 20 minutes of daily television on average, compared to 5 hours in, say, South Africa, according to data from Statista.

To be sure, the newcomers are trying to play catch up. Spotify, for instance, is offering educational classes to train artists to better promote their music to global audiences. But the loyalty to YouTube — built over years when others ignored the region — will be hard to break.

Where artists have long needed to liaise with streaming brands that weren’t available in the region to have their content pushed elsewhere, “they can just upload on YouTube themselves and their people will watch it,” explains Adesanya.

Karima Nayt, a Switzerland-based Algerian singer who grew up between her country and Egypt, says North Africa’s young population — the average age is 25 — helps attract them to YouTube, which has visual content. “Most of them are with smartphones so [are] automatically using YouTube as the easiest platform accessible to them. … Spotify and Apple Music aren’t used by [the] majority there.” It helps that 4G data penetration in North Africa and the Middle East is 62 percent, compared with just 34 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the GSM Association, an industry body that represents mobile network operators globally. That makes it easier to stream videos on the phone in North Africa than in sub-Saharan Africa.

North Africans — even in the diaspora — remain attached to traditional music genres like chaabi, targui, andaloussi and raï, stresses Nayt. The region’s willingness to embrace its Arab heritage more than its African one means it’s only natural that young users prefer indigenous sounds — available on YouTube — to music from sub-Saharan Africa.

In other markets, Spotify and Apple Music have relied on their deep pockets to compete against local challengers. In North Africa, they’re up against a giant owned by tech titan Google — and one that catered to the region, when no one else would.

How K-Pop Is Conquering Algeria

  • The Korean pop wave is spreading in an unlikely new region: the deserts of Algeria.
  • It’s sparking a broader fascination with Korean culture in the North African nation.

On March 1, 2019, Algerians began pouring into the streets for a hirak (Arabic for “movement”) that forced Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president since 1999, to resign five weeks later. A large number of the demonstrators were young — 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30 — and they mobilized social media to make the campaign viral and tackle misinformation. They used placards that encapsulated the frustrations of the millennials while simultaneously highlighting the rise of K-pop in a part of the world with its own, very special musical forms.

The placards used lyrics from BTS (Bangtan Boys), a seven-man group whose popularity has exploded around the world in the last decade as a culmination of hallyu, the Korean wave of soft power that’s been wafting from Seoul since the ’90s. Earlier this year, the band donated $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement, following in the footsteps of their global fan network that has actively supported political and human rights causes across the world, from police brutality in Chile to racism in the U.S.

In Algeria, the genre has inspired such ardent fandom that young people now dress like K-pop stars and incorporate Korean phrases into their everyday speech. Two years ago, a crowd of young people celebrated the 22nd birthday of BTS vocalist Kim Tae-hyung, singing and waving their phones in the dark. Last year, the BTS Army — as the fanbase calls itself — customized balloons and raised a billboard at a busy mall in Algiers to celebrate the birthday of Park Ji-min, another BTS member. Last year, the South Korean Embassy in Algiers organized a K-pop “world festival” with singing and dancing competitions that it claimed took place in almost 100 countries worldwide. 

Fadhela Manar Mezmaz, the 22-year-old spokesperson for the BTS Algeria team, tells OZY that the hallyu wave in the country began around 2008 when Algeria’s national TV started airing Korean TV dramas and series like 대장금 (Jewel in the Palace) and My Lovely Sam Soon. Then came “Gangnam Style,” the 2012 megahit by the quirky rapper Psy.

Nowadays, it’s common to find someone [in Algeria] with Korean added to their résumé.

Fadhela Manar Mezmaz, spokesperson, BTS Algeria

Jewel in the Palace, a 15th century historical romance about a chef working for the royal family who becomes a beloved physician, was such a hit in Asia that Chinese President Hu Jintao became a fan. “It’s a pity that I cannot watch Daejanggeum [the show’s Korean title] every day because I am so busy,” Jintao is reported to have told his counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, during an August 2018 visit to Seoul.

In North Africa, Mezmaz says, “it resulted in piquing interest in Korean culture in general, and eventually people got introduced to K-pop music.” These days, networks like state-owned Arirang TV and KBS World that broadcast from Seoul to an overseas audience are a common fixture on TV stations in Algiers. More Algerians are also curious about Korean hairstyles, fashion, food, makeup and beauty standards.

“There’s a demand for language schools with Korean courses,” says Mezmaz. “The fans want to cross the language barrier with their artists and be able to easily communicate and support them. Nowadays, it’s common to find someone with Korean added to their résumé.”

The youngsters have also tapped into the global fanbase, supporting K-pop ’stans — as obsessive fans of the genre are called — elsewhere in the world. Online, they host streaming parties and come together to fight xenophobia and any discrimination their favorites face. Offline, they organize charity and volunteer projects, and arrange group orders for physical albums and merchandise. 

A five-man squad consisting of members between the ages of 17 to 28 handles content for the BTS Algeria social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Their hope is that after the pandemic, the pop stars can have a concert in the North African country.

“The fandom is known for its infinite dedication to the boys,” says Mezmaz. “They use their voice to shine inspiration and hope, and our role is to assist them in delivering their positivity and break barriers.”

After Playing So Many Roles, Who Is the Real Tatiana Maslany?

Emmy Award–winning actor Tatiana Maslany was the most recent guest on The Carlos Watson Show. The Los Angeles–based Canadian discussed, among other things, life during quarantine and her masterful performance on the TV series Orphan Black (Maslany played 14 different characters). Below are excerpts from the hourlong conversation.

Joining the Protests

Carlos Watson: Did you consider going anywhere else at any point [during the pandemic] versus being in Los Angeles?

Tatiana Maslany: Yeah. I mean, I’m Canadian, so when this all kicked off, I kind of ran back to Canada.… I thought it was going to be like two weeks. And then as the months wore on, I was like, “I need to change the scene.” It’s so intense to be anywhere, really. I feel like we’re going to be processing this time for so long afterward. I feel like it requires a bit of space, which is hard to get any perspective right now because we’re all in the same thing in so many ways.

Watson: I think it’s interesting that you say that. I think it’ll take a long time to get full perspective. Have you been very involved in some of the protests?

Maslany: I did. So when I got back from Canada, I was quarantined for two weeks and that’s when everything started to really happen in terms of people actually getting in the streets or more getting in the streets. There’s a lot of demonstrations that were happening in LA for years that I didn’t know about until all of this. And every Wednesday, there’s a movement down at City Hall, and it’s baffling to me how little I knew before all of this. When I got back, everything had just started happening in terms of people speaking out on police brutality and Black Lives Matter. And so as soon as I was done with quarantine, I was out trying to be part of it and be there physically. It felt really important to do.

Redefining Identity

Watson: Do you feel like you’ve changed very much over the last six months in any way?

Maslany: I mean, massively so. I feel like COVID and quarantine stripped away from me a lot of the context by which I reflected back who I was. So social interactions, going out with friends, being free, just moving through the world the way that I did, taking things for granted. But all of these things were such markers of my identity, my career, all of it being such a huge part of just who I defined myself as. So having all of that stripped away was a really interesting revelation in terms of like, what’s left? What is there after all of that context is removed? So in that way, I think I’m learning huge things. I don’t know how I’ve changed from it, but I know I’m learning stuff. And then in terms of just baseline, my privilege as a white woman, to move through the world with the freedom that I so took for granted and with all of the luxuries that I took for granted and all of the privilege and all of the spaces that were mine to occupy, I am massively coming to terms with that and learning about that.

I think that’s life work. As I’ve been reading, that’s for the rest of your life kind of stuff that you have to incorporate and continue to analyze and to re-remember and refocus on.

The Term ‘Actress’

Watson: Which actors and actresses do you admire? And do you use the word “actress”?

Maslany: I don’t for some reason. And I don’t … I think it’s slightly political, slightly a move just to … I always get weirded out when somebody’s like, “a female director.” I’m like, “Or maybe just a director.” You know what I mean? And there’s this … I remember doing improv as a kid and they were like, “This is girl-prov because it’s a girl’s team.” There’s always this thing attached to it as if the default is not female. Do you know what I mean?

Watson: Yep.

Maslany: So, I do say “actors.” And some of the ones that I look up to the most … A Woman Under the Influence was the biggest influence to me in terms of acting. And Gena Rowlands in that movie specifically. I think I saw it when I was 20 and just realized what potential this art form has in terms of freedom and expression and connection and the ability to be so many things at the same time. This limitless freedom that it feels like I can feel in her performance there. I was like, “Ah, I want that. That’s the thing I want.”

Dealing With Rejection

Watson: So why do you think you broke through? 

Maslany: I don’t know. It must’ve been a combo of getting used to rejection but then also not taking it as rejection. I really experienced this when I was working, I did Network on Broadway a year or two years ago now. I went to an understudy rehearsal, which is where they basically go up onstage and all of the understudies play all of the parts as if it was a live performance. So all the music cues, the costumes, the everything. I watched my understudy, Nicole Villamil, sorry, do the performance.

I remember just being like, “Oh, no one part should ever be played by one person. There’s no correct way to play any part and I’m learning so much watching her do this because she’s bringing stuff that she knows to this character that I don’t know yet.” 

Identity Crisis

Watson: How did you feel when [Orphan Black] came to an end? Was that relief, disappointment, surprise? Where were you when the show ended?

Maslany: I mean, similarly, pulled from my context, because so much of the five years of working on a show, that’s your family, that’s the people you see the most. That’s the focus throughout the year, even when you’re not filming, because I’m promoting it or I’m talking about it or whatever it is. So, it was massively connected to my identity and to who I was, and to the fact that I could walk into a room being like, “I’m on this show.” Not even saying that, but just knowing that I’m on a show, OK. You know what I mean? Like that kind of self-worth that comes from that. So when it was gone, I was like, “I don’t know who I am. I don’t know that I have any value anymore. What is anything? What’s going to be the next thing that means that much to me?” Because it meant so much. So, it was a real shock to the system.

Unusual Celeb Crush

Watson: Most embarrassing thing you’ve never told anyone?

Maslany: I feel I’ve told everybody all the embarrassing things. Most embarrassing thing that I’ve never told anyone? There’s nothing I haven’t told them. I haven’t told you that I have a crush on Rick Moranis. I didn’t tell you that, but I’ve told other people that. So that’s not embarrassing.

Dog Days

Watson: Your most unusual celebrity friendship?

Maslany: Here’s a weird one. Amy Schumer named her dog Tatiana Maslany, so that’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me. That’s the weirdest thing. It’s right there. That’s the one.

Watson: Wait, are you guys friends? Or how did she end up doing that?

Maslany: I guess she was a fan of Orphan Black. So I don’t know. We once were staying in the same hotel and she and Tatiana Maslany the dog came to my hotel room and we had some wine. And the dog pooped on the floor. So it was a great night … I’ll send you a photo.

How the Pandemic Is Saving Lives in the Horn of Africa

  • Khat, a regional staple, has been consumed for centuries, mostly by men. Women are the ones who sell it.
  • The pandemic has disrupted a regional economy worth millions of dollars.
  • The supply shortage is also giving rise to hopes that it might make men turn over a new leaf.

For centuries, the khat, a leafy shrub native to the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East, has been a part of daily life for millions of people: It’s used to induce excitement and euphoria and, some speculate, to boost sexual performance. Bus drivers waiting in traffic, friends socializing on weekends and workers on lunch breaks are among the regular users of this affordable drug across Yemen, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland and parts of Kenya. Now, the pandemic is disrupting the consumption of khat, a regional economy worth millions of dollars, and also reshaping family dynamics.

Djibouti’s ports have traditionally provided a channel for the fertilizers that help thousands of farmers in Ethiopia cultivate acres of the drug, popularly called “the flower of paradise.” An estimated 90 percent of adults in Somaliland chew khat, and the autonomous region’s government figures show that 30 percent of its gross domestic product — or $36.4 million — comes from the drug. The Kenya Medical Research Institute estimates that more than 10 million people consume it globally. Most consumers are male, while sellers are women, often the family breadwinners.

For many women, the trade in khat has been passed through generations, from mother to daughter and so on. It is the main source of income, and that is the only skill or trade they know.

Sahra Ahmed Koshin, University of Copenhagen

But lockdowns and travel restrictions due to the pandemic have dramatically hit cross-border trade of khat. In turn, that has served as a major blow to the women selling khat, says Sahra Ahmed Koshin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Copenhagen studying the Somali diaspora who has tracked the lives of several female khat dealers. Unsubstantiated rumors that khat leaves can carry the coronavirus haven’t helped either.

Man chewing miraa (qat)

Khat is usually chewed for its stimulating properties.

Source Getty

Women make good khat sellers because of a unique set of entrepreneurial skills, including marketing, patience and scouting target markets such as places hosting festivities, says Koshin. The trade doesn’t require complex technical know-how. “For many women, the trade in khat has been passed through generations, from mother to daughter and so on,” Koshin says. “It is the main source of income, and that is the only skill or trade they know.”

With cargo planes grounded, militiamen in the region — some of whom use khat themselves — are smuggling the leaves through land borders, subjecting women who want to buy khat to sell it locally to high informal taxes that in turn make khat unaffordable for most people.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining. With most recreational pleasures put on pause for men in these communities, women who aren’t sellers are hopeful that their husbands will turn over a new leaf, say activists. Experts say addiction has led men to spend money on khat that could have been used for their children’s education or to upgrade the quality of their family’s life. Several governments, including those of Eritrea and Saudi Arabia, have banned the use of khat.

Khat addiction has also been linked to domestic violence. In 2018, a woman in the northern Somali town of Lasanod told a district court while asking for a divorce that her construction worker husband was spending most of his wages on khat and regularly beating her with electrical wires.

The plant’s economic and social significance, however, has meant that bans have often failed. In 1977, Hassan Gouled Aptidon was close to being toppled as president of Djibouti for considering a khat ban. This May, Somaliland lifted a ban on bulk khat imports that had been imposed just three weeks earlier because of the pandemic.

In that sense, the reduced supply of khat — even without a formal ban — has been a blessing in disguise, says Somali anti-khat campaigner Abukar Awale, who is backing a petition to Somalia’s government that seeks to make the drug illegal. Just three weeks after the petition was launched, it had 3,750 signatures.

Khat “contributes to the family breakdown in our society, and it increases morbidity and mortality resulting from khat consumption,” says Awale. Indeed, scientists have linked khat consumption to increased risk of strokes and heart diseases. Perhaps, for once, the pandemic could end up saving lives.

How Michaela Coel Tells Awkward Truths

  • The British actress and creator has captivated both sides of the pond with the searing I May Destroy You.
  • Her power move to turn down a $1 million offer from Netflix to retain a piece of the royalties is paying off.

Michaela Coel’s journey to stardom on both sides of the Atlantic started with 2015’s Chewing Gum, a coming-of-age story about a young Black woman’s journey from her religious roots to finding her sexuality and voice in Great Britain. The 12-episode comedy exposed uncomfortable truths and Coel delivered a masterful performance that the Guardian described as “hilariously filthy” but “also human, tender, maybe even wise.”

It was a fresh perspective, one rarely seen on British TV, about Black women’s experiences, says Victoria Thomas, a Black British filmmaker and director of the international film business program at the London Film School. “The best of creatives create from what they know, and I think when you do that, you unearth a level of authenticity that puts forward a unique voice which can and will intrigue people.”

Coel, now 32, has repeated that trick but to greater effect, with I May Destroy You, a 12-episode show on BBC and HBO that is making a solid claim for the title of TV show of the year. Since June, when it premiered on HBO, I May Destroy You has been a hit, resonating particularly in the U.S., where the #MeToo movement took off three years ago.

I felt incredibly empowered to keep asking questions and watch people stutter.

Michaela Coel

Coel writes, co-directs and stars as Arabella, a millennial who uses her Twitter following as a springboard to propel her writing career. The show follows the shared trauma of three best friends who have all experienced assorted forms of assault and sexual fraudulence, including stealthing (slang for nonconsensual condom removal during sex). Racial and gender issues are also key topics on I May Destroy You

Born in East London to Ghanaian immigrant parents who separated before her birth, Coel grew up on a council flat estate, the U.K. version of “the projects,” with her mother and older sister. Her route to the screen was a circuitous one: She quit college to embrace Pentecostalism, a faith which she gained and then lost while moving from dance to theater and, eventually, to TV.

'3 Days in Quiberon' Premiere - 68th Berlinale International Film Festival

Michaela Coel at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival.

Coel’s acting education came in the form of weekly performances at London cafés until the playwright Ché Walker encouraged her to sign up for drama school. In 2009, Coel enrolled in Guildhall School of Music & Drama, a prestigious century-old performing arts school.

While a student, Coel wrote Chewing Gum Dreams, a one-woman play whose title she borrowed from one of her own poems. It became the skeleton for Chewing Gum, which won two British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards. Following Coel’s triumph, the BBC gave her full creative license on her next project. Then Netflix came calling. But doing things on her own terms is a Coel character trait, both on-screen and off. 

So, in 2017, Coel walked away from a $1 million offer by Netflix to buy the rights to I May Destroy You after the streaming giant refused to include copyright royalties in the deal. She also fired her agent when she discovered that Netflix was paying a substantial amount of money behind her back to push the deal through.

“Daring to ask questions, that wasn’t easy, but then the moment you begin to ask and you realize that the answers aren’t clear, for me, then it was very easy [to say no],” Coel told the BBC in July. “I felt incredibly empowered to keep asking questions and watch people stutter.”

Netflix rival HBO did better by her and cemented what is seen in some quarters as the crossover of another Black British actor into Hollywood, following in the footsteps of Idris Elba, David Oyelowo, Naomie Harris and, more recently, Cynthia Erivo and Daniel Kaluuya. It was a metaphorical statement of giving and withdrawing consent for a show rooted in a literal representation of Coel being assaulted.

In between, she has starred in Been So Long, Black Earth Rising and the Drake-executive-produced series Top Boy. While she has turned in strong performances in those efforts, it’s in her own shows that Coel makes magic happen.

Thomas believes that the success of I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum lies in their relatability and in filling a visible gap with a layered personal experience. “It is yet another example of what we already know — authentic stories well-executed sell across borders,” she says. “And I think Michaela will inspire many more creatives to stay true to themselves and keep persevering, albeit strategically, with developing work that you really understand and know, instead of pandering to what you might think may sell.”

With the lid lifted on Coel’s talents and ambitions, there’s no telling what she’ll come up with next. Except that it’ll be rooted in awkward, funny and compelling reality.

How CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin Would Close the Wealth Gap

The pandemic, says Andrew Ross Sorkin, could be an opportunity. One of America’s most prominent business journalists for his perch at the New York Times and CNBC’s Squawk Box, Sorkin says the essential workers who are getting the country through the crisis are a stark reminder of who we all rely on. And that means higher taxes.

“I should be writing a check to the government today because I wasn’t on the front line. I got to sit at home,” Sorkin says on the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show, hosted by OZY’s co-founder and CEO. Those higher taxes should apply to philanthropic donations of capital gains too, Sorkin argues. And he says the money could go to fund better educational and childcare opportunities for low-income Americans.

Sorkin’s economic prescriptions are derived from a career that’s now spanned a quarter century.

When there’s blood in the water, when it looks like everything’s terrible, you got to buy.

Andrew Ross Sorkin

He thought he’d end up a lawyer like his father or a media entrepreneur — not a writer. At 15, his supportive playwright mother would drive him around to other schools to distribute copies of the sports magazine he was publishing. To be able to sell more, he began religiously reading Stuart Elliott, the New York Times’ advertising columnist. Then he wrote Elliott a fan letter and asked to be his unpaid intern.

Eventually, despite being in high school, he was assigned a story about internet modems; Elliott and his mother helped edit the article and it ran the following Monday.

That was 1995, the springboard for a brilliant career spanning the wildly successful New York Times’s DealBook daily newsletter to the best-selling book Too Big to Fail that was adapted into an HBO special to the hit Showtime series Billions, which has amassed millions of fans across the globe.

Sorkin is keen to stress that passion and persistence matter more than talent and the value of visualizing dreams before they become reality. In 2010, he started thinking about making a TV show as he fell in love with The Wire and Breaking Bad; six years later, Billions premiered. Years ago, he thought of interviewing the pope; last year, it happened. But it’s another fan story from Sorkin’s childhood, of his Michael Jordan worship that best illustrates his audacity to dream of stardom. “I used to save money and beg my parents to get Jordans,” he says. “At one point, I got myself a knee brace and I used to wear that. I didn’t even have bad knees.”

By virtue of his position on Wall Street, Sorkin was one of those who got to have serial interviews with Donald Trump in his pre-presidential days, but he never saw the real estate businessman as anything more. He does see Nextdoor CEO Sariah Friar and Thasunda Brown Duckett, who runs JPMorgan Chase consumer banking, as the next names from Wall Street to go far, and he’s got a bullish feeling about Chinese payment company Ant Financial as it approaches a record-breaking IPO. “It’s going to be massive, massive beyond anything that you could imagine,” Sorkin says.

But how should you invest? Sorkin is blunt. “I hate to say it, when there’s blood in the water, when it looks like everything’s terrible, you got to buy, you got to buy, even though it feels terrible and you don’t want to do it,” he says. “And when everything seems great, you got to sell.”

Is Maritime Piracy Back from the Dead?

Over the past few months, with fewer vessels crisscrossing the seas, aquatic animals have reveled in their habitat. Endangered humpback dolphins have been spotted in Abu Dhabi and other varieties off the coast of Lagos. But another comeback is also on the horizon — a sensational return of pirates.

For years, piracy attacks on major shipping routes have been on a decline. Even though the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in 2019 described the Gulf of Guinea as “one of the most dangerous shipping routes in the world,” overall, incidents of maritime piracy last year were the lowest since 1994.

Now that’s changing.

[The pandemic is likely to] worsen conditions that do lead to maritime piracy, such as poverty and joblessness.

Brandon Prins, political scientist, University of Tennessee-Knoxville

The first three months of 2020 witnessed a 24 percent increase in maritime piracy and armed robbery compared to last year, according to the IMB. The Gulf of Guinea, which surrounds most of West and Central Africa, remains a hot spot. In the Americas, there has been a series of recent attacks against oil platforms and ships in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. A direct causal relationship between the coronavirus crisis and piracy is yet to be established. But as governments prioritize public health over security, the pandemic is likely to “worsen conditions that do lead to maritime piracy, such as poverty and  joblessness,” says Brandon Prins, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

“A lack of viable economic opportunities” binds places where piracy is observed, says Maisie Pigeon, Africa program manager for One Earth Future’s Stable Seas program. In the Gulf of Guinea, the dominant oil and gas industries have been hit badly by the crisis. “You could certainly fathom a world in which more people are driven to participation in illicit activities like piracy and armed robbery to support themselves,” says Pigeon.

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Nigerian special forces look for pirates on a French frigate.

Source PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty

The “distraction” of the pandemic has also left poor coastal countries vulnerable to threats on the open seas, as they focus more of their limited resources on fighting COVID-19 inland, leaving their maritime borders more porous than before.

Earlier this year, a standoff between Russia and Saudi Arabia forced oil prices to tank below zero for the first time in history, and producers were forced to pay to sell their oil as storage space became expensive. Many barges were stuck at sea and became easy prey for pirates. 

It’s the same with ships out at sea with passengers who’ve tested positive for the virus. In early May, more than three dozen cruise ships were in quarantine at sea. With travel restrictions hampering the replacement of medical personnel or augmentation of naval forces for a coordinated security response, these ships too are vulnerable.

Piracy attacks are expected to increase as the year continues, says Prins. It’s yet another of the unexpected but multifaceted ways in which the pandemic is turning the world upside down.

The Failed Hijacking That Remade the Soviet Union

Their dream was to make it to Israel. The problem was that they lived in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War and could not get exit visas. Like so many Soviet Jewish “refuseniks,” Edward Kuznetsov and Mark Dymshits were stuck. So they hatched an audacious plan that never got off the ground, but changed the world nonetheless.

The June 1970 Operation Wedding was the brainchild of Kuznetsov, a dissident who had served a prison term for publishing an anti-Soviet newspaper, and ex-combat pilot Dymshits, along with 12 other like-minded Jews and two non-Jewish sympathizers. The Soviet Union had denied their request to immigrate to Israel, given how Israel’s Western allies and its victory in the Six-Day War in 1967 had led to frosty diplomatic relations between it and the Soviet Union. So the group of refuseniks — one of many underground cells plotting freedom — decided to hijack a plane.

Almost all of us were sure, 99 percent sure, the attempt would not be successful and we would be arrested.

Edward Kuznetsov

The 16-person crew booked an airplane under the pretext of flying to Stockholm for a wedding. The plan was to assume control midflight, when Dymshits would take over from the pilots, who would be deplaned at a stopover.

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Left: Sylva Zalmanson, Edward Kuznetsov’s then wife, the only woman to be charged in the plane hijacking. Right: Kuznetsov.

Source Operation Wedding

KGB agents had been tipped off about the plot, though, and were waiting to apprehend the group on June 15 at an airport in Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg). All 16 involved were convicted, and the ringleaders received death sentences. But what became known as the First Leningrad Trial attracted sustained outrage from Soviet émigrés and the international community, eventually leading to their sentences being commuted.

A protester in Tel Aviv holds a flyer supporting the three Jews on trial in Leningrad for hijacking a Soviet aircraft.

American Jews were among those around the world who demonstrated and mobilized to get thousands of their Soviet comrades out. They frequently met with disappointment, says Morey Schapira, a retired Silicon Valley executive who was a student activist and the leader of one such movement at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “The years I served as national president were the darkest years, when they were only letting out 1,000 people,” he reminisces. “We chained ourselves to the fences of Soviet consulates and embassies. Rabbis were being arrested.”

Eventually, the operation succeeded in bringing attention to the human rights abuses and eccentric migration policies within the Soviet Union, unraveling the truth behind the propaganda of a well-run state that claimed moral and ideological superiority. And that was the point all along. “Almost all of us were sure, 99 percent sure, the attempt would not be successful and we would be arrested,” Kuznetsov told the New York Times after his 1979 release. Kuznetsov moved to Israel, where he later became editor of a popular Russian-language newspaper.

The pressure that led to the prisoner release also laid the groundwork for more-lenient emigration policies. Only a few thousand people were allowed to leave the Soviet Union in the 1960s, but in the early 1970s, there was a burst of 150,000 Soviet Jewish émigrés.

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Mark Dymshits (top left) with seven of the 16 charged hijackers.

Source Operation Wedding

In 2016, Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov, the daughter of Edward Kutznetsov and Sylva Zalmanson, the only woman charged in the hijacking, directed Operation Wedding, a documentary about the event. The main message of the film, she says, is to portray how individuals can change history. “We have the power to change,” Zalmanson-Kuznetsov says. “We’re not just a cog in the system.”

Reforms such as perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) under Mikhail Gorbachev happened too late for the Soviet Union. The house of cards had already begun crumbling and the world’s largest country eventually dissolved into more than a dozen constituent states in 1991. The refuseniks had lost the battle but won the war.

Leopards Are Indeed Changing Their Spots

At the age of 3, young male leopards leave the area where they were born and migrate to new territories. A phenomenon known in wildlife studies as natal dispersal, it is the first — and for many, only — movement from their birthplace. That new location then becomes their breeding ground as they mate with local females there.

Now, pathbreaking new research shows that leopards are changing that behavior. Scientists have found that an uptick in poaching and other threats are making male leopards stay closer to home. It’s a phenomenon that risks increasing inbreeding, which could devastate the already endangered species.

A study of a sample of leopards in South Africa has shown that 22 percent of males were still living in their childhood habitat even after crossing the age of 3. 

Traditionally, long-distance migration is common for the animals, which surprisingly are not keen on chasing prey over extended distances. Scientists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Mongolia fitted a snow leopard with a satellite tracking collar in the Khukhserkh Mountain and, two years on, found it in another mountain range 75 miles away from its originating point. Like young adults who are keen to leave home at age 18, young leopards migrate in order to begin their family and establish territorial control over new areas.

Kruger National Park.  Leopard (Panthera pardus) on a branch of a tree.  South Africa.

A leopard in South Africa’s Kruger National Park

That’s important for population distribution and gene flow, say experts. Without it, “the risk of breeding with mothers or sisters (who have lower rates of dispersal away from maternal areas)” increases, says Lourens Swanepoel, professor of conservation ecology at the University of Venda, South Africa.

The shift that’s making male leopards stick around in the territories where they were born needn’t be permanent. What’s been seen so far is not a case of leopards “changing their genetic behavior as changes in genetic makeup will take decades of evolution to occur,” explains Swanepoel.

But the crisis is deepening. Studies have shown how leopard populations have declined steeply in major host nations — by at least 75 percent in India, for instance. Other research has shown that leopards have lost about three-fourths of their historic habitat.

If that makes male leopards change their migratory patterns permanently, it could hasten the animal’s decline even faster.