12 Books You Need to Read

Summer is coming to a close in the Northern Hemisphere. But as the evenings draw in and temperatures fall, there’s never been a better time to curl up with a book and enter a world not of your own making.

The international literary world has never been as diverse — or downright interesting — as it is today. That’s why we’ve collated for you, dearest OZY reader, some of the best new reads from Argentina to Zimbabwe and many fascinating places in between. Read on because we guarantee you this: There’s no list as interesting as ours.

american reads

‘Transcendent Kingdom,’ by Yaa Gyasi

Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi’s debut 2016 novel Homegoing was a rousing success. Her second, Transcendent Kingdom, is equally soul-shattering and provocative. It follows the life of Stanford University neuroscience researcher Gifty, whose family moved from Ghana to Alabama before she was born. Gifty’s story unfolds as she reckons with that history and each family member’s impact on how she understands and relates to the world around her. One of her most formative experiences is her brother’s death from a heroin overdose. In order to understand him, Gifty conducts addiction research on mice. The novel is a nuanced portrayal of Gifty’s struggle with science, reason and religion. In the end, she is forced to contend with the idea that none of those things on their own is sufficient to explain our world.

‘The Other Black Girl,’ by Zakiya Dalila Harris

When 26-year-old Nella Rogers realizes that another Black woman will be working alongside her at Wagner Books in New York City, she is excited and a little nervous. Finally, she isn’t the only Black girl on her office floor. But soon Nella finds herself sliding into a competition she never sought and uncovers the sinister underbelly of the career she’s fought so hard for. The novel is Zakiya Dalia Harris’ first and is based on her own experiences working at a Manhattan publishing house. The book is a thoughtful examination of the lasting impacts of microaggressions and fleeting commitment to diversity made by corporations in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

‘Cold Wind: A Mystery,’ by Paige Shelton

What is it about mystery narratives set in cold places? Place doubles as a character in Paige Shelton’s second book in the Alaska Wild series. Having survived a slippery slope on Thin Ice, protagonist Beth Rivers has been laying low in Benedict, Alaska. Just as she is adapting to her new home and getting back some of that mystery writer mojo, a mudslide unearths chilling small town secrets. One frozen body, two young girls who do not speak and a world of atmospheric intrigue. Reader, remember to brr . . . eathe.

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out of africa

‘At Night All Blood Is Black,’ by David Diop

There are hundreds of novels that deal with the tragedy and violence of World War I. But At Night All Blood Is Black, by Senegalese-French author David Diop, pulls back the curtain to reveal the forgotten lives of West African soldiers. The novel chronicles the journey of a Senegalese soldier named Alfa Ndiaye into madness while fighting in the trenches for the French. He adopts the ritual of chopping off the hands of enemy soldiers to avenge his friend’s death. It is a mesmerizing ride through the atrocities and lawlessness of war alongside Diop’s protagonist. First published in French in 2018, the English version, translated by Anna Moschovakis, won the 2021 International Booker Prize.

‘The Promise,’ by Damon Galgut

If you’re a fan of South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and his bleak outlook on life, you’re sure to love Damon Galgut. Though love is perhaps not the right word. The writer doesn’t shy from the uncomfortable, and depicts South Africa’s still searing race relations with sharp and unforgiving clarity. His on-topic latest novel, The Promise, is an unflinching look at the country’s current debate over white-owned land and how to right the wrongs of history. The narrative centers on an estranged white farming family and moves from 1980s apartheid into the current democratic era as the country evolves. You’ll find no spoilers here, but the ending of this highly disturbing novel will probably leave you with more questions than answers. The Promise was longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.

‘This Mournable Body,’ by Tsitsi Dangarembga

This novel was shortlisted for last year’s Booker and its Zimbabwean feminist author was awarded the prestigious PEN Pinter Prize as “a voice of hope we all need to hear.” Dangarembga rose to fame with her 1988 novel Nervous Conditions, which focused on a young girl and her anorexic cousin in 1960s Rhodesia. Both chafe against the stifling patriarchal society in which they grow up. In This Mournable Body, Dangarembga, who was arrested last year for protesting against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, revisits her characters in a post-independence Zimbabwe. The PEN committee lauded Dangarembga for her “ability to capture and communicate vital truths even amidst times of upheaval.”

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to england

‘The Wife Upstairs,’ by Rachel Hawkins

There’s a gated community for ultra elites, a young broke girl with a haunted past and a handsome widower who may be battling ghosts of his own. Fans of Jane Eyre — and fence-sitters too — should give this modern, winking ode to the 1847 classic a chance. Sharp, stormy and rife with new-age Gothic romance, The Wife Upstairs is not quite a retelling, though it shows off customary parallels with Charlotte Brontë’s story. Luckily, the plot comes bearing delicious twists and turns that keep you from getting too comfortable. Enter if you fancy the uncanny feeling of losing your way in a maze made to resemble your favorite place. You’ll come away with a quick fix, and maybe even some reimagined power dynamics!

‘Klara and the Sun,’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is another on the Booker Prize longlist, but if you’re a fan of Remains of the Day — Ishiguro’s novel set in early 20th-century England focused on the unspoken love between the butler and housekeeper in an English manor — his new book will be quite a departure. The Japanese-born British writer, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2017, turns his attention to artificial intelligence in Klara and the Sun. Here, an android narrator, an “Artificial Friend” for a teenager, observes the humans around her. This novel has more in common with clone romance Never Let Me Go, and the Booker judging panel has called it a “genuinely innocent, ego-less perspective on the strange behavior of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear.”

‘Who’s Loving You: Love Stories by Women of Colour’

Edited by British author Sareeta Domingo, this collection of short stories delivers what it promises: the glorious mess of love as experienced by women of color. As with any such collection, there’s a chance that some narratives will stick with you while others slide away, or even sit uneasily. But between a multicultural mix of emerging voices and literary prize-winners, it’s hard not to marvel at the age-old yet radical attempt to make sense of the plurality of love. If you’re wondering, this book is not all strawberries and kisses. There’s grief, identity, family, the strangeness of diasporas and an unflinching vocabulary of desire. In short: a heart so earnest you’ll want to love it just for having written itself out.

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and beyond

‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed,’ by Mariana Enríquez

Set against the backdrop of contemporary Argentina, Mariana Enríquez’s unsettling anthology of short stories will enthrall and sometimes horrify you. Each story has a compelling undercurrent tied to far-reaching subjects, such as morality or modern-day femininity. In one story, two teenage girls can’t accept the death of their idol and do some wild things to keep his memory alive. In another, a woman becomes sexually obsessed with heartbeats. The Argentinian author is known for her mastery of horror and for bending the rules into a convoluted, hazy moral landscape. Enríquez’s writing will have you questioning the line between the real and imaginary, and rethinking just how precarious it can be.

‘Whereabouts,’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

Is there anything Jhumpa Lahiri can’t do? Not only did the American author of Indian descent win the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, she went to live in Rome to learn Italian for fun and is now writing in that language. Her latest work is the first author-translated book ever published by Knopf, which credits it with signaling “a bold shift of style and sensibility.” Many of Lahiri’s previous novels and short stories focus on the lives of Indians and Indian Americans, but her new novel centers on an unnamed Roman narrator over the period of a year. “Translation, to me, is metamorphosis,” Lahiri says. “It is a kind of radical re-creation of the work.”

‘Where the Wild Ladies Are,’ by Aoko Matsuda and Polly Barton (Translator)

From emotional ghosts to real ones, in literature, the call of the wild is hard to ignore. Especially if it involves a band of feisty women who are both haunted and haunting. Aoko Matsuda delves into Japan’s tradition of supernatural folklore and reinterprets it with feminist candor. The result? A tapestry of interlinked short stories that deal in humor and wistfulness, glass ceilings and body positivity. Few things are spookier than the patriarchy’s need to strip women of their visibility . . . until they speak up — in this case as their own stereotype of vengeful female spirits. Is it fiction? Is it a metaphor? Decide for yourself in gems such as Smartening Up, The Peony Lanterns and Quite a Catch.

12 Books You Need To Read

Summer is coming to a close in the Northern Hemisphere. But as the evenings draw in and temperatures fall, there’s never been a better time to curl up with a book and enter a world not of your own making. The international literary world has never been as diverse — or downright interesting — as it is today. That’s why we’ve collated for you, dearest OZY reader, some of the best new reads from Argentina to Zimbabwe and many fascinating places in between. Read on because we guarantee you this: There’s no list as interesting as ours.

AMERICAN READS

‘Transcendent Kingdom,’ by Yaa Gyasi

Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi’s debut 2016 novel Homegoing was a rousing success. Her second, Transcendent Kingdom, is equally soul-shattering and provocative. It follows the life of Stanford University neuroscience researcher Gifty, whose family moved from Ghana to Alabama before she was born. Gifty’s story unfolds as she reckons with that history and each family member’s impact on how she understands and relates to the world around her. One of her most formative experiences is her brother’s death from a heroin overdose. In order to understand him, Gifty conducts addiction research on mice. The novel is a nuanced portrayal of Gifty’s struggle with science, reason and religion. In the end, she is forced to contend with the idea that none of those things on their own is sufficient to explain our world.

‘The Other Black Girl,’ by Zakiya Dalila Harris

When 26-year-old Nella Rogers realizes that another Black woman will be working alongside her at Wagner Books in New York City, she is excited and a little nervous. Finally, she isn’t the only Black girl on her office floor. But soon Nella finds herself sliding into a competition she never sought and uncovers the sinister underbelly of the career she’s fought so hard for. The novel is Zakiya Dalia Harris’ first and is based on her own experiences working at a Manhattan publishing house. The book is a thoughtful examination of the lasting impacts of microaggressions and fleeting commitment to diversity made by corporations in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

‘Cold Wind: A Mystery,’ by Paige Shelton

What is it about mystery narratives set in cold places? Place doubles as a character in Paige Shelton’s second book in the Alaska Wild series. Having survived a slippery slope on Thin Ice, protagonist Beth Rivers has been laying low in Benedict, Alaska. Just as she is adapting to her new home and getting back some of that mystery writer mojo, a mudslide unearths chilling small town secrets. One frozen body, two young girls who do not speak and a world of atmospheric intrigue. Reader, remember to brr . . . eathe.

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OUT OF AFRICA

‘At Night All Blood Is Black,’ by David Diop

There are hundreds of novels that deal with the tragedy and violence of World War I. But At Night All Blood is Black by Senegalese-French author David Diop, pulls back the curtain to reveal the forgotten lives of West African soldiers. The novel chronicles the journey of a Senegalese soldier named Alfa Ndiaye into madness while fighting in the trenches for the French. He adopts the ritual of chopping off the hands of enemy soldiers to avenge his friend’s death. It is a mesmerizing ride through the atrocities and lawlessness of war alongside Diop’s protagonist. First published in French in 2018, the English version, translated by Anna Moschovakis, won the 2021 International Booker Prize.

‘The Promise,’ by Damon Galgut

If you’re a fan of South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and his bleak outlook on life, you’re sure to love Damon Galgut. Though love is perhaps not the right word. The writer doesn’t shy from the uncomfortable, and depicts South Africa’s still searing race relations with sharp and unforgiving clarity. His on-topic latest novel, The Promise, is an unflinching look at the country’s current debate over white-owned land and how to right the wrongs of history. The narrative centers on an estranged white farming family and moves from 1980s apartheid into the current democratic era as the country evolves. You’ll find no spoilers here, but the ending of this highly disturbing novel will probably leave you with more questions than answers. The Promise was longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.

‘This Mournable Body,’ by Tsitsi Dangarembga

This novel was shortlisted for last year’s Booker and its Zimbabwean feminist author was awarded the prestigious PEN Pinter Prize as “a voice of hope we all need to hear.” Dangarembga rose to fame with her 1988 novel Nervous Conditions, which focused on a young girl and her anorexic cousin in 1960s Rhodesia. Both chafe against the stifling patriarchal society in which they grow up. In This Mournable Body, Dangarembga, who was arrested last year for protesting against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, revisits her characters in a post-independence Zimbabwe. The PEN committee lauded Dangarembga for her “ability to capture and communicate vital truths even amidst times of upheaval.”

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TO ENGLAND

‘The Wife Upstairs,’ by Rachel Hawkins

There’s a gated community for ultra elites, a young broke girl with a haunted past and a handsome widower who may be battling ghosts of his own. Fans of Jane Eyre — and fence-sitters too — should give this modern, winking ode to the 1847 classic a chance. Sharp, stormy and rife with new-age Gothic romance, The Wife Upstairs is not quite a retelling, though it shows off customary parallels with Charlotte Brontë’s story. Luckily, the plot comes bearing delicious twists and turns that keep you from getting too comfortable. Enter if you fancy the uncanny feeling of losing your way in a maze made to resemble your favorite place. You’ll come away with a quick fix, and maybe even some reimagined power dynamics!

‘Klara and the Sun,’ by Kazuo Ishigaru

This is another on the Booker Prize longlist, but if you’re a fan of Remains of the Day — Ishigaru’s novel set in early 20th-century England focused on the unspoken love between the butler and housekeeper in an English manor — his new book will be quite a departure. The Japanese-born British writer, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2017, turns his attention to artificial intelligence in Klara and the Sun. Here, an android narrator, an “Artificial Friend” for a teenager, observes the humans around her. This novel has more in common with clone romance Never Let Me Go, and the Booker judging panel has called it a “genuinely innocent, ego-less perspective on the strange behavior of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear.”

‘Who’s Loving You: Love Stories by Women of Colour’

Edited by British author Sareeta Domingo, this collection of short stories delivers what it promises: the glorious mess of love as experienced by women of color. As with any such collection, there’s a chance that some narratives will stick with you while others slide away, or even sit uneasily. But between a multicultural mix of emerging voices and literary prize-winners, it’s hard not to marvel at the age-old yet radical attempt to make sense of the plurality of love. If you’re wondering, this book is not all strawberries and kisses. There’s grief, identity, family, the strangeness of diasporas and an unflinching vocabulary of desire. In short: a heart so earnest, you’ll want to love it just for having written itself out.

AND BEYOND

‘The Dangers of Smoking in Bed,’ by Mariana Enríquez

Set against the backdrop of contemporary Argentina, Mariana Enríquez’s unsettling anthology of short stories will enthrall and sometimes horrify you. Each story has a compelling undercurrent tied to far-reaching subjects, such as morality or modern-day femininity. In one story, two teenage girls can’t accept the death of their idol and do some wild things to keep his memory alive. In another, a woman becomes sexually obsessed with heartbeats. The Argentinian author is known for her mastery of horror and for bending the rules into a convoluted, hazy moral landscape. Enríquez’s writing will have you questioning the line between the real and imaginary, and rethinking just how precarious it can be.

‘Whereabouts,’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

Is there anything Jhumpa Lahiri can’t do? Not only did the American author of Indian descent win the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, she went to live in Rome to learn Italian for fun and is now writing in that language. Her latest work is the first author-translated book ever published by Knopf, which credits it with signaling “a bold shift of style and sensibility.” Many of Lahiri’s previous novels and short stories focus on the lives of Indians and Indian Americans, but her new novel centers on an unnamed Roman narrator over the period of a year. “Translation, to me, is metamorphosis,” Lahiri says. “It is a kind of radical re-creation of the work.”

‘Where the Wild Ladies Are,’ by Aoko Matsuda and Polly Barton (Translator)

From emotional ghosts to real ones, in literature, the call of the wild is hard to ignore. Especially if it involves a band of feisty women who are both haunted and haunting. Aoko Matsuda delves into Japan’s tradition of supernatural folklore and reinterprets it with feminist candor. The result? A tapestry of interlinked short stories that deal in humor and wistfulness, glass ceilings and body positivity. Few things are spookier than the patriarchy’s need to strip women of their visibility . . . until they speak up — in this case as their own stereotype of vengeful female spirits. Is it fiction? Is it a metaphor? Decide for yourself in gems such as Smartening Up, The Peony Lanterns and Quite a Catch.

The Loot You Haven’t Heard Of

In the more than four years that I worked as a journalist in Cambodia, I can’t say I covered many happy news stories. So I remember well the ones I did, and the return of the Angkorian-era statues from the Koh Ker temple, looted during the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, was among them. It was a proud moment for the impoverished country, which had retrieved the stolen antiquities after New York-based auction house Sotheby’s lost a lawsuit.

Now, more and more nations that have seen their invaluable artifacts pilfered under colonization or conflict are demanding the items be repatriated, and museums and auction houses in the West are under pressure to comply. But the era of tomb raiders is far from over. Pandemic-related lockdowns and empty heritage sites have proved a boon for traffickers. This Daily Dose dives into ancient mysteries that make Indiana Jones movies seem dull, examines current controversies around repatriations and gives you a peek at the world’s most sought-after plunder.

Stranger Than Fiction

Gilgamesh and the Museum of the Bible

In July, the U.S. returned a mind-boggling 17,000 potentially looted artifacts to Iraq, one of the largest-ever restitutions of cultural heritage. Most of the returned items came from the collection of Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, a financial supporter of evangelical ministries who had acquired them for his Museum of the Bible. But how the treasures got there from the Middle East was far from biblical. The evangelical tycoon’s museum in Washington, D.C., which opened in 2017, was stocked with antiquities looted from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad during the U.S. invasion. The ancient Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, for example, was stolen from Iraq and sold to them by Christie’s — Hobby Lobby is suing the auction house.

Kim Kardashian and the Golden Coffin

The reality TV star and Egyptian antiquities don’t often get mentioned in the same breath, but in 2018 a gold-clad Kardashian was photographed at the Met Gala next to a similarly dazzling Egyptian artifact. The photo provided a lead for a long-running investigation into the whereabouts of the golden coffin of Nedjemankh, a first-century B.C. priest, stolen by tomb raiders during the Egyptian revolution in 2011. The object — and a forged export license — was bought by the Met for $4 million in 2017. Investigators subpoenaed the New York museum and it was handed over to Egyptian officials, all thanks to the viral picture of Kardashian — who was herself named in a civil suit this year as the intended recipient of an illegally imported Roman statue.

The Islamic State and the Antiquarians

The Taliban blew up Afghanistan’s priceless Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. Another militant organization, the Islamic State group, decided to try a different tack with the historical treasures of Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Libya: pawning them for cash. Barcelona antique dealer Jaume Bagot Peix and another Spaniard were arrested in 2018 in what was reportedly the first police operation regarding the financing of terrorism with looted art. Bagot Peix has denied selling treasures pilfered from Libya, but there’s no denying the massive market for IS-pilfered blood antiquities. Five years ago, the FBI discovered a third-century Syrian mosaic of Hercules hidden in the most mundane of places: a Californian garage. Deborah Lehr, chair of the Antiquities Coalition, a D.C.-based organization combating cultural racketeering, tells OZY the U.S. is “arguably the largest unregulated market in the world” for stolen art.

Current Controversies and Recent Repatriations

EGYPT-US-ARCHAEOLOGY

Global Hot Spots

“While newspaper headlines often focus on illicit antiquities looted from the Middle East, the black market in ancient art from Asia is the so-called wild, wild East of the art world,” Lehr tells OZY. Her organization is tracking U.S. investigations of interconnected criminal networks of antiquities dealers Subhash Kapoor and Nancy Wiener, who along with the now-deceased Douglas Latchford, have been accused of looting and trafficking countless treasures “worth hundreds of millions of dollars from Afghanistan to Japan and everywhere in between,” Lehr says. Meanwhile, despite the Islamic State group’s loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, “We are also hearing . . . that other armed groups are copying the ISIS playbook in Libya, Yemen and the Sahel,” she adds.

Indian Inventory

The Kapoor case is a stunning tale of a global multimillion-dollar smuggling ring spanning three decades and multiple continents. The disgraced art dealer, once based in New York, is now awaiting trial in India. In the meantime, collections are returning items associated with him. In July, the National Gallery of Australia announced it was returning $3 million worth of looted antiquities to India. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office also has an extradition request out for the dealer, who it says is responsible for “the illegal looting, exportation and sale of ancient art from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia and other nations” and running a $145 million smuggling operation.

The Guennol Stargazer

But getting institutions to return art objects to their country of origin isn’t easy. Last week, for example, a Manhattan judge rejected a case brought by Turkey seeking to reclaim an Anatolian idol. Known as the Guennol Stargazer, the marble piece had been on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for decades, but Ankara only objected when it was put up for sale by Christie’s four years ago. The Turkish government sued, but the federal judge ruled that although the statue most certainly came from Turkey, there was insufficient evidence it had been excavated after the issuance of a law governing national ownership.

Cambodia Crimes

A son — or in this case, the daughter — is not responsible for the sins of the father. That’s why this year, shortly after the death of her notorious art dealer dad, Douglas Latchford, Nawapan Kriangsak returned his entire $50 million collection of Cambodian artifacts to the Southeast Asian nation. Latchford had 125 works of ancient Khmer art, many allegedly removed from the country’s jungle temples. Kriangsak felt the weight of those allegations and history: Cambodia lost much of its priceless cultural heritage under the ultra-Marxist Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. Latchford was charged with trafficking in New York in 2019 but claimed he was trying to protect the precious pieces from the Khmer Rouge.

Point of No Return?

So, is Latchford’s argument valid? With the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban last month, there’s fear the group could profit from the plunder of the country’s heritage, with credible reports of them having done so in the 1990s. But while Lehr shares those worries, she finds the notion that buyers of looted antiquities are “protecting” them problematic.  Ancient societies, she tells OZY, “are cradles of civilization,” and the only reason their cultural treasures have survived for millennia is that the people have protected them despite the rise and fall of empires. Lehr says it is up to the global community to protect our cultural heritage, wherever it is. Greece, for example, which has long sought the return of the Elgin marbles, was outraged a few years ago when photos showed a leak in the galleries that house them at the British Museum.

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World’s Most Wanted

Yemen: Alabaster Stone Inscription

This third-century B.C. stone tablet is believed to have been stolen from the Awwam Temple in Yemen between 2009 and 2011, before that country’s devastating civil war. The object, also known as the “Sanctuary of the Queen of Sheba,” was last seen at an auction in Paris, where it was snapped up by an unknown buyer. Now, with the Middle Eastern country mired in conflict, an antiquities NGO has determined that more than 1,600 pieces have been looted from Yemen’s museums. Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak has warned that rebels and Islamists are arming themselves through the sale of the country’s treasures, and the U.S. government has officially closed its borders to Yemeni antiquities.

China: Old Summer Palace Zodiac Heads

If you’ve ever been to Beijing, you’ve likely visited the stunning Old Summer Palace. But one thing you wouldn’t have seen at the Qing dynasty ruins — the palace was looted by British and French troops during the Opium Wars and then destroyed by the British — are several statues from a series known as the zodiac heads. While the majority of the animated and lively sculptures of the 12 animals from Chinese astrology have since been recovered and returned to China, the missing few remain a source of anger to Beijing. In 2019, the bronze horse head statue was returned nearly 160 years after it was pilfered, but the whereabouts of the snake, dog, sheep, dragon and rooster remain unknown. Contemporary artist Ai Weiwei even got in on the controversy, recreating the zodiac heads for an exhibition as a critique of Chinese nationalism.

Ethiopia: Kwer’ata Re’esu Icon

Fifteen elephants and 200 mules. That’s how many animals were needed to transport the massive bounty of loot the British pillaged from Ethiopia during a 19th century expedition. The “Kwer’ata Re’esu” painting of Jesus was created in the 16th century and stolen from the mountain fortress of Emperor Tewodros II in Magdala along with other treasures. While the painting was made outside of Ethiopia, possibly by a Flemish or Portuguese artist, it belonged to Ethiopia’s monarchy, and the icon was used to encourage troops from Ethiopia — the only sub-Saharan country never to be colonized — to go to battle. It’s now owned by an anonymous Portuguese collector.

The Americas: Kolomoki Pottery, Río Azul Mask

The Americas aren’t immune to cultural heritage controversies. Ceremonial burial pottery dating to 300-800 C.E. was extracted from the Kolomoki Mounds in Georgia in the 1950s, but 129 of the priceless ceramic artifacts were then stolen from a museum in 1974. Some pieces have been found but most remain missing. Further south, in Guatemala, the hunt is on for a Maya civilization funerary mask depicting the sun god Kinich Ahaw fiercely sticking out his tongue. It’s believed the Río Azul mask was looted in the 1970s and was last seen on display at a Barcelona museum in 1999, but today its precise location is unknown. 

The Alchemists Mixing Art With Science

Think science and art are two divergent disciplines? Not necessarily. There are plenty of polymaths in the world who have taken to combining the two, from Leonardo da Vinci and his 15th-century “ornithopters,” to contemporary Korean American “bacteria” artist Anicka Yi. In our brave new COVID-19 world, both science and art can offer us comfort — the former through the solutions and medical treatments it provides, the latter as a kind of emotional balm, a way of helping us understand the tumult all around.

Graffiti artist Banksy famously depicted a nurse wearing a superhero cape at an English hospital during lockdown in that country in spring 2020. The elusive painter isn’t alone: Many artists across the world have taken inspiration from the pandemic. Meet the people who are as adept in the art of science as they are in the science of art.

Pandemic Art

Street Art. Banksy aside, a plethora of artists used empty city streets as their canvas during the pandemic while art galleries and shows were shuttered. Some used their art as paeans to front-line workers. Others used their art to mock politicians or simply to lighten the general mood. U.K.-based street artist John D’oh used a wall in Bristol to paint an image mocking former U.S. President Donald Trump’s comment about injecting disinfectant to prevent COVID-19, while Australian street artist LUSHSUX depicted Chinese President Xi Jinping in a hazmat suit saying: “Nothing to see. Carry on.” Dominican-based Jesus Cruz Artiles, also known as Eme Freethinker, painted a picture of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings cradling a roll of toilet paper and saying, “My Precious!” In Atlanta, artists including Fabian Williams created huge face masks from white vinyl sheets and used them to cover murals of icons like Martin Luther King Jr. as part of an awareness-raising campaign for the Black community.

Ai Weiwei. Tired of your boring old face masks? Wouldn’t you just love to get your hands on one of these designer items, drawn by the revered Chinese contemporary artist himself? Light blue medical masks quickly became a symbol of the global pandemic, worn on faces worldwide and now commonly found littering the streets, but Ai’s masks are considered treasures, not trash. The project started after the outspoken activist decorated a mask with an ink drawing of a raised middle finger and posted it to his Instagram account. The next thing he knew, people were asking where they could buy them. So Ai started making more, with designs ranging from handcuffs and birds to his famous sunflower seeds, with proceeds from the sales supporting global nonprofits. “An individual wearing a mask makes a gesture; a society wearing masks combats a deadly virus,” Ai explained. 

David Hockney. Here’s one artist who discovered a huge silver lining in the pandemic. The revered British painter hunkered down in a 17th century cottage in Normandy, France, when Europe began to shut down 18 months ago. For her, it kicked off a long period of unparalleled productivity and creativity. While the pandemic has been difficult for many, for 84-year-old Hockney, it may have enabled — and inspired — his latest drawings. And yet, their theme is as far removed from sterile hospitals and vaccine laboratories as you can get. Drawing — quite literally — inspiration from the French Impressionists, the bucolic painted scenes include vibrant images of bright yellow daffodils and abundant apple and quince trees. Hockney’s hundreds of artworks provide a joyful respite from the virus and a reminder of the steadfastness of nature, with one work optimistically entitled Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring.

Artists Who Use Science 

Leonardo da Vinci. This Renaissance genius was at the forefront of both the science and art of his time. The Italian painter may be best known for his enigmatic Mona Lisa, but he was equally interested in medical anatomy, engineering and aviation, and used his deft draftsmanship to explore them all. His drawings include ideas for diving suits, helicopters and parachutes, as well as weapons of war. While many of his ideas never materialized, they showcased da Vinci’s curiosity about the realms of physics and mathematics in addition to art. And he used scientific elements in his paintings too; the principles of linear perspective, ratio and geometry are all evident in his work. Vitruvian Man, a well-known anatomical sketch by da Vinci, examines proportionality, while his pen-and-ink drawings of other body parts were true to life, as he dissected cadavers to learn the secrets of the human body.

Lisa Nilsson. It’s no surprise that this American artist once trained as a medical assistant. The anatomy classes she took are evident in her artwork, much of which involves minutely detailed anatomical cross-sections fashioned entirely out of Japanese mulberry paper and the gilded pages of old books using a technique called quilling. It’s thought that this technique was created by nuns in ancient Egypt and later refined during the Renaissance by monks and nuns seeking to make pictures from the pages of worn-out bibles. Nilsson’s “Tissue Series” uses paper tissue to depict human tissue in its many shades of pink and red, from the brain to the female thorax. She uses images of dissected human body parts in medical texts as inspiration.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. This renowned contemporary Mexican artist, who has had pieces shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and Tate Modern in London, uses science and technology in many of his interactive works. One of his conceptual pieces, entitled Volumetric Solar Equation, uses more than 25,000 LED lights to “simulate the turbulence, flares and spots visible on the surface of the sun.” Border Tuner was an interactive piece that connected people on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border by displaying bridges of light controlled by the participants’ voices. In another installation at the Guggenheim Museum, visitors were encouraged to speak into a computer, which then projected colors across the room that were linked to specific voice traits. Lozano-Hemmer has also used heart rate sensors in his art.

Anicka Yi. This South Korean-born, New York-based artist uses highly unconventional materials and has science to thank for “the mutation” of a lot of her work. In 2015, she collected 100 bacterial sample swabs from female friends and then had a synthetic biologist combine them to use as paint in an effort to answer the question: “What does feminism smell like?” Her work is often ephemeral as well as olfactory, and she’s used human sweat, bacteria and organic decomposition to create her unsettling installations. She’s also fermented kombucha into leather-like material in some of her work and injected snails with the hormone oxytocin.

Science-Focused Artists of the Future

The following are winners of the first-ever Pfizer Design for Science contest. Entrants were asked to represent scientific innovations or the patient experience in artistic design.

Syringes and DNA. In the recent Pfizer Design for Science contest, architecture student Julia Bohlen from Wisconsin used her entry to show how gene therapy can fight diseases. Her Escher-esque digital drawing, rendered in shades of gray, shows how our DNA is akin to a puzzle, and her architecture background also shines through. The work of Vina Domingo, another emerging talent who grew up in the Philippines but now lives in Idaho, borders on surrealism. Domingo’s work involves colored pencil on paper, with her prize-winning entry in Design for Science showing a tree of syringes — indicating how vaccines strengthen our immunity and are a lifesaver for humanity, our collective family tree.

Blood and Bone. New York-based Hallye Webb is the daughter of two doctors, so she has been keen to use her art to contribute to the world of medicine. Her Design for Science prize-winning piece was even more personal because her father had recently undergone a bone marrow transplant. As a result, she focused her illustration on oncology by depicting a person lassoing a white blood cell. Fellow winner Michelle Fox’s entry was a series of mixed media paintings verging on the abstract. This Texas-based artist has science to thank for saving her own eyesight — and essentially her career — and as such has been moved to paint subjects from the world of science.

COVID-19 and Trauma. Yingbo Qiao was a graphic designer based in Beijing before he relocated to San Francisco. For the Design for Science contest, he created a poster meant to help convince people to maintain social distance during the pandemic. It depicts the now instantly recognizable spiked-crown image of the coronavirus as a series of brightly colored optical illusions. Miranda L. Pelligrino’s academic interest is one that will likely be highly sought-after in our current age of anxiety. Pelligrino is conducting research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth into how art-making and trauma impact students and educators alike. As someone who suffers from chronic pain, her entry depicts a body beset by inflammation, and she says patients like her “live hoping science will win.”

Shadow of Terror Looms in Afghanistan

America’s longest war was sparked by a terrorist attack, and it’s now been bookended by another. A suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. service members, two British nationals and nearly 200 Afghans in an attack yesterday at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, just days before America finishes withdrawing its troops from the country on Tuesday. The Islamic State Khorasan (ISK) group, a self-proclaimed branch of the Islamic State militant group, has claimed responsibility. The attack came even as the U.S. and its allies were expediting an already hurried evacuation of their citizens and Afghan partners such as interpreters.

Will the killings change America’s withdrawal calculus? What will it mean for the legacy of President Joe Biden? What about Afghanistan? Today’s Global Dispatch connects the dots to answer these questions and shed light on what could come next — because even though the U.S. military is leaving Afghanistan, Thursday’s events show that the shadow of Afghanistan won’t be leaving America anytime soon.

WHAT HAPPENED

Worst Fears Realized

Wars are complex, and two-decade-long conflicts are particularly knotty. But Biden’s central reason for withdrawing all American troops from Afghanistan has been clear and simple: to avoid further loss of life in that conflict. “How many more American lives is it worth?” he asked as recently as Aug. 16, when faced with criticism over his decision a day after the Taliban had overtaken Kabul. Now he finds himself taking flak again, after Thursday’s deadly terrorist strikes left many in the U.S. angry and eager for retribution.

Carefully Chosen Target

As for the location the attacker struck, Abbey Gate was a logical choice as it is one of the three main entry points to the military side of the airport. That’s where U.S. troops were stationed and where hundreds of Afghans desperate to escape the country have been congregating for weeks. The bomber reportedly walked into the middle of a crowd that included many children before detonating. Dozens of Afghan victims were rushed to local hospitals while a number of injured U.S. personnel were flown to a base in Germany for treatment.

The Hunt Is On

Biden’s initial response to the attack captures the challenge presented by such audacious acts of terrorism: Governments need to show strength without reacting in a way that gives further oxygen to extremists. “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said last night. He also made clear that the U.S. would continue with evacuations until Aug. 31. And even though the president said he wouldn’t extend that deadline to allow for a later withdrawal of troops, he promised that his administration would find other “means” to extract Americans and Afghan partners who remain in Afghanistan beyond that date.

What Is ISK?

It’s the local arm of the Islamic State terrorist group in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it draws its name from the Khorasan region that emcompasses parts of the border region between the two South Asian nations and neighboring Iran. It emerged in 2015, its initial members splintering from the Pakistan branch of the Taliban. It has since become a major worry for coalition forces in Afghanistan. In 2017, the U.S. dropped its biggest non-nuclear bomb — called the “mother of all bombs” — on a suspected ISK hideout in Afghanistan. Despite their similar extremist Islamist ideologies, or perhaps partly because of them, ISK and Taliban are strategic rivals locked in battle for supremacy over the region. But with Thursday’s attack, ISK’s primary message was for the U.S., says Rakesh Sood, a former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan. “They were telling the Americans clearly: Do not even think about staying beyond August 31, no matter how the evacuation stands,” Sood tells OZY.

President Biden Delivers Remarks On Terror Attack At Hamid Karzai International Airport

U.S. President Joe Biden pauses before speaking in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Two explosions outside Kabul’s international airport killed 12 U.S. service members, along with at least 13 Afghans, with dozens more wounded less than a week before U.S. forces are due to depart. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

BIDEN’S BIGGEST TEST

Iraq Déjà Vu

There was a tragic irony to the events leading up to yesterday’s devastating loss of life. The very group responsible for the U.S. military deaths in Kabul grew out of yet another American conflict — the invasion of Iraq — started by President George W. Bush. The U.S. went into Afghanistan in October 2001 to kill Osama Bin Laden and wipe out terrorism in the wake of 9/11. The Afghan occupation achieved neither goal. In Iraq, the 2003 invasion to stop the production of what turned out to be nonexistent weapons of mass destruction inadvertently led to the rise of the Islamic State group, which formed in a power vacuum and gained further ground when former President Barack Obama pulled U.S. troops from the country in 2011. The group then established a foothold in Syria, with militants ranging from places such as Mozambique to the Philippines pledging allegiance. What does this all mean for America going forward? “I think it is at this level where China and Russia will gain far more from what has happened in Afghanistan than, for example, extremist groups,” Jasmine Opperman, a counterterrorism expert based in South Africa, tells OZY.

Honeymoon Over

“You know as well as I do that the former president made a deal with the Taliban,” Biden said, referring to Donald Trump as he addressed the American deaths in Kabul yesterday. But will voters remember, and will they care? Biden’s popularity ratings have plummeted in polls this week, down to 41% overall and with only 26% of Americans approving his handling of the withdrawal. Most critics are focusing their ire on the short timeline of the withdrawal and how it was conducted, with some Republicans calling for the president’s resignation. And there are also questions from his own side of the aisle, with Democrats calling on the administration to do more to help Afghan refugees who worked with U.S. forces.

New Conflict?

But just as critical, Biden has to deliver on his promise of finding and punishing the masterminds of Thursday’s attack. Could that drag America into a fresh war? “No, a couple of missiles could do the job once they’ve pinpointed their targets,” says Sood, the former envoy to Kabul. Yet America’s response to al-Qaida started similarly, with missiles following bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. While there’s very little appetite for war among the American public at the moment, experts worry that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan creates a “permissive” environment for ISK to operate and thrive. Already, U.S. forces are bracing for further attacks from the group in the remaining days that American troops are on Afghan soil. With the Islamic State group losing all its territory in Syria and Iraq, could Afghanistan become its next staging ground for launching strikes against the West?

The World’s Watching

How Biden responds in this moment will also be keenly watched in capitals around the world. Already, the chaotic nature of the exit from Afghanistan has dented America’s image in the eyes of allies and friends, says Sood. “The photo of people falling from the Globemaster plane will likely stick the way the images of the helicopter in Saigon continue to remind us of Vietnam,” he says. Many of Washington’s allies wanted to keep troops in Kabul beyond Aug. 31 until all evacuations could be completed. Biden rejected that proposal and has insisted that the U.S. can evacuate all Americans and Afghan allies, and defeat ISK without needing a military footprint in Afghanistan. Now the onus is on him to prove to America’s friends that he can deliver and that he isn’t just capitulating to threats from the Taliban, and now ISK.

TOPSHOT-AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT

TOPSHOT – Taliban fighters in a vehicle patrol the streets of Kabul on August 23, 2021 as in the capital, the Taliban have enforced some sense of calm in a city long marred by violent crime, with their armed forces patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP) (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

WORRYING FUTURE

Taliban, the Lesser Evil?

America has fought the Taliban for two decades. Now at the Kabul airport, they’re working together, with the Taliban providing security at the outer perimeter. The two sides are bound by a desire to defeat a common enemy in the Islamic State — specifically the Khorasan chapter. But if the Taliban and ISK are both radical Islamist groups that have killed Americans, why is the U.S. cooperating with the former? Because, unlike the Islamic State, the Taliban have never suggested that they hold territorial ambitions beyond Afghanistan’s borders. ISK, in fact, calls the Taliban “filthy nationalists” for that reason. That makes the Taliban more palatable as a strategic partner in the fight against the Islamic State, not just for the U.S. but also for Russia, China and Iran. “They’re not good guys,” Biden said Thursday of the Taliban. “But they have a keen interest.” The problem? The West has a history of forgetting its avowed commitment to human rights and democracy when it suits its strategic interests.

The Left Behind

Though the evacuation process was halted in the aftermath of Thursday’s attack, officials announced its resumption Friday. But the feared presence of suicide bombers in the immediate area has made it almost impossible for at-risk Afghans to get into the airport for fear of exposing troops to further harm. That’s stymied frantic efforts by Western former colleagues contacting anyone in authority, from members of Congress to European diplomats, to try to get Afghans onto evacuation lists or into places like The Baron Hotel, so that they’ll have a fighting chance of securing a place on a cargo jet headed for Qatar, Abu Dhabi or other refugee way stations. With little hope of joining the airlift before Tuesday’s withdrawal deadline, many Afghans are instead fleeing to border crossings with Pakistan.

Next Terrorist Wave?

So what does this mean for the future of ISK and the Islamic State group in general, and for terrorist groups elsewhere in the world? It’s not good news, says Opperman. In the case of Afghanistan, “With this attack, they’ve shown their ability to move into the Kabul area,” she says. Whether they’ll “be able to do more than suicide bombings remains doubtful, but their presence is there.” In terms of Islamist militant groups elsewhere in the world — in Africa, for example — the U.S. withdrawal and the deadly attack that followed will likely prove an inspiration. “They will see the U.S. having lost the war, viewing the U.S. as running away,” she explains.

Meet the Millennials With Money

Boomers like to accuse millennials of splurging so much on avocado toast and almond milk lattes that they’ll never be able to afford to buy a house. All the while, many younger people envy the relative ease with which previous generations could save and enjoy a middle-class lifestyle. For them, financial security has been made even more elusive by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

But that doesn’t mean all 20- and 30-somethings lack savoir faire when it comes to making cold, hard cash. Quite the opposite: There is a growing number of millennial and Gen Z investment gurus with a keen knack for finding new ways to earn a buck. In today’s Daily Dose, we present you with the fierce new femmes of finance, the hottest money influencers on social media and the game-changing investment whizzes emerging from Malaysia to South Africa.

FEMALE FINANCE GURUS

Money & Mimosas

Never mind the money — you had me at mimosas. This millennial-targeted platform caters to independent contractors, creatives and members of the precarious “gig economy.” Set up by entrepreneur Danetha Doe, it offers tips on issues faced by the self-employed workforce, such as running a business remotely, setting up a retirement fund and learning best accounting practices. But perhaps its standout feature is hammering home ⁠— to a cohort not known for planning ⁠— the notion that envisioning the future is key. For San Francisco-based Doe, whose background is Jamaican and Ghanian, that means establishing a long-term financial strategy and sticking to it. It’s advice such as this that’s seen her featured in the Ashton Kutcher-produced web series Going From Broke and in a host of national publications. COVID-19 has hit millennial wallets especially hard. These are exactly the people Doe is trying to help.

Hand It Over

Known online as “Investing Latina,” New York-based finance expert Jully-Alma Taveras knows how to get women of color paid. There’s nothing unusual about her using Instagram to post advice on setting up an emergency fund and negotiating for higher pay. But Taveras’ words of wisdom — invest in the companies you buy from and be consistent in contributing to your nest egg, to name two — have seen her featured on CNBC and in TIME magazine. Taveras, a native of the Dominican Republic, has also led workshops at Google, Nasdaq and the White House’s National Economic Council, among other places. Establishing an online community of 40,000 people through Investing Latina has been one of her smartest moves. Taveras’ goal, she says, is to make women more financially savvy: “Because women have entered the workforce and are making more money than ever before, becoming financially powerful through investing is the next step.”

Fight the Patriarchy

Retire young with $6 million in your pocket? Tell us more. Tori Dunlap, 26, has become a sensation online by doubling down on the idea that financial education not only can be a form of protest but should be. “The patriarchy has told us that money is taboo, but that’s a narrative perpetuated by racist, sexist, ableist systems that profit off of inaction,” she tells Yahoo! News. And her 1.7 million followers on TikTok seem to agree. Dunlap shows them how to put themselves first when it comes to saving and paying off debts. Some claim to have paid off tens of thousands of dollars of debt after following her financial advice. So how did she get started? First, her parents imbued in her a strong sense of financial responsibility as a child. She then decided to save $100,000 before the age of 25 and set up a company, Her First 100K, to advise women how to negotiate for better pay. Imagine what she’ll accomplish by age 30.

neew money 1

THE MONEY MEN

Hip-Hop Stock Doc

Texas-based Eric Patrick, the founder of Black Market Exchange, has been dubbed the hip-hop stock doc. Why? Because his atypical method for explaining the world of finance involves music. “Whether I explain that choosing a broker is like choosing a music streaming service, or elaborate on how a company’s IPO is like Lil Wayne dropping another Dedication or No Ceilings mixtape,” Patrick tells Black Enterprise, “your boy has got you covered so you can understand the stock market and start investing with confidence.” Another Black finance guru to watch is Anthony Copeman, a certified financial education instructor who founded the site Financial Lituation and created an animated cartoon series, $hares, to help millennials better understand money. Copeman sees the Black dollar as “The opportunity to break generational curses and build generational wealth.”

Apple Crider

Still in his early 20s, this self-described “personal finance nerd” from Minneapolis is firmly a Gen Z money guru. Crider’s first ⁠— “somewhat illegal” ⁠— foray into the world of money happened in high school when he started a flipping business. Crider’s podcast, Young Smart Money, and YouTube channel, where he mixes clips from the TV show South Park with tips about how to improve your credit score, have received over a million views and listens. He’s also a co-founder of Investing Simple, a platform that offers advice on playing the stock market and trading cryptocurrency. With an easygoing nature, his videos and podcasts succeed in turning difficult-to-understand concepts into accessible conversations aimed at college students. Don’t miss Crider’s fascinating YouTube video titled “How I Flew to Thailand for $20.”

DeepF—ingValue

You might not have heard of the username, but you’ll certainly have heard about the chaos he caused. Keith Gill, 35, was the trader on the WallStreetBets forum who basically launched the GameStop phenomenon in January when he took to Reddit and started a market rally that drew the attention of hedge funds and even Congress. The long-haired dad from Massachusetts thought the stock was undervalued and talked up the video game company on social media, where he goes by “Roaring Kitty” and “DeepF—ingValue,” and an army of day traders followed his lead. Gill says he made millions of dollars from GameStop shares and options. He became a hero of sorts to amateur traders, but after the frenzy, which saw GameStop’s share price rocket by as much as 1,700%, the trading app Robinhood controversially barred trading of the company.

foreign_investment

FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Just Samke

It hasn’t been easy for South African entrepreneur Samke Mhlongo to get to where she is today. Raised by her grandmother, who made the financial decisions at home, and later burned by a costly divorce, she learned to put money front and center in her life. But out of the difficulties came opportunity. Today, not only is she CEO of a personal wealth management consultancy, The Next Chapter Wealth Partners, she’s also a magazine columnist for Bona and a resident finance expert on one of the country’s leading talk radio stations, 702. The Johannesburg-based former private banker started early, doing research as part of her MBA program on the factors contributing to South African women’s over-indebtedness. “My definition of financial independence is simple: guaranteed freedom of choice,” Mhlongo says. “I believe the African millennial can reach this point by guaranteeing a steady flow of income that can withstand changing political regimes [and] economic fluctuations.”

No Money Lah

Forget song and dance routines and cute animals; TikTok videos attached to the hashtag #investing have garnered over a billion views. A recent study by brokerage firm Tiger Brokers, which caters largely to clients in Asia, found that 35% of Gen Zers worldwide are now investing in exchange traded funds (ETFs) using apps like Robinhood. In Malaysia, 26-year-old Yi Xuan, who runs a blog called No Money Lah (lah is a common Chinese exclamation), has gained thousands of followers on TikTok. What makes him viral? Sharing his wealth of knowledge on Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), companies that own and operate income-producing properties. “There is no holy grail to quick wealth in investing or trading,” Chin writes. Instead, he urges followers of his blog to spend time learning about investing and trading to build up their skills.

Virtual Bacon

Dennis Liu spent half his life in China before moving to Canada and now goes by the username “VirtualBacon” on TikTok. He posts videos mainly about the cryptocurrency market and non-fungible tokens and boasts about a quarter of a million followers. What was once a hobby has led Liu to found BaconDAO, a company that connects blockchain startups with smart money and advises crypto-investors and NFT artists. His advice for money-hungry millennials? For now, watch out for a Bitcoin short squeeze and “market whales” in search of a quick buck by trying to manipulate cryptocurrency values. Why listen to him? Liu started off his crypto career buying Dogecoin as a joke long before Elon Musk made it a household name.

The Problem With Colorblind Clinical Trials

Professor Kelly Chibale has an easygoing manner and a big laugh that belies the fact that he’s one of Africa’s preeminent scientists, and among the world’s top Black leaders in biotech. Speaking over Zoom from Cape Town, South Africa, he’s quick to tease me that his home country, Zambia, is superior to mine, neighboring Zimbabwe. But Chibale’s start in life was anything but easy and is in fact perfectly captured by the name of the impoverished township he grew up in: Kabulanda, which literally translates as “sadness” in a local language.

Living with his entire family in a one-room home with no running water or electricity as a child, the young Chibale studied at night by the light of a kerosene lamp and against all odds made it into Cambridge, where he studied chemistry.

An illustrious career followed, with Chibale living in both the U.K. and U.S. doing academic fellowships and lecturing, but he always felt a pull to return to the continent of his birth. Then, 11 years ago, Chibale set up H3D, the only integrated drug research and development platform in Africa, at the University of Cape Town, where he’s made it his mission to develop drugs that improve treatment outcomes for Black patients, who, he says, are woefully underrepresented in clinical trials.

I spoke to Chibale about his work and learned why he’s passionate about combating what he calls “Afro-pessimism.” The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Why do you think it’s important that more drug trials enroll African patients?

Africa makes up about 15 to 20% of the world’s population. When it comes to clinical trials, less than 2% actually happen on the continent. This is the implication: The volunteers in clinical trials … are largely from the global north, and because the majority of the clinical trials happen outside of Africa, irrespective of the disease area, it means that the dosages and the dosing regimens, whether it’s a drug or a therapeutic or a vaccine … are then brought into Africa. What it then means is the African perspective in those clinical trials is not considered … our genetics. Africa as a continent is the most genetically diverse on planet Earth. African governments do not demand local clinical trial data. In other countries, like China or Japan, before [companies] can license a product, [those governments] will demand that you generate data, you do the clinical trial on Japanese people so you can understand what the data looks like on Japanese people. In Africa, governments don’t demand that. We’re desperate because we don’t innovate ourselves, so we’re at the mercy of those who innovate. COVID-19 has brought this to the fore.

What does the lack of data involving Africans and people of African descent mean for health care outcomes?

When you do a clinical trial, there are three categories you think about: normal and fast metabolizers and then slow metabolizers. One of these ARV drugs [antiretrovirals used to treat HIV/AIDS] is called Efavirenz. If you do a clinical trial on Caucasians, which is what happened, you identify normal metabolizers, but in people of African descent, including African Americans, you find that they are slow metabolizers because of genetic polymorphism. Guess what? If you give this to the slow metabolizers, it will be toxic, because it’s an overdose. So people can die from [drug] toxicity and not the HIV virus. If you do a clinical trial on Africans you can see this. … The reason for the health inequities is because we don’t have enough clinical trials; we need to test across Africa. There’s a direct correlation between the genetics of the population, the social or physical environment in which they live and treatment outcome.

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Kelly Chibale

Source UCT Research

What are some of the barriers to drug and health care innovation in Africa?

Disinformation. People think clinical trials want to eliminate Black people … colonialism, apartheid, in the U.S. there was the Tuskegee incident — so people have a basis for fear.

[One of the reasons for establishing H3D] is what I call confronting “Afro-pessimism.” That term has got two sides to it. One side to Afro-pessimism is how — rightly or wrongly — people outside of the continent view Africa: corruption, civil wars. The second side of Afro-pessimism is that African people ourselves don’t think we can do something like this unless it first comes from Silicon Valley, then it’s good; if it comes from Zimbabwe, then you’ve got to be suspicious. African people need to have confidence that you can do something world-class.

You’re working on something you call “the Liver Project.” What is that about?

There’s a culture of organ donation in the Western world. These liver fractions that we use in studies come from Caucasians, because we buy them from companies in America, because that’s where the donors are. That means there are no African livers. Enzymes in the liver, some of them are different in people of African descent, including African Americans. [With this project] we want to create a repository of well-characterized human liver tissues derived from diverse African populations. Then the next stage is to take any drug, whether it’s already used in Africa or not, generate data to see how this drug is metabolized and how long it survives when it’s in the African liver. When we determine the rate of metabolism and compare with what is known, we can begin to see differences, and then we use that data to build mathematical models which help us to predict what the right dose will be in Africans. 

What else are you working on?

Four infectious diseases: malaria, TB, antibiotic-resistant microbes and COVID-19. We are using artificial intelligence to fast-track the identification of COVID-19 therapeutics.

How did your difficult background drive you to excel?

That disadvantage to me was an advantage. You know why? Because then I have a drive to say these conditions are unacceptable. The point is, I moved from here and I went to Cambridge. I can inspire people that it’s possible [to grow up poor and succeed]; you don’t have to feel condemned. We need more role models whether it’s in politics or leadership. So when a Black kid from a township sees me, knowing that I also came from a township, there’s hope that if that can happen for me, it can happen for them as well.

Africa is ripe and ready for innovation. I’ll tell you why. This is untapped … Africa is the next growth market for the pharmaceutical industry, this is not in dispute. Secondly, Africa genetically is the most diverse continent. Thirdly, Africa is a continent of a billion people. This is the place to make incredible discoveries.

5 Cities: Will Their Green Gamble Pay Off?

Have you noticed a trend this summer? No, not that face masks in many countries are making a comeback; we’re talking about the fires, devastating floods and heat waves of almost biblical proportions that have hit vast swathes of our world, from Canada to China to Siberia to Germany. There may still be a raging health pandemic, but we need to also pay attention to another deadly, global plague that’s getting worse, not better: climate change. 

In today’s Daily Dose, we detail how five diverse cities (including one that’s yet to be built) are using innovative ideas to carve paths — not always successfully, mind you — in the pursuit of environmental sustainability. Read on to learn more!

anchorage, alaska

Cold No More. If you’ve ever watched National Geographic’s Life Below Zero, in which hardy men and women tough it out in the icy wilds of the Alaskan frontier, you’ll be surprised to hear the region is under severe threat from a warming climate. In fact, the state has often been referred to as “ground zero” for climate change. Ever hotter temperatures are causing age-old glaciers to recede, sea ice to melt and more frequent, larger wildfires to burn across expanses of tundra. Temperatures in the state are increasing almost twice as fast as in the lower 48. The city of Anchorage, population 283,000, is on the front line, experiencing temperatures 1.5 degrees higher than normal during some winter months. 

Action Stations. What are Alaskans doing about it? After Republican governor Mike Dunleavy came to office in 2018, he put his predecessor’s climate action plan on ice, so to speak. So the people of Anchorage did as Alaskans of yore have done and struck out on their own. Their climate change plan sets an 80% emissions reduction goal for 2050, outlines a shift to electric vehicles and renewable energy and encourages residents to form community gardens to improve food security. Now Alaskans also hope President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan will provide new ways of funding efforts to combat climate change and pursuing forward-looking clean energy projects.  

Results Already. Since the city’s municipal authority, the Anchorage Assembly, voted in its ambitious climate action agenda two years ago, has any progress been made? Yes, according to their most recent annual report. “We expanded our renewable energy generation, won grants for innovative clean energy projects [and] expanded opportunities for residents to engage in climate action,” the report reads. In December, before the U.S. rejoined in the Paris climate agreement, Anchorage signed the “We Are Still In” declaration, confirming their commitment to the goals of the Paris accord. In a short time, Anchorage has upgraded over 16,000 street lamps to LEDs, and long-term loans are now available to businesses seeking to establish clean energy projects. The city also received a grant to fund its first electric garbage trucks and purchased hybrid-electric police vehicles.

copenhagen, denmark

Carbon-Free Philosophy. As cities grow both in number of residents and by physical size, they face a conundrum in terms of how to control and reduce their carbon footprint. Copenhagen finds itself way ahead and is on track to become the world’s first carbon-free city. Since committing to the idea more than a decade ago, residents have rallied to the cause. The city logs a carbon output of 2 million tons, which is modest compared to other (albeit larger) cities like Seoul, which in 2018 was ranked the worst carbon emission offender. But why should cities bother? Among the principles agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries, is a pledge to reduce all signatories’ carbon outputs.

Bike Is Best. A chief avenue to carbon neutrality is reducing the number of vehicles on the streets, and that’s where Copenhagen is ahead of the game. As a city of biking lanes, bike jams and bike-only bridges, you’re more likely to be hit by a bike than by a car, but how did the city manage this? It invested 1 billion krone ($113 million) building out infrastructure for bikers and pedestrians, effectively relegating the vehicle to third place. To be sure, other significant emissions culprits remain, but doing what they can to promote two-wheel transport helps shift residents’ attitudes too. 


Show Me the Numbers. As of 2019, 62% of Copenhagen residents brave the chill to commute on their bikes, up 36% from 2012. In 2016, the number of bikes outnumbered cars on the city’s roads for the first time. The most recent figure is that Danes own 6.6 times more bikes than cars. While bikes are good for the environment, they are also good for the health of the people riding them. The Danish finance ministry estimates that each time someone spends 1 kilometer (.6 of a mile) in the saddle, the city makes 4.80 krone ($0.77). How? Cyclists take less sick leave (as a nation, Denmark’s bike-first posture helps it save an estimated €40 million or $6.4 million annually on health care costs. What’s more, cyclists spend more in the shops than motorists. Cities such as New York, Lisbon and Oslo are all following Copenhagen’s lead.

ulaanbaatar, mongolia

City skyline by the snow mountains

A Smokey Situation. With an estimated 70% of Mongolia’s grazing lands impacted by desertification that took hold as far back as the 1950s, by 2019, 600,000 nomadic people and herders were forced to leave the country’s vast steppe and pitch their tents around Ulaanbaatar, the capital. The tents, known as gers, and other forms of shelter have been heated by coal-burning stoves, wreaking havoc on the city’s air quality. As a result, Ulaanbaatar struggles with some of the most polluted air on earth. In 2018, levels of dangerous particulates reached 133 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit. In 2019, 80% of the city’s air pollution resulted from coal-burning in the settlements on the city’s outskirts, which housed 60% of the city’s residents. 

Putting Out Fires. On May 15, 2019, Mongolia banned the use of raw coal, the predominant fuel source used by low-income families to keep warm during the winter and the culprit of Ulaanbaatar’s notoriously awful air quality. They also introduced refined coal briquettes to the market, subsidizing them so the briquettes would be close to the price of raw coal. The Asian Development Bank approved a $160 million program to help improve air quality in the embattled city by working with the existing government program, which began in 2017 and extends through 2025, providing supplemental funding and other aid. Other programs like Sub Center are working to improve city infrastructure and move families out of gers and into housing developments that would further reduce air pollution. 
Success, Until COVID. While banning raw coal was a positive step, and air quality measured in October 2019 registered an improvement, the ban failed to address the reason families were turning to raw coal in the first place. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and triggered a countrywide economic shutdown, many in Ulaanbaatar couldn’t afford the refined briquettes and turned instead to cheap flammable materials like trash or raw coal found on the sly. Despite the ban on using raw coal, by October 2020 Ulaanbaatar’s air quality still ranked as the worst in the world. Read more on OZY.

istanbul, turkey

Food Shortage. Food insecurity is Istanbul’s most pressing climate-change-related threat, according to scientist Levent Kurnaz. Drought and water shortages are threatening agricultural producers across Turkey, who supply Istanbul with produce, and stressing the entire food system from the top down. Moreover, water shortages and extreme weather events exacerbated by global warming like severe droughts also cause the cost of food to skyrocket, which detrimentally impacts residents of Istanbul who have limited access to goods or are unable to afford the sky-high prices. In April, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even launched an aid campaign that delivered potatoes and onions to needy families to address the growing crisis. 

Ancient Gardens. While modernizing agriculture is one proposed solution to fixing food insecurity in the city, some of Istanbul’s most enterprising farmers have been leaning on one another. Instead of relying on stores or food trucked hundreds of miles from Anatolia, they have been growing their own food right in the city center, alongside and among the ancient city’s Byzantine-era walls. Surrounded by walls more than 1,600 years old, are some of the oldest urban gardens in the world. The narrow green areas between the high walls are the perfect setting for small farmers who tend the Yedikule market gardens. With the Yedikule Fortress as a backdrop, some 200 market gardeners are repurposing public spaces to grow food that feeds their communities and families while earning them money.
The Struggle Goes On. Same day harvesting means the produce they grow is fresher and cheaper than what’s available in supermarkets or on store shelves, something that has turned the farmers into a community staple. The gardens also provide income for the farmers, while utilizing age-old infrastructure and providing a link to an ancient way of life. But their way of life has been threatened as Turkey pushes to modernize its largest city. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality owns the mile-long stretch of green space; the farmers in turn pay a fee to use the land. But while the municipality can give, it also has the power to take away. In January 2016, authorities declared that farming would no longer be permitted along the walls, and within weeks had set about knocking down several sheds used by the farmers. Concerned citizens and environmentalists, however, quickly stepped in (Istanbul is home to a robust green movement). People rallied to the farmers’ cause and forced the municipality to formalize the arrangements with a number of those farming the area.

Akon-city-2-N

akon city, senegal

Poverty and Unemployment. The closest hospital to the impoverished coastal town of Mbodiène is an hour away in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. There are no paved roads in the town. The area is mainly populated with fishermen and farmers, and many young people are unemployed. So it’s hard to imagine Mbodiène being transformed into an environmentally friendly, solar-powered, futuristic “smart city” of glass and chrome skyscrapers.

Superstar Solution. But that’s the wildly ambitious, eponymous brainchild of a Senagalese American R&B superstar. Born in the U.S. but with family roots in Senegal, Akon wants to give back to his homeland and says he plans to do so in the greenest way possible. His Akon City, he says, will not only benefit the Sengalese but also be a haven for a Black American diaspora who face racism in the U.S. Residents of the city will use a crypto-currency dubbed “Akoin.” The singer has selected Mbodiène as the location for his $6 billion project, which is expected to take years to build, and Akon City will be certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The singer-turned-philanthropist’s company, Akon Lighting Africa, already provides electricity to rural villages in 14 countries.

Results Are Out. The jury’s still out on the project, which many are comparing to the fictional land of Wakanda in the movie Black Panther. Skeptics note that despite promises to create jobs, Akon City is being designed by an Abu Dhabi-based architect and is due to be built by a U.S. developer. Construction is slated to start this year, and another African nation, Uganda, has already asked the “Smack That” singer to build a similar city there.

The Future: It’s Electrifying!

Load shedding. That’s what large parts of the world call scheduled electricity cuts. In countries like South Africa it’s so routine, that the state power utility has launched an app to tell you when and for how long to expect to be in the dark — so you know whether to cook dinner early! South Africa, like much of the wider world, looks set to benefit from the global movement away from fossil fuels to clean sources of electrification.

In today’s Sunday Magazine, you’ll learn about one organization that’s doing exactly that. We also look at how solar is taking the rest of the world by storm, from the rise of electric cars in the U.S., to e-rickshaws in Bangladesh, to floating solar panel farms in Singapore and Japan’s ambitious plan to install solar panels on the roof of every home. This is certainly solar electricity’s moment in the sun.

a new solar system

Singapore Shine

Earlier this month, the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore unveiled one of the world’s largest floating solar farms: 122,000 panels spanning an area the size of 45 soccer fields. The game-changing, government-run project could reduce annual carbon emissions by about 32 kilotons while quadrupling solar energy production by 2025. The project will produce enough power to run Singapore’s five water treatment plants. Pivoting from its oil-refining past, with Royal Dutch Shell recently halving capacity there, Singapore is looking to a greener future by positioning itself as a regional hub for carbon trading and sustainable development services.

Australia’s ‘Sun Tax’

It’s pretty bright Down Under and almost 3 million (out of 8.3 million) Australian households now boast solar panels, a number that’s expected to double over the next decade. By 2025, the new head of the Australian Energy Market Operator wants the electricity grids to be able to run on 100% renewable energy. But now some Australians say they’re being punished for doing good. Homes with solar panels whose owners export excess electricity onto the public grid could be taxed in an attempt to prevent electricity “traffic jams.” Authorities say it’s a fair move, but some environmentalists argue homeowners should be rewarded, not penalized, for the clean energy they provide.

South Africa’s Solar Shacks

In South Africa, huge numbers of people who live in informal settlements — shacks made from cardboard and tin and erected on any available land — are still living in the dark. One project, Energy 4 Wellbeing, is turning on the lights in the Qandu-Qandu informal settlement in Cape Town by providing solar minigrids. “There’s no running water, no electricity and it’s on a wetland. Most people are unemployed . . . it is dirt-poor,” Jiska de Groot, a clean energy expert at the University of Cape Town, tells OZY. De Groot’s team is now building solar towers and connecting them to the shacks. With three towers built so far, residents have lighting at night and can charge their phones, although refrigeration, which requires more energy, is still a problem. Having won last year’s Newton Prize for her work on urban energy transformations, de Groot and colleagues are now working on a new project on solar-powered fridges. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, she says, especially because solar energy is safe. Previously, some shacks were illegally connected to the electricity grid, leading to fires and electrocutions.

Land of the Rising Sun

Japan already leads the world in solar capacity per square meter. Now, in order to meet its ambitious 2030 emissions target (reducing its 2013 rate of carbon output by 46%), the roof of every building could be fitted with solar panels. The country, which is about the size of California, plans to have 108 gigawatts of solar capacity online within a decade. How? Half of all federal government and municipal buildings will be fitted with solar panels, while many office buildings and most farms will be required to have solar capacity. But that’s not all: The nation’s trade ministry also says every house and apartment built after 2040 must have at least one solar panel, with countries such as South Korea set to do similarly.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Even as manufacturing in this city and across the Rust Belt collapsed over the past several decades, the U.S. found itself the largest importer of lithium-ion batteries, the power source for electric vehicles. President Joe Biden has set the target of achieving a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035, but doing so would require a solar energy workforce four times its current size — some 231,000 people. If Biden’s American Jobs Plan is passed, it could create a million jobs in renewable energies. The U.S. president has also proposed investing $174 billion to take on China in the electric vehicle (EV) market. That investment would help U.S.-based auto manufacturers to produce the vehicles, establish tax incentives for car buyers and build a national network of EV chargers. The plan also proposes electrifying 20% of school buses and the federal fleet, including U.S. Postal Service vehicles.

recharge your batteries

Costly Charge

While lithium-ion technology is a step forward compared to the lead-acid batteries of the past, complaints have persisted around the batteries’ durability, transportation difficulties and prohibitive cost. Although prices have fallen by 98% over the past three decades, the batteries are still a major factor contributing to higher prices of EVs. Why? The cathodes in lithium-ion batteries require metals such as nickel, lithium, cobalt and manganese to store maximum amounts of energy. Not only are these metals expensive to mine, they are environmentally costly and ethically questionable. Congolese cobalt mines linked to some EV companies have been exposed for using child labor.

Green and Clean

New developments in the world of lithium mining aim to solve some of these issues. Currently, lithium is extracted largely through hard rock mining and from underground reservoirs, processes that can result in serious negative environmental impacts such as contaminated waterways and soil. But that could change very soon. Recently in Germany, California and England, high-grade lithium deposits have been found in geothermal waters. Extracting lithium from these waters is projected to use less water and land and emit less carbon. Could green lithium be the future of battery tech?

Energizing Future

Solid-state lithium batteries could become an important, nay revolutionary, successor to the liquid-based lithium equivalents used to power vehicles today. Rather than depending on the latter’s toxic, often highly flammable liquid electrolyte, solid-state batteries employ a solid electrolyte, which eliminates the need for a cooling element. It also optimizes energy-storing capabilities and battery life. These futuristic batteries could potentially bring down manufacturing costs, making electric vehicles cheaper for customers. Several manufacturers are chasing this holy grail of battery tech — researchers at Cuberg in Silicon Valley, Saft R&D and Harvard University are all working on designing and developing solid-state batteries.

China Concerns

So who’s dominating the battery industry? China makes the most lithium-ion batteries in the world, with 93 factories compared to four in the U.S. China also manufactures the most solar panels, contributing 80% of the global supply in 2019. Furthermore, the country has one of the largest solar farms in the world, located in Qinghai province. “But buying Chinese solar panels to reduce emissions is like using gas to put out a fire,” writes Henry Wu, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security think tank. Why? Because to make the raw materials needed to produce the panels, China uses coal-powered electricity. But that’s not even the biggest problem — there are human rights issues too. Last month, the U.S. blocked some Chinese manufacturers of the raw material polysilicon, used in building solar panels, due to allegations the companies were using forced labor. Wu suggests the U.S. should look at changing its supply chains to European producers to avoid reliance on China and to expand its domestic supply of renewables.

mustang sally goes electric

No Greased Lightning!

Now, as concerns over fossil fuel use and climate change take center stage globally, car manufacturers have decided that electric vehicles are the future. Classic American motor brand Ford, for instance, plans to roll out the F-150 Lightning pickup truck next year. And ol’ Mustang Sally’s gone electric too: Ford’s Mustang Mach-E was named this year’s North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, bringing its iconic design into the carbon-free age. It can be charged super fast and has an extended range battery so you can go the extra mile.

A Lightbulb Moment

The idea of electric vehicles has been around for some time. The invention of the alternating current motor in the late 19th century even saw some claim to have conceived of a car that ran on “cosmic rays” — though that story is disputed. The real game-changer in making mass-manufactured electric vehicles a reality is the lithium-ion battery. Without them, we wouldn’t even have modern devices such as smartphones. The battery, invented by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Stanley Whittingham in the 1970s, has decades later proved revolutionary for the electric vehicle world: It boasts a greater energy output and weighs less than its lead-acid counterpart. Since the 1970s, Whittingham’s invention has been refined by numerous other scientists who have made versions of the battery that are safer and more practical.

E-rickshaws

If you’ve ever visited Southeast Asian capitals such as Bangkok or Jakarta, you’ll have been struck — though hopefully only figuratively — by the huge number of tuk-tuks, motorbikes and rickshaws plowing through the streets. As ever more people in the region move to urban areas and a growing middle class enjoys greater purchasing power for privately owned vehicles, governments are finding that they need to reimagine urban transport systems in order to meet emissions targets. Thailand is one country looking to position itself as an electric vehicle hub, with electric ferries recently launched on Bangkok’s aquatic thoroughfare, the Chao Phraya River. Meanwhile, a team of designers and experts from the Asian Development Bank have helped roll out e-rickshaws, or pedicabs, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in a bid to establish a sustainable source of transport.

BuddhaPedalPower_inforce copyj

Formula E Racing

One of the biggest gripes with electric motors centered for years on power. No longer: Though the Formula E motorsport was seen as counterintuitive and even a lesser form of entertainment by petrolheads when it first held races in 2014, as the electric car market revs up, it’s only natural that the racing world has started to follow suit. Technological advances mean batteries can power cars for longer race periods, which in turn leads to a more thrilling sporting spectacle. Formula 1, the marquee international motorsports competition, has itself put forward an ambitious plan to become more sustainable via a net-zero racing emissions impact by 2030.

what’s next for charger installations?

From the Sun’s Rays to Your Car Engine

Still, a battery is a battery, meaning someday, whether in your neighborhood or out on the open road, it will run out and need to be recharged. But here’s a cool, clean solution: Solar power could become the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to charge an electric vehicle, even at home. While you’ll need to add extra solar panels to your residential system (experts estimate on average eight to 14 solar panels are needed to power an EV), the cost benefit of charging from home far outweighs the initial outlay. Alternatively, using electricity from the grid to charge your EV can be twice as expensive as going the solar route. Not to mention, it’s worse for the environment.

Kansai Electric's Mega Solar Power Station Tour

From the Sun’s Rays to Your Car Engine

Still, a battery is a battery, meaning someday, whether in your neighborhood or out on the open road, it will run out and need to be recharged. But here’s a cool, clean solution: Solar power could become the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to charge an electric vehicle, even at home. While you’ll need to add extra solar panels to your residential system (experts estimate on average eight to 14 solar panels are needed to power an EV), the convenience of charging from home could eventually outweigh the initial outlay. Using electricity from the grid to charge your EV, over time, can be more expensive than going the solar route. Not to mention, it’s worse for the environment.

On the Road

EVs may be the future of ground transportation, but for people living in rural areas — as one in five Americans do — the choice isn’t yet so clear-cut. For the most part, charging stations are concentrated in urban areas and along interstate routes, and while today there are more than 100,000 across the country, six years ago there were just 16,000. Huge changes, however, are in the works: President Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes building a nationwide network of EV charging stations that will number at least 500,000 by 2030.

Soaring Demand

But will that suffice? California Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. As a result, the California Energy Commission reports the Golden State will need 1.2 million EV charging stations by 2030 to support the expected surge in electric car ownership. And California isn’t the only one set to implement major change. Electric automaker Rivian is planning to install chargers in all 56 of Tennessee’s state parks and in rural areas of Colorado, while other manufacturers are set to open charging stations to electric vehicles of all stripes.

Cry, the Beloved Country: A Letter From South Africa

It’s the worst violence South Africa has seen since liberation hero Nelson Mandela walked free from prison and laid the foundations for the “Rainbow Nation” three decades ago.

More than 70 people are dead, shopping malls have been burned to the ground, cargo trucks torched, highways blocked, and there have been running street battles and stampedes in which fleeing looters were crushed to death. Banks’ ATMs have been blown up and essential services like health clinics ransacked, while more than 1,000 people have been arrested. Google Maps has introduced a riot tracker so people can avoid unrest. Among the extraordinary scenes, as seen below, a baby was thrown to safety from a building looters had set on fire.

The country, already struggling amid a COVID-19 surge, is now teetering on the brink, forcing President Cyril Ramaphosa to send the army into the streets and prompting calls for calm from the United Nations.

Screenshot 2021-07-14 at 11.49.19 AM

As I drove today through Alexandra, an affected Johannesburg township, passing row after row of shacks, makeshift hair salons, shuttered taverns, police vehicles and streets strewn with rocks from the unrest, I hoped what I was witnessing would be just a blip in South Africa’s progress.

So what happened to this G-20 nation that is Africa’s most industrialized economy with one of the world’s most progressive constitutions?

Democracy happened. Last week, former President Jacob Zuma, a populist who’s often been compared to former U.S. President Donald Trump, was sent to jail.

It was a pivotal moment on a continent, and in the broader world, where the powerful seldom end up behind bars for their crimes.

Zuma, a former freedom fighter from Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) party, was sentenced to 15 months for contempt of court after he failed to appear at a corruption inquiry looking into graft and influence peddling during his nine years in power.

Despite the scandals, the 79-year-old has a stranglehold over an important faction of the ANC and is loved by many for his singing, dancing and contagious laugh — his second name, Gedleyihlekisa, translates to “the one who laughs while grinding his enemies.”

But last week, South Africa’s judiciary had the last laugh and won praise for its fierce independence when it sentenced one of the country’s most powerful men to prison.

Aside from the contempt of court ruling, Zuma — who previously was acquitted of rape charges — faces over 700 counts of corruption in a separate case.

The former goatherd with little formal education rose through the ranks of the ANC when it was a banned organization under the racist apartheid regime. He was imprisoned with Mandela on the notorious Robben Island for 10 years, so in many ways, I find it tragic that he is returning to a cell, not as the hero who was once on the right side of history, but as an old man in disgrace.

But it is also necessary. When Zuma was finally forced to resign in 2018, his successor, Ramaphosa, vowed to end the corruption that has hampered the country’s growth and left millions of South Africans in poverty.

The court’s decision is a declaration that no one is above the law, leaving Zuma’s allies to tremble in their Johannesburg mansions wondering if they are next.

In fact, some are now suggesting that former spies and government officials loyal to Zuma might be perpetuating what is essentially state sabotage in an attempt to bring Ramaphosa’s government to its knees. What kind of protesters, after seizing food and other goods, target a water treatment facility, for example, or attack media offices?

“You can see the modus operandi [is] very sophisticated. This campaign is not sporadic, it is not spontaneous, there is somebody behind who is driving this operation,” State Security Deputy Minister Zizi Kodwa said today. It’s a view that was echoed by Thuli Madonsela, a former special counsel and Zuma appointee who saw her political career doomed as a result of her investigation of the former leader.

The struggle within the ANC between the Zuma wing and those who support Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” could prove to be a tipping point for the country: Will it continue its efforts to recover from what Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has called “nine wasted years” under Zuma, or slide toward becoming a failed state, as some experts have predicted?

More than half of South Africa’s 60 million people live in poverty, a legacy of the inequality and deep divides established during apartheid’s white minority rule.

It is therefore deeply sad and ironic that many of the protesters running riot in Zuma’s name are the same poor South Africans who were hurt the most by his rule. While they loot televisions and microwaves from malls, the former president’s government stole billions in taxpayer money that could have created jobs and built houses, hospitals and schools.

Stoked by Zuma’s faction as well as a plethora of fake news on social media, the protests in Zuma’s home province KwaZulu-Natal heartland and the economic center of Gauteng province have now devolved into anarchy the likes of which South Africa has not seen since the final years of the struggle against apartheid.

Suhayl Essa, an emergency room doctor, was working at Johannesburg’s Hillbrow Clinic when rioting broke out nearby. He saved a 6-month-old baby shot by a rubber bullet but was unable to help a man who had been knifed in the neck by looters.

TOPSHOT-SAFRICA-POLITICS-UNREST

“It felt like I was in a war zone,” Essa told OZY. “We’re already in such a dire situation with COVID.”

While tribal tensions are seldom mentioned in democratic South Africa, where white-Black fault lines remain an issue, Ramaphosa warned earlier this week against “ethnic mobilization.” This was an apparent reference to Zuma’s Zulu tribe, the biggest in the country. Already, white and Indian South Africans are arming themselves and forming neighborhood watch groups to protect their property, raising fears of vigilantism.

The country also has a history of deadly xenophobic attacks on other African nationals. It’s a powder keg waiting to explode unless the police and army are able to enforce the rule of law.

Alarmingly, the unrest is hampering a vaccine rollout that’s just getting off the ground in the country worst hit by the pandemic on the continent, with more than 65,000 deaths and an oxygen shortage that’s hobbling its battle against the dangerous Delta variant of the virus.

The riots, fueled mostly by maskless looters breaking curfew, could prove the ultimate superspreader events. Vaccination sites that have been damaged or are at risk have been closed, pharmacies and medical centers have been looted, ambulances have been attacked, and HIV patients have had their access to antiretrovirals disrupted.

There are also concerns about food and fuel shortages caused by panic buying. Siyabonga, a 30-year-old from Mandela’s home township of Soweto, told OZY he stopped at several shops in search of bread, and they were all out of the staple.

Today, local communities gathered to defend Soweto’s last remaining shopping center, the Black-owned Maponya Mall, a symbol of post-apartheid South Africa.

“The poor people will suffer,” Siyabonga said. “We were happy the vaccine was here, but now people are causing more damage. … They were not supporting Zuma, they were just stealing.”

And what they’re stealing is priceless. It’s called a dream. One of the modern world’s most ambitious democratic experiments faces its greatest test. Will there still be a rainbow on the other side of this storm?