Zimbabwe – Last November, Zimbabwe saw the biggest political change since its independence when President Robert Mugabe resigned. On April 11th, Zimbabwe announced that it will invite Western monitors to the country for its national elections for the first time in 15 years. In 2002, former president Mugabe banned the United States, the European Commission, Australia, and Canada, plus another 45 countries and 15 organizations, from watching Zimbabwe’s elections after he accused them of favoring his opposition. In response, Western nations placed sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle for rigging the election – an accusation that he denied. This election is seen as a test for sitting president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who pledged at his inauguration ceremony last November that the next elections would be “free and fair” and that the “people’s voice would be heard.”
Vatican City – In a document issued by the Vatican on April 9th, Pope Francis challenged conservative thinkers by saying that caring for migrants is as important as opposing abortion. Pope Francis has been notably vocal on social and political issues, and many are taking his statements as calling Christian politicians to give special attention to the poor and the abandoned. In the document, titled Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), the Pope stressed the “defense of the innocent unborn,” as well as “the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.” Since the beginning of his papacy in 2013, conservatives have criticized Pope Francis for not taking a stronger stance against abortion, homosexuality and divorce as strongly as his predecessors. The 22,000-word document also discussed a wide range of topics relating to the toxicity of social media, Catholics’ single-issue focus on abortion, and the contributions of women to the Catholic Church.
Brazil – Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, or ‘Lula’, surrendered to police in Sao Bernardo do Campo on April 7th. Facing corruption charges, Lula turned himself in after a tense standoff with authorities at a metalworker’s union headquarters where he was surrounded by thousands of his supporters. Lula was convicted last July, and a judge’s panel upheld the ruling this April as part of Brazil’s recent initiative to crackdown on political corruption. Once known as “the world’s most popular politician,” Lula led Brazil into an economic boom during his presidency from 2003 to 2011, but will now serve 12 years in prison. His sentencing and arrest has left the country divided, with his opposition celebrating it as a continuation of the crusade that ousted Dilma Rousseff in 2016. Despite the arrest, on Monday Lula’s party announced his intention to register for the next presidential election.
Qatar – April 11th marked the 310th day of the Qatar Gulf crisis, which is expected to continue despite recent U.S. efforts. President Trump met with Qatar’s Emir on Tuesday in order to discuss terrorism funding in the region, and seemed to walk back his previous statements that Qatar was a major funder of terrorism. Qatar has repeatedly denied any involvement in terrorism, despite other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council cutting diplomatic ties with the country in June 2017. President Trump now seems especially keen developing a relationship with Qatar to bolster U.S. power in the region, and recently hosted the Saudi crown prince in an attempt to sway him on the Gulf crisis.