🌍 Germany’s defence minister quits, Scholz chooses surprise replacement

🌍 Germany’s defence minister quits, Scholz chooses surprise replacement

And: Somalia is recruiting local militias in its fight against extremism

Hi there Intriguer. China’s population fell in 2022 for the first time since 1961, following the trendlines of other East Asian countries. The Chinese economy also posted its second-worst growth statistics since 1976, thanks mainly to the pandemic. Hats off to The Times of India, which simply led with: “India No. 1?”

Today’s briefing is a 5 min read:

  • 🇩🇪 The new German defence minister no one expected.
  • 🇸🇴 Somalia’s military is on the offensive.
  • ➕ Plus: Sierra Leone remembers its brutal civil war, how the papers are covering the US-Taiwan trade talks, and upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations!

– VC & EP

  1. 🇰🇷 South Korea: South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol referred to Iran as the UAE’s “biggest threat” during a visit to the UAE on Tuesday (17 January). Iran wasted no time condemning the comments.
  2. 🇾🇪 Yemen: Yemen and Saudi Arabia have restarted backchannel talks to strengthen their current ceasefire and permanently end ongoing hostilities, according to UN officials.
  3. 🇲🇲 Myanmar: At least 45 companies from 13 countries – including France, the US, and Japan – are flouting sanctions and arms embargoes by helping Myanmar’s military manufacture weapons, according to a recent report by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.
  4. 🇲🇽 Mexico: Former Mexican security chief Genaro García Luna is standing trial in the US for allegedly accepting million-dollar bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel. The trial could expose more details about institutional corruption in Mexico and the US.
  5. 🇮🇹 Italy: Italian authorities apprehended Italy’s most wanted mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro on Monday (16 January) after 30 years on the run.

Left to right: Christine Lambrecht, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Boris Pistorius.

Germany’s defence minister quits, Scholz chooses a surprise replacement

Briefly: Christine Lambrecht resigned as Germany’s defence minister on Monday (16 January). Lambrecht (arguably) did not shine in the role: she admitted to not understanding the Army’s hierarchy, and was slow to deliver on €100B of investments in Germany’s military. Lambrecht was also criticised early in the Russo-Ukraine War for sending only 5,000 helmets to support Ukraine’s war effort.

Living up to the German stereotype, Chancellor Olaf Scholz wasted no time nominating Boris Pistorious as Lambrecht’s replacement. Pistorius is a surprising choice for the job: he currently serves as an interior minister in the state government of Lower Saxony and has no prior defence experience.

Support for Ukraine: Little is known about how Pistorious will approach the Russo-Ukraine War, which is causing concern among Ukrainian officials. Germany remains under pressure to do more to support Ukraine, including by donating heavy battle tanks.

Intrigue’s take: The new defence minister will have his work cut out upgrading Germany’s military, which lags behind its NATO allies. But beyond that, it will be business as usual. As Professor Peter R. Neumann of King’s College London notes, Lambrecht’s resignation wasn’t a consequence of policy disagreements, but because of blunders and incompetence. German defence policy — or its stance on Ukraine — is unlikely to change, whoever replaces her.

Also worth noting: 

  • In 2018, Boris Pistorius suggested the EU should “review” its sanctions against Russia.
  • Scholz’s government announced that Germany would likely miss its defence spending target in 2023.

How newspapers are covering: The conclusion of four days of US-Taiwan trade talks on Monday.

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Somali soldiers in Mogadishu. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.

Somalia is recruiting local militias in its fight against extremism

Briefly: The Somali military and government-allied militias captured the coastal town of Harardhere from al-Shabaab militants on Monday (16 January). The victory at Harardhere is among the government’s most significant since it launched an all-out campaign against the Islamist group last August.

With each government victory, more militias feel empowered to join the fight against al-Shabaab and resist the group’s brutal rule. But al-Shabaab is far from finished, no matter how optimistic Somali officials may be. On Tuesday, al-Shabaab militants killed seven Somali soldiers at a military outpost outside the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Intrigue’s take: The Somali military has proved capable of leading campaigns, but with so many well-armed militias joining the fight, there will be power struggles in the formerly al-Shabaab-held regions. According to expert Paul D. Williams“[t]he communal militias that have pushed al-Shabaab out are eventually going to start pushing their own agendas. It’s been a pattern over the last decade.”

Also worth noting: 

  • The UN estimates that 7.1 million Somalis face acute food insecurity due to a years-long drought in East Africa.
  • Turkey has provided its highly-advanced Bayraktar TB2 drones to support the Somali military’s offensive.

A United Nations peacekeeper at UN headquarters in Freetown, Sierra Leone in May 2000. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/AFP.

Sierra Leone’s civil war ends… 

On 18 January 2002, Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war ended. At least 50,000 Sierra Leoneans were killed, and millions were displaced during more than ten years of fighting.

But the story of Sierra Leone over the last 21 years is a hopeful one. Observers have described each of its four post-war elections as free and fair, with incumbents handing power over to rivals. Sierra Leone’s economy has also grown steadily since 2002.

🔎 Go deeper – Check out A Long Way GoneIshmael Beah’s memoir about his time as a teenage soldier in the Sierra Leone Armed Forces.


Sunday marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year, so here are some nuggets about the holiday to get you through the mid-week blues.

  1. While many still refer to the holiday as the ‘Chinese New Year,’ over 1.5 billion people across Asia celebrate the ‘Lunar New Year’.
  2. Last year was the Year of the Tiger, and this upcoming year belongs to the rabbit. Find out your Chinese zodiac sign here!
  3. Celebrators eat symbolic foods such as whole fish (for abundance) and dumplings (for prosperity) to ring in the new year.

How much longer will Europe remain united in its support for Ukraine?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Yesterday’s poll: Are democracies in danger around the globe?

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 ⚰️ Yup, start writing the eulogy (59.3%)

🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️ 🍀 No, rumours of democracy’s demise are greatly exaggerated (40.7%)

Your two cents: 

  • 🍀 S.B: “I believe we want more from our democracies, but from a historical standpoint, in most ways, the world is more free than ever before.”
  • ⚰️ S.C: “I wouldn’t go so far as “start writing the eulogy”, but we’re in a dangerous rough patch and I don’t see it smoothing out quickly.”
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