The World In Review

May 2021: World In Review

In this series of articles, our political editor Colin McGinness provides a concise roundup of the biggest geopolitical events from the past month.


China has become the second country to successfully land and pilot a drone on the surface of Mars. The rover, called Zhurong, will operate for 92 days recording the topography of what may have been an ancient ocean’s sea bed. It will also be looking for any signs of life, ice or subsurface water; a crucial element that may well determine the viability of further Mars exploration. 

Infections in India’s ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 appear to be slowing, as the country’s seven-day average slides towards 200,000. India has been battered by the surge in cases, which has since brought the total number of recorded deaths over 330,000. However these figures likely do not include those suffering in underserved and rural areas that lack the access to official scrutiny. 


Germany has issued a formal apology for its role in massacres across its colonial possessions in present day Namibia. Tens of thousands of Namibians were massacred by German settlers in the early twentieth century, sometimes amounting to nearly 80% of certain ethnic groups. The German government has also pledged over €1.1bn in developmental aid, though this sum was smaller than many activists had hoped. There are also issues with the dispersal of ‘development aid’ in general, and the allegedly patronising way it can be guarded by the donor nation. 

The EU has requested that all EU-based airlines stay out of Belarusian airspace following the forced landing of a Ryanair flight. The flight was rerouted from its destination in Lithuania so that Belarusian police could detain and arrest dissident Roman Protasevich. Belarus was rocked by protests last summer following elections and President Lukoshenko’s assertion of victory. Referred to as the last dictator in Europe, Lukoshenko has held the presidency for the past 26 years and has responded to the unrest with a clampdown on opposition activists across the country. 

Middle-East and North Africa

Throughout April and May, tensions violently boiled over in the Israel-Palestine region. Unrest initially began in East Jerusalem, where several Palestinian families are under threat of eviction from their homes. The families have lived in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood since 1956, but Israeli settler organisations are attempting to displace them to make way for Jewish residents. Clashes intensified in Jerusalem’s Old City in early May, with hundreds of people injured and requiring hospital treatment. On 10th May, Hamas (a militant group based in Gaza) began firing rockets at Israeli territory; Israel’s military responded with drone strikes on the Gaza Strip. Fighting continued for 11 days, and approximately 248 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed. A ceasefire came into effect on 21st May, with both Israel and Hamas declaring victory.


The humanitarian crisis in Tigray continues to worsen, as the Ethiopian government has rebuffed calls from the international community for a ceasefire. Speaking in Addis Ababa, representatives of the government have stated that ‘victory is near’ in the region and that it will continue its campaign against the rebel groups. The UN has warned that disrupted harvests and blocks on humanitarian aid have created the potential for famine in the area. The conflict between Tigrayan separatists and the central government began in November, and the rebels have been largely been expelled to the rural hinterlands of the province.

The government of Mali has folded following a successful coup led by Colonel Assimi Goïta. With the removal of President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, Colonel Goïta has assumed control of the country promising elections next year. This is the second coup led by Goïta in nine months, the first of which saw the installation of the government that he has since overthrown. In response the African Union has suspended Mali’s membership and France has paused joint military operations against insurgents in the country. 

Latin America

Protests have erupted across Colombia in response to tax reforms proposed by the central government. While initially focused on the tax increases, which have since been withdrawn, the movement has coalesced around other issues facing the country including police violence and the handling of Covid-19. Over 2000 people have been injured, and 59 killed since the protests began. The UN’s human rights chief has called on the Colombian government to investigate abuses committed by its heavily armed and militarised riot police. 

North America

Twenty-six people have died in one of Mexico City’s worst public transit accidents in recent memory. A metro overpass collapsed on the outskirts of the city, leaving a further 80 injured. In response, protests have started across the city calling for an investigation into the mismanagement of the metro’s maintenance. A broader call for greater political transparency and an end to corruption has also accompanied the growing unrest. 

The United States and China have begun the first trade talks of the Biden administration. Following the Trump administration’s adversarial approach, analysts have been trying to assess how its successors will handle the complicated relationship between the two superpowers. For now, things remain unclear but the onset looks more cooperative than confrontational. Chinese state press has called the talks ‘candid, pragmatic and constructive’. However, a hawkish position on China is one of the few stances shared by both American political parties which will certainly hinder any significant moves towards reproachment. 

Canada was left reeling last month following the discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 school children. The discovery of the site, located on the grounds of the now-defunct Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS), draws back the curtain on a dark and shameful period of the country’s history. During the 19th and 20th centuries, schools such as KIRS were compulsory boarding schools, run with the purpose of forcibly assimilating the country’s indiginous youth. The deaths were never documented by the school’s administrators.

Colin McGinness is The International’s deputy editor.