The Soapbox: Ghana’s economic crisis, Czech president leaves office, French protests

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN covering major news developments at NYU’s campuses and study away sites abroad. Global consciousness for a global university.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Yezen Saadah, News Editor

In Ghana, government addresses economic crisis

Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana, spoke at an annual state-of-the-nation address about the country’s “worst economic crisis in a generation.” Ghana, which struck a $3-billion agreement with the International Monetary Fund in December, will officially have its loan request approved by the IMF’s executive board by the end of the month.

Ghana’s Ministry of Finance said that the country is one of several nations, including Zambia, Chad and Sri Lanka, that haven’t yet paid back billions of dollars of debt. The West African nation owes a significant amount to China, which comprises $1.9 billion out of Ghana’s total $47.6 billion in debt.

In his speech to parliament, Akufo-Addo claimed that Islamist militants in Burkina Faso have caused socioeconomic distress to Ghana’s citizens, and said that the $3 billion loan from the IMF would also be used to fund national security. Last December, Akufo-Addo accused Burkina Faso, with which it shares a border, of working with the Wagner Group, a private military company based in Russia. The Ghanaian president claimed that the group would help deal with violence in exchange for the rights to a mine, according to the Associated Press.

Akufo-Addo also said that the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine had contributed to the country’s economic and social crises. Lawmakers present for the address made their opposition clear.

In the Czech Republic, president’s departure prompts celebration

Former president of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman was succeeded on Thursday by Petr Pavel, a retired army general. Shortly before Pavel’s inauguration, a group of more than 100 activists marched outside Prague Castle cheering Zeman’s departure from office.  

Zeman, a divisive figure throughout his last 10 years as president, is known for his pro-Russia views and the close ties he developed with China. He condemned the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling it an act of aggression, but opposed European Union sanctions against Russia when it annexed Crimea in 2014. Organizers of rallies celebrating Zeman’s departure called it “a huge relief,” and “a catharsis and a joy. A joy!”

Pavel, who is also a former senior NATO official, revealed a new presidential flag with the motto “Truth Prevails,” from the balcony of Prague Castle. The previous flag was stolen in 2015 from the castle’s roof by an activist organization and replaced with red underpants, mocking Zeman. Pavel described the renovated flag as “a symbol of change.”

During his inauguration, Pavel fully endorsed the Czech Republic’s military and humanitarian support for Ukraine, highlighting the value of the country’s EU and NATO memberships. He also said that he wants to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine as a gesture of political renewal and support. 

“We’re all facing the same problems and only together can we succeed in solving them,” he said during his inauguration at Prague Castle.

In France, new pension law incites protest

France raised its legal retirement age from 62 to 64 on Thursday, with 201 French senators dominating in favor of the pension reform plan, despite 115 voting against it. The decision, announced by President Emmanuel Macron in January, was met with protests and strikes across the country.

Since January, France has seen demonstrations against Macron’s plan, with a protest on Tuesday in Paris accumulating over 1.2 million people. According to The Guardian, 39% of workers at SNCF — the country’s state-owned railway company — went on strike during the rally. Other modes of transportation were also affected, with 30% of airline flights canceled on Tuesday and Wednesday. Around 24% of government workers also stopped working in light of the decision, and many teachers are holding single-day strikes.

Leading up to the French senate’s vote on the reforms, the government said that they are necessary to maintain stability of the pension system.

“We haven’t been heard or listened to,” Marin Guillotin, a representative for one of France’s largest labor unions, told Reuters. “We are using the only means we have left: it’s the hard strike…we are not going to give up.”

Contact Yezen Saadah at [email protected].