Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 10 April 2018: Nigerian military free Boko Haram hostages, Vanuatu rejects request for Chinese military base, suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria

The weekly briefing, 10 April 2018: Nigerian military free Boko Haram hostages, Vanuatu rejects request for Chinese military base, suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria

by Kirsten Wintermann and Matthew Clarke

Briefing photo

Summary

Sub-Saharan Africa: Nigerian military frees 149 women and children held by Boko Haram; Media reports suggest Zambia’s debt may be more than double official figures.

Asia-Pacific: Vanuatu reportedly rejects request from China to allow a permanent military base on the island nation; Chinese premier warns against a Cold War mentality and announces plans to open China’s economy to foreign trade.

Europe and Central Asia: German citizen crashes van into restaurant in Muenster, killing two and injuring 20.

Middle East and North Africa: Algeria’s ruling party confirms its support for ailing incumbent president to seek fifth term; At least 70 people killed in suspected chemical weapons attack on rebel-held town in Syria.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria

The Nigerian military announced on 8 April that it had rescued 149 women and children from Boko Haram the day before. Ninety-five children are thought to be among those rescued during clearance operations in Kura local government area in Kano state on 7 April. The military reportedly killed three militants and captured five others during the raid. The operations are targeting Boko Haram fighters who escaped from their previous stronghold in the Sambisa forest. Elsewhere, Nigerian soldiers intercepted and killed two suicide bombers who were attempting to infiltrate a community in Konduga, Borno state, on the evening of 7 April. Three people were also injured in the attack. Boko Haram has lost significant territory to the government in recent years and has fragmented and dispersed under a Nigerian military offensive, but the large number of people still held by the militants and frequent suicide bomb attacks are a reminder that the group still poses a significant threat to the civilian population. 

Kidnappings and suicide attacks are a reminder that Boko Haram still poses a significant threat to the civilian population in NigeriaClick To Tweet

Zambia

Fears over Zambia’s rising debt levels have increased after media reports suggested that the government has been concealing the true amount of debt that has been accrued. Some reports suggest that it may in fact be more than double that indicated by official figures. Government figures show a number of large loans totalling around $8.7 billion. While there is no concrete evidence, conflicting figures from the current and former finance minister have raised concerns that the government is concealing certain additional loans. Concerns over the true level of debt accumulated by Zambia are threatening a new $1.3 billion loan from the IMF. The reports are also likely to lead to greater scrutiny by other international lenders into Zambia’s finances. 

Asia-Pacific

Vanuatu

Vanuatu has reportedly rejected a soft request from China to allow the Chinese military to establish a permanent base on the island nation. Vanuatu is an archipelago of 80 islands 2,000 km off the coast of Australia. A base there would allow China to exert influence much further into the South Pacific Ocean than at present. Vanuatu has said that it is not interested in hosting foreign military bases on its territory, as it is a non-aligned country and is not interested in militarisation. The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said that her country remained Vanuatu’s strategic partner of choice, while New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, welcomed the news. China has been increasing its activities in the Pacific and has reportedly given Vanuatu significant sums of development money. China’s currently only has one overseas military base, in Djibouti.

Vanuatu reportedly rejected a request from China to allow a permanent military base on the island nationClick To Tweet

China

The Chinese premier, Xi Jinping, has warned against a Cold War mentality in a speech at the Boao Forum for Asia on 10 April. He announced plans to open China’s economy to foreign trade, with a cut in import tariffs for cars and reduced requirements for foreign investment in China. He also pledged to enforce the legal intellectual property of foreign companies. As the United States retreats in many areas under its current president, Donald Trump, the Chinese premier appears to be aligning China to be its regional – if not global – successor one day with a focus on international trade while at the same time extending its military influence across the Western Pacific and parts of Africa. In contrast to Trump’s ‘America First’ stance, Xi said ‘human society is facing a major choice to open or close, to go forward or backward’. He used his speech at the summit that has been dubbed the ‘Asian Davos’ to promote a vision of China as a benevolent leader of the global economy.

Europe and Central Asia

Germany

On 7 April, a German citizen, Herbert Reul, crashed a van into the open terrace of a restaurant in Muenster in Germany. Reul killed two people and injuring 20 others in the attack near Dortmund before shooting and killing himself. Police are also investigating a ‘potentially suspicious’ object found in the vehicle. The motive remains unclear, though the authorities are treating it as a deliberate attack. ISIS-inspired extremists have used vehicles as weapons in several attacks in Europe (as well as Canada and Israel), though Reul has no known links to violent Islamism. Media reports suggest that he had contact with far-right groups, though there is no evidence that he was a right-wing extremist himself. Murder-suicide is another possible motive that is being explored by police.

Middle East and North Africa

Algeria

At a meeting on 8 April, Algeria’s ruling party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), confirmed its support for the incumbent president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to run for a fifth term in 2019. The president is 81 years old and has suffered ill health and numerous hospitalisations over the last 10 years, possibly for stomach cancer. Bouteflika has not made a public speech in years and is rarely seen on television. However, his re-selection by the FLN was expected. It is assumed that the next president will have to press ahead with economic reforms and confront social unrest, and therefore supporters of Bouteflika believe that his continued leadership – even as a figurehead – provides stability while difficult decisions are made. Bouteflika is among the last of a generation of leaders who fought in the 1954-62 war of independence from France. However, Algeria’s poor ranking on scales of press freedom, corruption and political rights and civil liberties indicates that it may be time for a change.

Syria

At least 70 people were killed on 7 April in a suspected chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta. Graphic photographs of the attack have been widely shared on social media. Opposition groups and a number of humanitarian groups operating in the region have blamed the Syrian government for the attack. Syria and its Russian ally have claimed that the attack was staged, and that no trace of chlorine or other chemical weapon has been found as of yet. The US, French and British governments have all condemned the attack. In response, unknown aircraft attacked the Tiyas military airbase near Homs, killing at least 10 people. Although the Syrian government initially accused the United States of conducting the airstrikes, reports of suspected Israeli F-15 aircraft in Lebanese airspace suggest that the Israeli Air Force may be responsible for the bombing. 

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