Africa: Boko Haram releases 82 of the Chibok schoolgirls it abducted in 2014; UNICEF and UNHCR warn that conflict has displaced over two million children in South Sudan.
Americas: Trump’s controversial healthcare bill narrowly passes vote in US House of Representatives; Civil unrest continues in Venezuela after president signs executive order setting outs plans to rewrite country’s constitution.
Asia-Pacific: North Korea accuses South Korea and CIA of attempting to assassinate Kim Jong-un; Vietnam’s Communist Party sacks senior politburo member over ‘serious violations’ at state energy company.
Europe and Central Asia: Emmanuel Macron wins French presidential election; Head of Islamic State in Afghanistan killed in joint US-Afghan special forces operation.
Middle East and North Africa: More than 20 countries begin the military exercise Eager Lion in Jordan; Ruling National Liberation Front wins continued majority in parliamentary elections in Algeria.
Boko Haram released 82 hostages on 6 May. They are some of the remaining 195 girls from the 276 that Boko Haram abducted from their school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in 2014. The 82 girls are the largest single group that Boko Haram has released since the kidnappings. The governments of Nigeria and Switzerland, the International Committee of the Rd Cross and a number of local NGOs negotiated the release with the militant group. The Nigerian government released an unknown number of Boko Haram suspects in return. Negotiations over the remaining 100 or so missing girls will now likely continue, though Boko Haram will likely continue to keep a significant number hostage as bargaining chips as Nigerian Army operations and regional efforts continue to weaken the militant group.
The UN children’s fund, UNICEF, and refugee agency, UNHCR, have warned that conflict in South Sudan has displaced over two million children. It is thought that children make up 62% of the 1.8 million people arriving in neighbouring countries as well as a further one million of those people displaced within South Sudan. The country has been split since the civil war between forces loyal to the president, Salva Kiir, and rebels led by former vice-president Riek Machar began in December 2013. South Sudan is also at high risk of famine, particularly in Koch county, with around 100,000 people currently suffering and one million at risk according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. Despite Kiir’s promise of a unilateral truce in April, a ceasefire is yet to be implemented. Without a ceasefire, the number of children in South Sudan displaced by both famine and fighting is highly likely to increase.The number of children in South Sudan displaced by both famine and fighting is highly likely to increaseClick To Tweet
On 4 May, the US House of Representatives passed a controversial healthcare bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), also known as ‘Trumpcare’. The Act aims to fulfil Donald Trump’s pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, which was designed to extend health insurance coverage to some of the US population who lack it. However, Republicans are ideologically opposed to what they claim is unwarranted state intrusion. Republicans secured only a narrow victory in the lower chamber, with the bill being passed by 217 votes to 213, only a single vote more than the 216 votes that were needed, and with no Democrats voting in favour. Nonetheless, Trump will see this as a significant victory after the embarrassing setback suffered in March when the original version of the bill was withdrawn after it became clear the House would reject it. The AHCA has now been sent to the Senate, where the Republicans also hold a majority, though many Democratic senators have signalled that they will fight the bill. If passed, the AHCA will affect the poorest and most vulnerable segments of American society.
Unrest continues in Venezuela following weeks of protests directed against Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro. The president further angered his opponents last week with an executive order that sets outs plans for a 500-member assembly to be formed to rewrite the country’s constitution. On 6 May, a women’s march took place in the capital city, Caracas, in protest at the president’s constitutional manoeuver and the government’s continued crackdown and disregard for civil liberties. It is likely that Maduro is using the appearance of democratic consultation on the constitution as a means to delay both regional and presidential elections planned for the ends of this year and next year respectively. Further rallies have been scheduled for this week, with protesters set to march on ministries, the supreme court and other official buildings. It is highly likely that both Maduro’s attempts to extend the executive’s powers and the serious civil unrest in response will continue.
On 5 May, North Korea accused South Korea and the CIA of attempting to assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Neither the United States nor South Korea has commented on the supposed plot, but there is considerable doubt over whether the threat was real or was fabricated by North Korea. The day after the announcement, the North Korean authorities arrested a US citizen who worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). Kim Hak-song was detained for ‘hostile acts’ against the state. It is unclear whether or not the arrest is linked to the ‘foiled plan’. The United States has said that it is aware of the situation and has representatives at the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang looking into the matter. Kim is now one of four US citizens being held by Pyongyang. It is likely that he will be sentenced to hard labour and later used as a bargaining chip if tensions continue to rise with North Korea’s neighbours and the United States over its nuclear programme.
Vietnam’s Communist Party has sacked Dinh La Thang, secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee and member of the 19-person politburo, for ‘serious violations’ between 2009 and 2011 while he was chair of the state energy company PetroVietnam. He is accused of making loans to the private Ocean Bank that resulted in serious losses. PetroVietnam has recently been under investigation as part of a wider anti-corruption drive. Several wealthy citizens and other senior business officials have been prosecuted as a result of the investigation. The Vietnamese government believes the country’s large state-run economy as floundering due to inefficiencies caused by corruption. La Thang is only the third member of the politburo to be dismissed since Vietnam began economic reforms in 1986. Such a high-profile dismissal will shock other politburo members and will send a strong message to other corrupt officials.
Europe and Central Asia
Emmanuel Macron has won the French presidential election. The centrist, pro-EU En Marche! candidate beat his rival, the far-right National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, by 66.1% to 33.9% of the vote. Macron is the first candidate since the Fifth Republic was founded in 1958 to win a French presidential election without the support of a mainstream political party. Macron is a former investment banker who served as minister of the economy under his predecessor, François Hollande. He left the Socialist Party in August 2015, and founded En Marche! the following April while still in office. En Marche! seeks to enact strong economic reforms and strengthen the EU. Macron is in favour of cutting government spending, reducing civil service jobs and reducing private sector unemployment while investing heavily in education and youth programmes. Macron is likely to want to swiftly enact some of his most significant domestic reforms, such as cuts to the public sector, while he has considerable political capital following his victory; however, he must first overcome the legislative elections in June, which will be a major challenge for him without an established party machine to help him secure a majority. In foreign affairs, he is likely to focus on re-energising the Franco-German partnership in order to provide the EU with a new dynamic, particularly after the federal elections in Germany in September.
Afghan and US military officials announced on 8 May that the head of Islamic State in Afghanistan, Abdul Hasib, had been shot and killed in a joint special forces operation. Hasib was the prime suspect behind the devastating attack on the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan military hospital in Kabul in March in which five inghimasis suicide attackers disguised as doctors killed dozens of people. The attack horrified Kabul residents and sparked outcry in parliament and across social media over how such a heavily-guarded building could be infiltrated so easily. The attack embodied Afghan’s perception that their government cannot fulfil its responsibility to protect its own people and infrastructure. Government officials will likely seize on Hasib’s death as a means to move past the controversy and put forward a narrative of positive momentum in the fight against Islamic State in Afghanistan. Due to their inability to consolidate territorial gains in the country, other than their strongholds in Kunar and Nangarhar, it is likely that IS operatives in Afghanistan will continue to try and conduct attacks on highly-visible targets in the capital in the months to come.
Middle East and North Africa
The ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) has won a continued majority in parliamentary elections in Algeria on 4 May. The party won 164 of the 462 available seats, but lost a quarter of the seats that it had held since the 2012 elections. Despite the losses, the FLN’s ally the Rally for National Democracy (RND) won 97 seats, thus ensuring an overall majority between them. The voter turnout was low at only 38%. The FLN has dominated Algerian politics since independence from France in 1962, but the down turn in support and low voter turnout suggests disillusionment with the country’s 80-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The biggest challenge that Algeria faces is unemployment, and it is unlikely that the FLN government can tackle the problem without significant changes.Down turn in support and low voter turnout suggests disillusionment with Algeria's long-standing presidentClick To Tweet
Jordan and the United States began the annual military exercise Eager Lion on 7 May in Jordan. The joint operation exercise will focus on command and control, border security and cyber defence. It involves around 7,400 troops from over 20 countries primarily across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Gulf. This year is the seventh year that Eager Lion has taken place, and the United States and Jordan have hailed the exercise as the most complex and largest to date. The exercise is another demonstration of the close links between the two countries, with Jordan being a key partner in the US-led coalition against Islamic State. Eager Lion is the largest annual exercise in US Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of responsibility. The exercise will run until 18 May.