Africa: Ivory Coast government reaches agreement with rebel soldiers after unrest; tensions continue in the Gambia as incumbent president refuses to concede defeat in election.
Americas: US veteran carries out mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida; ongoing gang war in Brazil sparks prison riots and killings.
Asia-Pacific: Commander of Indonesian National Armed Forces claims military ties with Australia will be cut in response to perceived insult; violent protest erupts outside planned Hambantota deep sea port in southern Sri Lanka.
Europe and Central Asia: France strengthening its cyber defences ahead of presidential election in May; last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, claims a new union of former Soviet republics may be possible as Putin seeks to strengthen Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organisation.
Middle East and North Africa: At least 12 people killed in IS car bomb attack in eastern Baghdad; US government releases four Yemeni nationals from Guantanamo Bay detention camp for resettlement in Saudi Arabia.
Rebel soldiers and the Ivory Coast government appear to have reached an agreement after unrest in Bouake, Abidjan and seven other cities around the country on 6 and 7 January, during which the rebels briefly held the defence minister, Alain-Richard Donwahi. The country’s president, Alassane Ouattara appeared on television on the evening of 7 January to announce the deal. Without giving much detail, the president states that the agreement directly addressed the central grievances of the uprising, including better wages and a higher standard of living for the soldiers. The soldiers are believed to be former rebel soldiers of the New Forces rebellion who had formerly controlled the northern part of the country until unification in 2011 after the civil war had ended. This is not the first time that soldiers have rebelled against the government in the Ivory Coast over salaries: in 2014, soldiers barricaded roads in major cities until a financial settlement was agreed. While the situation now appears to be under control, it is possible that tensions will ignite again if the soldiers’ demands for better financial compensation and support are not properly addressed.
Tensions continue in the Gambia following Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to step down after being beaten in the presidential election on 1 December 2016 by a coalition of opposition parties. ECOWAS continues to lead the diplomatic efforts to persuade the president to accept the election result. The chair of the regional group, the Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, confirmed on 7 January that ECOWAS does not yet intend to deploy a military force to the country and that it is closely following the case in the Gambia’s Supreme Court. The head of Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission, Alieu Momar Njai, has gone into hiding following Jammeh’s refusal to step down; three private radio stations have been closed down in what appears to be the start of a media crackdown; and the head of the Gambia’s army, Ousman Badjie, has given his full backing to Jammeh. As such, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that diplomatic efforts will persuade Jammeh to step down.
Five people were killed and six injured in a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on 6 January. It is thought that the suspect, Esteban Santiago, arrived from Alaska at around 13:00 local time with a handgun that he had legally checked on the flight. After reaching the baggage collection point at Fort Lauderdale, Santiago went to the public toilet, loaded the gun and then walked through the baggage area shooting people at random. He surrendered to police once he had run out of ammunition. The reason behind the shooting remains unclear, though the suspect’s mental health problems are being investigated. Santiago is believed to be an Iraq War veteran who had served with both the Puerto Rico and Alaska National Guard, ending his service in August 2016. The FBI and the Anchorage police have confirmed that Santiago walked into an FBI office in Alaska three months later in an agitated and incoherent state and carrying a loaded magazine (he had left his handgun in his car, together with his new-born child). During a subsequent mental health evaluation, he told the FBI that he was hearing voices and being controlled by a US intelligence agency. While terrorism is not being ruled out, the suspect has been so far charged on non-terrorism related offences. It is likely that this incident will once more spark further debate on gun control in the United States; however, there is unlikely to be any positive change in this regard given the Republican Party’s control of both houses of Congress and Donald Trump’s support for gun ownership and general opposition to gun control.
Four people were killed in a prison riot in northern Brazil on 8 January, during a week in which it is estimated that as many as 100 people were killed in Brazilian prisons. While no official explanation has been given, the violence is being blamed on an escalating drug war between the Sao Paulo-based First Capital Command and the Rio-based Red Command. The two gangs previously worked closely together, but a split six months ago is leading to a prison gang war. The first major incident occurred on 1 January in Manaus, and resulted in the deaths of 56 prisoners – some of whom were decapitated. The latest riot was started by the North Family Gang, which is allied to Red Command, and resulted in three people being decapitated and one being strangled. It is likely that the violence will continue to escalate until either one side gains control or the heads of each crime syndicate decide the turf war is bad for business.
On 4 January, the commander of Indonesian National Armed Forces, General Gatot Nurmntyo, announced that all military ties between Indonesia and Australia would be cut. The apparent rupture in military relations between the two countries comes after Indonesian special forces reportedly found material at an Australian training centre in Perth that insulted both the Indonesian military and the country’s founding ideology, Pancasila. Although there have been prolonged tensions between Australia and Indonesia over Canberra’s policy U-turn on independence for East Timor, the general’s announcement came as a surprise to many in Indonesian politics: the defence ministry played the issue down; a military spokesperson blamed technical issues; and the president’s office said that military ties had not been cut, but rather training, education and official visits had been suspended. The president, Joko Widodo, later clarified that the government would only be cutting language courses. Despite the apparent division between the president and the head of the armed forces, this incident is likely to be dismissed as the general overreacting to a perceived diplomatic insult, and the current tensions between the two countries are unlikely to escalate into anything more than tit-for-tat manoeuvres that lack substance.
Violent protest erupted on 8 January outside the planned Hambantota deep sea port in southern Sri Lanka during a groundbreaking ceremony at the site. The protest started as a peaceful demonstration by Buddhist monks, but turned violent after the monks were attacked by pro-government supporters, and the police were forced to intervene with water cannons. The controversy around the site is related to the Sri Lankan government’s response to a growing debt problem with China. Official estimates put Sri Lanka’s debt at $64.9 billion, with a further minimum of $9.5 billion of unofficial debt. Of this, $8 billion is owed to China. In exchange for China cancelling $1.1 billion of debt, the Sri Lankan government agreed to a 99-year contract that cedes to China an 80% share of the Hambantota deep sea port and 15,000 acres of nearby farming and housing land. This has caused resentment among the local population, which sees a foreign power gaining control over their land and fear a Chinese colony will take over the area. There is a heightened risk of civil unrest at the Hambantota deep sea port and other foreign assets in the region for the foreseeable future.
Europe and Central Asia
The French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has stated that during 2016 France was targeted in 24,000 attempted cyber-attacks. Attackers targeted key infrastructure, such as water plants, power plants and transport hubs; ‘drone systems’; and media outlets, among other targets. The defence minister did not attribute the attempts to any group or government; however, France is reportedly strengthening its cyber defences ahead of the presidential election in the country in May in light of serious accusations by US intelligence agencies that Russia worked to influence the recent US presidential election in Donald Trump’s favour. Le Drian said that if US elections are susceptible to Russian hacking, then French elections are currently no safer. In addition to examining what went wrong in the US election, Le Drian said that by 2019 France will double the number of cybersecurity expects in the defence ministry and National Information System Security Agency to 2,600, supported by a further 600 new general computer experts.
The last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, has said that a new union of former Soviet republics may be possible. In an interview to mark the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the USSR, Gorbachev stated that he believes a new union is possible, though this would not be the re-emergence of the old Soviet Union. The interview came after meetings of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) as well as members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation on 26 December 2016. The groups represent former Soviet republics in an economic free trade bloc and a defensive pact respectively. At the EEU meeting, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said that a favourable business environment was required, and re-affirmed the goal of creating shared financial and energy markets by 2025. In the short term, we are likely to see a move toward closer ties between the member states of these groups. In the longer term, it is likely that Russia will attempt to turn the economic bloc and security pact into competitors to the EU and NATO. Russia is also likely to attempt to attract EU border countries away from a damaged European Union and into a growing EEU.
Middle East and North Africa
At least 12 people were killed and over 50 wounded in a car bomb attack in eastern Baghdad on 8 January. The attack, which has been claimed by Islamic State, is the latest in a series of attacks in the Iraqi capital and other cities across the country. The blast took place in the predominantly Shia area of Jamila in Sadr City, close to the site of a major attack on 2 January in which 35 people were killed. IS attacks in Shia areas of Iraq, and particularly in Baghdad, are likely to intensify as the Iraqi Army continues its advance on Mosul, where government forces have now reached the Tigris River for the first time in their campaign to retake the city.
The US government released four Yemeni nationals from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on 5 January despite demands from the US president-elect, Donald Trump, that all transfers from the prison be frozen. The four men have been released to Saudi Arabia for resettlement after a request from the Yemeni president, Abd-Rabbu Hadi, that they be released to the Kingdom. The detainees will undergo rehabilitation in the Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Counselling and Care, where a number of other Guantanamo detainees have been sent in the past. The centre was considered successful in its early years, but it has recently been criticised for failing to rehabilitate former detainees.