Africa: Situation in the Gambia continues to deteriorate ahead of scheduled but unlikely presidential inauguration; Ivory Coast government and rebel soldiers reach final agreement over compensation and amnesty.
Americas: Protests across major US cities against president-elect Donald Trump; Riots and killings continue in Brazilian prisons.
Asia-Pacific: Filipino president suggests martial law could be imposed to stop country becoming a drug haven; Australian politics caught up in MP’s expenses scandal.
Europe and Central Asia: British prime minister to announce Brexit plan; Turkmenistan still not supplying neighbouring Iran with natural gas.
Middle East and North Africa: Three men executed in Bahrain after being convicted of killing three police officers in bomb attack in March 2014; United States announces end of 20-year economic embargo on Sudan.
The situation in the Gambia continues to deteriorate as the country’s incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, refuses to step down following his defeat in the elections in December 2016. The president-elect, Adama Barrow, is due to take office on 19 January, but it looks increasingly likely that Jammeh will not concede until the Supreme Court’s ruling on whether the election result should be overturned or not – a judgment that is unlikely to be handed down before May. A mediation team, led by the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, failed to convince Jammeh to step down on 13 January. The African Union (AU) has confirmed that it will not recognise Jammeh’s presidency if his mandate expires. Barrow is currently being hosted by Senegal, and is expected to stay there until the planned inauguration. Tensions are likely to increase in the run-up to the 19 January deadline, and an AU military intervention looks increasingly likely.
The Ivory Coast government and rebel soldiers reached a final agreement at talks on 13 January in Bouake after a two-day mutiny earlier in January. Although an initial deal was quickly reached, tensions remained high after the unrest as rebel troops continued to takeover roads across the country. The rebel soldiers have now returned their barracks in exchange for $8,000 bonuses and amnesties. The Ivory Coast has experienced significant GDP growth since the civil war ended in 2011, but there is a considerable risk that unrest could damage the economic position of the country if the government cannot maintain stability going forward.
On the weekend of 14-15 January, protesters took to the streets in major US cities, including Washington DC, Chicago and Los Angeles, in direct opposition to the US president-elect, Donald Trump, and his comments about immigrants, Muslims and women. This was the start of a week-long civil rights protest movement across the country in advance of Trump’s inauguration on 20 January. Several members of Congress have indicated that they will not attend the inauguration, including John Lewis, a civil rights icon, who has stated that he does not see ‘this president-elect as a legitimate president’. While the protests and the defiant stance of US representatives are a direct challenge to Trump’s polarising personality and controversial proposed measures, it is likely that the protests will wind down and that most Republican representatives will fall in line behind the president’s agenda. However, Trump’s legitimacy is still very fragile, and will be further undermined by any new scandals, particularly if evidence eventually emerges that supports recent allegations that the president-elect is vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government due to compromising material that it holds.Protesters take to the streets in major US cities in opposition to president-elect Donald TrumpClick To Tweet
Fighting broke out among rival gangs in Brazil’s Alcacuz prison on 14 January, sparking a large-scale riot that lasted until a police raid the following morning. Twenty-six inmates were reportedly killed during this latest riot, a number that may increase in the next few days, as it is still unclear whether any prison officers were also killed. This incident continues a series of prison riots in Amazonas and Roraima states since the beginning of January that had left nearly 100 inmates dead, including some who were decapitated. This wave of extreme prison violence reflects the Brazilian government’s failure to properly control the country’s drug wars as well as the decaying state of its overcrowded prisons. It is highly likely that the Brazilian president, Michel Temer, will soon announce new measures to address the violence, including plans to build new maximum-security prisons. However, such measures are unlikely to address the deep-rooted issues behind the riots.
On 14 January, the Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, suggested that martial law could be imposed in order to stop the country becoming a drug haven. Duterte estimates that around four million people (about 4% of the population) are affected by the country’s drug problem. The president has implemented extreme measures in order to crack down on the use of drugs in the Philippines – with an estimated 1,000 people killed a month in police operations and one million dealers and users handing themselves in to the police. Martial law would allow Duterte to use the military in civil matters and for the security forces to arrest people without charge. According to the Filipino constitution, the president can only impose martial law for 60 days, parliament may lift it within 48 hours and the supreme court can review its legality; however, Duterte has said that he would refuse to respect these limitations if necessary. If the president does impose martial law, it will hasten the country’s spiralling descent towards authoritarian rule. The last time martial law was imposed in in the Philippines was for nine years from 1972 by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.The Philippines are in a spiralling descent towards authoritarian ruleClick To Tweet
Australian politics is caught up in a scandal over MPs using taxpayer-funded trips and expenses for personal reasons. The health minister, Sussan Ley, resigned on 13 January after it emerged that she had used a taxpayer-funded trip in 2015 to purchase a A$795,000 (£493,000) property on the Gold Coast. Ley maintained that she had not broken any rules or laws, but acknowledged that purchasing the property may have been an error of judgement. Over the last two years, there have been several resignations and a conviction (later overturned) over MP’s expenses. The prime minister, Malcom Turnbull, has announced plans to create an independent watchdog to monitor the activities of public servants. The new watchdog will require MPs to update their expenses monthly on a transparent database. A similar body was introduced in the United Kingdom in 2010 following an expenses scandal. It is widely thought that that arrangement has greatly improved the problem of MPs abusing the expenses system, and Turnbull will be hoping there will be a similar reaction in Australia to the new watchdog.
Europe and Central Asia
The British prime minister, Theresa May, is expected to announce her Brexit plan on 17 January. It is thought that she will opt for a so called ‘hard Brexit’, in which the United Kingdom leaves both the single market and the customs union. This is despite the fact that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, has said that while the United Kingdom would like to remain a European-style economy, it may be forced to alter its economic model after a hard Brexit due to short- to medium-term economic losses. This would include measures to remain competitive, such as potentially cutting corporation tax, which could result in tax rises elsewhere or further austerity measures. May will point to the offer from the New Zealand prime minister, Bill English, of a high-quality free trade agreement with Britain as evidence that non-EU countries wish to deal with the United Kingdom. However, it is likely that we will see further market volatility over the coming weeks as the government makes contradictory announcements and the market tries to assess what will happen.
Turkmenistan has not yet resumed supplying neighbouring Iran with natural gas following a row in December after which the Turkmen authorities threatened to cut off supplies to Iran completely due to a reported unpaid debt as high as $1.8 billion. The two countries reached a last-minute agreement on New Year’s Eve, and Turkmenistan assured Iran that there would be no cut-off; however, Turkmenistan unexpectedly suspended gas supplies only hours after the deal was reached. The situation is politically sensitive for Iran with the presidential election in May and Tehran unlikely to be able to compensate for the gas supply reduction, especially in the north of the country. At the same time, Turkmenistan is currently experiencing a major economic downturn due to decreasing gas prices and the fact that it only exports gas to Iran and China, having lost Russia as a customer in 2016, and it will therefore continue putting pressure on Iran to pay its bill. However, Iranian officials have contested the bill, stating that some of the gas in question was never received. It is likely that Turkmenistan will eventually lose Iran as a gas customer as well, as its isolation and lack of partners due to its long-standing policy of ‘positive neutrality’ gives it limited leverage on the international stage.
Middle East and North Africa
Three Shia men were executed in Bahrain on 15 January after being convicted of killing three police officers in a bomb attack in March 2014. It is the first execution in the Gulf kingdom since 2010, and has sparked widespread criticism from human rights organisations that maintain that the evidence may have been obtained under torture. The three convicted men were killed after the country’s high court upheld their verdicts on 9 January in a final appeal. Sporadic protests have broken out across the country in response. The executions are likely to worsen relations between Bahrain, its ally Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have publicly criticised the Bahraini government’s actions. Protests and clashes between police and protesters are highly likely to continue over the short term.
On 13 January, the United States announced the end of a 20-year economic embargo on Sudan in an effort to foster ties between the US and Sudanese governments. The decision, made by the outgoing Obama administration, will enable Sudan to receive imported goods and services from the United States as well allow the release of Sudanese assets and property frozen in the United States. US sanctions on weapons sales and restrictions on Darfur will remain in place. It is unclear what stance the US president-elect, Donald Trump, will take, but the move is expected to improve relations between the United States and Sudan.