Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 22 November 2017: Robert Mugabe resigns, commander of US Strategic Command highlights limits to Donald Trump’s executive power, UN warns situation in Yemen is critical

The weekly briefing, 22 November 2017: Robert Mugabe resigns, commander of US Strategic Command highlights limits to Donald Trump’s executive power, UN warns situation in Yemen is critical

Briefing photo


Africa: Kenya’s supreme court upholds president’s victory in election re-run; Robert Mugabe resigns after 37 years as Zimbabwe’s president.

Americas: Commander of US Strategic Command highlights limits to Donald Trump’s executive power with regard nuclear weapons; Conservative candidate wins first round of Chile’s general election and will face Socialist candidate in December run-off.

Europe and Central Asia: Russian foreign minister visits Armenia and Azerbaijan in attempt to revive peace process.

Middle East and North Africa: Head of Syria’s main opposition bloc resigns; UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen warns that situation in Yemen is critical following Saudi blockade of the country.

Apologies for the lack of an Asia-Pacific section this week.



Kenya’s supreme court has upheld Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in the presidential election re-run on 26 October. The supreme court had previously annulled the presidential election that Kenyatta had won in August due to ‘irregularities and illegalities’. The president’s main opponent, Raila Odinga, decided not to stand in the re-run in the hope that the poll would be cancelled, providing the electoral commission with time to change its processes and personnel. However, the re-run went ahead, and Kenyatta secured 98% of the vote with a 39% turnout. The opposition and civil society groups have rejected the election result, and have argued that the electoral commission broken the law in not to calling for fresh nominations. On 20 November, the supreme court dismissed two petitions challenging the poll. This opens the way for Kenyatta to be inaugurated for a second term next week. Protests in opposition strongholds are likely to continue.


Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has resigned after 37 years in power. His resignation came in a letter read out by the speaker of parliament on 21 November after he had earlier failed to resign as expected in a televised address on 19 November. Mugabe sparked a political crisis and widespread civil unrest when he sacked his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on 6 November in a move widely seen as an attempt to position his unpopular wife, Grace Mugabe, as the next leader of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe National Army intervened on 15 November, placing the president under house arrest. The ruling Zanu-PF party named Mnangagwa as its new leader and its candidate for the 2019 elections. However, Mugabe refused to step down as president, and parliament began impeachment proceedings against him. Following Mugabe’s departure, Mnangagwa will be sworn in as president on 24 November according to Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster, though the constitution states that the current vice-present, Phelekezela Mphoko, should take over. Mnangagwa and his allies may officially allow the Mugabes to stay in Zimbabwe in order shore up the impression of a peaceful transition of power, but are likely to unofficially force them into exile.


United States

On 18 November, the commander of US Strategic Command, General John Hyten, stated that he could refuse to execute an order by the US president to launch nuclear weapons if that order is deemed illegal. His statement comes amid rising tensions between the US president, Donald Trump, and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Although the threat of nuclear war had become increasingly unlikely since the end of the Cold War, Trump’s inflammatory remarks about North Korea combined with his own temperament and the North Korean leader’s unpredictability have changed the status quo. Democrats have made several legislative attempts to limit the president’s ability to order a nuclear first strike, including the ‘No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea’ bill in late October. Note that Hyten’s comments only suggest that US armed forces are obligated to follow legal orders. Hyten also stated that should an illegal order be given, he would provide the president with legal strike options. As tensions between the Trump administration and North Korea mount, Hyten’s comments will remind domestic and international parties alike that there are limits to Trump’s executive power.

Commander of US Strategic Command highlights limits to Donald Trump’s executive powerClick To Tweet


The conservative candidate, Sebastián Piñera, won the first round of Chile’s general election on 19 November. With 36.6% of the vote, Piñera failed to secure the 50% majority necessary to avoid a run-off, which will take place on 17 December against the Socialist candidate, Alejandro Guillier. Piñera is a billionaire businessman who was president from 2010 to 2014, whereas Guillier is senator and former journalist. The election has been characterised by populist narratives, particularly from the conservative candidate, who has taken advantage of public disappointment over failed promises to reform public education and labour legislation, for example. Unless the left is able to catalyse support, it is likely that Piñera will win the run-off in December. However, whichever candidate wins, it is unlikely to result in radical change. While a Piñera victory would mark a political shift to the right after Michelle Bachelet’s socialist rule, Chile is one of the region’s most stable democracies, with strong institutions and good checks and balances. Piñera would likely focus on reinvigorating the country’s economic growth by easing restrictions on private investment and the mining and energy sectors.

Europe and Central Asia


On 20 November, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, arrived in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, as part of a regional tour that included talks in neighbouring Azerbaijan. Russia took the opportunity provided by the 25th anniversary of its diplomatic relations with the two former Soviet Republics to act as mediator and revive the peace process between the two countries, which have been fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Both Armenia’s president, Serzh Sarkisian, and Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, welcomed Lavrov’s visits. The presidents echoed comments by the Russian foreign minister about the positive prospects for resolving the conflict, and signalled that they are willing to negotiate in good faith. So far, all international mediation efforts, including through the OSCE’s Minsk Group, have failed. However, both Armenia and Azerbaijan depend significantly on their bilateral political and economic relations with Russia, and it is possible that Russian involvement will encourage them to the negotiating table.

Middle East and North Africa


Riyad Hijab, the head of Syria’s main opposition bloc, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), resigned on 20 November without giving a reason. His resignation came just two days before a conference in the Saudi capital, Riaydh, which was meant to bring together various factions of the Syrian opposition to allow for a more unified opposition delegation at the next round of UN-led talks in Geneva. The Syrian opposition is particularly split over the future of the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad. The HNC have called for his removal as the first stage of a resolution to the conflict, whereas other opposition factions supported by Moscow and Cairo have closer links to the president. It is unclear whether Hijab’s resignation is in protest at the Saudi conference and the attempted sidelining of the HNC’s position on Assad.


The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, has warned that the situation in Yemen remains critical as a result of the Saudi blockade of the country. Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on all ports in Yemen in response to a rocket fired by Houthi rebels at the Kingdom’s capital, Riyadh, on 4 November. Saudi Arabia partially lifted the blockade on the southern ports on 13 November, but maintained it on all Houthi-controlled ports, including Hodeidah, where around 70% of humanitarian aid enters the country. The head of the World Food Program, Stephen Anderson, has also warned that the blockade leaves millions at risk of death, as around 24 million people in Yemen are food insecure.

UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen warns that the situation in Yemen remains critical Click To Tweet

These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to non-profit organisations, journalists and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to consider making a donation to Open Briefing.