Africa: Yahya Jammeh leaves the Gambia as new president sworn in; Two of the four Boko Haram suicide bombers involved in a recent attack in Nigeria may have been carrying children.
Americas: Donald Trump sworn in as 45th US president amid protests and controversy; Chilean government declares state of emergency as it exhausts capacity to respond to forest fires.
Asia-Pacific: Australia and New Zealand announce plans to continue negotiations on Trans-Pacific Partnership after the United States withdraws; Twenty people killed and 40 injured in bomb attack by Pakistani Taliban.
Europe and Central Asia: Earthquakes cause fatal avalanche in Italy; Oil sector workers in Aktau, Kazakhstan, enter third week of hunger strike.
Middle East and North Africa: Municipal government in Jerusalem approve building of new houses in disputed East Jerusalem; More than 80 members of Islamic State in Libya killed in US airstrikes in last days of Obama administration.
On 19 January, Adama Barrow was sworn in as president of the Gambia at the country’s embassy in Dakar in Senegal. Barrow won the election in December 2016, but the incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, refused to recognise the result after initially conceding defeat. The actions of Jammeh and his supporters in government and the military had suggested a protracted period of uncertainty and a high likelihood that he would attempt to hold on to power; however, after a diplomatic intervention by West African countries, Jammeh agreed to leave the Gambia on 22 January for Equatorial Guinea. An adviser to the new president alleges that Jammeh took $11 million (£8.9 million) of public money with him when he left the country and a cargo plane was seen being loaded with luxury cars on the evening of his departure. While it is likely that Barrow will be well received when he returns to the Gambia, tensions are expected to rise over the coming weeks as Jammeh loyalists in the government and military plan their next moves to retain their positions of power.
Two of the four Boko Haram suicide bombers involved in an attack in Madagali on 13 January may have been carrying children. Two of the women were stopped at a vigilante security checkpoint and detonated their devices there; however, two women carrying small children walked past the checkpoint without being stopped and detonated their devices inside the town. The use of this shocking tactic suggests that Nigerian government efforts may be having an effect on Boko Haram, as the group may be being forced into more creative ways to carry out attacks. However, it also indicates the lengths the group are prepared to go to. It is likely that the government will increase security measures after this attack.
Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on 20 January. At his inauguration ceremony, the new president spurned the customary attempts to bridge political divides, and instead gave a blunt speech setting out his populist, nationalist agenda in contrast to what he described as the current ‘American carnage’. Despite his defiant attitude, the president begins his term with the lowest favourability rating on record (44%), which was reflected in huge anti-Trump protests in Washington and across the world and the low attendance figures for his inauguration ceremony. The poor inauguration turnout sparked controversy at the new administration’s first press conference, during which Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, accused the media of faking photographs of the small inauguration crowd, and instead presented what Kellyanne Conway, a counsellor to the president, later described as ‘alternative facts’. The same day, Trump used a speech at the CIA headquarters in Langley to attack the media and deliver unscripted remarks about himself, instead of building bridges with the intelligence community as intended. Trump’s first few days in the White House have raised further concerns over his questionable relationship with the truth and his focus on minor issues of ego at the expense of more important matters of state.Donald Trump should focus on important matters of state rather than minor issues of egoClick To Tweet
The Chilean government has declared a state of emergency in an area to the south of the capital, Santiago, following the worst forest fires the country has experienced for several decades. The fires started in mid-January, and spread rapidly across central and southern Chile due to particularly warm and dry weather conditions. Hundreds of Chilean had to evacuate their homes, and will likely need to be relocated. Although most of the forest fires are now reportedly under control, the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, has stated that her country had ‘exhausted its capacity’ to deal with the fires. As such, it is likely that Chile will need to call on external assistance from neighbouring and nearby countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, the United States and Canada. As climate trends continue to break records, it is highly likely that bush fires will become increasingly common in warm and dry regions over the coming years.
Australia and New Zealand have announced plans to continue negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after the United States formally withdrew from the process. The controversial trade agreement aimed to strengthen economic ties between Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru and the United States. The new US president, Donald Trump, took the United States out of the agreement (which still needed to be ratified by the US Congress) in order pursue more protectionist trade policies. A new TPP deal, dubbed ‘TPP 12 minus 1’ by Australia’s trade minister, Steve Ciobo, may be largely dependent on Japan and China. While China has not been a potential member of TPP, it has expressed pro-free trade remarks, and may be looking to take more of a leading role in world economic affairs. However, China will likely want to encourage wider trade between Asian countries as it continues to establish itself as the regional power over the United States.
Twenty people were killed and 40 injured in an explosion in a market in the Pakistani city of Parachinar near the border with Afghanistan, a predominately Shia region. The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) has claimed the attack was in response to the Shia support for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. A TTP spokesperson claimed that Sunni Muslims will maintain attacks on Shia Muslims for as long as they continue to support Assad. The TTP was influential during 2008 to 2012, and claimed responsibility for the failed Times Square car bombing attempt in 2010. It has been relatively quiet since then, and there have reports of dwindling funds and splits in the group, though it has been actively supporting Islamist rebels in Syria. It is likely that the Parachinar attack was designed to demonstrate that the group is still active, and bolster support for its campaign against the Syrian government specifically and Shia Muslims in general.
Europe and Central Asia
On 18 January, four magnitude-5 earthquakes centred around Amatrice in central Italy caused considerable further damage to a region that was hit by earthquakes in late 2016. The new earthquakes followed extreme snowstorms, and caused an avalanche containing 120,000 tonnes of snow and ice that hit a four-storey hotel at 60mph. Fortunately, the hotel lobby where guests had gathered to await evacuation before the avalanche hit created a domed space for survivors to shelter in. The army has been called in to assist the rescue effort amid bad weather. So far, 11 people have been rescued and nine bodies have been found, but 20 people are still missing. The region sits on several smaller fault lines and so is likely to experience further earthquakes, which will increase demands for early warning systems, more effective evacuation plans and increased structural support for vulnerable buildings.
Oil sector workers from the western city of Aktau are entering the third week of a hunger strike called to protest a local government decision to revoke the registration of an independent trade union, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPK), which has about 1,600 members. Local and central government authorities have largely ignored the strike. The protest highlights the poor situation of workers’ rights under Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime. Kazakhstan has made considerable efforts to increase its diplomatic weight on the international stage, including through hosting the ongoing Syria peace talks and securing the international exposition for the capital Astana (Expo 2017). However, this will likely be undermined by reports of further strikes and human rights abuses as the country receives increasing coverage from mainstream media in 2017.Kazakhstan government's efforts to improve standing on world stage will be undermined by its human rights abuses at homeClick To Tweet
Middle East and North Africa
On 22 January, the municipal government in Jerusalem approved the building of 556 new houses in the disputed East Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told senior ministers in the Security Cabinet that he is lifting restrictions on settlement building in East Jerusalem. The city’s deputy mayor, Meir Turgeman, said that city hall had waited until after Donald Trump became US president, as he strongly supported Israel and did not oppose settlement building. On 23 December 2016, the United Nations passed a resolution opposing settlement construction, after the United States abstained rather than use its Security Council veto. The building of new house in East Jerusalem will violate the UN resolution and likely frustrate make further peace talks between Israel and Palestine, as Palestine see the settlements as a way of Israel further expanding its borders.
The outgoing US defence secretary, Ash Carter, announced that on 18 January the United States killed more than 80 members of Islamic State in Libya in 100 airstrikes by two B2 bombers. He stated that this sent a clear message that the United States was committed to fighting Islamic State wherever it was found. The airstrikes were against IS camps 30 miles southwest of Sirte, the former IS stronghold that was retaken in December. It was the first time that the US Air Force has used B2 stealth bombers in combat missions in Libya. The country has been targeted by Islamic State since its operations expanded outside of Iraq and Syria in 2015. Libya’s leaders will now fear that Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy may leave the country abandoned. Meanwhile, African Union leaders have refused to send military aid to Libya, and Russia denies building military bases in the country.