Africa: Chief prosecutor of Kenya orders charges to be brought against opposition leader’s sister; Dozens of Egyptian police officers killed in gun battle with militants in Western Desert.
Americas: US secretary of state makes unannounced visits to Afghanistan and Iraq; Nicaragua signs Paris climate accord, further isolating United States.
Asia-Pacific: Japanese prime minister re-elected for fourth term; Australia enacts series of new security measures at airports in the country.
Europe and Central Asia: United Kingdom grapples with issue of ISIS fighters returning from Syria; Georgia ruling coalition secures Tbilisi mayorship in local elections.
Apologies for the lack of Middle East and North Africa section this week.
The chief prosecutor of Kenya has ordered charges to be brought against the deputy governor of Kisumu County, Ruth Odinga, for allegedly inciting violence against the election commission. The deputy governor is the sister of the leader of the opposition, Raila Odinga. Seventy people have been killed in violence in Kenya after the Supreme Court of Appeal annulled the electoral victory of the incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, on 8 August citing irregularities and illegalities in the vote. Opposition supporters have held mass protests to demand electoral reform, including the removal of key electoral commission officials – some of whom have since fled the country. A re-run of the presidential election is due to be held on 26 October. Mrs Odinga allegedly organised a training session last week to teach protestors how to disrupt the vote. There will likely be increasing civil unrest in Kisumu and other cities in Kenya in the run-up to the new election, and accusations of fraud and corruption will follow whoever wins the vote.
On 20 October, Egyptian police carried out a raid against unidentified militants in the barren Western Desert region; however, the militants targeted the officers with heavy gunfire as they got close. The interior ministry has confirmed that 15 militants were killed in the resulting gun battle, but there has been confusion over the number of police casualties. The government announced that 11 officers, four conscripts and a sergeant were killed; four officers and nine conscripts were injured; and one officer is missing in action. Media sources, however, placed the casualty figure at between 35 and 64, with more higher-ranked officers killed. For example, Reuters claimed that the militants had killed 52 police officers. It is likely that the Egyptian government is seeking to downplay the defeat. The militant group has not claimed responsibility or been identified.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, made unannounced visits to both Afghanistan and Iraq on 23-24 October. Tillerson met with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, and his chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, and urged them to consider reaching out to Taliban leaders who have renounced violence. It is unlikely that the United States’ new policy in Afghanistan to focus on combatting extremist organisations will yield results unless Kabul can find a way to integrate peaceful Taliban leaders into a common vision for Afghan society. In Baghdad, Tillerson met with the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. The two politicians mainly discussed the growing ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq, especially those between the central government and the Kurdistan Region. The United States has largely benefitted from the Kurds’ support in the fight against Islamic State; however, the White House is unlikely to support Kurdish independence, as the US administration has significant economic and political stakes in the central government’s plans for reconstructing Iraq now that Islamic State has been largely pushed out of the country.
Nicaragua signed the Paris climate accord on 24 October. The Nicaraguan government had until now refused to sign the accord, arguing that its provisions were insufficient to tackle climate change. Nicaragua is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The country has aggressively pursued green energy policies, and 50% of its electricity is now produced via renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and wave power. It is likely that the Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, delayed his country’s commitment to the accord in order to draw attention to the dangers of climate change. The Paris climate accord has been signed by 194 states and the European Union. Syria is the only UN member state not to have signed the agreement. In June 2017, the US president, Donald Trump, announced that he intended to withdraw the United States from the accord. Nicaragua’s signature makes the United States isolation on the issue near-complete, and will likely spark renewed domestic and international efforts to persuade the Trump administration to support the accord.Nicaragua signs Paris climate accord and further isolates Donald Trump and the United StatesClick To Tweet
The Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe, was re-elected on 22 October with a two-thirds majority in parliament. He has promised strong counter-measures against North Korea. North Korea tends to test-fire its missiles over Japanese territory. Tokyo fears that a North Korean missile could strike Japan in either an accident during a test or in a deliberate act of aggression. Japan has little economic pressure it can apply to Pyongyang and limited diplomatic clout with North Korea and its ally China. As such, Abe is likely to want to legalise and expand his country’s military in response to ongoing North Korean aggression. Abe will feel that his securing of a fourth term as prime minister gives him the mandate to reform Japan’s pacifist constitution in order to make such a move possible.
Australia has enacted a series of new security measures at airports in the country. This follows a foiled terrorist plot in July, in which an ISIS supporter attempted to smuggle an IED onto an Etihad Airways flight from Australia. There are 140,000 people with access to restricted areas in Australian airports, and the government has said that workers will now receive random checks for explosive traces and have their vehicles and belongings searched. While some politicians and security experts feel that the moves do not go far enough, the government claims that the additional measures balance the concerns intelligence officials and trade unions while extending existing controls.
Europe and Central Asia
The United Kingdom’s international development minister, Rory Stewart, has said that the only way to deal with British citizens fighting for Islamic State is to kill them ‘in almost every case’. His view is that these fighters are so deeply indoctrinated into ISIS ideology and pose such a serious threat to Britain’s security that the only option – while they remain in Syria – is to kill them. Stewart clarified that they should be arrested and tried under British law if they return to the United Kingdom. The government has confirmed that the minister’s comments are in line with the United Kingdom’s stated position. However, the UK Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Max Hill QC, has recently argued that Britons who joined Islamic State out of naivety should be reintegrated rather than prosecuted. The issue of returning foreign fighters is of significant concern to the United Kingdom and other European countries, particularly now Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’ has been destroyed following the liberation of its de facto capital, Raqqa.
Georgia held local elections on 21 October. The ruling Georgian Dream coalition mayoral candidates in Batumi, Poti, Rustavi and the capital, Tbilisi, won in the first round, securing over 50% of the vote. In Georgia’s second-largest city, Kutaisi, the Georgian Dream candidate fell just short of outright victory with 48.75% of the vote, triggering a second round. Importantly, international election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have concluded that the elections were peaceful and democratic despite minor irregularities. Its successes in the municipal elections, will likely bolster the ruling coalition’s position ahead of the 2018 presidential election.