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This Week in the World | 10.16.17


Protesting has been banned in the Kenyan cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. The ban follows weeks of protests that broke out after President Uhuru Kenyatta was announced the winner of the August 8 elections. Though the vote was annulled last month by Kenya’s supreme court, after findings of the election commission’s failure to follow the electoral and constitutional laws, and another poll was scheduled for October 26th, opposition supporters are still protesting for electoral changes before the election is held. In a press conference on Thursday, Fred Matiangi, acting internal security minister, said, “Due to the clear present and imminent danger of breach of peace and public order as witnessed in recent demonstrations, the government notifies the public that, for the time being, we will not allow demonstrations within central business districts of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.” Matiangi claims that the ban was necessary for the protection of the lives and properties of the Kenya people. Regular protests in these cities had lead to lawlessness, violent clashes with police, and looting. The ban was agreed upon after authorities found that protesting was having a negative toll on the business community, and endangering the daily lives of Kenyans. Last week, Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, dropped out of the election race after stating that his demands were not met and that “ all indications are that the election scheduled for 26 October will be worse than the previous one.” NASA, the opposition party called for protests until their demand  for the replacement of some of the electoral officials in charge of last poll is met. The opposition legislators boycotted a parliamentary vote on an election laws amendment which states that if one candidate withdrew from the rerun vote, the other would automatically win. Despite Odinga’s withdrawal from the election, Kenyatta insists that the rerun must take place. And all indications point towards the election happening. Will the opposition compromise, and a peaceful election ensures, or will the ban be overlooked? Already, two people have been shot dead after the opposition defied the ban.


Sooronbai Jeenbekov, preferred candidate of the outgoing president

For the first time in the history of Kyrgyzstan’s democracy, incumbent president, Almazbek Atambayev, will peacefully hand over power to Sooronbai Jeenbekov, a former prime minister, and winner of the historic election that took place this Sunday. Kyrgyzstan, a nation of six million people that got its independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union, had forced its first two post-Soviet presidents out of power. A constitution that has been in effect since 2010 restricts presidents to a single six-year term. Though in neighbouring countries, laws are sometimes changed to allow an incumbent president to run again or remain in office, Kyrgyzstan’s law stayed the same, and President Atambayev had promised not to run for the prime minister’s job in order to remain in power. In Central Asia, elections are usually easy to predict. Often  times the ruling party’s candidate wins an overwhelming majority of the vote. But the election in Kyrgyzstan was competitive. Although Jeenbekov is from the president’s party, he faced a strong opponent, Omurbek Babanov, a prominent businessman and a former prime minister. According to election official, Jeenbekov had over 50% of the vote against Babanov  33% in the first round of the election. Rigged elections have resulted in riots and uprising that forced presidents out of office. The historic election could be the start of a new democratic era in Kyrgyzstan.


King Salman, the first sitting Saudi monarch to visit Russia, signed preliminary agreements to buy S-400 air defense systems, Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems, and multiple rocket launchers from Russia. The agreement was announced on Thursday, and according to the Kingdom’s military industries firm, Saudi Arabian Military Industries, the agreement is “expected to play a pivotal role in the growth and development of the military and military systems industry in Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia also agreed to joint investment deals that are worth billions of dollars, giving Russia’s economy the financial boost it needs. Politically, both countries support rival sides in the Syrian civil war, and no significant change occurred with regards to the division. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at a press conference with Adel al-Jubeir, his Saudi counterpart, said the leaders had a “friendly and substantial discussion based on a desire by Moscow and Riyadh to consistently grow mutually-beneficial partnerships in all spheres.” In his conversation with Putin, King Salman said that Iran must stop meddling in the conflicts in the Middle East, and “ [He emphasised] that the security and stability of the Gulf region and the Middle East is an urgent necessity for achieving stability and security in Yemen,” Iran, like Russia, supports the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, who Saudi Arabia opposes. Speaking through an interpreter, al-Jubeir stated that “we believe that new horizons have opened up for the development of our relations that we could not previously have imagined.” He also claimed that “relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia have reached an historical moment. We are certain that the further strengthening of Russian-Saudi relations will have a positive impact on strengthening stability and security in the region and the world.”


Many have seen the rejection of high-profile far-right candidates in Europe, like France’s Marine Le Pen and The Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, as a sign that Europe will not follow in the footsteps of the United States by electing leaders that have ties with nationalist (and often ethno-nationalist) parties. However, far-right nationalist parties in Europe still have notable political power. Indeed, a number of European nations’ far-right nationalist parties have seats in their respective parliaments: Alternatives for Germany, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party of Greece, and the anti-immigrant Jobbik Party of Hungary, just to name a few. On Sunday, October 15th, Austria signalled that it too may very well join the ranks of European countries with politically-enfranchised far-right parties. The conservative People’s Party, led by 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, took 31.6% of the vote. The leftist Social Democrats took 26.9% of the vote and the Freedom Party, Austria’s far-right nationalist party took 26% of the vote. The People’s Party has not been as outspoken as the Freedom Party regarding immigrants and refugees, which is a hot-button issue in Austria  that has also impacted voting habits in countries all across the West in the past few years. It is often seen as heavily right-leaning with a conservative, but slightly more moderate approach to immigration. The Freedom Party on the other hand has called for the banning of face veils (often worn by Muslim women), has been outwardly Euroskeptic (much like Le Pen’s National Front party in France), and its leader, Hans-Christian Strache, has even gone so far as to call for a complete termination of immigration into Austria.

Though the victorious People’s Party has not taken as hard-line of an approach, the rise of the Freedom Party is important for two reasons: with 26% of the vote, it indicates a notable rightward shift in Austrian voters, and because it’s a right-wing party, there is a good chance the People’s Party will formulate a coalition with the Freedom Party, granting it significant political power. In Austria, if a political party does not win an absolute majority, it must form a coalition with another party, in order to secure an absolute majority. Though for years the Austrian center-right and center-left parties formed a governing coalition, the amount of voters who chose the Freedom Party indicates a rightward shift that will likely be reflected in a more right-leaning government. Political analysts are predicting a People’s Party/Freedom Party coalition that will not only move Austria significantly to the right, but will also result in a sharp reduction of refugees and immigrants being granted entry into Austria.


Political tension in Cambodia has reached a boiling point this week, with the leading party (The Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP) asking the supreme court to officially dissolve the opposition party (The Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP). The appeal to the supreme court is only the latest installment in a series of political efforts by the CPP to reduce the influence of the CNRP. The CPP has 68 seats in Cambodia’s parliament, and the CNRP has 55 seats, but a growth in popular support for the CNRP is making CPP party members nervous, so much so that the CPP arrested the leader of the CNRP last month, Kem Sokha, alleging that Sokha had committed acts of “national treason” by trying to overthrow the government. To make matters more complicated, the CPP has passed a series of laws making it possible for them to legally dissolve opposition parties. In addition to quashing political opposition, Prime Minister Hun Sen has attempted to reduce the influence of certain media outlets in Cambodia, namely the English-language newspaper The Cambodia Daily. Sen has also forced independently-run radio stations that broadcast programs like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia to shut down. The United Nations, the European Parliament, and the U.S. State Department have all condemned the CPP’s anti-democratic political maneuvers.

Former CNRP minority leader Sam Rainsy, who resigned from the CNRP last February but has remained an outspoken critic of Sen’s political agenda, published a letter in the Phnom Penh Post on Monday, October 16th calling for an international effort to stem Sen’s power: “As a representative of the Cambodian people elected and re-elected since 1993, and a former leader of the opposition in forced exile, I respectfully ask for the support of the world’s parliamentarians to help their elected colleagues in the CNRP and defend the very principle of parliamentary representation,” Rainsy wrote. Rainsy who currently lives in Paris in self-imposed exile, has also called for sanctions against Sen, given that Cambodia relies on the West (Europe, Australia, the U.S., Canada) for around 40% of its budget. Rainsy believes that sanctions will force Sen to moderate his political approach and allow for the opposition to remain a part of Cambodia’s governing body. Elections are scheduled for July 2018, and in the absence of an opposition party, the CPP is sure to not only be elected for another term, but also have supreme power of the Cambodian government.


Photo Credit: Mohamed Abdiwahab, Agence France-Presse

Somalia has been engaged in an ongoing battle against a powerful militant insurgency known as al-Shabaab. The insurgency has displaced, killed, and injured over 50,000 Somalis, and Amnesty International estimates that about 4.7 million people in Somalia are in need of humanitarian assistance, with over 950,000 experiencing food insecurity. Battling against al-Shabaab is the Somali Federal Government (SFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is a peace-keeping mission organized by a number of African nations and approved by the United Nations.

On Saturday, the situation took a turn for the worse when two truck bombs detonated in the capital city of Mogadishu, killing more than 270 people and injuring over 300. In a mournful statement, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said: “Today’s horrific attack proves our enemy would stop at nothing to cause our people pain and suffering. Let’s unite against terror. Time to unite and pray together. Terror won’t win.”

In recent years, al-Shabaab has lost most of its control over Mogadishu, in large part due to the efforts of AMISOM, SFG, and American air power. Still, Somalia has witnessed unimaginable violence ever since the collapse of its government 25 years ago, which resulted in widespread instability and created the conditions for the rise of al-Shabaab. The large scale of the attacks on Saturday has some counterterrorism officials worried that al-Shabaab received support from al-Qaeda in Yemen and the Arabian peninsula. Indeed some al-Shabaab operatives have vocalized support for al-Qaeda, while others have aligned themselves with the Islamic State.

The violence in Somalia has resulted in the internal displacement of over 1 million Somalis, about 7% of the population. Some have fled to Yemen, but with violence there as well, a notable number returned. Others have migrated to Europe and the United States, but some of the host countries have tried to get Somali refugees to return, citing a relatively increased degree of security.


Two weeks ago, we covered a referendum held in Catalonia to show support for independence from Spain. Here’s what’s happened since then:

  1. Spain declared the referendum invalid
  2. Catalonian president Carles Puidgemont signed a declaration of independence, then quickly blocked its implementation. Worth noting: if Puidgemont declares independence, Spain may move towards dissolving the local government, holding new elections, and legislatively punishing Catalonia for its independence movement.
  3. President Puidgemont has called for negotiations with the central government of Spain, but no meetings have taken place
  4. The European Union has said yet again that if Catalonia secedes it will not become part of the EU
  5. President Puidgemont’s party is calling for a declaration of independence
  6. Puidgemont is scheduled to decide on October 16th whether or not he will declare independence or withdraw the declaration (he was given a deadline by the Spanish central government).