Today, 14 January, we’re into the first edition of Framing the World, a new project designed to give geopolitical updates from all continents. The aim is to focus on the main events that occur every day in the world, and try to present unbiased analysis. It is all inserted in a simple format, so that readers can choose their preferred thematic area.
Among the issues we’re analysing, it’s necessary to mention Battisti arrest, recent updates concerning the “trade war”, the destiny of Syria, the Congolese elections, the Yellow Vests, the new Russian currencies, the Space Race and Italian Presidency of the UN Human Rights Council.
Enjoy the read!
Gabon, the Bongo Family is in trouble. The new year began with an attempted coup d’état of 7 January, that caused many doubts: the involved lieutenant of the National Guard was almost unknown, and the army reacted fast. Serious worries are caused by the general background of considerable instability, as the President of the Republic, Ali Bongo is going through an hospital stay in Morocco since October 24, because of a stroke, while Julien Nkoghe Bekale has been elected as Prime Minister on Friday 11 January, and a new National Assembly settled in the country, with a new President of the Parliament. The Bongo Family guides Gabon since 1967but, according to the Constitution, the current status should require a transitional government and early elections.
Furthermore, the increasing consent in favour of the opposition causes additional tensions.
Nigeria, should not be ignored. Naturally Nigeria is still “One of the Countries to watch”, as elections campaign will go on for the next two weeks, before the elections of 16 February. The sitting President Muhammadu Buhari (from the APC party: All Progressive Congress) says he’s quite sure to win, after being elected in 2015. Nigeria is the most populated African country, and its economy is supposed to grow fast. Of course it set a new record with 18% more voters comparing with the previous elections, that means 84 millions more electors. The main opposite candidate is Atiku Abubakar, from the PDP party (People’s Democratic Party).
Democratic Republic of the Congo, historic election. After two years waiting for Presidential elections, on 30 December 2018 the country finally voted, after that elections were postponed (that were previously planned for 23 December), and almost one million votes were excluded because of “matters of security and instability”. Felix Tshisekedi was the winner, but Martin Fayulu (both from the opposition) question the veracity of the results, and observers of the Congolese Catholic Church testified of a plebiscite denigrating him. The Court welcomed his appeal.
We’re waiting for news about worries dominating the post-electoral period.
Sudan, protests go on. A severe economic crisis, inflation and lack of essential goods affect Sudan; protests and violence against civilians are increasing, in particular in the South and the East of the country, near the capital Khartoum. Since 19 December protests overlap requests for economic aid, and now even President Omar al-Bashir (in charge since 1989. The International Criminal Court sentenced him for crimes against humanity, because actions he undertook in Darfur), despite he promised to increase salaries. The risk of instability scared the region, and brought Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to express their support to the President.
Never forget elections. Elections should never be ignored when analysing Political events in Africa. In 2019 elections should be held in 19 countries: beside Nigeria, also Comoros, Libya (not confirmed yet), Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Tunisia. Presidential elections will be held in Algeria, Mauritania and Senegal. While Parliamentary elections will take place in Benin, Chad, Guinea Bissau (where Presidential elections are not confirmed yet), Madagascar, Mali, South Africa, Botswana, Cameroon, and Guinea (not confirmed). Elections in Nigeria and Senegal are imminent (respectively on 16 and 24 February).
Many news come from “the Americas” at the beginning of 2019.
An international arrest in Bolivia. On 12 January Cesare Battisti has been captured in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, after a period of absconding in Brazil and Bolivia. Bolivian Authorities identified him, narrowing down the search area, thanks to an Interpol team made up by agents from different countries, including Italy. An Italian government plane has leaved with some IESA (AISE) agents on board (Information and External Security Agency) after the arrest. Battisti’s arrival is planned for Monday 14 January.
Lithium, the most important resource in Bolivia. “In the next three years Bolivia may become the first lithium exporting country in the world” announced the vice-President Alvaro Garcìa Linera. It will become an industrialized country, enabling the transition towards green economy targets, also thanks to a joint venture with a German consortium, suitable to realize highly-advanced installations.
It’s about investments and Capital revenues of some billion dollars, that will consent Bolivia to maintain its trend of current growth of 4,5%, the highest rate in Latin America. The country should then cease to be e poor country, and instead be a middle-income country.
The first connection crossing the Atlantic Ocean. EllaLink and Alatel Submarin Networks have introduced the GÉANT project, designed by 26 countries, it provides to install the first direct connection between Europe and Latin America. A fiber-optic cables system will connect 5.500km of distance; It is supposed to be installed in 2020. 100 Gbps will be destined to research, while 100 Gbps wwill finance the European Union’s Earth observation programme called “Copernicus”. The innovative link is intended to bridge the inter-regional digital gap by providing IoT, big data, open science and telemedicine.
Canada, an welcoming country for refugees. The Saudi girl Rafah Mohammed al-Qunun is in Thailand, travelling towards Australia, and she applied for asylum in Canada. This last presents one of the most refugees-friendly legislations. The girl is fleeing Saudi Arabia and her family, after that she refused Islam and her relatives selves threatened to kill her.
A decades-old conflict affects some areas of Chile. President Pinera has laid the foundation of a dialogue, in order to put an end to the conflict between Chile and Mapuche, the historic conflict in Araucania. The Araucanian region saw violence ensued from political tensions since colonial times. Mapuche peoples living in this area have always put up a fight. The current Agreement concerns the “Plan Impulso Araucania”, that aims to create suitable conditions to promote production development and entrepreneurship sectors in Aracaunian terrorories, in order to create new job opportunities, boost incomes and promote the welfare of families.
The uncontrollable civil war in Colombia. Entire populations have been identifies as paramilitary groups, guerrillas, or even linked to the army. The situation is ever worsening. Whole populations declared “supporters of the enemy” by local troops are subject to murders and massacres. That’s what reported in the document titled “Planas Vereda de Puerto Gaitan. Paramilitary violence in Altillanura: Self-Defence Forces of Meta and Vichada Campesino”.
The Constitution of Cuba, a new chapter. The New Constitution won’t include the article regulating same-sex marriage, as a Government representative declared. According to popular debates, it seems that people don’t want this article to be inserted in the new Constitution.
Abortion is illegal in El Salvador. On 17 December 2018 Imelda Cortez has been released after staying one year in jail (since 2017) being accused to have tried to abort. Abortion is illegal in the country.
Diplomatic Relationships between Honduras and Israel. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that Honduras may move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel.
Economic reforms in Mexico. Since 1 January 2019 workers’ economic conditions will benefit from a general minimum wage increase, after the recent agreement between the business sector and syndicates. That’s what President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador announced on 17 December2018.
Abortion: a crime in Mexico. In 2016 the bill banning abortion was adopted. Two hundred women may be released by order of the Mexican Government, after having been sentenced for murder, in case of stillbirth or obstetric complications. Some women declare to have been arrested risking 10 years in jail, after having terminate their pregnancy because of a rape. The criminalization of abortion ensued from the attachment to Christian values that characterizes the Mexican culture. The killing of women is quite usual, and many women workers are kidnapped, raped and then killed.
The economic growth in Paraguay. The World Bank communicated that Paraguay’s GDP growth rate was 4% in 2018, and it’s 3.9% in 2019.
Peru’s Government policy for regional stability. Peru’s Government decided to deny entry to Venezuelan Prsident Maduro and 93 other Venezuelan politicians. Sanctions against Venezuela won’t affect the life of 650.000 Venezuelan migrants that moved to Peru in order to avoid crisis conditions and poverty.
United States of America
Republicans and Democrats collaborate in the United States of America. Last month Republicans and Democrats voted together in the Senate to approve some modifications concerning the penal system. The First step Act provides reduced sentences for crimes linked to drug consumption, and Rehabilitation Programmes for prisioners.
Immigration emergency: the choice of the President of the United States of America. President Trump announced that he’s ready to declare a state of national emergency linked to migrants. Also he intends to finance the construction of a limiting wall with Mexico, in order to put an end to the Congress shutdown. The wall would be built by using funds coming from the Army Corps of Engineers, initially destined to natural disasters and disasters prevention. The Washington Post and the CCN then announced that it is possible to bypass the Congress. However, it would seem that Sanders, the spokeswoman of the White House, declared that this last constitutes a “fake news”.
Press in Venezuela. The well-known newspaper “El Nacional” won’t be published and diffused through paper-based copies. It is the 66th news agency that closes since the crisis blew up. It harshly criticized the current Government of Nicolas Maduro.
Regional stability and the role of Venezuela. Russia intensified military trainings in Venezuela, increasing tensions between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who fears the Venezuelan military development. Also, both countries are going through the issue linkedto Venezuelan migrants from the northern border.
Economic sanctions against Venezuela, a new chapter. The United States increased sanctions against Venezuela. The American Treasury Department added 7 Venezuelan citizens and 23 companies to the blacklist, as the Treasury Department considered them to participants of a corruption system that grants 2,4 billion Dollars to the Venezuelan Government.
The oath of office of the President. Nicolas Maduro is sworn in as the Venezuelan new commande-in-chief. His charge will last until 2025, and it will be the longest, even longer than Hugo Chavez’ one.
Cina, the Space Race goes on. On 7 December the first Chinese space mission (Chang’e 4) to explore the dark side of the lunar soil began. The spacecraft landed 11 days ago, almost 50 years after the American moon landing, and it has become a key event in space exploration.
It’s the first time that this operation in completed, as there were some problems due to communication difficulties from the Earth to the dark side of the moon; these last have been overcome thanks to the Queqiao relay. So it seems that a second Space Race has begun, as in December the United States announced that a new Space commando, and a new Space Force have been taken into consideration (despite some budgetary problems), aiming to a new moon landing in 2020.
CENTRAL EUROPE AND EUROPEAN UNION
European Union and sanctions against Iran. In order to react to the failed terrorist attacks in France and Denmark, the European Union imposes sanctions against Iran once again; that’s the first time since the nuclear deal was ratified. Sanctions target two people and Intelligence Services of Teheran. This move has enraged the Iranian Government, which denies to be involved in any kind of actions. The Danish Foreign Ministry sustains that sanctions constitute clearly point out that the European Union won’t accept Iran’s interferences within its own territory, but it keeps respecting the rules contained in the nuclear deal, and Iran will do the same, but it is intentioned to reinforce its Economic Relationships with other powers.
France, who are the yellow vests? The “yellow vests” is a protest group born on Social Medias in the spring of 2018. People who joined the group usually come from suburbs and poor areas of France, and most of them are builders, students, pensioners, and unemployed people. This movement clearly shows the gap between the political life granted in the capital, and the French rural reality. The official reason of the protest is the excise duty increases on fuels, but actually, they have many other request: among them, the raise of the minimum salary income up to 1300 Euros, the right to retirement at 60 years, an higher support to the small commercial activities instead of major shopping centres. Also they ask for a greater commitment by the government in order to curb unemployment and promote rail freight transport.
CENTRAL EASTERN EUROPE AND RUSSIA
The new Russian trade policy. Russia is in the international newspapers again, not because of its well-known contrasts with the West, but for economic reasons.
First of all, the Russian Federation Central Bank decided to shift its reserves away from the Dollar, in order to manage their foreign reserves and direct trade payments in other currencies such as yuan and yen. The choice was difficult but necessary, because general fears linked to how the US sanctions could affect the national debt the banking business of the country. President Putin marked the turning point affirming that “It’s not us that leave the Dollar, it’s the Dollar that’s leaving us”.
A further thorny issue Russia must deal with concerns the worsening of relationships with its main allied in Eastern Europe: Byelorussia. Russia’s move to increase taxes on oil production led Minsk to threat to break bilateral diplomatic Relations.
Central-Eastern Europe: updates also come from the opposite side of Europe.
Romania, a rough start. On 1st January 2019 Romania started its Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This country causes worries because of its high corruption rate, criticized by European Institutions more than once. Criticism about the start of the Romanian presidency didn’t miss: in the centre of Bucarest many protest blew up.
Does Poland follows the US footsteps? On 11 January a Chinese employee of the Huawei and a polish citizen working for a phone company (Orange Polska) have been arrested. Both were accused to undertake spying activities for Beijing. Will contrasts between the West and China get worse?
Kiev tries to pursue the path of justice. The Ukraine government lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg requiring to sentence the detention of 24 Ukrain sailors arrested by the Russian authorities during the events occurred in Strait of Kerch in Crimea.
Andrea Maria Vassallo.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTHERN AFRICA (MENA)
The MENA area stays the main tangle of tensions and conflicts in the world, and even if in 2019 different ongoing crisis will get better, they won’t end.
USA away from Syria, what happens now? The last events brought further instabilities. In particular, Trump’s announcement to retire troops from the North East of the Syrian country caused escalating tensions. American President’s decision is due to the conviction that ISIS isn’t a real threat for Syria anymore (however the Pentagon disproved this theory). Obviously the US military disengagement will change the destiny of the Kurdish allied, as they now fear eventual Turkish army offensive, given that Turkish troops are standing along the Syrian border. Despite times and modalities of the US troop withdrawal from Syria aren’t well-defined yet, the event will reinforce the role of Assad, Iran and Russia- the main local players.
Political deadlock in Iraq. The state of Iraq is dealing with some issues linked to the Government settlement , after the elections held in May 2018. New Prime Minister Adil Abdil Mahdi (a Shiite politician) couldn’t get over ethnic and cult barriers dominating the country, and he didn’t receive majority in the Parliament. Also, he has to face the threat of the Islamic State, that isn’t defeated yet.
Interior instability lies in Israel. The Israeli government has announced that early elections will be held on 9 April. This date was decided during an extremely difficult period for Netanuahu, who has been involved in serious political scandals, likely to result in grave judicial consequences. Also it’s necessary to deal with interior contrasts of the Israeli Government coalition - that’s increasingly fragile and quarrelsome - especially after that the Ministry of defence Lieberman resigned (followed by many others members of his far right party) because of a sort of truce with Hamas was achieved in November. Meanwhile Israeli offensive against Syria go on: Friday 11 January the air force of the Hebrew State conducted an air raid targeting a weapons depot near Damascus – Netanyahu self confirmed.
And what about Yemen? Similarly to Syria, Yemen is afflicted by an interior conflict that led to regional developments ( not only) because of the participating countries. From the 6 to the 13 December the Yemeni legal authorities and pro- Shiite rebels agreed on a ceasefire during the UN sponsored meeting in Stockholm. Even if both parts (almost) respected it, this negotiated truce hasn’t brought the results the International community desired: clashes go no, and on January 10 the Houthi rebels employed a drone to attack the military base in the southern province of Lahij.
Saudi Arabia, more gloom than light. The assassination of the dissident journalist Kashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul dug up dirt on Saudi Arabia, and his leader Bin Salman’s image. On January 3rd the Court of Riyadh sentenced five people to death as they have been considered responsible for the murder. The Kashoggi case weakened the (already complicated) diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey , and it also questioned historic relations between Riyadh and Washington. On the domestic front, small step forward concerning women rights have been made: on 6 January a national bill put an end to the so-called “secret divorces”, occurring when husbands end the marriage without informing his wife. It is a small improvement, after the Saudi decree permitting women to drive has been recently abolished.
Libya and its difficult stabilisation. During the past months some optimist forecasts concerning Libya’s future have been made, starting from the new UN roadmap ( that provides to hold elections in the spring). However, the increasing tensions between Serraj government and general Haftar, inserted in a domestic context that’s fragmented by several troops and Families fighting for legitimacy, complicate the peace process. Also Jihadist cells keep operating in the country: ISIS claimed responsibility for the last terrorist attack against Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs (on December 25).
Problems of the Tunisian democracy. The only democracy of the Maghreb region is going through some relevant socio-economic issues such as the high unemployment rate, the evident development gap among Tunisian regions, and problems linked to investments and the access to basic services. A local TV reporter set himself on fire in sign of protest against the government, and the event fomented already present disorders, leading to protests and popular insurrections in the last days of December.
Al-Sisi’s Egypt. While Tunisia’s problems caused take place on a democratic background, for Egypt’s issues it’s not that way: people has to face the authoritarianism displayed by President Al-Sisi. Cairo is still affected by a serious public debt and high inflation rates. Beside economic difficulties, the last terrorist attack – that has been carried out on 29 December against a bus load of tourists in Giza – showed big failures in the security field. It’s because of the jihadist threat that Al-Sisi government allowed the continuing state of emergency, so that it could justify everyday repressive operations conducted by security forces (against the oppositions, independent journalists and activists).
Australia showed openness by welcoming an refugee’s application for admission. Prior checks have been carried out in order to accept Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a 18-years-old girl as a refugee. She has been lurking in Thailand to escape from her Saudi Family after rejecting Islam. Her family threatened her with death. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees granted her refugee status.
Papua New Guinea
Refugees in Papua New Guinea. Manus Island shelters 500 asylum seekers refugees rejected by Australia. Most of them received medical treatment for stress, malnutrition and trauma.
Afghanistan, Ministry of Defence Khalid has been accused. Ministry of Defence Asadullah Khalid was elected by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in December 2018, and now Canada’s government taccused him to have carried out several attacks against people when he was Governor of Kandahar. According to reports, many people have disappeared, or they have been illegally imprisoned and tortured under his orders. Also it seems that Khalid was behind the attack during which five UN functionaries lost their lives in 2007. Furthermore, the Ministry has been accused of sexual assault against several women. Human Rights Watch invites the US, Canada and European Union to apply sanctions against Khalid in order to make him step down and sentence his crimes.
Italy, the presidency of UN Council for Human Rights has begun. On January 1st Italy’s third presidency of UN Council for Human Rights has begun. Italy has been elected with 180 votes in favour, obtaining the largest consent in its regional group. During its mandate –that will last until 2021- Italy engages itself to fight against all kinds of xenophobia, discriminations based on religion, protect children and disabled people, grant effective gender equality within society, fight against human trafficking, extend worldwide moratorium on death penalty, and protect the cultural heritage.
Italy’s Super cup will take place in Saudi Arabia. Criticisms concerning the decision of the League Serie A to hold the Italian Super Cup between Milan and Juventus in Gedda, Sudi Arabia, on 16 January 2019. Riccardo Noury, spokesman for Amnesty International Italia, accused the “Lega Calcio” (Football League) to have voluntarily ignored several Human Rights violations that occurred in Saudi Arabia in return for 7 million Euros – the amount that the Saudi Kingdom is going to pay -in a few days- in order to host the event. Two other matches could take place there in the next five years, for a total amount of 21 Million Euros.
Thailand, Rahaf has been given UN refugee status. Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun is the Saudi girl who was blocked in the Airport of Bangkok on 5 January while try to reach Australia; she has been given UN Refugee status. According to what she told on Twitter, Rahaf was fleeing from her violent family, but during a layover in Bangkok, a functionary of the Saudi embassy sequestrated her passport. The girl was blocked in the airport and she risked to be repatriated by Thai authorities. However Australia and Canada offered her asylum, thanks to the UN intervention. On saturday Rahaf arrived inToronto.
INTERNATIONAL FINANCE AND ECONOMICS
Is peace between USA and China possible? The good performance of the talks between US and China on trade policy revived global markets, especially those in decline in 2018. Hong Kong had lost more than 30% of its capital, but now China achieved +4%, trying to forget last years’ failures. It was a positive beginning of the year for the US too; these last can also offer more jobs than expected, and Wall Street’s capital increased of about three percentage points.
Tesla stood out recording a rise of 10%, after that Larry Ellison (the Oracle founder) acquired $1 Billion Stake in Tesla.
The oil price continued to range: the price of WTI is fixed at more than 50$/barrel, and Brent reached 60$ a barrel.
We wait for the data of the fourth quarter of 2018, that will be presented in the next days.
NATO-North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Air policing over the Baltic countries. Lithuania took over the lead of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission, substituting the Belgian air Force. The air base is located in Lithuania and it complements the German ongoing mission, that’s coordinated from bases in Estonia. Since the Baltic countries joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004, all member states started taking turns safeguarding their airspace, as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania haven’t any Air Force adequate for patrols.
The United Nations in Yemen. The UN Secretary-General required to send 75 observers to Hodeidah in order to monitor the six months of ceasefire, as negotiations held in Sweden in December established.
Human trafficking. The United Nations affirmed that Human trafficking always gets more victims. 70% of victims are women and children: child soldiers, forced labour, sex slavery. This last constitutes the main task, as it involves around 59% of victims.
OSCE-Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The presidency of the OSCE and its aims. Slovakia took over the Chairmanship of the OSCE on 1 January 2019, following Italy’s presidency. It’s the first time that Slovakia holds the Chairmanship of a multilateral organization. Slovak Minister of Foreign affairs has announced his three main tasks: put an end to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, while providing for a safer future and promoting effective multilateralism.
Framing the World is a project designed and created thanks to a team of Mondo Internazionale associates’ collaboration.
Andrea Maria Vassallo: Eastern Europe and Russian Federation
Camilla Frezza: South East Asia
Leonardo Aldeghi: International Finance and economics
Marcello Alberizzi: Sub-Saharan Africa
Marta Stroppa: Human Rights
Martina Oneta: Center-Eeastern Europe and European Union
Michele Pavan: America, Oceania and International Organizations
Stefano Sartorio: Asia and Far East
Vincenzo Battaglia: Middle East and Northern Africa
Italian article: Framing the World, prima edizione - https://mondointernazionale.com/framing-the-world-prima-edizione
released on 14 January 2019.
Translated by Simona Maria Vallefuoco.