MS Risk Blog

Human Trafficking Problem in North Macedonia

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North Macedonia has been widely known as an international transit for human trafficking. However during the coronavirus pandemic, the problem has been rising significantly. In August 2020 alone, authorities have discovered 322 illegal migrants throughout North Macedonia in several different operations. On 9 August, authorities discovered 94 migrants which consisted of Syrian, Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani nationals inside a truck. The migrants were discovered when a police patrol stopped the truck near the town of Radovish, 110 kilometers from the capital city of Skopje. However, the truck driver managed to flee from the scene. On 14 August, authorities discovered 148 migrants inside trucks from two different operations and arrested two people. The first operation was conducted in the town of Demir Kapija which the authorities found 103 migrants, including 29 children. The majority of the migrants were from Pakistan, which consisted of 81 people. Ten migrants were from Afghanistan, 8 from India, 2 from Egypt, and 1 each from Iran and Syria. The second operation was conducted in the village of Vaksince with another 45 migrants from Syria, Bangladesh, Somalia, Pakistan, and Palestine being discovered inside an abandoned truck. During this operation, the truck driver again managed to flee the scene. On 17 August, authorities discovered 80 migrants inside a lorry during an inspection on the road between Negorino and Gradsko, centre of North Macedonia. The driver of the lorry initially managed to escape but was quickly captured and arrested and is charged with human trafficking. All of the migrants were Pakistani nationals except one individual from Eritrea. The authorities stated that all of these discoveries on 9, 14, and 17 August have one similarity in regards to their embarkment location which was from Greece. The migrants have since been detained and will be transferred to a migrant shelter in the southern border town of Gevgelija, pending deportation to Greece. Authorities have also stated that while the Greek border with North Macedonia was closed earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, trafficking networks have remained active, ferrying migrants who make their way from Turkey into Greece and then attempt to head north, through North Macedonia to more prosperous countries in the European Union.

As this problem has existed in North Macedonia, the government was expected to conduct vigorous measures to counter it. However, it has been reported by several investigations that the government’s efforts in combating human trafficking was still below the standard set by the international community. North Macedonian authorities have been reported for not having adequate funding and equipment to conduct proactive investigations in regards to preventing and countering human trafficking in North Macedonia. The Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecution Office (OCCPO) also lacked sufficient resources, including staff, to handle all cases under their jurisdiction. Other than that, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained an obstacle to conduct an effective and efficient countermeasure. For instance, although several cases have pointed to the involvement of corruption within the government which boosts the human trafficking practice, the government has not prosecuted any officials for complicity specifically pertaining to trafficking in the last 3 years. Ironically, the last 3 years was the period in which human trafficking in North Macedonia reached its peak. Moreover, instead of tightening the law, the government decided to reduce the minimum sentence for any complicit involved in human trafficking from 8 years to 5 years imprisonment.

In order to solve this problem, there is no other way for the government other than to strengthen its measure regarding its approach towards the issue of human trafficking. More cooperation with nations such as Turkey and Greece, which are also known as international transit points for human trafficking, is considered to be imperative. Investigation and prosecution must also be conducted in a more vigorous manner. Strengthening sentences for the complicit should be seriously taken into consideration as a step forward to fight this issue. Allocating sufficient resources to the authorities and prosecutors should also be conducted, while at the same time increasing the funding for anti-trafficking operation. Human trafficking should be taken seriously, as it is a criminal offence which mimics and supports one of the cruellest practices ever taken in the history of mankind, which is slavery. The betterment of humanity will always start by acknowledging the mistake of the past and make a strenuous effort on making it up.

Xi Jinping’s Last Temptation

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It is arguable that China’s exponential growth over the last three decades has few, if any historical parallels. From being a developing third-rate economy to achieving the second largest global economy – in the process lifting millions of its citizens out of poverty with stratospheric GDP expansions. From a manufacturing led economy to a high-tech one; from coal fired plants, to leaders in renewables; and making a stand in industries of the 21st century such as artificial intelligence. China is now also undoubtedly a global heavy weight in military terms. It is unquestionable, China has achieved in a short space of time, what many nations can only dream.

China’s rise and expansion owes a lot to a period in its history it probably considers as denigrating, humiliating, and loss of its national dignity. Its leaders vowed never again. From Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping and current Premier Xi Jinping – the battle cry has been to build a prosperous and powerful country worthy of international respect and recognition.

The paradoxical challenge for President Xi Jinping is how he manages China’s Jekyll and Hyde image on the world stage. In other words, China’s successful ascendency and aspirational expansionism, potentially leaves it needing to grapple with challenges of a domestic and geo-political nature. China has had to fend off accusations of dumping excess products like steel on the world markets; frowned at for the interlocking relationship between the state and its companies. Its increasing muscular activities in the disputed parts South and East China sea; repression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang; the tough new security law for Hong Kong; to the gordian knot – that is Taiwan, and perhaps the most sensitive issue for the Chinese ruling elite: The One China Policy.

Every rose has its thorn. With these issues simmering, can China manage to play offense and defence with the requisite dexterity, and in a manner that preserves its swashbuckling progress?

In early September, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi travelled to Europe for a five-country stop – primarily to iron-out what would appear to be wrinkles in the EU-China relationship. This visit came against the backdrop of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Europe in which he called for an alliance of western democracies as a counterweight to China.

Thorsten Benner, director of Global Public Institute in Berlin claims Wang Yi’s visit “didn’t achieve minimum goals”. And why would he think so? because “he didn’t have anything substantial to offer that Europeans care about, like concessions on market access, and just reiterated tired and worn boilerplate clichés on Europe and China working together on multilateralism that hardly anyone falls for anymore.”

If Wang Yi flew into headwinds in Europe, there is no love lost in Sino-US relations, particularly in the last couple of years of the Trump Presidency. The two nations have been involved in a mutually damaging trade war, closure of diplomatic consulates, technology spates, and have traded nasty counter accusations over the lack of transparency in the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

How China conducts its rear-guard action at this juncture matters more than ever. The West is laser focussed on China’s Achilles heel such as its human rights record particularly concerning the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the draconian security law in Hong Kong, and its sabre rattling over any attempts by Taiwan towards declaration of independence. These issues are sensitive to China, or sets-off its red flag on the One China Policy.

China is sensitive about its history under the yoke of imperialism. It demands respect, and it bristles at any form of interference in its sphere of assumed sovereignty, or any hectoring by foreign powers. As Hu Xijin of the Global Times asserts “China must be a country that dares to fight. And this should be based on both strength and morality,” he wrote. “We have the power in our hands, we are reasonable, and we stand up to guard our bottom line without fear. In this way, whether China is engaged in a war or not, it will accumulate the respect of the world.”

The salient question observers of the West and China are asking is if China is not risking a recurrence of its past traumas it so desperately wants to overcome, by cracking down hard on dissent in Hong Kong, threatening to invade Taiwan, and sounding bellicose in fending off criticisms about it from the West. Is all this hostile attention not unwanted?

The Trump administration’s recent hefty sale of military hardware to Taiwan, China’s repeated combat drills in the Taiwan strait and its preparations to launch a third Aircraft carrier portends a dangerous dispensation. Once again, China’s soft spot might be on the home front, and Taiwan could well be a trigger.

Will Xi Jinping be able to resist the temptation to open a new chapter where China fought off a foreign adversary from its domain, or avoid the potential trap, and concentrate on continuing to build a powerful nation? China’s further rise will probably be contingent on the formula he adopts.








Mali Announces Transitional Leadership, Partly Meeting Conditions set by ECOWAS

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On Monday 21 September, the military junta in power in Mali named the country’s post-coup interim government, though questions have emerged whether the West African ECOWAS bloc will accept the transitional leadership, given that it only partly meets conditions set by the regional bloc.

The National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), which is led by Col. Assimi Goïta, announced Monday on Mali’s state television ORTM that retired Maj. Col. Bah N’Daw, 70, has been named president of the transitional government, which is set to be inaugurated on Friday 25 September. Although technically Bah N’Daw is a civilian, he is both a retired military officer and a former defence minister who served under former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. He also served as an aide to Mali’s former military dictator, Moussa Traoré, who died last week. On Monday, Goïta also confirmed that he would serve as N’Daw’s vice president, in a move that only partly meets conditions set by ECOWAS and which cement’s the CNSP’s desire to maintain some degree of influence and control over Mali’s transitional period. Both men were appointed by a panel set up by the CNSP.

Since Monday’s announcement of Mali’s transitional government, questions have emerged about what role civil society groups and political leaders had in selecting the interim leadership. Notably this concerns the main opposition group M5-RFP. While Goïta disclosed that members of the movement were involved in choosing N’Daw to lead the transition, one of the M5-RFP’s leaders, Choguel Maïga, has denied that this was the case. Speaking to reporters, Maïga disclosed that “we were not part of the body that determined the president and vice president. We learned about this decision through social media and the press.” The coalition has led demonstrations over the past several months against the Malian government and former President Keïta. It has also indicated its desire in recent weeks to be part of the transitional government. If the M5-RFP rejects the new interim leadership, this could fuel further tensions and unrest in Mali. Meanwhile on the ground in Bamako, opinions also appear to be divided over the nomination, with the local population split between wanting a civilian or military leader.

What is evident is that the new interim government will maintain strong ties to the army. Furthermore, the decision comes after the junta stated last week that it would prefer the military to run the transitional period. On Monday, Goïta disclosed that “each proposal has its advantages and its disadvantages,” referring to the choice between a civilian or military president, adding that the committee had taken “a global context” into account when selecting N’Daw, in what appears to be a reference to pressure from ECOWAS.

So far, N’Daw has not indicated whether or not he will accept the nomination. Furthermore, while ECOWAS has also yet to comment on Monday’s announcement, Goïta’s installation to become vice president is likely to be quickly rejected by the international community, which for weeks now has called on Mali’s junta to restore civilian rule as soon as possible. The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has also insisted that both the president and vice president of the interim government be civilians. While ECOWAS has previously shown some flexibility, agreeing last week to an 18-month transitional time frame for holding new elections, the regional bloc has stressed that sanctions would only be lifted if a civilian president and vice president were named. ECOWAS has already closed borders to Mali and has imposed sanctions in the wake of the 18 August coup, though it currently remains unclear what additional actions the West African bloc may undertake in the wake of Monday’s announcement. It is however likely that ECOWAS, at a minimum, will show some dissatisfaction with Goïta being named vice president, and at a maximum, maintain its stance on the issue and impose further sanctions on Mali. ECOWAS has already stopped financial and commercial trade with Mali, with the exception for basic necessities, drugs, equipment to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, fuel and electricity. Further sanctions however could severely impact the West African country, which is already dealing with a severe economic downturn coupled with the ongoing jihadist insurgency and persistent inter-ethnic violence.

Cabo Delgado’s insurgency: SADC’s moment to shine?

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Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s northernmost province has been besieged by what was a slow-growing Islamist insurgency since October 2017. In the last nine months, the conflict has evolved from inconsistent largely opportunistic attacks with limited capacity that lacked sophistication, to a noticeable upscale in the frequency of attacks, capacity and sophistication. Approximately 1,495 people have been killed since 2017 and around 250,000 people have been internally displaced. This underpins the situation in Cabo Delgado as a growing security and humanitarian crisis, one that forced President Filipe Nyusi to shift from actively denying that there was a growing insurgency, to reluctantly acknowledging the conflict in May 2020 after soldiers were killed during heavy fighting with the insurgents. The growing momentum of the insurgency is increasing the likelihood of regional overspill, and without regional military support, substantial financial commitments, a coherent counter-terrorism strategy and meaningful structural reform of the Mozambican forces the situation within the next 6 months is likely to escalate.

The group responsible for this campaign of terror is Ahlu Sunna Wa-Jamma (ASWJ). They have also been referred to by several other names including Al-Shabaab, although there are no formal links with the Somalian regional terror group of the same name. Little is known about the shadowy group, except that they have links to the Islamic State (IS) group and have over the last nine months become more emboldened. Their March 2020 pre-dawn attacks on the towns of Mocimboa da Praia and Quissanga signalled a notable shift in tactics and illustrated a growing confidence with the display of more sophisticated capabilities, after they occupied Mocimboa da Praia for a day. This attack was notable because it was the first time the group hoisted its flag, which signalled formal links to Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP). It also made known its ambitions for Sharia Law in Mozambique via a video they filmed during the attack. There have been a number of further attacks that IS has taken credit for, despite this, the degree of affiliation these two groups have with each other remains contested. The scale and scope of ASWJ’s overall aims remain ambiguous, although their repeated attacks in the area, and most recently the capture of the strategic port town of Mocimboa da Praia after over five days of intense fighting with government forces on 12 August, provides a glimpse into the group’s near-term goals. The strategic targeting of Mocimboa da Praia suggests the group is currently focused on consolidating its coastal base instead of expanding the reach of its geographical presence. This latest attack by the insurgents underscores their increased capabilities and operational sophistication and indicates the group has developed adequate supply lines and manpower to sustain operations for an extended period.

Although ASWJ have demonstrated increased capacity and capability that poses a credible threat, the escalation of events should also take into account that since the Covid-19 pandemic took root across sub-Saharan Africa, extremist groups have been leveraging the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to intensify attacks and increase civilian support. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) commander Stephen Townsend warned in April 2020 that “al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab and ISIS have announced that they see this crisis as an opportunity to further their terrorist agenda.” The exploitation of Covid-19 by extremists groups in sub-Saharan Africa is of particular importance in the Mozambican context, because it reinforces the reality that although the majority of the physical conflict is currently isolated to Cabo Delgado, the problem itself has regional implications and will require a regional response, most likely from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The dispensation of regional assistance from SADC, sooner rather than later, is important for a number of reasons. The insurgency as it stands bears the hallmarks of the initially unchecked growth of similar terror groups in sub-Saharan Africa like Boko Haram, where the window of opportunity to contain the group in its infancy  was initially missed due to a lack of a coherent counter-terror strategy, adequate funding of military forces and a coordinated regional approach. Although the evolution of any terror group will bear its own unique markers due to a variety of factors that fuel the conflict, the similarities with the case of Nigeria’s army in the initial stages of fighting the Boko Haram insurgency and Mozambique’s current predicament cannot be ignored by the Mozambican leadership or SADC. There are lessons to be learned from the Nigerian, Mali and Sahel region experiences, where extremists groups were allowed to develop, due to similar issues facing Mozambique.

So far, in order to stave off the advancing insurgency, the Mozambican government has sought help from private military contractors (PMC) such as the Russian Wagner Group and more recently South African based, Dyck Advisory Group (DAG). The utilisation of PMCs  may provide immediate combat support to an escalating situation, however based on the most recent capture of the port of Mocimboa da Praia, this quick remedy is fast becoming little more than an added expense, with a low prospect of remaining a sustainable solution in the face of an increasingly aggressive  and agile insurgency that could soon eclipse the capabilities of Mozambique’s defence forces.

The signing of a Liquid Natural Gas Project with Exxon Mobil and Total, worth an estimated US$50 billion also makes the Afungi Peninsula, which is located just South of Mocimboa da Praia, an increasingly likely target for attacks. This stands to potentially jeopardize the LNG project, because opportunistic attacks on operators, such as the killing of eight workers of a private construction company this June, will likely increase in frequency over the next six months. Further to this, disruptions to supply lines are likely continue as ASWJ targets key infrastructure installations across Cabo Delgado. The fact that part of the signed LNG project deal includes Total providing logistical support to a newly established joint task force to guarantee the protection of its planned onshore liquified natural gas project, strongly indicates that whatever counter-insurgency efforts the Mozambican government had put in, has not been enough and will almost likely require regional support.

For SADC the insurgency in Mozambique is an opportunity for southern African countries to test the effectiveness of their regional strategies against terrorism. Furthermore, under the Chairmanship of Mozambique, SADC has a real chance at putting into practise its August 2020 commitment to support Mozambique in addressing terrorism and violent attacks. The SADC principle of non-interference in the affairs of the states may have presented an issue for previous Chairs of SADC, especially because the only support Mozambique had requested from its neighbours was better border control, in its reluctance to request regional assistance. However, what is increasingly more pertinent is the principle of collective security under which President Nyusi’s chairmanship SADC has the opportunity for a better-coordinated regional response to the Cabo Delgado crisis

SADC, like a number multinational organisation, has sometimes been in the past viewed as an institution that is all bark and no bite due to the competing interplay between the principles of collective security and non-interference. Making a success out of the Cabo Delgado crisis is another opportunity to highlight a positive gain in the area of counterterrorism for Mozambique and the region. More so, because the Covid-19 pandemic puts limitation the amount of international military assistance that could be offered, therefore the Cabo Delgado crisis could be SADC’s moment to shine in the area of regional responses for counterterrorism.

New Mali Deadline Set as ECOWAS’ Frustrations Grow

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The crucial 15 September deadline to install a transitional government, including a civilian president, passed with Mali being no closer to having a leadership in place that will usher the way for new elections within 18 months. A day after a mini ECOWAS summit in Ghana, Mali’s junta indicated that it was working to respond to the West African bloc’s renewed demands of installing a civilian leadership. Questions however remain on who will lead the country and there is growing concern of a political standoff and a further terrorist threat to regional security.

Frustrated with a lack of progress, the West African ECOWAS bloc appears to be growing impatient with the military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), currently in power in Mali. After meeting with junta leaders in Accra, Ghana on Tuesday, six leaders from ECOWAS called on the CNSP to nominate a civilian transitional government within days not weeks, setting a new 22 September deadline. ECOWAS officials reiterated that once a civilian leadership has been installed, regional sanctions on Mali would be lifted. The major takeaways from Tuesday’s summit are that ECOWAS leaders have again made it clear that a civilian leadership be in charge of the transitional period. While officials on Tuesday firmly rejected the idea that the transitional government could be led by a military individual, one point that ECOWAS has shifted on has been the timeline of the transitional period. Officials accepted the 18-month transitional period, which is a move away from the 12-month period that it had initially demanded, though it is far off from the junta’s first proposal to hold new elections in 2023. ECOWAS further stipulated that the junta would need to be disbanded once the transitional government is in place.

In response to Tuesday’s summit, the CNSP on Wednesday 16 September confirmed that it was working to respond to ECOWAS’ renewed demands. Col. Major Ismail Wague, spokesman for the junta, told reporters that ECOWAS had given the junta an additional week to meet the requirements, warning that it would face further sanctions if the deadline was missed again. ECOWAS has already halted financial flows to Mali and has closed its borders. Questions however remain whether or not the CNSP will yield to growing regional pressure and install a civilian leadership or whether they will attempt to include some military figures within the transitional government, which will be tasked with organizing a new election within the next 18 months.  

While the CNSP and ECOWAS have agreed on a timeline for the transitional period, they remain divided on who will steer the country for the next 18 months. Over the weekend, the junta had noted that the transitional leader could be either a civilian or a military official. ECOWAS however appears, for the time being, to remain adamant that a civilian lead the government, and it is supported by internal actors and regional partners in its position. During Tuesday’s summit, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo reiterated that “we need a civilian leadership for the transition.” This position appears to be supported by the M5-RFP opposition coalition with Choguel Maiga, a member, praising the regional pressure for a civilian leadership. Meanwhile the African Union Peace and Security Council, which met via video conference on Thursday 17 September, also reinforced its appeal that the Malian transition be led by a civilian though like ECOWAS, it has accepted the 18-month transitional period.

The question now remains which side will blink first in Mali’s ongoing political struggle. West African leaders appear to have already given in to the military junta’s timeline, backing down from earlier demands that democracy be restored within a year. With the international community all calling for a civilian leader to be installed, it is unlikely that ECOWAS officials will easily reconsider this demand despite the threat that the ongoing political upheaval could set back efforts to contain Mali’s growing terrorist threat. For the CNSP, the prospect of additional sanctions being imposed on Mali could result in the military junta to install a civilian leader with the hopes that it will still have some degree of influence over Mali’s future. Evidently, Tuesday’s new deadline will be closely watched across the West African region and internationally, and it remains a test for the two sides, with both the CNSP and ECOWAS wanting to achieve their own set goals and maintaining a degree of influence and sense of control.