Nearly a month after a military coup resulted in the removal of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Mali continues to struggle to set in place a transitional period, amidst growing international pressure and fears that jihadist groups will profit from a power struggle. Divisions however emerged over the weekend as just hours after the military junta in power announced their agreement to an 18-month transitional government, the country’s opposition declared its objection to the move. With a meeting due to take place between the regional ECOWAS bloc and Malian authorities on 15 September, questions remain about Mali’s political future.
Talks were held late last week between the military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), political leaders and civil society groups, with the aim to forge a path forward. Malian officials are under a 15 September deadline imposed by ECOWAS to name a president and prime minister, with the bloc calling for a 12-month transitional period. ECOWAS has threatened to impose further sanctions on Mali should the deadline pass with no leadership in place. On Saturday 12 September, after three days of discussions, the CNSP agreed to establish an 18-month transitional government until an election could be held. Spokesperson Moussa Camara specified that the interim government would either be led by a military officer or a civilian – a likely sticking point. While ECOWAS, the opposition coalition and the international community have all called for the interim president to be a civilian, the military leadership maintains that a civilian or a soldier can fill the role. The charter for the transition also includes a vice president and transitional council that will serve as the National Assembly. The charter gives control of the defence, security and re-foundation of the state to the vice president. It also states that an interim legislative body is to be established comprising of the opposition coalition, known as the M5-RFP. The agreement effectively moves away from the CNSP’s previous proposal of a three-year transition period and that a new constitution should be written first.
While it briefly appeared that Mali’s political crisis was beginning to get back on track, the M5-RFP announced on Sunday 13 September that it has rejected the transition charter. The coalition, which took part in the negotiations and which led mass protests ahead of last month’s coup, stated that the resulting document was an attempt by military leaders to “grab and confiscate power.” It further disclosed that the charter did not take into account what it said was a majority vote for a civilian interim leader, and “did not reflect the views and decisions of the Malian people.” While the military junta and opposition coalition were initially united in wanting the departure of President Keita, the two groups are increasingly appearing to diverge. Any additional divisions between these two groups are likely to create further instability in Mali, and may result in violent demonstrations and protests amongst locals who are increasingly becoming frustrated with the situation.
The ECOWAS bloc is set to hold a mini-summit on the current situation in Mali on Tuesday 15 September in Ghana. Presidents from six countries in the regional bloc will be in attendance. Issues at the top of the agenda will likely include the timeline of the transitional period, and the fact that it remains longer than the year set by ECOWAS; and who will lead Mali’s transition, with regional leaders having already stated that the leader must be a civilian. Mali’s junta will try to convince regional leaders to accept its road map, though it remains unclear whether a solution will be announced after the summit, including if ECOWAS will accept the 18-month transition period and whether a leadership will be announced, or whether Malian authorities will be forced to go back to the drawing board, and what any delays will have on sanctions that the bloc has threatened to impose. What is evident is that a transitional government needs to be put in place quickly, and it needs to be accepted by all parties to avoid any further tensions and violence. Any delays to having a responsible leadership in place will need to be avoided in order to keep the jihadist threat at bay.
Whatever the final decision on a transitional leader and period, it is evident that the military junta will maintain a relative degree of influence over the transitional government. Even if a civilian leader is chosen, it is likely that they will be close to the junta, and the military is also likely to have a strong presence in other positions of power. It is also likely that the M5-RFP will attempt to have some degree of influence, and will want to have civilian participants within the transitional government that have close links to the opposition coalition. Questions have also emerged about the ongoing peace process, and what impact the transitional period will have on it. The Coordination for the Movement of Azawad had previously signed a peace agreement with the Malian government. While representatives had not travelled to Bamako to participate in recent consultations on the transitional period, the junta had intended to travel to Kidal to hold talks last week, though they were prevented by weather conditions. Sidi Brahim Ould Sidat, the president of the Azawad group, has disclosed that “we have men, weapons and we control two thirds of the country and the CNSP is no more legitimate than us,” adding “we have two choices to make now: either we enter the transition process and have made a new constitution of Mali together in which we recognize ourselves, or we wait after the transition and we continue negotiations with the government that will be put in place.” It is evident that militia groups in Mali are waiting to see the outcome of the transitional process, though either way, Mali’s peace process remains at a standstill for the time being.
Meanwhile the situation on the ground has not improved, with jihadist militants advancing their operations and continuing to launch deadly attacks. In the weeks since the 18 August military coup, at least 9 terror-related attacks have been reported, spanning from the northern desert regions to the central parts of Mali. Targets have included French forces, and local troops. In Bamako, rallies have been held in support of the CNSP and M5-RFP. The Mouvement Populaire du 4 September (MP4), a new formation that supports the ruling junta, has called for a rally on Tuesday 15 September at the Monument de l’Independence to express support for Mali’s de facto authority, the CNSP, while the Popular African Youth Movement (MPJA) has called for a sit-in in front of the French Embassy on 17 September to denounce French military forces in the country.
The recent upheaval in Belarus following the presidential election and its aftermath has gained international attention. On the morning of August 10, Belarus’ electoral commission reported that Lukashenko won 80.3 percent of the vote. Later that night, heavily armed security forces deployed onto the streets of Minsk, using rubber bullets and tear gas, and arresting people voicing their suspicions of electoral fraud. Workers also participated in the protests and a strike was initiated at Belaruskali, a huge potash factory in Soligorsk. However, they were pressured into ending it by agents of Belarus’ State Security Committee and the strike’s organiser was handed a jail sentence. Consequently, organisers of other strikes fled the country. On August 16, the biggest mass protests in the country’s history occurred when over 200 thousand people took to the streets in Minsk to protest Lukashenko’s regime and the election results. The number of people participating in protests throughout August makes the situation unique for Belarus: for the first time, its authorities have experienced opposition from the majority of citizens, not only a minority.
On August 21, Amnesty International said that the human rights crisis in the country “caused by the vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters requires businesses, both foreign and national, to exercise particular diligence when operating in the country and upholding their responsibility to respect human rights.” Businesses have the responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to respect human rights wherever they operate in the world, and to take pro-active steps to make sure that they neither cause or contribute to human rights violations within their global operations and respond when violations do occur. Amnesty International warned businesses that authorities in Belarus may place demands on them that would lead to human rights violations, and that if this occurs, businesses must make their opposition known to the government and to the public, in addition to pursuing legal options to challenge it.
For instance, it has been alleged that the near-total internet shutdown on August 9-11 throughout Belarus was the result of instructions made by authorities to internet providers. On the morning of August 9, when the polls opened, multiple internet providers in the country lost routing. Journalists present in Belarus confirmed that there were significant disruptions to WIFI, LAN and mobile data networks. Twenty-four hours later, internet users still found it difficult to get online. Belarus’ largest telecom providers, A1; Life; and MTS, apologised and said the reasons for the outages were outside their control. Maksimas Milta, Head of the Communication and Development Unit at European Humanities University, told CyberNews that YouTube and Messenger were the first to stop working. Then, Goals, an election platform designed to register votes and report possible violations in constituencies, and Zubr, a map for reporting electoral law violations in real-time via a Telegram bot, were blocked. “So first the authorities blocked these platforms so that people could not observe news about possible violations in real-time,” said Milta. Later in the afternoon, most of the media outlets became unavailable as the whole mobile internet shut down. Independent media such as Free Radio Europe became inaccessible. Belarus’ two largest independent news platforms, Naviny and Tut., both became inaccessible following the closure of the polls.
The fact that these specific websites became inaccessible raised suspicions. Klimarev, executive director at the Internet Protection Society, told CyberNews that once “they shut down the internet, it was clear they are hiding something. To put it mildly, the elections were not transparent.” He explained further that they “foresaw this would happen. Shutdowns are not rare in the world. We just didn’t know how it would be done in Belarus.” He noted that they did not succeed as some information was still getting through. However, businesses were still hurt as the “ATMs, various services, Github and Google Docs, Slack, and other online services that are vital to business operators were down… If that lasts for a short period, it’s ok, but if it goes on for a week, the consequences for the business will be immense.” Milta said he was sure that if protests continue the disruption of the internet will too. On August 10, over 20 NGOs and human rights defenders voiced their concern about the internet shutdown in an open letter. It said: “During the whole day of 9 August 2020 Internet access in Belarus was wholly or partly limited. Blockings were either total or concerned specific Internet services, web sites, social networks, messaging services, whether local or global. It is alleged that the Belarusian authorities decided to block data transfer protocols which led to the disruption of connectivity of the Belarusian networks. All foreign traffic was directed through one channel only in an attempt to allow for deep-packet inspection making VPN services ineffective.”
Meanwhile general director of Beltelekom, Shaybakov, suggested that the internet difficulties resulted from the large volumes of foreign traffic. Furthermore, the National Digital Response Centre claimed that the difficulties can be attributed to a significant amount of DDoS attacks against Belarusian telecom operators’ infrastructure. However, Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Belarusian authorities are interfering with internet access and restricting content online, apparently to demobilize protests and disconnect people in Belarus from information they have the right to get.” Since August 12, we have seen repeated internet disruptions. On August 17, a 15-minute nationwide disruption was recorded and on August 23 mobile internet services were disrupted for over three hours while protesters were moving toward the presidential palace. Ahead of the latter disruptions, privately-owned internet service provider A1 told users that temporary restrictions of their 3G networks would occur because of “requests by the authorities related to ensuring national security.”
Independent media outlets and human rights groups continue to operate in the country. Protesters have used Telegram to update each other on police movements and guide each other to certain areas. This, Katsiaryna Shmatsina, political analyst with the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, said can make it more difficult for security services to quash protesters’ coordination. “If we had one clear leader, especially if this leader was in Belarus, we don’t know how long he or she would have lasted.” However, protesters, media outlets and human rights groups routinely experience harassment from the authorities and the threat of being arrested. Following the election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the main opposition candidate, fled to Lithuania due to safety concerns. Furthermore, several opposition politicians have been detained during the last month. Amnesty International and local human rights groups have also collected testimonies from protesters who described being tortured and subjected to other ill-treatment while detained in detention centres. AI says these testimonies, in addition to video footage showing that screams of torture victims were heard from outside, evidences “a campaign of widespread torture and other ill-treatment by the Belarusian authorities who are intent on crushing peaceful protests by any means.”
The protests have provoked newfound international interest in the often-overlooked country. Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko recently wrote that the international community must prioritise support for the civic movement as this is vital to defend Europe’s geopolitical interests and prevent Putin from taking advantage of Lukashenko’s weakness to advance his own foreign policy. If Lukashenko is cut off from the rest of the word, he might find himself in a position where he has to accept Putin’s terms. This list of terms, Goncharenko wrote, would likely include Belarus selling its strategic industrial assets to Kremlin-friendly Russian oligarchs and establishing Russian military bases in the country. Complying with these terms “would transform the geopolitical landscape in Eastern Europe, cutting off the Baltic States and bringing the Russian military to Poland’s eastern border in a far more comprehensive manner than the current limited threat posed by Moscow’s Kaliningrad enclave.” Comprehensive outside support to protesters could be key to prevent Lukashenko’s security apparatus from overpowering them and reduce the chances of Putin gaining more power over the former Soviet empire.
While Lukashenko should not be isolated too much from the international community as this may drive him towards Russian support, international leaders must continue to put pressure on Belarus’ government to stop the human rights violations. Steps have been taken here as the EU released a statement on September 8 saying that it will impose sanctions on individuals responsible for violence, repression, and falsification of election results in Belarus. Furthermore, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia imposed travel bans on President Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials. In addition, Anders Åslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, says the country “urgently needs credible outside mediation in order to prevent a potentially deadly deterioration from taking place”. Åslund suggests the experience of Ukraine and the 2004 Orange Revolution as a possibly ideal mediation model. The people involved, including EU’s Javier Solana and then ambassador to Kyiv Chernomyrdin, were diplomats who knew Ukraine and its top politicians well. Åslund recommends that the top mediator should be a senior politician who knows Belarus well, but who has not in the past antagonized Lukashenko too much. Recently, OSCE reiterated its offer to mediate, with diplomats Edi Rama of Albania and Ann Linde of Sweden offering to participate. Such actions should be prioritised now as mediation should be initiated as quickly as possible to prevent further escalation of the crisis.
For now, Amnesty International recommends that should the Belarusian government make requests of businesses which would breach international human rights they must make their opposition known both to the authorities and to the public. If the government demands that internet providers cause disruptions, they should oppose them and challenge them legally as such measures adversely impact human rights such as freedom of expression and ability to freely seek, receive and impart information. Furthermore, Amnesty International recommends that should businesses make any agreements with the authorities or comply with government orders, these should be made transparent to the public.
Japan had undergone years of topsy-turvy, constant changes in the occupation of the Prime Minister’s office, until Shinzo Abe made a fist of it over the last 8 years – leading the country for the longest consecutive streak on record, and in the process solidifying the Liberal Democratic Party’s hold on power in both chambers of the Legislature. This state of affairs added gravitas to Japan’s image on the International stage.
Suddenly, after weeks of rumours and innuendo, 65 years old Prime Minister Abe announced on August 28th that he will indeed step-down from office owing to a recurring bout of an intestinal disorder. Prime Minister Abe had famously sought to revitalise the flagging Japanese Economy with a set monetary and fiscal policies to revive growth.
If a week is a long time in Politics, eight years could seem an eternity in geo-politics. Japan has underpinned its security guarantees in the bilateral defence pact it has with the United States of America. That has served as a bulwark for over 60 years. But China’s emergence as major geo-political and global player threatens the status quo. China’s increasingly aggressive posture in the South China Sea has been a wake-up call. Japan and China are embroiled in a dispute over ownership of the uninhabited Pinnacle Islands in the East China Sea. Both countries have a long historical legacy of bitterness towards each other – to put it mildly.
Japan has had a pacifist Constitution since May 1947. Shinzo Abe sensing the Changing geo-political currents, embarked on triumvirate approach to foreign policy and security – once he took office. He signalled his intention to revising article 9 of the Constitution which forbids the Country from foreign military engagement as a means to settle International disputes. The downside to that approach is that the constitution sets meandering, and laborious procedures for any change. Public appetite to change has proved to be lukewarm as the case may be.
The second and third angles to the triumvirate have been more tactical, and less strategic, but easier to manage in the short term. He has adopted a containment approach to dealing with China’s growing assertiveness. Even as China has probed into the disputed Islands, Prime Minister Abe has avoided any escalation in words and deeds. This tactic has similarly been at play in how the Abe Government has handled Russia in the Kuril Islands’ dispute. However, being mindful and containing cannot be a strategy that can lead to a guarantee of achieving long term solutions.
The third angle of approach has seen Japan’s increasing its conduct of security partnerships. Japan Self Defence Force in 2019, carried out drills with Armies or Maritime forces of India, Philippines, and the United Kingdom; including being part of a four Nation joint military practise involving Australia, South Korea, and America.
President Donald Trump’s America first abdication of global leadership has not been in Japan’s best interest. President Trump has questioned the wisdom of having American Military forces stationed in the Pacific even as Prime Minister Abe has cozied-up to him.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has fired rockets to land off the coast of Japan. The threat he poses while abated in recent months, will not go away. He has called for the removal of American forces in Japan and South Korea as a pre-condition for any Nuclear disarmament on North Korea’s part.
Observers are divided on whether ailing Prime Minister Abe leaves the stage with the glass half-full or half-empty. In the ever-evolving world of International diplomacy and security, an affirmative answer is hard to come by. One thing is for sure though: As issues currently stand… events surrounding Japan’s security arrangements from a geo-political standpoint looks somewhat messy.
It might be too early at this stage to speculate on who Shinzo Abe’s successor will be. The fact of the matter is: The next Prime Minister will have their work cut out. They will have to deal with a public health crisis in Covid-19. An Economy that has contracted due to the pandemic and is in urgent need of a reboot. There is also the rescheduled Olympic games, and general elections – both to come in 2021.
The three aforementioned items are no doubt urgent. But Japan will need a coherent security and foreign policy strategy in the long term to deal with China’s military expansionism, and North Korea’s brazen dictator Kim Jung Un. That may be in tandem with the United Sates, or any other bilateral or multilateral security arrangement. We cannot rule out Abe’s successor managing to change the intractable Article 9 of the constitution to grant Japan self-defence force some more leeway. The equation is simple: Japan needs a reliable security deterrent. Peace in Asia pacific calls for that.
The Zimbabwean bloodless coup that was not a coup of 2017, largely oversaw a non-violent transition of power from the former president Robert Mugabe to the current president Emmerson Mnangagwa and this was met with a high level of optimism, and in some quarters, euphoria. The sense of goodwill was shared across the country, in civil society and even from the opposition.
In the ensuing years since the moment that marked a promising watershed in Zimbabwe’s turbulent political landscape, the country and the world has witnessed ZANU-PF’s return to the business as usual of repressive political tactics that undermine democracy, mismanagement of the economy, and crushing of dissent including any perceived threats.
Perhaps in the most astounding illustration of irony, the same leaders who deposed former president Robert Mugabe in order to free all Zimbabweans from his tyrannical dictatorship and work towards a freer, more transparent society, are the very same crushing dissent that had been an essential human right to be respected no less than 3 years ago.
The coronavirus pandemic has presented a unique set of challenges in individual countries and some are shared, however in the case of Zimbabwe, the troubles of its own making have been heightened by the Covid-19 crisis to a degree that has resulted in a shocking display of human rights abuses and suppression of dissent under the guise of anti-coronavirus measures.
The events of 20 July 2020 in which Zimbabwean police arrested and detained the prominent investigative journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono, bring to a head ZANU-PF’s longstanding disdain for any critical media, or generally any critique that exposes its shortcomings. The arrest of Hopewell comes after he had blown the whistle on a $60 million procurement corruption scandal involving the former Health Minister, Obadiah Moyo, in June 2020. Chin’ono was charged with “incitement to participate in public violence.” His lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, insists that Chin’ono was abducted by the police without a warrant. Around the same time police detained Jacob Ngarivhume on the same charge. Ngarivhume is the leader of Transform Zimbabwe, a political group spearheading plans for a national anti-corruption protest that was scheduled for 31 July. Although the arrest of Chin’ono and Ngarivhume is among several others of a similar nature, these two have been a catalyst in prompting widespread public outcry. On the eve of Chin’ono and Ngarivhume’s 22 July court appearance, President Emmerson Mnangagwa ordered his security forces to enforce a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew and ban of large gatherings. This was reportedly in response to a recent spike in Covid-19 case.
Zimbabwe’s increase in authoritarian measures has hardly been a unique phenomenon in southern Africa during the Coronavirus pandemic, in where several countries in the region have appeared to use punitive measures under the guise of enforcing anti-coronavirus lockdown measures. Generally, this has been relatively begrudgingly tolerated with some incidences of civil unrest in a number of countries in the region, but not to the extent that is has in Zimbabwe.
What differs about the Zimbabwe case is that this latest bout of suppression, under the guise of anti-coronavirus measures, directed at the citizenry appears to be an overspill of a variety of pre-existing mostly self-made challenges that are yet to be resolved or addressed adequately. It is also eclipsed by a wider global discourse on police brutality, instigated by the murder of George Floyd in the United States of America. In the face of calls to treat all humans with dignity, uphold democracy and hold the police and state accountable for unnecessary brute force and denial of basic civil rights, the case of Zimbabwe stands out awkwardly for some of its blaring similarities. The prevalence of the pandemic has only heightened these issues in a way that cannot be ignored and has elicited local and international condemnation for the way in which the government is attempting to effectively silence all critique into its handling of the pandemic, the economy, state corruption and an all but collapsed health sector.
Overcoming Zimbabwe’s troubled history and steering the country towards a more prosperous future was never going to be an overnight job that came with a magic silver bullet, a challenge acknowledged by Mnangagwa himself. Perhaps the most trying of the challenges was formulating inventive ways to reverse the continual freefall of Zimbabwe’s economy towards fiscal ruin at proportions only last witnessed in 2008. Removing Mugabe from the presidency and leadership of ZANU-PF may have bought some time and even engendered an opportunity to rebuild battered relations with the international community, however the urgency for tangible solutions during the pandemic has shortened the patience of many Zimbabweans. The arrest of more than 105,0000 people for allegedly violating lockdown regulations since March 2020, including 3 female opposition MPs in June who were also sexually assaulted, points to a largely reactionary government using the pandemic as a one size fits all cover purposed for convenient deflection. While the coronavirus has had a negative impact on Zimbabwe’s already fragile economy and citizenry, the government has used the cover of Covid-19 to quietly and quickly introduce amendments to the constitution. Although amendments were already in motion prior to the implementation of lockdown in March 2020, the push to complete the process under lockdown and a state of emergency, while banning all protests and public gatherings of more than 50 is an example of sheer cunning by the government to do away with any legitimate democratic process where citizens are consulted. It is for one of these reasons that current government action to supress press freedom, civil society, the opposition, lawyers, members of the health sector, trade unionists and more is met with extreme alarm and deep suspicion. Dissatisfaction with the government prior to the pandemic was already increasing to the levels not seen since 2008 as the country appeared to be hurtling to a period of similar, if not worse, uncertainty and instability. Any measure of goodwill the citizenry and the international community may have had for Mnangagwa’s premiership is likely to decrease significantly as his government moves further away from its inaugural commitment towards a freer and more democratic and transparent country. From the attempts at amending the constitution under the cover of Covid-19 in addition to widespread repression of almost every facet of society, it is evident that dissatisfaction with the government does not go unnoticed by ZANU-PF and the active measures to secure ZANU-PF’s hold on power by any means necessary seems to be the order of the day again.
A military mutiny is currently under way outside of the Malian capital Bamako. A military spokesman has confirmed that at around 0900 local time on Tuesday 18 August 2020 gunshots were fired at the Soundiata Keita base in Kati, located about 12 km (9 miles) outside of Bamako on the RN1. Reportedly, armed men in pick-ups stormed the camp, exchanging fire with soldiers present at the site. Arms stores were ransacked, with some soldiers demanding the departure of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Local residents are reported to be sheltering while the road that connects Kati with Bamako has been blocked. Another source who handles security for non-governmental organization in Mali has reported that gunfire had also been heard near the prime minister’s office. Reports have also emerged that the Malian Minister of Economy and Finance, Abdoulaye Daffé, has been reportedly kidnapped after receiving a visit from unidentified armed men at his ACI 2000 office at around 0800 Tuesday morning. Reports have also indicated that several government ministers have been arrested in Bamako. At around 1000 local time, the Presidential Security Chief was removed from his command.
The country has seen a tense political situation in recent months, with opponents of current President Keita leading mass protests since June, calling on the president to resign over what they say are his failures to restore security and address corruption.
A mutiny at the base in Kati led to a coup d’état in 2012, which toppled then-President Amadou Toumani Toure and contributed to the fall of the northern region of Mali to jihadist militants.
MS RISK ADVISORY: Anyone currently in or around Kati is advised to avoid the area while those currently in Bamako are advised to remain indoors due to the ongoing tensions in Kati and Bamako. Unconfirmed reports have indicated that military personnel are currently heading into Bamako. MS Risk is currently closely monitoring the situation in Bamako and will release further updates to this security advisory as additional information becomes available.