Southern Africa is facing an unprecedented climate change crisis which threatens to expose an estimated 45 million people in 18 countries across the region to severe food shortages within the next 6 months. Southern Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 35 years. The implications of this are not just an impending disaster set for an uncomfortably near future; the impact is already being felt at an environmental, economic and political level. The amalgamation of these factors has the potential to trigger instability across the Southern African region as a whole.
The U.N. predicts a 3.2 – 3.9ºC rise in global temperature in this century, which would bring wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts. Despite the stark warnings for the environment the UN Climate Change Conference COP25, held between 2-13 December 2019 in Madrid, failed to reach consensus in many areas. The lack of a meaningful outcome for the latest climate talks may not lead to immediate tangible environmental consequences for countries that are predominantly in the global north on a scale and frequency comparable to countries in the global south. This disparity is compounded by the El Niño phenomenon which has resulted in several countries in Southern Africa experiencing ongoing drought spells and extreme weather since 2015. The continuation of what was once a phenomenon experienced every few years in the region has meant that the largely economically and ecologically vulnerable countries in Southern Africa have increasingly fewer resources to offset the effects, triggering instability across the region.
Botswana, for example, is experiencing its worst drought in a decade which has wiped out entire harvests and left the land littered with dead livestock. As a result of frequent droughts, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has said the government plans to stop calling it an emergency and instead make drought relief part of the national budget. In Malawi, the government has had to make plans to import maize to ensure there are adequate quantities in the country, while in South Africa there have been reports of farmer suicides.
In financial terms Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and Namibia together suffered average annual losses of $700 million as a result of climate-related disasters. The frequency of these unpredictable climate- related disasters suggests that Southern Africa will have to factor this into its constrained national budgets as a recurrent and expected event rather than a one -time emergency experienced every few years. The reality of climate change and its devastating effects can be considered the new normal for this region.
As of 12 November 2019, it was reported that at least 1.6 million people in Mozambique are in need of assistance due to the devastating effects of the ongoing drought and increasingly severe weather effects. Mozambique has been hit particularly hard as the country is still recovering from two major cyclones, Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which hit the country earlier this year. For a country that signed a peace accord in August 2019 after years of instability and violence and is currently facing an Islamist insurgency in the North-east, this climate crisis could not have occurred at a less opportune moment.
Similarly, in neighbouring Zimbabwe, there are an estimated 7.7 million people that are facing food insecurity where it is reported that almost $300 million was urgently needed to supply some 240,000 tonnes of aid. The country is described to be ‘on the brink of man-made starvation’ with hyperinflation, poverty, natural disasters and economic sanctions identified as some of the causes. Zimbabwe has been in the throes of sustained political and economic instability for over two decades, with a period in 2008 where the country experienced a near total collapse. Currently there are fears that it could be returning to the abyss, two years after the coup that deposed of former President Mugabe, and the added climate crisis could be what expedites the return of critical uncertainty in Zimbabwe.. The added climate crisis which has resulted in the lowest rainfall for Zimbabwe since 1981 has not only impacted humans but also wildlife where at least 200 elephants were reported to have died as a result of the drought. In a bid to save the remaining wildlife a migration of the animals by ZimParks and private partners has been planned.
The immediate picture for Southern Africa looks bleak due to the toxic combination of prevalent national and regional issues that are being compounded by its climate crisis. While the level of impact among individual countries in the region may differ slightly based a number of external contributory factors unique to said country, the reality is that Southern Africa’s drought is borderless in its staggering devastation. Increased inter-regional collaboration particularly with relation to mitigating the impact climate change is having on wildlife is a typical example of how the region must do more together in order to maintain regional stability. Climate change has in indeed come early for Southern Africa.
Nicaragua has faced continued political and civil unrest for nearly two years following the protests which began in April 2018. The protests were a result of objections to the new Social Security Reform which was announced by President Daniel Ortega, the reform stated that income and payroll taxes were to be increased as well as a reduction in pension benefits by five percent. The reform act was introduced following recommendations made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which informed Nicaragua’s government if action is not taken the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute’s (INSS) cash reserves would be depleted by 2019. The reform act was prepared based on the recommendations of the IMF’s report however ignoring key recommendations – like raising the retirement age – as they would not yield results for at least three to four years. Citizens of Nicaragua took to the streets in large crowds amounting to tens of thousands of residents including the elderly and students as the core of the peaceful movement.
The protests quickly transformed into a wider anti-government protest calling for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega. The protesters carried out peaceful protests however were met by excessive force from armed police and even armed pro-Ortega militants. The force taken by the Nicaraguan police under orders of the government escalated quickly moving from the use of non-lethal methods such as tear gas and rubber bullets to the use of live ammunition and military fire power which involved assault rifles and grenade launchers. Despite President Ortega announcing on 21st April 2018 that he would open negotiations to revise the reforms, with him cancelling them altogether the next day protests did not stop because, by this point the demonstrations were about more than the reforms which had been announced and the protests intensified.
As the protests continued the actions taken by the police and paramilitary increased and the death count began to rise with 109 people being killed in the initial stages of the protests, including Angel Grahona who was shot to death outside city hall in Bluefields while she was live streaming on Facebook, along with hundreds being arrested even if they did not do anything or carry any weapons. Of the 109 killed 95 of them were reported to have been killed with shots to the head, neck and thorax which have been described as extrajudicial executions. In response to the protests the President’s wife Rosario Murillo who is also the Vice President spoke of the protesters as “small groups, small souls, toxic, full of hate and bent on the destruction of the country, assaulting peace and development.” She went on to express that the protestors were the aggressors and the response of the police and pro-Ortega groups were “legitimate defence.”
With protests showing no sign of slowing President Ortega and his wife Vice President Murillo who control almost every aspect of the Nicaraguan government, including control over outside organisations such as gasoline distribution and television stations through his adult children who manage some of these organisations. Began to take further actions which included the censoring of television channels who were reporting on the protests. In September 2018, Ortega announced that it was illegal to protest without a licence, which were never granted to anti-government movements, however, were regularly granted to pro-Ortega rallies who showed aggression towards anti-government protesters. With this new law being introduced the response from Ortega and his government can be seen in four distinct stages. In the initial stages of protest a regime of crackdown was carried out using a mix of police and paramilitary forces, the response then progressed to a movement to clean the streets of the roadblocks established by protesters as well as attacks on churches who supported the protests. Which was followed by the arbitrary detentions with anyone protesting being arrested one by one, finally with the new law which criminalised dissent against the government. By December 2018, 324 people had been killed, 50,000 citizens had fled the country into exile and around 800 protesters had been arrested and were being held under the guise of political prisoners.
As protests spiralled into the wider movement Ortega continued to face a possible ousting from well-financed opposition political parties. In response to this threat and in attempts to maintain his power Ortega responded with increasingly more brutal and authoritarian responses to quell the opposition and maintain a tightened grip to power. With these increasing aggressive actions Ortega was accused of becoming the very dictator he helped depose of in 1979. As well as his orders of harsh repression on the protesters President Ortega has also sought to remove outside influences to maintain control. In September and October 2018 Ortega expelled outside organisations from the country who he accused of encouraging the protesters or working under Trumps administration. These organisations included the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Organisation of American States (OAS). Shortly before being expelled OAS released a report which stated that the government campaign of repression was so widespread and prolonged that it could only have been ordered by President Daniel Ortega himself.
In February 2019 following nearly a year of protests and unrest in Nicaragua Ortega and Opposition movements agreed to commence negotiations. These negotiations went from February to May 2019 when the opposition walked away from the table due to resistance on the government side regarding a request that the elections be brought forward from 2021 which Ortega adamantly rejected. From the negotiations however, an agreement was reached that the government would release all demonstrators they arrested since the protests began within 90 days. In return Ortega government asked for the lifting of imposed sanctions on the administration. In August 2019 attempts were made by the opposition to reopen negotiations however, the government had sent a letter on 30th July 2019 to the Vatican and the opposition stating that talks were over with no explanation as to why. It is possible to see that Ortega has gained back the control he needs to not need to negotiate any further with the opposition.
As per the agreement made on 20th March 2019, President Ortega’s government began to release the political prisoners they held under the pretext that they would continue their sentences under home arrest and would not participate in any further protests against the government. From this around 540 prisoners were released leaving around 270 still in prison. In June 2019 a further 102 protesters were released under a new law which was introduced the Amnesty Law. This new law meant that dissidents would be released from jail with the same stipulation that they would not participate in further anti-government protests; with these prisoners released brought the total freed to around 640 to 650 leaving around 150 still held in prison. Despite the new Amnesty law releasing dissidents it also faced a large amount of criticism as it not only called for the release of jailed dissidents it also closed the door on investigating and punishing security forces involved in the deadly repression of the protests. Opposition members said that the law implies that no one is responsible for the deaths of the 324 killed in the protests.
Despite the agreement on the 20th March 2019, 150 protesters still remain in prison as political prisoners. The government stated that they released the agreed people within the 90 days proposed and that the remaining prisoners were arrested after the initial agreement. With a large number of protesters remaining in prison the anti-government movement and family members are still looking for the remaining political prisoners to be released. In November 2019, a group of female relatives to some of the political prisoners, held a hunger strike in the San Miguel Archangel Church in Masaya. The hunger strike lasted for nine days before they were evacuated for their own safety as the pro-government mobs labelled as ‘hyena’ Sandinista mob were gathering and attacking anyone in support of the anti-government movement; also carrying out attacks on other churches further inflaming tensions between the Catholic church and President Ortega.
During the hunger strike anti-government supporters attempted to deliver water to the women on hunger strike, were arrested for supporting protesters demanding freedom. These supporters were charged the day after their arrest for allegedly transporting weapons, a charge which carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison, these charges were based on reports from police that they confiscated handguns, a shotgun and gasoline bombs. These recent charges by Ortega and his government has put further international pressure on President Ortega with the UN Human rights office calling for an end to repression on dissent and the recent detention of 16 anti-government protesters accused of arms trafficking appear to be based on “trumped-up charges.” In December 2019, Judge Adalberto Zeledon has approved the charges and set a date for trial on the 20th January 2020.
President Ortega continues to use unnecessary and unlawful reactions on anti-government activist which can be said to have been increased following the ousting or Ortega’s ally Evo Morales in Bolivia which has encouraged opposition to Ortega. Prompting Ortega to arrest activists and strengthen the pressure on his opponents with any means necessary to maintain the hold of power he has.
The Russian “sovereign internet” law that took effect on November 1 gives the Russian government the possibility to switch off internet connections within Russia from external traffic “in an emergency”. What constitutes one is up to its government. There are two important aspects of this law: cyber security and surveillance.
Let us first deal with the cyber aspect. Russia claims that the law is only meant to be a protective measure in response to the US’ introduction of more aggressive cyber security policies. It aims to reduce reliance on foreign services by requiring internet service providers to install network equipment using deep packet inspection (DPI) which is capable of identifying the source of traffic and filter content. A back-up domain name system (DNS) will come into operation in order for Russia’s own domestic internet to continue functioning. Internet service providers will have to disconnect from foreign servers and rely on this DNS instead. In this way, it will have a back-up internet when it shuts itself off from the global web.
The parallel web run solely on Russian internet servers is meant to enable Russia to combat incoming cyber-attacks and to preserve their own domestic network if the West decide to cut the country off from the world wide web. These are certainly some of the secondary benefits of the law. However, a security expert said that this law signifies that Russia is preparing to protect itself from the consequences of launching cyber-attacks. Russia knows that if it undertakes a cyber-attack there is no guarantee that it won’t damage their own economy and systems. By pre-emptively cutting itself from the internet, it can avoid the blowback effect its attacks would have on its own internet.
The second aspect of this law is that it is part of a global trend to try to take control over the internet. These measures, including website blocking and mass surveillance, are in practice much better at monitoring and controlling the country’s own population than they are at fighting foreign interference. This suggests that the law will have greatest effect on freedom of expression rights. In addition, Russia cannot completely cut itself off from the internet if it wants to maintain contact with foreign entities for purposes such as trading. It therefore seems unlikely that Russia would go so far as cutting itself off as long as it wants to maintain business relations. Again, that suggests that the law might be used for the purposes of monitoring Russia’s citizens rather than for cyber protection as the country claims.
That said, it is also true that as a state becomes more dependent on the internet for its infrastructure, it becomes more vulnerable to attacks. Russia knows this well as it has become involved in two of the most direct examples of what we generally describe as cyberwarfare, involving Estonia and Georgia. According to a security expert, in the event that a war breaks out between Russia and NATO it is likely that Russia would be quick to cut its internet off from external traffic. Russia’s internet traffic, like many other countries’, is routed through US exchange points. The fear was that Russia relied too heavily on the US for their internet access. The law intends to solve this by requiring implementation of technical measures that will re-route it through national exchange points instead.
Tech analysists have questioned whether this will actually work in practice. The law does seem to have a feature that is common in laws relating to the internet – that it will be very hard to implement in practice. Russia also has a “pretty poor track record” of technical implementation when trying to impose its national security ideas on the internet. Increasing their cyber defence has been on the Russian government’s agenda for years. This process only accelerated after the 2008 war with Georgia where Russia’s armed forces’ performance in the information domain was criticised. However, back in 2012 internet platforms and service providers said they couldn’t do what the current law requires. It simply wouldn’t work with the internet because it relies on free flow of information across the borders.
But on the other hand, Russia has come a long way since then. It has been practicing and trying to get the technical measures in place for a sufficient number of years now. One thing Russia has been working on is technical measures that can clamp down sources and means of communication that it dislikes. The other thing the country has been doing is to conduct trial runs of the so-called internet kill switch. These were overseen by the country’s telecom watchdog Roskomnadzor, which regulates the internet. Roskomnadzor also began installing the equipment required by the law in September 2019.
The enactment of this law tells the rest of the world that Russia can survive, and even thrive, in complete isolation. This may be particularly concerning for NATO after Colonel Jaak Tarien’s, the chief of NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre, commented on December 4 that it has been slow in its response to the threat of cyber-attacks. “Unless it is a real war, NATO moves at NATO’s pace”, he said ahead of the NATO leaders gathering in London to discuss issues related to cyber security. Still, the law will most likely not have any immediate dramatic effect. The country does not yet have a switch it can simply flick when it suddenly wants to do something.
As such the actual effects this law will have is difficult to predict. However, instead of deterring other countries from launching cyber-attacks against Russia, the enactment of this law may actually encourage them to increase their own cyber abilities. Meanwhile its effects in relation to increased censorship and surveillance could encourage more protests like the ones that took place when the law was first signed.
Denmark has implemented temporary strict border control in Sweden after a series of bombings and shootings throughout this year. The Danish government has put the border control within Øresund bridge which will remain in place until May 2020. The bridge is separates Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, and Swedish third’s largest city, Malmo. These two cities have been the major location of the shootings and bombings that have happened this year. Authorities believed that all the shootings and bombings were orchestrated by organized crime based in Sweden, which currently is in the middle of gang war. Since the beginning of this year, 13 bombings have happened in Copenhagen. The gang war has also heavily occurred in Sweden. Sweden’s national police has been called out to more than 100 blasts this year, with 30 of them happening in the past 2 months. In Malmo alone, 29 explosions and 5 fatal shootings have happened this year. The most recent incident happened on 10 November, when a 15 year-old teenager was killed during a shootout near a pizza place in Malmo. The rise of gang-related violence in Denmark is caused by no other than the increase of participation within organized crime among Swedish nationals.
Authorities has successfully pinpointeds several specific demographis for gang members who are involved in the gang war. It is known that most of the perpetrators are young males under the age of 30, unemployed, with immigrant and poor backgrounds, and also do not possess high school diplomas. These particular demographics have contributed to the rise of organized crime participation in Sweden, which have also been caused by the feelings of non-belonging in the country. These people are not even fluent in Swedish and grew up in a neighbourhood which sees drug dealing as being the most successful occupation within the area. Authorities has been addressing this particular neighbourhood as a “vulnerable area”. In this neighbourhood, several social issues such as high unemployment, segregation faced by immigrants, school drop-outs, and drug trafficking have occurred. According to these facts, it is believed that Swedish government should try to implement preventive action to tackle these social issues from becoming factors of organized crime involvement among Swedish people. Decreasing the growth of these particular social issues will need an implementation of long-term policies. For example, a long-term Swedish language education and counselling for immigrants will eventually eliminate language barriers, which are believed to be one of the factors of segregation faced by foreign-born inhabitants. However, so far the Swedish government only considers action which directly targets the gang-related violence.
The Swedish government has granted the authorities new powers to tackle gang-related violence through a new policy called the 34-point plan. With this policy, the Swedish police will be able to deploy spyware which will intercept encrypted communication within a particular device in order of conduct espionage towards suspects. Other than bypassing encryption, this spyware will also enable authorities to turn on microphones and cameras within the devices of the suspects. This new power received by the authorities will hopefully create a safer society since the violent gangs often use encrypted services for communication. Unfortunately, this policy is not enough to produce a long-term solution. To create a long-term outcome, the need to eliminate the factors of gang-related violence must also be addressed, not only the violence itself. The Swedish government should focus on creating policies which will improve the quality of life and decrease the social issues within the so called “vulnerable area”. By doing this, it will eventually lead to the decrease of gang-related violence, though it is likely not impossible to eliminate it totally.
With less than a week until polling day, the 2019 UK general election campaign has been marred with accusations of fake news, misleading political propaganda and ‘dystopian’ electioneering tactics. The key issue is a lack of clear legal regulation regarding the use of social media for campaigning, leaving platforms open to abuse and misinformation.
Attempts had been made before the departure of Theresa May to implement changes that would clearly define the legal role of social media platforms operating in the UK in regard to political advertising. However, according to senior civil servants and government officials, the current dominance of Brexit in the policy making schedule and uncomfortable questions about the legality of the Brexit referendum campaign make the implementation of sufficient safeguards difficult. Additionally, there is an inherent issue in tasking politicians who may benefit from lax social media regulation to legislate against their own interests.
For individuals, there are two clear issues. First is the micro targeting of social media users. The information Commissioners Office and the Electoral Commission have warned against misusing individuals data, such as their address, age and interests to target potentially misleading ads directly at certain demographics. Secondly, and with specific regard to Facebook, adverts containing false information or misleading claims are allowed to go unverified, and against Facebook’s policies against fake news, due to the platform’s categorisation of political ads as ‘opinion pieces/satire’. This is problematic; over 5000 ads on Facebook alone have been purchased by the three major political parties.
The responsibility for upholding advertising standards has fallen largely on social media platforms themselves. Twitter and Tiktok have banned political advertising across their platforms, however, fake accounts still have the potential to spread misleading political information disguised as ‘fact’. This issue was highlighted by the November 19th rebranding of the official Conservative Party Press Office account into ‘@factcheckUK’. Google has banned 8 separate Conservative advertisements for ‘violating advertising policies’, one of which saw the fake website ‘labourmanifesto.co.uk’, designed to mislead voters about Labour policies, removed for buying advertising in order to manipulate search traffic and shift interest from the real Labour manifesto. The Brexit Party too, has seen five of its adverts removed. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are yet to have advertisements removed by Google.
It should be noted that due to long standing calls for reform, critique of the current regulatory system and examination of existing loopholes for the spread of disinformation, some researchers have voiced concerns that the government has created an ‘election interference playbook’, without sufficiently addressing any of these avenues of exploitation in law. This is where the discussion shifts from the underhanded tactics of party politics, and instead has implications for national security.
There is concern that actors other than British political parties may seek to benefit from the spread of disinformation in the UK general election, specifically, the Russian government. Draft documents from the UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group were leaked online and later picked up by the Labour party in order to undermine Boris Johnson’s position on the National Health Service. The account, which published the documents on Reddit a month before they gained widespread media coverage, was determined to be of Russian origin, along with 60 other Reddit accounts linked to a ‘coordinated effort’ from Russia to spread misinformation. Despite claims from both Johnson and Corbyn that Russian interference is ‘nonsense’, given previous Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential election, and the recently uncovered ‘Secondary Infektion’ disinformation scheme, also coordinated from Russia, concerns about attempted Russian interference in the upcoming election should be further investigated.
Ideally, these issues would be addressed in the yet-to-be-published Intelligence and Security Committee report, which is expected to contain an examination of Russian interference in UK politics, the Brexit referendum and the Conservative Party. Until this report is published, the full scale of Russian attempts to undermine UK democracy is unknowable. Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s election, questions regarding the legitimacy, independence and democracy of the UK political system will remain.