On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry announced Friday that a Chinese national, who was reported as being held hostage by the Islamic State (IS) group, appears to be one of its missing citizens. Earlier this week, IS, which controls territory in Iraq and Syria, published two photographs of men whom they called “prisoners” in its English-language magazine Dabiq. In the magazine, the militant group indicated that one of the hostages was from Norway while the other was a Chinese man identified as Fan Jingui. It shows Fan, who has been identified as a 50-year-old “freelance consultant” from Beijing, against a black background wearing a yellow top. He provides a telegram number for anyone who wishes to pay his ransom. It remains unclear where he is being held and the magazine did not give a ransom amount.
Speaking on Friday to reporters at a regular press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei disclosed that “after initial verification of the relevant media reports of the two hostages, one of them matches the characteristics of a Chinese citizen who has gone missing overseas.” Hong has disclosed that China had launched an emergency response mechanism and reiterated that the Chinese government is firmly opposed to violence against innocent civilians.
In the past, Chinese citizens have been held hostage overseas before, including in Africa and in Pakistan. According to Pakistani officials, a Chinese tourist kidnapped in Pakistan by the Taliban more than a year ago was freed in August, as a result of an intelligence operation.
According to a new UK Chamber of Shipping study, published 10 July 2014, a lack of security off the coast of Nigeria not only threatens seafarers transiting the region, but it will also have an impact on the United Kingdom’s economy.
The new report indicates that maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea region exposes almost all of the UK’s £6.3 billion (US $10.7 billion) annual trade with the region, including 12% of oil that is imported into the UK. By 2050, the region is set to hold 25% of the world’s oil production, however the lack of security in the Gulf of Guinea is now affecting the UK’s economy as its economic interests are being placed at risk.
While over the past year, the rise in piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea has effectively transformed the region into the new global piracy hotspot, overtaking piracy off the coast of Somalia; the issue of maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea is not new. This is echoed by Guy Platten, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, who states that while “most people are aware of pirate activity off Somalia…lawlessness in the Gulf of Guinea is a major threat to our seafarers, the UK’s energy and trade security, and to the economic development in the region,” adding “Nigeria and other states in the region have known for 30 years that piracy was a problem, but too little has been done.”
One issue is the continued under reporting of incidents in the region, which has resulted in the lack of comprehensive data, in turn making it difficult to provide accurate statistics concerning maritime crime in the region. While the study indicates that vessels transiting the region are attacked at least once per week, it does note that a significant proportion, estimated to be up to two-thirds of attacks, go un-reported. Of those reported attacks, 60% occurred within Nigerian territorial waters. Such under reporting has been attributed to two reasons: bureaucracy and a lack of suitable reporting organization.
What Does This Mean For the UK Economy?
Oil and Gas
Although Nigeria is the primary source of energy from the Gulf of Guinea, with proven reserves of 37.2 billion barrels (11th in the world) and a production of 2.5 million barrels per day (12th in the world), all of the country’s oil is exported by sea despite the prevalence of maritime crime.
This insecurity effectively places the UK energy security at risk during transportation through insecure shipping routes, such as those in the Gulf of Guinea region.
Gas exports from the region are not yet as proportionally significant. In 2012, 6% of the EU’s LNG came from the Gulf of Guinea. Maritime security is vital to this source of energy as deepwater fields in the Gulf of Guinea account for 800,000 bpd in Nigeria, and are forecast to provide 60% of total Nigerian production. While there is a plan for an LNG pipeline, which will transport gas across the Sahara, currently all of these energy exports are conducted by sea.
Non Oil Trade
Nigeria is the second largest market for goods in Africa while the region as a whole contributes to the food security of the UK, including bananas, cocoa and palm oil; as well as other produce, including rubber and timber.
The UK also has a direct trade in minerals with West Africa and holds investments in third party trade. These minerals are transported by sea and therefore are affected by the poor maritime governance in the Gulf of Guinea.
Combatting the threat of piracy and maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea will not be simple as vessels transiting the region use routes that pass through multiple jurisdictions. Consequently any solution to this issue will have to be multilateral.
Although some UK policies are already focusing on reducing maritime crime in the region, including how to protect seafarers and how to address the maritime manifestation of oil theft, the study notes that any UK activity aimed at enhancing security in the region should be proportional to its risks and can only be based on soft power.
While the UK Chamber of Shipping report focuses primarily on maritime security in waters off Nigeria, the study provides evidence to support both continued and additional UK involvement, adding that solutions must be multilateral and cannot focus on one sole country.
The study concludes by indicating that Ghana is an excellent example of how maritime security can be successfully provided in the region. According to the study, “investors in Ghana provide directly to maritime security projects, and this public/private partnership has been seen to be another example of success.” The report adds that Ghana “…demonstrates that the GoG is not an ungovernable region, but that third-party supported, regionally hosted maritime security has significant commercial and social benefits.”
Despite announcing earlier this week that he would visit the town where more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan confirmed Friday that that he has cancelled his trip to Chibok, a move that is likely to anger the Nigerian public and further derail his potential re-election bid.
Sources earlier this week indicated that President Goodluck Jonathan would stop in Chibok, located in north-eastern Nigeria, while on his way to a conference in France, which is set to focus on the on going threat from Boko Haram militants. However on Friday, a senior government official indicated that the president, who is under pressure over his government’s failure to rescue the girls, will fly directly to Paris, citing that the visit was called off for security reasons. The president will take part in a summit in Paris convened by French President Francois Hollande. The leaders of Nigeria’s neighbours, including Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, are also scheduled to attend the summit on Saturday, which will also include representatives from the EU, UK and US. A statement released by the French President’s office indicated that the delegates will “discuss fresh strategies for dealing with the security threat posed by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in west and central Africa.” The cancellation of this visit also underlines just how fragile the security situation is in the north-east despite the on-going military operations, which were launched last May. It is also likely to result in further criticism of the president.
The cancellation of the President’s visit to Chibok comes days after the Nigerian government ruled out negotiations with Boko Haram, over a possible release of prisoners. At a meeting on Wednesday, UK Africa Minister Mark Simmonds indicated that President Jonathan had “made it very clear that there will be no negotiation.”
State of Emergency Extended
On Thursday, the lower house of Nigeria’s parliament, the House of Representatives, approved an extension of the state of emergency in the north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Earlier this week, President Jonathan had requested a six-month extension, calling the security situation in the region “daunting” and stating that he was concerned by the mounting loss of life among civilians. The state of emergency, which still needs to be approved by the Senate, effectively provides the military with widespread powers such as detaining suspects, imposing curfews and setting up roadblocks.
The announcement of the extension of the state of emergency came as reports of fresh attacks by suspected Boko Haram militants emerged on Thursday. Witnesses have reported that there had been explosions in Gamboru Ngala, where some 300 people were killed last week in a massacre that has been blamed on Boko Haram militants.
After Sunday’s reported coup attempt, fighting has continued in South Sudan, with the military now reporting that South Sudanese rebels have taken over a key town. The unrest, which began in the capital Juba, has already killed some 500 people, sparking concerns that the conflict could spread and transform into a civil war. President Salva Kiir has accused former vice president Riek Machar of plotting a coup, a claim he has denied.
Rebels Take Key Town
On Thursday, South Sudan’s army spokesman, Col. Philip Aguer, confirmed “our soldiers have lost control of Bor to the forces of Riek Machar.” The previous day, Bor’s mayor, Nicholas Nhial Maja, indicated that violence had spread to his city from Juba, which is located 200 km (125 miles) away.
Overnight, there were reports of gun battles in Bor, as renegade officers fought with troops who are still loyal to the current president. The army has indicated that Peter Gadet Yak, the commander of Division 8 unit, had rebelled, taking with him an unknown number of soldiers. It currently remains unclear as to whether troops loyal to Mr. Machar were involved in the fighting.
Bor is the capital of Jonglei state. Prior to the current violence, Bor has been seen as being one of the most volatile areas in South Sudan.
While the latest violence has been confined to Jonglei, tensions are also high in the states of Unity and Upper Nile. However in Juba, where the violence initially erupted on Sunday, the situation appears to be calmer, with Col. Aguer reporting that “the streets are busy and shops are open.
Meanwhile, officials at the United Nations have expressed concern about a possible civil war erupting between the country’s two main ethnic groups, the Dinka of current President Kiir and the Nuer, of Mr. Machar. The UN has called for political dialogue in order to end the crisis, with the Ugandan government indicating that its president has been asked by the UN to mediate between the two sides. A delegation composed of East African foreign minister is due to fly to Juba in order to try and arrange talks. The UN peacekeeping mission has indicated that it is sheltering civilians in five state capitals, including Juba, Bor and Bentiu, which is the main town of the oil-producing state of Unity.
Brtiain and the United States have already sent out planes in order to airlift their nations out of the country.
On Monday, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir indicated that an attempted coup by soldiers loyal to his former deputy Riek Machar had been put down.
The President further noted that after a night of heavy fighting between soldiers in the presidential guard, the government was now in full control of the capital, Juba. A night time curfew was put in place and a number of arrests were reportedly made. Several people were reported injured and hundreds have fled to a US base.
Fighting broke out in the capital city overnight and intensified in the early morning, with reports of continuous gunfire and several explosions being heard. The city’s airport has been closed and the state TV channel SSTV went off air for several hours. Shortly after it came back on air, SSTV broadcasted an address by the President, who indicated that the violence “was an attempted coup,” noting that the government was now in full control and that the attackers were being chased down. The president has blamed soldiers loyal to Riek Machar, who he dismissed as vice-president in July, for starting the fighting in the capital. Machar was dismissed after mounting public criticism at the government’s failure to deliver better public services in the oil-producing nation.
The fighting erupted when unidentified uniformed personnel opened fire during a meeting of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). This was followed by an attack on army headquarters near the university, which was carried out “by a group of soldiers allied to the former vice president Dr. Riek Machar and his group.” During his address, the president stipulated that he “…will not allow or tolerate such incidents once again in our nation. I strongly condemn these criminal actions in the strongest terms possible.” He vowed that those responsible would have to stand “before the appropriate law institution.”
On Monday, the president declared a curfew, running from 6PM to 6AM each night.
Overview of South Sudan
South Sudan’s is the world’s newest nation. Located in central Africa, and bordered by six countries, South Sudan is rich in oil, however following decades of civil war, it is also one of the least developed regions on earth.
In 2011, South Sudan overwhelmingly voted to breakaway from Sudan. Since then, there have been a number of small-armed rebellions, border clashes and deadly cattle feuds. However these have all typically occurred in places away from the capital Juba.
The government’s main concern has been to get the oil flowing following disagreements with Sudan. Production of oil only resumed in April of this year. In turn, signs of tension within the country’s governing SPLM party became evident in July, when President Salva Kiir, from the majority Dinka group, removed his deputy Riek Machar, who comes from the second largest Nuer group, from power.
Over the past week, the president of the United Nations Security Council, Gerard Araud, who has stated that the violence in South Sudan had the potential to be a “fully-fledged war throughout the country” between the Dinka and Nuer communities. In turn, up to 20,000 people have already taken refuge in the UN mission in Juba, with some indicating that Nuer residents were being targeted in the fighting. Furthermore, after decades of conflict, the country is also awash with guns.
Two United Nations peacekeepers have been killed in a car bomb blast in the northeastern Malian town of Kidal, overshadowing the second round of parliamentary elections that were held on Sunday.
On Sunday, Malians voted in the second round of parliamentary elections, which are intended to cap the nation’s return to democracy but which were overshadowed by the deaths of two UN peacekeepers in a militant attack that was carried out on Saturday.
Speaking shortly after casting his ballot in the capital city, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita stated, “this second round establishes the recovery on a foundation of legitimacy in this country. It will give us more strength, more power to say ‘Mali’ and that’s what Mali needs.”
In the first round of elections, which took place on 24 November, nineteen of the national assembly’s 147 seats were allocated, with voter turnout at 38.6 per cent, a drop of almost 13 percentage points from the first round of voting during the presidential elections. Shortly after the conclusion of the first round of parliamentary voting, Louis Michel, chief of the European Union (EU) observation mission, called on “all political actors” to turn out in the second round, adding that “in the specific context of Mali, voting is not only a right, it is a moral duty.”
While there were no serious incidents reported during the ten hours of voting, polling stations throughout the country were reporting turnout as low as fifteen per cent, as voters were scared away by a recent upsurge in rebel attacks against African troops tasked with election security alongside French and Malian soldiers.
Sources on the ground have indicated that polling stations in Bamako reported an estimated turnout of just fifteen per cent. In Koulikoro, located 50 kilometres (37 miles) southwest of Bamako, many residents indicated that they were not intending to participate as they were unimpressed with the candidates and feared Islamist violence. The second round of parliamentary elections is Mali’s fourth nationwide ballot since July, with some reports indicating that the low turnout may also be due to a lack of interest due to voting fatigue. In the north of Mali, voting took place without incident in the regions of Gao and Timbuktu, with seats in Kidal already decided in the first round. Maiga Seyma, the deputy mayor of Gao, indicated that turnout appeared to be good in its 88 polling stations and that the voting had opened in an atmosphere of calm.
The outcome of the election is expected to be announced by the government before the end of Friday, with the president’s Rally for Mali (RPM) party vowing to deliver “a comfortable majority” to smooth the path for reforms he plans to put in place in order to rebuild Mali’s stagnant economy and ease the simmering ethnic tensions in the north.
Explosion Overshadows Elections
A suicide attack on United Nations forces in northern Mali on Saturday killed two Senegalese soldiers in what a Malian jihadist leader said was retaliation for African countries’ support of a French army operation against Islamist militants.
The blast, which occurred when a suicide bomber ploughed his explosives-laden vehicle into the Malian Bank of Solidarity in Kidal, killed the two peacekeepers who were guarding the bank. A government statement indicated that the car “struck the main door of the bank, killing in addition to the suicide bomber two Senegalese soldiers of MINUSMA and injuring six other people.” The statement further noted that five sustained serious injuries – three peacekeepers and two Malian soldiers – who were later evacuated to Gao.
Sultan Ould Badi, a Malian jihadist linked to a number of armed groups, has indicated that the latest attack was in retaliation for African countries’ support of the French-led military operation against Islamist rebels in northern Mali. He further noted “we are going to respond all across Azawad and in other lands…with other operations against France’s crusades.” Badi, a member of northern Mali’s Arab and Tuareg minority groups, rose to prominence kidnapping European hostages in the region and selling them on to armed Islamist groups. He later joined AQIM and was close to one of the group’s top commanders, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, who was killed while fighting the French army in northern Mali in late February of this year. After Zeid’s death, Badi joined another al-Qaeda-linked group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), before launching his own small radical group. According to a Malian security source, Badi current acts as an intermediary between the various jihadist groups that operate in northern Mali.
Over the past week, the French army has been carrying out an operation against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militant north of Timbuktu. According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, nineteen militants have been killed.
Also on Saturday, Seyba Diarra, the right-hand man of coup leader Amadou Sanogo, was detained on charges of assassination. According to sources close to the investigation, Diarra had promised to “cooperate frankly” with investigators in order to shed light on a mass grave containing twenty-one bodies that was discovered on December 4 near the capital Bamako. The dead are believed to be “red berets” loyal to the president overthrown in the coup, Amadou Toumani Toure, The discovery of the mass grave came one week after Sanogo’s arrest and detention, after which about fifteen mainly military aides were also arrested. The government has since indicated that “for now,” Sanogo was charged with involvement in a kidnapping, however a source close to judge Yaya Karembe has stated that he faces charges including murder.