Global Snapshot May 2012
By Rachel Hankey
The May issue of Global Snapshot, which brings current international issues and news from around the world.This month sees renewed tension over natural resouces between Sudan and South Sudan, the sentencing of 'the Merchant of Death' in the US, failed missile tests by North Korea, further intrigue surrounding ejected Chinese Communist Party Chief Bo Xilai, as well as electoral developments in France, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Joyce Banda, former vice-president has become Malawi’s first female president, and the second woman to lead an African country. Her appointment follows the death of President Bingu we Mutharika last month.
The appointment of Banda as Mutharika’s deputy in 2009 surprised many people in Malawi’s conservative, male-dominated society. In 2010 Banda was ejected from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party after she opposed Mutharika’s decision to appoint his brother, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mutharika, as his successor. Banda refused to step down as vice-president and went on to set up her own People’s Party.
Following the death of the president, international observers had expressed concern that civil unrest would occur during the power transition. There was concern that supporters of the foreign minister would try to prevent Banda‘s constitutional succession. Late last month Banda sacked Peter Mutharika as part of a dramatic cabinet reshuffle.
It is expected that Banda will reverse many of Mutharika’s fiscal policies, which had resulted in economic crisis in the country. Britain has announced that it will resume direct aid to Malawi, a former colony. The UK was formerly the largest bilateral donor to the country, providing approximately 30 per cent of the country’s budget. However, aid was suspended in 2011 following a diplomatic dispute with Mutharika, which resulted in the expulsion of the British ambassador. The World Bank, European Union and the African Development Bank, along with a number of other countries, also suspended aid to Malawi.
West Africa has witnessed its second coup in a month, as the military took power in Guinea-Bissau on April 12. On March 22, military officers in Mali overthrew the government.
The small West African state is no stranger to military coups; in almost 40 years of independence, no elected leader has completed their term in office. The international community has condemned the coup. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc has called for the junta "to restore constitutional rule immediately." The African Union also suspended Guinea-Bissau’s membership of the organisation, until constitutional order is reinstated. Talks between the military rulers and ECOWAS have been making progress. Late last month it was announced that ECOWAS would deploy 500 to 600 troops to the region, and the coup leaders have agreed to a 12 month transition to civilian rule.
The military had detained the Interim president Raimundo Pereira and former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. Both Pereira and Gomes were released late last month and have flown to the Ivory Coast, however they are unlikely to return to power.
Tensions are continuing to escalate between Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan. Violence between the two states began in March, as a consequence of the states failing to agree a number of issues, including oil exportation fees and citizenship.
Last month South Sudan seized control of the disputed Heglig oilfield. The oilfield, near the town of Heglig, is the largest oil-producing region in Sudan. The incident was the latest in a number a number of aggressive acts by the two countries; South Sudan claimed that it was a response to an aerial attack carried out by the Sudan air force. South Sudan withdrew its soldiers from Heglig after intense pressure from the international community. The United Nations had declared the action by South Sudan illegal.
South Sudan alleges that rebels, backed by the Sudanese Armed Forces, have attacked a number of South Sudanese towns in the last month. The government in Khartoum denies supporting any rebels in South Sudan. Both states accuse the other of supporting rebel militias.
The escalating conflict is now negatively affecting oil production in both countries, a vital part of the economy.
Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death” has been sentenced to 25 years in prison in America.
American officials captured Bout in Thailand in 2008, following an elaborate sting operation in which US officials posed as members of FARC, the Colombian terrorist group, trying to buy $20 million worth of weapons. Bout was convicted in November last year on charges of conspiracy to kill US nationals. In November 2010, Bout was extradited to the US despite strong opposition from Russian officials. Bout has since urged Russia to begin legal proceedings against the US and Thailand relating to his extradition.
Born in Tajikistan, Bout was a former officer in the Soviet Army. He has always denied allegations of arms dealing, insisting that he was a legitimate businessman. Bout has allegedly armed dictators and has been accused of helping to fuel some of the world’s most violent conflicts. American officials allege that Bout has been responsible for arming members of the Taliban and providing weapons in the civil wars in Angola and Liberia.
Violent confrontations have been occurring in Chile between students and security forces. Police have used tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of protesters attending demonstrations.
In recent months Chilean students have been holding a series of mass protests demanding the introduction of universal free education. The education system in Chile is one of the most privatised in the world: nearly three quarters of universities are privately owned, and household spending on tuition fees accounts for 40 per cent of education spending. President Sebastian Pinera has recently announced plans to raise taxes in order to finance educational reforms.
The leader of the student movement is Camila Vallejo, a young communist and president of Chile's main students' union. The protests began in 2011, and have showed no sign of losing momentum. The movement has become known as the Chilean Winter, and has become the largest protest movement in Chile since the last days of General Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1980s.
Last month North Korea carried out its plans to launch a long-range rocket, in defiance of international warnings. However, the launch ended in failure as the rocket broke into pieces and fell into the Yellow Sea shortly after take-off.
In March, North Korea announced that it would launch an observation satellite as part of the centenary celebrations of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung. Members of the international community have warned that in launching the rocket, North Korea would violate both UN resolutions and Pyongyang's promise not to conduct nuclear and missile activity. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the launch of the rocket would heighten tensions in the region.
The United States has alleged that China has assisted with the development of North Korea’s missile program, although no further information about the extent of this support has been released. China is North Korea’s only major ally, and there are extensive military and economic ties between the two countries.
Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, the Communist Party Chief sensationally ejected from the party in March, has been arrested in connection to the death of a British businessman. The businessman, Neil Heywood, was found dead in a hotel room in the Chinese city of Chongqing, in mid-November. Authorities allege that Kailai poisoned Heywood with cyanide after he threatened to expose her plans to move money overseas.
The incident has shed light on the private life of a senior communist party official and the extent of nepotism that remains in Chinese politics. Xilai’s son, Bo Guagua was formerly a student at Oxford University, and is currently studying at Harvard in the United States. It is alleged that he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, hosting large parties and driving expensive cars. Bo Guagua has publically denied the allegations. His future, which was once guaranteed to be rich and successful due to his connections to the Communist party, is now uncertain.
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, met with Indian PM Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. This marked the first visit of a Pakistani president to India in seven years, the last being in 2005.
The trip was publicised as a religious pilgrimage for Zardari to visit the Sufi shrine at Ajmer. However, the visit has been widely hailed as a breakthrough in relations between the hostile neighbours. Although the meeting between the two leaders was brief, the visit has been described by western diplomats as "good news after a lot of grim news".
Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent French President has lost the presidential election. The runoff election was won by the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who also narrowly beat Sarkozy in the preliminary round of voting.
The right-wing Sarkozy tried to convince the French public that he will be a changed, better president if re-elected. Sarkozy sought to win the support of the far right in order to gain much needed votes, although he has publically denied entering into any deal with Le Pen. In an outcome that surprised political commentators, Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front, won almost 20 per cent of the vote in the preliminary round.
The presidential campaign became increasingly focused on the candidates themselves, rather than their manifestos, with some commentators noting that personalities are trumping policies.
The Spanish royal family is facing increasing criticism following revelations of their expensive lifestyle at a time when Spain is facing an increasing economic crisis. The criticism has been fuelled by revelations that King Juan Carlos recently took part in an elephant-hunting trip in Botswana.
Although the purpose of the trip remains unconfirmed by the royal family, the trip has sparked controversy at a time when the Spanish government is introducing harsh austerity measures. In addition, the King is honorary president of the Spanish branch of conservation group WWF. Tomas Gomez, a leading member of the Socialist Party has announced that the King should choose between "public responsibilities or an abdication".
Earlier last month the royal family was at the centre of another controversy after the King’s 13 year old grandson accidently shot himself in the foot with a rifle.
Adu-Hamza, the “hook-handed cleric” is to be extradited from Britain to the USA, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Hamza is notorious in the UK for his “hate-filled sermons” at London’s Finsbury Park mosque.
Hamza, along with four other suspected terrorists due to be sent to the USA, had argued against their extradition on the grounds that the sentence, and prisons in which they will be kept, would breach their human rights. The ruling is seen as one of the most important since 9/11 because it approves of the current human rights standards in America’s maximum-security prisons. This means that in the future it will be easier for Britain to extradite suspects to the US.
The ruling by the court has been welcomed in both Britain and America. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister announced that he is “very pleased” with the ruling. Cameron has called for the Court to be reformed, particularly in the light of its decision to bar the extradition to Jordan of Abu Qatada, an extremist once known as “Osama bid Laden’s right hand man in Europe”.
The Egyptian electoral commission has released the final list of candidates for the Presidential election, due to take place on 23rd and 24th May. A total of twenty-three candidates applied for nomination, although only thirteen are eligible to run for election. A number of former prominent figures from the Mubarak regime are standing for election, including: Amr Moussa, former Egyptian foreign minister; Ahmed Shafiq, Egypt's last prime minister under Mubarak; Husam Khayrallah, former member of the intelligence service; and Abdallah al-Ashal, former Assistant Foreign Minister.
Two members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a number of independent candidates, are standing for president. The Muslim Brotherhood, which currently controls the Egyptian Parliament, had initially promised that it would not field a candidate in the election. The group had wished to avoid accusations that they were monopolising power in the country.
The electoral commission barred a number of candidates from standing, including Omar Suleiman, Hosni Mubarak’s former intelligence chief. Suleiman was appointed as Mubarak’s vice-President shortly before Mubarak was deposed in February 2011.
Protests against Egypt’s military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces continue amid concerns that the army is resisting a transition to civilian rule.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has announced that he may step down from office a year early. The presidential elections are currently due to take place in 2014, the same year as combat troops from western countries will leave Afghanistan. Karzai has expressed concerns that the country will struggle to cope with two major changes occurring in the same year. An early election would allow the government to take advantage of the continued coalition military presence, which would increase the possibility of securing a peaceful transfer of power.
However, there is growing concern in Kabul that the election may either be delayed or brought forward, both of which would be in breach of the conditions laid out in the constitution. Karzai was appointed as interim president in 2002 and went on to be elected to serve five-year terms in 2004 and again in 2009. The Afghan constitution prevents Karzai from standing for election again.
The announcement came shortly before the Taliban launched a series of attacks against NATO and government targets, as part of their annual “Spring offensive”.