A farmer holds a sword during a protest against farm laws introduced by the government, at the historic Red Fort in Delhi, India, January 26. | Photo Credit: Adnan Abidi/REUTERS

Feb 1: GameStop saga continues, Indian protesters storm Red Fort, EU reverses vaccine move after uproar

North America

  • United States (US) Senator Patrick Leahy, who will preside over former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, returned home after he was taken to the hospital last Tuesday (Jan 26), a spokesman said. The Senate is divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, and Democrat Vice President Kamala Harris is the tie-breaking vote. If a seat were to become vacant or a senator was unable to attend votes, the balance of power could be upended. The US House of Representatives formally charged Trump last Monday (Jan 25) with inciting insurrection in a fiery speech to his followers before this month’s deadly attack on the Capitol, signalling the start of his second impeachment trial. Trump is the only US president to have been impeached by the House twice and will be the first to face trial after leaving office. Conviction in the Senate could result in a vote to ban him from holding future office. 
  • The US Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, dropped his demand that the new Democratic Senate majority promise to preserve the filibuster last Monday (Jan 25), ending an impasse that had prevented Democrats from assuming full power even after their election wins. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell had been at odds over the Republican’s request to protect the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority to advance most legislation. Some liberal Democrats have suggested killing the filibuster to help advance President Joe Biden’s agenda, though Biden has not signalled support for such a move. In recent years, the 60-vote threshold has brought the Senate nearly to a halt on major legislation.
  • US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and her Canadian counterpart underscored the importance of working closely together on economic policy, national security and climate change last Friday (Jan 30). Yellen won overwhelming Senate confirmation as the first woman to lead the US Treasury last Monday (Jan 25), setting her quickly to work with Congress on coronavirus relief, reviewing US sanctions policy and strengthening financial regulation. The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Yellen, with all opposition coming from Republicans. Yellen, 74, made history in 2014 when she became the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve. 
  • US President Biden signed a package of executive orders elevating climate change at every level of the federal government, a move that the administration says will put the US on the path to reducing its share of emissions. The orders include the direction for the secretary of the Interior Department “to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters to the extent possible”, among others. The orders also set broad new foreign policy goals, including specifying that climate change, for the first time, will be a core part of all foreign policy and national security decisions. The US also joined high-level talks last Monday (Jan 25) on ways to better protect people and economies from the effects of global warming already taking place. The Climate Adaptation Summit, hosted by the Netherlands, aims to set out practical solutions and plans for dealing with climate change in the period until 2030.
  • US stocks fell sharply last Friday (Jan 29), as heightened speculative trading by retail investors continued to unnerve the market. The army of small investors behind this week’s dramatic squeeze on Wall Street hedge funds had returned to drive shares in GameStop and other hot companies higher last Friday (Jan 29) as online broker Robinhood eased disputed trading restrictions. The strict limits that Robinhood and other online stock brokerages had imposed prompted a number of Democrats and Republicans to unite in opposition. Wallstreetbets, a discussion forum on Reddit, has been instrumental in inspiring retail investors to flock to historically unloved stocks like GameStop. When the forum briefly went private last Wednesday (Jan 27), the shares of GameStop and other companies tumbled. The clash between retail traders and Wall Street professionals that sparked roller coaster rides in the shares of GameStop Corp may pose a risk to dozens of other stocks and potentially create a headache for the broader market, analysts said. 
  • The US Department of Homeland Security said last Wednesday (Jan 27) that the deadly rampage of the Capitol this month may not be an isolated episode. The department said publicly for the first time that the US faced a growing threat from “violent domestic extremists” emboldened by the attack. The terrorism alert issued was categorised as one warning of developing trends in terrorism, rather than a notice of an imminent attack. Although it did not name specific groups, the alert made clear that their motivation would include anger over “the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives”.
  • General Motors said last Thursday (Jan 28) that it would phase out petroleum-powered cars and trucks and sell only vehicles that have zero tailpipe emissions by 2035, a seismic shift by one of the world’s largest automakers that makes billions of dollars today from gas-guzzling pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. The announcement is likely to put pressure on automakers around the world to make similar commitments. It could also embolden US President Joe Biden and other elected officials to push for even more aggressive policies to fight climate change.
  • Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said last Friday (Jan 29) that its single-dose vaccine was 66 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 in a large global trial against multiple variants, giving health officials another weapon to tackle the pandemic. Those trials, however, were conducted mainly in the US and before new variants emerged. J&J’s main goal was the prevention of moderate to severe Covid-19, and the vaccine was 85 per cent effective in stopping severe disease and preventing hospitalisation across all geographies and against multiple variants 28 days after immunisation.
  • US President Joe Biden has sent a clear warning to Beijing against any expansionist intentions in East and Southeast Asia. In multiple calls and statements, he and his top security officials have underscored support for allies Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, signalling Washington’s rejection of China’s disputed territorial claims in those areas. This emphasises that the new Biden administration will not deviate from the firm security stance towards China that it inherited from former president Donald Trump. 

South America

  • Several big European financial institutions — BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse and ING — have committed to halting the financing of the trade of oil from the Amazon region of Ecuador. The three banks that have recently indicated such a policy change are collectively responsible for US$5.5 billion (S$7.3 billion) in Ecuadorian Amazon oil financing since 2009. The decisions come several months after a critical report published last August by those two groups exposed how a handful of banks in Europe have provided US$10 billion (S$13.3 billion) in financing for over 155 million barrels of oil exported from South America to the US. Their commitments to end financing for this trade represent an important step towards forest protection and respect for Indigenous rights in the Amazon.
  • Venezuela’s Juan Guaido is a “privileged interlocutor” but no longer considered interim president, European Union (EU) states said in a statement last Monday (Jan 25), sticking by their decision to downgrade his status. The EU’s 27 states had said on Jan 6 that they could no longer legally recognise Guaido after he lost his position as head of parliament following legislative elections in Venezuela in December, despite the EU not recognising that vote. Guaido had become interim president following the disputed re-election of President Nicolas Maduro in 2018. Guaido is still seen by the US and Britain as Venezuela’s rightful leader. The status of interim president gives Guaido access to funds confiscated from Maduro by Western governments, as well as affording him access to top officials and supporting his pro-democracy movement domestically and internationally. 
  • A Brazilian Supreme Court justice has approved an investigation into the health minister’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Amazonian city of Manaus, where the health system has been pushed to its limits by a surge in infections. Attorney General Augusto Aras will have 60 days to carry out the investigation while Pazuello will have five days to give testimony to federal police. 
  • Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti announced a total lockdown of Lima, the capital, and nine other regions following a significant increase in Covid-19 cases, which he said had pushed hospitals close to collapse. The measures will remain in force until at least Feb 14. The government is planning to begin a mass vaccination campaign next month, and hopes vaccines will help it find a way out of the crisis.
  • Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) last Thursday (Jan 28) accused eight former commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters of war crimes and crimes against humanity for taking hostages during the country’s internal armed conflict. This is the first time since the signing of the 2016 peace deal that the JEP has attributed criminal responsibility to former leaders of FARC, which demobilised to reintegrate with society.

Asia Pacific

  • Indian farmers began a one-day hunger strike last Saturday (Jan 30) in protest against new agricultural laws after a week of clashes with authorities that left one dead and hundreds injured. A rally against agriculture reforms in India had turned violent last Tuesday (Jan 26), after protesting farmers broke through police barricades to storm Delhi’s historic Red Fort complex. Hundreds of police guarded the Red Fort the next day following the violent clashes. The protesters were part of a huge rally planned on India’s Republic Day. 
  • China and New Zealand have completed a review and expansion of their free-trade agreement a month after Beijing and Canberra abandoned an opportunity to do the same. The pact widens the existing trade deal between Beijing and Wellington that was last upgraded in November 2019. All New Zealand dairy exports to China will also be tariff-free by 2024, while wood and paper products from New Zealand get a boost from the revamp.
  • The US military said last Friday (Jan 29) that Chinese military flights in the past week in the South China Sea fit a pattern of destabilising and aggressive behaviour by Beijing, but posed no threat to a US Navy aircraft carrier strike group in the region. Warplanes from the US and China had flown in proximity near southern Taiwan last Tuesday (Jan 26). China’s maritime authority announced on the same day that a military exercise would take place as an American aircraft carrier group entered the contested South China Sea, suggesting the military rivalry of the Trump presidency would continue into Joe Biden’s tenure. 
  • China said last Wednesday (Jan 27) that it was seeking details about 25 of its nationals who were among 61 crew on two supertankers seized by Indonesia on suspicion of illegally transferring oil. Iran had also asked Indonesia to provide details about the seizure the previous day. Indonesia said on Jan 24 that it had seized Iran and Panama-flagged tankers with crew members from Iran and China, over alleged illegal oil transfer in the country’s waters. The Indonesian authorities said the ships concealed their identity and caused an oil spill around the receiving tanker. They also said on Tuesday (Jan 26) that the seizure of the ships had “nothing” to do with the US sanctions, which Washington imposed in a bid to shut off Iran’s oil exports in a dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
  • More than 1,400 Rohingya Muslim refugees set sail from a remote island in the Bay of Bengal last Saturday (Jan 30), a Bangladesh navy officer said, despite complaints by rights groups concerned about the site’s vulnerability to storms and flooding. This  brings the number of Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar that Bangladesh has sent to the island of Bhasan Char since early December to at least 6,700. The Rohingya, a minority group who fled violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, are not allowed to move off the island without government permission. Bangladesh justifies the move to the island saying overcrowding in the camps in Cox’s Bazar is leading to crimes. It also dismisses concerns of floods, but its actions have attracted criticism from relief agencies that had not been consulted on the previous transfers. 
  • A 16-year-old Singaporean boy planning a terror attack on Muslims at two mosques was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) last month, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said last Wednesday (Jan 27). A Protestant Christian of India ethnicity, he is the first detainee to be influenced by the far-right extremist ideology and the youngest person detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities to date. The rise of right-wing extremism creeping into Singapore is a worrying development, and is part of a larger wave sweeping across the world, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.
  • The United Nations (UN) human rights chief urged states last Wednesday (Jan 27) to impose “targeted sanctions” on former Sri Lankan military commanders, including the current army chief, linked to alleged atrocities during the last years of a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009. “States can consider targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans against credibly alleged perpetrators of grave human rights violations and abuses,” Michelle Bachelet said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council ahead of a February session. States could also prosecute suspects in their national courts under universal jurisdiction, Bachelet said.
  • China toughened its language towards Taiwan last Thursday (Jan 28), warning after recent stepped up military activities near the island that “independence means war” and that its armed forces were acting in response to provocation and foreign interference. Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, reported multiple Chinese fighter jets and bombers entering its southwestern air defence identification zone last weekend, prompting Washington to urge Beijing to stop pressuring Taiwan. China believes that Taiwan’s democratically-elected government is moving the island towards a declaration of formal independence, though Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly said it is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name. 
  • Myanmar’s armed forces have said they will protect and abide by the country’s constitution and act according to the law, amid concerns in the country that the military might attempt to seize power. In an official statement last Saturday (Jan 30), the military said recent remarks by its top general about abolishing the constitution were misinterpreted by the media and some organisations. The country is just a decade out of nearly 50 years of military rule, with a nascent democracy governed under a junta-authored constitution which dictates power-sharing between the civilian administration and the country’s generals. For weeks, the powerful military has alleged widespread voter irregularities in November’s election, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide.
  • India’s government plans to introduce a bill in the country’s lower house that would ban private cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and create a national cryptocurrency. The so-called “Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill” moves “to create a facilitative framework for creation of the official digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India”. Additionally, “the bill also seeks to prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India, however, it allows for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology of cryptocurrency and its uses”.

Europe

  • Greece and Turkey resumed dialogue last Monday (Jan 25), attempting to prevent further military escalation in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, after a five-year hiatus. The root of the tension is competing for claims over offshore energy exploitation rights of the gas reserves in the Mediterranean, which had nearly pushed the countries to the brink of war, with an arms race, aggressive rhetoric and heightened mutual mistrust. Following a three hour meeting of delegations, diplomatic sources confirmed the high-level contacts would continue, with a second round of direct talks taking place in Athens. The news was greeted with relief and hope that mutual confidence and trust may be restored. 
  • Russia detained over 1000 at protests against the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and broke up rallies in Moscow and across Russia yesterday (Jan 31). The nationwide rallies follow large protests last weekend that are part of a campaign to pressure the Kremlin into freeing President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent. Violence against protesters in these unsanctioned rallies that broke out on Sunday (Jan 24) were condemned by the US, showing a departure of the US attitude towards Russia during the Trump administration. In response, Kremlin press secretary Dmitri Peskov said: “We are not ready for diktat, we are not ready for boorishness, and we are not ready for any crossing of red lines.” EU’s foreign policy chief, Joseph Borrell, will fly to Moscow to personally deliver the bloc’s condemnation of the “completely unacceptable” arrest of Navalny. In the House of Commons in the United Kingdom (UK) last Wednesday (Jan 27), opposition MPs called for sanctions against eight prominent and wealthy Russians cited by Navalny. 
  • Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has resigned as political crisis escalated in a tactical move last Tuesday (Jan 26). The development added more political turmoil to the country that is already experiencing a severe health and economic crisis. Conte narrowly survived a vote of confidence last week, but his government has been stripped of a working majority with the decision of Italia Viva, a small party exiting the coalition government, making it difficult to pass any major laws for the remainder of his mandate. However, the resignation is widely seen as an attempt to avoid a parliamentary defeat at a Senate vote later this week. Matteo Renzi, who pulled his Italia Viva party out of the ruling coalition, would like to see former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi become prime minister, a party source said yesterday (Jan 31).
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised regarding the criticism of his government’s response to the Covid-19 virus which has now killed 100,162 people. The number is the fifth-highest toll globally and higher than the country’s civilian death toll in WW2. Opposition Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has repeatedly accused Johnson of being too slow to respond to the pandemic and his indecision resulted in lives and a worsened economy. The UK was the first country to approve Pfizer’s vaccine and since Monday (Jan 26), 6,853,327 people have received their first dose and 472,446 a second dose. 
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the World Economic Forum that the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened pre-existing global problems and imbalances, setting the stage for an “all against all” fight. Putin cited experts that have likened the current state of global affairs to the 1920s and 1930s last Wednesday (Jan 27). Putin stated that he hopes “nowadays such a heated conflict (WW2) is not possible”. 
  • Last Wednesday (Jan 27) marked the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Pope Francis urged people to beware of ideological extremism because “these things can happen again” and it is imperative that the world did not forget. Displays of anti-Semitism was seen at the US Capitol riot on Jan 6 and the vandalism and the near burning of one of Montreal’s largest synagogues on Jan 13. Pope Francis said society should never let its guard down against the dangers of nationalism. 
  • Stephan Ernst, a German neo-Nazi has been jailed for life for the murder of Walter Lübcke, a pro-immigration politician with Angela Merkel’s CDU. Lübcke was shot in the head on the terrace of his home in Wolfhagen-Istha, near Kassel on June 2, 2019. It was the first political assassination with a rightwing extremist motive since the end of the Nazi era. Ernst has a history of involvement in far-right militant groups and a string of hate crime convictions since childhood. Judge Thomas Sagebiel handed Ernst a life sentence without parole for at least 22 years last Thursday (Jan 28).  
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Scottish nationalists last Thursday (Jan 28) to stop talking “endlessly” about a new independence referendum. The bonds that tie the UK have been severely strained by both Brexit and Johnson’s handling of Covid-19. Opinion surveys indicate a majority of Scots would now favour breaking apart the 314-year-old union. Johnson, whose unpopularity runs deep in Scotland according to opinion polls, suggested he will not approve another referendum as the Scottish National Party plans to hold a second independence vote. 
  • The EU abruptly reversed a plan to use emergency Brexit measures to restrict exports of Covid-19 vaccines from crossing the Irish border into the UK last Friday (Jan 29) following an outcry. The next day, EU officials confessed to a “blunder” in invoking the emergency powers. The EU had intensified its fight to secure Covid-19 vaccine supplies last Thursday (Jan 28), warning drug companies such as AstraZeneca that it would use all legal means or even block exports unless they agree to deliver shots as promised. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has criticised the EU’s announcement of export controls on vaccines produced within the bloc, saying such measures risked prolonging the pandemic. The EU is far behind Israel, the UK and the US in rolling out vaccines, and is scrambling to get supplies just as the West’s biggest drugmakers slow deliveries to the bloc due to production problems. London said it expected its supply of Covid-19 shots would not be interrupted and is focused on “collaboration” with the EU to help Brussels with its vaccine supply, while Tory Brexiters planned to use the row to demand an overhaul of the Brexit deal over Northern Ireland. 
  • Thousands marched in Poland for a third day last Friday (Jan 29) against a near-total ban on abortion since it was put into effect by the conservative government last Wednesday (Jan 27). The near-total ban ruled that terminating pregnancies with foetal defects was unconstitutional, eliminating the most frequently used case for legal abortion in the predominantly Catholic nation, but would be legal in case of rape or incest and when the mother’s health or life is at risk. The ruling will take effect in October. The protests quickly morphed into outpouring anger against the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government and the powerful Catholic Church. PiS responded to protests saying it violated Covid-19 safety distancing measures. 
  • The UK will open a special visa route for Hong Kong residents to become citizens after Beijing’s imposition of a national security law from yesterday (Jan 31) for a new visa, which will also be the date that China and Hong Kong will no longer recognise the British National Overseas passport. The UK said it is fulfilling a historic and moral commitment to Hong Kong people after Beijing imposed the security law which breaches the terms of the agreement under which the colony was handed back to China in 1997. The UK government forecasts the new visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents to Britain. Beijing said it would make them second-class citizens. 

Middle East

  • Tens of thousands of Yemenis protested last Monday (Jan 25), heeding a call by Iran-aligned Houthi movement to condemn the US for Trump’s terrorist label and for backing the Saudi-led military coalition that is battling it. The Biden administration is reviewing the Trump administration’s designation of the group as a foreign terrorist organisation, which took effect on Jan 19. In the meantime, it has approved all deals involving the Houthis for one month. The move seemed to be intended to soothe fears of companies and banks involved in commercial trade to Yemen, which relies almost solely on imports. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blacklisted the Houthis on Jan 19 — a day before President Joe Biden took office — despite warnings from the UN and aid groups that it would push Yemen into a large-scale famine and complicate efforts to end the war that has killed more than 100,000 people and left 80 per cent of the population in need of aid. 
  • Iran urged US President Joe Biden last Tuesday (Jan 26) to lift sanctions affecting medicines as it fights Covid-19. Sanctions reimposed by former US President Donald Trump formally exempt food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies, but many foreign banks have been deterred from doing business with Iran. Government spokesman Ali Rabiei threatened that Iran would block short-notice inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the UN atomic agency if Washington did not lift sanctions.  
  • Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted last Thursday (Jan 28) that the US should act first to resolve the nuclear deal row, in response to Washington demanding Tehran reverse its breaches of the pact before the US under Biden’s administration rejoins. Iran’s foreign ministry also rejected any new negotiations or changes to the participants of the deal with world powers last Saturday (Jan 30), after French President Emmanuel Macron said any new talks should include Saudi Arabia. The US had left the world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 under the Trump administration. Zarif accused Washington of having illegally barred humanitarian imports to Iran after Trump imposed sanctions on Iran, claiming Tehran had breached limits on uranium enrichment activity only in response to Trump’s rejection of the accord.
  • Strict lockdowns in Lebanon exacerbates economic misery that caused anti-lockdown protests. The protests became violent as the municipality building was set on fire last Thursday (Jan 28), leading Lebanese leaders to condemn the violence, focusing more on the building and bringing the perpetrators to justice. The initial curfew was in place to help ease the pressure off the burdened medical system and was extended until Feb 8 with no financial relief. Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 80 per cent of its value since 2019 when the financial crisis accelerated and anger erupted into protests. Political instability is further fueled by the government quitting in the aftermath of the Aug 4 Beirut port explosion, leaving an indecisive caretaker administration to handle the volatile country. 
  • The patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church confirmed last Thursday (Jan 28) that Pope Francis is set for a historic meeting with Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in March. Sistani commands a vast following among Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and has a huge influence over politics and public opinion. The pope has visited predominantly Muslim countries, using those trips to call for interreligious dialogue.   
  • The US Department of Justice charged an Iraqi-born British national last Wednesday (Jan 27) for involvement in a bribery scheme to obtain millions of dollars of US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reconstruction contracts in Iraq. The defendant, Shwan Al-Mulla, and his co-conspirators allegedly received confidential information to get an edge in the bidding process for the contracts, in exchange for more than US$1 million (S$1.3 million) in bribes paid from 2007 to 2009 to a USACE employee deployed in Tikrit, Iraq. 
  • Independent UN sanctions monitors accused Yemen’s government in a report last Tuesday (Jan 26) of money-laundering and corruption. The report states that the Houthi group collected at least US$1.8 billion (S$2.4 billion) in state revenue in 2019 to help fund its war effort, which affected access to adequate food supplies as the country is on the verge of a large famine with millions of civilians at risk. Yemen’s central bank said last Wednesday (Jan 27) the operations carried out were transparent and compliant with international banking and trade requirements. 
  • At least five people were killed and scores wounded when a car bomb detonated in the northern Syrian town of Afrin last Saturday (Jan 30), the Turkish defence ministry and local civil defence said. The ministry said in a statement the bomb attack took place in an industrial site at the center of the town and wounded 22 people, blaming the attack on the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. Turkey regards the YPG as a terrorist group tied to the PKK inside its own borders, and has staged incursions into Syria in support of Syrian rebels to push it from the Turkish frontier.
  • International troops plan to stay in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline made by the insurgent Taliban’s deal with the US, which could escalate tensions with the Taliban demanding full withdrawal. NATO officials said that “there will be no full withdrawal by allies by April-end”, because “conditions have not been met”. Reports say that the Taliban has failed to de-escalate violence and cut ties with militant groups, which the Taliban denies. With the new US administration, there will be changes in the policy. There could be a possibility of addressing the hasty withdrawal and introducing a more calculated exit strategy. 

Africa

  • Somalia marked 30 years of civil war, specifically the moment the government of President Siad Barre collapsed in Jan 1991. Somalia has since been on a rapid path to fragmentation and anarchy. In recent years, the federal government has started to make headway in rebuilding the country and Islamist militants have been pushed out of most major towns. 
  • Ghana’s longest-serving leader former President Jerry John Rawlings was buried last Wednesday (Jan 27). Rawlings led a military regime that brought stability for over a decade before returning the country to multiparty democracy in 1992. He contributed peace efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the civil wars in the 1990s and most recently was an African Union envoy to Somalia. He will be remembered as a disciplinarian but also a leader who cared for the poor. 
  • Mali’s military junta that overthrew former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta five months ago has been officially dissolved last Wednesday (Jan 27), according to government decree. The decree was signed by the transitional President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane. The junta had remained in place even after the transfer of power to an interim civilian government following the Aug 18 coup. The dissolution of the junta was one of the demands made by the regional bloc – the Economic Community of West African States. Though the junta is dissolved, a few senior military personnel still hold several key posts in government. 
  • Secret government recruitment of young Somali men for a fighting force in Eritrea has stirred public anger and protests in Somalia over the missing recruits. In Somalia, opportunities to work abroad are eagerly sought. Families told Reuters their sons have been recruited by Somalia’s federal government for jobs in Qatar, only to surface in Eritrea, where they were sent to serve in a military force against their will. A regional security analyst who asked not to be identified told Reuters he had learned from conversations with Somali security officials that about 1,000 Somalis had been recruited and taken to Eritrea in at least three groups. One group had returned to Somalia, the second group was unreachable and the third was still in Eritrea. 
  • A Dutch appeals court has ruled last Friday (Jan 29) that the Nigerian branch of oil giant Shell is responsible for damage caused by leaks in the Niger Delta and ordered Shell Nigeria to pay compensation to Nigerian farmers, while the subsidiary and its Anglo-Dutch parent company were told to install equipment to prevent future damage. A group of farmers launched the case in 2008 and after 13 years, they won. It gives hope among environmental activists, as it makes headway for more litigation against Shell and other corporations involved in oil exploration in the region. However, there is doubt that compensation will amount to much after the settlements reach each individual. 
  • Sylvestre Ilunga IIunkamba formally resigned as prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo last Friday (Jan 29). Ilunga, a key ally of President Félix Tshisekedi’s predecessor Joseph Kabila, had headed a coalition cabinet for 15 months. However, MPs passed a vote of no confidence in his government last Wednesday (Jan 27), and he was given 24 hours to resign. His resignation paves the way for President Tshisekedi to appoint loyalists as ministers. Tshisekedi has yet to choose a new prime minister who will form the next government. 
  • Whistle-blowers accused South Africa’s spy agency of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on illegal undercover operations to protect former President Jacob Zuma from corruption investigations. There were details of a systematic plot to turn South Africa’s state security agency into something almost like a private army for the former president. During his decade in power, Zuma faced (and is still facing) multiple allegations of corruption, to which he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He also refused to appear to answer specific allegations at the corruption inquiry, a refusal which South Africa’s constitutional court has now declared unlawful. 
  • African leaders from the Great Lakes region called on rebels in the conflict-riven Central African Republic to agree to a ceasefire last Friday (Jan 29). Election-based violence in the country has displaced more than 200,000 in the past two months, the UN said. Rebels controlling about two-thirds of the nation launched an offensive a week before contested presidential elections that returned Faustin Archange Touadera to power.
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