Kenya More than 10 people were brutally killed in an attack on a bus, claimed by al-Shabab. The Kotulo region, where the attack took place, is predominantly ethnic Somalis; the attackers explicitly targeted non-Somalis. Among the dead were Kenyan police officers, and the Somali jihadist group stated that it was as revenge for the stationing of Kenyan troops in Somali.
The Gambia Following the tragic deaths of 60 Gambians onboard a ship bound for Europe, President Adama Barrow vowed to crack down on human trafficking, with rapid prosecution of human traffickers and increased surveillance. Recent events in Libya have made it increasingly difficult to travel through Libya, so an increasing number of migrants now attempt the crossing through the so-called western migration route to the Canary Islands. The Gambia has given aid to Mauritania where the survivors are currently staying, and plans are now laid for their repatriation. The International Organisation of Migration has recorded 158 deaths on the route so far this year, almost four times as many as the previous year.
Asia & Oceania
Australia Conditions in New South Wales’ worst ever recorded forest fire season worsened, as a ‘mega fire’ formed on the outskirts of Sydney. Since September, 688 homes have been destroyed and 2.1 million hectares scorched, with smoke clouds reaching western New Zealand. Perhaps most concerningly, forest fires are generally at their worst in mid-January, so there may be more still to come. NSW Rural Fire Service, the largest volunteer fire service in the world, is desperately trying to control the fires, particularly the ‘mega fire’ threatening Sydney.
Papua New Guineau Polls closed in a referendum on the island chain of Bougainville on independence from Papua New Guineau, which was believed to have an extremely high turnout rate. Most local politics pundits predict that voters will overwhelmingly support independence, but there are no significant polls to back up this claim. The vote was an integral part of a peace deal signed in 2001 between separatists and security services after a brutal civil war lasting ten years. However, there are concerns that the necessary ratification from Port Moresby to allow the islands to become independent would not be forthcoming, due to concerns that it might spur on other separatist movements in what is one of the world’s most diverse countries.
Mexico A group of videos showing powerful individuals mocking a new feminist anthem sparked outrage in a country where rape and femicide are commonly unpunished. The anthem, ‘A Rapist in Your Path’, originated in Chile, and was performed in Mexico City and other parts of the country over the last fortnight by women’s rights groups. Videos showed members of the U17 team of Mexico City football club America mocking the video; perhaps worse was footage of marines doing so given that security forces are often implicated in abuses such as rape. Even most explicit was an Instagram video shared by the leader of the prominent hip-hop group ‘Cartel de Santa’ which went beyond mocking the song and actually seemed to condone rape. All this follows months of feminist protests against gender violence, rape, and femicide: on average, 10 women are killed each day in Mexico.
Kosovo The Balkan country said it would boycott the upcoming Nobel Prize ceremony in Sweden to show its indignation that Peter Handke, an Austrian supporter of Serbia during the wars of the 1990s, had been awarded the literature award. Milosevic, the Serbian leader who ordered the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians was a close friend of Handke, who spoke at Milosevic’s funeral. Despite a UN court ruling that genocide had been committed in Srebrenica, the author maintains that Bosniaks slaughtered themselves in Sarajevo to force the blame on Serb forces. He is also deeply critical of the Nobel Prize for Literature, referring to it as a ‘circus’.
Iran With inflation reach 40 percent and violent riots on the streets, President Rouhani announced a $39bn stimulus package to keep the economy afloat after the imposition of crippling US sanctions. Public sector wages will rise, which the government will attempt to finance both through selling bonds and attracting Russian state investment. A prisoner exchange this week between the US and Iran has attracted speculation that the spending plans are a short-term measure while Rouhani tries to bring about a thaw in relations with the US, and with it the lifting of some sanctions.
By Patrick Stephens, World This Week Editor
Zimbabwe Consultant doctors castigated the ‘silent genocide’ caused by the breath-taking inadequacy of facilities and basic supplies in hospitals in Harare, which medical unions say is completely unsustainable. Such rhetoric follows the dismissal of 435 junior medical officers by the government for striking over low wages.
Asia & Oceania
China Pro-democratic factions won a resounding victory in Hong Kong’s District Council elections, with a turnout rate of 71%, far higher than expected. In the same week, President Trump signed a law threatening sanctions for human rights violations in Hong Kong, and requiring the state department to justify any favourable trading terms given to Hong Kong on the basis of the political autonomy of the territory. Beijing accused the American government of meddling in its affairs. On a related note, DC Comics withdrew an advert for its new Batman comic which was interpreted by some Chinese Weibo users as implicitly expressing support for the Hong Kong protests; the poster depicted Batwoman lobbing a Molotov cocktail under the caption ‘The future is young’, considered a reference to the students, such as Joshua Wong, leading the protests.
Chile Following weeks of demonstrations leaving over 13,000 people injured, the central bank responded to the 15% slump in the value of the Peso by selling almost half of its foreign currency reserves. The government has also promised to increase public spending to appease protestors, which may undermine Chile’s sovereign debt rating, the highest in South America and one of the highest in the world.
Bolivia After last months toppling of Evo Morales, whose alleged election fraud sparked widespread riots, Camacho, the obscure conservative Christian lawyer who was so instrumental in forcing Morales to resign, has announced his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election (date still unconfirmed). Camacho is an activist from Santa Cruz, a historically right-leaning region, and his stated aim is to ‘bring the Bible back to the palace of government’, something he quite literally achieved when he entered the presidential palace with a Bible and a letter of resignation for Morales to sign. He has been dubbed the ‘Bolivian Bolsonaro’ for his traditionalist views, yet his politics is at present defined more by opposition to Morales than his Catholic beliefs.
United Kingdom The capital reeled as 2 people were killed and several more injured in a terrorist attack on London Bridge, which was later claimed by IS. The attacker had previously been convicted for terrorism offences, and was still wearing an electronic tag at the time, prompting a debate about police funding and policies to promote rehabilitation. Several commentators have warned the major political parties about using this tragedy for their own political ends in the run-up to an election in under 2 weeks.
Albania An earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale struck Tirana just before dawn, leaving 51 dead and 4,000 people homeless. The natural disaster has rapidly become politicised as lack of compliance with regulation and corruption in the building industry have been blamed for the extent of damage wreaked by the earthquake. With the aid of experts from several EU countries, the government has already begun to clear the rubble, set up a financial compensation scheme worth £7,000 per family, and drafted a law issuing harsh sentences to those in the construction industry found to have violated building regulations.
Iraq Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation following a spike in the death toll in 2 months of protests which have left 420 people dead. Protestors both in Shi’ite and Sunni-majority cities took to the streets to mourn the dead; a police officer was this week sentenced to death for the killing of civilians. The stated aim of the protests is to overthrow the regime which is alleged to be propped up by the Iranian government, a perception leading to the torching of the Iranian consulate in Najaf by demonstrators.
By Patrick Stephens, This Week's World Editor