December

Yemen by Alistair Galloway

The Houthi-supported Yemeni government of Prime Minister Abdulaziz bin Habtour won a vote of confidence from the Yemeni parliament on 11 December concerning the government’s programme to combat Saudi aggression in the country and to address the social, economic, and security problems in Yemen. A major funding appeal by British charities began on 13 December with the hope of improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen. The Scottish government donated GBP 250,000 to the Disaster Emergency Committee’s crisis appeal for Yemen on 13 December. King Salman of Saudi Arabia called for an end in foreign interference in Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen on 15 December. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) pledged on 29 December to hold a conference of humanitarian assistance for the ongoing Yemen conflict. An aid ship, operated by the Emirati charity Emirates Red Crescent, arrived in the port of Al Mukalla on 31 December with equipment to help stabilise electricity output in the southern region on Hadramaut. A ship travelling from Al Mukalla to the Yemeni island of Socotra capsized with nearly 60 people on board on 6 December. Oxfam warned in a report released on 6 December that Yemen is only a few months away from running out of food. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for an attack in the city of Aden on 10 December that killed 45 pro-government soldiers. Saudi Arabian troops were killed by sniper fire on 25 December in the Najran province of Yemen.Yemeni media reported on 30 December that around 150 IS fighters from Syria were transported to Yemen by a Turkish aircraft.

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Turkey by Alistair Galloway

A constitutional amendment will reportedly be put forward to give more power to the Turkish president with the potential of a referendum in spring of 2017. The Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated during a speech on 19 December 2016. The assassin was heard yelling “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria” as he fired at the ambassador. Russia and Turkey agreed on a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, which will exclude areas of Syria in which both or either country is fighting terrorist organisations. Following the assassination of Russian Ambassador Karlov, widespread reports of internet blackouts and blockages came from throughout Turkey. The Turkish government is reportedly investigating 10,000 internet users on suspicion of using social media to aid terrorist efforts. 39 people were killed in an attack on an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve. Turkish President Erdogan has blamed the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) for a blast in Kayseri that killed 13 soldiers. The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for twin explosions at a football stadium in Istanbul that killed 44 people. The dollarisation risk for the Turkish economy has reportedly eased. Turkey’s banking supervisory and regulatory framework has been found up to the standards of the European Union (EU). The Turkish government stated that in 2017, it will introduce a stimulus package of up to $71 billion aimed at creating 600,000 new jobs in the public sector. The Financial Stability Committee met to discuss the private sector’s management of foreign exchange risks. Turkey’s trade deficit shrank by 11.7 per cent during 2016.

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Somalia by Alistair Galloway

The United States (US) took responsibility for the deaths of Somali allied local militia, killed by US air strikes. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, consisting mainly of Somali refugees, is soon to be closed. The United Nations Peacebuilding Fund allocated $3 million to a repatriation project in order to integrate refugees back into Somali communities. The new federal government was sworn in; however, the presidential election has been delayed for a fourth time. After disagreements and conflict regarding the nullification of seats, the election is now set to take place in January 2017. Burundi threatened to withdraw approximately 5,000 soldiers from its peacekeeping forces in AMISOM after failing to receive payment from the European Union (EU). The African Union investigated two separate cases where civilians were killed by African Union troops. The African Union also condemned an attack on civilians in Mogadishu when a vehicle detonated near the entrance of the seaport. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for this attack, as well as the assassination of a senior official in Puntland. The deputy commander of the presidential commander was also killed, although no group has yet taken responsibility for this attack. With troops being withdrawn from the AMISOM mission, AMISOM plans for the Somalia Police Force to be fully operational and standing on its own by 2017. As of now, their troops lack resources and numbers. The newly elected federal government rejected the proposed budget for the new year as it failed to make allocations for the salaries of MPs and other officials. The government aimed to review any spending that is inconsistent with revenue generated. The Somali President appealed to the international community for a speedy response to the problems of drought and famine in Somalia. A National Drought Committee has been appointed to deal with the crisis. The Swedish government donated $2.2 million to drought response, which will be used towards food, water, and medical supplies.

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Sierra Leone by Alistair Galloway

Sierra Leonean President Koroma undertook a trip to China to thank the country for its help during the Ebola crisis, to discuss continued cooperation in areas like infrastructure and mining, and potential cooperation in areas like public health and tourism. Sylvia Blyden, the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender & Children’s Affairs announced she would implement new standards for transparency, openness, and accountability by keeping a log of her daily activities. Successful trials for an Ebola vaccine were concluded and international organisations and scientists are optimistic this breakthrough will help protect against a future crisis. Sierra Leone’s dry season began in December, which marked the start of increased availability of food for households and employment opportunities for farm labourers. The National Nutrition Survey data showed that almost 30 per cent of children under the age of five have stunted growth and over 10 per cent of those children are underweight in Sierra Leone. Sylvia Blyden said that 60 per cent of Sierra Leone’s women live in rural areas and she announced plans she and President Koroma have to help alleviate the problems these women face in areas like education and agriculture. The International Monetary Fund finished its review of Sierra Leone’s economic performance and found that the country required additional funds, but that the economy performed reasonably well. Raymond Kai Gbekie, the Chief Executive Officer of the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA), won the CEO award for 2016. SLIEPA is responsible for promoting and creating foreign and domestic investment opportunities. Kaifala Marah, the Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone, launched the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion 2017-2020 with objectives of making financial services affordable and available to all Sierra Leoneans and businesses, to advance financial literacy, and more.

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Russia by Alistair Galloway

In a response to the alleged hacking of the United States (US) election in November, US President Barrack Obama expelled 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives as well as imposed sanctions on two of Russia’s leading intelligence services. Mevlut Mert Altintas, a Turkish police officer, gunned down the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov on 19 December. Russia, Turkey, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups reached an agreement regarding a ceasefire on 27 December, with peace talks promised to occur within the month. Russia, in a statement to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on 18 December, stated it will veto any effort made by the United Nations Security Council to oversee the evacuation of civilians from Eastern Aleppo. The Russian Coast Guard mounts a search and rescue mission regarding a Russian military transport airliner that crashed on 26 December. Russia and Japan, on 16 December, have announced a new bilateral trade deal that is valued at $2.5 billion. The European Union (EU) voted in favour of an extension of Russian sanctions until mid-2017 following a failure to meet the conditions of the Minsk Peace Deal, laid out in 2014. A representative of the Russian Economic Ministry stated that it was the ministry’s expected crude oil would value at around $53 per barrel by the end of December.

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Pakistan by Alistair Galloway

The Sixth Ministerial Heart of Asia Conference was held in Amritsar, India from 3 to 4 December. The World Bank announced on 12 December that it was pausing both its arbitration and the appointment of a neutral expert in the dispute between Pakistan and India regarding the Indus River system. Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali retired on 30 December, resulting in the Supreme Court of Pakistan adjourning the proceedings in the Panama Papers leaks case until early January as he was head of the bench. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited regional hotspots endorsing the use of full force against any violations by India or terrorists. He declared that the change in military command would not impact the extensive operations in Karachi that aim to create stability and security. General Qamar Javed Bajwa appointed Lieutenant General Naveed Muhtar and Lieutenant General Bilal Akbar to the roles of chief of Inter-Services Intelligence and Chief of General Staff, respectively. The decisions may represent his pledge to strengthen national security. Seven Pakistani crew members were reportedly killed in a missile attack off the coast of Yemen, near the Houthi controlled Hodeidah port. The Pakistan Navy contested the claim, calling it unverifiable. Twelve suspected militants were killed and several hideouts destroyed on 4 December by Pakistani Air Force air strikes in the Tirah valley. A senior anti-terrorism police officer was killed in Peshawar with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claiming the attack. Pakistani and Indian forces exchanged fire on 16 December along the Line of Control in Kashmir, killing one man and injuring eight schoolchildren on the Pakistani side. The Pakistan Navy assembled a special task force to protect the port of Gwadar, a key hub in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistani and Chinese delegations met as a part of the Sixth Pak-China Joint Co-operation Committee (JCC) on CPEC in Beijing on 29 to 30 December. China reportedly agreed to include three new infrastructure projects in CPEC. Earlier in December, China pledged to finance a different three infrastructure projects under CPEC. Pakistan's fourth nuclear power plant went online on 28 December. WB decided to cancel a $100 million loan to Pakistan for a natural gas efficiency project citing a lack of interest amongst Sui Southern Gas Company, the company to be contracted. The Pakistan Stock Exchange (KSE) enjoyed a largely positive December setting multiple record highs. Equities in Pakistan have benefitted from an improving macroeconomic environment, with the KSE index gaining 40 per cent in 2016 alone, and 400 per cent since 2009. A Chinese-led consortium signed a $85 million deal to purchase a 40 per cent stake in the KSE.

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Nigeria by Alistair Galloway

Nigeria is on the brink of a crisis of food shortages, predominantly in the former Boko Haram strongholds of Borno province as well as Adamawa and Yobe. At least 55,000 people in the north east are in famine-like conditions and the United Nations (UN) estimates that around 120,000 people, most of them children, are at risk of starving to death next year. Boko Haram carried out a double suicide bombing at a market in Madagali in the north east on 9 December, killing 45 people. On 24 December, the Nigerian government claimed victory over Boko Haram after the military seized the last remaining insurgent stronghold of “Camp Zero” in the Sambisa forest. This is not the first time the government has claimed victory against Boko Haram. The group will survive for some time yet; it has spilled over into Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Although they may no longer control cohesive territories, it is highly likely that there will be further violence from Boko Haram in 2017. As the recession continues in Nigeria, the government has put forward its largest-ever budget which aims to stimulate the economy. The Central Bank has also been working to sell assets to help clear dollar-denominated obligations with a focus on fuel importers, airlines, machinery manufacturers, and agricultural chemicals and raw materials. The rise in the global price of oil following the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Country's (OPEC) decision to reduce supply has been welcomed. However, Nigeria faces competition for its light crude and is being held back by its low refining capacity, which is also a key cause of the fuel shortages that are becoming severe and causing sectors such as aviation to grind to a halt.

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Morocco by Alistair Galloway

The Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN) was awarded the United Nations Environment Program’s Champions of the Earth award for 2016 on 3 December. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) rejected an appeal by the Polisario Front to invalidate European Union (EU)-Morocco agricultural deals. King Mohammed Vl was awarded the Mandela Peace Prize 2016. Five members of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) were arrested on 30 December for expressing sympathy for acts of terrorism. Abdelilah Benkirane, Morocco’s appointed Head of Government and Secretary-General of the PJD party, announced he would form a coalition without the leader of the Independence Party, Hamid Chabat. Moroccan security forces dismantled an Islamic State (IS) cell on 2 December. Morocco will receive 1,200 TOW 2a anti-tank missiles from the United States (US) as part of a US programme to supply arms to Arab allies. Moroccan intelligence services dismantled 19 terror cells in 2016 according to the Head of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ). GDP growth in Morocco is predicted to be 4.3 per cent in 2017. Foreign Direct Investment in Morocco fell in 2016 by 28 per cent. The Moroccan Central Bank revised down its growth predictions for 2016 to 1.2 per cent. The Moroccan Central Bank announced that it was delaying the process of transitioning the Dirham to a floating exchange rate.

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Kuwait by Alistair Galloway

The effects of the low price of oil continue to be felt in Kuwait. The government faces a budget deficit of $31 billion for the current fiscal year. Earlier in the year the government reduced fuel subsidies by up to 83 per cent which sparked public discontent. Generous government welfare for citizens in return for political legitimacy is a key part of the social contract between citizens and the state. The dissatisfaction at the cuts to fuel subsidies and the perception that they may be the first step towards greater austerity were expressed in the parliamentary elections held at the end of November. The government has seen its majority reduced to one member of parliament after the opposition and its allies captured 24 of 50 seats. The opposition is a diverse group with some common demands, primarily resisting austerity, rather than a cohesive and coordinated bloc. The Gulf Cooperation Council met at the beginning of December and shows some level of policy agreement between members in relation to the situation in Syria and Yemen but economic matters are the main focus of the council’s discussions. A woman has been jailed for 10 years for supporting the Islamic State (IS). It is believed she was planning to carry out a suicide bombing in Kuwait. A German intelligence agency report has alleged that groups within Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar have been supporting extremist Islamic groups as part of a long-term strategy to exert influence and spread the ideology. The government is making plans to sell up to $10 billion of US dollar-denominated assets to help plug the current budget deficit.

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Iraqi Kurdistan by Alistair Galloway

Iraqi Kurdistan continued to push for statehood as well as economic independence from Baghdad by rejecting the 2017 federal budget and refusing to cooperate with a new Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreement. Foreign governments such as Germany and Russia showed continued support for Kurdish forces but remained quiet on stances of Kurdish statehood. Kurdistan Regional Government President Barzani visited Washington to assess the incoming Presidential administration’s stance on US and Kurdish relations. United States (US) Defense Secretary Ash Carter made a visit to Baghdad to assess the Mosul Offensive. PKK forces in Sinjar finally agreed to leave after requests by both the US government and KRG. Iraqi troops resumed fighting in the Mosul-offensive after a two-week lull. Commanders were optimistic Mosul can be taken within the next few months. The Kurdish region received extensive foreign aid to help IDPs as well as address issues of clean water and waterborne disease. ExxonMobil cut its Kurdistan portfolio by half. Iraq continued to work to address the protection of journalists in the country as well as the prevention of false reporting on the Mosul offensive. 

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