March

Bahrain by Alistair Galloway

Bahraini authorities claimed to uncover an international terrorist cell planning assassination attempts in the Kingdom and accused Iran of backing the terrorists. The Iranian government issued statements in response to the accusations. The League of Arab States expressed support for Bahrain in all of its counter-terrorism efforts. The Kingdom continues to garner scrutiny regarding its human rights record The Bahraini government took steps to ban the main opposition party and transfer many civilian judicial cases to military court. Bangladeshi Embassy in Bahrain issued a temporary ban on its nationals entering the country until workers’ rights were addressed. A number of Indian workers in Bahrain also appealed to their government for assistance regarding workers’ rights. The Trump administration told Congress it plans to move forwarded with a billion-dollar arms deal with Bahrain despite human rights violations warranting backlash from groups like Amnesty international. The British government was also scrutinized for not backing a joint United Nations Statement criticising Bahrain’s human rights record. Bahrain’s parliament extended an invitation to UN Human Rights Chief for an unrestricted visit after he made a statement regarding human rights in the Kingdom. A major military training exercise with Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain commenced. Strong ties between Jordan, the UAE, and Egypt prevail as leaders made statements in support of Bahrain. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain signed nine agreements to carry out projects relating to water, housing, infrastructure, and electricity estimated to be worth around SR 1 billion. The Sixth Bahrain- Turkish Joint Committee convened in Ankara. A delegation of business men from Gulf nations arrived in Islamabad for the Pakistan-Bahrain Business Opportunities Conference. The Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) seeks to make Bahrain a fintech hub with the help of Singapore. Bahrain Bourse (BHB) celebrated the launch of the Bahrain Investment Market (BIM). Bahrain’s tourist industry is rapidly growing and is expected to reach $1 billion by 2020. 

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Angola by Alistair Galloway

A report written by Angolan journalist Rafael Marques, which has drawn attention to the way in which foreign consultants are being paid by the state oil company Sonangol, has been highly criticised in a statement issued by the company. Angolan authorities have reportedly ignored the fact that the Brazilian firm Odebrecht had admitted $50 million in bribes to secure contacts in Angola. Eight men accused of having sought to perform a military coup to topple Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos were sentenced to between four to ten years in prison. Angola has closed a border point with the DRC, following a deterioration of the security situation in the DRC’s Kasai Province. Approximately 200 protestors in Luanda took part in a protest against a draft law criminalising abortions. The protest remained peaceful. At least eleven people have been killed and thousands of people left homeless as a result of flooding. Angola remained the top oil producer in Africa during February 2017. According to the OPEC’s monthly report concerning the oil market, Angola remained the top oil producer in Africa during February 2017. Angola’s Oil Ministry will submit a proposal within 60 days to revise the country’s Oil Law. The Oil Law is to be drawn up by an ad hoc commission. Angola, represented by its Minister of Industry, Bernarda Martins, took part in the Global Summit on Manufacturing and Industrialisation in Abu Dhabi. According to China’s ambassador to Angola, Cui Aimin, China intends to invest in the agricultural and industrial sectors, as well as in the processing of products, in eastern Angola. Norway’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Tone Skogen, declared Angola the main economic partner of Norway in Africa. 

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Yemen by Alistair Galloway

The Kuwaiti government launched a new project in Yemen named “Kuwait by your side” on 23 March. The spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed on 24 March that the agency has reached the besieged city of Mokha in the western governorate of Taizz. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) withdrew from the Al-Thawra hospital in Ibb on 23 March. A pro-Houthi court sentenced internationally- backed President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to death for high treason on 25 March. To mark the two year anniversary of the Yemeni conflict, mass rallies were staged in the Houthi held capital of Sanaa on 26 March. At least one hundred Saudi soldiers were killed or injured in two days during retaliatory attacks on military positions in south-west Saudi Arabia by Houthi forces. 42 Somali refugees were killed of the Yemeni coast when their boat was attacked by a helicopter on 17 March. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been permitted to construct a military base in the port of Berbera in the self-declared republic of Somaliland. The United Nations (UN) reported on 24 March that a third of Yemen’s 22 provinces are on the brink of famine. According to senior officials in the United States’ (US) government, Donald Trump gave permission to the US military to increase the number of raids and drone strikes it carries out in Yemen. The Pentagon reported at the beginning of March that it had carried out over 20 air strikes on various positions of al-Qaeda targets in Yemen. Four al-Qaeda militants were killed in a drone strike in the province of Abyan on 29 March. The Yemeni government appealed to the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Email Ould Shaikh Ahmad, on 6 March to apply pressure on the Houthi rebels in Sanaa to transfer state revenues to the central bank in Aden. 

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UAE by Alistair Galloway

The US has banned passengers from carrying certain portable electronic devices in cabins on specific flights from the UAE. The UAE will cooperate with this policy. The Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation for Legal Affairs summoned the Swiss Ambassador to the UAE in light of a Swiss statement criticising Bahrain. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum unveiled the UAE Centennial 2017 Plan, which aims to make the UAE the “best” country in the world. It was announced at a press conference for the Year of Giving that 1,400 charity initiatives are to be launched across the seven emirates. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has announced the formation of the World Happiness Council. Human Rights Watch, as well as a number of UN human rights experts, have called for authorities in the UAE to release human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Nasser bin Ghaith, an economist and lecturer, was jailed for 10 years because he allegedly criticised Egypt. Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar was convicted under Article 29 of the UAE’s Cybercrime Law, sentencing him to three years in prison and fining him 500,000 UAE Dirhams. Ukrainian national Iryna Nohai and her South African financé Emlyn Culverwell, who were accused of “unlawful sex”, have been released and charges against them have been dropped. The UAE has pledged €50 million to the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World. SAP announced on 14 March its five-year strategy to invest $200 million in the UAE. This declaration came as the German firm introduced its new MENA regional headquarters in Dubai Internet City. The Cabinet of the UAE approved the establishment of the UAE Council for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

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Somalia by Alistair Galloway

The United States of America plans to pursue deeper military involvement in Somalia to fight the threat of Al- Shabaab in the region. The country plans to provide greater assistance to national forces, as well as launch more air strikes on the terrorist group’s camps. It has also sponsored military exercises for the Somali National Army to better equip it to deal with security threats, especially after troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) start withdrawing from next year. AMISOM troops have also taken measures to proliferate action against Al-Shabaab. A recent attack by AU troops and local forces killed 57 militants, while Kenyan military jets carried out overnight strikes on Al-Shabaab camps in the Gedo region of the country. However, Al-Shabaab still remains one of the greatest political threats in the country as it has claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack near the presidential palace. The group does not support Western involvement in Somalia, and has warned of further attacks. At least 7 people have been killed in car bomb blasts near the president’s residence. The leaders of several African countries including Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia met with the Somali president to discuss refugee repatriation. The Dadaab camp in Kenya is the largest refugee camp in the region and is home to thousands of Somali refugees. Kenyatta, the president of Kenya stated that refugee camps cannot be a permanent home and stated that the country will remain firm on their decision to close the camp and return Somalis to Somalia. Somalia is also victim to internal political instability: the Galmudug state is looking to elect a new president for the state government after President Guled resigned, citing health reasons. The Puntland army has also protested against the Financial Minister, claiming that they have not been paid their salaries in over eight months. The president of Somalia has declared a national emergency in the face of worsening drought conditions. The World Health Organisation estimates that 6.2 million Somalis, over half of the country’s population are in need of urgent humanitarian aid. The famine has also caused an outbreak of cholera, with over 13,000 cases in this year alone. The government is looking to implement a vaccination campaign to prevent and treat the threat. Local and international agencies have written a joint letter to the United Nations imploring it to ask member states to assist Somalia through its economic and political difficulties. Although aid has been provided, far more is required to avoid a famine such as the one Somalia experienced in 2011. 

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Sierra Leone by Alistair Galloway

Sierra Leone’s electoral commission began registering voters for the March 2018 elections and are using biometric registration machines to allow registration to be secure and efficient. Sierra Leone’s ambassador to China resigned and highlighted the agreements signed between the two countries in December 2016 that will support cooperation in health, finance, and diplomacy. A 706-carat diamond was found in the Kono region in Sierra Leone and the government will hold a transparent auction for it and use the proceeds to benefit the community and country. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation officially received a mobile diagnostic laboratory from the United States (US), which is part of the US’ work to support Sierra Leone against future health crises. Lassa fever, an acute viral haemorrhagic illness, has been confirmed in Sierra Leone and other African countries. The Partnership for Research on Ebola Virus began a study to test potential vaccines for Ebola in February 2015 and recently expanded to Guinea and announced it will include Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone’s economy was reported to be struggling the most since the Ebola crisis. The International Monetary Fund completed a two-week visit to Sierra Leone and discussed an Extended Credit Facility arrangement, which helps countries with drawn- out balance of payment problems. KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines, resumed flights to Sierra Leone after 21 years. 

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Russia by Alistair Galloway

In what is being referred to as an act of state sponsored terrorism, a former pro-Ukrainian Russian MP was shot dead in public. Russia continues to deny any state involvement in Yahoo email hack. Japan and Russia met regarding a territorial dispute of several islands north of Hokkaido. Following concerns regarding the Libyan army, Russia has deployed Special Forces units to western Egypt. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared his intentions for a closer partnership between Pakistan and Russia in the near future. India and Russia are cooperating in an attempt to upgrade the Indian tank brigade’s tank technology. Russia to lift economic sanctions on Turkey according to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. Russia and Iran ink an economic deal during Hassan Rouhani’s first official visit to Moscow. The Russian Central bank unexpectedly cuts interest rates as the Russian economy continues to struggle. 

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Pakistan by Alistair Galloway

Pakistan reopened its border with Afghanistan after closing it in February. It was estimated that Pakistani exports to Afghanistan fell from $2.5 billion to $1.3 billion due to the month long closure. Pakistan is constructing a fence along its disputed border with Afghanistan to prevent future militant incursions. Delegates from twenty three Asian countries met in Pakistan to discuss forming an Asian regional block similar to the European Union (EU). India and Pakistan agreed to resume talks over the Indus Waters Treaty and related hydropower projects being built along the river system. One Indian project will be redesigned to alleviate Pakistani concerns, and there will be a subsequent meeting in April with the World Bank (WB) present to aid in negotiations. The Pakistani cabinet approved a plan to reform its tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan and bring them up to par with the rest of the country. The Pakistani National Assembly passed legislation to reinstate military courts; a subsequent Senate vote is still necessary for them to be reinstated. The Pakistan military launched a massive operation to crack down on militants, arresting over 1300 and killing over 100 in raids across the country. Pakistan suffered a number of terrorist attacks during March leaving at least 25 dead and 72 injured. A prominent Ahmadi activist, a minority community that has been subject to sectarian violence, was killed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi gunmen. Pakistan and Indian continued to clash over the Line of Control (LoC) throughout March. The Pakistan army will send soldiers to Saudi Arabia to help defend its southern border from attacks mounted by Houthi groups in Yemen. The decision is contentious, as the Pakistani parliament voted against such a move in 2015. Pakistan hosted the 13th Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) Summit, using it as an opportunity to highlight the benefits of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the hope members of the ECO will join. Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China to allow the holding of joint audit on a number of selected CPEC projects. Pakistan signed agreements with the WB containing $432.7 million of loans and grants. Minister of Planning and Development of Pakistan Ahsan lqbal announced that Pakistan was the fastest growing Muslim economy in world, with Standard Chartered Group Chief Executive Bill Winters predicting that the country has potential to grow by 7 per cent this year. The State Bank of Pakistan decided to keep the policy rate unchanged at 5.75 per cent. 

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Nigeria by Alistair Galloway

Human insecurity due to food shortages in the north east of the country remains a pressing concern as President of the UN Security Council, Matthew Rycroft, said the issue was not getting sufficient attention. The President has returned to Nigeria after spending two months in London. Nigeria continues to experience regular episodes of violence, both linked to terrorism and inter-communal conflicts. On 15 March four female teenage suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Muna Garage residential area of Maiduguri, after knocking on the door of a house and then detonating their bombs when the door was answered. The focus on individual homes is a new tactic. Two people were killed and sixteen injured. Five adult male suicide bombers attacked various points of the Maiduguri-Gamboru highway in Maiduguri on 23 March. At least 8 were killed and 20 injured. One of the bombers struck at the Muna camp for displaced people on the outskirts of the city, killing two civilians. Continuing tensions between Muslim nomadic Fulani cattle herders and Christian farmers led to a clash on 21 March which resulted in 17 people –mostly women and children – being killed after gunmen invaded a farming community in Zaki Biyam in Benue State. A week earlier 10 people were killed in the Buruku area of Benue State in similar clash a week earlier. A Presidential advisor has warned that the amnesty programme for former oil militants is running out of funding. Inflation has slowed from 18.7 per cent to 17.8 per cent in the past month. The government has announced plans to sell stakes in oil ventures; international investors will be reluctant. 

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Morocco by Alistair Galloway

The new Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, will appoint a new Personal Envoy to the Western Sahara. Morocco’s King Mohammed Vl finished his widely followed African tour on 14 March. Morocco’s new Head of Government, Saad Eddine Othmani announced the formation of a new coalition government. A Conference of African Ministers of Finance scheduled for 27 March was cancelled due to disagreements between countries over the Western Sahara issue. Morocco and Spain agreed a new partnership to increase security surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on 5 March. The Polisario Front announced on 5 March that it would ignore UN calls for a withdrawal from the Guerguerat region. An IMF report suggested that economic growth in Morocco is being slowed by gender inequality. A 115bn Dirham project to develop the Casablanca-Settat region was approved on 6 March. The African Development Bank (ADB) approved its 2017-21 Morocco strategy on 8 March, which seeks to boost economic growth in the country. The Moroccan Central Bank voted to keep interest rates unchanged on 21 March at its first quarterly meeting. King Mohammed Vl presided over the opening of a new $1.1bn technology park in the city of Tangiers on 22 March. 

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