Weekly Report: 24 November, 2017


November 24, 2017

Photo: People cheering in the streets of Zimbabwe where longstanding President Robert Mugabe resigned (BBC)


After the military coup halfway last week, things developed fast in Zimbabwe this week. Mass protests on the weekend, calling for the resignation of Robert Gabriel Mugabe, united the whole of the country. However, looking at the protest signs of the Zimbabwean people, a unity of purpose for when Mugabe would be gone was hard to find. Zimbabwe reacted in shock when, on Sunday, Mugabe amazed and infuriated the country by apparently resisting calls to step aside. However, an official source with direct knowledge of the ongoing negotiations told CNN that Zimbabwe’s long-time president has agreed to the terms of his resignation and a letter has been drafted. According to the source, the aim of Sunday’s televised speech, was to ensure the veteran leader openly declared the military’s actions to be constitutional. Despite the disappointing speech, the end of the Mugabe era seemed a matter of time.

Then on Tuesday, the long-awaited news came. Robert Mugabe officially resigned as the President of Zimbabwe, after ruling party ZANU-PF already sacked him as their leader.  Mass-celebrations broke out all over the country, and the eye of the world was focused on Zimbabwe. Looking towards the future, however, one could be more skeptical. Emmerson Mnangagwa seems to be in the most prominent position to be Zimbabwe’s next leader. As Steven Feldstein puts it, “Mnangagwa is massively invested in ensuring his continued and unfettered access to power, which has proven highly lucrative for him. The vice president is “reputed” to be one of Zimbabwe’s richest people. All of this suggests he might become yet another dictator.”

So what should we expect for the future of Zimbabwe? And more importantly, how can the forces in Zimbabwean society pushing for democratic reform make use of the current window of opportunity? On Thursday, your very own CANVAS released an in-depth analysis on the ongoing situation in Zimbabwe. About the importance to distinguish between the party and the state in relation to the origination of the coup, and the role political opposition and social movements should play in the coming weeks and months.

CANVAS Zimbabwe Analysis


After the Supreme Court had decided to dissolve Cambodia’s main opposition party last week in what some have said to be politically motivated, allowing Prime Minister “Hun Sen to extend his more than three decades in power in next year’s general election”, elected officials from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) started handing over their duties. Among those told to abandon their positions were councilors elected in communal elections this year, when CNRP won control of 40% of Cambodia’s local councils, demonstrating potential electoral threat for Hun Sen in upcoming elections. His party, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is set to take over positions in nearly all communes which had been subject to the CNRP. Mu Sochua, a senior CNRP member who fled Cambodia earlier said that they ‘rejected the decision of the court’ and that its leader charged with treason would remain president and former leader Sam Rainsy, had rejoined, reported Reuters.

The news outlet further reported that the National Election Committee announced on Thursday, that CNRP’s parliamentary seats were reallocated to five of the smaller parties which had failed to win any seats in the last election. The majority of the 55 seats went to the royalist Funcinpec party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, now receiving 41 seats (118 of in the whole National Assembly) after only winning 4% of the vote in 2013. Funcinpec’s leader used to be Hun Sen’s biggest rival, though now being aligned with the prime minister. The remainder was awarded to four other parties, of whom two refused to take their respective 6 and 5 seats, meaning they would have to go to another party. Reuters wrote that CNRP officials had not made immediate comments. 118 of its members have been banned from politics for five years, while many of its leaders have left the country. A leaked document revealed that “Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned his party it could still lose next year’s election even after the banning of the opposition and demanded that it improve its image.” His Party “played down the importance of the message, in which Hun Sen tells senior officials they must stop corruption, extortion and other illegal practices and start making people happy.”

After Radio Free Asia (RFA) closed its Cambodia office in September in a widespread crackdown on news outlets, two journalists who used to work for the US-funded outlet were charged last Saturday with ‘providing information to a foreign state which may damage the nation’. The journalists were detained for questioning last week after a police discovery of them renting a hotel room in Phnom Penh, allegedly using it as an office to continue providing RFA with information about Cambodia. They have denied the allegations and said they had been using the room as a new business after having lost their RFA jobs. If found guilty, the two will face up to 15 years in prison.

Reuters (CNRP start handing over duties)
Reuters (parliament seats reallocated, Hun Sen’s warning to his party)
South China Morning Post (former RFA Journalists)


In the context of their meeting in Russia city Sochi, the leader of Russia, Turkey and Iran announced their willingness on Wednesday to sponsor a conference in Sochi aimed at achieving a peaceful settlement of the Syria war. In the joint statement, the three countries “called on representatives of the Syrian opposition “that are committed to the sovereignty, independence, unity, territorial integrity and non-fractional character of the Syrian state” to take part in the Sochi conference”, wrote the NY Times. Otherwise, no further details about such a conference in Sochi are known, including its potential participants from the opposition side or when it will be held. Wednesday’s meeting coincided with one held by Syrian opposition factions in Saudi Arabia who had tried to form a unified position going into UN-organized Geneva talks on November 28, though it seemed they struggled, especially with agreeing on Assad’s future in Syria.

Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin had met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, indicating that the latter might have agreed to the idea. Putin further called President Trump and other regional leaders. The announcement by Putin, Rouhani and Erdogan on Wednesday underscored Russia’s growingly influential role in determining the outcome of the Syrian war, seemingly overshadowing those efforts by the UN. The latter stated however, that their main focus remains on meetings to be held in Geneva next week, hoping “that all the other processes that are underway will contribute to a successful round of talks.”

Iraqi forces launched an operation on Thursday to clear the desert bordering Syria and Iraq in a final push against the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) which has been said to have been militarily defeated, aiming at preventing remaining groups to settle in the desert region and use it as a base for further operations. Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had declared the end of the IS on Tuesday. The militant group had carried out their first attack in Iran in June while Iranian forces had been fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Iraqi central government for years. Their engagement has been framed as an effort by the mainly Shiite Iran against the Sunni Muslim fighters of IS.

NY Times
Reuters (Iraq)
Reuters (Iran)


Amidst mounting international pressure, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an accord over the terms for the return of the Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh on Thursday, following a meeting in Myanmar’s capital. Myint Kyaing, a permanent secretary at Myanmar’s ministry of labor, immigration and population, told Reuters “that the memorandum of understanding was based on the 1992-1993 repatriation agreement between the two countries which had been inked following a previous spasm of violence in Myanmar.” While key elements of the deal are said to be the criteria of return of the Rohingya and the participation of the international community, other significant points such as safeguards against further violence and addressing their legal status as well as “whether they would be allowed to return to their own homes and farms”, were left without further elaboration. After a statement by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, with whom civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has to share power, senior UN officials have voiced their fear of security personnel in key positions not cooperating with the return of the Rohingya.

Within the last week, China had called for a ceasefire in Rakhine State and suggested a three stage approach, while the EU and UNHCR voiced being ready to assist Myanmar in moving forward with the crisis. US Secretary of State had called the violence and following displacement of thousands in Rakhine State “ethnic cleansing”, after the UN had done so earlier. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has published a new report addressing violations and discrimination of the Rohingya, labelling their situation as “apartheid”.

Reuters (Myanmar and Bangladesh)
Reuters (China and international reactions)
Amnesty International


The former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma who is a known opponent of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, has succeeded in escaping from house arrest and was welcomed Saturday in Spain. He had been arrested in February 2015, after accusations of his involvement in a plot to overthrow the government, before he was later released from jail and put under house arrest due to health reasons. Ledezma who was happy to have attained freedom and to be in Spain with his family, vowed to continue fighting the Venezuelan President whom he called “a tyrant”. In The Hague, Luisa Ortega, Venezuela’s ousted chief prosecutor who had fled Venezuela, called on the International Criminal Court to charge President Nicolas Maduro with crimes against humanity. She referred to more than 8,000 deaths which, she said, took place at the hands of officials receiving instructions from the government in the last two years.

At the same time in Venezuela, six executives of Citgo, a US subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company PDVSA, have been arrested for alleged corruption, announced by Attorney General Tarek William Saab. The Washington Post had reported that four of the arrested were US citizens. It has been speculated whether this latest move – only one in recent months leading to the arrest of around 50 people associated with Venezuela’s vital oil industry – is “mostly a high-profile effort by Mr. Maduro to reinforce his power on the cusp of a presidential election year”, wrote the NY Times. The arrests also came within discussions and uncertainties about Venezuela’s deepening economic crisis and what has already been labeled as a default by some. A general overview of the economic and default situation can be found here.

CNN (Antonio Ledezma)
The Independent (International Criminal Court)
NY Times (oil industry arrests)
CNBC (economic overview)

Democratic Republic Congo

On November 22, representatives of the Guarantors of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region, including the African Union, United Nations, International Conference of the Great Lakes Region and the Southern African Development Community met in Ethiopia to review the status of preparations for elections in DRC, also discussing coordinated regional and international support. During the meeting, they reaffirmed their commitment supporting “a democratic and peaceful transition in the DRC through credible and transparent elections” and called on the government to “ensure the required political space throughout the country, including freedom of peaceful assembly and equitable access to state media”, reported ReliefWeb, referring to the official statement.

New Vision also reported on the UN condemning a new spike of human rights violations, for many of which security forces were said to be responsible. Violations included, among others, extra-judicial killings and rape. The increase in violence follows an outbreak of street protests opposing the prolonged rule of President Kabila who has been in office since 2001, but refused to step down even though he would have to do so by law. Only on Saturday, six protesters were injured after police had fired during an opposition rally in Kenge (Western DRC). Meanwhile, the police claimed that only one protester had been wounded due to rocks thrown by other demonstrators. The opposition, which criticized the recent decision to schedule elections (only) for December 23, 2018, is “considering a ‘peaceful demonstration’ in Kinshasa on November 28, according to a letter seen by AFP”, published News24.

New Vision

The United States of America

On Monday, the White House asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow President Donald Trump’s latest travel ban to take full effect after a San Francisco appeals court ruled last week that only parts of it could be enacted, meaning the legislation would only apply to people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad without connections to the US. The ban had been announced on September 24th, replacing two previous ones which had been impeded by federal courts. The appeal to the Supreme Court argued that the latest travel ban differed from the previous bans and was “based on national-security and foreign-affairs objectives, not religious animus.” Trump said such a ban was needed to protect the US from Islamist militants’ attacks, while critics have called it a ‘Muslim ban’ violating the US Constitution by discriminating based on religion.

President Trump further drew criticism for backing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore who is accused of sexual misconduct involving teenagers and who some have called on to quit the race. However, according to previous statements Trump had also found Moore’s allegations to be “extremely troubling” and stated, according to BBC: “I think it’s a very special time, a lot of things are coming out and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very, very good for women and I’m very happy.”

The US President has further announced to designate North Korea as “state sponsor of terror” amid increased nuclear tension on the Korean peninsula. Trump has described the move as “part of the US ‘maximum pressure campaign’ against Pyongyang”, wrote The Guardian. Congressional lawmakers have pressured to relist North Korea after it had been removed in 2008, though some are fearing to increase the already aggravated tensions on the peninsula. With this step, North Korea would join Iran, Sudan and Syria on the above list, which has been welcomed by South Korea and Japan.

Reuters (travel ban)
BBC (Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore)
The Guardian (North Korea)


A bill introduced by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party “undermine[s] the fairness of elections, opposition deputies said in parliament on Thursday”, wrote Euronews. The PiS has claimed their proposal would make voting more transparent, while critics said its real aim is boosting PiS’ prospects in upcoming elections. The party has been under criticism from the European Commission, for eroding democratic standards, by its push to bring the judiciary and state media under more direct control  in Poland, besides issues over migration and logging. The bill is being voted on by the PiS-dominated parliament today and would have to be signed into law by President Andrzej Duda. A number of rights groups have signed a petition this week stating the plan’s to overhaul the judiciary would mean an end to “Poland’s status as a democratic state based on the rule of law”, wrote Reuters.

Earlier this week, EU Council President Donald Tusk has harshly criticized the Polish government and has linked its politics to a “Kremlin plan”. The Polish government in return accused him of “attacking Poland”. French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that Poland’s plans remained a cause for concern, while there were also a decreasing number of subjects for disagreement for the two countries. However, he said France would follow the EU’s conclusions of an investigation concerning Poland’s judicial reform, reported Reuters.


Other News

Maldives – The Maldives central bank has warned over mounting state debts and voiced concern over the country’s continued dependency on foreign financial markets. Meanwhile, President Abdulla Yameen has “warned of ‘ideological warfare and malicious economic schemes’ against his country” after Indian and US diplomats had met to discuss the situation in the Maldives, wrote the Observer Research Foundation on Eurasia Review. Internally, “[t]he opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on the authorities to quit harassing social media activist Thayyib Shaheem”, reported Raajje.

Yemen – Reuters reported, a U.S.-funded famine survey said that thousands of Yemenis could die daily if a Saudi-led military coalition continues its blockade on the country’s key ports. CANVAS had already reported of the aggravating humanitarian situation in Yemen throughout the last weeks.

Kenya – On Monday, Kenya’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously to uphold the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in October’s repeat presidential vote which opposition candidate Odinga had boycotted, dismissing two legal challenges. Reuters states Kenya’s current political crisis is likely to continue and clashes between opposition supporters and the police led to several deaths over the weekend, further causing riots met with tear gas.

Lebanon – Wednesday, Prime Minister Saad Hariri suspended his surprise resignation, after having announced the latter earlier this month in Saudi Arabia. It had come amidst a regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran and a renewed Saudi condemnation of Hezbollah, Hariri’s partner in government. Lebanon itself is struggling with the number of incoming refugees, tensions from Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict alongside Bashar al-Assad, as well as internal sectarian divisions. Saudi Arabia had already persuaded most of the 22 member states of the Arab League to condemn Hezbollah as a ‘terrorist organization’ at a meeting in Cairo on Sunday.

Manus Island – Around 400 refugees have been refusing to leave a controversial immigration detention center on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea), claiming the new one they are supposed to be relocated to, would offer them less security. When police entered the center this week, refugees claimed them to have acted ‘heavy-handedly’, whereas officials state police had been peaceful. Australian Prime Minister Turnbull made clear this would not affect Australian immigration policies. Nevertheless, comments by New Zealand’s (NZ) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had raised speculations about Turnbull considering NZ’s offer to take up 150 of the detainees.

Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said on Thursday that there is a “strong likelihood” Duterte will lift an earlier suspension on police from his ‘war on drugs’. Almost 4,000 Filipinos have been killed in what police say are anti-drug operations, which had received international criticism. Reuters quoted Human Rights Watch Asia’s deputy director saying that “people should ‘brace for more bloodshed’ and called again for a United Nations-led international investigation.” The President also canceled peace talks with rebels from the Communist Party of the Philippines who have been involved in one of Asia’s longest insurgencies, threatening to categorize them as a ‘terrorist group’.

CANVAS’ Daily News

Also read what we featured in our daily news section this week, besides our in-depth analysis of Zimbabwe mentioned above:

Zimbabwe’s Unity of Purpose (in Protest-Signs)
Throwing a Pie – More than a Simple Act of Protest