By Morak Babajide-Alabi
January 2019 has been a month with lots of events and much of crises around the world. From Africa to the Americas, crises have dotted the landscape. There are no signs the situation will change for the better soon. The protagonists in these crises are digging their heels in and insisting they have better ideas than the opposing parties.
To be fair, most of these crises evolving now have been hatching from the last weeks and months of 2018. They have now reached their gestation period and are spreading. No corner of the earth is exonerated, as both developed, developing countries, third world, west, east, established and young democracies are battling to stabilise so they do not get consumed by these crises.
Observers are baffled by the fact that the crises are not following their pre-set ideas of tagging some regions as volatile or trouble-prone. The patterns of the crisis may differ, but they cross paths. The crises in France, Sudan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Yemen and other places are the same. They are directly affecting the citizens and by extension threatening world stability.
The International Crisis Group, towards the end of 2018, listed the “10 Conflicts To Watch In 2019”. The reality of events of January 2019 is running contrary to the “forecast”. Having said this, the group was dead on point on Venezuela. It wrote: “Home to enormous oil reserves, Venezuela ought to be the envy of its neighbours. Instead, Latin America is watching apprehensively as the country’s implosion threatens to provoke a regional crisis.”
The threat has become a reality, as Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó last week declared himself the “acting president”. This did not sit well with President Nicolás Maduro who termed Guaidó’s declaration as a coup. Maduro is under pressure as Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America declared support for Guaidó. Other countries are also calling on Maduro to give up the reins of power in the impoverished country.
The citizens are on the streets in support of Guaidó. At the same time the military, supporting Maduro, are suppressing these protests. Maduro knowing that time is running out on him, called for dialogue with the “acting President”. Guaidó rejected his offer and instead offered Maduro amnesty.
Nigeria is on the list of the countries expected to erupt in crisis in 2019. Aside from the violence that is “expected” to follow Nigeria’s general election, scheduled for February and March, the International Crisis Group believes that the “levels of violent crime and general insecurity remain high across” the country.
The group wrote: “Civilians in parts of the northeast bear the brunt of the brutal conflict between government troops and a resilient Islamist Boko Haram insurgency. One militant faction, known as Islamic State West Africa Province, appears to be gaining ground. Violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt this past year between predominantly Muslim herders and mostly Christian farmers escalated to unprecedented levels, killing approximately 1,500 people.
“Though that bloodshed has calmed over past months, it has frayed intercommunal relations – especially between Muslims and Christians – in those areas, which are likely to see fiercely fought elections, as ballots from there could swing the national presidential vote.”
It is not long to go before we know if Nigeria will behave to “forecast” and become a concern to the international community. The world is watching events as they unfold in Nigeria and praying that nothing untoward happens after the election. Should there be a major crisis, the peace of the African region will be in jeopardy.
France, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Britain or the United States did not make the list of the International Crisis Group; but the leaders know they have big fights on their hands before their internal crises consume them. The protests in France are almost on the same scale as those unfolding in Sudan. The only difference between the two is that the French protests are symbolised by yellow vests while their counterparts in Sudan engage the security forces in mufti.
The chants at these protests are in different languages and dialects, but they are more or less saying the same thing. In France, the protesters are chanting “Macron demissionne” (for the French President Macron to step down). While in Sudan the citizens are demanding (in their language) the departure of their long-time leader Omar al-Bashir.
The French protests started as a demand for the repeal of the Green Tax on diesel. Although Macron’s government capitulated to the demands and promised reforms, there was no let up from the organisers of the yellow vests protests. The Saturday protests have now become recurring in a country struggling to balance nationalism with the reality of times.
The United Kingdom is also immersed in the self-inflicted crisis. The Theresa May government is struggling to find a middle ground for the country to exit the continental European Union. After the humiliating defeat of her BREXIT draft agreement in the Parliament, May came back with a new proposal to get out of the political imbroglio.
Prior to her return to the Parliament on Tuesday, there were muted expectations of radical changes in her proposals. Her calls for cross political talks after the first defeat gave hope. Not a lot of were disappointed as the seemingly stubborn and “over-principled” May presented a Plan B that could pass for the one earlier defeated on the floor of the house.
The BREXIT crisis is limbering on as she seeks to convince the EU leaders to reconsider the Irish backstop. May is under pressure to take off the option of a “no-deal BREXIT”. She is not succumbing to this, but as citizens count down to March 29, the probability of a “no-deal” is high, if Mrs May’s deal is rejected, again.
Over in the United States of America, the story is not anything different. The partial shutdown of government, which ended on Friday, managed its way into the American history books as the longest. On Friday, the 35th day of the shutdown, Donald Trump announced a temporary reopening of government till February 15.
The shutdown which left many Federal workers out of pockets during this period was caused by the inability of the political class to arrive at a middle ground. Trump is demanding for five billion dollars to fund the building of walls on the southern border. As this is a major campaign issue for Trump he felt he owed it a duty to deliver. He was inflexible on building the wall and at a meeting with the Democrats congressional leaders on December 11, Trump boasted that he will be “proud” to shut down the government.
Trump, the deals’ man, is reputed for his tantrums. On January 8, in his first address from the Oval Office, he told the Americans that there is a “humanitarian crisis” at the border which would escalate if the border wall is not in place. There was a counter address by Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer where they accused the President of “manufacturing a crisis” and also appealing to “fear, not facts”.
The government is up and running again. The Senate and House passed a bill to temporarily end the shutdown and Trump signed it into law. This is not the end, but observers are hoping the two sides will be reasonable in their demands as they meet to find a solution.
Will these crises abate or this is 2019?
As written for the Diaspora Matters column of the Sunday Vanguard, January 27, 2019.