With Sri Lanka bankrupt and remaining politically unstable, China looks prepared to move in and take advantage of the situation. Earlier in the week a Chinese flagged vessel arrived in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port, a facility constructed by Sri Lanka through Chinese loans. The port never lived up to its potential, Colombo defaulted, and China took over port operations in 2017 with a 99-year lease. Since then, there has been growing concern that China will use the infrastructure it helped build in Sri Lanka, and other nations around Asia, for military purposes. In fact, even though the ship that arrived this week is called a scientific research vessel by Beijing, its real purpose is more nefarious. The Yuan Wang 5 is a PLAN ship used to track satellites and missiles. Hambantota is of little use to Sri Lanka, but it can be used for military purposes and Yuan Wang 5’s arrival could signal a change in China’s stance in the aftermath of heightened tensions with the US over Taiwan as well as domestic and economic concerns at home.
There has always been concern in the West over China’s heavy infrastructure investments across the globe since the early 2000s. Airports, seaports, roads and bridges have been built in many countries through Chinese loans. With its foreign debt crisis mounting, China appears set to assume operational control of many facilities. Sri Lanka might only be the beginning. This infrastructure can quite easily be modified to handle military roles in areas of the world where China has never had a military presence before. Aside from Asia, China has also invested heavily in areas of the Middle East, Africa and is making inroads into the South Pacific. The growing presence and influence in places such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati are especially alarming and hold significant military implications in the Pacific for the United States and may of its allies in the region.
The process might be commencing in Sri Lanka with the arrival of Yuan Wang 5, but in all likelihood we will see considerably more activity in other locations around the world soon.
Decades-old tension between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are providing fuel for a diplomatic crisis that is threatening to escalate. Last month, M-23 rebels began an offensive against Congo. The Congolese government accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebels. The Rwandan government, however, denies any ties with M-23, which is made up largely of members of the Tutsi ethnic group. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is also a Tutsi. Congo has also directly accused Rwanda of making incursions across the border and vice versa. The new batch of tension is causing alarm in East Africa. So much so that Kenya is urging the deployment of a regional peacekeeping force to the border area.
Congolese rhetoric has grown sharper in recent days, as the government seeking to suspend all current agreements with Rwanda. If Rwanda wants war, “it will have war,” a spokesman for the military governor of Congo’s North Kivu province told thousands of protesters earlier in the week.
This morning the crisis escalated further when the DRC government ordered Congo’s border with Rwanda closed after a Congolese soldier was killed while attacking borders guards inside Rwandan territory. Two Rwandan police officers were injured when the Congolese soldier crossed the border and opened fire, before an officer on duty fired back and killed him 25 meters inside Rwanda, the Rwandan military said in a statement. The incident is being investigated further by the DRC and Rwanda, yet tensions appear likely to continue rising.
Admittedly, I have not kept up with the events in East Africa recently and this crisis has taken me a bit by surprise. I’ll keep an eye on it and do some research to try and get a better feel for the history behind the DNC-Rwanda tensions as well as this present crisis.
Ethiopia is resisting calls for international mediation as the conflict in its northern Tigray region. Fighting has been taking place there since 4 November when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a ground offensive and air strikes on Tigray in response to local leaders there defying his authority. The fighting is bringing on a humanitarian crisis. Casualties are over 1,000 according to third-party NGO sources, and over 25,000 refugees are flooding into Sudan. To make matters even more dire, the conflict is spilling over into Eritrea. The bad blood between Eritrea and Ethiopia is well known and it’s safe to assume that if the fighting continues it will endanger Eritrea-Ethiopia relations, which have been improving in recent times.
Ethiopia’s move into Tigray was long-expected. The establishment of the Prosperity Party in December, 2019 as a replacement to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front was bitterly opposed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which viewed the merger as illegal and did not take part. In September, 2020 regional elections were held in Tigray against the wishes of the central government. Ahmed has regarded these elections as a step towards Tigray secession and was likely a prime reason for the military offensive.
There have been claims of victories, liberated towns, and casualties coming from all corners of the conflict. At present though, communications mainly down and the media is barred from the battle zone, making independent verification almost impossible. On Monday, Ethiopian warplanes attacked Mekelle, the capital city, of the Tigray region, according to Ethiopian government sources. There has been no word on what the intended targets were, or of casualties.
Over the weekend, as the focus of the world was fixated on the transfer of power in the United States, a political drama that would make the House of Cards writers proud was drawing to an end in the West African nation of The Gambia. Long-time Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has stepped down and gone into exile after a contentious post-election period that saw him attempt to maintain his hold on power after losing the 2016 presidential election to opposition candidate Adama Barrow.
The election was held on 1 December, 2016 and Barrow defeated Jammeh. who initially conceded defeat. One week later, though, Jammeh announced he was rejecting the election results and called for a new election, triggering a constitutional crisis. His rejection was condemned both internally and externally. Diplomatic efforts began right away but made little headway. Jammeh even declared a state of emergency to prevent Barrow from being sworn in as president. Barrow reacted by leaving The Gambia for Senegal where he was sworn in at the Gambian embassy. Jammeh was unmoved and still refused to step down, despite growing international pressure.
On 19 January, 2017 military forces from the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) entered The Gambia. Shortly after crossing the border, the force halted in order to give Jammeh one last chance to step down peacefully before they entered the capital city of Banjul. Jammeh agreed to step down and leave the nation for an ECOWAS-arranged exile in Equatorial Guinea. On 21 January, he left the country and the stage was set for Barrow to return as president.
Barrow will be faced with a crisis immediately upon his arrival back in Banjul. The Gambia is in financial distress. His predecessor raided the national coffers on his way out of the country. It is estimated that Jammeh took $11 million with him, and if that were not damaging enough, a cargo plane filled with luxury goods and cars followed Jammeh’s aircraft as it departed for Equatorial Guinea. This final act is criminal in every way and has enraged the majority of Gambians. But whether or not Jammeh is brought to justice remains to be seen. Barrow has indicated that he will be treated as an ex-president with all of the benefits and rights that were given to Dawda Jawara, The Gambia’s only other president since the nation achieved independence in 1965.
When Adama Barrow does return to his homeland he will have his work cut out for him.