Public anger and frustration is threatening to boil over in Sri Lanka amid a growing economic crisis that has greatly diminished the standard of living and now threatens to unseat the current government. Sri Lankans are defying the present state of emergency which bans public gathering and protests. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared the emergency on Saturday, hoping to prevent the large-scale demonstrations that were scheduled for today (Sunday, 3 April, 2022). Along with restricting public movement and imposing a curfew, internet access was also severely limited, a move that has caused dissent within the Sri Lankan government.
The government’s heavy-handed moves come in response to a demonstration involving thousands of people outside Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home in Colombo. The protest began peacefully but turned violent when security forces used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd. Demonstrators responded by throwing rocks and setting fire to vehicles used by the security forces. Over fifty demonstrators were arrested, and two dozen security officers suffered injuries.
The root cause of the present situation is the government’s handling of the worst economic crisis to hit the island nation in decades. Conditions have been going downhill for some time owing to a combination of events and circumstances that started with the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019. Those attacks, which killed over 250 people, hit Sri Lanka’s tourism-reliant economy very hard. Next came the COVID-19 pandemic which placed heavy pressure on the currency. Along with a host of other factors, these landmark events have combined to produce a situation where Sir Lankans find it increasingly difficult to purchase fuel, medicine and other essential goods.
All eyes are now on Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government. How the nation’s leaders react to public defiance of the curfew and state of emergency will determine what the next phase of the crisis will bring. Already, many politicians from parties in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s governing coalition are starting to grow antsy. Calls that he appoint a caretaker government that represents all eleven parties represented in parliament are growing louder. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, a coalition member, announced on Friday that it will leave the coalition unless Rajapaksa takes measures to “alleviate the economic crisis, after which an election must be called for.”
Civil unrest in Kazakhstan, touched off by demonstrations against a surge in the price of a fuel, is escalating into a national uprising that threatens the government’s hold on power and the stability of the Central Asian power. It is not fair to say that the high gas prices alone are responsible for the outbreak of civil unrest and violence. The price increase acted as a spark or catalyst for a long list of grievances that have accrued since 1991, mostly of the political type.
From Sunday through earlier today, the demonstrations increased in size and scope, eventually transforming into riots. Clashes between police and demonstrators became more frequent and violent. Now four days later, the situation can safely be labeled an uprising by anti-government protesters. Government buildings, TV studios and even the largest city Almaty’s international airport having been stormed by hundreds or thousands of protesters. Announcements that the entire Kazakh government was being fired and new parliamentary elections to be held in the spring did little to mollify the mood of the protesters. The government has also clamped down on the internet, closing access to many websites and social media platforms.
Moscow is watching the situation in Kazakhstan closely, and likely with growing concern. The Kazakh government is authoritarian and a close ally of Russia. The fact that the regime in Nur-Sultan is trying to appease the opposition cannot be sitting well with Vladimir Putin. After Euro Maidan in 2014 and the Belarussian pro-democracy rallies in 2020, seeing similar events now playing out in Central Asia will set off alarm bells in the Kremlin. The timing of the Kazakh uprising couldn’t be much worse either. With next week bringing meetings between Russian and Western delegations over security concerns, Putin will be very limited with what types and amount of assistance he can provide to his allies in the Kazakh government. He’s quite aware that the world is watching him carefully right now and he needs to remain on his best behavior.
South Africa has been a nation teetering on the edge for quite some time. Or, to use another apt description, South Africa is a powder keg requiring little more than a brief spark to ignite and dissolve the nation into fiery chaos. The violence and riots that followed the arrest of Former President Jacob Zuma appear to have emerged from nowhere in the view of many journalists outside of Africa. Nothing is farther from the truth. A complex mixture of unemployment, COVID-19 waves, high crime, a predominantly ethnic tribalism mentality among a significant portion of the populace and a one-party political system are the ingredients that have brought South Africa to this point. Experts have been predicting a South African collapse for years now as conditions have steadily declined. It remains to be seen if this latest round of violence, as well as the circumstances surrounding it will weaken the state immeasurably. Conceivably enough for South Africa lean perilously towards the Failed State category.
The danger is there, but for the present time I would personally regard South Africa as a vulnerable state at worst. One characteristic of almost every failed state is the state’s inability to project authority over its citizens and territory. Earlier in the week, we saw an example of this as the violence in South Africa overwhelmed local and national police authorities. An infusion of military forces has stabilized the situation for the moment. But the threat of more violence down the road might keep South African troops in the streets and guarding critical infrastructure long term. If a time comes when a sizeable portion of the population, perhaps carved out along ethnic and/or tribal lines, no longer regards this action as acceptable, things risk going from bad to worse.
It is simply not possible to discuss South Africa’s present woes and lay them out against the acceptable definition of a vulnerable or failed state in a short piece like this. Yet given the trajectory that nation appears to be on, it might be worth discussing in more detail down the line.
Thus far, the People’s Republic of China has dealt with minimal international blowback for its handling of the Hong Kong protests. Although most of the world is keenly aware of what has taking place there, the majority of governments, NGOs, and corporations have opted to turn a blind eye and await the return of the status quo. Beijing has continued to conduct business as usual with its allies, and trading partners as it tries to bring an end to the protests in the most non-violent, civil way possible. At least in the eyes of the world.
After yesterday, the blowback may not remain minimal for too much longer.
In Washington DC on Wednesday, President Trump signed legislation offering support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and authorizing sanctions against PRC government officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong. Trump’s move represents the first significant international opposition to China’s actions in Hong Kong that the government has faced.
Not surprisingly, Beijing was furious, and concerned. The anger stemmed from Washington’s u-turn after five months of silence as Hong Kong became a warzone in some regards. China’s Foreign Ministry cautioned the United States against acting expeditiously, and warned that any consequences would be on Washington’s shoulders. The Foreign Ministry also framed the US legislation as interference with China’s internal affairs, and a violation of international law, as well as a breach of international relations etiquette.
The consequences mentioned above are almost certainly reference to US attempts to negotiate a trade deal with China and bring an end to the simmering trade war between the two economic superpowers. Beijing will certainly be looking to use the US legislation to its advantage, however, it could be facing its own set of consequences as a result of Washington’s latest move. The US legislation potentially opens the door for more Western governments to throw their support behind the protesters in Hong Kong. If this scenario comes to life it will test the Chinese government’s ability to end the uprising in Hong Kong on its own terms.
The expulsion of Evo Morales from the presidency of Bolivia marks the end of a South American leftist, authoritarian ruler who abused his power excessively, ignored the will of the people, and all but exiled democracy from the country. When all was said and done, Morales went a step too far and it was too much for the Bolivian people to take. The 20 October, 2019 election results were clearly fraudulent, and bent in Morales favor artificially. The people took to the streets in protest. Evidence of voter fraud surfaced, international pressure grew, and the protests continued, becoming larger, and now included police officers marching side by side with private citizens.
After 19 days of protests, the police and military demanded the resignation of Morales. He addressed the nation, announced he was resigning from office, and has disappeared from sight. Rumors are circulating that warrants for his arrest have been issued and he’s on the run, but there has been no confirmation. Mexico has offered asylum to the former president, and claims Morales is the victim of a military-backed coup.
What comes next for Bolivia remains to be seen. Morales was Bolivia’s longest serving president and his departure will leave a vacuum. The stage looks to be set for a period of unrest. In the streets, supporters of the former president are constructing barricades and preparing for a long, drawn out struggle. The political leadership picture is fluid at the moment. Along with Morales, a number of senior government officials also resigned, including the vice president. Questions about the nature of the upheaval also need to be answered. Was this a military revolt, or a democratic uprising?
As the questions are answered, and post-Morales Bolivia gets sorted out, it would be valuable to look around the rest of South America and wonder what comes next. There are other nations there contending with similar problems at the moment. South America is rife with instability, and leftist authoritarian leaders. If this can happen in Bolivia, it can easily happen elsewhere.
Venezuela, I was staring directly at you as I typed that last sentence.