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.
Over the past week protests in Lebanon have turned violent. Following months of relatively peaceful demonstrations across the small country anti-government protesters and security forces clashed in the streets of Beirut. The past weekend saw the most violence with over 100 citizens injured. Police and security forces made dozens of arrests, with most coming as protesters attempted to storm Lebanon’s Parliament building. The situation on the ground deteriorated to the point that the Lebanese government called in the military to bolster the ranks of police and security personnel.
Political corruption has been at the heart of the protests. Frustration with the ruling class had been rising for quite some time in Lebanon. As has been the case in other nations across the region, the people have taken to the streets to demand change. Lebanon is in the midst of a severe economic crisis, and the government appears unable or unwilling to address it properly. Inflation and unemployment continue to rise, the national currency’s value is diminishing, and Lebanon’s credit ranking is in the basement.
To make matters even worse, cash is running short in banks around the nation. Commercial banks have placed restrictions on withdrawing dollars, and blocked money transfers abroad. These moves have sparked a number of extreme incidents at banks ranging from scuffles between depositors and bank employees to depositors physically occupying branches.
Unfortunately, even if the government brings on early elections as the protesters have demanded, there’s no guarantee a new parliament and cabinet will be able to stave off the looming economic catastrophe.
To most of the world, the present unrest in Lebanon and Iraq have to do with citizens protesting against the reluctance or inability of their governments to improve the lives of the people under their care. To an extent this is true. However, an underlying reason for the violent unrest in Iraq, and destabilizing protests in Lebanon, has been the amount of influence Iran holds in both countries. In effect, Iran is the deep state in Lebanon and Iraq. This has never been a closely guarded secret of course. Tehran’s influence in Iraq has grown by leaps and bounds since the US withdrawal. Iranian militias and Tehran-sponsored politicians and clerics swooped in to fill the vacuum. As the years have gone by, Iran’s power and influence in its one-time enemy has increased immeasurably. With regards to Lebanon, Iran’s power there has long been known. Through Hezbollah, Tehran wields influence and power.
That influence is now being challenged on a broad scale from Beirut to Baghdad and beyond. In November, Iran’s influence in the Middle East, and the challenges facing it will be looked at and discussed. Articles will be posted on Mondays and Fridays starting on 10 November. Regular updates will continue to be posted as well.
The dissatisfaction of citizens coming to a boil has been a recurrent theme around the world in 2019. Violent protests over soaring costs of living, official corruption, and unemployment have gripped Hong Kong, Iraq, Ecuador, and Lebanon in recent months. Now Chile has joined the list.
Five days of violence, and unrest in the capital city of Santiago, and around the nation have evoked a government response. Chile’s president, and legislators are preparing a series of social equality reforms today in hopes it will stabilize the situation and bring peace to the streets. President Sebastian Pinera is sending a bill to the National Congress today that will overturn high electricity rates. A second bill will be dispatched tomorrow calling for minimum pension payouts to be raised by 20%. Over the weekend, protests touched off by a subway fare increase escalated to looting, arson, and riots. Pinera declared a state of emergency and brought in the military to restore order.
The violence came as a shock for Chileans as their country has long been a bastion of political, and economic stability in South America. Rising subway fare proved to be the tipping point for Chile’s poor and middle class, though it is clear the unrest has been about far more. Rising utility costs, sluggish wages, and meager pensions. The nation’s economy has also suffered from global trade tensions, rising oil prices, and sliding copper prices. Copper is Chile’s main export. Despite this, Chile’s economic gains in recent years have been impressive. The problem is that many Chileans feel left out by the gains.
The government is hoping for the reforms to bring peace and stability back to the streets. Riots had continued yesterday following Pinera’s apology and announcement of coming reforms. Today, action being taken in the congress, the number of rioters in Santiago has been considerably smaller. As the week comes to an end it will become clear if Chile is in for another weekend of unrest, or if the government reforms have quelled the angry mood of the people.