Ones to Watch, 30 October 2017

Americas: Colombia’s nationwide civic strike to continue to intensify

Sectors: oil; cargo transport
Key Risks: disruptive blockades; violent unrest; targeted violence  

In Colombia, a nationwide indefinite strike launched on 23 October by rural workers and social organisations to demand the government fulfil the peace agreement with the FARC is set to continue to intensify over the coming days. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities are expected to join the protests, potentially in 16 departments, on 30 October. Hundreds of rural workers are expected to continue to blockade roads in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department. Violent incidents were reported on 25 October and 26 October, including clashes with riot police, an attack on a police station and protesters entering state-owned oil company Ecopetrol’s facilities in Tibu municipality. Ecopetrol has reported that the strike is affecting operations, while personnel working in the Tibu oilfield have also been threatened. Further blockades and associated violent incidents will remain likely at least over the coming days.

Asia-Pacific: Security assurances high on Trump’s agenda in Asia visit

Sectors: all
Key Risks: external conflict

United States President Donald Trump will make his first trip to Asia next week, visiting Tokyo on 5 and 6 November, Seoul on 7 November and Beijing from 8 to 10 November before flying on to Southeast Asia. North Korea is on the agenda in all three capitals as tensions remain over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. Trump will seek to pressure Chinese President Xi Jinping to assert greater pressure on the Kim regime and will attempt to persuade Japan’s leader Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in of America’s continued commitment to the region’s security even as he hectors them over their bilateral trade balances. His decision to skip the East Asia Summit on 14 November sends another worrying signal. While such trips usually strengthen diplomatic relations between countries, Trump’s blunt manner with foreign leaders often risks doing more harm than good.

Eurasia: Astana-Bishkek trade dispute may linger, Putin and Aliyev head to Tehran

Sectors: transportation; dairy; agricultural products
Key Risks: frustration of process; trade disruption

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan’s trade tensions appear to be escalating again, with local media reporting on 28 October that Kazakhstan’s National Health Ministry’s agricultural inspections department ordered all goods from three brands of Kyrgyz dairy products be destroyed. The previous week Kazakhstan halted dairy imports from Kyrgyzstan and ramped-up its customs regime, causing mass delays at their border. The two countries have been clashing since Kyrgyzstan’s outgoing-president, Almazbek Atambayev, accused Kazakhstan of interference ahead of its 15 October presidential election. Talks between the two countries’ prime ministers on 18 October aimed at ending the spat appear to have been ineffectual. Meanwhile, Iranian media reported Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Iran on 1 November. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev will also attend, raising the prospect of talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Caspian Sea projects although any major progress in those areas is unlikely.

Europe: Elections set for 21 December in Catalonia

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; secession; civil unrest

On 29 October, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in favour of Catalonia remaining part of Spain in Barcelona, the latest in a series of pro- and anti-independence protests. On 27 October, the central government formally asserted control over Catalonia, including taking control of the local police. Spanish officials also called early elections for Catalonia, which will be held on 21 December. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont called for ‘democratic opposition’ to the move but did not elaborate. Regular protests by pro- and anti-independence groups will continue in the interim. Although unrest has decreased compared to that witnessed on 1 October, there remains a risk of additional unrest, particularly in the event of further arrests of pro-independence politicians.

MENA: Political instability to increase in Kurdistan as president resigns

Sectors: energy
Key Risks: political stability; political violence

On 29 October, the president of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq, Masud Barzani, announced his resignation ahead of the second expiry of his term on 1 November. He confirmed he will remain a member of the Peshmerga, the region’s defensive force under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).  In response to Barzani’s statement, armed KDP supporters stormed the parliament building in Erbil, the capital, as parliament heard the statement and voted on the distribution of the presidency’s political authority. Parliamentarians were eventually led to safety. Barzani retains leadership of the High Political Council (HPC) which has no legal accountability and was designated the most senior governing body in the post-referendum period. Thus he has relinquished the presidency only nominally. The risk of social unrest and further political instability persists.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi quits ICC as Nkurunziza extends grip on power

Sectors: all
Key Risks: violent clashes; political instability; internal conflict; democratic backsliding

On 27 October, Burundi’s cabinet backed a constitutional change to presidential term limits, replacing the current two five-year limit to a lengthened term of seven years, that could pave the way for President Pierre Nkurunziza to stay in power until 2034. Since Nkurunziza’s unconstitutional bid for a third-term in April 2015, hundreds have been killed and around 400,000 have been displaced. The decision to modify the constitution accompanied Burundi’s formal withdrawal from the International Criminal Court – the first nation to do so – and comes as UN investigators and independent activists accuse the government of widespread rights violations, which have included forced disappearances, executions and sexual violence. Further democratic backsliding as well as continued impunity will continue to result in violent clashes between pro- and anti-government factions, with the potential for the situation to escalate further.