Ones to Watch, 21 January 2019

Americas: Tensions increase following ELN car bomb attack in Colombia’s capital

Sectors: oil and gas; electricity; security-force/government personnel and assets
Key Risks: terrorism; targeted attacks; insurgency; kidnapping

In Colombia, further National Liberation Army (ELN) activity can be expected amid rising tensions between the leftist guerrilla group and President Ivan Duque’s government following the 17 January car bomb attack against a police academy in Bogota. At least 21 people were killed and 68 injured in the explosion for which the ELN claimed responsibility. Duque asked Cuba, the host of the currently stalled formal peace talks, to extradite the ELN negotiators. On 20 January authorities reportedly thwarted another ELN attack in La Gaitana, Boyaca department. The ELN recently confirmed the kidnapping of the three crew members of a private helicopter attacked and burnt on 11 January in Norte de Santander. Peace talks are not expected to resume unless the ELN complies with the government’s conditions to free all kidnap victims and stop all attacks, which seems increasingly unlikely.

Asia-Pacific: China’s 2018 GDP growth falls to lowest level in 28 years

Sectors: all
Key Risks: economic slowdown; trade war

China’s economy grew only 6.6 per cent in 2018, its slowest overall rate since 1990 when growth dropped in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre. China’s GDP numbers are untrustworthy but they do give clues as to the overall direction in which the country is headed. Unofficial figures suggest growth could be substantially lower. The slowdown is primarily driven by weak domestic demand and a reduction in infrastructure investment, partly a product of Beijing’s attempts to control credit growth. US tariffs on China also appear to have had an indirect effect on growth as exports begin to taper and reverse in 2019. Beijing may introduce further stimulus measures, and there will be added pressure to reach an agreement with Washington. Meanwhile, the slowdown will continue to deepen and is unlikely to stabilise until at least the second half of 2019.

Eurasia: Islamic State claims responsibility for Russian explosion; denied by authorities

Sectorsall
Key Risks:
terrorism

Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for an explosion that killed 31 people at an apartment building in Magnitogorsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast on 31 December 2018. However, authorities dismissed the claim, noting that IS has a history of falsely claiming credit for such incidents. Early reports suggested the building’s collapse could have been due to a bomb, yet investigators later said they found no trace of explosives and that a gas leak likely caused the explosion. Speculations have continued to surface on social media, fuelled by the explosion of a minibus on a nearby street the following day, despite the denials. While Russia has been targeted by Islamist groups, if the explosion was due to a bomb planted by IS it would represent a new style of attack and would indicate that the group has significantly greater reach than previously believed.

Europe: Controversial process to ratify Greece – Macedonia name deal

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ minority government will this week attempt to ratify an agreement with Macedonia, which will end their decades-long dispute. The agreement renames Macedonia the Republic of ‘North Macedonia’, and would allow Skopje to begin the process for joining NATO and potentially the EU. The agreement is controversial in both Macedonia and Greece, although Skopje narrowly passed a constitutional amendment changing the country’s name earlier this month. In Greece, Tsipras has faced two confidence votes over the issue and the opposition claims that he has made too many concessions. There is a heightened risk of protests over the next week in Athens and in other major cities. However, while Tsipras’ Syriza party only controls 146 of 300 seats, he appears to have the support of an additional six members of parliament, and should be able to get the agreement ratified.

MENA: Tensions escalate in northern Syria as another US convoy targeted

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; political violence; war on land

A vehicle borne explosive device (VBIED) detonated in Hassakah, north eastern Syria on 21 January targeting United States (US) and Kurdish troops operating in the area. The blast inflicted casualties but no deaths were reported. The attack comes as part of a pattern of escalation in northern Syria one day after a bomb planted on a public bus killed three civilians in Afrin which has not yet been claimed, following an Islamic State (IS) suicide attack in Manbij on 16 January which killed four US soldiers and injured dozens. IS attacks in Kurdish held northern Syria are comparatively rare and have sparked renewed criticism of the US withdrawal of troops from Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Ankara’s preparedness to fill the void left by US troops and his intention to create a security zone inside Syria. The fragile security situation continues to be complicated by uncertainty surround Washington’s Syria policy.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Constitutional Court confirms Tshisekedi’s controversial victory in DRC

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

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Constitutional Court confirmed Felix Tshisekedi’s victory in the 30 December presidential vote, dismissing a challenge by runner-up Martin Fayulu. Fayulu, who is backed by opposition heavyweight Moise Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba and whom leaked election data showed having won some 60 per cent of the vote, rejected the court’s decision, declaring himself the ‘only legitimate president’ and calling on his supporters to organise peaceful protests. Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) called off a visit to the DRC that had been scheduled before the Constitutional Court’s decision to discuss the election outcome with key stakeholders. With the DRC’s political heavyweights showing no signs of budging, mediation by the AU remains the best hope to avert a crisis.