Americas: Nationwide demonstrations, blockades to enter second week in Bolivia
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest; business disruption
In Bolivia, nationwide anti-government protests and associated road blockades against the recent decision to postpone general elections are expected to enter their second week. The seventh consecutive day of protests, backed by the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB) members and the opposition leftist MAS party supporters, followed another failed dialogue attempt called by interim President Jeanine Anez on 9 August. Five out of the country’s nine regions have reported disruptive unrest, with road blockades affecting some of the country’s main roads since 3 August, when the COB called a general strike to protest the postponement of the 6 September general elections to 18 October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On 6 August the OAS and the UN issued statements condemning ongoing nationwide road blockades impeding trucks with medical supplies to access cities and urged protesters to lift them. The risk of disruptive unrest remains high over the coming days.
Asia Pacific: Carrie Lam and senior Chinese officials sanctioned by US Treasury
Key Risks: sanctions; political instability
On 7 August, The US Treasury Department imposed economic sanctions on a number of senior Hong Kong (HK) and Chinese officials, including HK’s chief executive Carrie Lam and Lou Huining who is the most senior mainland official in the territory. The designations which seek to punish the officials for their suppression of HK’s autonomy follows the inauguration of the Hong Kong Autonomous Act in July. Under the economic sanctions brought by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, the US-based assets of individuals are blocked and US businesses are prohibited from dealing with them. A US bank reportedly suspended accounts linked to sanctioned officials to avoid running afoul of US sanctions. In response, China has announced reciprocal sanctions against 11 US officials and heads of non-governmental organisations.
Eurasia: Severe crackdown expected as opposition threatens Lukashenko’s authority
Key Risks: political stability; civil unrest
On 9 August, Belarus’ election commission announced incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won the presidential election with 80 per cent of the vote, with main rival Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya officially securing 9.9 per cent in figures which are all-but-certainly fraudulent. Following the announcement, thousands protested nationwide and clashed with riot police, with one protester reportedly killed. Minsk faces challenges in dealing with a new civic opposition, as a crackdown risks new European sanctions and loss of access to Western credit as it struggles with COVID-19 and tensions with Russia are high. The authorities are expected to arrest leading opposition figures to try and prevent protests from organising in the regions, which saw significant demonstrations. Further protests are expected this week. The risk of a violent response to any continued protests is very high.
Europe: UK aims for Japan trade pact; political scandal over Norway’s oil fund
Key Risks: trade disruption; political stability
British Trade Secretary Liz Truss indicated a trade agreement for after the UK’s transition period from the EU ends on 31 December with Japan was nearly at hand and that a pact could be agreed by end of August. Tokyo has insisted the deal will be less beneficial than the access it has offered to EU members, while the UK has tried to ensure increased agricultural trade will be facilitated. The pact could serve as a template for Britain’s efforts to secure other similar deals ahead of the deadline. Meanwhile, Norway faces a potential rare political scandal after the government-appointed supervisor of its central bank announced on 10 August that its appointment of Nicolai Tangen as head of its US$1 trillion oil fund may have violated conflict of interest claims, which could result in turbulence for the world’s largest investment fund.
MENA: Lebanon’s crisis deepens following Beirut port blast
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest; humanitarian crises
Lebanon’s year-long political and fiscal crisis, which prompted its sovereign default in March, was compounded by the 4 August explosion of a storage of ammonium nitrate held at Beirut port. Thousands were injured, hundreds of commercial and residential buildings levelled, and over 150 died in one of the largest non-military explosions in recent history. Riot police cracked down on protests that broke out thereafter, reaching their most intense level yet with the storming of a number of ministries over the weekend of 7-9 August, but the crisis is likely to escalate further. An international aid effort organised by French President Emmanuel Macron raised EUR253m in aid – a drop in the ocean compared to the country’s larger fiscal woes. It is doubtful the current government has the legitimacy to reach an IMF deal, particularly if it included major devaluation of the lira and other austerity measures.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Eight people, including French aid workers, killed in Niger militant attack
Key Risks: terrorism; political violence; political instability; civil unrest
On 9 August unidentified gunmen killed six French employees of non-governmental aid organisation ACTED and their local guide and driver in the Koure Giraffe Reserve, a wildlife park just east of Koure in Niger’s south-western Tillaberi region. While the identity of the gunmen remains unknown, militants affiliated with Islamic State (IS) operate throughout the area and regularly launch attacks on civilian and military targets in Tillaberi. The attack, the first in the country targeting such a large number of foreign civilians, is the latest sign of the militants’ continued encroachment into western Niger. The incident comes less than five months before potentially contentious presidential elections set for late December, in which ruling party candidate and current Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum, a close ally of President Mahamadou Issoufou, is widely expected to win.