CrisisWatch No. 154, 1 June 2016
The month saw Venezuela’s political, economic and humanitarian crisis worsen amid heightened tensions between the government and opposition, a situation which could lead to state collapse and regional destabilisation. Another major setback in electing a new president in Haiti prompted fears of further civil unrest. In West Africa, deadly violence in central Mali and south-east Nigeria spiked, while a power struggle in Guinea-Bissau led to a dangerous standoff. In Libya, factions for and against the fledgling Government of National Accord (GNA) advanced on Sirte to expel the Islamic State (IS), risking clashes over oil facilities, while Turkey saw heightened political polarisation and an increase in violence in Kurdish areas. Ongoing peace talks, despite slow progress and ongoing violence, remain the best chance to end major combat in Yemen.
In Venezuela, political tensions between the government led by President Maduro and the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance over attempts to trigger a presidential recall referendum intensified. Maduro’s decision on 16 May to issue a wide-ranging State of Exception and Economic Emergency decree suspending constitutional guarantees in order to combat what he called attempts by the opposition and foreign allies to overthrow the government was firmly condemned by the opposition. Senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles called on Venezuelans not to obey it, and told Maduro to “bring out the tanks” if he intended to enforce it. He warned the army to choose between allegiance to Maduro or the constitution. Public anger over the lack of food and other basic goods grew, with increased incidents of looting. Members of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) met on 1 June to discuss the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, after the OAS secretary general invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Crisis Group has called on Latin American leaders to support international mediation if genuine political dialogue between the two sides is not in sight.
Elsewhere in the region, a commission finding that Haiti’s long-delayed presidential election last October was marred by massive irregularities and must be held again threw the country into further uncertainty and prompted fears of civil unrest in the weeks to come.
In West Africa, Mali’s central Mopti region saw a rise in clashes between ethnic Fulani and Bambara armed groups, while suspected jihadists launched several attacks on the army and international forces there, together leaving some 35 dead. Meanwhile, violence continued in the north in part as armed groups jostled to benefit from the promised disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration program – a critical component of the June 2015 Bamako peace accord. In Guinea-Bissau, the power struggle between President Vaz and the dominant faction of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) worsened. On 26 May, Vaz decided to create a “government of presidential initiative” and appointed PAIGC dissident Baciro Djá as the new Prime Minister. The mainstream PAIGC rejected the move as unconstitutional and called for protests which led to clashes between protestors and security forces.
In Nigeria, while ongoing army operations seem to have the Boko Haram jihadist insurgency on the back foot in the north east, security problems elsewhere have worsened. In the Niger Delta, the little-known militant group Niger Delta Avengers claimed six attacks on major oil and gas facilities, which significantly cut the country’s oil output and electricity supply. In the wider south east, security forces fought Biafran separatists in several cities on 30 May, leaving at least twenty dead, and in the centre, clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen killed at least 28. As Crisis Group has warned, unless the Buhari government explores existing political mechanisms to address discontent in the south east, Niger Delta and elsewhere, its gains against Boko Haram will be short-lived and the country could face even more deadly violence.
In Libya, west-based factions supporting the nascent Government of National Accord (GNA) and east-based factions opposing it mobilised troops, ostensibly to retake Sirte from the Islamic State (IS). Their advance could lead to worse fighting in the coming weeks over control of oil facilities in the Gulf of Sirte area. Despite international support for Prime Minister-designate Faez Serraj and the UN-backed Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), there is still much animosity in the east toward the LPA and Serraj and growing support for General Haftar’s rival Libyan National Army (LNA) after its recent military advances in Benghazi and Derna.
Meanwhile, in Turkey, the abrupt departure of Prime Minister Davutoğlu raised concerns about increasing political polarisation, amid signs that further moves are imminent to consolidate President Erdoğan’s de facto leading executive role. The lifting of immunities of parliamentarians facing criminal charges, which could lead to the expulsion of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) MPs from parliament, alongside an increase in civilian casualties from Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacks in the south east, make the return to negotiations between the Kurdish movement and Turkey’s political leadership even more remote.
In Yemen, repeated ceasefire violations by Huthi/Saleh forces and government troops backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the coalition’s dangerous military build-up east of the capital, threatened the peace talks in Kuwait. Yet, slow progress aside, the UN-backed talks remain the best chance to end major combat and restart a meaningful political process.