Welcome to While You Were Not Looking, the weekly foreign policy update on new global stories.
Here's what we're looking at this week: Uganda goes to the elections in tense parliamentary elections – with the long-time president facing the challenge of a pop singer. The outgoing Trump administration enacts last minute foreign policy decisions that could box in US President-elect Joe Biden. And North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presides the first ruling party congress since 2016.
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Before the elections, Facebook deplatforms the Ugandan misinformation network
Facebook removed a network of accounts in Uganda, including a number of government officials accused of trying to manipulate public opinion ahead of Thursday's general election. Facebook's communications director for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo, told Agence France-Presse that the accounts are linked to the communications ministry and have used fake and duplicate accounts to share content and artificially increase its popularity.
In the upcoming vote, incumbent President Yoweri Museveni will meet popular singer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, better known as Bobi Wine, a prominent activist against corruption and youth unemployment who has called Museveni a "dictator". The campaigns were marred by attacks by Ugandan security services on Wine and its supporters.
Authorities have arrested around 600 people who attended his rallies, allegedly for violating pandemic-related restrictions on mass gatherings, and Wine himself has been arrested three times. In November 2020, 54 people were killed when police violently suppressed protests that broke out after Wine's second arrest. The following month, one of Wine's bodyguards was killed after being run over by a military police car.
Wine, who grew up in a slum in the capital Kampala, became known as the country's “ghetto president” because of his activism and music. He won a seat in parliament in 2017 and pledged to fight corruption. The next year he was arrested on charges of treason and says he was tortured by the country's military while in custody.
Wine's messages have resonated with Uganda's young population: two-thirds of registered voters are under 30 and most are unemployed or relying on odd jobs to get by. Survey data is limited, however, and it is unclear whether Wine can break Museveni's election promise on stability. Previous presidential elections were marred by allegations of fraud.
Museveni came to power in 1986 after leading an armed uprising that toppled his predecessor's regime. Although he opposed multi-party politics for decades, Museveni helped lift parts of the country's population out of poverty and ushered in an era of relative stability. Constitutional amendments in 2005 and 2017 removed term limits and set a new age limit for the presidency, which was previously 75 years.
Uganda has not had a peaceful transfer of power in modern times – and the potential for instability is high after the vote.
A foreign policy unrest. Less than two weeks until the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, the Trump administration has made a number of last-minute foreign policy decisions that could feed into the future administration, report Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch from FP. Last Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would lift restrictions on US officials' trade with Taiwan so as not to incite the wrath of Beijing as it claims sovereignty over the island.
The move could put the United States on a collision course with China just as Biden takes office. "The determination of the Chinese people to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering and we will not allow any person or force to stop the process of China's reunification," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
On Sunday, Pompeo announced that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen will be expelled as a terrorist organization, which is a major obstacle for international aid agencies wanting to work with the group that controls northwest Yemen, including the state capital Sanaa.
The decision “has far-reaching effects on the already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen. The sanctions will undermine aid agencies' ability to respond, and without additional safeguards and wider exemptions for the trade sector, Yemen's stalled economy will suffer another devastating blow, "Mohamed Abdi, Yemen country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a statement.
Kim Jong Un throws off the glove. At the ruling party's first convention since 2016, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that the country had developed a number of new weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons and advanced warheads for the delivery of foreign missile defense systems, and had completed plans for a nuclear weapons project. powered submarine. Last week's announcement increased the stakes just before Biden took office in Washington.
International sanctions and economic shocks sparked by the pandemic have hurt the country's economy and undermined Kim's lofty military goals. But Ankit Panda, a nuclear weapons expert, told the BBC that North Korea's saber rattles shouldn't be overlooked. "I think the president-elect should take this at face value and as soon as possible clarify his perspective on the goals his government will seek in possible negotiations with North Korea," he said.
Cyber attack in New Zealand. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand, the country's central bank, announced on Sunday that its systems had suffered a cyber attack that may have compromised commercially and personally sensitive information. It is not clear who was responsible for the attack. Several large organizations in New Zealand were hit by cyberattacks last year, including the country's stock exchange, which suffered a multi-day attack last August.
New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes Intelligence Sharing Partnership, which makes the country a priority target for malicious foreign actors, especially China.
Political changes in the other Georgia. Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has dominated the country's political scene for nearly a decade, announced on Monday that he would step down as chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream Party to leave politics altogether. With nearly $ 6 billion personal fortune – roughly a third of the country's GDP – bought primarily as an oligarch in the 1990s, Ivanishvili has been accused of using his fortune to raise the scales in favor of his party to tilt in elections.
His departure could help ease post-election political tensions allegedly rigged by opposition parties. However, this is not the first time Ivanishvili has announced his resignation: he retired as prime minister and party leader in 2013, only to return in 2018.
From prisoner to president. Populist politician Sadyr Zhaparov won a landslide victory in the Kyrgyzstan presidential election on Sunday, three months after demonstrators released him from prison, where he was serving a long sentence for organizing the kidnapping of a provincial governor. Shaparov says the charges were politically motivated.
Shaparov was released after the prison was stormed by a mob who emerged in protest in the controversial parliamentary elections in October 2020. Shortly after his release, Shaparov was elected Prime Minister by lawmakers and temporarily assumed the powers of the presidency before stepping down to run for election.
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That's it for this week.
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