Somalia severed diplomatic ties with neighboring Kenya, accusing it of violating Somali sovereignty and meddling in its internal affairs. Although the statement cited no specific grievances, it came exactly as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was hosting in Nairobi the president of Somaliland, a breakaway region in Somalia’s northwest that declared independence in 1991. Kenyatta and Somaliland’s President Musa Bihi Abdi signed a pact on increased security and economic cooperation—which is clearly viewed by Mogadishu as a step toward formal recognition. Two weeks earlier, Somalia ordered the expulsion of Kenya’s ambassador, accusing Nairobi of interfering in the electoral process in Jubaland, an autonomous region along the Kenyan border. Kenya maintains a military force of some 3,500 troops in Jubaland, where elections last year solidified the rule of the incumbent regional president, Ahmed Madobe, who is harshly at odds with Mogadishu. (Map: African Executive)
President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all the approximately 700 US troops in Somalia by mid-January. But the troops are not coming back to the US—they will be stationed just outside Somalia’s borders, in Kenya and Djibouti, ready to go back in as circumstances mandate. Air-strikes and drone warfare are to continue. Also remaining in Somalia will be a team of Pentagon advisors and a significant force of private contractors from the DC-based firm Bancroft Global, working with a US-trained elite commando unit to fight al-Shabaab and ISIS insurgents. (Photo: Nick Kibbey/US Air Force via Military Times)
The US Supreme Court ruled in Opati v. Republic of Sudan that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act permits a punitive damages award against Sudan for the role it played in the 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Plaintiffs in the case argued that Sudan had harbored al-Qaeda leaders who plotted the attacks, including Osama bin Laden. Officials in Khartoum have been seeking a settlement with the victims outside the court. Sudan is in a precarious economic situation following the ouster of long-ruling strongman Omer Hassan al-Bashir, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration made it clear that Sudan must settle all terrorism-related claims to get off the US list of “state sponsors of terrorism”—a precondition for Washington’s support for debt relief for the African country. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele is openly defying Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing the lockdown. His security forces have arbitrarily detained hundreds in containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the government may not continue using tracking capabilities developed by the internal security service Shin Bet in efforts to contain COVID-19, imposing a deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek legislative approval for the practice. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, already threatening to shoot lockdown violators, has escalated to warning of an imminent declaration of martial law. (Photo: Philippine National Police via Wikipedia)
It’s an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated: “When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total.” The media response has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump’s pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual “state of exception” in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently. (Photo of protest outside “morgue truck” in New York City: Donna Aceto/Rise and Resist)
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. China has also gained access to facilities in Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Seychelles and Oman as part of the maritime component of its Silk Road trade and infrastructure initiative. While the Silk Road is an ostensibly civilian project, China has also established its first foreign military base at Djibouti, leading Western wonks to warn that Beijing is seeking a "string of pearls" network of bases across the Indian Ocean. (Map via CIMSEC)
Oromo activists in Ethiopia launched a "fuel blockade," occupying roadways to halt shipment of oil through the country. The action was called following a massacre at the village of Moyale, near the Kenyan border. Troops gunned down nine unarmed residents, apparently mistaking them for militants of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Nearly 5,000 have fled across the border to Kenya—some having directly run from gunfire. Ethiopia last year imposed a state of emergency in response to mounting Oromo protests. Roadblocks are reported from several points around the country, so far without violence. (Photo via UNPO)
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, with water reserves falling dramatically.
At least 100 Somali refugees previously cleared for resettlement in the US are stranded in Kenya in the wake of President Trump's travel ban.
The International Court of Justice ruled that it has the authority to adjudicate a dispute between Kenya and Somalia over an oil-rich stretch of the Indian Ocean.
Shabaab militants are disappearing after turning themselves in under Kenya's amnesty program. Are the security forces responsible or jihadist hit squads?
Kenyan authorities detained three police officers for involvement in the murder of a human rights lawyer who disappeared after filing a complaint about police abuse.