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18 May 22. North Korea: Nuclear Test.
- North Korea has conducted a record 15 missile launches between January and May 2022. The launches involved a variety of missiles, including short-range, intermediate-range, and intercontinental ballistic, as well as hypersonic missiles. The activities represent the steady uptick in Pyongyang’s provocative behaviour toward its strategic rivals, namely South Korea, the United States, and Japan.
- On 12 May, North Korea official confirmed its first Covid-19 outbreak and a consequent national lockdown. The Covid-19 outbreak represents another major challenge for the North Korean government. The country, which has been battling chronic economic issues in recent years, is expected to face fresh humanitarian and health crises. The outbreak could also partly disrupt its nuclear and ballistic missile development programmes.
- While North Korea’s first nuclear test since 2017 could be delayed until Covid-19 infections are brought under control, US President Joe Biden’s visit to Seoul and Tokyo may act as flashpoints for further provocative behaviour. Although Pyongyang’s continuation with missile and nuclear tests is unlikely to lead to armed conflict, it will likely significantly heighten inter-Korean tensions and sustain the long-term security threat posed to the Asia-Pacific region.
North Korea has continued to test a series of ballistic missiles in recent months, with the 12 May firing of three short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) toward the East Sea (also known as the Sea of Japan) falling just outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) constituting the reclusive regime’s 15th missile test event this year (see Figure 1 and Annexe).
While both Pyongyang and its official news outlets, such as Rodong Sinmun, have provided minimal details of the latest tests and their objectives, such activity is consistent with the regime’s tactics of launching missiles around the dates of either important domestic events or events of strategic importance to regional rivals, such as South Korea, Japan, and the United States. As such, these tests were likely aimed at applying further pressure on Yoon Suk-yeol, who was sworn in as South Korea’s president on 10 May. Yoon announced during his inauguration speech that he has an “audacious” plan to help improve the North Korean economy under the conditions that the North “genuinely” embarks on complete denuclearisation. While Yoon also called Pyongyang’s missile programmes a security threat to Northeast Asia, he has claimed that he remains open to “dialogue” with the North.
Despite this, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un implied during recent public statements that he was unwilling to completely denuclearise. Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister and Deputy Director of the Publicity and Information Department, claimed in early April that Pyongyang would be willing to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on South Korea if provoked by regional rivals. This was later reflected during the 25 April military parade in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong-un reportedly called for the military “to annihilate the enemy”, as well as alluding to pre-emptive nuclear strikes to defend “fundamental interests”. The latest official statements and events suggest that Pyongyang may bolster its nuclear forces. This would mark a de-facto move away from nuclear deterrence for defensive purposes and towards offensive pre-emptive strikes to defend “fundamental interests” (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 29 April 2022). (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. India: Extreme weather conditions engulf India impacting living conditions of staff. On 18 May, more than 500,000 people fled their homes in the northeast state of Assam to escape pre-monsoon floods. Torrential rains have also hit southern states such as Karnataka where, in Bengaluru, waterlogging on the Bengaluru Kempegowda International Airport (KIAL) highway led to many passengers missing flights, as well as severe traffic jams and road closures. Meanwhile, an orange alert, the Indian Meteorological Department’s second-most severe warning, was issued on 15 May for the country’s northern parts, including in the National Capital Region (NCR) where temperatures continue to reach above 40 degrees Celsius. Health experts say hospital admissions for heat-related incidents has increased by 20 per cent in New Delhi and warned the situation will worsen. Hence, extreme weather will continue to impact the living conditions of staff and cause supply chain disruptions indicating that climate change is a serious threat for India’s socio-economic health. (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. Colombia: IED attack reflects enduring risks for staff in coca-producing rural areas. On 17 May, a group of FARC dissidents guerrillas carried out an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack targeting security forces in Vista Hermosa municipality, Meta department, as the army conducted a landmine clearing operation. The attack injured at least 14 troops. It is part of ongoing efforts by armed groups in Colombia to maintain control of coca growing regions by harassing security forces through asymmetric warfare tactics. While attacks remain largely limited to security forces, harassment or killing of social leaders is a primary concern ahead of the 29 May presidential election, as these actions largely curtail any civil society efforts to oust violent groups from their territories. The incident also highlights the risks that the ongoing internal armed conflict poses for staff in rural areas, as armed groups prevent the destruction of landmines. Violent actions against security forces will likely continue over the next year but are unlikely to affect urban areas. (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. Australian defence exports reach AUD1.7 bn for first-quarter 2021–22. Australian defence exports reached an estimated value of AUD1.77bn (USD1.24bn) for the first quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2021–22.
The statistic, sourced from Australia’s Defence Export Controls (DEC) unit, suggests international sales are struggling against the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Quarter-one statistics for FY 2020–21 are not available, but for the same period in 2019–20 and 2018–19 exports were estimated by the DEC at AUD2.13bn and AUD3.19bn, respectively.
Full-year defence exports are estimated by the DEC at AUD2.72 bn for 2020–21, AUD5.35 bn for 2019–20, and AUD4.90bn for 2018–19. In terms of markets, the DEC statistics show that North America remains Australia’s strongest region, with 23% of permits supporting sales to this region in the first quarter of 2021–22. Asia accounted for 21% of all export permits and Europe 19%. A spokesperson from the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) told Janes that a range of measures to support defence exports have been implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic and “remain in place today”. (Source: Janes)
18 May 22. Nigeria: Naira will likely continue to weaken during election period, elevating threats of domestic unrest. On 17 May, the naira (NGN) weakened to 600 against the USD in the unregulated parallel market, the lowest the currency has traded this year. Demand for the parallel market is driven by shortages of USD in the authorised market, where the naira was trading 416.24 to the USD on 17 May. The latest fall in the value of the naira was prompted by politicians buying USD to fund expensive primary elections that commence this coming weekend, with vote buying prevalent. This trend is likely to continue beyond the end of primaries in June as campaigns will then need to be funded for the February 2023 general election. These practices may force the central bank to devalue the naira, undermining confidence in the currency and heightened volatility for investors. Compounded by rising inflation rates, the devaluation of the naira will also elevate threats of domestic unrest, particularly in cities. (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. Malaysia: Changes to import requirements will ease food security concerns in short term. On 18 May, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that approved permits (AP) will not be needed to import food, effective immediately. A range of food products were subject to APs for their importation, including meats, vegetables, and seafood. Industry stakeholders have been pushing for the easing in the process of obtaining APs earlier this year after reports of delays had emerged, while the process has also been questioned over its transparency in the past. Food security has become a greater concern in light of rising inflation globally, with Malaysia vulnerable to shocks in supply as it typically imports nearly 60 percent of its food needs. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries (MAFI) is expected to announce details of the changes imminently, with the policy to change to facilitate the importation of food products and partially ease concerns over food supplies in the short term.
18 May 22. China: More extreme weather events may damage economy, socio-economic health prospects amid Covid-19 outbreak. China’s National Climate Centre (NCC) warned more extreme weather events in normal to “relatively worse” conditions may occur during the May-September rainy season. Areas in the middle and lower sections of the Yangtze River and some northern and north-eastern provinces may experience more rainfall, while Xinjiang, and some eastern and central provinces may see more heatwaves and droughts. More typhoons could also impact provinces in northern China. Heavy rainfall in some areas in Guangzhou and Guangxi Zhuang provinces already caused transport disruption, crop damage, and relocations. Such extreme weather events would hinder transportation and supply chains, already disrupted by Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Socio-economic health in these regions would likely worsen, further lowering economic growth prospects. Moreover, policy risk will likely be elevated during this period to minimise the infrastructural and economic damage, adding additional pressure on local and central governments. (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. Tajikistan: Gorno-Badakhshan anti-terror operation will increase bystander risks and operational disruptions. On 18 May, Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry announced the launch of an “anti-terror operation” in the flashpoint Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), bordering Afghanistan and China, in response to the purported blocking of the Dushanbe-Kulma highway by an “organised criminal group”. The announcement comes days after one person was killed in clashes during rare anti-government protests, with the counter-terrorism operation likely to in part represent a bid to manage mounting, albeit localised, domestic unrest, after authorities severed internet connections and deployed government troops. Simultaneously, the operation is likely underpinned by concerns surrounding the uptick in Islamist militant activity at the Afghan border in recent weeks, including the attack by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) on a military base in neighbouring Uzbekistan. A strengthened security posture is likely to heighten bystander risks of violent clashes, as well as disruptions to regional overland transport routes. Meanwhile, ongoing internet outages are likely to present operational disruptions to local businesses in the coming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. Venezuela: High-level dialogue resumption could lead to sanctions easing, unlikely to lead to major changes. On 17 May, members of Venezuela’s political opposition announced that efforts to resume a high-level dialogue with the government led by President Nicolás Maduro are taking place in Mexico as the US government gave Chevron license to engage negotiate with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA. The Maduro government demanded that the US lift all sanctions and free the corruption-charged Alex Saab so he can join the dialogue delegation. While the Maduro government remains unlikely to offer electoral guarantees for the 2024 presidential elections, a partial agreement is possible. If reached, diesel and oil swaps are likely to be permitted by the US along with giving US oil firms license to resume operations in Venezuela, including Chevron. The lack of an agreement before the naming of new Venezuelan Supreme Court justices will largely maintain structural challenges for democratic breakthroughs and regulatory changes, failing to significantly improve the business environment. (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. Middle East Region: Sandstorm triggers health warnings and short-term travel disruptions. On 17 May, a heavy sandstorm affected several countries in the Middle East region, with winds expected to gradually ease in the next 24 hours. Much of the Gulf Cooperation Council states have faced road and school closures due to poor visibility, with Kuwait suspending air traffic for an hour and a half due to the storm on 16 May. Moreover, Iraq has experienced their eighth sandstorm in a month as medical professionals note that extreme weather patterns are causing major health emergencies, as local news outlets report at least 4,000 people hospitalised with respiratory-based complications. Whilst such incidents are relatively common, meteorologists have warned of the increased frequency of dust storms in the coming years due to climate change, implicating longer-term health crises and economic output due to damaged crops and infrastructure. In the shorter term, road closures are likely to be sporadic and restored within days, causing minor impacts on operational environments. (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. Tunisia: Arrest of opposition politicians elevates concerns over the judiciary’s independence, set to sustain domestic unrest levels. On 17 May, Saif Eddine Makhlouf, head of the conservative Karama party and three other members were charged with assaulting policemen during an incident at the Tunis Airport last year. The military court issued five-month and three-month prison sentences to the four men. Since President Kais Saied’s dissolution of parliament, his interventions have led to the detention and prosecution of several opposition figures. Whilst previously claiming that he seeks eliminate institutional corruption, the country’s deteriorating socio-economic environment and erosion of democratic guarantees via a unilateral use of the judiciary, will continue to drive bouts of unrest. On 15 May, thousands gathered in the first protest, the largest in months, by a new political alliance, to oppose Saied’s centralisation of legislative and executive powers. Furthermore, a consolidated opposition front, will deter even further foreign donors and partners, compounding Tunisia’s existing financial crisis in the weeks ahead. (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. North Korea: Pyongyang will increase its reliance on corporate espionage to mitigate the negative socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and UN sanctions. On 16 May, several US federal agencies – including the US Department of State – issued a joint advisory warning that the North Korean government’s “highly skilled IT workers” are exploiting the trend of increased remote working to engage in corporate espionage abroad. Instead of directly engaging in malicious cyber activity, these operatives utilise their privileged access as remote workers to assist North Korean hackers by providing them access to their organisations’ infrastructure, facilitating the sale of stolen data, and aiding in money laundering and virtual currency transfers. The US government claimed these operatives have been able to embed themselves in “virtual currency projects” in industries such as “business, health and fitness, social networking, sports, entertainment, and lifestyle” due to the West’s growing IT professional shortage. This advisory underscores Pyongyang’s growing reliance on illicit means to fund strategic projects, such as its ballistic missile programme, due to the negative effects that the Covid-19 pandemic and UN sanctions have had on its socio-economic stability (see Sibylline Cyber Quarterly Review – Q3 2021). With these economic constraints set to persist indefinitely, further such corporate espionage operations are highly likely to be launched against strategic industries in the coming six months. (Source: Sibylline)
18 May 22. Iran Inaugurates Drone-Manufacturing Plant in Tajikistan. The Ababil 2 UAV production plant was inaugurated in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe in the presence of Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Bagheri and defense minister of Tajikistan Sherali Mirzo.
In order to strengthen and develop joint defense and military cooperation between the two countries, this factory was inaugurated in the presence of a group of Iranian and Tajik officials.
Stating that the Islamic Republic of Iran was able to grow significantly in all military and defense dimensions, especially drones production, General Bagheri said,
“Today, we are in a position where we, in addition to meeting domestic needs, can export military equipment to allied and friendly countries in order to increase security and lasting peace.”
He described the opening of the Ababil 2 plant in Tajikistan as a turning point in military cooperation between Iran and Tajikistan, adding that more cooperation and interaction from all levels of military defense between the two countries are underway.
At the end of the inauguration ceremony, the symbolic key to the opening of the factory and the certificate of completion of the training course was awarded to the commander and staff of the Tajik Air Force.
General Bagheri also met with Colonel General Saimumin Yatimov, State Committee for National Security (SCNS) Chairman, discussing strengthening the defense and military capabilities in order to increase cooperation in the Iran-Tajikistan common borders, as well as the regional issues.
The two sides stressed the need for continued interactions, consultations and specialized meetings on regional and inter-regional issues. (Source: UAS VISION/Fars News)
17 May 22. Libya: Armed Clashes. Early on 17 May, armed factions clashed in Libya’s capital city, Tripoli, forcing House of Representatives (HoR)-backed Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha to evacuate. The opposing leader of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, has since visited areas where clashes occurred, announcing the formation of a committee to assess damages and award compensation to affected civilians. Libya’s Head of High Council of State, Khaled al-Mishri, and representatives from the US embassy have condemned clashes and continue to call for diplomacy.
- At the time of writing, local media outlets suggest that altercations took place after the al-Nawasi Brigade officially welcomed Prime Minister Bashagha’s delegation to Tripoli, with clashes with GNU-aligned militia reportedly taking place near the al-Nawasi headquarters in the Abu Sittah area. Other incidents were also reported near Al-Shatt Road, downtown Tripoli and Hai Alandalus over the past 24 hours, with video footage showing heavy artillery shelling and automatic gunfire. Violence at the al-Mansoura and Souq al-Thulatha areas in central Tripoli also allegedly forced road blockages and schools closures due to the heightened physical threat.
- These clashes form part of a wider uptick in armed confrontations this week, with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) issuing warnings over clashes between the Fursan Janzour Knights and the state-backed 55th Brigade in Tripoli’s densely populated Janzour area on 16 May. UNSMIL reported the use of heavy artillery and “indiscriminate” fire, which subsequently led to significant damage to the Tripoli West Fast Track power station and further affected some power lines.
- The increase in clashes between militia groups in urban areas has resulted in substantial damage to buildings and critical infrastructure. Moreover, reports of intimidation and harassment of civilians by militia groups are frequent, including the establishment of false checkpoints at commercial factories to gain control over economic centres. Tripoli Municipalities have reported instances of harassment at dairy factories near the al-Dawadi intersection, also reporting armed robberies and physical abuse.
- The armed clashes further underscore ongoing political divisions between the Tobruk-based Prime Minister Bashagha and GNU’s Abdul Dbeibeh, with Bashagha’s arrival in Tripoli triggering the major escalations in fighting over the past 24 hours. Foreign governments have condemned the lack of political compromise between warring parties, as a second round of UN-backed talks resume in Cairo after opposing sides failed to reach an agreement on constitutional amendments during negotiations in April.
Armed confrontations are likely to continue in the coming weeks and months as Libya’s deepening political stalemate persists, hardened by Eastern and Western-aligned divisions. Competition over resources will drive attacks on critical infrastructure such as oil, electricity and water facilities, as militia groups seek to increase their political leverage and economic security by gaining control over key sectors. The subsequent suspension of production and exports from such oil fields, including the Zueitina terminal and El-Sharara field, will compound global supply concerns amid an energy crunch, also undermining Libya’s overall economic yield.
Additional damage to distribution lines and energy stations will jeopardise investment opportunities and the employment of foreign contractors in Libya, particularly for those companies with state-backed energy contracts. The rising volatility of the domestic security environment and targeting of critical infrastructure heightens physical threats for personnel operating in-country, mostly in Tripoli and major cities, including armed robberies or forced evacuations due to protests and armed militia trespassing in private commercial areas.
Finally, ongoing political infighting will likely result in delays to the proposed legislative elections in June, widening the political vacuum and providing greater opportunity for armed militia to consolidate territorial control in urban areas. The lack of tangible political solutions in the near future coupled with the hardening of armed militia will increase the risk of a return to full-scale civil war, sustaining the volatility of Libya’s business and operational environment, discouraging non-oil sector foreign investments, and any prospect of long-term economic recovery. (Source: Sibylline)
17 May 22. Lebanon: Tensions High. Parliamentary elections held on 15 May have triggered violent clashes and gunfire exchanges in Beirut and other areas across the country over the past 24-48 hours, as political and sectarian tensions flare. As a result, the Lebanese Army has been deployed in Tripoli as a precautionary measure ahead of today’s release of the final results.
- Hizballah and its political allies have suffered significant losses, particularly among Christian constituencies. In 2018, the Iran-backed Movement and its allies secured 71 seats. However, polling currently suggests the bloc won around 62 of the 128 seats in parliament, short of the 65 required for a viable majority.
- Independent opposition candidates have secured significant victories despite the relatively low voter turnout. Such candidates ousted establishment figures in southern Lebanon and Aley, seats typically held by Hizballah-Amal and Druze candidates. Overall, 16 independent figures won parliamentary seats, marking a 15-seat increase in comparison to 2018.
- Celebrations and contestation of electoral results have triggered limited clashes, gunfire exchanges and even the firing of RPGs across Lebanon in the last couple of days. Instances were recorded in Beirut, Akkar and along the Lebanese-Syrian border. Similarly, celebrations after Free Patriotic Movement candidate Gebran Bassil lost his seat quickly turned into clashes in parts of the country including Byblos.
The announcement of the final results will sustain the current trajectory of rising political tension, particularly among parties that recorded significant losses, such as Hizballah and the Free Patriotic Movement. Moreover, the contestation of results and inflammatory rhetoric will likely aggravate sectarian feuds, particularly in cities like Tripoli, as well as in southern Lebanon where Iran-backed Shia parties have suffered symbolic defeats. As such, in the coming days and weeks, there will be an elevated risk to bystanders due to the use of firearms during celebrations and confrontations between groups, which may turn violent with little notice. Moreover, overland mobility and supply chain operations remain vulnerable to disruptions, due to vehicle protests and demonstrations along major routes.
Electoral results also indicate a more fragmented parliament, with opposition and smaller parties challenging the status quo in which Hizballah and its allies have increasingly dominated in recent years. As such, the first institutional test will be the election of the head of parliament, currently held by Nabih Berri, leader of the Amal party. However, the weakened position of Amal, and increased popular support for opposition figures, further elevates the likelihood of flares in sectarian tensions in parliament that will likely trigger further unrest in contested areas.
The next crucial political milestone will be the presidential elections scheduled for October. While Hizballah had planned to put forward an ally, which is no longer viable considering the required two-thirds quorum in parliament, Lebanon faces a presidential vacuum for an extended duration. As such, expected delays to government formation will increase policy risks and threaten to jeopardise the implementation of critical reforms to secure third-party financial guarantees from institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. While electoral results highlight the potential for positive political change, they are unlikely to produce the political consensus necessary to undertake such major reforms. Lebanon’s state of protracted instability will therefore continue to negatively impact long-term foreign investment opportunities and currency stability, and will expose businesses with government-backed contracts. (Source: Sibylline)
16 May 22. U.S. to Resume Small, Persistent Presence in Somalia. For 16 months now, American military personnel in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility have provided advise-and-assist support to forces in Somalia on an ad-hoc basis — traveling into the country when needed and then leaving afterward. U.S. forces are helping Somali forces in the fight against al-Shabab. But the ad hoc model will soon change to one of persistent presence in the country, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said.
“The president has authorized the Department of Defense to return a small, persistent U.S. military presence to Somalia,” Kirby told reporters today during a briefing in the Pentagon. “This decision was based on a request from and included advice from senior commanders and, of course, concern for the safety of our troops who have incurred additional risk by deploying in and out of Somalia on an episodic basis for the past 16 months.”
Plans are being made now for just how and when that change will be implemented, Kirby said. But he did add that the mission for U.S. forces involved will be the same — they will provide advise-and-assist support but will not be directly involved in conflict.
“Those forces, as they have been, will continue to be used in training, advising and equipping partner forces to give them the tools that they need to disrupt, degrade and monitor al-Shabab,” Kirby said. “Our forces are not now, nor will they be, directly engaged in combat operations. The purpose here is to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabab by local forces.”
Kirby told reporters the Department recognizes that al-Shabab has increased in strength and so poses a heightened threat. The existing model of U.S. assistance moving into and out of the country as needed, he said, is inefficient.
“The advise-and-assist mission, as we’ve seen in many places around the world, is best done when you’re on site, and you can develop those relationships and keep those conversations going and stay as relevant as possible,” he said. “When you’re coming and going, that … contact is a little bit harder to work.”
Kirby also said that just moving into and out of the country, rather than staying in place, increased the risk to U.S. troops.
“Shifting to a persistent presence will not change the mission and it will not imply substantial changes in resources,” he said. “We’re working now to evaluate local conditions, including those following the Somali presidential election yesterday. And we’re engaging partners in the region, including the Somali government to determine the best way forward.” (Source: US DoD)
28 Apr 22. Japan’s ruling party proposes defence strategy revisions. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has proposed a major revision to the country’s defence policies in response to its evolving security environment.
Under the plan – submitted to Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on 27 April – the country’s defence budget would increase to 2% of GDP and the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) would develop ‘counter-strike capability’ to disable enemy missiles and command-and-control (C2) systems.
The plan has been devised as the basis for the government’s scheduled update to its National Security Strategy (NSS) by the end of this year.
This update – the first since the NSS was introduced in 2013 – will also prompt revisions of linked policies, the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and Medium Term Defense Program (MTDP), both of which were last updated in December 2018. (Source: Janes)
16 May 22. Sri Lanka: Heightened security threat and risk of protests during week of Remembrance Day. On 15 May, Indian media outlets published a government intelligence report claiming a cadre of the largely defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was regrouping in Tamil Nadu and planning an attack in Sri Lanka on 18 May, Sri Lanka’s Remembrance Day, commemorating the official end of the country’s civil war. The day is a flashpoint for elevated levels of ethno-religious tensions as Sri Lankan Tamil and Sinhalese communities mark the event in different ways; the former remembers those who died while the latter marking it as “National War Heroes Commemoration Day”. While details about the likely target of an attack have not been released, security across the island remains on alert, especially due to the persistent threat of clashes between Tamilians and security forces throughout “Remembrance Week”. This will elevate indirect physical threats to local staff, particularly in the capital as well as north and north-eastern regions where Tamilians largely reside. (Source: Sibylline)
16 May 22. Nigeria: Killing and protests drive ethno-religious tensions, increasing likelihood of further demonstrations. On 14 May, the governor of the country’s northern Sokoto state declared an immediate 24-hour curfew in Sokoto city to quell protests demanding the release of Muslim suspects involved in the killing of a Christian university student over blasphemous comments on 12 May. On Saturday, hundreds of youths demonstrated in the city, lighting bonfires, looting Christian shops and besieging the palace of the Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, who condemned the killing. Elevated security measures will likely remain in place in Sokoto over the coming days, with police checkpoints increasing disruption to the movement of staff and goods. Moreover, developments relating to the suspects including the announcement of potential court action developments will act as flashpoints for future demonstrations. Additionally, the incident has prompted an increase in hate speech on social media, elevating the likelihood retaliatory protests in southern communities. Possible clashes with police and instances of localised vandalism during these protests will drive security threats to bystanders. (Source: Sibylline)
16 May 22. South Africa: Maintenance issues will drive further power cuts through winter months. On 14 May, the state power utility Eskom launched a week of stage two load shedding (scheduled power cuts for around two-hour intervals) between 1700-2200 hours across the country. Subsequently, following breakdowns over the weekend at three more power stations, Eskom announced it would implement stage three load shedding on 16-17 May, during which time some users may experience a second power cut within the scheduled period. Running the power cuts in the evenings may reduce the impact of this round of load shedding on businesses. However, businesses running 24-hour services or requiring constant communication with staff will be particularly affected, especially for staff working remotely and without access to auxiliary power supplies. Power cuts will increase congestion within cities and impede activities and major transit nodes, driving supply chain disruption. Maintenance issues are likely to endure throughout the April-October winter period, driving further rounds of load shedding. (Source: Sibylline)
16 May 22. Somalia: Concession and pledges for reconciliation reduce threat of unrest and may enhance counter-insurgency effort. On 15 May, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected president of Somalia, defeating former president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed by 214 to 110 votes in the third round of the polls. Mohamud formerly served as president between 2012 and 2017, marking the first time that a Somali president has been elected to a second term. Following the election, political tensions and the associated threat of violent unrest has reduced considerably. Having lost support of both houses of parliament and suffering an overwhelming electoral defeat, Mohamed decided not to contest the results and has conceded to Mohamud, mitigating the threat of clashes between his and opposing militia. Furthermore, while Mohamud’s former presidency was marred by allegations that he side-lined rival clans, he has made reducing inter-clan tensions and reconciliation a key part of his presidency. Such efforts may enhance cooperation within the armed forces, boosting counter-insurgent operations against the al-Shabaab jihadist group. (Source: Sibylline)
16 May 22. Chad: Russia likely to seek to exacerbate anti-French sentiment, driving threats of vandalism against French business. On 14 March, police fired tear gas and used water cannons against protesters who vandalised several Total petrol stations in N’Djamena during an anti-French demonstration organised by the Wakit Tamma civil society coalition. The group claims that France is supporting the ruling Transitional Military Council, headed by the son of late President Idriss Deby, Mahamat Idriss Deby Into since April 2021. The Wakit Tamma coalition does not currently present a significant threat to Chad’s government with other opposition parties and rebel groups taking part in pre-dialogue negotiations in Doha, Qatar, ahead of elections, scheduled for later this year. However, as in Mali and Burkina Faso, Russia will probably attempt to exacerbate anti-French sentiment online, driving the threat of further protests in which damage to French business assets is likely, particularly if the national dialogue continued to stall. (Source: Sibylline)
13 May 22. Lebanon: Elections.
- Upcoming parliamentary elections on 15 May are unlikely to deliver significant institutional change, with the most likely post-election scenario for Lebanon being the persistence of a status quo underpinned by dysfunctional governance. Institutional decision-making will remain a complex balancing act among competing interests by political elites. While this will likely sustain clientelism and patronage networks across Lebanon, government actions on issues such as reducing energy insecurity are more likely to receive cross-party support.
- However, in light of the expectations of the Lebanese population, polls could deliver the elements for the country to return to being a functioning state. In such a scenario, improved governance would aid the progress on fiscal and economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure much-needed funds. Greater representation and accountability stemming from free and fair elections, as well as the inclusion of independent and non-sectarian candidates, could act as a catalyst for renewed civic agendas and reformation of the political system.
- Nonetheless, electoral results could also deliver a government perceived as illegitimate and one unable to provide basic services to the Lebanese population, elevating the volatility of the security environment in the coming months. Protracted dysfunctional governance would elevate the risk of bouts of unrest, with an increased likelihood of these turning violent. Failure to address worsening socio-economic conditions could further exacerbate ethno-religious and sectarian tensions. In such a scenario, Hizballah could utilise this opportunity to enhance its political clout as a security guarantor and, in turn, strengthen its patronage network. (Source: Sibylline)
13 May 22. UAE: Death Of President. On 13 May, Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan died at the age of 73.
- Sheikh Khalifa has remained largely out of the public eye since suffering a stroke and undergoing surgery in 2014. Though he continued to issue decrees, his role became largely ceremonial, with his brother, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), widely considered as Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s de facto ruler and primary decision-maker.
- The relationship between the two brothers was initially fraught with tensions, as Sheikh Khalifa assumed the role of the presidency in 2004 after his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan, died. These were only resolved after Sheikh Khalifa became incapacitated.
- During his presidency, Sheikh Khalifa oversaw his brother MbZ’s efforts to develop and modernise the economy beyond its overreliance on hydrocarbon revenues through facilitating economic reforms and managing the sizeable Abu Dhabi Investment Fund. In addition, the renaming of the tallest building in Dubai after Sheikh Khalifa in 2010, hereafter known as the Burj Khalifa, was testament to support granted by Abu Dhabi to Dubai in a USD 10 bn bailout in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
- The Federal Supreme Council will convene within 30 days and is almost certain to appoint MbZ as president of the UAE, ensuring continuity for the UAE’s internal and foreign policy posture. The outside risk of the Council appointing Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum would see the return of a more conservative foreign policy and likely closer relations with Iran.
Shortly following Sheikh Khalifa’s death, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs announced a three-day closure of ministries and public bodies at the federal and local levels, as well as the private sector, beginning on 13 May, in addition to an official forty-day mourning period. The three-day public shutdown will generate limited disruptions to locally-operating businesses and government services.
Meanwhile, the constitution stipulates that the ruler of Dubai, Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, will act as interim president of the UAE until the Federal Supreme Council convenes within 30 days to elect a new president. The Council consists of the rulers of the seven emirates and represents the country’s highest executive and legislative body, responsible for appointing a president and vice president.
As ruler of the wealthiest and largest Emirate, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is the most likely successor to Sheikh Khalifa, with the only other credible alternative being Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, who is said to possess long-held presidential ambitions. MbZ holds significant financial leverage over Dubai as a result of Abu Dhabi’s considerable fiscal resources and famous financial bailouts, notably in 2010, and debt refinancing agreements. As such, Mohammed Bin Rashid is unlikely to jeapordise Dubai’s relationship with Abu Dhabi for the sake of a presidential bid, though details of such a bid would likely remain hidden from the public and generate limited internal divisions. Meanwhile, the dependence of other emirates on Abu Dhabi for subsidies is likely to incentivise rulers to select MbZ.
In the unlikely event that the Supreme Council appoints Mohammed Bin Rashid as president of the UAE, he is likely to pursue a more conservative foreign policy approach. However, the more likely formalisation of MbZ’s decision-making power through his ascension to the presidency will generate more continuity in the UAE’s assertive foreign policy, including in regional battlegrounds such as Yemen. As such, Sheikh Khalifa’s death is unlikely to generate any internal political disturbance or policy risk. (Source: Sibylline)
13 May 22. Argentina: Inflation soars to highest rate in three decades, heightening unrest risks. On 12 May, Argentine authorities reported that year-on-year inflation reached 6 percent in April compared with March. The April rate brought the annual inflation this year to 58 percent, the highest annualised rate in three decades. The sectors that recorded the highest price increases in April were clothing (9.9 percent), restaurants and hotels (7.3 percent) and health (6.4 percent). Food prices increased by 5.9 percent. Attempts to mitigate persistently rising inflation is likely to prompt additional policy measures by President Alberto Fernández’s government. However, socio-economic conditions are unlikely to considerably improve in the coming weeks. As a result, the threat of domestic unrest will be elevated, particularly in Buenos Aires and other major urban centres, likely driving large protests over cost of living, causing travel disruption. Protesters are also likely to express their discontent over planned government spending cuts required under the financial assistance agreement reached with the IMF. (Source: Sibylline)
13 May 22. Sudan: Reduced prospects for negotiations with military will sustain protests in Khartoum. On 12 May, protestors resumed demonstrations against the military junta, marching on the presidential palace in Khartoum. In response, security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at protestors. The demonstration had the highest turnout in recent weeks, driven by the lack of progress in diplomatic talks organised by the United Nations and African Union which were expected to launch this week. The protests came one day after 15 Khartoum resistance committees signed the “Charter for the Establishment of the People’s Authority” which was published in February, establishing a unified political platform for the resistance groups that lead the anti-coup protests. After failed talks, the charter’s rejection of all forms of negotiation with the military will further undermine prospects for a diplomatic solution, sustaining regular protest action in major cities, particularly Khartoum, through the long term. Protest action will frequently disrupt the movement of goods and will present elevated threats to the safety of bystanders.
13 May 22. Somalia: President unlikely to secure re-election amid polls targeted by al-Shabaab. On 15 May, Somalia will hold its long delayed presidential election inside Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport. Incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed will face 38 other candidates in what will likely be a multiple round election, with no candidate expected to secure the two-thirds of parliamentarians votes needed to win on the first round. President Mohamed is unlikely to be re-elected, with his candidates failing to secure the leadership of the upper or lower houses of parliament. However, the large array of candidates will divide opposition voting and as parliamentarians are not subject to recall many will be amenable to bribes, sustaining the possibility of a second term for President Mohamed. Security threats around the event will be elevated. Al-Shabaab will likely attempt to target the airport, and in recent days has struck checkpoints near the site with vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, elevating threats to international travellers using the airport or based in the surrounding fortified Halane district. (Source: Sibylline)
13 May 22. Defence budget also to blame for poor serviceability of SANDF equipment – Denel. The real reason why some South African Air Force (SAAF) aircraft are grounded is the poor state of the defence budget, and not just problems at Denel.
This is according to Interim Denel Group CEO William Hlakoane, who told defenceWeb it’s a misconception that aircraft are standing because of Denel. The real problem, he said, is the lack of SAAF budget, which has seen the Gripen fighter grounded and only a quarter of the fleet serviceable.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and in particular the South African Air Force, have expressed concern that loss-making Denel’s problems will mean it is unable to deliver on projects, such as the Badger infantry fighting vehicle being acquired under Project Hoefyster, or maintain and repair SAAF aircraft.
In August 2021, it was revealed that over a dozen product and support contracts with the SANDF were under threat due to challenges at Denel. For example, Project Muhali, for the upgrade of 15 of the South African Army’s G6 self-propelled howitzers, has been delayed by at least two years, until 2023. Other projects under threat include Project Topstar (gun laying and navigation system for G5 and G6 artillery and rocket launchers); Project Sable (ground-based air defence system); and Project Fellowship (mobile air defence system). Denel’s delivery of GI2 cannons for Project Biro is also at risk. Denel Land Systems is responsible for these projects.
The biggest project to be delayed is Project Hoefyster, for 244 Badger infantry fighting vehicles for the South African Army. This more than R16bn project (R6.5bn spent to date) aims to build vehicles in five main variants, but has been delayed almost indefinitely (it was due to be completed in 2023 but no production vehicles have been delivered to the SA Army). In early 2022, Armscor recommended cancelling the Badger contract as Denel Land Systems cannot deliver, and recalling R1.4bn in bank guarantees, and R550 m covered by Denel. Hoefyster items worth R1.2bn could be sold off. Armscor suggested spending the Hoefyster funds on upgrading Ratels. The state-owned defence material agency noted that recalling guarantees will likely result in Denel’s liquidation.
Hlakoane said Hoefyster, which is a dozen years late, has suffered a myriad of issues, including scope creep and designing and building simultaneously. “We are still committed to deliver, but not under the same budget,” he said. “Is there still a need for the full 220 Badgers? The South African Army has survived so far without it. Maybe we only need to supply 60 to 80.” A decision will have to be made by Armscor and the Department of Defence.
It is not clear whether the Air Force will receive all of its A-Darter fifth-generation air-to-air missiles or a new beyond visual range missile due to challenges at Denel Dynamics. Of all the Denel divisions, Hlakoane said he is most worried about Denel Dynamics, as it has suffered a significant loss of skilled personnel and therefore design capability and is in “dire straits”.
On the aviation side, Denel Aeronautics is supporting a number of South African Air Force aircraft, including Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters as Denel is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for these types. These support contracts are worth several bn Rand over three year periods. In early 2021, the SAAF’s Budget Control Committee stated that Denel’s financial situation has created a loss of capabilities which has impacted the operation of the SAAF and led to most of its aircraft systems being unavailable. It added that the inadequate supply of spares is a huge drive factor for unserviceability, with an adverse effect on deep-level maintenance for main propulsion components.
The SAAF is most concerned about maintenance and support for its C-130BZ Hercules, Oryx and Rooivalk fleets as these are critical and almost exclusively supported by Denel.
As of the beginning of 2022, only 46 of the SAAF’s 217 aircraft were serviceable, with Armscor putting the blame on Denel’s liquidity crisis, the SAAF’s reduced budget, ageing aircraft, and COVID-19-related disruptions. Of the aircraft Denel is contracted to maintain, only 4 out of 11 Rooivalks were serviceable; 17 out of 39 Oryx were airworthy; and one of six C-130BZ Hercules was serviceable in February 2022 but others were undergoing maintenance.
Hlakoane told defenceWeb that last year Denel Aeronautics delivered on more than 85% of its order book, including on maintaining SAAF platforms including the C-130BZ, Oryx and Rooivalk. To mitigate Denel’s financial challenges, Armscor has taken to paying Denel suppliers directly to ensure SAAF aircraft are maintained.
The Gripen fleet remains grounded, but this has nothing to do with Denel, as the support contracts are placed with Saab. Similarly, Denel does not maintain Hawk, Caravan, BK 117, C-47TP, PC-7, C212, Super Lynx or other aircraft, which are also suffering from poor serviceability.
Hlakoane is confident Denel can turn itself around, and therefore be in a better position to serve the SANDF. The SANDF needs Denel to meet many of its sovereign requirements, but the broader defence industry needs the company as well, as Denel subcontracts the majority of its work. “If Denel collapses, the industry collapses. We have to protect the industry,” Hlakoane said.
Denel used to be the main suppliers to the SANDF, but is only delivering half as much as it used to. The shrinkage and ultimate closure of the Special Defence Account (SDA) has had an impact, as this used to fund a lot of capability. “If we don’t keep that capability, the SANDF collapses,” Hlakoane said, but, “if we keep it, we can’t afford it.”
As part of its new 5.Y turnaround strategy, Denel aims to save nearly R250 m a year by restructuring into two divisions (from six operating units currently), and raise R2.5 bn by selling stakes in Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM), Hensoldt South Africa, and some of its property portfolio. The Public Investment Corporation (PIC) has been approached to buy some of Denel’s land while offers will be made soon for RDM shares. Denel is also waiting for final offers for Hensoldt shares, and hopes to conclude the sale around the end of May or June this year.
This will put Denel back on the path to sustainability, Hlakoane believes, and allow it to maintain SANDF equipment and deliver on new projects. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
13 May 22. SA exported R3.3bn worth of military hardware in 2021. The South African defence industry exported R3.3bn worth of weapons, ammunition and military equipment to 67 countries around the world last year, according to the latest figures from the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC).
Briefing Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) on Thursday, NCACC chair Mondli Gungubele revealed that in 2021, 574 export permits to 67 countries were authorised, worth R3.35bn.
According to the latest NCACC annual report, one of the largest single exports in 2021 was for ‘warships’ – four unspecified vessels worth R208 m went to Djibouti. The East African nation also acquired R100 m worth of unspecified ‘weapons’.
Another notable export was worth R79m, for nine aircraft that went to the United States – these are almost certainly ex-SAAF Cheetahs sold by Denel. On the aviation side, three unmanned aerial vehicles worth R600 000 went to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) while three helicopters (most likely second hand Gazelles and Mi-17s) went to Mozambique (R6 m).
Ammunition, bombs and rockets accounted for a significant portion of South African defence exports in 2021, with hundreds of ms of rands worth being exported. Bombs and rockets worth a combined R183m were delivered to Germany, Kuwait, the Philippines, the UAE, and Zambia.
Ammunition worth nearly R740m was exported to Germany, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Philippines, Turkey, Qatar, and the UAE. The biggest customers were Qatar (R249#m) and Germany (R261m). This was most likely for artillery and other ammunition from Rheinmetall Denel Munition.
Armoured vehicle sales were somewhat sluggish in 2021, with Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Thailand, Togo, the UAE and Somalia acquiring just 69 armoured combat vehicles (nearly 140 vehicles were exported in 2020). Mozambique likely received nine Marauder vehicles, worth R59m. Mali most likely received Puma M26s.
The NCACC lists ‘large calibre artillery’ worth over R20m being exported to Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, and Switzerland. Numerous ‘light weapons’ worth R245m were delivered to over a dozen countries, with the largest customers being Angola (224 weapons – R3.6m), France, (215 weapons – R48m), the Philippines (178 weapons – R17m), Thailand (130 weapons – R10m), and the UAE (47 weapons – R20m).
South Africa is renowned for its electronic warfare technology and defence electronics and in 2021 exported more than R210m worth of electronic warfare equipment to 18 countries. The biggest contracts came from Sweden (R42m), Mozambique (R11m), India (R26m), Greece (R22m), and Brazil (R65m).
‘Electronic equipment’ also did well, with just over R1 bn exported to several dozen countries. This included communications, electronic and measuring equipment as well as countermeasures, observation systems and target acquisition systems. Big customers included Bangladesh (R95 m for communications equipment), India (R105 m for communications equipment), Mali (R40m – communications), Myanmar (R47 m – communications), Belgium (R51m for target acquisition/observation systems), Germany (R57 m for target acquisition/observation systems), and Turkey (R592 m for observation equipment).
Last year, 93 export permits for dual use goods and technologies worth R214m were authorised to 25 countries. Dual use items exported in 2021 included armour to Cameroon, Somalia and the UAE (R30 m total); electronics to Korea and Pakistan (R21m); communication equipment (over R80 m to over a dozen countries); several ms of rands worth of information security systems; radars to Indonesia (R3.6m); and unmanned aerial vehicles.
A total of 86 UAVs were exported to eight countries (more than R70m total). The largest customer was Indonesia, which acquired 40 UAVs for R24m.
In 2021, a total of 279 import permits were authorised from 32 countries, with a value of R121m. These covered 84 small arms and light weapons worth nearly R40m. Bombs or rockets (288 of them) were acquired from Italy for R18m while other imports included electronic warfare, communications and observation equipment from France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, the UK and several other countries – defence electronics accounted for around R60 m worth of imports. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
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