July saw Venezuela’s political turmoil worsen as the government pressed ahead with an election for an all-powerful constituent assembly, prompting fears of further violence and economic collapse. Political tensions rose in the run-up to polls in Kenya as Al-Shabaab intensified attacks.
Grievances in the security forces led to more violence in Côte d’Ivoire and Zambia’s president imposed emergency rule. In Yemen, fighting between Huthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition escalated, raising the risk of worse bloodshed in August, while in both South Sudan and Mali deadly clashes strained fragile peace processes.
Talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to reunify the divided island collapsed. In East Asia, North Korea’s launch of two inter-continental ballistic missiles added to growing regional and international concern over the threat posed by Pyongyang.
Trends and Outlook
In Venezuela, President Maduro’s government took a definitive step in replacing the country’s ailing democracy with a full-fledged dictatorship, pushing through a vote on 30 July to elect a constituent assembly with the power to dissolve state institutions – including the opposition-led parliament – and rewrite the constitution. The vote went ahead in the face of intensifying opposition protests, including deadly clashes with security forces and pro-Maduro gunmen, and growing international condemnation.
The closing off of options for political opposition has prompted fears of more violence on the streets and accelerating state failure and economic collapse. Crisis Group has advocated that regional states should put in place a contact group to push for a negotiated solution to restore democracy, a move that will require broad international support including from major powers friendly to the Maduro regime such as Russia and China.
Ahead of Kenya’s high-stakes general elections on 8 August, the murder of a high-ranking election official late July electrified an already tense atmosphere, and jihadist group Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks on civilians and security forces. While bloodshed on the scale of the 2007 post-election violence is unlikely, fierce competitions for the presidency and county governorships have worsened clashes in Laikipia county between ranchers and herders and ethnic and border tensions in the north, and could open old wounds in the Rift Valley.
To keep the peace, external partners should step up pressure on President Kenyatta and his main challenger Raila Odinga, and election observers should deter vote tampering by deploying heavily in both their strongholds.
Tensions that fuelled army mutinies in Côte d’Ivoire in January and May led to new violence, and Zambia’s president imposed emergency rule in response to a string of arson attacks he blamed on the opposition.
More than two years into Yemen’s war, fighting between Huthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition escalated yet again, especially in Taiz governorate in the south west, portending a more violent month ahead. Heavy fighting for control of Khaled bin Walid military base east of the Red Sea port city of Mokha left at least 40 government soldiers and rebels dead, while a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Mawza killed over twenty civilians.
The Huthis claimed several counter-attacks including on a United Arab Emirates military vessel off Mokha, which they say killed at least a dozen soldiers. They also claim to have launched multiple missiles into Saudi Arabia, including one that flew 930km, the furthest yet.
New fighting strained South Sudan’s fragile peace process when Sudan, in response to the U.S. postponing a decision on whether to lift sanctions on it, supported South Sudanese rebels to attack government forces in northern Unity oil field.
Mali also suffered a serious setback to the implementation of its June 2015 peace deal, as fighting between signatory parties resumed in the northern region of Kidal.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced that negotiations to reunify Cyprus had collapsed on 7 July, as another intense round of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders came to a close in Switzerland, reportedly unable to reach agreement on the issue of security guarantees. Both sides blamed each other for the collapse in the talks, which had been seen as the best prospect in years to reunify the divided island.
A series of accelerated North Korean missile tests in recent months culminated with the launch of what Pyongyang claimed, and most others including the U.S. agreed, was an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) on 4 July, following up with a second reported ICBM test on 28 July. Defying successive UN Security Council resolutions, the tests increase the credibility of North Korea’s threat to the continental U.S., and add to security concerns in the region.