The following are some of major events that have been dominating the global headlines in the month of January:
- Terror attack rocks hotel in Nairobi
- Government shutdown in US
- Unrest erupts in Zimbabwe
- Brexit plan hits a snag in parliament
- Venezuela plunges into crisis
Deadly terror attack rocks upscale hotel in Nairobi
The Kenyan capital became a site of yet another major terror attack when suspected Al-Shabaab militants raided the luxurious dusitD2 Hotel complex in the Westlands district. The latest attack surely reignited memories of another similar incident at the Westgate Mall in 2013 during which 67 people lost their lives. This time around at least 21 casualties were confirmed including a British and a US citizen. Sharing similar modus operandi with the previous raid on Westgate, the attack this time around also used a combination of gunfire and explosive materials against unarmed people, followed by a siege in the compound. While the siege at Westgate five years was prolonged due to a disorganized response, security forces in Kenya appeared to have learn from their mistakes and the siege at dusitD2 Hotel came to an end within a day. Despite the end of the siege, the authorities in Kenya are unlikely to let their guards down as the threat of terrorism particularly by the Al-Shabaab group in neighboring Somalia remains very serious.
Longest government shutdown in US history amid border wall funding dispute
The US government shutdown continued throughout much of January as President Donald Trump’s clash with the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives dragged on. The shutdown started as the Democrats blocked funding for a border wall with Mexico that Trump claimed will stem illegal immigrants from central and south America. The tussle between Trump and the House was hardly surprising when the former lost the control of it in the mid-term last November while the wall that has been the president’s key campaign promise is also subjected to heavy criticisms from the Democrats. Prolonging the shutdown however has also caused concerns among federal employees whose pay were suspended. Although essential services continued to operate, pressure also continued to pile up on Trump as surveys showed he was to be blamed for the entire fiasco. Interestingly, the support for additional border fencing also dipped to 41 percent, down 12 points from a similar poll that ran in the first week of 2015. After 35 days, Trump eventually agreed to suspend the shutdown.
Unrest erupts in Zimbabwe over fuel price hike
Street protests erupted in Zimbabwe following an announcement by the country’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa to raise fuel prices. With much of the population still beleaguered by poverty, Mnangagwa’s announcement drew immediate criticisms from the opposition while the masses started to gather in the capital Harare as well as the city of Bulawayo in the south to protest against it. Ever since he was elected the president of the country, Mnangagwa has been struggling to revive the post-Mugabe era economy that has been characterized by high inflation and stagnant wages among others. The latest protest will once again test his resolve although he has already been accused of heavy-handed tactics against the protesters. At least 12 deaths have been recorded so far while an internet blackout was also imposed by the government. It remains unclear what would be Mnangagwa’s plan to calm down the angry protesters though his decision to cut short his trip to Europe is a clear sign of the urgency of the crisis.
PM May’s Brexit plan hits a snag in parliament
The Brexit plan by UK Prime Minister Theresa May was voted down following a parliament vote. Although the result was expected, the defeat was still a major setback for the Brexit process as the deadline nears. While May insisted that the deadline will be met, the strong resistance put by her opponents from the other side of the aisle as well as some of her Tory colleagues appeared to indicate quite the opposite. As her so-called Plan A failed, May said she will work on another plan that hopefully will address concerns over the Irish border backstop. Despite this, critics said her Plan B did not involve any substantive changes and some parliamentarians have even started efforts to take more control of the Brexit process. Amidst such uncertainties, some businesses based in the country have also reportedly made preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit.
Venezuela plunges into crisis as opposition claims presidency
Venezuela’s political crisis continued its spiral downwards in January when the leader of the legislature, Juan Guaidó challenged incumbent Nicolas Maduro and sworn in as the president. With the economy in tatters, support for the ouster of Maduro has also been growing and this was evidently clear when large rallies erupted in the capital Caracas and other cities, calling for him to quit. Guaidó cited the controversial election as the reason for his move and he had even called Maduro a “usurper”. Despite this, the legality of Guaidó’s presidency has been disputed and the backing of the police and military for Maduro also meant that such move did very little in practical terms. While street protests against Maduro are likely to continue in the foreseeable future, Guaidó also needs to count on support from abroad particularly the United States and a number of Latin American countries to increase the pressure on the Venezuelan government. However not all countries are on the same page, Russia, China, Mexico and Turkey have said they will recognize Maduro’s presidency and cautioned against foreign interference in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.