A week in geopolitics: Ebola, nuclear weapons, and rebels.

Last Thursday, the United States announced a number of sanctions against three Myanmar businessmen and their company, ‘Dynasty International’. The sanctions target them specifically as they are believed to have supplied Russian-made weapons and aircraft to the military regime that overthrew Myanmar’s government in last year’s coup. The sanctions are intended to impair and disrupt the Myanmar military’s ties to Russia and Belarus, the country’s largest suppliers, as the administration continues to oppress its people. Yadanar Maung, a spokesman for advocacy group ‘Justice For Myanmar’ insists that the international community must do more to cut off the military’s administration’s access to financial and military support. Over 2000 civilians have been killed since the military toppled the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February last year. Myanmar, formerly Burma, has become increasingly reliant on Russia after China withdrew their support of the military regime and attempted to stabilise the political situation in the country. As Myanmar is nestled between India and China, with access to the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, the close relationship is a huge strategic benefit for Russia as they push to gain more of a foothold in Asia.

This weekend saw further military provocations from North Korea as they fired another pair of short-range ballistic missiles over South Korea, following the long-range missile they fired over Japan last Tuesday. There have now been a total of seven weapons tests in two weeks, which North Korea’s military have deemed a “righteous reaction” to recent U.S., Japan, and South Korea military drills that have taken place near the Korean Peninsula, which North Korea consider to be an intimidating threat to its security. They also claim that their weapons tests are a “simulation” of a nuclear attack on the South, as the missiles were designed to carry tactical nuclear weapons. Intelligence suggests that they are preparing to hold their first nuclear weapons test since 2017 and they are evidently ramping up their nuclear intentions after Kim Jong-un revised the countries laws last month, allowing them to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively rather than defensively. Earlier in the year the country were proven to be testing missile launches from moving launch sites, such as trains and convoys, making it harder for the weapons to be destroyed in a strike. South Korea have sought closer ties with the US since the election of President Yoon Suk-yeol in May, which has unnerved Kim Jong-un and will undoubtedly push him closer to Russia, forming a dangerous, nuclear axis.

Burkina Faso have experienced their second coup in just eight months after military leader Paul-Henri Damiba was deposed last week. Army Captain Ibrahim Traore took charge, immediately dissolving the transitional government and suspending the constitution. The former leader was removed due to his inability to deal with the worsening armed uprising in the country, the same reason that he overthrew the former leader in January. The West African state has been struggling to contain rebel groups, some of which are associated with al-Qaeda and ISIS, resulting in 40% of the country being out of the control of the state. Traore has since closed the borders indefinitely and announced a curfew from 9pm to 5am. The unrest has been ongoing since 2015 when the conflict with rebel fighters began, resulting in thousands dead and two million people displaced. Burkina Faso is just one example of the violence taking place across the Sahel region of North Africa, as Mali, Guinea and Chad have all endured coups since 2020 due to similar conflicts and unrest.

On October 2nd, Bosnia’s electorate went to the polls to choose their new leaders from the now-standard list of sectarian candidates and challengers promising to eradicate corruption. Bosnia have an infamously complicated institutional set-up due to the power-sharing system established in a U.S.-sponsored peace deal which ended the vicious 1992-95 civil war. The war took place between the country’s three main ethnic groups; Muslim Bosnians, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats. The country was divided into two independent entities, one run by the Serbs and the other run by the Bosnians and Croats, and every countrywide action requires consensus from all three ethnic groups. The election on Sunday was for the three members of the shared Bosnian presidency, among other deputy roles, and the president of the country’s Serb-run district. The electorate turnout was just 50%, a decline by 2% since 2018, as Bosnians have little incentive to vote due to the continued dominance of their corrupt, nationalist leaders. Although, the traditional lineup of leaders across the election races were challenged by a coalition of parties who, despite their ideological differences, campaigned on the promise to “eradicate patronage networks and sanction acts of corruption in government”, the primary reasons the country is currently unable to join the European Union. While the results of the elections have not yet been announced, the result of the Serb president election has already been called into question by opposition parties due to a large number of irregularities. The longtime Serb leader Milorad Dodik has been accused of fraud by election authorities after they discovered the unsealing of ballot boxes and recounts taking place at 1000 polling stations before the final tally. Dodik has run unchallenged for many years while pushing for the separation of Republika Srpska, the Serb entity, from the rest of Bosnia. He is supported by Russia who are believed to be attempting to create instability in Bosnia to avert attention from the war in Ukraine. These separatist ambitions by ethnic Serbs are the same that caused the previous civil war, sparking international concerns that history may be about to repeat itself.

The centre-right ‘GERB’ party has won Bulgaria’s parliamentary election, the country’s fourth national election in just 18 months. Former prime minister Boyko Borissov’s ‘Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria’ won 25.4% of the vote, with the centrist anti-corruption party ‘We Continue the Change’ coming second with 20.2% of the vote. The ‘GERB’ have been widely accused of allowing corruption to spread through Bulgaria, meaning the party will have difficulties forming a stable coalition, if any coalition at all. Whichever government is formed will involve multiple partners and complex deals, with complicated coalition negotiations taking place behind the scenes. Political analysts suggest that the political parties might shelve their differences due to the combined effects of the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine and voters’ frustration with political instability. This frustration has caused record lows in voter turnout as exit polls claim just 38% of the electorate turned up to vote, but official voter turnout is even lower at 25.5%. The country is currently suffering from surging energy prices after it opposed the war in Ukraine and refused to pay for Russian gas in roubles, leading Russia-based energy giant Gazprom to cut off supplies to Bulgaria. A new government is predicted to establish a more neutral position toward Russia with a view to easing their own economic hardship.

Having suffered through the coronavirus pandemic and budget cuts, Uganda is now struggling to contain an outbreak of Ebola, a disease with a very high fatality rate. The outbreak is believed to have started a month before it was detected and there are now 43 confirmed cases and nine deaths, with many more unknown cases likely. As the outbreak is along a major highway connecting Uganda’s capital, Kampala, with the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are fears of the strain spreading swiftly. Congo, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan have all began screening travellers across their borders with Uganda for Ebola symptoms. There have been four flare-ups since 2011, with the worst involving the ‘Zaire strain’ of Ebola which caused an epidemic from 2014 to 2016 and killed more than 11,000 people across West Africa, so getting the new strain under control is of paramount importance. Antiviral treatments, vaccines and rapid tests are ineffective against this particularly rare ‘Sudan strain’, so the only tool the country has in its arsenal for detecting the virus is the PCR test, widely used during the coronavirus pandemic. However, this requires samples to be shipped 110 miles to the only laboratory in the country equipped to detect this particular strain. Previously, villages had health teams on the lookout for Ebola and other contagious diseases but many of them have stopped working due to government budget cuts preventing an increase in monthly salaries from $2.50 to $25, which was promised by the government three years ago. Trainee doctors at the main Ebola treatment center have also gone on strike as they have not received adequate protective gear, after Uganda’s health minister Jane Aceng told them the government is awaiting at least $18 million in donor funding to tackle the outbreak. Various drugmakers are working on vaccines, and the World Health Organisation and other medical charities have sent staff and medical supplies to assist.

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