Morning Brief

Nigeria’s Protests Push Authorities to the Edge

Nationwide protests over a hated police unit have morphed into wider calls for change in Nigeria, where authorities are weighing tougher measures to halt the movement’s momentum.

A protester displays a placard at the entrance of the Murtala Muhammed Airport during ongoing protest against the unjust brutality of The Nigerian Police Force Unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), in Ikeja, Lagos on Oct. 19, 2020.
A protester displays a placard at the entrance of the Murtala Muhammed Airport during ongoing protest against the unjust brutality of The Nigerian Police Force Unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), in Ikeja, Lagos on Oct. 19, 2020. Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Protesters shut down Lagos as demonstrations continue in Nigeria, the United States removes Sudan from its state sponsors of terror list, and opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo declares victory in Guinea’s presidential election.

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Nigeria Erupts As Lagos Comes to A Standstill

Two weeks of demonstrations in Nigeria came to a head yesterday as protesters effectively shut down Lagos, the country’s largest city. As part of the mass demonstrations, the city’s airport was blockaded by protesters along with the country’s main highway, the Ibadan expressway.

Over the past two weeks, the protests have grown from a movement focused on disbanding the country’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)—accused of extortion and committing extra-judicial killings—to encompass anti-corruption and governance issues. Like recent protests in Hong Kong and Thailand, the protests have no central leader but are undoubtedly youth led, with the hashtag #EndSARS becoming shorthand for the movement.

Shaky foundations. Beyond anger at the SARS unit, which was dissolved on Oct. 11, Nigeria’s problems go even deeper. As the country with the highest break-even price for oil production, falling oil prices have spelled disaster: 60 percent of government revenue comes from oil and the industry accounts for 70 percent of exports. On top of that, more than 55 percent of Nigerians are either unemployed or underemployed and the country’s economy is projected to contract by 4.3 percent this year.

A crackdown coming? The national government has indicated it will soon take a harder line against the protests, during which at least 15 people have been killed so far. “We are no longer dealing with #EndSARS but a volatile situation that can lead to anarchy if government does not take some very firm steps to protect the lives and livelihood of innocent Nigerians,” Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed told state television.

According to Amnesty International, police have already used excessive force in at least six Nigerian cities. The threat of violence has become so genuine that some groups have crowd-funded private security guards to protect them against attacks.

Meanwhile, the country’s armed forces, who have threatened to intervene in the protests, are conducting a nationwide military exercise, Operation Crocodile Smile. “The biggest strength of the protests has also become its biggest liability, which is total absence of centralized leadership,” David Huneydin, a local journalist, told the Wall Street Journal. “A military intervention is now highly likely.”

What We’re Following Today

Sudan removed from state sponsors of terror list. The United States has removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism after agreeing to a deal that provides $355 million to the American victims of the  attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the bombing of a U.S. naval vessel in 2000. Although the attacks were carried out by al Qaeda, the United States holds Sudan’s previous government responsible for its part in harboring Osama bin Laden at the time of the attacks. As FP’s Robbie Gramer reports, part of the deal involved U.S. pressure on Sudan to officially recognize Israel, something Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s transitional government is expected to announce shortly.

The deal does not, however, resolve all outstanding issues between the United States and Sudan, as Cameron Hudson argued recently in FP; Sudan still faces other legal claims and hostility from key figures in the U.S. Congress that could stand in the way of an economic recovery.

Mexico’s former military chief to appear in L.A. court. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who served as Mexico’s secretary of defense as recently as two years ago, will appear in court in Los Angeles today for a detention hearing. Cienfuegos Zepeda is charged with drug trafficking, money laundering, and accepting bribes from the Mexican H-2 cartel in return for turning a blind eye to their activities during his time in office. Current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has defended his country’s armed forces following Cienfuegos Zepeda’s arrest, blaming any corruption on the “neoliberal period” presided over by previous governments. 

Guinea’s presidential race. Opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo has declared himself the victor of Sunday’s Guinean presidential elections ahead of official results. Without citing specifics, Diallo said his victory was confirmed by internal figures compiled by his party. Bakary Mansare, the vice president of the country’s electoral authority, called Diallo’s declaration both “premature” and “void.” Official results are expected within a week.

Keep an Eye On

Middle East economies. The International Monetary Fund’s latest forecast for the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia projects larger economic contractions in the region than the global average. Overall, the IMF projects countries in the Middle East to contract by 5 percent, slightly higher than the global figure of 4.4 percent. Libya’s economy is predicted to be the worst hit—declining by 66.7 percent, followed by Lebanon with a 25 percent drop. Egypt’s economy is expected to fare best in the region, seeing an economic growth rate of 3.5 percent in 2020.

Democracy in the dumps. Young people are more disillusioned and less satisfied with democracy than at any point in the past 100 years, according to a study by the University of Cambridge. The study—which assembled data from 4.8 million respondents in 160 countries collected between 1973 and 2020—pointed to income inequality and the high rate of youth unemployment as the driving reasons behind the disillusionment.

Tussle in Fiji. Officials from Taiwan and China have accused each other of assaulting diplomats after a Taiwanese trade reception at a hotel in Fiji turned violent on Oct. 8. Taiwan maintains that two Chinese officials gatecrashed the event and proceeded to photograph attendees, a practice considered intimidating and provocative, leading to a scuffle when the two Chinese diplomats were asked to leave. China claims that the diplomats were in the area on official duties and complained that the event featured a cake in the style of the Taiwanese flag. Both sides have asked Fijian police to investigate the incident.

Odds and Ends

Here’s the beef. Europe’s farmers are pushing the European parliament to take veggie burgers, vegan sausage, and other appetizingly named meatless foods off the continent’s menus as part of a proposed amendment to a farming bill. The European farmers association Copa Cogeca argues the European Union should ban “surrealistic” descriptions of meatless foods, saying they confuse consumers and are detrimental to farmers. Farmers have precedent on their side, as the European Court of Justice recently ruled that terms like “milk” and “cheese” can only be used in reference to dairy products. Those in favor of plant-based alternatives to meat have called the farmer’s actions “disproportionate and out of step with the current climate.”

Muscular diplomacy. The 1990s-era Belgian action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme proved to be a skilled diplomat as he helped repatriate a Chihuahua that had fallen victim to a fake passport scam. The dog, Raya, had originally been adopted in Norway after traveling there on a Bulgarian passport. Once the document was found to be a fake, the dog was unable to be registered in Norway, while Bulgaria refused its return, citing European Union regulations on live animal transport. After finding out the dog would be put down instead, Van Damme launched a campaign on social media for the dog’s return to Bulgaria, posting pictures of his own Chihuahua on social media to drum up support. Pressured by the Muscles from Brussels, Bulgaria relented. Raya will now be put up for adoption upon her return.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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