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Friday, February 23


Friday, February 23



Legislative elections held in Djibouti

Photo: Alliance/Abaca

Djiboutians will head to the polls today to elect a new legislature; all 65 seats are up for grabs.

In power since 1999, President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s Union for the Presidential Majority coalition is likely to retain a strong majority of Djibouti’s parliament after winning 55 seats in 2013’s legislative elections. Despite the presence of African Union and Arab League observers, today’s vote is unlikely to be free and fair–media freedom is a common complaint by Djibouti’s opposition.

Still, any complaints regarding the fairness of the election will be overlooked internationally. Located on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, Djibouti is strategically located at the gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s key shipping chokepoints.

President Guelleh has taken full advantage of this by hosting US, French and Chinese military bases in his tiny country, essentially playing to all sides.

Indeed, with a deal for a Saudi Arabian military base in Djibouti currently being finalised, Guelleh could have the leverage to ensure a favourable report from the Arab League.


EU to expand West Africa counter-terror aid

Photo: Bundeswehr/Andrea Bienert

EU leaders will meet today with representatives of the “G5 Sahel” nations of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. On the agenda will be an increase in counter-terror funding and assistance, as well as new dialogue over how to ease the migratory pressures on Europe that have emanated from West and North Africa.

Coming amidst the renewed threat of attacks against major European cities in recent years, the EU is determined to boost its unified border control operations and external security cooperation. EU members such as France have in recent years deployed significant military assistance to nations such as Mali and Burkina Faso to help stem fast growing terrorist insurgencies and migratory movements. Part humanitarian and development assistance, the EU is also looking to tackle the root causes of threats to its security and migration challenges.

With large-scale migration and terror having heavily influenced recent political upheaval in Europe, expect the EU to advance additional assistance to the G5 Sahel nations over the short-term. Today’s actions are likely to become part of wider European efforts to enlist external assistance to boost European security.


Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull to meet with US President Trump

Photo: Reuters

Security in the Indo-Pacific will top the agenda when Australia’s prime minister meets Donald Trump in Washington today.

Concerned for China’s growing influence in the region and its threat to the established regional order, both the US and Australia have made strengthening and expanding existing regional security arrangements a priority.

An area ripe for today’s talks is the “Quadrilateral”. Initially formed in 2007, the Quad is a security dialogue between the US, Australia, Japan and India. While early talks were nixed by Australia and India, China’s continued expansionism in the South China Sea brought the four nations back to the table at last years East Asia Summit.

Holding back a formalised agreement has been India’s desire to maintain strategic independence. Wary of being drawn into conflict with China, New Delhi’s concern is that the group becomes an ‘Asian NATO’.

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Today’s meeting offers a chance for Turnbull to push for participation in the annual Malabar naval exercises held between Japan, India and the US. Typically scheduled around July, Australia’s involvement would mark a turning point in quadrilateral cooperation as the group’s first concrete act.


Afghan portion of regional pipeline begins construction

Photo: Shutterstock

The Afghan city of Herat will today host the construction launch of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, a project that will one day transport 33 million cubic meters of natural gas per year.

Long championed by Turkmenistan, home to the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves, construction on the 1,800-kilometre pipeline began in 2015 and is expected to cost some $10 billion. Rivals Pakistan and India will receive almost all of the supply when the pipeline is complete in 2022.

Securing assurance from the Taliban that they would not sabotage the project was a key hurdle for the Afghan leg. With one eye focused on a return to power, the Taliban has been keen to protect what could become a lucrative asset for its future coffers. With a fledgling economy worth only $19 billion in 2017, the addition of $400 million in annual transit fees will be a significant boost for Afghanistan.

While similar assurances have been sought for a new interstate trade corridor, it’s unlikely that cooperation can presage a broader peace. As the Taliban regroups over winter, expect a spring offensive to undermine further cooperation.

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