In Other News: Ceasefire in Libya, Elections in Chile and Bolivia & More – October 30, 2020

October 30, 2020

The United Nations announced a ceasefire agreement on October 23 between the two main factions in the Libya civil war. Representatives of the UN-recognized government of Libya (GNA,) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces, commanded by General Khalifa Haftar, reached agreement after negotiations with the UN and signed the deal in Geneva last week. Libya has been in conflict since Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow in 2011. In 2014, the conflict escalated and the country split into factions following contested elections. Regional actors have been embroiled in the civil war as well, including Turkey, Russia, and Egypt. Russians have sent mercenary fighters and Egyptian President Al-Sisi had even contemplated ordering Egyptian ground forces into Libya to support General’s forces if the opposing GNA forces had attacked the eastern city of Sirte. Under the ceasefire deal, the two sides have agreed to “a complete, countrywide and permanent agreement” effective immediately. The agreement calls for frontline forces to return to their bases and for foreign actors to withdraw. The ceasefire also allows for road and air routes to reopen in the country. UN acting special envoy Stephanie Williams said that the ceasefire agreement will “go down in history” and pave the way for a broader political agreement between the two sides, with talks to begin in Tunis in November. No doubt there will be difficult discussions over representation in the capital, national control over Libya’s oil sector, distribution of oil revenue, and the unification of security forces under a central authority, but the ceasefire is an important first step, provided it holds.

Peaceful elections in Chile and Bolivia demonstrate the resolve of Latin Americans hit hard by the pandemic but determined to vote. On October 18, Bolivians elected leftist Luis Arce from the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party of former President Evo Morales. Arce won with 55% of the vote, and MAS also won majorities in both houses of congress. On October 25, Chileans voted overwhelmingly to draft a new constitution for the country, with 78% of respondents saying “yes” to a rewrite. Both elections had been postponed from earlier dates this year due to coronavirus shutdowns, and both were the result of political and social strife in their countries in 2019. In Bolivia, former President Morales fled the country amid political protests and a contested election last year, leading to an interim government led by conservative Jeanine Áñez. In Chile, large-scale protests over growing inequities in the country led to an agreement by the government of President Sebastián Piñera to hold a national referendum to decide whether or not to draft a new constitution. The good news is that the elections in Bolivia and Chile saw strong voter turnout and were held safely, peacefully, and without signs of fraud. What is less clear, however, is how a President Arce in Bolivia or a new constitution once drafted in Chile will deal with the most pressing issues facing the region – including the ongoing health crisis of Covid-19, a significant economic recession, and inadequate state resources to deal with either.

Anger over police use of excessive force sparked weeks of unrest in Nigeria after video surfaced of officers from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) police unit allegedly shooting a civilian in the street. There have been peaceful demonstrations against the unit since at least 2017, and SARS has since been disbanded. But problems with the excessive use of force and lack of accountability among the country’s security forces are much larger than SARS. The Nigerian military killed at least a dozen in a show of force to disperse protests in Lagos last week, and states across the country have imposed curfews and mobilized all available police resources as protests have persisted in a pent-up response to decades of widespread law enforcement brutality and impunity. Nigerian demonstrations follow similar movements in Kenya, where protests arose over a documented rise in police killings, and in Zimbabwe over security forces’ use of excessive force and government-sanctioned torture tactics. There appears to be some solidarity not only among these movements in sub-Saharan Africa, but also with the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., which all call for greater police accountability. Black Lives Matter has sparked solidarity protests all over the world, in a long list of countries including the UK, Belgium, Brazil, India, and Japan. As this point it remains an open question whether demonstrations engender lasting change. However, the wide-ranging uptake of the cause points to an issue that governments will need to confront with solutions, rather than force, lest they add so much fuel to the fire that it becomes a threat to political stability.