News Timeline: January 2019


January 7 – Africa: GABON
Five junior officers take over Gabon’s national radio station claiming they seized power in a military coup. They call on people to protest and soldiers to take control of the transport system, ammunition reserves and airports. All five military rebels are arrested.[1]

Since its independence from France in 1960, Gabon has been ruled by the Bongo family, but the 2016 elections sparked unprecedented protests by the opposition with accusations of fraud. The court, however, upheld his win and President Bongo is supposed to stay in power until 2023. Gabon has abundant natural resources and is a major oil producer. Despite that 34 percent of its 1.8 million people live in poverty with unemployment at around 25 percent.[2]

The UK Parliament rejects Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit proposal in a record defeat 432 votes to 202, bringing the deal to an impasse. Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29. MPs remain divided over Brexit conditions with some asking for a further referendum, others wanting a closer relationship with the EU, and those who think May’s deal was leaving the UK tied too closely to EU rules.[3] Some MPs want the Prime Minister to negotiate alternative arrangements to the controversial Northern Irish backstop – the plan to avoid any return to physical border checks between Northern Ireland (that is part of the UK) and Ireland. This would require the UK to remain in the customs arrangements with the EU until a different solution could be found, but some MPs argue this would violate the UK’s sovereignty. Prime Minister May wants to reopen the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU, but the European Union negotiators say they will not renegotiate the plan.[4]

January 15 – Africa: KENYA
Several heavily armed gunmen from the Somalia-based Islamist Al-Shabab militant group attack an upscale Dusitd2 hotel and office complex in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi killing 21 civilians, including a U.S. citizen. While one of the attackers blows himself up, the remaining terrorists make their way into the complex opening fire and throwing grenades. After several hours of fighting, the Kenyan security forces kill the gunmen. In recent years, Al-Shabab has attacked Kenya on several occasions for its involvement in the Somali Civil War.[5]
Who are Somalia’s al-Shabab?

January 23 – Latin America: VENEZUELA
In the midst of Venezuela’s economic crisis and ongoing widespread mass anti-government protests, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declares himself the country’s interim president next elections can be held. President Nicolás Maduro, however, refuses to step down and says he has the backing of the military. Maduro won a second term as president in an election marred by widespread claims that it was rigged. Guaidó is immediately recognized by the United States, Canada, and several countries in Latin America, including Brazil, as well as the Organization of American States (OAS).[6] Maduro retaliates by breaking off relations with the United States and orders its diplomats to leave within 72 hours. The U.S. responds that it does not recognize Maduro as a legitimate president.[7]
More on Venezuela crisis: How the political situation escalated 

January 24 – East Asia: MALAYSIA
Malaysia elects Sultan Abdullah of Pahang as its new king after an unexpected abdication of Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan after only two years on the throne, the first such abdication in Malaysian history.[8] Malaysia has an unusual political system. It is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy consisting of 13 states. Nine of them have hereditary rulers (referred to as sultans) with the remaining four governed by appointed governors. The king is elected by and chosen from the hereditary rulers of the nine states for a 5-year term with an election on a rotational basis. The position is largely ceremonial, with power in the hands of parliament and the prime minister. Prime Minister is designated from among members of the House of Representatives.[9]
How does Malaysia choose a new king? (video: 1:42 min) 

The Democratic Republic of Congo swears in Felix Tshsekedi as its new president. His opponent Martin Fayulu accuses him of electoral fraud and making a deal with outgoing President Joseph Kabila who will exert power from behind the scenes. Fayulu’s appeal for a recount was rejected. Other reasons that Tshsekedi might not be able to rule independently is that the army and police are all appointees of the old regime and he lacks the parliamentary support as his party performed poorly in the elections.[10]
Brief history of why DRC should be one of the wealthiest countries and what went wrong. (Video: 4:54 min)
Congo, a River Journey
Five things to know about the nation that powers mobile phones 

January 24 – Middle East / International Organizations:
According to the human rights organization, Amnesty International, Iran detained 7,000 protesters and dissidents in 2018 alone. They include students, journalists, environmental activists, factory workers, lawyers, women’s rights activists fighting against forced wearing of headscarves, minority rights activists, human rights activists, and trade unionists protesting against the deepening economic crisis. Many of them were sentenced to long prison terms, flogging, and some died under suspicious circumstances. Amnesty is appealing to the UK Government to properly respond to the attacks on human rights defenders around the world, including in Iran.[11]
Full report from Amnesty International

January 25 – Europe: MACEDONIA / GREECE
The Greek parliament narrowly approves its neighboring country’s name as Republic of Northern Macedonia, or Northern Macedonia in short (formerly known as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). The move has been controversial in Greece as it has cultural ramifications. One of Greece’s regions, that includes the birthplace of Alexander the Great, is also called Macedonia. Greece’s final approval concludes 27 years of a dispute over the name between the two countries and puts Northern Macedonia on the path to memberships in NATO and the European Union, which until now was blocked by Greece.[12]

January 25 – North America: UNITED STATES
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Congress agree to temporarily reopen the government for three weeks after 35 days, the longest government shutdown in the U.S. history. However, he indicates that he will trigger another shutdown or declare a national emergency if his demands are not met.

The shutdown took place after the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted to approve the appropriations bill (previously passed by the Republican-controlled Senate), which did not include $5.7 billion in funding to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, Trump’s campaign promise. After facing heavy criticism from some right-wing media and commentators, he announced that he would not sign any appropriations bill that did not include funds for the wall construction.[13] As a result of this disagreement many federal offices closed and 800,000 government employees were furloughed. The House Democrats conditioned any negotiations on reopening the government first. It is estimated that this 35-day-government shutdown cost the economy $11 billion due to lost output from federal workers, delayed government spending and reduced demand.[14] If the two sides do not agree to a deal and President Trump declares a national emergency, this will divert military funding towards building the border wall and would provoke constitutional and legal challenges.
More on the impact of the shutdown


[1] “Gabon coup attempt: Government says situation under control.” BBC News. 7 January 2019. Web. Accessed 16 January 2019.
[2] Central Intelligence Agency. “Gabon.” The World Factbook. 22 January 2019. Web. Accessed 28 January 2019.
[3] Bianca Britton. “British lawmakers crush Theresa May’s Brexit deal by historic margin.” CNN.16 January 2019. Web. Accessed 30 January 2019 and “Brexit and no-confidence vote: Corbyn targets ‘zombie government’.” BBC News. 15 January 2019. Web. Accessed 30 January 2019.
[4] “Brexit: Backstop is ‘part and parcel’ of the deal, says Michel Barnier.” BBC News. 30 January 2019. Web. Accessed 30 January 30, 2019.
[5] “Nairobi DusitD2 hotel attacked by suspected militants.” BBC News. 16 January 2019. Web. Accessed 28 January 2019.
[6] “Juan Guaidó: US backs opposition leader as Venezuela president.” BBC News. 24 January 2019. Web. Accessed 27 January 2019.
[7] “Venezuela crisis: Maduro cuts ties with US after it recognises opposition leader.” BBC News. 24 January 2019. Web. Accessed 28 January 2019.
[8] “Malaysia elects new king after unprecedented abdication.” BBC News. 24 January 2019. Web. Accessed 28 January 2019.
[9] Central Intelligence Agency. “Malaysia.” The World Factbook.22 January 2019. Web. Accessed 29 January 2019.
[10] “Félix Tshisekedi sworn in as DR Congo president.” BBC News. 24 January 2019. Web. Accessed 29 January 2019.
[11] Amnesty International. “Iran: more than 7,000 arrested last year in crackdown of ‘staggering scale’ – new figures.” Press releases. 24 January 2019, Web. Accessed 30 January 2019 from
[12] “Macedonia and Greece: Vote settles 27-year name row.” BBC News. 25 January 2019. Web. Accessed 28 January 2019.
[13] Sarah Ferris and john Bresnahan. “House and Senate on collision course as shutdown nears.” The Atlantic. 20 December 2018. Web. Accessed 31 January 2019.
[14] Niall McCarthy. “The Government Shutdown Cost The U.S. Economy $11 Billion.” Forbes Magazine. 30 January 2019. Web. Accessed 31 January 2019.