Visas in Uzbekistan, Colombia’s tricky transition, the youth vote in the US and elections in Cameroon.
In 2016, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos ushered in a peaceful resolution to the country’s 50-year civil war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). Guerrilla commanders demobilised, the international community applauded and Santos scooped a Nobel Peace prize for his efforts. But millions of Colombians felt the reconciliation was too amenable to Farc: it failed to punish them for human-rights violations, allowed the former rebels to create a political party and awarded them 10 congressional seats.
Today, although Colombia has a new leader, it has similar problems. Ivan Duque is the youngest president in the country’s history but he also needs to be the most artful. If he follows up on the peace accord as Santos envisioned it there will be public outcry and his ratings will plummet; if he reverses it he could incite Farc and its splinter groups to take up arms again. Indeed, some never laid their weapons down: the government estimates that about 1,400 active dissidents are at large in the countryside.
Duque has pledged to amend the reconciliation deal and impose punishments on rebels for war crimes, but some are sceptical. “He will be cautious about measures that might cause rebels to go back to the jungle; many would rather take up arms again than go to prison,” says Adam Isacson, director of defence oversight at Washington Office in Latin America.
Isacson thinks one way out for Duque is to quietly kill the peace accord by “not implementing it or horribly under resourcing it”. That would be a crime in itself. The accord promises development in the rural areas that were once controlled by Farc; it would also bring land reform and crop-substitution programmes to help farmers turn away from coca – the raw ingredient for cocaine – and toward food crops. “Colombia is schizophrenic,” says Isacson. “Most cities are the safest they have been in a long time but the countryside is becoming more violent.”
The wave of political activism spurred by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting earlier this year in Florida, which saw 17 staff and students killed by a classmate, could reach a crescendo at the ballot box in November. While much of the student-led activism in the wake of the attack centered on tightening gun laws, there was also a push to get young people out to vote. According to a report by TargetSmart, a US-based data consultancy, voter registration among 18 to 29-year-olds is up in most states across the country, particularly in key battle regions in the mid-terms.
Dubbing it a “potentially impactful surge”, the report reveals that since 14 February – which was the date of the shooting – youth-voter registration is up by 8 per cent in Florida, 8.2 per cent in Arizona, 10.5 per cent in Virginia and 16 per cent in Pennsylvania.
Uzbekistan used to be a difficult country to enter. But this summer, legislation was passed allowing visitors to apply for electronic visas online. A visa takes two working days to come into effect, costs €17 and allows a stay of 30 days. Relaxing visa laws was one of president Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s opening gambits when he assumed power in 2016 but the plan faced resistance from the Uzbek National Security Service. However, those not preoccupied with foreign infiltration will surely be glad of the economic boost: tourism is expected to support 111,000 jobs in the country by 2028.
Cameroon’s president Paul Biya is already among the world’s longest-ruling current national leaders (non-royal category). Aged 85, he has announced that he will run again in October. If he wins another seven-year term he will be set to overtake such durable former potentates as Chiang Kai-shek and Kim Il-Sung (but fall just short of Fidel Castro’s 49 years).
Biya faces insurrection in Cameroon’s English-speaking region, where a pro-independence movement has long operated – and where the secessionist forces that emphasised non-violence have lost their grip. More than 70 soldiers and police officers and more than 100 civilians have been killed in the past year. In July, defence minister Joseph Beti Assomo survived an ambush on his convoy as he travelled through the region.
Biya’s argument in favour of himself is that he represents stability – but, with that waning, it’s longevity that he’s really after.