That, however, changed on 1 February, as the powerful military (Tatmadaw) launched a coup that saw Suu Kyi and her colleagues from the National League of Democracy (NLD) being detained and ousted overnight. It was carefully executed and caught many ordinary Burmese off guard, as evident in the video of an aerobics instructor who went on with her daily routine just as a convoy of military vehicles passed by.
The latest development in Myanmar can be seen as a cusp of a troubled relationship between the civilian and military leaders as both sides have never really sat comfortably next to each other. Despite given a quarter of legislative seats and many important portfolios in the cabinet, the Tatmadaw has always been suspicious of their civilian counterparts amidst a deep-rooted antagonism and a contest for supremacy between Suu Kyi and military chief General Min Aung Hlaing. The stakes got higher when rumors swirled in mid-January that a takeover is on the brink following last November’s voting. Suu Kyi’s NLD secured a landslide victory in that election, defeating the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Since then, the military has insisted that the election was fraudulent without proving concrete evidence. In the aftermath of the coup, General Min also justified his action by claiming “voter fraud” in a national TV address and declaring a state of emergency that will last for at least one year. With the junta firmly in power, the country is now back to square one as the coup undid a decade worth of progress to democracy. Protests have erupted in major cities of the country though they are often met by heavy security forces’ resistance. Though the situation has yet to escalate to the level of violence seen during the Saffron Revolution in 2007 and 2008, the protests have been growing each day. The junta might eventually employ harsher tactics to deal with the unrest. Frequent internet cuts have also been reported as the military blocked attempts by anti-coup movements to organize themselves. Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram were all targeted as they have been regarded as the nemesis of the military in communicating to the populace.
As the election will only be called after the current state of emergency expires, the commitment of the Tatmadaw for an actual transition toward yet another civilian rule will likely be in doubt. The generals have never been interested in making Myanmar a full-fledged democracy, but it had instead created a hybrid model in which it was guaranteed a certain number of seats in the legislative branch. Considering the failure of its democratic experiment with the NLD, the Tatmadaw will probably seek to restore its political legitimacy in the next one year (or even longer) and at the same time props up its proxy party, the USDP that performed poorly in the previous two elections. Undermining the immensely popular NLD as well as Suu Kyi will also be one of its priorities though it might encounter difficulties in this regard amidst rising anti-junta sentiment.
Aung San Suu Kyi
While relations between the two countries have been strained for years, developments in recent months have led to a diplomatic standoff. This feud culminated in December 2020, when Somalia expelled Kenyan diplomats from the country by accusing Nairobi of meddling in its internal political affairs. This decision stemmed in large part from meetings held by Kenya with officials from Somaliland, a semi-autonomous region vying for independence from Somalia. Kenya has gone so far as to announce plans to open a consulate in Hargeisa, the capital of the self-declared region, in a bid to solidify diplomatic relations.
The standoff has, however, taken a more serious turn due to recent violent clashes near the mutual border. In late January, heavy fighting broke out in the town of Bula Hawo, located in the semi-autonomous Jubbaland region near Kenya. The clashes broke out between Jubbland security forces and the Somalia National Army, resulting in multiple casualties, with violence also spreading into Mandera, on the Kenyan side. Somalia has since accused Kenyan Defense Forces of aiding and arming ‘rebel’ groups responsible for the violence. More alarming though, has been the increase in attacks in Mandera by Al-Shabaab militants, who, in the past months, have taken over mosques, imposed a tax on local businessmen, and destroyed critical infrastructures.
A long, porous, and unchecked border has allowed militants to stage attacks and retreat, a strategy utilized by Al-Shabaab with great effect. Kenyan officials have raised their concerns that renewed fighting could result in the large-scale displacement of civilians, aggravating an already dire humanitarian situation in Somalia and in the refugee camps in Kenya.
Kenya, as well as Ethiopia, are significant contributors to the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and as such, an ongoing conflict between the two countries could prove harmful to the overall mission. If relations continue to deteriorate, Kenya may order the withdrawal of its troops. The ultimate winner in this situation will be Al-Shabaab, who are likely to take advantage of security lapses to increase attacks and secure footholds in the region. These concerns have been shared by the African Union, which has called on both parties to exercise restraint, as peace between the two nations is vital to regional stability.
What to look out for this month:
Chan Hoi Cheong
Senior Analyst and Office Manager Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Analyst Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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