Truckers protests paralyze Ottawa, Anti-French protesters gather in Bamako to celebrate expulsion of French ambassador, and Casualties reported as Tropical Cyclone Batsirai devastates east coast
Canada: Trucker protests paralyze Ottawa and interrupt traffic on US-Canada border
Countrywide trucker protests in response to the COVID-19 vaccination mandate have disrupted US-Canada supply chains and paralyzed the nation’s capital, likely resulting in economic losses amounting to tens of millions of dollars. While the self-declared “Freedom Convoy” initially started on Jan. 9 in western Canada, truckers entered the capital on Jan. 28, interrupting transportation and business activities in the city for nearly two weeks and triggering Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to declare a state of emergency on Feb. 6. According to police estimates, 5,000 people participated in protests in Ottawa between Feb. 5-6, and about 1,000 vehicles blocked several central streets. While the majority of protestors have gathered outside of the Parliament building and nearby areas, rallies have also been reported in Toronto, Quebec City, Vancouver and Calgary. The protests have been relatively peaceful, although city authorities increased police presence in downtown Ottawa and began to enforce parking regulations, which triggered disorder and minor violence on Feb. 6. Law enforcement officers started seizing propane canisters and gasoline and vowed to arrest anyone attempting to provide supplies to the protesters, as the demonstration has shifted towards a more permanent occupation of the downtown area. As of Feb. 8, the police have made 23 arrests, issued more than 1,300 tickets and opened 79 criminal investigations. Protests are also ongoing in the vicinity of border crossings between the US and Canada. The blockade at the Ambassador Bridge – a crossing that connects Detroit and Ontario and is responsible for 25% of all trade between the US and Canada – continues to block traffic in both directions. Rallies also obstructed traffic at the Coutts crossing between Alberta and Montana on Feb. 7. It was partially reopened on the following day, although large commercial vehicles are encouraged to use other access points to avoid delays. As of Jan. 9, there is no indication that the Canadian government will consider amending the mandate for cross-border commerce workers, suggesting that the protests – particularly those in Ottawa, Canada’s political center – are likely to continue in the short term and have the potential to escalate to violence.
Mali: Anti-French protesters gather in Bamako to celebrate expulsion of French ambassador
Around 3,000 people gathered for an anti-French demonstration in Mali’s capital on Feb. 4 to celebrate the expulsion of the French ambassador, demonstrating mounting tensions between Bamako and Paris and frustration with France’s military presence in the country. Protesters waved Russian flags, carried anti-France banners and burned cardboard images of French President Emmanuel Macron. Despite the size of the protest, no violent incidents or significant disruptions were reported, indicating popular support for the anti-French movement that has been growing in the country in recent months. On the same day, the European Union introduced sanctions for five senior members of the transitional government, including Prime Minister Choguel Maiga, marking the second set of economic penalties imposed on the country in one week. Anti-French sentiment has been increasing in Mali and the wider West Africa region due to a surge in militant Islamist violence despite the presence of French troops in the region. Similar anti-French protests occurred in Burkina Faso following a military coup on Jan. 24; protesters carried banners with anti-France slogans, waved Russian flags and called for an intervention from Moscow. The relationship between Mali and France has deteriorated since the military coups in August 2020 and May 2021 as the military retracted its promise to organize democratic elections in February and suggested that the junta should remain in power until 2025. Following French President Macron’s decision to reduce the number of troops in the Sahel in the summer of 2021, Mali’s military government asked private Russian military contractors to assist with the country’s fight against Islamic extremism. The deployment of Russian security contractors to Mali is representative of Russia’s strategy to increase its influence in the region and has deepened tensions between Mali and western partners. European allies have questioned the legitimacy of the military junta and implemented a two-week deadline on Jan. 28 to review their counterterrorism mission in the region. Further demonstrations following the EU decision are possible in the short term. While unlikely, incidents of violence during these protests should not be fully ruled out.
Madagascar: Casualties reported as Tropical Cyclone Batsirai devastates east coast
Cyclone Batsirai made landfall on the eastern coast of Madagascar on Feb. 5, bringing heavy rainfall and winds of 115 mph (185 kph) that caused widespread property and infrastructure damage and killed at least 80 people. Most land and sea transport was suspended ahead of the storm; the current status of transportation services remains unclear. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) assesses that 60,000 people have been displaced due to the storm, and the death toll is likely to increase as rescue operations are ongoing. Heavy rain triggered flooding and landslides that destroyed entire villages in the coastal region; Nosy Varika, Mananjary and Manakara were among the most affected areas. Powerful winds tore roofs off buildings, while wooden huts were completely destroyed. The town of Nosy-Varika consisted mostly of wooden structures, 95% of which were destroyed by the storm. The cyclone demolished approximately 3,000 buildings and disrupted power and water supply in Mananjary; several churches and schools used as COVID-19 vaccination centers were also significantly damaged. In addition to private property destruction, Batsirai caused considerable damage to roads and transport links, leaving heavily impacted areas inaccessible; the UN estimates that at least 19 roads and 17 bridges have been damaged by the cyclone. Batsirai is the second major storm to strike Madagascar in the past two weeks; tropical storm Ana killed 55 people, impacted nearly 147,000 others and prompted the government to declare a state of emergency on Jan. 27. Frequent cyclones during the agricultural season could disrupt harvests, leading to higher food prices and threatening food security. Several multinational organizations – including the WFP, European Commission and the UN – have offered aid to Madagascar in response to the cyclone; however, relief and rescue operations remain hampered by landslides, heavy debris and the aftermath of Ana.