Pension reform protests in France and escalating insecurity in northern Kenya
France: Pension reform protests to continue into March
Pension reform protests across France will likely continue until at least March 7, further straining the country’s already deteriorated economy and intensifying transportation and public service disruptions. More than 200 demonstrations took place nationwide on Feb. 11 alone, encompassing both large cities – such as Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Nantes – and small towns like Limoges, Verdun, and Saint-Omer. The rallies were organized by France’s eight most prominent labor unions representing different public service sectors including education, transportation, healthcare, and energy. Since the start of the anti-pension reform movement in mid-January, the demonstrations have increased in size; the Feb. 11 protests drew between 963,000 and 2.5 million participants, compared to a turnout of roughly a million people on Jan. 19. While most of the recent demonstrations have been peaceful, several protests in central Paris, Rennes, Nantes, and Dijon escalated to violence, prompting security forces to deploy water cannon, tear gas, and stun grenades to disperse the crowds. The impact of the pension reform movement on the transportation sector has varied; demonstrations in late January and early February disrupted the high-speed TGV, RER, and TER rail lines, while the Feb. 11 protests did not result in significant travel disruptions, with the exception of a spontaneous worker strike at Paris Orly Airport that led to the cancellation of roughly 50% of flights. The demonstrations are a response to proposed pension reforms, which would see the retirement age raised from 62 to 64 years in addition to lengthening the individual pension contribution period from 41 to 43 years. Union representatives have expressed concerns that the reform would negatively affect those relying on pension funds and instead suggested increasing taxes on the wealthiest French. However, President Emmanuel Macron insists that the reform is the only viable solution to avoid a deficit in the pension system and make the French economy – recovering from COVID-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine – more competitive. Labor unions have announced fresh demonstrations and work stoppages scheduled for 1030 CET on Feb. 16; roughly 30% of flights have been canceled at the airports in Paris, Toulouse, Marseille, Lyon, and Nantes ahead of the planned strike. Additional labor actions in the energy sector are slated for March 7, threatening further disruptions to transportation and other public service sectors, as well as possible fuel shortages.
Kenya: Nairobi declares security emergency in the north, deploys army
The Kenyan government has declared a national emergency in several counties in the northern Rift Valley Region and moved to bolster security by deploying military units to areas impacted by the activities of non-state militias and cattle rustlers. The mandate is subject to parliamentary approval, with the deployment scheduled to begin on Feb. 15. The security operation – a joint initiative between the Army and the National Police Service, which has conducted multiple anti-banditry operations in the area in recent years – will primarily target the counties of Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Laikipia, and Samburu. In recent months, these regions have experienced an uptick in militia violence targeting both civilians and police officers. The government also implemented a 30-day dusk-to-dawn curfew in the affected areas starting Feb. 14 and ordered all residents in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition to disarm ahead of the military’s arrival. While the activity of various militias (locally known as bandits) is a longstanding issue in the northern region, increasing competition over natural resources – exacerbated by decades of extreme drought and the proliferation of small arms – has degraded the security environment. According to figures provided by the Interior Ministry, militias killed more than 100 civilians and 16 police officers in the past six months. Militia attacks typically involve shootings, arson targeting educational facilities, other social amenities, and police vehicles, as well as looting and cattle raiding. The precedent suggests that temporary military operations are unlikely to significantly alter the security dynamics in the region. In the absence of adequately trained and resourced police and military permanently stationed in the region – paired with economic investment in the affected areas – the recently announced government efforts will likely be insufficient to weaken local militias and reduce criminal activity.