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Weekly Spotlight: 3 December 2023

1.      Guyana on High Alert Following Essequibo Referendum

In a referendum held on 03 December, Venezuelan voters purportedly expressed overwhelming support for President Nicolás Maduro’s illegal proposal to annex Essequibo, an economically vital area of Guyana. Whilst President Maduro has hailed the result as an “overwhelming victory”, objective observers have cited factors such as low voter turnout and the absence of an opposition campaign as evidence that the referendum is little more than a quasi-legal justification to pursue the attempted annexation of Guyanese territory, likely as a way of masking the substantial economic and political failings of his government. Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali confirmed that preparations are underway to secure the country’s borders from attempted incursions by Venezuelan forces, and reassured the Guyanese public that “there is nothing to fear”.  Guyana has engaged with regional Caribbean partners and those further afield, including the United Kingdom and India, to help lend diplomatic and other support in the face of mounting bellicosity.


2.      West African Delegates Attend Ghanaian Extremism and Arms Proliferation Workshop

Public and private sector delegates from across West Africa, including Togo and Ghana, attended an extremism and arms proliferation workshop hosted in Accra on 30 November. The course, hosted jointly by the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) and United Nations Development Programme, aimed to enhance skills and facilitate information exchanges regarding the prevention of extremist terrorism, small arms proliferation, and illegal trafficking operations. Major-General Richard Addo Gyane, Commandant of KAIPTC, described the course as “instrumental in fostering collaboration, and ultimately ensuring a more secured and resilient Sahel and coastal West Africa.”


3.      Heavy Rain and Landslides Kill Sixty-Three in Tanzania’s Hanang District

Devastating floods and landslide caused by heavy rainfall have killed sixty-three people in Tanzania’s northern Hanang district, according to reports from the BBC. The extreme rainfall, caused in part by the seasonal El Niño weather phenomenon, resulted in the widespread destruction of property, telecommunications infrastructure, and arable land across the region, impacting the livelihoods of thousands. In response, the Tanzanian government immediately deployed an emergency response force of approximately 400 rescuers to dispatch medical aid and to recover trapped victims. Such instances highlight the severe challenges of responding to extreme weather events, which appear likely to grow stronger and more frequent due to the ongoing effects of climate change.


4.      Pakistan Navy Deploys Frigate to Guard Maritime Trade Routes

On 01 December, the Pakistani Navy announced the deployment of a frigate, PNS Tughril, to the Gulf of Aden to assist in the monitoring and protection of global maritime trade. Since the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas on 07 October 2023, several cargo vessels have experienced hijackings and attempted drone attacks from Houthi rebels in the Red Sea, highlighting the urgent need for robust security provisions in this strategic chokepoint for global maritime trade. In an official statement, the Pakistani Navy reiterated its “commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation on the high seas”, emphasising that the country was “well cognisant of its national obligations with regard to the maintenance of rule-based order in the region”.


5.      Australia Implements New Cybersecurity Funding Package for Law Enforcement Agencies and Small Businesses

The Australian federal government has announced a new A$547 million initiative aimed at improving the cybersecurity provisions of small businesses and public law enforcement agencies. In addition to providing direct funding, the package contains plans to establish cyber “health checks” for small businesses,  tighten regulations surrounding incident reporting, attract highly skilled foreign workers to fill critical vacancies in the cybersecurity sector, and introduce time and size limits on personal data storage. The scheme was introduced in response to a series of high-profile cyber-attacks conducted against Australian targets in 2023, including telecommunications provider Optus, health insurer Medibank, and four ports operated by DP World.


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