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Forecast: French army deployed to New Caledonia after riots, EU mission in Mali ends, and Kenya’s president visits the White House

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Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

French officials declared a state of emergency on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia this week after protests over constitutional reforms escalated into deadly riots. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Owen Bonertz discuss the violence that has rocked the capital Noumea and the subsequent crackdown by authorities. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of May 17-24
A Look Ahead

May 17 – AMLO and Arévalo meet at Mexico-Guatemala border

The outgoing Mexican president and the new leader of Guatemala will meet face-to-face about immigration and energy Friday.

What’s happened so far 
Mexico’s leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been a proponent of Guatemala’s Bernardo Arévalo ever since his surprise runoff victory in August. AMLO even called him “the best thing that could happen” for the country. The meeting comes at a time of increased migration into Mexico’s southern border as well as the waning days of Mexico’s election season. 

The impact 
Both countries are at a crossroads in their politics — Mexico with a new president who will be in power until 2030 and Guatemala’s new president attempting to exert political power to remove the rival attorney general accused of corruption from office. The leaders are likely to focus on shared benefits in this meeting, including the strengthening of border crossings and improvement of electrical infrastructure.

May 18 – EU mission in Mali expires  

The European Union member states have agreed to end their military training mission in Mali after the mandate expires Saturday.

What’s happened so far
The mission trained both the country’s armed forces as well as members of G5 Sahel, a multinational counterterrorism force, for around 11 years. Mali’s current military junta, which seized power in 2021 after a coup the year prior, has failed to uphold promises to restore civilian rule and postponed elections set for February earlier this year. 

The impact 
The EU says the decision follows a strategic review and consultations with the country’s authorities and also takes into account the “evolution of the political and security situation on the ground.” While the bloc has ensured that channels for dialogue will remain open, the decision for non-renewal signifies its deteriorating relations with the West African country. 

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May 19 – Dominican Republic general election  

Dominicans will elect a president and members of congress Sunday.

What’s happened so far 
Incumbent Luis Abinader from the center-left Modern Revolutionary Party is leading the polls as he seeks a second consecutive presidential term. Among the other eight candidates, three-time former President Leonel Fernández from the progressive left People’s Force party and former Santiago de los Caballeros Mayor Abel Martínez from the center-left Dominican Liberation Party follow Abinader in recent voter surveys. Some 190 congress deputies and 32 senators will also be elected as part of the legislative elections.

The impact 
The presidential campaign has revolved around the topics of delinquency within Dominican borders, the unequal distribution of wealth in the country and tensions with neighboring Haiti. All three of the leading candidates agree on tougher measures to tackle illegal migration from Haiti. Abinader has promised to finish the construction of a wall at the country’s border to dissuade Haitians from crossing. If no candidates secures more than 50 percent of vote, the two leaders will face a runoff on June 30.

May 21 – AI Safety Summit  

South Korea and the United Kingdom are set to host a summit on AI safety Tuesday, but analysts have raised questions over how interested tech figures are in engaging.

What’s happened so far 
The United Kingdom held the first major AI safety summit at Bletchley Park, the home of WWII codebreaking and computers, last November. The meeting attracted a mixture of world leaders, policy makers and tech executives who discussed the potential of AI but also the risks it might pose to humanity. At the end of the summit, it was floated that a further summit six months later would continue the discussion, but the event hosted with South Korea will be dramatically smaller.

The impact 
The conference’s agenda, starting with a virtual leaders meeting and then in-person sessions at a forum in Seoul, is expected to build on the work done at Bletchley Park, but the most significant impact of it may be the release of the first iteration of the International Scientific Report on Advanced AI Safety, a study commissioned by the U.K. government.

May 21 – Some EU member countries to recognize Palestinian state

On Tuesday, Spain, Ireland and Malta are set to become the latest EU member countries to recognize Palestinian statehood.

What’s happened so far 
The European Union’s long-standing position has been in line with the 1993 Oslo Accords, which supported Palestinian statehood in a two-state agreement with Israel. Eight EU members have already officially recognized Palestine as a state, with EU chief Josep Borrell saying Spain and Ireland will likely be added to the list next week. The decision comes after the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to back a Palestinian bid for full UN membership last Friday.

The impact 
The push for these EU member countries to back a Palestinian statehood serves as a “symbolic act of political nature,” Borell said. Spain and Ireland have long discussed a two-state solution as a viable option for the conflict, with statehood envisioned along its 1967 borders. While the UN vote does not grant Palestine full membership or give it voting rights in the assembly, it serves as an expression of the changing world opinion as more countries condemn the Israeli military offensive in Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced individuals are currently sheltering.

May 23 – Kenyan president visits White House  

U.S. President Joe Biden will host Kenyan leader William Ruto on Thursday, marking the first official state visit by an African head of state since 2008. 

What’s happened so far 
In a statement, the White House said the talks between Biden and Ruto will focus on “trade and investment, technological innovation, climate and clean energy, health, and security.” But despite a bipartisan request by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Speaker Mike Johnson declined to extend an invitation to Ruto to speak before a joint session of Congress, citing “scheduling restraints.”

The impact 
After Biden failed to visit Africa last year despite a promise to do so, some observers see Ruto’s visit as a potential catalyst to improve relations across the continent and counter Russian and Chinese influence, more than a year after the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Kenya is also viewed as a key partner for the United States, on security in both East Africa and the ongoing Haiti conflict, with hundreds of officers expected to be deployed to the Caribbean in the coming weeks.  

What Else Matters

A firefighter moves amidst rubble while a large building burns ferociously at night, with flames and smoke filling the scene.

Text Presented in the Image: The top left corner of the image contains Cyrillic text "ДСНС ХАРКІВЩИНИ" along with an emblem, indicating the image relates to emergency services in the Kharkiv area.
A fire burns homes in Kharkiv, Ukraine, after a Russian strike on May 10, 2024. (Photo: Main Directorate of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kharkiv Oblast)

New front in Ukraine war 

Russia reopened a northern front to its war in Ukraine early in the morning on May 10 when dozens of thousands of soldiers invaded south from Belgorod into Ukraine’s Kharkiv region. The invasion reopens a major front in the Kharkiv region, home to Ukraine’s second largest city, for the first time since Kyiv launched a shock counteroffensive that expelled Russian forces from the region in the fall of 2022. Russia’s offensive saw early success as it appears to have in part targeted less fortified areas along the Kharkiv border with Belgorod, though the situation along the front has stabilized with heavy fighting ongoing in and around Vovchansk

Watch for: The ease with which Russian forces were able to cross the border and advance a few miles into Kharkiv poses additional uncomfortable questions for Ukraine’s military leadership as battlefield losses mount and Russia makes steady gains in the Donbas. Critics say Ukraine was too slow to build layered defensive lines akin to the ones Russia manned to thwart Kyiv’s summer 2023 counteroffensive. Moscow’s Kharkiv offensive aims remain unknown, as well as the scale and scope of their northern operation involving approximately 30,000 soldiers, though possibilities include seeking to conquer Kharkiv, attempting to recapture Izyum to serve as a springboard for Donbas operations, or simply presenting Kyiv with difficult dilemmas regarding where to position it’s dwindling manpower. The odds of Kharkiv falling remain low, though Moscow’s northern and eastern offensives coupled with the new appointment of a civilian economist as defense minister signal Russia is digging in for a prolonged war effort. 

New Caledonia riots 

At least four people have been killed and more than 100 people injured during major civil unrest on the French island of New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Violent riots broke out Monday evening in the capital of Noumea, following multiple days of peaceful demonstrations against a law proposed by Paris to expand the semi-autonomous island’s electorate. New Caledonia currently occupies a unique status in the French constitution where all voters hold French citizenship, but only New Caledonian citizens can vote in the island’s local elections or independence referendums. At the moment, New Caledonian citizenship is only available to people who lived on the island prior to 1998 or their direct descendants, but French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed constitutional reform would change this. Some of the island’s native Kanuk people have sought independence since French colonization in 1853, and separatists view the law as a neocolonial reform favoring the territories roughly 25 percent European minority.

Watch for: Explosions, gunfire and arson have been reported across Noumea for several days. A French government official said that 30 people are likely dead after they got trapped inside a factory that they set ablaze during rioting Tuesday. Residents are experiencing widespread fuel shortages, water, power and internet outages in greater Noumea. While separatist political leaders have called for peace, Paris has promised to crackdown on the violent protesters and security reinforcements have been sent to the island. French parliament has hinted at possibly taking the law to a vote in June, before provincial elections scheduled in New Caledonia later this year. If the bill passes, it could disrupt the tenuous balance of power between separatists and French loyalists that has kept the island relatively stable since a period of civil conflict in the 1980s.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

May 17-24 

May 17

  • AMLO and Arévalo will meet on the border of Mexico and Guatemala

May 18 

  • EU mission in Mali expires
  • Former President Donald Trump will visit the NRA convention

May 19 

  • Dominican Republic general election
  • President Joe Biden to address NAACP dinner in Detroit

May 20

  • French Open begins

May 21

  • AI Safety Summit
  • Ireland, Spain and a number of other EU member states will jointly recognize the State of Palestine

May 23

  • Kenyan president to visit White House

May 25-31 

May 26

  • Japan, China and South Korea plan a two-day summit in Seoul
  • Lithuanian president and PM election runoff 

May 29

  • South Africa general elections

June 1-7 

June 1

  • UEFA Champions League final

June 2 

  • Mexico elections

June 3

  • Hunter Biden trial begins

June 4

  • Trial resumes over alleged medical negligence in death of former Argentine soccer player Maradona
  • Results announced for India’s general election

June 6

  • European elections

June 7

  • Chad presidential elections results announced

June 8-14 

June 10 

  • Iraq’s Kurdistan region holds parliamentary elections

June 14

  • Euro 2024 in Germany

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Top photo: The EU High Representative for the Sahel, Emanuela del Re, visited the headquarters of the EU’s mission in Mali in March 2024. (Photo: @eutmmali1 / X)

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