Asia/Africa update: December 20 2017



The Kyrgyz government shut down an opposition-owned TV network on Tuesday, just a few hours after ordering two independent journalists and a human rights activist to pay around $430,000 in a previously awarded libel settlement in one lump sum rather than over time. So if you had 2017 in your office pool as the year Kyrgyzstan would stop suppressing freedom of expression, it’s time to take the L and move on. I don’t think 2018 is looking too good either.


The Jamiat-e Islami party is threatening to pull out of Ashraf Ghani’s governing coalition over Ghani’s decision to sack Balkh governor and senior party figure Atta Muhammad Nur earlier this week. That move would collapse Ghani’s unity government and send Afghanistan into the great unknown–even the idea of holding parliamentary elections next year as scheduled seems to be too much for the Afghan government to pull off, never mind trying to hold snap elections if the government falls.


Journalist Riyaz Wani looks at how al-Qaeda (via its Ghazwat-ul-Hind affiliate) has managed to gain a foothold in Kashmir at the expense of long-standing extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. The simple answer is that the pan-Islamist message of leader Zakir Musa has resonated with some Kashmiri militants:

Making Ghazwat-ul-Hind’s entry possible was not some logistical facilitation from al-Qaeda global, now reduced to more or less an abstract ideological presence in the region, nor was it the result of an existing mass sentiment for pan-Islamism on the ground. What paved the way for its entry into the long troubled and the bitterly contested Valley was a profound theological difference of opinion among the militants over the larger rationale of their willingness to die for a cause. A group of militants was suddenly seized with a desire for a transcendental meaning for their deaths, or so it seemed.


Why are we laying down our lives? What do we seek to get out of the sacrifice that makes it worth it? Questions like these rang through the militant ranks when Musa first raised them as a Hizbul commander early this year.


“If we are fighting for Azadi [freedom] to establish a secular state, then in my opinion we are not martyrs. And if the secular state is our goal, then my blood will not be spilled for it,” Musa said in a video message, complete with slideshow of al-Qaeda ideologues like Anwar Awlaki and Abu Bakar Bashir. He also threatened to chop off the heads of the leading separatist politicians and hang them in the city square should they continue to call Kashmir a political struggle.

The question is whether that message can take root among enough Kashmiri separatists–who still predominantly seem to favor union with the formally secular Pakistan–to allow al-Qaeda to grow into a serious force.


The Myanmar government has barred United Nations human rights investigator Yanghee Lee from entering the country. Lee was supposed to visit in January to assess the situation in Rakhine state, home of the Rohingya ethnic cleansing/genocide. Lee visited the country in July, a month before the latest round of ethnic cleansing began, and was critical of the government’s treatment of the Rohingya, hence her ban now.

On the plus side, as that article notes the government says that the two Reuters reporters it arrested last week should finally be able to see their families and lawyers soon.


The Taiwanese government says it is investigating four members of the pro-China New Party on allegations that they passed state secrets to Beijing. China, as you may recall, had expressed some dismay over the investigation earlier this week. It’s not clear how members of the party, which has all of zero seats in the Taiwanese parliament, could have been privy to classified information.


Another North Korean soldier defected to South Korea early Thursday morning, this time by walking across the heavily fortified demilitarized zone separating the two countries. He may have used the cover of fog to make his escape and no shots were reportedly fired. He’s been detained for investigation by South Korean authorities.



Burkina Faso on Wednesday became the latest African country to sever commercial ties with North Korea so as to come in line with UN resolutions and get on Washington’s good side. Egypt and Uganda have likewise downgraded ties with Pyongyang over the past several months.


The Ugandan parliament passed the “Let Yoweri Museveni Be President For Life” act on Wednesday. The measure amends the Ugandan constitution to remove age limits that would have prevented the 73 year old Museveni from standing for reelection to what scholars estimate would be his 927th term in office in 2021.


Reuters has learned that Cameroonian military forces crossed into Nigeria without permission earlier this month chasing a group of Anglophone Cameroonian rebels, causing an increase in tensions between the two governments. Both countries deny the report but Cameroonian officials have often suggested that Nigeria is harboring rebels on its territory. Which it may well be–thousands of refugees have fled English-speaking Cameroon into Nigeria due to government persecution. It’s not a stretch to imagine that some of them are in the insurgency. The two countries have collaborated against Boko Haram, but Cameroon has also previously requested and been denied permission to enter Nigerian territory in pursuit of that group.


The militaries of the DRC and Uganda say they’re planning a joint operation targeting the Allied Democratic Forces militia. The ADF is an Islamist force that’s been active since the 1990s in Uganda, later spreading to the DRC. It was most likely behind the December 8 attack on a UN peacekeeping base in the eastern DRC. The joint operation would not involve Ugandan forces operating in the DRC, but rather would have them seal the border while DRC soldiers push the ADF in their direction.

A new report from the International Federation for Human Rights accuses DRC soldiers of committing atrocities in fighting in the country’s Kasai region earlier this year:

Congolese interviewed for the new report said that between March and August they saw villages destroyed by heavy artillery, hospitals and places of worship attacked and people executed, tortured and mutilated.


In the village of Cinq, where some 10,000 Congolese once lived not far from Angola’s border, Congolese army and police reportedly encouraged the Bana Mura militia as it killed hundreds, including hospital patients and medical staff, the report says.


Survivors reported being pursued all the way to the border as they fled through the bush.


Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday reiterated his pledges to root out corruption and to hold free and fair elections and, well, it might be best to take a “wait and see” attitude here. Mnangagwa talks a decent game but he’s also staffing his administration at the highest levels with recently retired army officers, which doesn’t suggest the kind of government that would go quietly if it were to lose an election.


Speaking of corruption, new African National Congress boss and likely next South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is also talking a good game:

“This conference has resolved that corruption must be fought with the same intensity and purpose that we fight poverty, unemployment and inequality,” Ramaphosa said in his maiden speech at the close of a five-day party meeting where he was elected.


“We must also act fearlessly against alleged corruption and abuse of office within our ranks,” he said in the early hours of Thursday after a long delay.

Of course, much of the corruption emanates (allegedly) from current South African President Jacob Zuma, who still wields a fair amount of clout within the ANC even now that his term as its leader has ended. So even if Ramaphosa is serious about targeting corruption, he may have a fight on his hands to actually do it.

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