Asia/Africa update: January 29 2018



Monday morning’s attack on the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul left 11 Afghan soldiers dead. ISIS later claimed credit for the attack, which may have been carried out to try to mitigate some of the boost the Taliban gained after its devastating attack in Kabul on Saturday.

The Taliban have described Saturday’s bombing as a “message” for Donald Trump, and I guess the message was received:

“When you see what they’re doing and the atrocities that they’re committing, and killing their own people, and those people are women and children … it is horrible,” Trump said.


“We don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We’re going to finish what we have to finish, what nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.

If Trump quashes the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban, the Taliban wins–or, at least, factions within the Taliban that reject a political settlement win (the Taliban generally put up a united front, but I don’t think you can discount the possibility of internal divisions, e.g. with the Haqqani Network). The US and Afghanistan have amply demonstrated over the past 16-plus years that they can’t conclusively defeat the Taliban militarily. The Afghan government is losing popular support almost by the day as these attacks continue, and if it can’t maintain support then it can’t offer a real alternative to the Taliban.


The Maldivian Supreme Court is considering a request by opposition leaders to suspend President Abdulla Yameen while he’s under investigation on corruption charges. Yameen is accused of embezzling tourism revenue, but he says the opposition is trying to remove him from office illegally.


Many Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are insisting that they will never go back to Myanmar:

“They burned my house and my whole village, they stole my crops,” Nagumia says. “I saw them throw the young children, and the old people who could not run, into the fire. They cut people’s throats and their bellies and left them to die. I cannot go back. What am I going to go back to?”


Across the Naf River from Myanmar, in the swollen Rohingya refugee camps huddled against Bangladesh’s border, the wounds are too raw: there is almost no one yet willing to consider return.


“To what?” Nagumia says. “What am I going back to?”

Obviously this complicates an already complicated situation, since Bangladesh doesn’t want to assimilate these refugees but Myanmar seems unwilling to offer any guarantees that they’ll be spared another round of ethnic cleansing, let alone that they’ll be treated as regular Myanmar citizens if they return. And even if those guarantees were made, the refugees have no reason to believe them. At the same time, they can’t stay in their camps indefinitely–the United Nations is warning that tens of thousands of them are at risk from landslides and floods when monsoon season begins.


After a year’s worth of security clampdowns and repression in China’s Xinjiang province, Beijing says that the risk of extremism among the Uyghur community is still high enough to justify continuing those policies indefinitely. Say, you don’t suppose it’s the repression that increases the risk of extremism, do you? Nah, that can’t be right.

Wang Qishan, the man who ran Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign but had to resign from his party posts last year because of his age, was appointed to the National People’s Congress on Monday. This increases the chance that he will, as has been speculated, be named Xi’s vice president as a way to keep him in some kind of high office.


Well, the whole North Korea-South Korea thaw was nice for the few days it lasted:

North Korea has abruptly cancelled a cultural event scheduled to be held jointly with the South, Seoul has said.


Set for 4 February at Mount Kumgang in the North, it had been part of a series of events ahead of the South’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.


The events, and other links during the Games, were seen as a thawing of ties.


A telegram from the North reportedly blamed “biased” and “insulting” media coverage in the South. South Korea said the decision was “regrettable”.

This speed bump shouldn’t affect North Korea’s plans for the Olympics next month, but we’ll see.



Beijing is having to deny allegations that it bugged the swanky African Union headquarters in Ethiopia. China built the building in 2012, and a recent Le Monde report suggested that somebody has been transferring data out of the building to Shanghai in the wee hours ever since. A subsequent security sweep reportedly found microphones in desks in the building.


There’s a fair amount of AU news today since its summit concluded in Addis Ababa on Monday with a flurry of pronouncements. Among them, a call for the international community not to rush into elections in Libya until military conditions will allow for a “peaceful and credible” vote.


The AU also lit into Mauritania for failing to take action against the practice of slavery in that country. Mauritania didn’t abolish slavery until the 1980s and it only criminalized the practice in 2007, but the government has done next to nothing to enforce anti-slavery laws ever since.


New Liberian President George Weah is prepping the Liberian people for some difficult economic times ahead by cutting his own salary by 75 percent. Liberia’s economy is in tatters, suffering from both high inflation and high unemployment in addition to the rampant corruption that Weah campaigned on ending. Weah is apparently planning to fix things with austerity, since that’s How It’s Done in 2018, so slashing his own pay preemptively is meant to cushion the upcoming blow.


Militants ambushed and killed two police officers in northern Burkina Faso on Monday. It’s unclear who was behind the attack, but the location suggests Ansarul Islam, a group that allegedly has ties with al-Qaeda’s Nusrat al-Islam affiliate in Mali but that may have shifted toward ISIS recently.


The leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan met on the sidelines of the AU summit on Monday and agreed to a one month timetable for settling their dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. During that time, water and energy ministers from all three countries will prepare a joint technical report on the dam’s expected environmental impacts. The three men also agreed to set up a joint fund for regional infrastructure.


The Kenyan opposition alliance says it has results showing that challenger Raila Odinga actually won Kenya’s presidential election in August, though it can’t say where it got them or how it knows they’re accurate. Nevertheless, it’s planning to “inaugurate” Odinga in a ceremony on Tuesday that threatens to draw a heavy backlash from the Kenyan government. The official August results, which had incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta winning reelection, were tossed out by the country’s Supreme Court and the election re-run in October. Odinga then boycotted that second vote and consequently Kenyatta won easily.

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