Asia/Africa update: January 31 2018



Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev canned Rustam Inoyatov from his position as head of the country’s National Security Service–or, rather, he “promoted” Inoyatov to a presidential advisory position, which is practically the same thing. Inoyatov, along with Mirziyoyev and former Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, was part of a triumvirate that was expected to collectively succeed Islam Karimov when he died in 2016. But Azimov was sacked last June and now Mirziyoyev is the only man standing. Inoyatov was at one time thought to be almost all-powerful in the Uzbek security apparatus, but he was also neck deep in corruption and his ouster will likely be good for the Uzbek economy in addition to being good for Mirziyoyev’s hold on power. In fact it was his corruption that helped pave the way for his ouster–somebody, and I’m not saying it was Mirziyoyev but it was Mirziyoyev, has been leaking details of his dirty dealings to the Uzbek public for some time now.


Philippine forces on Wednesday reportedly arrested Rafael Baylosis, allegedly the head of the New People’s Army. The NPA is the paramilitary force behind the country’s nearly 49 year long Maoist insurrection. What makes this problematic is that, as a party to the off and on peace talks between the rebels and the Philippine government, Baylosis is legally under a state of immunity and so his arrest may be illegitimate.


I have no interest in relitigating Donald Trump’s State of the Union address from last night. But I do think the Intercept’s Jon Schwarz makes a good point here:

DONALD TRUMP DEVOTED a large section of the end of his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to North Korea.


Anyone who was paying attention during George W. Bush’s State of the Union addresses in 2002 and 2003 would have found Trump’s statements frighteningly familiar: Trump used exactly the same justifications for war with North Korea as Bush had for war with Iraq when standing at the same podium.

The formula is pretty simple: North Korea/Iraq is/was an imminent threat to all humanity, one that can’t be handled peacefully because Kim Jong-un/Saddam Hussein is/was an unstable sadist bent on destruction. Consequently, American must Do Something, Soon, or else the consequences will be unthinkable. Bullshit then, bullshit now. The difference is that if Trump gets this war, it will likely be far more destructive than Bush’s adventure in Iraq.


Leaders of several African nations who attended the African Union summit in Ethiopia earlier this week were prepared to demand an apology from Donald Trump for that whole “shithole” episode a couple of weeks back. But they were appeased by a letter from Trump–well, from somebody working for Trump, let’s be honest–that talked about America’s “deep respect” for and “strong commitment” to African peoples and states. Then several African ambassadors met with Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday, which was nice even though things apparently got kind of weird:

Conway focused on Trump’s achievements during his first year in office and previewed his State of the Union speech. She said almost nothing on his priorities for Africa, leaving some participants confused and bewildered, according to two people in attendance and two sources briefed on the meeting.


One African ambassador, speaking on condition of anonymity, told FP that while Conway didn’t bring up African policy, the meeting was positive in that someone from Trump’s inner circle “actually met” with them.


Cameroonian police, chasing anglophone separatists, briefly crossed into Nigerian territory on Tuesday and “harassed” Cameroonian refugees and Nigerian personnel before retreating. Cameroonian forces are increasingly treating the Nigerian border as more of a speedbump than a roadblock as they pursue separatists, which would seem to raise the possibility of some kind of confrontation between the two countries.


Those Kenyan TV stations that were shut down on Tuesday for trying to broadcast Raila Odinga’s “inauguration” ceremony remained shut down on Wednesday and will apparently stay that way indefinitely. That said, the Kenyan government’s response to this event has been relatively muted–it didn’t try to break up the ceremony, Odinga hasn’t been arrested, etc. Analysts Anjli Parrin and Rahma Hussein argue that, intentionally or not, this has turned out to be a smart move by President Uhuru Kenyatta:

Keeping the police at bay was a shrewd political move from Kenyatta’s government. By allowing the ceremony to go ahead, he inadvertently exposed the opposition’s internal weaknesses. The opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, made up of multiple ethnicities, collapsed on its own when Odinga’s deputy presidential candidate failed to attend the swearing-in ceremony despite being included in advertising for it on Twitter a day earlier.


Odinga, a constant feature of the Kenyan opposition for decades, is now isolated. The opposition appears to have no clear leader and no clear plan. In respecting the freedom of association of the supporters to informally swear in a second president and support their leader, Kenyatta has taken steps to diffuse some of the intense political tension and increase his legitimacy, following an election season mired in controversy and allegations of fraud.

Had police gone in to break up the ceremony it is highly likely that they would have done so violently, and that could have galvanized the opposition against Kenyatta. And as it happens, letting Odinga’s stunt play out may have been the more serious blow to the opposition.


The DRC’s electoral commission says it has finished registering just over 46 million voters in advance of the presidential election that is supposed to happen later this year to replace incumbent Joseph Kabila. It still needs to register Congolese citizens outside the country, but this is an important milestone in seeing that this election actually happens.


Speaking of electoral business, Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday named a high court judge, Priscilla Chigumba, as head of the Zimbabwean electoral commission. Mnangagwa has promised to hold fair elections by July.


The saga of Jacob Zuma’s continued presidency could be coming to a head. Zuma is scheduled to deliver his state of the union address on February 8, but given the increasing pressure both within and outside the African National Congress for him to resign, it’s possible he’ll quit before the speech. If he doesn’t, then the speech could be postponed, or it could turn into a bit of a circus with protests expected on the streets and in parliament.

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