Asia/Africa update: January 17 2019

ASIA

ARMENIA

The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers met on Wednesday in Paris and apparently–somewhat incredibly–had an extremely positive discussion:

Following the meeting, the official statement included several unusual elements that cheered advocates for peace between the two sides. “Here is the most positive statement of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in a very long time,” wrote Olesya Vartanyan, a Tbilisi-based analyst at the International Crisis Group, on Twitter. The two sides are locked in an unresolved conflict over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, over which they fought a war in the early 1990s.

The two ministers, for example, “agreed upon the necessity of taking concrete measures to prepare the populations for peace.” If this were in fact done seriously it would be a remarkable development, as public opinion on both sides of the conflict has badly hardened in recent years. This has made the prospect of a peace deal – which would necessarily involve significant concessions on both sides – less and less likely, as an agreement would face a huge public backlash. The respective governments have done nothing to address this, but this new statement holds out the promise for that to change

KYRGYZSTAN

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Bishkek on Thursday against China. The protesters are angry about China’s outsize role in the Kyrgyz economy, Kyrgyzstan’s heavy indebtedness to Beijing, and China’s often brutal mistreatment of its Kyrgyz minority, which has faced the same official persecution as Uyghurs and other Central Asian groups in western China.

CHINA

In addition to its case against the company’s CFO over alleged Iran sanctions violations, the US is also investigating Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei over alleged theft of intellectual property from US firms. This is causing some outrage in Beijing:

“The real intent of the United States is to employ its state apparatus in every conceivable way to suppress and block out China’s high-tech companies,” said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the foreign affairs ministry, at a regular news briefing on Thursday.

She said the reported investigation would be not only “a violation of free and fair business competition but a violation rule of law.”

The state-run Global Times called the latest pressure on Huawei a form of “technological McCarthyism” aimed at politicising and blocking Chinese businesses. Hu Xijin, the editor of the paper, said he believed US attitudes toward China had reached a level of “hysteria”.

“By escalating its crackdown on Huawei, the US sets a bad precedent of applying McCarthyism in high-tech fields. It deprives a high-tech company of the rights to stay away from politics, focus on technology and market. It is imposing a political label on a Chinese company,” Hu wrote on Twitter.

NORTH KOREA

Senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol is in Washington and will meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, presumably to arrange the next Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit. He may even meet with Trump himself before heading home, but there’s no confirmation of that. It seems increasingly likely that Trump and Kim will meet in Vietnam, perhaps next month when Kim is already scheduled to be there.

AFRICA

SUDAN

There were more protests, this time in Khartoum, against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday. Police reportedly responded with rubber bullets and tear gas, though live ammunition may have been used as well–there are unconfirmed reports that two protesters were killed.

While Bashir has certainly faced down protest movements in the past, this one continues to look different from previous outbreaks, and potentially more threatening to his continued rule:

Cracks have appeared on the political front. Bashir faces mounting discontent within his ruling party as well as dissatisfaction in areas in the country’s riverine north, once considered his stronghold.

Another feature is the use of social media. Activists have actively documented confrontations and flooded social media with footage that they claim is “exposing” Bashir’s government.

Observers say the protests have united people from different tribes and ethnicities. Women have joined in, even as the protests escalated into bloody confrontations. Dressed in headscarves, they can be seen in nearly all the footage shared on social media, which in turn has helped to convince even more women to take to the streets.

All of which has led some, including Hafiz Ismail, an analyst at Justice AfricaSudan, to argue that the demonstrations are likely to have sustained momentum.

LIBYA

The latest round of fighting between militias in southern Tripoli has claimed 10 lives and over 40 wounded. Residents say there’s been no let up in the fighting in over 72 hours.

TUNISIA

Tunisian public workers began a general strike on Thursday that shut down schools, ports, hospitals, and the Tunis–Carthage International Airport. Unions are angry over International Monetary Fund-mandated austerity policies, including a public sector salary freeze.

BURKINA FASO

The body of Kirk Woodman, a Canadian national who was abducted near the Niger border on Wednesday, was discovered on Thursday by Burkinabe authorities. It’s unknown who abducted and murdered Woodman but several Islamist militant groups are active in northern Burkina Faso.

NIGERIA

In an interesting and potentially quite unwelcome turn of events, Boko Haram–as in Original Recipe Boko Haram, not its ISIS-West Africa offshoot–has claimed this week’s attack on the northeastern Nigerian town of Rann. Initial reporting identified ISIS-WA as the responsible party. If the claim is true then it suggests that Boko Haram has substantially strengthened itself while nobody was looking, meaning that Nigerian authorities are now dealing with two major threats in the northeast, either of which is capable of running off the Nigerian military. In addition to at least 10 people who were killed in the Rann attack, thousands were displaced. Over 8000 have already crossed the border into Cameroon, and Doctors Without Borders was preparing for as many as 15,000 refugees.

KENYA

Kenya’s Red Cross says that the 19 people initially feared missing from this week’s al-Shabab attack in Nairobi have been located. The death toll from the attack still stands at 21.

GABON

As quickly as he returned to Gabon to show everybody he was still alive, President Ali Bongo has left the country again to return to Morocco. Bongo has been in Morocco for months recovering from a stroke he suffered in October, but came home briefly this week after his absence spurred a coup attempt last week.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

The African Union on Thursday called upon Congolese election officials to delay releasing the final results of the country’s December 30 presidential election due to the ongoing dispute about who won. Authorities declared Felix Tshisekedi, but Martin Fayulu–who led in pre-election polling and was expected to win–has filed a court challenge over the outcome. The AU request came after the Southern African Development Community walked back an earlier call for a recount.

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