Asia/Africa update: January 18 2019

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

The list of challengers to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for July’s presidential election is beginning to take shape:

On Friday, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, a powerful former national security adviser who parted ways with the government in August, became the most serious challenger to formally join the race so far. He vowed to “save the country” from what he has described as Mr. Ghani’s mismanagement.

He joins a list of former officials who have either formally joined the race or declared that they will do so. They include Rahmatullah Nabil, a onetime intelligence chief who has selected an army general and a female former cabinet minister as his running mates (Afghanistan has two vice presidents); Zalmai Rassoul, a 75-year-old former foreign minister, who came a distant third in the disputed 2014 race that brought Mr. Ghani to power; and Shaida Abdali, a former diplomat seen as close to former President Hamid Karzai.

Ghani is reportedly going to dump his first vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, over allegations of corruption and human rights abuses.

MYANMAR

The Myanmar army says it’s killed 13 Rakhine separatists this month in multiple clashes. The Arakan Army seeks autonomy for Rakhine and its Buddhist majority, and it kicked off the latest round of fighting with an attack on January 4 that killed 13 police officers. An estimated 5000 people have been displaced by the fighting. The army would not comment on any casualties its forces may have suffered.

CHINA

Chinese internment camps for Muslims in Xinjiang province have reportedly begun releasing some of their detainees. It’s unclear why, though Beijing may be looking to reduce international scrutiny of its indoctrination efforts. Those who are released are winding up in forced labor situations and/or under house arrest, so it’s not like these people are being released from custody altogether.

While we’re on this subject, James Dorsey writes about China’s efforts to take advantage of the rise of right wing authoritarians around the world, and the largesse of its Belt and Road Initiative, to change the international debate about human rights:

China is leading the charge in a bid to undermine accepted concepts of human rights accountability and justice.

The Chinese effort backed by autocrats elsewhere has turned human rights into an underrated, yet crucial battleground in the shaping of a new world order.

China is manoeuvring against the backdrop of an unprecedented crackdown on Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang, the accelerated rollout of restrictions elsewhere in the country, and the export of key elements of its model of a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state.

The Chinese effort, highlighted in Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2019, is multipronged.

It involves proposals to alter the principles on which United Nations Human Rights Council operates in ways that would enable repressive, autocratic regimes.

NORTH KOREA

With senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol in Washington to meet with Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump, the White House announced on Friday that Trump will hold another summit with Kim Jong-un:

Kim Yong-chol apparently brought a letter to Trump from Kim Jong-un, but it’s unclear whether it’s a WOW SUPER COOL BIG LETTER like the one he brought to Trump last year:

The_Letter_from_DPRK_(North_Korea)
That’s the one (Wikimedia Commons)

AFRICA

LIBYA

Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army says that its forces killed Abu Talha al-Libi, an al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb leader, along with two other militants in a battle near the southern city of Sabha. The LNA is engaged in a new offensive to pacify the country’s anarchic southern regions.

TUNISIA

The University of Nevada at Reno’s Ian Hartshorn, argues that Tunisia’s labor strife may lead its large UGTT labor union to revisit the possibility of forming its own political party:

The decision of the UGTT to undertake a major national strike is likely to draw extra attention because of the country’s political turmoil.  The ruling parties, Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes, faced a rocky road in 2018. Both were challenged in local elections by “independents” of various stripes, while Nidaa Tounes has seen major internal fracturing as part of a long-running fight between Chahed and Hafedh Caid Essebsi, son of President Beji Caid Essebsi. With the secular bloc in disarray, the UGTT has increasingly signaled its willingness to pursue a more political path.

As detailed in my book “Labor Politics in North Africa,” many in the UGTT leadership rejected the possibility of forming a party, and while it did not officially endorse parties in recent elections, many of its former leaders were affiliated with Nidaa Tounes. A national strike at a critical time will raise discussion of the UGTT running as a party or (at least) endorsing an official “list” in the parliamentary elections of 2019.

ALGERIA

Algeria will hold its presidential election on April 18. There’s still been no final word as to whether President Abdelaziz Bouteflika‘s corpse will stand for a fifth term in office.

BURKINA FASO

Burkina Faso’s entire cabinet resigned on Friday. The government offered no explanation but it’s possible the resignation is related to a recent escalation in Islamist militant attacks, especially in the northern part of the country.

NIGERIA

Aid agencies say that Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa have killed more than 100 Nigerian soldiers between them since December 26, while displacing thousands of people from their homes in northeastern Nigeria. Most of those have been displaced internally, but thousands have crossed borders into surrounding countries like Chad and Cameroon.

CAMEROON

Indeed, the Cameroonian government has just this week reportedly forced thousands of Nigerian refugees, displaced by Boko Haram’s attack on the town of Rann, back into Nigeria. The United Nations refugee office criticized these forced returns, saying that they put the refugees’ lives “at risk.”

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

The Congolese government says it will not accede to an African Union request to delay announcing the final vote tally in its December 30 presidential election. Controversy continues to swirl around the election, which was ostensibly won by Felix Tshisekedi. Alleged second-place finisher Martin Fayulu, who had a significant lead in pre-election polling, claims he won with over 60 percent of the vote, and the country’s Catholic bishops say their independent count supports that claim. Independent monitors have also highlighted major issues with the way the vote was conducted. While the controversy hasn’t led to any sort of sustained, widespread violence, the UN says it’s counted 34 people killed, 59 wounded, and 241 arrested by Congolese authorities in unrest since the preliminary results of the election were announced.

ZIMBABWE

Hundreds of protesters, angry over drastic increases in fuel prices, have been arrested in Zimbabwe and organizers have gone into hiding to try to avoid an increasingly brutal crackdown:

Soldiers and unidentified armed men conducted door-to-door searches in poor areas of cities on Friday, dragging “random” residents out of homes to be beaten and often detained, activists said. The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and more in recent days.

Security forces have arrested between 400 and 600 suspects since Monday, the start of a national “stay-at-home” protest called by unions after a massive increase in the price of fuel began on Monday, well-informed NGOs estimate. Twelve people are thought to have died after being shot.

“I’m just moving from house to house every day, trying to limit my contacts, telling no one where I am. I’m trying to keep ahead of the intelligence services and the spies … It’s a very tough period,” said one activist who publicly backed the protests, speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location in Zimbabwe on Friday evening.

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