Asia/Africa update: January 19-20 2019

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban carried out a car bombing in Logar province on Sunday morning that killed at least eight Afghan security forces. Meanwhile, in northern Afghanistan’s Sar-e Pul province, a recent surge in Taliban activity has displaced about 40 families from the province’s Kohistan hinterland into the provincial capital. The Taliban is trying to take the province’s oil fields, and allegedly has been singling out families with ties to the Afghan government for displacement.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani kicked off his reelection campaign on Sunday with an announcement that he’s chosen former Interior Minister Amrullah Saleh as his running mate. Saleh, a frequent Ghani critic who quit his cabinet post on Saturday, is a prominent leader in Afghanistan’s Tajik community and should help the president gain support on that front. This presumably means that the scandal-plagued current VP, Abdul Rashid Dostum, is out of the picture.

Ghani, whose first term has been a catastrophe due in no small part to his mismanagement, will be facing at least 13 other candidates, including ex-warlord and war criminal Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But his top challenger is once again expected to be Afghan “Chief Executive” Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani and Abdullah were the last two men standing back in 2014, and their dispute over the election results as so heated that the US brokered a power-sharing arrangement in which Abdullah was given the extra-constitutional and still largely undefined office of “Chief Executive” as a consolation prize. Abdullah is part Tajik and has substantial support in that community, so Ghani’s choice of Saleh as his running mate is a direct attempt to crack his main rival’s base.

PAKISTAN

Pakistani police say they killed four “insurgents” on Saturday in a shootout in Punjab province. It’s unclear what insurgent group they’re with, and hundreds of residents of the province reportedly came out in protest after the shooting, saying that police had gunned down innocent people in order to “showcase police performance.”

MYANMAR

State media reported on Saturday that a group of fighters from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked a border post in Rakhine state and killed six border guard officers. Myanmar authorities have in recent weeks been dealing with the Arakan Army, which seeks autonomy for Rakhine’s Buddhist majority, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if this alleged attack triggered a new round of mass violence against the Rohingya in an effort to get the Buddhists back on the government’s side.

THAILAND

Gunmen attacked a Buddhist temple in southern Thailand’s Malay province on Friday, killing two monks and injuring two other people. There’s been no claim of responsibility, but southern Thailand has been home to a low-level Malay insurgency since 2004, and Buddhist monks are sometimes targeted by separatists.

PHILIPPINES

Residents of the Philippines’ Mindanao region will vote Monday in a referendum on regional autonomy. If it passes, as expected, the measure will lead to self-government for the predominantly Muslim Bangsamoro (“nation of Moros”), beginning with a transitional arrangement under the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Mindanao is one of the least developed parts of the country, so ideally self-government would improve that.

CHINA

China is showing signs of an economic downturn at what may be precisely the wrong time for the global economy:

China’s huge economy, a major driver of global growth, is cooling just when the world needs its spark. Data released by Beijing in recent months shows softer investment, unprofitable factories and consumers who are no longer so quick to open their wallets.

It is happening at a difficult time. The broader world outlook is beginning to dim. The American economy, which has powered ahead in recent years with strong growth and low unemployment, is showing some signs of a slowdown and is facing higher short-term interest rates that could act as a brake. Europe’s resurgence is beginning to show its age, too, with even Germany’s industrial engine starting to sputter.

In the past, China has helped the world out of such weak spots, most notably during the global financial crisis. But this time, its economy is showing pronounced weakness.

AFRICA

SUDAN

It probably sounds like a broken record at this point, but there were more protests against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Sunday, this time in Omdurman just across the Nile from Khartoum. Security forces once again responded with tear gas to break up the demonstrations.

Bashir’s usual trick for undermining opposition, exploiting tensions between Sudan’s main ethnic groups, seems not to be available to him this time around:

After decades of successfully exploiting Sudan’s racial divides between ethnic Arabs who live along the Nile River and ethnic Africans in Sudan’s Darfur region, a new generation is fed up and is hoping ethnic solidarity against Bashir will lead to his downfall.

“It just does not work anymore,” said Osman Ahmad, one of the young protesters on the streets of the capital, Khartoum. “They may have successfully divided us in the past, and it worked on our parents and grandparents. But it’s not working on us, the new generation. We are on to them.”

Bashir has tried to pin the protests on regime opponents from Darfur, but the protesters seem to be having none of it.

MALI

Militants attacked a United Nations peacekeeping base in northern Mali on Sunday. The mostly Chadian peacekeepers were reportedly able to repel the assault but at least ten of them were killed in the process and at least 25 wounded. It’s unknown which group was behind the attack.

In older news, the French military said on Saturday that it killed at least 15 militants in central Mali in an airstrike back on January 10.

ETHIOPIA

The Ethiopian military says it’s preparing a “massive offensive” against al-Shabab after the group reportedly ambushed an Ethiopian peacekeeping force in Somalia on Friday. Al-Shabab claims it killed nearly 60 peacekeepers in the attack, but the African Union denies this and says that 3 peacekeepers were wounded while four al-Shabab fighters were killed.

SOMALIA

A US airstrike in southern Somalia on Saturday reportedly killed at least 52 of the group’s fighters after they’d attacked a Somali military base in the area. Naturally the US believes no civilians were killed or injured in the strike because, well, it probably hasn’t actually checked.

KENYA

Gunmen reportedly attacked a Chinese construction site in eastern Kenya on Sunday and were driven off by Kenyan forces. There’s been no claim of responsibility but obviously al-Shabab would top the list.

CHAD

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Chad on Sunday to meet with Chadian President Idriss Déby and restore diplomatic ties between the two countries. Chad cut off relations with Israel back in 1972. Netanyahu has been increasing his diplomatic engagement with Muslim countries around the Middle East and Africa in an effort to undermine support for the Palestinian cause and build support for the anti-Iran cause.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

As expected, the DRC’s Constitutional Court rejected Martin Fayulu’s challenge to the results of the country’s December 30 presidential election, officially making Felix Tshisekedi the country’s president-elect. Fayulu, who led in polling before the election and claims he won with over 60 percent of the vote–a claim backed up by the DRC’s Catholic Church, which conducted its own vote count, and leaked data allegedly from the Congolese elections commission–has called for civil disobedience in opposition to the ruling. Fayulu had been reluctant to make any public call for resistance before the legal process played out.

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