Asia/Africa update: February 1 2019

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban attacked a military checkpoint in Sar-e Pol Province on Thursday night, killing at least six soldiers according to provincial officials. Nine Taliban fighters are believed to have been killed in the battle.

PHILIPPINES

The Washington Post reports on Marawi, the Philippine city that was effectively captured by jihadist fighters in May 2017 and liberated by the Philippine military five months later. It’s well over a year since that liberation, and things in Marawi are…still not great:

Not a single new structure has been built. Almost none of the debris has been cleared. Snakes and mosquitoes infest the bright-green canopy of weeds engulfing the ruins. The odd stray dog has taken refuge inside battle-ravaged buildings.

About 100,000 people displaced from the Marawi violence are unable to return home, living with relatives or in camps across the southern island of Mindanao. This predominantly Muslim region has seen clashes for decades between Philippine security forces and various groups of insurgents and militants, including the Abu Sayyaf.

Marawi, however, stands apart.

CHINA

I try not to be too hyperbolic here at attwiw, but I genuinely think we need to consider the possibility that former Blackwater head honcho Erik Prince is the worst human being alive today:

A Hong Kong-listed security firm founded by Erik Prince has signed a preliminary deal with authorities in China to build a training centre in Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims have experienced a huge security crackdown.

Frontier Services Group, which specialises in providing security and logistics for businesses operating in risky regions, said it had signed a deal to run a training base in the city of Kashgar, according to a statement posted on its Chinese website.

Honestly, I don’t know anyone who has Prince’s knack for finding the most horrifying human rights shit shows on the planet and finding ways to enrich himself off of them. In this case FSG is claiming that Prince had no knowledge of the deal, which, sure, he’s only the company’s founder and deputy chairman. Why would he have any idea what it’s doing? And grotesquely exploiting the suffering of Muslims is so out of character for him that I think you have to give FSG the benefit of the doubt here.

AFRICA

SUDAN

There were more anti-government protests in Omdurman on Friday, which meant more Sudanese police firing more tear gas to bust up those protests. There don’t seem to have been any reports of casualties in Friday’s demonstrations.

LIBYA

Khalifa Haftar’s so-called “Libyan National Army” clashed on Friday with a local militia in the town of Ghudduwah, outside of the main southern Libyan city of Sabha. According to the World Health Organization at least 14 people were killed in the fighting, four of them from the LNA. Those are the first LNA fighters killed since the group undertook a mission to pacify southern Libya (and seize its oilfields) a couple of weeks ago.

Libyan journalist Mustafa Fetouri explains what Haftar is hoping to achieve by sending his forces to the south:

LNA’s brigades heading south have three important objectives: to convince as many tribal militias as possible, particularly Awlad Suleiman, to either join the LNA or lay down their arms; to clear out the different Chadian armed opposition groups; and to control as much as possible of the largely desert region, which is not controlled by any local party.

Controlling the region means, among other things, cutting any supplies headed north to the different militias that control the area from Sirte west to Tripoli. It also means guarding the area against IS remnants scattered south of Sirte and deep into the desert, all the way to neighboring countries like Niger and Chad.

Having been defeated and ejected from Sirte in 2016, IS has not given up on Libya. After being hit hard in Syria, IS may be considering Libya as a potential new base. Unstable and fractured as it is, Libya provides the right environment for the terror group. Many of its fighters are still around and there are thought to be sleeper cells in Tripoli. In May, IS struck Libya’s election commission, and in September, it destroyed much of the country’s National Oil Corporation. In December, it attacked the Foreign Ministry building on Tripoli’s seafront.

BURKINA FASO

Analyst James Blake writes that the rise in terrorist activity in Burkina Faso is partly a consequence of the country’s 2014 revolution:

The combination of poverty, ineffective efforts to combat domestic terrorism, and a lack of basic government services has been conducive to the spread of terrorism.

 While many of the attacks have historically taken place in the north of the country, on the border with Mali, over the last year a growing insurgency has taken root in the country’s east. As the violence increases, there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive international effort to combat terrorism in Burkina Faso and to stop it from spreading into neighboring states such as Benin, Ghana, and Togo.

Since January 2016, there have been over 200 attacks in the country. According to the International Crisis Group, the rise is partly attributable to the gradual deterioration in security since the popular revolution that overthrew longtime President Blaise Compaoré in 2014, after 27 years in power, in part because the Compaoré regime had made deals with various militant and armed groups to stop them from conducting attacks in Burkina Faso; many believe when his reign ended any such truces ended, too.

Details of the groups with which the former leader allegedly made deals are not available for public consumption, but al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has been active in Burkina Faso for several years and has perpetrated some of the most lethal attacks, including the attack against the Splendid Hotel in the capital, Ouagadougou, in January 2016.

NIGERIA

Amnesty International reported on Friday that Monday’s Boko Haram attack on the city of Rann left at least 60 people dead. Boko Haram had previously attacked the city earlier this month, displacing thousands of residents. Many returned when the Cameroonian and Nigerian militaries secured the city, but the Cameroonians pulled out and the Nigerians followed suit, leaving Rann vulnerable again. The second attack displaced some 30,000 people across the border into Cameroon.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

The Western response to recent upheavals in Sudan, the DRC, and Zimbabwe has been uncharacteristically subdued, and BBC Africa Editor Fergal Keane suggests it has something to do with domestic politics:

In Britain foreign policy is consumed by the Brexit debate. Across the rest of the EU Brexit and a host of domestic crises have led to a turning inwards. 

African political problems are not a priority. 

How distant now the days of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “ethical foreign policy” and the sight of British troops patrolling Sierra Leone. The disastrous aftermath of the Iraq war ended that brief period of ambitious interventionism. 

The French still maintain strong military and economic links in several African countries. But their limited, and purely rhetorical, response to the DR Congo election outcome indicates the priority of domestic issues like the ongoing “gilets jaunes” protests.

In America, the White House and the legislators are kept busy with the Mueller investigation, the continuing border wall saga and the 2020 elections. 

A month ago US Secretary of State John Bolton outlined an Africa policy aimed at challenging the expansion of Chinese, and to a lesser extent Russian influence. 

But with the cutbacks at the State Department under the Trump administration it is difficult to see how a more vigorous Africa policy – whatever its ideological or political focus – can be implemented.

ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is being forced to deny rumors of a rift between him and his vice president, Constantino Chiwenga. As the former commanding officer of the Zimbabwean military and the man who did most of the actual work to oust former President Robert Mugabe, there’s a strong case to be made that Chiwenga is the real power in Zimbabwean politics. It’s presumably Chiwenga who’s been behind the Zimbabwean military’s brutal crackdown on protesters over the past couple of weeks, a crackdown that Mnangagwa has publicly criticized. There really may be no problem between the two of them, and yet this seems like the kind of thing where if you’re having to deny the problem, then the problem already exists on some level.

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