Asia/Africa update: June 2 2017


At this point, from where I sit, there is almost nothing about Friday’s attack on the Resorts World Manila casino that makes sense. The death toll now stands at 38, including the lone attacker, who either died of gunshot wounds or self-immolation. The other 37 seem to have all died of causes related to the fire the attacker set on the casino floor. Philippine police are pretty definitively ruling out terrorism as a motive, saying this was a robbery gone very bad. But does that really fit? They say the guy took a bunch of casino chips, but it’s not exactly like you can use those as cash, and they’re also saying that he killed himself, which…why? Later reports suggested that the guy was a long-time casino patron who was staying at the resort and may have been angry about recent losses, which could fit the facts but doesn’t entirely map with what the police are saying.

So, uh, what if this was a terrorist attack? ISIS has already claimed responsibility for the attack, and, frankly, police are struggling to establish a different set of facts. They still haven’t identified the attacker, at least not publicly, despite having released surveillance footage, and their initial description of the attacker as a tall white guy with a mustache was later contradicted by that security footage, in which he doesn’t appear to have a mustache and looks like he might be Filipino. But hell, ISIS will claim just about anything. And if this was terrorism, why does it seem like the attacker didn’t actually want to kill anybody? Witnesses report him firing off warning shots but with apparently no intention of hitting anyone. Many of the victims died in the fire because they’d ducked into a bathroom to hide from gunfire, but it seems that “gunfire” may actually have been the attacker’s ammunition going off in the heat of the fire.

Maybe this was just a disturbed individual whose actions can’t be explained. That seems like a cop out, but so far it’s also the only answer that doesn’t raise more questions.

In Marawi, which is approaching its second week of occupation by Maute Group fighters, the Philippine general in charge of clearing the city has been relieved of his command. Officially, Brigadier General Nixon Fortes’s sacking doesn’t have anything to do with his conduct in Marawi, but Reuters is reporting that he’s being punished for failing to properly assess the situation before his men attempted to detain militant leader Isnilon Hapilon early last week. Intelligence had ascertained that Maute Group fighters were congregating in the city, but Fortes opted not to put enough men in place to respond in case something like this happened.



At least two and perhaps as many as eight people were killed on Friday in Kabul when protesters angry over the massive terrorist attack that hit the city on Wednesday confronted police. The protesters demanded the resignation of President Ashraf Ghani and the execution of Taliban and Haqqani Network prisoners. It’s unclear how they died, but the simplest explanation is obviously that some police opted to fire their live ammunition into the crowd rather than into the air as warning shots. if I’m Ghani, I probably don’t let my police carry live ammo when responding to a crowd of people protesting my inability to keep them safe, but what do I know?

The attack itself has probably upset Ghani’s plans to hold an international peace summit next week, both because of the physical damage and because one of the main participants in that summit, Pakistan, may have helped plan this attack and is certainly pissed at Ghani’s government for accusing them of helping to plan it. Putting Pakistani and Afghan representatives in the same room right now would probably be counterproductive.


Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s son Hassan appeared on Friday before a panel investigating corruption charges against his family stemming from last June’s Panama Papers leak.


Is it possible that Donald Trump pulled America out of the Paris Climate Agreement to piss the rest of the world off so badly that it drastically reduces carbon emissions just to spite him? No, it is not. But it is going to be interesting to see how many other countries try to get out ahead of the United States on climate change now. India, for example, one of the world’s largest potential energy markets given how much its economy is likely to grow in the near future, is canceling plans to build more coal power plants and turning heavily toward renewables. Price declines for both solar power and lithium ion batteries have contributed to India’s move toward a greener economy.


You know, I just can’t figure out why anybody would suggest that Myanmar mistreats its Muslim minorities:

Authorities in Myanmar have charged three Muslim men for holding Ramadan prayers in the street after the local school where they used to worship was shut down by a nationalist mob.

Police brought the charges after about 50 Muslims gathered to pray on Wednesday on a road in Yangon’s Thaketa township, the site of one of a growing number of raids by Buddhist hardliners on Islamic events.

Two nearby Islamic schools were closed in late April after ultra-nationalists complained that local Muslims were illegally using them to conduct prayers.

Authorities have said the closure is temporary, but have given no timeline for when they may be reopened.

I guess Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prize didn’t have anything to do with freedom of religion.


US Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke at the Southeast Asia Shangri-La security summit on Saturday morning (time zones!) and directed most of his remarks toward China:

Mattis said the United States welcomed China’s economic development, but he anticipated “friction” between the two countries.

“While competition between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, is bound to occur, conflict is not inevitable,” Mattis said.

While eager to work with China in dealing with North Korea, Mattis said that the United States did not accept China placing weapons and other military assets on man-made islands in the South China Sea.

“We oppose countries militarizing artificial islands and enforcing excessive maritime claims,” Mattis said. “We cannot and will not accept unilateral, coercive changes to the status quo.”

That last bit will be well-received by Southeast Asian countries worried about the Trump administration’s willingness to back off on the South China Sea in exchange for more Chinese help on North Korea.


In a strong statement to Washington, the European Union and China on Friday agreed that they would work together to combat climate change and its effects ha ha don’t be crazy, they got into a trade fight instead:

Speaking alongside Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the EU’s Donald Tusk said efforts to reduce pollution and combat rising sea levels would now continue without the United States. But a spat on trade and steel production underscored the differences in a sometimes difficult EU-China relationship.

“We are convinced that yesterday’s decision by the United States to leave the Paris agreement is a big mistake,” Tusk, who chairs EU summits as the head of the European Council, told a news conference with Li and the EU’s chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker.

“The fight against climate change, and all the research, innovation and technological progress it will bring, will continue, with or without the U.S.,” Tusk said.

In their meeting, the three leaders committed to cutting back on fossil fuels, developing more green technology and helping raise funds to help poorer countries cut their emissions, but a dispute about trade ties scuppered plans for a formal joint statement.

China wants the EU to acknowledge that the Chinese economy is market-based, not state-controlled, but the EU seems not to want to do this until, at the very least, Beijing stops flooding the global market with cheap steel. So you can see why we’re all just going to have to accept living on Venus 2.0.


The United Nations Security Council on Friday approved new sanctions against four entities and 14 individuals connected to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs. The relatively minor measure was hammered out in negotiations between the US and China, and reflects China’s desire to go slowly with any new penalties unless and until North Korea does something drastic, like another nuclear test or a test of a long-range missile.



The Libyan National Army, with Egyptian air support, has advanced into the country’s central Jufra region after clashes with forces aligned with the Benghazi Defense Brigades on Friday. The LNA reported that it has taken control of several oasis towns in the region, but its main target, the Jufra air base near the town of Waddan, remains out of its hands at the moment. An LNA spokesperson also defended recent Egyptian air strikes on terrorist camps outside Derna, saying that senior Egyptian militants were spotted in the camps and that a satellite phone call was made from Derna to Minya just before the May 26 attack on a bus full of Egyptian Copts there. It’s still not clear that there’s a connection between the Derna camps and the Minya attack, and the LNA statement has to be taken with a grain of salt or two.


There were more protests across northern Morocco on Friday, as thousands of people came out for the eighth night in a row to protest the arrest of activist Nasser Zefzafi. Serious clashes between protesters and police were reported in the town of Imzouren.


The ex-wife of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Agnes Reeves Taylor, has been arrested in the UK on torture charges related to actions she took during the First Liberian Civil War, which lasted from 1989 to 1997 and led to her then-husband’s election as president.


Kenya’s severe drought has caused food prices to skyrocket, which is wreaking havoc on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s hopes of being reelected on August 8. Kenyatta has increased food assistance, but much of the effect of those programs is being washed out by government corruption and possibly hoarding–ironically, fear of election unrest may be causing people with means to stock up on food, which in itself is helping to create the conditions for election unrest.


At least 11 people were killed, including the attackers, when two suicide bombers struck a refugee camp in Kolofata, in northern Cameroon. The camp is for people who have been displaced by Boko Haram, and indeed that’s likely who carried out the attack.

The Monkey Cage has a decent explainer on Cameroon’s non-Boko Haram problem, the incessant discord between its Anglophone and Francophone regions that may well lead to full-on civil war when dictator Paul Biya, age 84, finally passes away (or, hell, if he tries to stand for “reelection” again next year after 35 years in power).

Paul Biya, during a 2014 visit to the White House


Here’s some possible good news: the DRC’s health minister says that they’ve seen no new ebola cases in 21 days, which may mean that the recent outbreak in the northeastern part of the country has been contained.

DRC opposition figure Moise Katumbi has requested UN protection if he decides to return to the country to stand in this year’s (still theoretical) presidential election. Katumbi left the DRC last year and was subsequently convicted in absentia of real estate fraud, but he polls better than any other potential candidate in surveys. The chances that Joseph Kabila will actually allow an election to be held this year are vanishingly small and getting smaller by the day, so Katumbi may have no reason to risk returning home.


Robert Mugabe, who is running for a 347th fifth (I think) term as Zimbabwe’s president next year, began a national speaking tour on Friday to kick off his campaign. In his remarks–intended to appeal to young voters because fuck it, why not–Mugabe cautioned his political allies to stop jockeying for position to succeed him. In this I have to agree; I mean, let’s face it, if Robert Mugabe were capable of dying, he would have done it a couple of centuries ago. There’s never going to be a succession.

He doesn’t look a day over 400

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