World update: September 1 2017

In an effort to not be up until 2 AM for a change, and in the absence of what seems to be much major news out of Europe or the Americas, I’m going to wrap things up early today and call it a night. Thanks for reading!



Uzbekistan has dramatically reduced the size of its terror watch list, culling about 16,000 names from what had been a roughly 17,000 name-long list. From a human rights perspective, this move…doesn’t suck, which is a massive change of pace for the Uzbek government. The plan now is to maintain contact with the people who have been taken off of the list and help move them away from ties to extremist groups, via education, jobs, etc. If it sticks to this plan, it would go a long way toward changing Uzbekistan’s image as a serial rights violator and, potentially, increase foreign investors’ interest in doing business in the Central Asian republic.


Three people were killed Friday by a roadside bomb in the northern province of Mohmand. The target appears to have been an anti-Taliban tribal elder and so naturally the Taliban is the prime suspect.

While it was busy sentencing two police commanders to prison for negligence and declaring former dictator Pervez Musharraf a fugitive in the case of the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a Pakistani terrorism court on Thursday also cleared five suspected Taliban/al-Qaeda operatives of charges related to Bhutto’s killing. This verdict was surprising and not particularly well-received, and it’s hard to know whether this is a case of Pakistani authorities protecting the extremists with whom they routinely do business or if there’s something else at play.


MIT political scientist M. Taylor Fravel argues that talk about India “winning” the standoff at Doklam is premature at best:

To start, it remains unclear that India “won.” From India’s point of view, the status quo ante of June 2017 was restored, a victory. Yet from China’s perspective, Indian forces withdrew from Chinese territory (also claimed by Bhutan, but not by India). Moreover, on the ground at the site of the confrontation, Indian forces pulled back first. Meanwhile, Chinese forces remain in Doklam, even if Beijing chose not to press ahead with the road extension that sparked the standoff.

There is also no indication from Chinese or Indian statements that China had to make any concessions to convince India to withdraw its troops. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson underscored that China’s claims and behavior will not change, noting that China would “continue with its exercise of sovereign rights” in the disputed area. In other words, China will still conduct patrols in Doklam and maintain the portions of road that had been built before the standoff started in early June.

Fravel goes on to say that what may look like a tactical Indian success could be a long-run strategic failure, if it inspires Beijing to increase its military presence in Doklam and causes Bhutan to rethink its decision to challenge China on border issues lest it trigger a regional conflict.


The Myanmar government says its forces have killed 370 Rohingya fighters over the past week. That figure almost certainly includes some civilians being classified as fighters and ignores the hundreds of other Rohingya civilians that independent observers are pretty sure have also been killed in the latest round of violence.


With a Communist Party congress happening this October, China experts say that President Xi Jinping is positioning himself to adopt a stature similar to the one Mao Zedong once held:

Distinct from the standard usage of “lingdao” for leader, “lingxiu” evokes grander, almost spiritual, connotations.

“The party is gearing up to put Xi on the same level as Mao,” another  Beijing-based diplomatic source said, referring to the significance of the “lingxiu” term.

The Central Party School, which is the top training ground for up-and-coming cadres and is influential in interpreting and disseminating party directives, has since the military parade used “lingxiu” in official party language to refer to Xi.  The Study Times, the school’s official newspaper, referred  to Xi as “lingxiu” for the first time on Aug. 21.

The party could formally adopt the use of “lingxiu” in referring to Xi at the congress, which would cement him as China’s senior leader indefinitely, certainly beyond when he’s legally required to step down as president in 2022. It would also shrink China’s traditional oligarchy down to something that looks much more like a one-man dictatorship. Xi isn’t universally loved among party leaders, so it’s not certain that he’ll be able to get his way at the congress.



Since the start of the Hirak protests last October the Moroccan government has jailed eight Moroccan journalists reporting on the protests while expelling a number of foreign reporters doing the same. It’s an escalation of a troubling, years-long trend in Morocco toward more press restrictions.


Al-Shabab bombed a khat market in Af-Urur, in Somalia’s autonomous Puntland region, on Friday. At least 12 people were killed. Meanwhile, a US airstrike in southern Somalia on Thursday killed at least one al-Shabab fighter.


Some frankly stunning news out of Kenya today:

Kenya’s supreme court has declared Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in presidential elections last month invalid and ordered a new poll within 60 days.

The decision to nullify the result, a first in Kenya, sets up a new race for the presidency between Kenyatta and the veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Analysts said it marked a watershed in the east African nation, and set a unique precedent for the continent.

It’s certainly a watershed. The court decided, 4-2, that Kenya’s electoral commission had failed to conduct the election to the standards set down in the Kenyan constitution, though it seemed to chalk the problems up to incompetence rather than suggesting that the vote had been deliberately rigged by Kenyatta (though the full detailed verdict hasn’t yet been released). And Odinga’s challenge had emphasized technical flaws in the elections system rather than trying to prove that the vote had been deliberately rigged, even while Odinga’s rhetoric outside the court has been far more provocative.

This evening Kenyatta raged against the court, calling the judges “crooks,” but earlier in the day he said he will comply with the ruling and order a new vote. Odinga’s supporters have been, understandably, quite pleased with the ruling, with many celebrating in the streets. There are obviously some questions that have to be answered now. One big one is: what if they have the revote and Odinga loses again anyway? There’s no guarantee that whatever happened to this vote count was enough to actually throw the election to Kenyatta, and it’s easy to envision him winning the revote, legitimately or otherwise. Precedent says that Kenya actually got away relatively unscathed from this vote–when Odinga lost in 2007 and claimed that he was cheated, the result was 1000 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Only around 28 people were killed this time around, but if Odinga loses again and claims fraud again, there’s no guarantee there won’t be new and more serious outbreaks of violence as a result. The flip side to this, obviously, is what if Kenyatta loses the revote and then he cries foul? What’s the potential for violence then?

There may also be some fighting, rhetorical or physical, in the coming weeks as preparations are made for the revote. The opposition is obviously going to demand some changes to how the vote is conducted, and while Kenyatta seems resigned to holding the revote, his government may balk at some opposition demands. What happens then?

There’s another big question that somebody needs to answer, which is this: what the heck was up with all those international election monitors who positively gushed over how smoothly and fairly last month’s vote was conducted? John Kerry, please call your office.


This is not good:

The lives of thousands of people across Central African Republic are at risk because aid workers are being forced to withdraw from cities and villages due to escalating violence.

Médecins Sans Frontières is among the organisations unable to provide vital healthcare, preventing treatment for malaria during the disease’s high season, with the result that “people are dying for sure”, according to Caroline Ducarme, MSF’s head of mission in the country.

Ducarme said the situation was having a particularly alarming impact on pregnant women. She described how, in the town of Bakouma, women had been denied a safe place to give birth because the health centre was “not functional” and had not received any deliveries since early June.


Here’s another thought-provoking piece from Africa Is a Country, this time on the international community’s very low bar for declaring African elections “successful.” We’ve seen an example of that with all those international election observers I mentioned above who were so effusive about Kenya’s now-overturned vote. But this piece, by Marissa Moorman, is about the recent election in Angola:

Angolans voted last Wednesday, August 23, 2017 for the fourth time since 1992. The next day the National Electoral Commission (CNE) announced preliminary results that gave the MPLA a victory. On Facebook, some Angolans decried the numbers as oddly similar to elections results from 2012. By Friday, opposition party UNITA and CASA-CE members of the CNE contested those results as illegal (they were not based on a count of votes from voting commissions in municipalities and provinces as the law dictates). Later that day, the CNE announced revised numbers. Opposition parties undertook a parallel counting process using voting returns from polling stations. As of today, no final total vote counts have come out. But you can read the preliminary results here from the CNE.

The international press, despite widespread formal and informal contestation in Angola, has announced the CNE’s Thursday results as if they were true and good. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa went so far as to congratulate João Lourenço on his victory. This gesture made the watchdog blog makaangola balk. The New York Times reported the results and had a small piece on the opposition’s refusal to confirm them. The rest of the English language press only reported the CNE’s announcement. For most of the world and the international press, MPLA victory was a foregone conclusion. This was evident in the questions journalists asked in e-mails and live radio interviews. And it reflects the interests of Western countries in the economy and regarding regional and global security.



Though it briefly seemed like Russia wasn’t planning to respond to the recent US move to close three of its offices in America, Moscow is now saying it plans a “harsh” retaliation. At some point somebody is going to have to jump off this increasingly petty ride, or else pretty soon we’ll be down to making prank pizza delivery calls on each other’s embassies.


Both sides in the Ukrainian civil war are blaming one another for breaking the latest attempt at a ceasefire. Kiev and the Donbas rebels reached a deal for a new ceasefire starting August 25, to coincide with the start of the new school year, and it fell apart so quickly that, well, this is probably the first time you’re hearing about it, isn’t it? Thankfully the fighting in eastern Ukraine isn’t anything like it was a couple of years ago, but the threat of things escalating back to that point will keep looming over the country unless and until a permanent agreement can be negotiated.

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