Asia/Africa update: October 11 2017



Kyrgyz voters go to the polls on Sunday to choose a new president, in what should be the country’s first peaceful transition of power since the fall of the Soviet Union:

Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Kyrgyzstan’s first two post-Soviet presidents, were forced out of office in revolutions of 2005 and 2010. Now, after only one six-year term, current president Almazbek Atambayev will leave his post of his own volition.


Two main candidates are in the running to be Kyrgyzstan’s next president: Sooronbay Jeenbekov, a former prime minister and member of the Social Democratic Party (SDPK); and Omurbek Babanov, the leader of the Respublika party.

Whoever wins there’s reason to think things are going to get more unstable after they take office. Jeenbekov is Atambayev’s heir apparent, but Atambayev was quite gifted and maneuvering through Kyrgyzstan’s complicated tribal political system and Jeenbekov will likely struggle with that, particularly when Atambayev has already selected his prime minister, Sapar Isakov, for him. If Babanov wins, meanwhile, the political establishment Atambayev has built (his Social Democratic Party has the majority in parliament) will try to make his life miserable. Meanwhile, either way Atambayev still plans to be active in public life, and that won’t exactly help stabilize things either.


The Afghan war’s Quadrilateral Coordination Group–Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the US–is meeting next week in Oman to discuss restarting peace talks with the Taliban. The Taliban’s invitation seems to have gotten lost in the mail and the group says it’s not going to attend even if an invitation suddenly turns up.


Two Indian soldiers and two members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group were reportedly killed Wednesday in a battle in Indian Kashmir’s Bandipora district.


Rohingya who have been trapped in the northern Myanmar villages of Ah Nauk Pyin and Nyaung Pin Gyi received their first shipment of food aid in three months on Wednesday after the Myanmar government caved to international pressure to allow aid workers to reach those villages. The Rohingya there have been under threat from Buddhist mobs and denied permission from the government to flee.

It’s become sterile to refer to what’s being done to the Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing,” which is a word that is loaded with meaning but exists as no more than an abstract concept for most people. So I think it’s very important to see the New York Times go into grisly detail about what the survivors in Bangladesh have experienced:

A pack of soldiers stepped toward a petite young woman with light brown eyes and delicate cheekbones. Her name was Rajuma, and she was standing chest-high in the water, clutching her baby son, while her village in Myanmar burned down behind her.


“You,” the soldiers said, pointing at her.


She froze.




She squeezed her baby tighter.


In the next violent blur of moments, the soldiers clubbed Rajuma in the face, tore her screaming child out of her arms and hurled him into a fire. She was then dragged into a house and gang-raped.


By the time the day was over, she was running through a field naked and covered in blood. Alone, she had lost her son, her mother, her two sisters and her younger brother, all wiped out in front of her eyes, she says.

Myanmar’s military, which still ultimately controls the country, describes acts like this as defense against Rohingya “terrorists.” But the few Rohingya who have taken up arms against Myanmar have done so in response to the government’s ethnic cleansing campaign. The only side practicing terrorism here is the Myanmar government.

The UN human rights office issued a new report on the Rohingya on Wednesday in which it described Myanmar’s actions as “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return.” The Myanmar military’s practice of burning out entire villages and farms has made it so that even if the violence stopped tomorrow, there would be nothing to which the Rohingya who have fled into Bangladesh could return.


The Philippine army recaptured two buildings in Marawi from Islamist fighters on Tuesday, and inside it found the bodies of 22 suspected militants along with “dozens and dozens” of homemade bombs. The militants are down to their last district, containing about 150 buildings, and while the army is declining to put a timetable on the end of the Marawi operation some officers are talking in terms of a couple of weeks.

Rodrigo Duterte, who insists that his war on drugs has been handled with professionalism and class by the Philippine police as they’ve killed close to 4000 alleged drug dealers in about 15 months, suspended police involvement in the effort on Wednesday. That leaves the country’s much smaller Drug Enforcement Agency as the only agency responsible for handling drug crimes. Duterte, who most likely took this step in response to flagging poll numbers, will undoubtedly reverse his decision within a few weeks–as he did the last time he ordered the police to stand down in January–but for now the teenagers of Manila can presumably rest a little easier.


If you can get past the possibility of Donald Trump tweeting eastern Asia into a nuclear apocalypse, the Washington Post’s Adam Taylor thinks the US is doing several things right in its North Korea policy:

The most obvious successes of this new policy are the increased economic and diplomatic pressures being placed on North Korea. U.N. sanctions in particular are a big win for the United States, especially as they have at least some backing from Beijing and Moscow. We are seeing some of the effects of their actions every day: Four ships were banned from international ports Tuesday because of links to North Korean cargo, a move that was described as unprecedented by one U.N. official.


There are other signs of economic pressure at work. Countries such as Qatar and Kuwait have stopped renewing visas for North Korean workers, potentially cutting off another source of income. Countries such as Egypt and Sudan have faced economic pressure to break their own covert ties with Pyongyang. Several countries, such as Japan, have imposed their own unilateral sanctions against North Korea in addition to U.N. and U.S. efforts.

I’m not a North Korea expert, but this seems to give Washington too much credit. I would argue that what’s brought China and Russia into line is that in the space of just a few months, North Korea has finally tested what appears to be a working intercontinental ballistic missile and a working thermonuclear bomb, two things that neither country wants North Korea to have. These sudden declarations of North Korea’s rapid development into a nuclear power have shocked Beijing and Moscow out of their usual policy of perturbed tolerance and into supporting stronger international efforts to isolate Pyongyang. Though, as Taylor admits, it’s still unclear just how far either country is willing to go to ramp up pressure on the North Koreans.



Liberia’s election commission says it expects to have provisional results from Tuesday’s presidential vote on Thursday. With 20 candidates in the race and at least four of them said to be leading in different parts of the country, it seems all but certain that this race is heading for a runoff, which will happen two weeks after the release of the final vote tally. That should happen within two weeks from the first round of voting, so it could still be another month or more before Liberia knows who its next president will be.


Defense Secretary James Mattis says the Pentagon is studying last week’s ambush, believed to have been perpetrated by an ISIS affiliate, of a joint US-Nigerien patrol that killed four US service members and four Nigerien soldiers, to see if there are any lessons to be taken from the incident. It seems unlikely that one of those lessons is going to be “stop stationing US soldiers all over the place.”


Africa Is a Country’s Abraham Zere looks at life under Eritrea’s increasingly unstable President Isaias Afwerki:

In today’s Eritrea, there is no difference between the jailer and the jailed. The political culture is so violent and desperate that the president’s own son attempted to escape the country.

President Isaias Afwerki’s erratic and mercurial temperament – he has been the head of a one-party dictatorship since independence in 1993 – has culminated in a profoundly dysfunctional nation. A “hit and run” style has replaced any thoughtful long-term planning. Not being able to count on any stable or secure future, many public servants place their energy into amassing as much capital as possible, by any available means.

This piece is really something. Among his many behaviors that go beyond the garden variety megalomania or corruption, Afwerki is apparently fond of cultivating bad blood among his advisers so none of them get any funny ideas about banding together to oust him, and he enjoys physically abusing his subordinates, often right out in the open.

Speaking of unstable people who enjoy abusing others, here’s Afwerki with Donald Rumsfeld back in 2002 (Wikimedia)


It’s no exaggeration to say that Kenya is in a fair amount of turmoil at the moment, in the wake of challenger Raila Odinga’s decision to boycott the October 26 do-over of the country’s presidential election. The country’s electoral board, after considering whether the election could happen without Odinga’s participation, announced Wednesday that things could proceed on schedule and that the vote would be open to the six other candidates who competed apart from Odinga and incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta will presumably stomp these afterthoughts, but without Odinga in the race there’s no way his supporters–and there’s really no way to know how many there are since the electoral board screwed up the vote count back in August–will see Kenyatta as the legitimate winner. There were protests today in Nairobi against the electoral board and it seems very likely that those protests are going to become a fact of everyday life in Kenya for the foreseeable future.


After having done the “oh, I’m so sorry, I wanted to hold an election this year but we just can’t, I promise we’ll do it next year though” thing two years in a row, I guess he’s getting tired of it because his electoral commission has decided to just skip over next year entirely and reschedule (or re-re-re-re-reschedule, if you will) the election for April 2019. Kabila will be halfway through year eight of his second five year term, which is really the time when most presidents start to think about moving into an elder statesman role, or looting the treasury and fleeing the country, or whatever. I’d say there’s a very good chance that the DRC actually will have an election then, but I think we all know I’d be lying and that it’s much more likely this situation is going to careen toward another Congolese civil war.

One thing that could help the country’s electoral commission actually get it together in time to hold a vote in 2019 would be if the international community kicked in more than the whopping six percent it’s already contributed out of the $123 million that the UN says the commission needs. But a stable DRC would screw up the very lucrative operation that big multinational corporations have ongoing to loot the country of its mineral wealth, so it’s no wonder that no foreign governments seem to want to contribute to funding a genuine democratic transition there.

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