Asia/Africa update: October 20 2017



At least 72 people were killed on Friday in two suicide bombings targeting mosques in Kabul and in Ghor province. The Kabul bombing, in which at least 39 people were killed, struck a Shiʿa mosque, and while there’s been no claim of responsibility this may well have been ISIS’s work given the choice of target. The bombing in Ghor hit a Sunni mosque and was reportedly meant to target the leader of a local anti-Taliban militia, so presumably the Taliban are the more likely culprit there. And what has been an absolutely brutal week in Afghanistan just keeps getting worse–there was also a rocket strike in downtown Kabul early Saturday morning, but there have been no casualties reported.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction finds in a new report that a disproportionately high number of Afghan soldiers and police who come to the US for training are going AWOL once they get here. Less than one percent of trainees from other countries disappear while training in the US–for Afghanistan, that figure was 13 percent in 2016. Apart from the security issues this creates, it also obviously makes it harder to train Afghan security personnel. Not that you can really blame them for making a break for it.


It isn’t taking Jamaat-ul-Ahrar very long to name a new leader after their old one, Omar Khalid Khorasani was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan. Senior JUA leader (and possibly Khorasani’s deputy, though it’s hard to know what the org chart looks like for these groups) Asad Afridi is believed to be the next man up. So…congrats, I guess? One potential issue: JUA’s main base of support is in Mohmand, and Afridi is from a region further south. Also Khorasani apparently wasn’t big on sharing power, so his death could prove fairly destabilizing.


Chinese officials aren’t responding well to Rex Tillerson’s speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this past Wednesday, in which he talked up America’s relationship with India while rather harshly criticizing Chinese foreign policy. In particular they’re taking offense to Tillerson’s suggestion that China’s Belt and Road initiative is being undertaken to advance Chinese hegemony in Asia–which, of course, it is, but then who is the US to judge?

Xi Jinping’s recent decision to sack the party secretary of Chongqing, Sun Zhengcai, has been taken as a sign that Xi is definitely planning on sticking around past the end of his second term in 2022. Sun was seen as a potential successor, but if you’re not planning on stepping aside then potential successors start to look an awful lot like potential rivals. However, Andrei Lungu of the Romanian Institute for the Study of the Asia-Pacific thinks that the real story is not that Xi wants to extend his time in office, but that he’s changed his mind and that the man he appointed to replace Sun is now his intended successor:

Xi has more than half a dozen allies in positions of power throughout China’s provinces — like Li Qiang, the Mongolian Bayanqolu, or Li Xi — any one of whom could have been named as Sun’s successor in Chongqing. But Xi’s choice was striking: He promoted his ally Chen Miner, who was born in 1960. Why is his year of birth so important? Because, based on the traditional retirement age of 68, Chen Miner — unlike Xi’s other prominent allies, who are older — will be able to serve out a double term from 2022, when he will be 62. Were he born even just a year earlier, in 1959, this would have been impossible, as he would have been forced to retire in 2027.


In choosing Chen Miner as the new leader of the metropolis of Chongqing, Xi has sent a broad hint to both the party and the outside world. The Communist Party doesn’t hold press conferences to announce successors; it uses signals like this — even if few in the West seem to be able to understand them.


The head of the North Korean foreign ministry’s North American bureau, veteran diplomat Choe Son-hui, told the audience at a non-proliferation event in Moscow that the US, and the rest of the world, must “be prepared to co-exist” with a nuclear North Korea. So that seems pretty definitive.

According to, Pyongyang may be investing in research into algae, yes algae, as a potential energy source to replace some of the oil it’s now no longer able to buy on the open market. North Korea has already been researching and developing algae for use as fertilizer or even a food supplement, but they seem to have opened a new facility for producing algae that isn’t designed to keep the stuff clean–which suggests the algae growing there isn’t intended for use as food.



The investigation into what happened in Niger on October 4 continues. The US and Nigerien accounts of what happened to their joint patrol can’t even be reconciled–the Nigeriens say the patrol chased a group of fighters, which would really be against the Americans’ rules of engagement, and were led into an ambush, while the Americans say they just, ah, “noticed” some fighters and the next thing they knew they were in a gun battle. One new bit of information came from the United Nations on Friday: there had apparently been 46 insurgent attacks over the past two years in the part of Niger where the patrol was ambushed. That puts the lie to claims from Washington that the patrol was in a generally quiet part of the country and had no reason to expect to be attacked.


The death toll from last Saturday’s terrorist bombing has risen to 358, and will likely continue to rise as more of the missing are declared dead. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is reportedly going to declare a “state of war” against al-Shabab on Saturday that will involve a ground offensive to push the terror group away from Mogadishu and a stepped-up US drone campaign.

It appears that at least two people were killed on Friday when a car bomb exploded outside of Mogadishu. Police say the driver was killed but there are witnesses who claim there was at least one other body at the scene.


The chief executive of Kenya’s elections commission, Ezra Chiloba, took a leave of absence on Friday, potentially opening up some space for Raila Odinga to reverse course and participate in the October 26 presidential vote after all. Odinga, without mentioning Chiloba’s decision, told supporters in western Kenya later in the day that he would have an announcement about a “way forward” on October 25. I don’t know that Chiloba’s leave alone is going to be enough to sway Odinga, but if that’s coupled with some concrete changes in how this do-over vote is going to be conducted, it might do the trick.

The real problem is going to come if, and this is entirely possible if not probable, Odinga decides he’s satisfied, runs in the election, and loses again.


During a demonstration on Wednesday in Kampala, Ugandan police killed two protesters. On Friday, in response to those deaths, police arrested…opposition leader Kizza Besigye, one of the protest’s leaders. Apparently by organizing a protest during which some protesters threw rocks at police, Besigye became responsible for police officers’ decision to respond to the rocks with bullets. This of course isn’t at all politically motivated. Protesters are upset that the Ugandan parliament is considering legislation that would allow President Yoweri Museveni–who has already been in power for more than 30 years–to remain in office past the current mandatory retirement age of 75.


The death toll from Madagascar’s plague outbreak has reached 94, with over 1150 reported cases of the disease. Around 70 percent of the cases are pneumatic, the airborne form of the plague that infects the lungs, as opposed to bubonic, which infects the lymph nodes and is usually transmitted by fleas the way they used to teach us in high school history class.

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