Asia/Africa update: November 3 2017



International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wants to open a formal investigation into war crimes committed in Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan is an ICC member, she can investigate the actions of American personnel even though the US is not an ICC member. Obviously she’ll also be looking at alleged crimes committed by the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Hopefully the “Taliban” and the “Afghan government” will continue to remain two distinct things, but the recent SIGAR report doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The more territory comes under the Taliban’s control, the more revenue it brings in and the easier it is for the group to sustain and expand its operations.


Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appeared in court on Friday in response to the corruption charges he’s facing.

Former Pakistani ambassador Touqir Hussain argues that the Trump administration is taking the wrong approach to gaining Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan:

Pakistan’s cooperation will depend on its assessment of what is the end game from the American perspective. But what is the overall American objective and strategy? There is no clarity. Without any knowledge of that and of what is in there for Islamabad, Pakistan will understandably be reluctant to cooperate.


Pakistan also wants coordinated action against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Jamaatul Ahrar, and the Balochistan Liberation Army, which operate from safe havens in Afghanistan. But both Kabul and Washington have been unresponsive. And so far, Washington has pushed all the wrong buttons like sanctioning India’s hegemonic ambitions in the region and attacking the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which may prompt Pakistan to hedge.

Hundreds of people spent the past 11 days protesting in Islamabad over a change in the country’s electoral law. Muslim political candidates had previously been required to “solemnly swear” that Muhammad was the last of the prophets, but now they are supposed to “declare” it. That softening (?) in the language has been seen by some, apparently, as a concession to Pakistan’s Ahmadi minority. Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim but do not believe that Muhammad was the final prophet. For that reason they are not generally accepted by other (?) Muslims and are frequently subjected to serious persecution over their perceived blasphemy. The electoral law has reportedly been changed back to the old formula, but the protesters still want to know why the change was considered in the first place.


Officials in Myanmar’s civilian government are hoping to convince the Trump administration not to impose sanctions against the country’s military over its campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. They say sanctions will disrupt the delicate transition the country is still making from military to civilian rule. My question every time this point is brought up is simple: what good is transitioning to a civilian government if you have to green light a genocide to do it?


Beijing would like the US to stop pushing the freedom of navigation issue in the South China Sea and accept that the real problem there is that other countries are “illegally” occupying islands that “belong” to China. I put both of those words in quotes because neither of them is, strictly speaking, true. China and Vietnam announced on Friday that they’ve agreed to settle their South China Sea disputes through dialogue, so that’s nice.


North Korea’s UN mission in Geneva said in a statement on Friday that “the U.S.-led racket of brutal sanctions and pressure against the DPRK constitutes contemporary human rights violation and genocide.”


South Korean President Moon Jae-in is getting ready to host Donald Trump and, well, I don’t think you could blame him if he’s second-guessing his decision to run for president right about now:

He won the presidency promising a shift toward dialogue with North Korea. He argued that sanctions and pressure alone would never persuade the North to scrap its nuclear arsenal. And he pledged to “say no to the Americans if necessary.”


But six months after South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, returned the nation’s liberals to power, his plans to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula have gone nowhere.


President Trump has doubled down on sanctions in the standoff with the North, dismissed talks as a waste of time, stepped up military drills and rattled the region with pugnacious threats. And he has barely disguised his disagreement with Mr. Moon, openly accusing South Korea, an ally of 67 years, of “appeasement.”


The Council on Foreign Relations’ John Campbell warns that the Trump administration’s Africa policy, at least so far, seems to have very little to it apart from increasing militarization:

The defining feature of the administration’s Africa policy so far is its ramping-up of military and counterterrorism engagement, a trend that began before Trump took office. In a recent conversation with senators, Defense Secretary James Mattis indicated that the U.S. military presence in Africa is set to increase, with continuing training, reconnaissance, and air support missions that accelerated under Obama (though from a very low baseline).


This shift is also reflected in the administration’s budget proposal, which may end up having the biggest initial impact on U.S. policy toward Africa. The Defense Department budget would swell by roughly 9 percent, enabling it to increase its presence in Africa, while the State Department would see a roughly 30 percent cut, if the administration gets its way. Included in that cut would be USAID, meaning that almost all development assistance would be eliminated, as would many health-related programs. Africa would be disproportionately affected; at present roughly one-third of USAID funds go to the continent. Trump’s budget would also nearly halve the U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping operations, more than half of which are in Africa.


Finally, while the administration’s budget proposal explicitly states that it will be “continuing treatment for all current HIV/AIDS patients” under PEPFAR (which provided life-saving antiretroviral drugs to 11.5 million people last year), the proposal would lower the yearly contribution by 17 percent, or about $800 million. Little is known about the future of Power Africa, which has delivered electricity to more than 50 million people since 2013, but the administration has already shown itself to be hostile to most of the Obama administration’s initiatives.


The Red Cross, which is just having a fantastic few years, had to apologize on Friday for “losing” between $5 million and $6 million during the 2014 West African ebola outbreak. Red Cross staff in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia used a variety of tricks to embezzle the funds.


The second round of Liberia’s presidential election, which was supposed to happen Tuesday, will in fact be delayed by an ongoing fraud investigation into the results from the first round of voting in October. It was assumed this postponement would happen when preparations for the vote were suspended earlier this week, but it hadn’t yet been confirmed.


US and Nigerien officials still fundamentally disagree on the nature of the joint mission that was attacked by Islamist militants on October 4. The Nigeriens say the mission was intended to arrest a suspected recruiter for ISIS in the Greater Sahara, while the Americans say the mission was strictly a recon patrol and that there was supposed to be a second American team on standby to engage in the capture mission. Somebody isn’t telling the truth here, or else the Nigeriens and Americans who set off on that joint whatever-it-was were on two completely different pages–in which case, no wonder things went completely south.


The Niger Delta Avengers announced Friday that they’re ending the ceasefire they declared in August 2016 (but don’t seem to have actually implemented until that December). The NDA were supposed to lift their ceasefire back at the end of June but announced that they were extending it to give the government more time to come up with a way to more equitably distribute Nigeria’s oil wealth. I guess that didn’t happen. Prior to their ceasefire, the group caused a substantial decrease in Nigeria’s oil exports, so their return to action would be a very unwelcome development for a country also dealing with a resurgent Boko Haram(s) threat.


The US carried out its first ever airstrikes against ISIS in Somalia on Friday. ISIS only has a small presence in northeastern Somalia, but with their recent losses in Iraq and Syria America was running out of places to bomb. And you know how frustrating that can be.


Africa Is a Country’s Susan Thomson describes Rwanda today under President Paul Kagame. Kagame is still celebrated in the West for salvaging the country after the Rwandan Genocide, but he has been systematically purging the country of any semblance of a political opposition:

The New York Times is strangely approving of how Paul Kagame rules with an ironclad fist. Rwanda’s authoritarian president is consistently and confidently painted as a visionary leader, as last week’s article on the country’s plastic bag ban confirms. For the Times, public shaming, fines and jail time for plastic bag use are all acceptable trade-offs if Rwanda is going to become an environmental leader. Rwandans, as the article notes, accept the government’s heavy-handed enforcement of the ban in exchange for national security. Missing is any consideration of the fact that Rwandans must follow the many demands of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), whose many rules and regulations bear the full weight and force of law. The reality now, as the Times article fails to adequately demonstrate, is that Rwandans who use plastic bags are cast as dissenters, whose inability to follow basic rules are framed as threats to social harmony. The broader message is clear: Kagame’s authoritarianism should be tolerated, perhaps even praised, as it is his RPF that has moved Rwanda from the horrors of the 1994 genocide to peace and stability the country enjoys today. The violent nature of RPF rule is little known, Rwanda’s president has long practiced a zero-sum political game in which he and his cronies are the primary winners. Everyone better follow the rules as proscribed. Or else. 


While we’re on the subject of presidents who have a teensy problem with opposition, Zambian President Edgar Lungu is warning the country’s constitutional court that the country will descend into chaos if they rule him ineligible to stand in the 2021 election. Lungu will have served two terms by then, which is supposed to be the limit, but he’s arguing that since his first term was only a year long (he won a special election to finish out the term of the deceased Michael Sata) it shouldn’t really count. Frankly that seems pretty reasonable, even if his mafia-style threat to wreck the place if the court goes against him is not.

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3 thoughts on “Asia/Africa update: November 3 2017

  1. The piece on Rwanda seems strange. Author acts like Kagame/RPF’s concern of a second genocide is completely unfounded or fantasy, and then proceeds to gloss over how all the genocidaires set themselves up in refugee camps right next door across Lake Kivu for years, under protection by Western NGOs. Kagame’s obviously not a good guy, but I’d like to see any of these wonks come up with a better prescription for Rwanda’s problems.

    1. It’s almost impossible to find a good, even-handed analysis of Kagame because he’s so polarizing. That said, I’ll take a piece that’s unbalanced but highlights his authoritarianism over one that’s unbalanced in the direction of praising him for the post-genocide period, because that’s usually all people in the West hear about him (to the extent they hear about him at all).

      1. yeah you’re definitely not wrong about it being damn near impossible to find a fair analysis on Kagame. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I remember Gerard Prunier’s “Africa’s World War” to have a pretty decent depiction of Kagame, definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.

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