Asia/Africa update: February 7 2018



Al Jazeera has a video report on Kashmiri villagers who say their homes have been destroyed by Pakistani artillery fire in recent weeks:


The political crisis in the Maldives is already taking on geopolitical overtones. Former President Mohamed Nasheed asked India to step in and stabilize the situation, and now China is offering a slightly different suggestion, which is that India keep its collective nose out of Maldivian affairs. China’s relationship with the Maldives has improved significantly under President Abdulla Yameen’s administration, so it’s no wonder they’d like India to leave him alone as he imprisons or otherwise neutralizes his political opponents.


Analyst Gavin Kelleher looks at the war in Kachin state, AKA the Myanmar atrocities that don’t involve the Rohingya:

In west Kachin state, a barefoot girl of no more than four years old is carrying her pink Hello Kitty backpack through the jungle’s shrubbery. The path she follows is one of well-trodden mud, interwoven with steps that are nearly taller than she is as she stumbles over them. It is 27 degrees. Her hair is cut short and her clothes are well-kept. She is tired but still screaming, a cry not yet familiar with the transience of internal displacement. Despite being the youngest of the girls she is with, she continues without stopping to be comforted. Her companion carries a half-full Frozen backpack in silence behind her.


These children are among tens of thousands of people displaced by violence in Myanmar’s northernmost Kachin state. A war between the central government in Yangon and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has been raging since the withdrawal of the British empire in 1948. The state military, known as the Tatmadaw, ended the long-lasting ceasefire between the two in 2011, reigniting conflict with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).


Forced disappearance, murder, detention, and systematic rape are all alleged tactics of the Tatmadaw in their program of counterinsurgency. This extends beyond Kachin into the neighboring Shan state, and the more recently publicized atrocities in Rakhine state in the west. As mass graves continue to be discovered in Rakhine, the world’s attention is pointedly fixed on the 688,000 Rohingya refugees who have crossed the border into Bangladesh since the latest outbreak of violence in August 2017. But 700 kilometers northeast of the Bangladesh border, another crisis continues to rage amid international silence.


A Malaysian court sentenced senior opposition figure Rafizi Ramli to 30 months in prison for being a whistleblower on a corruption scandal back in 2012. His sentence will prevent him from running in August’s general election if it’s upheld, but I’m sure the timing here is just coincidental.


Zeid Raʿad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been in Indonesia for a few days, and on Wednesday he said that he gave Indonesian President Joko Widodo an earful about the country’s move toward criminalizing homosexuality:

“Discussions of (revisions to the criminal code) betray strains of intolerance seemingly alien to Indonesian culture that have made inroads here,” Zeid told a news briefing, adding that he believed the proposed rules were “discriminatory”.


“The hateful rhetoric against the LGBT community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions,” he said.


New photos taken by Philippine journalists show the extent to which China has militarized its manmade islands in the South China Sea. Beijing has always insisted that its island-building projects were for civilian purposes, but these images show facilities that seem clearly to be military in nature.


Mike Pence is in Tokyo on his way to South Korea for the Winter Olympics, and on Wednesday he said that the Trump administration “will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever.” Hot damn. These will be the toughest sanctions imposed on North Korea since the ones we imposed on them in December, which were the toughest since the ones we imposed in September. I bet these will do the trick, and by “trick” I mean they’ll further immiserate the North Korean people to precisely no productive end.



The New York Times and the several Libya lobbyists its reporters recently interviewed would very much like Donald Trump to Do Something about Libya, because we’re being out-Somethinged by Russia and we cannot allow a mineshaft gap Russia to dictate what happens in this country that’s so vital to American interests that we broke it and then pretty much forgot it was there. Russia is backing Khalifa Haftar, and dammit it’s our job to back military strongmen who promise to keep things quiet if we just look the other way on a few minor human rights violations! We practically have the copyright on that move!


There are concerns that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may be trying to push back into Tunisia and Libya into the vacuum left by ISIS’s decline in both countries. The group even looks to be recruiting among former ISIS fighters in the region. In recent years AQIM has been far more active in the Sahel than in North Africa, even though it’s still fundamentally an Algerian-dominated organization. So this represents a bit of a change in their trajectory.


Jason Rezaian looks at slavery in Mauritania and the prospects for a change in its illegal-but-tolerated status there. A recent ruling by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child against the Mauritanian government in the case of two children who were held as slaves and whose former master was given a slap on the wrist as punishment might be the first step toward change, but Rezaian argues that it’s not going to be easy:

There are 19 other lawsuits against slave owners working their way through the Mauritanian judicial system, as well as many others at the investigatory stage. The ACERWC ruling could offer the incentive needed for the courts to get tough on slave owners.


Pressure from abroad may also play a role. The United States looks set to downgrade Mauritania’s status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade pact with the United States, because of Mauritania’s lack of action on forced labor.


But the ultimate goal is systemic change in a society and governing system that do not consider slavery a problem.

The institution of slavery in Mauritania goes back to the 17th century, when Berber conquerors from the north enslaved the indigenous population and established a hereditary slave system that has lasted to the present day, despite the practice having been officially abolished in 1981 (it wasn’t until 2007 that criminal penalties were attached to enforce that abolition).


Sierra Leone will hold a general election next month for president and its parliament. At the Monkey Cage, analysts Luisa Enria and Jamie Hitchen say that this election could be particularly interesting because a legitimate third party has emerged from within the country’s formerly strict two-party political landscape:

Sierra Leone’s tumultuous postcolonial politics has been dominated by two major parties: the SLPP and the APC. Between them, they control all the seats in parliament. The NGC emerged in the summer of 2017 after a power struggle within the SLPP, fueling talk of a “third way.” It is led by Kandeh Yumkella, former head of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. If attendance at rallies translates into ballots cast, the NGC may make inroads into the APC’s northern strongholds. It has worked hard for the urban youth vote, bringing in endorsements from prominent musicians and sending a message that it will bring progressive change and nonfactional politics.


While Raila Odinga has still not been arrested following his “inauguration” last week, but the man who conducted the “ceremony,” opposition leader Miguna Miguna, was deported on Wednesday to Canada. Miguna is, or was, a dual Kenyan-Canadian citizen, and that dual citizenship is what Kenyan authorities are using to justify stripping him of his Kenyan passport and deporting him.


Joseph Kabila’s minister of communications, Lambert Mende, says that the deeply unpopular and wildly overextended DRC president will not run in this year’s scheduled presidential election and will not even try to designate a successor (perhaps because doing so would be an electoral kiss of death for that person). Mende says that Kabila never intended to stay in office for a third term, which must come as a great shock to people who watched him not leave office at the end of his second term, which was over a year ago.


Speaking of people leaving office, Jacob Zuma may be on his way out in a matter of days:

South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says he is holding direct talks with embattled President Jacob Zuma over a transfer of power.


Mr Ramaphosa, who heads South Africa’s governing party, said both he and Mr Zuma understood the need for a speedy resolution.


He said the pair aim to conclude talks on the president’s future within days.


It is being seen as the first confirmation that Mr Zuma will step down shortly.

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