Asia/Africa update: February 26 2018



In a real curiosity, the BBC has apparently found three men who still speak Badeshi, an Indo-Iranian language spoken in Pakistan’s Bishigram valley that was previously believed to have gone completely extinct three generations ago. Obviously it’s still on its way out, but nevertheless it’s an interesting story and might mean that linguists will get a chance to study the language a bit before it does go fully extinct.


The European Union is reportedly putting together a new package of targeted sanctions against senior Myanmar military officers over their treatment of the Rohingya.


East Timor and Australia have apparently agreed on their maritime boundary and, moreover, on developing their shared “Greater Sunrise” offshore gas field. The two countries had yet to fix a boundary in the Timor Sea going all the way back to East Timor’s independence in 2002. The deal will reportedly give East Timor 80 percent of the proceeds from the field, but that share could fall if Australia allows the field’s gas to be piped into East Timor.


There are questions about Xi Jinping’s decision to abolish presidential term limits and hold on to that office indefinitely. There’s plenty of precedent in modern Chinese history for the supreme leader of the state to maintain that power indefinitely without holding on to formal state office or even to formal Communist Party office. Xi could easily have gone that route and spared himself some backlash. The answer probably has something to do with the way Xi wants to be seen not just within China, but by the rest of the world:

If there’s no convincing domestic political reason for Xi to push to retain the presidency, I would argue the impetus comes from diplomatic considerations. China’s president may not hold actual power, but he is the formal face of China to the external world – and in Xi’s self-proclaimed “new era,” where China is seeking an ever-more prominent global role, that means the presidency is increasingly important from a foreign policy standpoint.

For Xi to have tried to exert overt control over Chinese foreign policy as a former president would have raised a number of uncomfortable questions about the Chinese government that he’d probably rather not be raised. Staying on as president indefinitely removes any ambiguity or need to maintain a legal fiction that he’s not really running the show.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in would like Pyongyang and Washington to both show a little flexibility in order to get everybody to the negotiating table:

“Recently, North Korea has shown it is open to actively engaging the United States in talks and the United States is talking about the importance of dialogue,” Moon said during a meeting in Seoul with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong.


“There is a need for the United States to lower the threshold for talks with North Korea, and North Korea should show it is willing to denuclearize. It’s important the United States and North Korea sit down together quickly,” he said, according to a statement from his office.



The Treasury Department on Monday announced new sanctions against six people, 24 companies, and seven vessels from Libya, Egypt, Italy, and Malta in connection with alleged oil smuggling from Libya.

Reuters has a profile of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar that makes it pretty clear he’s not fighting for the creation of a free and democratic Libyan state:

After a protracted military campaign in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, he has promised to “liberate” the capital Tripoli, split from the east since 2014. Elections, which the United Nations says could be organized by the end of the year despite major obstacles, may provide another route to power.


Haftar seems to be hedging his bets. The LNA, he said last month, has “sleeper cells” it could activate to take full control of Libya while prioritizing a political solution to avoid bloodshed.


“But our patience has limits”, he said in the interview published in French magazine Jeune Afrique, before adding that Libya was not “ripe for democracy”.


Mohamed Buisier, a U.S.-based engineer who served as an advisor to Haftar from 2014-2016 before falling out with him, said Haftar wanted absolute power.


“He wants to get to one of the big palaces in Tripoli and rule Libya – that is it,” he said.


Protests have broken out in Guinea following the country’s February 4 municipal elections. Opposition leaders claim that the government manipulated the vote counts for the benefit of the ruling Guinean People’s Assembly party.


Officials from countries around Lake Chad are meeting in Nigeria to discuss how to support the people of the region as the lake continues to shrink. Lake Chad has been receding since the 1960s, crippling the livelihoods of communities that historically have depended on the lake for their survival:


African Union peacekeepers from Uganda reportedly killed two Somali soldiers in Mogadishu last week in a small firefight. It’s not clear how or why the shooting began but the peacekeepers claim the Somalis shot first.


The UN says that 11 Congolese refugees were killed by Rwandan security forces last week. The refugees were protesting ration cuts in the Kiziba refugee camp in western Rwanda. Some were killed in the camp and others while demonstrating in the nearby town of Kibuye.


Fighting between Hutu and Nande militias in the eastern DRC on Sunday and Monday killed at least 22 people, 15 of them civilians. Fighting occurred in the village of Kalusi on Sunday and then hit the village of Bwalanda on Monday.


New South African President Cyril Ramaphosa shook up his cabinet on Monday, among other things returning Nhlanhla Nene to the post of finance minister. Nene was finance minister from May 2014 through December 2015, when he was canned by former President Jacob Zuma in a move that caused the immediate collapse of the South African rand. Ramaphosa did retain some of Zuma’s cabinet but demoted a few of his ministers to less important ministries.

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