Asia/Africa update: April 26 2018



The richest person in Georgia is tired of the little people mucking around with his politics and is ready to do something about it:

Georgia’s richest man Bidzina Ivanishvili has emerged from seclusion to take back the reins of the ruling Georgian Dream party in an apparent attempt to iron out bitter divisions that have emerged in the party that he created six years ago.


The last time the reclusive billionaire stepped out of the shadows, he brought down Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. This time he is expected to decide who the next president of Georgia is going to be: The country is scheduled to hold presidential elections in October, and the party has split over who its candidate should be.


“I’m confident that this decision will reflect positively on the political life of our country. It will be a fresh stimulus for us, for every member of Georgian Dream party, to our team and to me personally,” said Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.

Wow, a super rich person running a political party! Luckily we here in the US don’t have to deal with anything like that. Anyway, Kvirikashvili is psyched, even though this means he’ll no longer be running Georgia Dream, because he has to be–he’s one of the people who might run for president. It’s not clear what Ivanishvili’s real intentions are here but chances are they’re not good for current President Giorgi Margvelashvili. He and Ivanishvili apparently don’t get along so well anymore, which substantially reduces his chances of getting a second term as president.


Interim Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan will not be interim PM for very much longer. With protests continuing despite the resignation of former PM Serzh Sargsyan, Karapetyan and his Republican Party have agreed to hold a vote in parliament on a new, consensus prime minister next week. The favorite at this point might be opposition politician and protest leader Nikol Pashinyan, who would need to transition from protesting to governing in pretty short order should he get the job.

However, signals from Moscow suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin would prefer someone else from within the ruling Republican Party get the nod based on respecting the results of last year’s parliamentary election. The opposition, along with some international observers, believe that last year’s election results were tainted by fraud, however, and anyway the protesters seem quite insistent that they would prefer somebody from outside the Republican Party take the reins of government. Pashinyan has thus far been scrupulous about not antagonizing Russia, which is Armenia’s closest ally and has a military presence in Armenia already by virtue of its military base there. But part of protesters’ frustration with the Republican Party seems to be its staunchly pro-Russia orientation, so Pashinyan may be forced to walk a pretty fine line.


Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif was disqualified from parliament on Thursday by the Islamabad High Court over an accusation that he failed to disclose that he had once worked for a company in the UAE. This put him in violation of the subjective “honest and righteous” standard that all Pakistani politicians are required to meet to whatever standard the courts set. He could theoretically keep his job as FM despite losing his parliamentary seat, but that remains to be seen.


Speaking of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, on Thursday it said that two Pakistani civilians were killed by cross-border fire from Indian soldiers in Kashmir.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are meeting this week in China in a summit that will hopefully reduce tensions between Asia’s two largest countries who oh by the way are both nuclear states. Relations between the two countries are marred by a border dispute that seems intractable but can at least be managed, as well as by India’s skepticism about Xi’s One Belt One Road initiative and Beijing’s unhappiness that India continues to host the Dalai Lama.


With new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo having actually met Kim Jong-un in person, it’s fair to say that he’ll have primary responsibility over the next few weeks in terms of formulating some kind of understanding of who Kim is and what he’s after. Donald Trump will need that kind of profile before he meets with the inscrutable Kim this summer–assuming the meeting does actually take place. In addition to Pompeo, the administration will bring in pretty much anybody who’s ever had contact with Kim and is willing to talk about it, which is a pretty short list but does include former NBA player Dennis Rodman. Administration officials will then have to distill their information down for Trump, who is of course an idiot and can’t hold much information in his head. They’ll be relying heavily on visual aids in this part of the program, which they’ve apparently already done with respect to North Korea:

Early in his administration, Trump was shown a scale model of North Korea’s sprawling nuclear bomb test site with a removable mountaintop and a miniature Statue of Liberty inside so he could grasp the size of the facility, two U.S. officials said.


A White House official declined comment on the episode.

Really? Why?


Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in began their own summit in Panmunjom at 9:30 Friday morning (local time, obviously). Kim technically crossed the border into South Korea for the meeting, though Panmunjom is within the demilitarized zone that lies between the two Koreas. The Kim-Moon summit has taken on the air of a preliminary before the Kim-Trump main event, though there is potential for them to make significant progress on their own–ending the Korean War, for example. Still, Moon probably will take it upon himself to do some of Trump’s prep work, in particular by trying to pin Kim down on what he really means by “denuclearization.”

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 9.35.50 PM
Kim and Moon getting along, so far (YouTube)



Khalifa Haftar is still alive, apparently. The Libyan (not-so-)strongman returned to Benghazi on Thursday from Paris, where he’d been getting treatment for, well, something. He reportedly looked OK and told a crowd at the airport that he’s “in good health.” It remains to be seen whether this health scare will lead to any lasting internal discord within Haftar’s Libyan National Army.

Brookings fellow Federica Saini Fasanotti makes another case (I’ve seen a few of these lately) for the international community to focus on bolstering Libya’s local governance rather than continuing to waste time and resources trying to build a stable national government:

I’d propose that the cell of Libya’s federalist structure be the municipality. The devolution of powers would give considerable independence to the municipalities, leaving to the federal state the management of national defense related to border security and the coast guard; the distribution of oil revenues (which must be shared to serve Libya—not a particular faction or some national strongman); the treasury; and foreign affairs. Municipalities, for their part, would be responsible for the daily needs of citizens, like providing education; distributing water, electricity, and health care; and establishing security through a local police that is deeply rooted in the territory. One central issue would be needing to change citizens’ expectations around oil rents and paying little or no taxes. Libyans must pay taxes, which could go indirectly to the federal government—via a tax on gasoline or water, as an example—or directly to the municipality, via paying for health services or school tuition.


Local governments, being closer to their constituents, can better satisfy the needs of their own people—and this approach could insert some .


Nigerian authorities say that their forces repulsed an attempted Boko Haram attack in Maiduguri on Thursday evening. No word on casualties yet as far as I can tell.


Al Jazeera reports on the repression of recent protests in Tanzania over new internet laws that threaten to stifle free speech:

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