Asia/Oceania/Africa update: July 18-19 2018



Georgia is run as a fiefdom by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who served one term as the country’s prime minister in 2012-2013 but prefers to operate behind the scenes to remain as unaccountable as possible. Earlier this year he stepped back into the spotlight a bit, returning to his previous post as head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, but he still prefers to govern via proxies who can serve to take the blame for him when things don’t go well. He’s now interviewing presidential candidates for their pliability, and some Georgians are suggesting that he should run for the office himself to drop the charade. Current President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who was himself once handpicked by Ivanishvili but has been too independent for the mogul, may run again as well and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Bidzina Ivanishvili (Wikimedia)


Armenian citizens in the village of Panik were given a lovely surprise on Tuesday when Russian soldiers from their base in Gyumri rolled through conducting an unannounced military exercise. Given recent political tensions that have seen Armenia’s pro-Russia prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, ousted, the villagers were presumably not too thrilled to see Russian soldiers in the streets with no warning. A deputy commander at the Gyumri base has apologized and promised to investigate what happened.


At least 14 civilians were killed on Thursday by an airstrike during an Afghan government operation in Kunduz province. It’s unclear if they were killed by an Afghan or US strike. But good news! Even though the US military is about to undertake a comprehensive strategy review with respect to Afghanistan, it doesn’t expect to change its strategy there as a result. Why mess with perfection, am I right? And anyway, the best analyses always start with the conclusion and work back from there.

Security analyst Mushtaq Rahim says that the Afghan government’s arrest of Nizamuddin Qaisari earlier this month was the first step in a larger campaign by President Ashraf Ghani to target the country’s many unaccountable warlords. But, he argues, that campaign isn’t going to be easy:

However, despite support from the general public, action against the warlords will not be without serious challenges to the Ghani administration. Many of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces are under the influence of one or more warlords, and each enjoys the blessings of some of the political elite; some so powerful that even an intrepid Ashraf Ghani will think twice before confronting them. The warlords benefit from political support and reciprocate by helping former guerrilla commanders sustain their local political base so that they preserve their relevance in national politics.

Conflict-ridden Afghanistan has been fragmented by ethnocentric politics. Political parties and politicians have aligned their agendas on ethnic lines, promoting themselves as custodians of their ethnic groups. Hence, every government reform agenda has faced opposition under the pretext of ethnic targeting fueling unease among the masses. The crackdown against warlords has already been projected by a number of leading figures as actions motivated by ethnic lines.


Indian security forces say they killed eight Maoist insurgents in fighting early Thursday in Chhattisgarh state.


A new report from a non-profit called Fortify Rights says that Myanmar security officials carefully planned last year’s attacks against the Rohingya weeks in advance and with “genocidal intent.” The report counters Myanmar propaganda that its forces were just acting in response to provocations from radicalized Rohingya and suggests that the International Criminal Court should get involved in the case.


Exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy called on Thursday for voters to boycott the country’s “fake” election on July 29. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government criminalized Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party last year in an effort to ensure that Hun Sen’s 33 year reign wouldn’t be challenged in this year’s election. A low turnout would be embarrassing for Hun Sen.


Rodrigo Duterte, who has remained popular in the Philippines even though he’s responsible for mass murder as part of his extrajudicial war on drug users, is now in hot water because he called God stupid. No, really. Duterte’s net approval rating has since dropped to 45 points, still high but a low for his presidency to date. Of more secular importance, Manila might be about to run afoul of US sanctions if it goes forward with the purchase of small arms from a Russian firm under US interdiction over Crimea. That won’t be good for US-Philippines relations.


A new report from Columbia University’s David Sandalow finds that, while China is on target to meet its target of reaching peak fossil fuel use by 2030, its use of fossil fuels is increasing so rapidly that its peak may be unsustainable for the planet:

China has wide-ranging climate policies, enshrined in the national Five-Year Plans and in blueprints at provincial and local levels. As a result, the report says, it is on its way to meeting major climate change goals, including lowering a measure known as carbon intensity, having carbon dioxide emissions reach a peak no later than 2030 and having a fifth of energy come from non-fossil-fuel sources by that year.

At the same time, the report says, if China’s carbon emissions continue at the current pace, nations will find it harder to meet important climate change policy goals — most notably limiting the average global temperature increase to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels.


Kim Jong-un has apparently been publicly berating officials in his government for failing to do more to spur economic development. It’s mostly for show, as Kim tries to make improving the economy the focus of his reign rather than his nuclear weapons program. He’s trying to distance himself from the country’s poor economy at home and to show the world that he’s just trying to be a good leader and not provoke any trouble.

With North Korea’s denuclearization process going nowhere, Donald Trump has decided there’s “no time limit” on the process. This is the same man who said he expected North Korea to begin denuclearizing “very quickly” after his summit last month with Kim. But I want to suggest that, while yet another sign that Donald Trump is a lying sack of shit, this is also a good thing. If Trump is being flexible about how long this process takes, he’s less likely to revert back to angry tweets and public statements about “raining hellfire” down on Kim’s head or whatever. And that’s good news for everybody.



The French territory of New Caledonia is scheduled to hold a referendum on independence on November 4. Polling suggests that “no” is likely to win a slim victory, but the island is already planning two more referendums, in 2020 and 2023, so hopefully that will tamp down any risk of post-referendum violence.



At LobeLog, Giorgio Cafiero relates an interview he conducted with an ex-ISIS fighter from North Africa who is now in a Turkish prison:

During May and June 2018, I met an incarcerated ex-fighter for the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) from North Africa in a Turkish “deportation center.” He had fought in major battles in Syria and Iraq beginning in 2014. This former member of IS, whom I will call Milad, came from a Maghrebi country that I agreed not to specify. Yet this article will relay his story as he told me. It is for the reader to judge whether the information that he provided was truthful.

It’s a fascinating look at someone who claims, at least, to have soured on ISIS and eventually escaped, preferring Turkish custody to remaining in the group. Of course, it may be that he was fleeing a lost cause and probable death rather than ISIS’s ideology. And in a way it’s those unknowns that make returning foreign fighters such a massive challenge for North African and European governments.


Analyst Jason Pack says that Khalifa Haftar’s surprising decision to return control of Libya’s oil ports to the National Oil Corporation in return for nothing, apart from the Government of National Accord’s agreement to an international audit of Libya’s oil finances, could be attributable to any of several reasons:

So why the backtrack? The agreement by the Government of National Accord regarding the international audit suggests that behind the scenes there might be a gradual willingness to strike some kind of transparent revenue-sharing agreement. Hifter’s concession could be seen as a reciprocal gesture of goodwill to help it be promptly facilitated. Indeed, time has also been a crucial factor and although there was initially some public enthusiasm for Hifter’s move, support began to quickly diminish after people realized that the negotiation of Hifter’s demands would likely be drawn out and have a prolonged negative impact on fuel and power supplies, as well as on the costs of basic household goods. Furthermore, amid the significant pressure, condemnation and threat of sanctions by the international community, it has also been reported that only the United Arab Emirates (i.e., not Egypt or Russia) had promised to back Hifter’s supposed plan to export crude through the illegitimate Benghazi-National Oil Corporation. Even the UAE backtracked on this promise, effectively forcing Hifter to do the same — if he ever had any concrete intention of pursuing such a risky strategy.


Burkinabe security forces say they’ve captured around 60 “extremists” in operations this month along the country’s borders with Mali and Niger. It’s unclear if these alleged extremists have links with ISIS or al-Qaeda affiliates in the Sahel.


After Saturday’s Boko Haram attack on Nigerian forces in Borno state, in which several Nigerian troops went missing, the group carried out another attack that evening in Yobe state in which dozens of Nigerian soldiers may have been killed. The group “overran” a military base in the village of Jilli, though the Nigerian military says its forces were able to regroup and repel the assault. So far 31 soldiers are known to have been killed but hundreds were missing in the immediate aftermath of the battle and while most have returned there could still be more dead. Both attacks are believed to have been carried out by the “Islamic State: West Africa Province” branch of Boko Haram, led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi.


The Ethiopian-Eritrean rapprochement is continuing. On Thursday Eritrea withdrew its forces from the Ethiopian border, while Ethiopia appointed its first ambassador to Eritea since the two countries last went to war in 1998.


Rwandan authorities are denying that a handful recent violent incidents near the country’s southern border with Burundi have been caused by a rebel group looking to overthrow Paul Kagame. The Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, made up largely of former Kagame allies, issued a statement earlier this week saying that it had begun a revolt and had been fighting the Rwandan army in the south for over a month. The government’s claim that the MRDC is lying are themselves belied at least somewhat by reports from residents in southern Rwanda that say the government is moving heavy weaponry and extra soldiers into the area.


A new Human Rights Watch report blames anglophone separatists and government forces for committing human rights violations in Cameroon’s anglophone region:

Based on research in the region, satellite imagery analysis and video analysis, the 59-page report “‘These Killings Can Be Stopped’: Government and Separatist Groups Abuses in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions” found that both government forces and armed separatists have abused civilians in the western part of the country, displacing over 180,000 people since December 2017. Anglophone separatists have extorted, kidnapped and killed civilians, and prevented children from going to school. In response to protests and violence by armed separatists, government forces have killed civilians, used excessive force against demonstrators, tortured and mistreated suspected separatists and detainees, and burned hundreds of homes in several villages.

“The human rights situation in Cameroon has reached crisis level and could still get much worse,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “International action is needed to ensure that both sides protect civilians and ensure justice for crimes against them.”


DRC President Joseph Kabila says that the country is on target to hold a presidential election in December. He is, however, still refusing to say whether or not he plans on being a candidate in that election. Under the DRC constitution Kabila would be barred from standing for a third term in office, but Kabila could try to find a way around that. The DRC parliament on Wednesday passed a law offering increased financial compensation to former presidents, which is being widely interpreted as an attempt to persuade Kabila to go quietly.


Despite all the political turmoil in which Zimbabwe has been embroiled since Robert Mugabe was ousted last year, the country’s July 30 election still looks like it will come down–if the ruling ZANU-PF party allows it to be a free and fair election, of course–to the economy. That may not be great news for President Emmerson Mnangagwa:

Zimbabweans seem less interested in the political intrigue than in high unemployment and persistent inequality. Once one of southern Africa’s wealthiest economies, Zimbabwe experienced a severe deterioration in industry and agriculture during the 1990s. As Mr. Mugabe moved to seize land concentrated in the hands of the white minority that once controlled the former British colony, investors pulled out their money, leading to currency devaluation and soaring inflation. The country is crippled by debt.

“Mnangagwa doesn’t represent the interests of the black majority here,” said Stanley Hungwe, 32, who studied sociology at the University of Zimbabwe and is one of many jobless college graduates. “Look at how he has projected himself as a darling of the Western countries whose interests he represents, instead of our own interests.”

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