Asia/Africa update: August 8 2018



A roadside bomb killed eight people in Balkh province on Wednesday. The Taliban is probably to blame. The group also killed eight police officers in an attack on a checkpoint in Herat province.


Perhaps taking their cue from the way the Saudis are dealing with Canada, the Bangladeshi government is demanding that the US embassy retract a statement it made over the weekend criticizing Bangladeshi authorities’ violent crackdown against student protesters in Dhaka. For some reason I don’t think they have the leverage to pull this kind of maneuver off, but we’ll see.

Bangladeshi journalist and activist Shahidul Alam, who was arrested on Sunday in connection with the student protest movement, is saying that he’s been tortured in custody. Alam was taken to the hospital by court order on Wednesday but was later returned to custody. He’s being detained under a law that criminalizes criticism of state authorities. Sounds like a really cool law.


The United Nations said on Wednesday that it’s still waiting for Myanmar to take steps to guarantee the safety of Rohingya refugees and to allow international aid workers access to Rakhine state before it will begin repatriating those refugees from Bangladesh. These are all steps that the Myanmar government has already agreed to take.


Philippine authorities killed two suspected terrorist bomb couriers in North Cotabato province on Wednesday. Both are believed to have been members of the ISIS-friendly Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group. They were carrying an improvised explosive device with a remote detonator attached.


Beijing has responded to new US tariffs on $16 billion worth of Chinese goods with its own new tariffs on $16 billion worth of US goods. The Trump administration is considering further escalations, just in case you were wondering.

The justification for all these US tariffs–that China is “cheating” economically via state support of its companies–may be a fair point. But historian Jake Werner argues that China has had to cheat because the game it’s playing–how to develop a modern economy in the age of globalization–is itself already rigged. He suggests that the solution isn’t protectionism, but an effort to strengthen the rules that govern global trade:

Overcapacity is a real issue, as is the tough competition that China’s planned development of high-tech production may pose for the most dynamic sectors of the U.S. economy. But rather than blocking development in China, a new form of globalization could attack these problems by raising wages and productivity around the world. The nationalist approach tries to limit competition by restricting supply, while the alternative would address overcapacity and limited markets by expanding demand.

But such a solution requires a far deeper rethinking of global growth than politicians on either left or right have contemplated. It requires an end to the race to the bottom: a global regime of labor rights that would distribute the gains from growth more broadly and, at the same time, force corporations to compete by investing in their workers rather than by degrading the conditions of employment. It also requires significant investments in the billions of people currently starved of capital—investments that the free market has refused to make—that would transform those trapped in the slums, the ghettos, and impoverished rural areas into the workers and consumers of tomorrow.


Vox is reporting that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has presented the North Koreans with a denuclearization timeline under which Pyongyang would turn over 60-70 percent of its nuclear arsenal within 6-8 months. And not just once, but over and over again over the past couple of months. They’ve apparently told him to get bent each time, even though Pompeo’s offer is at least closer to the kind of phased denuclearization-reward process the North Koreans have said they want to see. The goal, according to Vox’s Alex Ward, isn’t really to get North Korea on a firm timeframe, but just to get them to admit how many warheads they have. One concern here is that North Korea might simply squirrel away some warheads while claiming to have completely disarmed, and the US would really have no way to tell.



Libya’s $66 billion sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority, has had to give up its office space in Tripoli. Why? Because militias keep threatening and/or abducting its staff. That’s life in the big, war-torn city, I guess.


The UN’s envoy for Western Sahara, former German President Horst Koehler, is apparently going to try to hold talks between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front by the end of the year. By my reckoning it’s been about 10 years since the last serious round of Western Sahara peace talks, so this would be a significant development if it actually happens.


Mali will hold its presidential runoff this Sunday, and so opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé is scrambling to get from the 18 percent he took in the first round (against incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s 41 percent) to over 50 percent. Alex Thurston says that Cissé is working hard to lock down endorsements from major Malian religious leaders in an effort to make up all that ground in a hurry.


The Ethiopian government has turned off the internet in the eastern part of the country in response to renewed violence in its Somali region. There is concern that the violence could spread out to other parts of Ethiopia, like Oromia, which would pose a serious threat to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government. But the decision to clamp down on the internet itself smacks of the kind of heavy-handed policies that Abiy has promised to move beyond.


The recent Ethiopian-Eritrean rapprochement got a somewhat surprising assist from the United Arab Emirates. The UAE, which has long has close relations with Eritrea but is seeing its overall stature in the Horn of Africa diminish in favor of Qatar and Turkey, helped entice Abiy to improve relations with Eritrea with the promise of major financial assistance.


An al-Shabab roadside bomb killed at least five Kenyan soldiers in the country’s northern Lamu county on Wednesday.


Joseph Kabila is…not running for president again. No, really:

Joseph Kabila, who took over the Democratic Republic of Congo at age 29 after the assassination of his father in 2001, announced on Wednesday he would not stand for re-election, raising hopes the country might carry out a peaceful transition of power for the first time in its modern history.

Mr. Kabila had long overstayed his welcome as leader, and for two years, Congolese opposition groups, the African Union, the United States and the United Nations had all urged Mr. Kabila not to defy term limits and seek a third term in voting scheduled for December.

Stunning. Well, maybe. Kabila’s announcement is welcome, but it should be noted that the DRC is two years overdue for an election and there’s no real guarantee it will actually hold the one it’s promised to hold in December. And even if it does, there’s no guarantee that election will be anything resembling free or fair. Kabila did, after all, hand pick the candidate for his ruling coalition, former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and it stands to reason that he would like Shadary to win.


“Hundreds” of activists and opposition leaders have gone into hiding in Zimbabwe to avoid the military crackdown that’s been ongoing since Emmerson Mnangagwa won the July 29 presidential election and challenger Nelson Chamisa cried foul. Chamisa is still promising to challenge the election result in court, so I guess we’ll see how that goes. The crackdown is earning Zimbabwe the kind of international criticism that Mnanagagwa was hoping to avoid by holding an election that the rest of the world would deem free and fair. That’s bad news for Mnangagwa, who wants to attract foreign aid and investment to boost Zimbabwe’s economy but won’t get very far with that plan amid all this political turmoil.

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