Asia/Oceania/Africa update: September 12 2018



The death toll from Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Nangarhar province has shot up to 68 and may climb still higher. Another 165 people were wounded in the blast.


Likely future Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim will reenter parliament in what amounts to an arranged by-election sometime in the next two months. The relatively sprightly 70 year old Anwar, the former and now current heir apparent to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, is expected to succeed the 93 year old Mahathir at some point though there doesn’t seem to be any firm timetable for the handover.


At least nine people were killed Wednesday evening when a driver in Hunan province’s Hengyang city drove into a pedestrian square. There are obviously too many similarities here to other vehicle-meets-pedestrians terrorist attacks around the world to rule that out as a motive, though your guess is as good as mine as to whether Beijing would acknowledge if it were.

With the Trump administration talking about sanctions against Chinese officials over Beijing’s alleged mistreatment of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang province, the Chinese government is imploring Washington to get over its “prejudice” on the issue. You know, that famous Trump administration pro-Muslim prejudice with which we’re all by now so familiar. Seriously, if these guys are thinking about sanctioning you for mistreating Muslims, you’ve gone well around the bend at some point. Beijing insists that all Chinese citizens “fully enjoy freedom of religion in accordance with the law,” and of course “in accordance with the law” is carrying a huge amount of weight there, as James Dorsey notes:

China intends to extend aspects of its crackdown on Islam in the north-western province of Xinjiang to all religions as is evident from the publication of proposed restrictive guidelines for online religious activity.

The guidelines, according to Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times, would ban online religious services from “inciting subversion, opposing the leadership of the Communist Party, overthrowing the socialist system and promoting extremism, terrorism and separatism,” identified as the three evils China say it is combatting in Xinjiang.

The guidelines would also forbid livestreaming or broadcast of religious activity, including praying, burning incense, worshipping or baptism ceremonies in the form of text, photo, audio or video.



Speaking of by-elections, Australia’s governing coalition is facing one in former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s seat. Turnbull resigned from parliament when he was ousted as PM last month. It’s just one seat, so who cares, except that the coalition only had a one-seat majority in parliament when Turnbull resigned and is currently a minority government. If it loses Turnbull’s seat in the election–and there’s a fair chance it might–then it will be a minority government until the next general election, which is not where new PM Scott Morrison wants to be. And polling shows that if Morrison called for a new election right now, he and his pals would be thoroughly pulverized.



The Libyan government had to close Tripoli’s airport again on Tuesday night after multiple rockets were fired in its vicinity. It’s not clear if the rocket fire represented a total breakdown in the ceasefire the UN negotiated last week between feuding militias in the Libyan capital, or if the ceasefire could somehow still be resuscitated.

It’s hard to believe, under these conditions, that Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Seraj doesn’t think the time is right for a new national election. But that’s what he was quoted as saying by Italian media on Wednesday. European leaders, Emmanuel Macron in particular, have been pushing hard for an election by the end of the year to either fix or at least paper over Libya’s many divisions. But Seraj said that ongoing instability and the failure of Libya’s warring factions to agree on a new constitution made it impossible to hold a vote. One could speculate that the Italians, who historically see Libya as their colony and seem to have resented Macron taking the lead on this whole election thing, were thrilled to get Seraj on the record criticizing the idea.


Senior figures in the Algerian security establishment are getting sacked and nobody seems to know why. This is out of the ordinary in a country that is, more or less, run by the military, and Algerian state media being what it is, they’re of little help in trying to figure out what’s happening. Some sort of internal corruption scandal is possible, as is some jockeying for power ahead of next year’s election. Algeria’s ruling clique hasn’t decided whether to run somebody to replace 81 year old stroke victim Abdelaziz Bouteflika as president or try to Weekend at Bernie’s him for another five years. Next year, by the way, will be year 20 of Bouteflika’s constitutionally limited 10 years in office.


Journalist Philip Kleinfeld looks at the ethnic conflicts that are exacerbating–and being exacerbated by–jihadist violence in central Mali:

Analysts say the conflict has been triggered by the increasing presence of jihadists linked to al-Qaeda in central Mali. They have recruited heavily among Fulani herders, fuelling distrust with other ethnic groups, including the Dogon, some of whom have organised into abusive new self-defence militias.

“Both sides are killing each other,” said Fatou Thiam, head of the Mopti office of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.

The conflict underscores Mali’s struggle to restore order three years after a peace deal was signed between the government and armed groups in the north, including separatist Tuareg rebels, who seized large parts of the country following a 2012 military coup in the capital, Bamako.

Islamist militants, who joined forces with the separatists before a French-led intervention pushed them back, have gradually expanded their sphere of influence from the desert north into Mali’s previously peaceful centre.


Burkinabé authorities are trying to figure out who’s behind an increasing number of terrorist incidents in the hitherto relatively quiet eastern part of the country:

On September 5, a group of Burkinabé soldiers were travelling to defuse mines laid by jihadist groups when, in the eastern town of Kabonga, they were hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). Two were killed and six were injured, while the perpetrators of the attack have not been identified.

This was the third deadly IED attack in a month in eastern Burkina Faso.

“This is by no means a new phenomenon,” said Sidi Kounté, a sociologist specialising in jihadism in the Sahel. “But, since February, these attacks have become more and more frequent – daily even,” he told FRANCE 24.

Al-Qaeda’s Mali branch, Nusrat al-Islam, could be extending its reach into eastern Burkina Faso. But the area is far enough removed both from Mali and the Mali-Niger border region where ISIS-Greater Sahara typically operates that the advent of yet another militant group can’t be ruled out.


South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leaders on Wednesday signed an agreement that will hopefully mark an end to the country’s seven year-long civil war. Main rebel leader Riek Machar agreed to sign the deal under the condition that a power-sharing agreement would be followed under which, among other things, Machar will return to his former post as vice president. The two men signed the accord at a regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development meeting in Ethiopia. IGAD has assumed the role of broker in this negotiation and will presumably be responsible for ensuring that the agreement is implemented.


Zimbabwean authorities have had to institute a ban on public gatherings due to a cholera outbreak in Harare. At least 21 people have already died as a result of the disease. Coincidentally, one presumes, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was supposed to hold a mock “inauguration” on Saturday to reiterate that he believes he, and not incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa, was the real winner of July’s presidential election.

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