World update: September 14 2018



It was another violent night across Afghanistan as at least 37 people were killed in a series of Taliban attacks. One incident, in Farah province, left at least 29 police officers dead, while another in Samangan province saw at least six security officers killed. At least two civilians were reportedly killed by the Taliban in Maidan Wardak province.


A roadside bomb outside of Quetta killed three Pakistani security officers on Friday. So far there’s been no claim of responsibility.


The United States on Friday called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss North Korean sanctions busting. The Trump administration is upset because it believes Russian officials strong armed the UN into covering up evidence of illicit Russian activity in its latest report on the subject, so you can expect to see some fun back and forth between diplomats from the US and Russia in the session.


The Japanese government is hinting that it may withdraw from the International Whaling Commission due to the IWC’s refusal to allow Japanese whalers to take down all the whales they want. During its recent conference in Brazil the IWC not only voted down Japan’s request to reinstitute commercial whaling but also took the (non-binding, of course) position that Japan’s “scientific” whale hunting, which for all intents and purposes is relabeled commercial hunting, has very little or possibly nothing to do with science. The Australian government is encouraging Japan to stick with the IWC and maybe cut the whales a break.



While Australian officials are urging better treatment for whales, they’re taking heat from the UN for treating human beings pretty shabbily. The UN’s working group on arbitrary detention highlighted three cases wherein it says Australian has unlawfully imprisoned migrants/asylum seekers. And while it would be unfair to say that the UN singled out Australia in a report in which it criticized multiple countries, including the US, new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has already been vocal with her concerns about Australia’s offshore migrant detention policy, which pays small Pacific Island nations to hold would-be migrants to Australia indefinitely, in the hopes that they’ll give up and return home.



Alex Thurston has some thoughts on Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s second-term cabinet:

There is a great deal of continuity in this cabinet. Only twelve people left the cabinet altogether. Some prominent ministers have been retained, such as Salif Traoré (see a bit of biographical data here) as Minister of Security and Mohamed ag Erlaf as Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (who took a bit of heat during the elections, one should add). Another retention is Nina Wallet Intalou, Minister of Crafts and Tourism and someone associated with the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a rebel movement that played a central role in the 2012 rebellion and its aftermath. Yet another retention is Tierno Amadou Diallo, Minister of Religious Affairs, who (if I am correct) has been one of the few ministers to survive all the cabinet reshuffles since 2013.


Big news: somebody involved at some level with some faction of Boko Haram may have been killed by somebody about three weeks ago. After that it gets a little hazy.

Mamman Nur is a senior figure with ISIS-West Africa, the Boko Haram faction that broke with Abubakar Shekau’s part of the organization back in 2016. Some analysts believe that Nur is, or I guess was, the de facto leader of that faction, with designated boss Abu Musab al-Barnawi a mere figurehead chosen because he’s the son of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf. Those who claim that Nur departed this world on August 21 say he was killed by his own people related to a dispute over what to do with a group of school girls the organization kidnapped from the town of Dapchi earlier this year and later released. Then again, he may not have been killed–these kinds of reports are notoriously unreliable and difficult to confirm.


UN Secretary-General António Guterres will officiate the signing of a peace treaty between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Saudi city of Jeddah this weekend. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki already signed a peace deal in July but this one will formally end the 20 years of hostility between the two countries dating back to their 1998 border war.



Today in news from the 17th century, the Russian Orthodox Church suspended its ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (yeah, I know, Istanbul–take it up with the church, not me) on account of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s discussions with leaders from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is all tied up in byzantine (sorry!) matters of church governance, but the Ukrainian church is administered via both the Kiev Patriarchate, which was formed in 1992, and the Moscow Patriarchate. Ukrainian leaders would like the Moscow Patriarchate to butt out but the Moscow Patriarchate has a lot of followers in Ukraine and refuses to give them up. The Ecumenical Patriarch doesn’t really have the authority to sort this out–he’s not analogous to the Pope for Catholics in terms of actual power over the church–but he does have a lot of influence and if he were to come out openly in favor of Kiev that wouldn’t be great for Moscow.

Anyway, when these people are finally ready to give this stuff up and embrace the worship of Ahura Mazda, let me know. Otherwise I fail to see the difference.


The Hungarian government says it plans to take legal action against the European Parliament for voting on Wednesday to seek sanctions against Viktor Orbán’s government on account of its corruption and flagrant anti-democratic and anti-civil rights actions. I don’t know what kind of legal remedies the Hungarians wills seek, but if it’s the kind of case where the EU can use the truth as a legitimate defense, then I have some bad news for Orbán:

Over the course of his eight years in power, Prime Minister Orbán has chipped away at the foundations of Hungarian democracy. It has been replaced with an authoritarian regime that wields a cynical interpretation of the law as a weapon; the country is governed by rules like the border journalism permits, regulations that can seem reasonable on their face but actually serve to undermine essential democratic freedoms.

Elections there are free, in the sense that the vote counts aren’t nakedly rigged. But they are unfair: The government controls the airwaves and media companies to such a degree that the opposition can’t get a fair hearing. Orbán’s party, Fidesz, stands up bogus opposition parties during parliamentary elections as a means of dividing the anti-Fidesz vote. In April 2018, Fidesz won the national elections, cementing Orbán’s hold on power; international monitors concluded that the opposition never really had a fair chance.

Hungary’s civil society looks free and vibrant on paper, but a patchwork of nonsensical regulations makes it nearly impossible for pro-democracy organizations to do their work. The economy seems to be growing, but a significant number of corporations are controlled by Orbán’s cronies.


A man in the French city of Nîmes drove his car into pedestrians early Friday morning, injuring two people, and was then arrested. At this point his motive is unknown but there is some anecdotal evidence that he may have had jihadi inclinations.



New polling shows a small gain for right-wing frontrunner and recent stabbing victim Jair Bolsonaro ahead of next month’s election, who saw his support tick up to 26 percent from 24 percent in the same poll last month. However, the big mover in the poll was new Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad, who moved up four points to 13 percent presumably due to supporters of previous Workers’ Party candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva shifting over to his column. Haddad could be on track to face Bolsonaro in a runoff, which polling now shows as a dead heat. However, Bolsonaro’s negatives are much higher than Haddad’s, suggesting that his ceiling for support is lower and that Haddad could be considered the favorite to win a head-to-head contest.


Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro visited China on Friday and signed several new deals giving China a greater stake in the Venezuelan energy sector. However, if he was planning to come away with new Chinese loan agreements to help refill Venezuela’s treasury and stabilize its economy, he must have been disappointed in the outcome. There’s no indication that Chinese officials offered to float new credit to Caracas, presumably over concerns that the Venezuelans won’t be able to pay any new loans back.


This all seems like it’s heading toward a good place:

Flanked by high-ranking military and police officers, Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales declared that the country’s fight against corruption and impunity was over.

In a scene evocative of the country’s repressive military history, he claimed that the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig) – a body established by the United Nations in 2007 to help dismantle powerful criminal networks – had in fact encouraged corruption, selectively pursued criminal cases based on ideological bias and sown “judicial terror”.

Morales presented no evidence, but declared he would not renew the commission’s mandate, which runs out next September.

Meanwhile, a convoy of US-donated military jeeps encircled the Cicig headquarters where corruption cases against Morales, his family and scores of his political patrons are being investigated.

The Trump administration–which, to be fair, would look pretty silly suddenly pretending to care about corruption–is mostly staying out of this, and some US Republicans are even alleging that CICIG is a Russian front or some other ridiculousness, which may have Morales feeling confident. But polling indicates that somewhere around 65 percent of Guatemalans don’t approve of what Morales is doing, and Guatemala’s courts may rule against some of Morales’s moves–which would precipitate a serious crisis of governance. Guatemala’s legislature is looking seriously at trying to weaken the courts’ authority to intervene, probably because, according to this Guardian piece, “more than one in five lawmakers is under criminal investigation” (emphasis mine).


The incoming Mexican government of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has reportedly told the Trump administration that it will not accept payments from the US in return for deporting migrants before they can reach the US border. Enrique Peña Nieto’s government says it’s still “evaluating” a proposal from Washington to earmark $20 million to bribe hire Mexico as Donald Trump’s bouncer, but if AMLO’s government isn’t going to go through with the policy it’s unclear what there is to evaluate.


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