World update: October 30 2018



Central Asia analyst Natalie Hall considers who might eventually succeed 78 year old Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev:

Kazakhstan’s power structure, like many post-Soviet states, is pyramidic in nature. From his seat of power at the top, a series of patronage networks flows down the ranks of government, distributing money, favors, and power to those who have the right connections. If Nazarbayev were to suddenly be removed from the top seat, it is unclear what would happen next and who would take over. Transitions in countries with systems like Kazakhstan are complicated. Not only do they pose a threat to those tied to the top players, but they don’t necessarily follow the predictable rules and procedures of a democratic transition elsewhere. This opacity raises the specter of dramatic regime change, destabilizing confusion, and possibly violent power struggles; it also motivates those near the top of the current power pyramid to manage the process carefully to ensure their own survival. For that reason, it’s most likely that Nazarbayev’s political heir will be someone close to the current apex of the pyramid, with many of the same networks, who won’t be too keen on radical change. There are a few likely candidates who fit in that mold.

Nazarbayev has promised to devolve more power to parliament before he shuffles off into either retirement or death, so whoever succeeds him may be inheriting a considerably different office. Some of this depends on whether Nazarbayev decides to run again in 2020–so far he hasn’t committed either way.


The Intercept’s May Jeong looks at what the death of Afghan warlord Abdul Raziq–and his relationship with the US–says about the Afghan war:

Raziq was a classic product of America’s failed policy in Afghanistan, wherein personalities have been propped up over — and sometimes at the expense of — institutions. Of the $557 billion America spent in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2011, just 5.4 percent went toward governance. Most of the money was spent on security, which enriched men like Raziq.

Instead of building up the Afghan state, the U.S. and its NATO allies supported local strongmen like Raziq, providing short-term security at the cost of meaningful state-building. By financing and encouraging extralegal militias, NATO undermined the very government institutions it sought to strengthen. By bypassing law enforcement and running operations with private militias, the U.S. Special Forces created a culture of impunity, in which corruption and the drug trade flourished. Raziq and his militia were seen as a means of winning against the insurgents, and the existence of men like him was framed as a necessary evil, even as torture and extrajudicial killings went unchecked.


Maoist Naxalite rebels ambushed a police convoy in India’s Chhattisgarh state on Tuesday, killing two police officers and a journalist accompanying them.


Over 10,000 supporters of ousted (?) Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe protested in Colombo on Tuesday. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena canned Wickremesinghe on Friday and replaced him with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, ostensibly over an assassination plot that involved Wickremesinghe or someone in his cabinet. Sirisena’s move was probably unconstitutional and was compounded by his decision over the weekend to suspend parliament so that it couldn’t vote to reinstate Wickremesinghe.


The Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments have reportedly agreed to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees next month. The United Nations insists that conditions in Myanmar are still not safe for the Rohingya to return, and many Rohingya themselves say they will not return without legal protections, like citizenship, that the Myanmar government seems unlikely to offer.


The Chinese economy shows signs that Donald Trump’s trade war is having a major impact:

The Chinese economy has revealed fresh signs of struggling to cope with the pressure of a trade war with the US and a wider slowdown at home as manufacturing activity fell and the yuan was fixed at a new 10-year low to the dollar.

China’s manufacturing sector barely expanded in October as both domestic and external demand ebbed, according to a closely watched metric released on Wednesday.

The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to 50.2 in October, the lowest since July 2016 and down from 50.8 in September. A figure below 50 represents a contraction. New export orders, an indicator of future activity, contracted for a fifth straight month and at the fastest pace in at least a year.


The South Korean government claims that North Korea is getting ready to allow international inspectors in to its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Pyongyang says that it has dismantled the site, but it has not allowed inspections at the site as it has done at its dismantled missile testing sites.



Tunisian authorities say that Monday’s suicide bombing in Tunis appears to have been “an isolated act.” The bomber, an unemployed young woman from the country’s Mahdia region, was “manipulated” into conducting the attack, according to her family. Authorities are looking for accomplices, but both the bomber, who was not on any sort of watch list, and the bomb, which seems to have been pretty crude, suggest that there’s no wider plot involved here.


Mauritania is about to get itself a new prime minister for the first time in a while:

In Mauritania, following the recent legislative (and regional and municipal) elections in September, there has now been a change in prime minister. On 29 October, Yahya Ould Hademine (in office since August 2014) offered his resignation, which was accepted. The new nominee is Mohamed Salem Ould Bechir, who has held multiple senior government appointments, including head of the Department of Water and Sanitation (September 2013-January 2015), Minister of Petroleum, Energy, and Mines (January 2015-August 2016), and CEO of the Société nationale industrielle et minière (National Industrial and Mining Firm, SNIM, from August 2016-present). You can find a brief, official biography of him at the SNIM website, and longer journalistic biographies of him here and here.


The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Nigeria’s largest Shiʿa organization) says that the Nigerian military killed 27 of its members during Arbaeen processions in Abuja–six on Monday and 21 in what could fairly be described as a massacre on Monday. Reuters says that the Nigerians killed 24 IMN members on Monday and another on Tuesday. Nigerian officials insist their forces only killed six people and that the IMN members attacked them first. The Arbaeen processions were coupled with a call for the release of IMN leader Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been in government custody since 2015.


Rebel leader and would-be vice president Riek Machar says he will finally return to Juba on Wednesday to participate in a ceremony to mark the new peace agreement that he signed with President Salva Kiir back in August. Machar was supposed to return to South Sudan weeks ago, and his failure to do so has been taken as a sign by many observers that the peace deal is already falling apart.


Mukhtar Robow, the former second in command of al-Shabab who defected to the government last year, is running for the presidency of Somalia’s southwest region. Obviously there are serious concerns about someone with Robow’s background standing for office, to say nothing of the fairly decent chance he has of actually winning. The situation has raised a number of important questions about the Somali government’s capacity to manage affairs and its failure to put systems in place for dealing with former al-Shabab fighters.


A US missionary was murdered in the city of Bamenda on Tuesday, possibly in a targeted attack. Some Cameroonian media outlets have apparently reported that he was killed by government forces but that’s unconfirmed. Bamenda is the capital of Cameroon’s anglophone Northwest Region and has therefore been at the center of separatist violence in that part of the country.



Angela Merkel’s eventual departure from the political scene isn’t just a major development for Germany, it’s a potential turning point for the European Union, which counts Merkel as one of its most consistent champions. Already talk has turned to the question of who might succeed her in that role. French President Emmanuel Macron is one possibility, but nobody even likes him in France, let alone anywhere else, and is probably too much of an integrationist for the current moment. Her absence could leave Euroskeptic leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán ascendent within the EU.


The overall Eurozone economy slowed down in the third quarter of 2018, and a flatlined Italian economy provides most of the explanation. Of course the weakness of the Italian economy makes a good argument for its relatively high deficit target for 2019, and yet Brussels has ordered Rome to cut that target back to more austere levels.



Jair Bolsonaro isn’t a fascist. Just ask him. In fact, he’s pretty sure that you’re the fascist:

Brazil’s far-right president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, has reaffirmed his defense of his country’s brutal 21-year dictatorship and rejected claims that he is a fascist, instead painting himself as a Churchillian patriot determined to lead his crisis-stricken country “out of this quagmire”.

In one of his first television interviews since being elected on Sunday with nearly 58 million votes, the former paratrooper, who is notorious for his inflammatory rhetoric, did little to suggest he would temper his discourse after taking power on 1 January.

Bolsonaro told TV Band, one of Brazil’s major channels, it was his leftwing detractors who were fascists, not him.

“They always accuse others of being what they are themselves,” he said. “It’s these leftwing people, who always put themselves above the rest, who are fascists.”


Some 7000 Venezuelan refugees are stuck at the Ecuador-Peru border, with the Peruvian government planning to shut down its temporary residence permit program for Venezuelan migrants on Wednesday. Peru says it has taken in roughly 500,000 Venezuelans and they are beginning to overtax the country’s ability to provide services.


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