Asia/Africa update: December 17 2018



Taliban representatives met with negotiators from the US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in the UAE on Monday. Which was nice. But they refused to meet with representatives of the Afghan government. Which was not so nice. These negotiations between the Taliban and the US are a welcome development, and the fact that Pakistan is involved, since it apparently retains considerable influence over the Afghan Taliban, is particularly important. But it’s hard to see how things can progress very far when the Taliban won’t even acknowledge the current Afghan government, let alone deal with it.

That Afghan government, by the way, is planning to hold elections on April 20. There have been international calls, including muted ones from the US, for that vote to be postponed and the Afghan government replaced with a national unity construction in order to facilitate peace talks, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani clearly has no interest in that scenario.


Indian security forces in Kashmir have reportedly begun arresting separatist political leaders and shutting down major roads in and around Srinagar in an effort to stifle protest. Indian soldiers killed seven Kashmiri civilians over the weekend when they fired into a crowd of people who’d gathered to protest an earlier battle in which three Kashmiri rebels were killed.


The Indian government is bequeathing $1.4 billion to the Maldives to help the archipelago nation extricate itself from its sizable Chinese debt. The Maldives ran that debt up as part of its involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative under former President Abdulla Yameen, who was a close Chinese ally. New President Mohamed Ibrahim Solih leans more toward India, but he’s nevertheless been saddled with debt in the $1.5 billion to $3 billion range. So this money will help alleviate that debt and help open some daylight between the Maldives and China, which is definitely in India’s interest.

I just want to add here that if India needs new friends…I mean, I don’t control any strategic Indian Ocean islands, but my rates are also considerably more affordable than this. Email me.


Here’s something that is definitely going to go down well in Pyongyang:

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution Monday condemning the “systematic, widespread and gross” human rights violations in North Korea.

The non-binding resolution, which was passed by consensus without a vote, welcomes diplomatic efforts to end the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

But it emphasizes that members are “deeply concerned at the grave human rights situation, the pervasive culture of impunity and the lack of accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

It also denounces the use of torture as well as “inhumane conditions of detention, rape, public executions, extrajudicial and arbitrary detention” and “the existence of an extensive system of political prison camps.”

North Korea is already warning that its “denuclearization” talks with the US could be threatened if Washington continues to impose human rights sanctions. This embarrassment could add to those tensions.



Scholars Michael Farquhar and Alex Thurston look at the religious interchange between Saudi Arabia and Mauritania:

When considering Saudi Arabia’s religious soft power, the West African nation of Mauritania offers an important case study. Mauritania, with somewhere between three and four million people, has nowhere near the “religious market” that Saudi Arabian religious institutions and actors find in populous countries such as Indonesia and Nigeria. Yet Mauritania’s deep-rooted culture of Islamic scholarship makes it an attractive, if not exactly malleable, partner country.

That same scholarly culture has meant that Mauritania has much to offer Saudi Arabia—making Mauritania not just a recipient of Saudi Arabian outreach, but also a contributor to Saudi Arabia’s own religious development. This understanding complements other analyses of Saudi Arabia as an importer (and not just exporter) of religious influences; it also challenges portrayals of Saudi Arabia as a hegemonic Muslim power able to shape “peripheral” countries’ Islam in whatever direction pleases the kingdom’s elites.


French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters in Paris on Monday that his government is prepared to offer more military aid to help Burkina Faso combat a rising tide of extremist violence, but that it will not be sending any more French combat soldiers to the West African nation. Macron, who did a press conference with Burkinabe President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, didn’t rule out sending military “advisers,” or “trainers,” although I’m sure there’s no way any of those guys might find their way into combat.


The Nigerian military has been arguing that its apparent massacre of dozens of Shiʿa protesters in Abuja in late October was not a massacre (only six people killed in this version of events) and was in fact an act of self-defense after the protesters attacked soldiers. Video evidence shows otherwise:

The military said it had killed three people who were blocking the road and trying to steal military equipment, and then another three at the Oct. 29 march who were throwing fuel bottles and large rocks at soldiers.Mourners gathered before the burial of slain marchers. The unraveling security situation has rattled citizens across the country.

But the video from the march clearly contradicts those claims. The melee began that day as more than 1,000 marchers approached a military checkpoint. Soldiers arrived to block off the road. An armored vehicle with high-caliber weapons patrolled the highway. After soldiers began to fire, they targeted protesters fleeing the chaos. Many of the injured were shot in the back or legs.

Brig. Gen. John Agim, the spokesman for the Nigerian military, said soldiers had abused no one during the recent marches. He said he had not seen video of the events but was certain that whatever existed had been manipulated to make Nigerian soldiers look bad, calling it “stage managed.”

Ah, of course it was. I can’t believe I almost fell for it.


US Africa Command announced on Monday that it carried out six airstrikes in Somalia over the weekend, killing at least 60 al-Shabab fighters. That means the US has conducted 40 airstrikes in Somalia this year, up from 35 all of last year. As it always does, Africa Command reported that zero civilians were killed in its strikes, and you can take that to the bank because the United States never lies about civilian casualties.


People in the border region between Nigeria and Cameroon see in Boko Haram echoes of a notorious early 20th century slave trading operation:

The Mandara Mountains, on the border between Nigeria and northern Cameroon, are among the regions that have most suffered from attacks by Boko Haram. However, for the inhabitants of this area, this situation is not new; they instantly recognize in the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, another dreaded enemy from the past—Hamman Yaji. Yaji was an early 20th-century Fulani chief and slave trader in the same areas of northern Cameroon and north-eastern Nigeria where Boko Haram operates today. For twenty years, he raided throughout the area, capturing slaves and killing those who resisted him.

Today, non-Muslims living along the border between Cameroon and Nigeria refer to Boko Haram as hamaji, a term derived from their memory of Yaji’s depredations. We will not detail here the story of Boko Haram, which has been the subject of many publications. Rather, we seek to understand why people today refer to Boko Haram in terms reminiscent of the period of slavery: why do they use the term hamaji to describe Boko Haram, and why do they compare Shekau to Yaji?


Madagascar’s voters will head to the polls on Wednesday for their presidential runoff, in which former presidents Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana will square off with another term at stake. Rajoelina won the first round last month by four points, so he could probably be considered a narrow favorite, but not a prohibitive one. Voters will have a stark choice to make on at least one front: age. Rajoelina is 44 while Ravalomanana is 69.

Rajoelina (left) and Ravalomanana

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