Asia/Africa update: January 12-13 2019



The Taliban killed at least five Afghan police officers in an attack on a checkpoint in Kandahar province on Saturday. In Herat province, a suspected Taliban attack on a police station left at least five more people dead.

The New York Times reports on one of the many problems facing the Afghan government if its war against the Taliban ever ends: what to do with former child soldiers who claim to have been forced or indoctrinated to fight for the Taliban but may well have been willing recruits and could post a threat if released:

The boys in what Badam Bagh officials call the suicide bombers wing ranged in age from 12 to 17. Their cases were in various stages; some had been convicted and were serving their sentences, while others were awaiting trial.

They shared one complaint: As far as they were concerned, there were no attempted suicide bombers in the suicide bombers wing, which is on the third floor of the prison.

Muslim, who is from Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan, said he was only a Taliban conscript.

“I am not a suicider,” he said. “The Taliban made me fight for them.”

But then he added, with a smirk, “In prison, everyone lies.”


Indian forces killed two separatists in a gun battle in southern Kashmir on Saturday, then injured at least 16 Kashmiri civilians who came out on Sunday to protest in response to the killings.


Bangladesh’s major garment worker strike appears to be stretching into a second week, as thousands of protesting workers were met on Sunday by police with water cannons and tear gas in the Savar industrial district outside of Dhaka. Union leaders have been criticizing the government and factory owners for attempting to use violence to bring the strikers to heel. However, the government did announce a wage hike on Sunday to go along with a minimum wage increase that took hold earlier this month, so we’ll see if that’s enough to bring the strike to an end. Bangladeshi garment workers are horrifyingly underpaid, with minimum wage working out to about $95/month even after the pay rise, despite the fact that their labor underpins billions of dollars worth of garment sales around the world.


The Chinese government has undertaken a charm offensive to try to blunt criticism of its Uyghur internment policies in Xinjiang province:

Chinese diplomats have petitioned several governments in their capitals against attacking Beijing’s Xinjiang policies at the United Nations, according to diplomats briefed on the matter.

Beijing has also arranged choreographed visits to the region for selected foreign diplomats and reporters—many from Muslim-majority nations friendly with China—while rebuffing Western requests for similar trips. But the stage-managed tour “raised more questions than it answered” for some diplomats, said a diplomat familiar with the trip.

Activists and diplomats said China’s goal is to beat back Western-led accusations of rights abuses against Xinjiang’s chiefly Muslim Uighur ethnic group, and head off criticism from Muslim-majority countries, where public anger is starting to simmer over Beijing’s repression of Islam.

China insists that its Xinjiang internment camps are merely vocational schools that, you know, appear to look and operate like internment camps in almost every way.



Protests against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir appear headed into their fourth week, as demonstrations on Sunday hit the cities of Khartoum North, Wad Medani, and Nyala. The latter is interesting because it’s located in Darfur, where there is obviously some deeply rooted opposition to Bashir to begin with. The body count related to these protests continues to rise. The Sudanese government claims its forces have killed 24 protesters since the demonstrations began in mid-December, but Amnesty International says the figure is at least 40.


Gabonese President Ali Bongo–or, you know, whoever is running the country on his behalf–appointed a new prime minister, Julien Nkoghe Bekale, on Saturday. Now ex-PM Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet presided over a lousy economy weakened by declining oil production, and Nkoghe Bekale’s appointment may help shore up Bongo’s support with the Fang, the largest ethnic group in Gabon, to which the new PM belongs. The move is obviously meant to shore up Bongo’s support following Monday’s attempted coup and months of speculation that the stroke he suffered in late October was far more debilitating than the Gabonese government has let on.


The South African Development Community, a supra-national bloc that includes South Africa and therefore carries a fair amount of weight, called on Sunday for the DRC to conduct a recount of votes cast in its December 30 presidential election. Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner of that election, but the ostensible runner up, Martin Fayulu, claims that independent counts show he won in a landslide and has accused Tshisekedi of cutting a deal with Congolese President Joseph Kabila to rig the count. Tensions over the declared outcome so far haven’t spun into large scale violence, but there was an uncomfortable moment on Saturday when Congolese security forces surrounded Fayulu’s Kinshasa residence as he was preparing to leave to file a legal complaint over the vote count. Fayulu was eventually able to file the complaint, though it’s unlikely that a court full of Kabila appointees will rule in his favor.

Whether Tshisekedi alleged victory stands or Fayulu somehow comes out on top, they’re not going to be working with a particularly amenable parliament. Kabila’s ruling coalition won a substantial majority in the new legislature, meaning it will hold the PM office and thus significant power despite losing the presidency.

The Guardian’s Jason Burke writes that leaders all over Africa are watching what happens in the DRC for clues as to how their own elections are likely to turn out:

Across the continent, the election and the post-poll power struggle pitting two opposition leaders against each otherhas been closely watched as almost everywhere else on the continent politics has reached a turning point. This year there will be more than 20 elections in Africa – from Algeria on the Mediterranean to the economic powerhouse of Nigeria in the west and in South Africa, on the continent’s southern tip. Younger voters are demanding change from an ageing generation of leaders, who are now seen as repressive, not liberating. New dynamics have been unleashed by rapid urbanisation, economic growth and social media. A new crop of leaders is emerging.

One indicator is rising voter participation after a period of decline. “Where there is a sense that venal elites have stolen resources and are not delivering, there are strong protest votes. People sense they can really change things,” said Alex Vines, director of Chatham House’s Africa programme.

Those young voters are going to be running up against an old guard that either wants to stay in power or wants to very closely manage the transition to whatever replaces it.

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