Thursday, 17 May 2018

Washington's new man in Africa

Retired Ambassador Tibor P. Nagy has finally emerged as the choice for Assistant Secretary of African Affairs 475 days after Donald Trump was inaugurated as United States President. Nagy, a Trump loyalist, now has to win approval in Congress, where his name was mooted in March.

The appointment may bring relief to an Africa Bureau sapped of morale, leadership, and expertise. Nagy will replace Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, who took the role on an interim basis. Under Trump, Africa has been relegated further down the totem pole of US government concerns. The Bureau faces cuts in funding, a personnel crisis in Washington and at embassies abroad, and scant interest from the White House in the human rights and good governance agenda.

However, Nagy has a long experience as a career dipomat, including postings as Ambassador to Guinea (1996-99) and Ethiopia (1999-2002). To an administration which has extolled a harder line against political refugees and migrants, Nagy brings personal experience of displacement and statelessness. He was born in Hungary in 1949, where his father, Tibor Nagy Snr., was an army engineer who later became  active in the revolution of 1956. Following the  Soviet invasion, father and son fled on foot to Austria, where they were processed for political asylum in the US. After nine months they were admitted and Nagy senior served as a senior official in the US Agency for International Development.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

ZIMBABWE: On European tour, presidential contender Chamisa calls for mass mobilisation to ensure credible elections

We start with the Zimbabwe opposition's roadshow in Europe, which is likely to be followed by as a more discrete visit to London by Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari to see his doctor. Tunisia's leading Islamist party Ennahda has scored a win in local elections but it remains in coalition with the secularist Nidaa Tounes at national level. And Kenya has reinforced its relations enough with the World Bank and IMF to negotiate another $1 billion credit.

ZIMBABWE: On European tour, presidential contender Chamisa calls for mass mobilisation to ensure credible elections
In a barnstorming speech to the Chatham House think tank in London, Nelson Chamisa, presidential candidate for the opposition Movement of Democratic Change Alliance, said his supporters would organise massive street demonstrations if their conditions for free and fair elections were not met. So far, Chamisa says that President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government has not responded to requests for a meeting with opposition parties on the modalities of the elections.

Top of Chamisa's list was for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to open an international competitive tender for the printing of the ballot papers, and a guarantee of full accountability in the bidding and contract award process.

Although the elections are due between the last week of July and the last week of August, the ZEC is yet to release a timetable for its operations.  Most importantly, these would include publication of biometrically registered voters' roll, which is said to be running at around 5.4 million, a substantial increase on previous elections.

The MDC also wants an agreement to establish an 'infrastructure for peace in the elections', says Chamisa.

That should amount to a peace accord signed by all parties. Civic activists are raising concerns about 'low-level violence' and threats against voters although no one is predicting a repeat of the thuggery in the 2008 elections in which hundreds of opposition supporters were tortured and killed.

Although President Mnangagwa has said he would have no problem in handing over power to the opposition should they win, the military, which is a powerful force in the current government, has been silent on the issue.

After his week in Europe, Chamisa is due back in Zimbabwe at the weekend to preside over his biggest test for far as MDC leader – the management of the party's primary elections. Last week, ZANU-PF set the bar low with several disputed contests and claims that the central committee had been trying to impose candidates on dissident local branches.

Both Chamisa and former finance minister Tendai Biti, who is accompanying him on his European tour, insisted that the MDC's primaries would be better managed than their opponents'. Given their MDC Alliance is an amalgam of seven smaller parties, how they run the primaries will an important indicator of the strength of the party's organization. They could also affect their ability to reach out to the opposition groupings run by former ZANU-PF luminaries such as Joice Mujuru and Dumiso Dabengwa.

Chamisa and Biti acknowledged the party faced severe funding constraints but claimed there was a new wave of popular support, especially in the countryside where they claimed that ZANU-PF's grip had been slackening.

NIGERIA: Fresh concerns about President Buhari's health as he flies out for medical consultation in London
After spending a couple of weeks in Britain to attend the Commonwealth summit last month and to meet with senior officials from Royal Dutch Shell, President Muhammadu Buhari is to return to London to see his doctor.

The trip, which the Presidency says will last four days, has prompted fresh worries about Buhari's health following his extended absences from the country last year for treatment of undisclosed ailments. Whatever the facts about Buhari's health, critics say the Presidency's unwillingness to release any details about his ailments, let alone a prognosis, creates political uncertainty within the country at a time of growing regional insecurity.

On 1 May Boko Haram militants stepped up their suicide bombing campaign, attacking a mosque in Mubi in Adamawa State, killing 26 people, one of their deadliest attacks since the insurgency began a decade ago. Those attacks seem to have been launched by Abubakar Shekau's faction of Boko Haram which has consistently targeted mosques and market places, causing maximum civilian casualties.

Abu Musab al-Barnawi's faction of Boko Haram, an affiliate of Islamic State (Da'ish's) organisation in West Africa, is said to be extending its reach across the Lake Chad basin into Borno and Adamawa States.

Alongside the factions which grew out of Boko Haram, violent crime and communal fights are escalating in northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt. Intelligence sources are unclear about what relations they may have to Shekau's or al-Barnawi's insurgents. Some suggest that Boko Haram will try to exploit the spreading clashes between herders and farmers

Police blamed 'bandits' and cattle rustlers for an attack on Birnin-Gwari, Kaduna State on 6 May in which 45 people were killed. Whatever lies behind the killings, the attackers were well-armed and showed a high level of organisation. Cattle rustlers in the area have eluded capture by police or the government's special task forces for several years but they seem to be exploiting the wider insecurity in the region to step up their attacks.

TUNISIA: Islamist Ennahda resurgent in much-delayed local elections amid rising economic gripes
Seven years after protestors in launched what came to be known as the Arab Spring with the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the forcing out of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, economic and security conditions in both countries have deteriorated.

Although there is little hankering for the ancient regimes, opposition to the successor regimes is patchy and divided. The region's most significant Islamist grouping – the Muslim Brothers – is proscribed in Egypt, and most of its senior figures are in detention. But the Brothers' counterpart in Tunisia, Ennahda, has fared better, due to the canny leadership and rhetoric of its eminence grise Rachid Ghannouchi.

Arguing his party was committed to multi-party democracy – although its critics insist this is a tactical ploy disguising its theocratic intentions – Ghannouchi has steered the party into coalition with the secularist Nidaa Tounes party. Now Ennahda could emerge the strongest party according to early results the first local elections in the country since the ousting of Ben Ali.

Significantly for both Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda, most of their votes came from middle aged and elderly people. Young Tunisians – most affected by unemployment and inflation – stayed away from the polls. Even the promise of more devolved local government failed to inspire them to vote.

KENYA: World Bank offers Kenyatta government concessional US$1 billion as concerns rise about mounting debt
The economic balancing act – mixing opaque mega loans from Asia with cooperation with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – is working for President Uhuru Kenyatta's government, at least in the short term.

After many difficult meetings between officials in the Jubilee government and IMF last year, over levels of state spending and indebtedness, the World Bank announced on 4 May that it was lending Kenya US$1 billion to develop infrastructure in the north of the country. This follows an earlier $1.4 bn credit for health, farming and transport in the region.

Relations between Nairobi and the Washington multinationals had frayed after it emerged that scheduled IMF disbursements had not been made last year triggering an embarrassing public row over whether the government's economic programme had veered off course.

This latest World Bank credit will be useful as it targets areas such as Turkana and Lamu where the government is pushing ahead with its oil production and pipeline plans. Announcing the credit, Bank officials point out that poverty levels in northern Kenya – running around 38% – are almost double the level in the rest of the country, especially the much more prosperous counties around Nairobi and the old central province.

The week ahead in very brief

SOUTH AFRICA/UNITED STATES: President Trump's demand for more loyalty to Washington in UN votes targets Pretoria

SUDAN: More cuts to diplomatic service as government plans to close 13 foreign missions and lay off officials in seven more

LIBYA/EUROPEAN UNION: Italy claims 80% drop in migrants' Mediterranean crossings after coastguards step up action

Thursday, 3 May 2018

BOLLORE'S TROUBLES AND FRANCAFRIQUE

Just as France's President Emmanuel Macron was enjoying the hospitality of United States' President Donald Trump – both self-styled mavericks – in Washington, investigators in Paris were preparing to charge business titan Vincent Bolloré with corruption over his contracts to operate ports in Conakry and Lomé.

African and French business operators are asking whether the Paris investigators had been emboldened by Macron's declaration that France had to reform its economic relationship with Africa. Investigators are also looking into claims that Société Générale had paid bribes to win contracts with Libya's Investment Authority. Bolloré, with a net worth of around US$6.5 billion, has a buccaneering style far closer to the US's corporate culture than France's.

Although Bolloré's stake in the Vivendi media empire has raised questions in Europe, it is his near monopoly on operating ports in West and Central Africa that triggered the French investigation. The central accusation is that the Guinea government cancelled a port contract awarded to another French company, Necotrans, and gave it to Bolloré, whose communications company Havas had helped President Alpha Condé win the 2015 election. Although Condé and Bolloré deny any wrongdoing, the regional court in Abidjan ruled the annulling of Necotrans's contract improper and ordered Guinea to pay the company €38.4 million in compensation. Conakry is still contesting the order.

Monday, 30 April 2018

NIGERIA/UNITED STATES: Islamic State threat and business likely to top agenda of Trump-Buhari summit

We start in Washington with a West African theme – on the summit meeting of Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari and United States President Donald Trump. Security will dominate those talks, as it does relations between Washington and Niger where a new US drone base is nearing completion. Across the continent in East Africa, the rivalry between Kenya and Uganda over oil intensifies. And in South Africa, the African National Congress appears about to push out Supra Mahumapelo, premier of the troubled North-West Province.

NIGERIA/UNITED STATES: Islamic State threat and business likely to top agenda of Trump-Buhari summit
Abuja's diplomats have been in overdrive preparing for the presidential summit today (30 April) between President Buhari and President Trump, which was called at the White House's request. An Africa-focused lobbyist told Africa Confidential that senior Nigerian officials were still trying to find out why President Trump had invited Buhari – only the second foreign leader to have received the call.

Some insiders say it is part of an attempt to reset US-Africa relations after the furore over reports of Trump's derogatory comments in January about the continent. There is also regional frustration at the sacking of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson half-way through his first tour of Africa.

The agenda is likely to be dominated by security, particularly the expansion of operations by Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) in the region and its alliance with the Abu Masab al Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. Last week, the Barnawi faction attacked the military headquarters in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, triggering a firefight with soldiers, police and local vigilante groups.

In Benue State, where 17 were killed in an Islamist militia attack on a Catholic church on 24 March, there are fears that the militants are trying to exploit communal clashes in the Middle Belt.

US intelligence estimates reckon that ISWA could have as many as 5,000 fighters in the region, who are far better equipped and trained than the Boko Haram militia led by Abubakar Shekau. Yet Nigeria's military commanders have been wary historically of close ties with the US military in the region, despite a series of arms deals between the two countries over the past three years.

One of the these – the sale of Super Tucano ground-attack aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force – is being scrutinised by the National Assembly. Representatives claim the government-to-government deal was arranged for three times the average international price for the aircraft package. They also complain that the Assembly was not consulted, as required by law, about the deal.

Trump is also expected to raise his government's concerns about difficulties experienced by US energy companies in the Nigerian market, compared to their Indian and Chinese counterparts. However, India became the leading customer for Nigeria's Bonny light oil, mainly because the US's development of shale oil substituted for imported crude.

NIGER/UNITED STATES: Over 800 US troops in Sahel as $110 million drone base at Agadez nears completion
As President Mahamadou Issoufou's government faces growing opposition over its security and migration deals with foreign governments, the US is stepping up military operations. There is a major push to open the US's new drone base at Agadez, in the centre of the country. Over 800 US troops are working closely with a team of 2,000 Nigerien Special Forces on operations against jihadist elements in the Sahel.

The Agadez base will be able to launch armed and unarmed Predator drones over most of the Sahel and Libya. Work on the base is over a year behind schedule and US$20 mn. over budget.

KENYA/TANZANIA/UGANDA: Kampala edges ahead of Nairobi in the great East African pipeline race
Uganda
says it will make the final investment decision on its 1400-kilometre pipeline to Tanzania's coast by the end of this year – six months earlier than planned. The pipeline, to be jointly owned by Uganda and Tanzania, is to cost an estimated $3.5 billion. Growing political uncertainties in both countries and worries about increasing indebtedness could further raise the cost of the project, according to industry sources.

The two regional pipelines point to an escalation of the resource rivalry between Uganda and Kenya. Two years ago, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni halted plans to build a pipeline to Kenya in favour of a route through Tanzania, a much longer and more expensive undertaking. Uganda says it wants to start commercial oil production by the end of 2020, some two years ahead of the rival Kenya project.

Last week Kenya announced it had appointed the British-based Wood Group as its design consultants on its 890 km pipeline from the Lokichar basin to a terminal at Lamu. Officials spoke of a target date of 2021-2022 for Kenya's commercial oil production, saying a major fund-raising effort will get under way once design details have been finalised.

SOUTH AFRICA: Drive to push out Supra Mahumapelo from North-West provincial premiership gathers steam
This week ANC officials decide whether or not to convene a special National Executive Committee meeting to take emergency action on the deepening crisis in North-West. Such a meeting could see the ousting of premier Supra Mahumapelo, a key ally of ex-President Jacob Zuma, after the discovery of massive corruption in the provincial government's health department.

Last week the health department was taken into administration by the central government in Pretoria. Insiders say those provisions could be extended to several other departments, effectively declaring a state of emergency in the province. Less than a third of the provincial government's departments have met the basic standards for accountability set by the Auditor General.

The ANC team tasked with dealing with the crisis will be led by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was the main rival to President Cyril Ramaphosa in last December's leadership elections.


THE WEEK AHEAD IN VERY BRIEF

MALAWI: Joyce Banda's return home will test justice system and President Mutharika's corruption claims

ETHIOPIA: Term limits for prime ministers mooted by new premier Abyi Ahmed

FRANCE: Next phase in investigation into Bolloré's empire will targets government deals in Guinea and Togo

MOROCCO: King Mohammed VI extends influence in Central Africa after signing Congo river deal in Brazzaville

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

ZIMBABWE: Mnangagwa government plans to float bond after stops in USA and Europe on the roadshow

This week, Southern Africa is making all the running. We start with Zimbabwe where new President Emmerson Mnangagwa's economic ambassadors are stepping up the  charm offensive on investors. Another newish President, João Lourenço of Angola is consolidating his grip on  the military. And South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa, the third newcomer to the Presidential club, is grappling with another provincial explosion. And in Antananarivo, protestors are calling for the immediate exit of Hery Rajaonarimpianina from the Presidency ahead of this year's planned elections.

ZIMBABWE: Mnangagwa government plans to float bond after stops in USA and Europe on the roadshow
As election campaigning heats up at home, President Emmerson Mnangagwa's economic team relentlessly circles the globe drumming up investment and new finance deals. Although the government claims to have corralled almost US$8 billion in new investments, mainly in the mining business, many of the biggest companies are waiting for the outcome of the elections which will be held in the last two weeks of July, according to Foreign Minister General Sibusiso Moyo.

At one of the latest meets, organized by London-based  Exotix in New York, finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya, wooed United States investors. This followed the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF in Washington DC in which the institutions held to their line of no substantive negotiations on new finance for Zimbabwe until after the elections and the agreement of a definitive settlement on the country's arrears. Harare owes some $2.5 bn. in arrears to the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

However, the Mnangagwa team are in a hurry to resolve the matter. Mangudya told the bankers at the New York meeting that the government was seeking bridging finance to repay the arrears to the International Financial Institutions. This would be in addition to what the Cairo-based Afreximbank has offered already in terms of overall financial support. More surprisingly, Mangudya told investors that the government was planning to float a Eurobond later in the year.

ANGOLA: President Lourenço's anti-corruption purge extends to military and spy chiefs
Simultaneously sacking the chief of staff of the armed forces and the director of the well-financed foreign intelligence service suggests a supreme confidence in one's grip on power or political recklessness.

Luanda insiders assure us that President João Lourenço's latest top level sackings – he has dismissed police chiefs and the son of former President José Eduardo dos Santos has been charged with corruption – prove he has effectively consolidated power in the eight months since he was elected.

Certainly, there has been no public criticism of the move; indeed some Angolans are calling for Lourenço's purge to take on still bigger targets in and around the Dos Santos clan.

According to the presidential decrees read out on state television on 23 April, General Geraldo Sachipengo Nunda and long-time intelligence operative André de Oliveira Sango were sacked because they have been named as suspects in the latest round of anti-corruption investigations. Yet their exit also takes away two more allies of the Dos Santos clan who might have been able to protect the former president's interests as the new government pushes ahead with its anti-corruption sweep.

The next round of the battle is likely to focus on former President Dos Santos's role as head of the governing MPLA. Although Dos Santos wants to remain party chief for another year, supporters of President Lourenço say they are determined to push him out within the next few weeks. Should they succeed, that would be one of the last vestiges of formal power held by Dos Santos, opening up the possibility that he could face the same sort of police investigations that have already been launched against his son José Filomeno and daughter Isabel, former managing director of  Sonangol.

MADAGASCAR: Crisis deepens after President Rajaonarimampianina accuses protestors of attempting a coup d'etat
The protests in Antananarivo have been building up since 20 April with  President Hery Rajaonarimampianina accusing the demonstrators of mounting a coup against him. That claim seems to have designed to draw attention away from the deaths of two protestors on the second day of the demonstrations.

Ostensibly, the protests were against the new electoral laws which seem designed to stop some of the country's most high profile politicians – including the weird alliance of Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina – from running in this year's presidential elections. Now the protests have morphed into a general campaign to pressure Rajaonarimampianina to step down immediately.

SOUTH AFRICA: Demonstrators and investigators pile pressure on ex-President Zuma's allies in North-West Province and Free State
It is the latest episode of the country's state capture. This time the focus is on the North-West Province where premier Supra Mahumapelo, a close ally of ex-President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family, faces scrutiny for his award of over 65 million rand in no-bid contracts to private health care and ambulance companies. Demonstrators, angered by this opaque business at a time when the public health system in the province has broken down, have brought the provincial capital Mahikeng to a standstill.

Capitalising on the public mood, Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters were pushing a no-confidence motion in Mahumapelo as the mood on the streets turned uglier. This brewing crisis in the province ties into a wider split within the African National Congress between factions that back current President Cyril Ramaphosa and those that back his predecessor, Zuma.

It is serious enough to have forced Ramaphosa to rush from the Commonwealth summit in London to a crisis meeting of the ANC caucus in North-West. Accompanying Ramaphosa were Jessie Duarte and Ace Magashule, both of whom come from the Zuma camp. This points to the complexity of the crisis and the practical limits of Ramaphosa's position. As with other top Zuma allies, Ramaphosa's preferred course of action will be sit back and let the police investigators and the courts run with the ball. Whether the demonstrators on the streets in Mahikeng will wait that long for Mahumapelo's day in court is another matter.


THE WEEK AHEAD IN VERY BRIEF

NIGERIA: Security and oil business top agenda for President Buhari's meeting with US President Trump on 30 April

AFRICA/UNITED KINGDOM: After Commonwealth summit in London, Trade Minister Liam Fox to spell out new era for UK-Africa relations

ETHIOPIA: Local businesses call on new Premier Abiy to ease the state's grip and speed economic liberalisation

EGYPT: Oil minister Tarek el Molla forecasts $10 billion of investment in national gas industry over next two years

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Critics targeted in Maputo

Mozambican journalist and lawyer Ericino de Salema was kidnapped in broad daylight in the capital Maputo on 27 March, beaten unconscious and abandoned by the roadside with severely fractured limbs. Salema's abduction bore similarities to the kidnapping in May 2016 of respected academic José Jaime Macuane. Both were commentators on independent TV station STV's 'Points of View,' and had been critical of Frelimo's poor governance.

Local media figures are now pressuring Attorney General Beatriz Buchili to act over the recent escalation of politically motivated attacks and assassinations. No case has yet been solved, and critics say the only explanation is collusion by public officials. After nearly two years without tangible progress in the investigation into his abduction, Macuane has finally spoken publicly about his ordeal, noting that one of his kidnappers showed him a police badge.

President Filipe Nyusi has maintained a deafening silence. After a bitter defeat in the recent Nampula by-election, Frelimo is increasingly concerned about next year's general election.

Prior to his attack, Salema criticised the extravagant delinquency of Nyusi's 20-year old son Florindo, who made local headlines for violating traffic laws during late-night jaunts in his luxury cars. On 17 April, Nyusi spoke at London's Chatham House about inclusive development. Critics say his commitment to that cause is questionable, given his son's attitudes to official impunity and entitlement.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

NIGERIA: After a mini-national tour and exhortations from his loyalists, President Buhari seeks second term

The news agenda this week starts with President Muhammadu Buhari's announcement that he will seek a second term in Nigeria's elections next year but the outlook remains extremely uncertain. Ethiopia's feted new Prime Minister is on the road in the Ogaden and Oromia. An accident in a Ghana gold mine intensifies public criticism of the sector. Julius Maada Bio, the winner of Sierra Leone's presidential elections, and his rival Samura Kamara have agreed to work together.


NIGERIA: After a mini-national tour and exhortations from his loyalists, President Buhari seeks second term
Of all the political manoeuvres ahead of next year's national elections, President Muhammadu Buhari's plan to seek a second term ranks as one of the least surprising, despite a well-coordinated attempt by his fellow former generals to stop him.

Buhari's announcement at the national executive meeting of the governing All Progressives' Congress yesterday (9 April) doesn't mean that he's guaranteed to win the nomination. But so far, no substantial party figure has emerged to take him on.

Instead, some of the party's heavyweights from the north – such as former Kano governor Rabiu Kwankwaso or the popular Sokoto governor Aminu Tambuwal – may choose to cross the floor and contest the presidential nomination in the opposition People's Democratic Party, where former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is making all the running after announcing his intentions on 27 March.

Both Buhari and Atiku will be in London this month. Buhari will attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which is hosted by the Queen, and his office says he will also hold talks with Prime Minister Theresa May about expanding trade and security cooperation. Buhari, who made a dramatic recovery last year after protracted medical leave in London, may also fit in time for a check-up with his doctor.

Veteran businessman Atiku is giving a lecture about economic modernisation and development strategy to the Chatham House think tank on 27 April and attempting to burnish his technocratic credentials.

ETHIOPIA: Hopes for reform rise as new premier Abiy Ahmed shuts down torture centre, promising a political settlement
It took just five days after his appointment as prime minister for Abiy to get on the road, calling first on Jijiga, the capital of the Ogaden (officially, the Somali Region). He has a plan for political reconciliation in Oromia and the Ogaden after two years of violence.

A quick win was his announcement that the notorious Maekelawi detention centre, where dissidents were reportedly tortured, would be closed down and turned into a museum. Political insiders say that Abiy has a short time to prove he can get political results and keep the hawks in the security system, many of whom opposed his appointment, at bay. Those who draw parallels between Abiy's reform pledges and the early months of Hailemariam Desalegn's premiership could be mistaken.

Hailemariam was a consummate technocrat, lacking both a substantial military record or strong security ties, while Abiy was a lieutenant-colonel in the military and director of the country's aggressive cyber-security programme. That means the sceptics in the security system will take Abiy seriously, this year at least. The stakes could hardly be higher for Ethiopia, which has strong economic growth, an ambitious modernisation strategy and a population of 110 million.

GHANA: Tax write-offs, accidents and environmental damage could trigger a pushback against gold-mining companies
An accident killing six workers and badly injuring four others at Newmont's gold mine at Ahafo last Saturday (7 April) is likely to boost public demands for tougher state regulation. The victims were drowned in liquid concrete when the roof of a tunnel caved in.

Complaints are growing about working conditions both in the international companies and the artisanal sector, as well as the level of tax they pay. In the wake of the tragedy, Newmont has shut down its mines at Ahafo and Akyem, the home base of many senior figures in the New Patriotic Party.

Angry youths reeled off a list of complaints about Newmont when John Peter Amewu, Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, visited the Ahafo mine after the accident and announced an investigation.

Meanwhile, the NPP government has reached an agreement with Anglogold Ashanti to restart production at its Obuasi mine, which had been forced to close after the previous government failed to crack down on informal or 'galamsey' mining ventures in the area.

For over five years, the 'galamsey' operators, usually joint-ventures between local groups and Asian companies and backed by some local politicians, ignored worker safety regulations and environmental laws. Hundreds of miners were killed and maimed in these operations and the water table across swathes of the Obuasi region was irreparably damaged.

But the latest political fuss centres on reports that Anglogold Ashanti has secured a cut in its tax and royalty obligations of $275 million in exchange for resuming production. The furore around the deal could embarrass the government as it tries to persuade Ghanaians to pay more tax.

As part of its 'Beyond Aid' strategy the government is trying to boost its domestic revenue, but it's saying less about the big companies' tax records and is focusing on the over six million Ghanaians in full time formal employment. Last week, officials in the ministry of finance said that less than a quarter of those workers were paying income tax.

SIERRA LEONE: Lack of parliamentary support forces new President Maada Bio cut deal with rival Kamara after tight election
It was an arrangement drawn up after the country's two top politicians – presidential election winner Julius Maada Bio and opponent Samura Kamara – both devout Catholics, attended mass in the same church in Freetown on Sunday (8 April). That day, Kamara, who stood for the All People's Congress, agreed to recognise Maada Bio's victory.

Until then, Kamara and his allies had been threatening to withhold recognition of the official result, launching a legal challenge as its supporters started organising protests. However, it was the narrowness of Maada Bio's winning margin – 51.18% of the vote against 48.19% for Kamara – that prompted the agreement.

That's because Kamara's APC won 67 of the 132 seats in parliament against Maada Bio's Sierra Leone People's Party's 47. The terms of the deal, and whether Kamara will have a formal role in Maada Bio's government, remain hazy. The two men have worked together before, when Maada Bio headed a military junta in the 1990s.


THE WEEK AHEAD IN VERY BRIEF

ZIMBABWE: Police probe of ivory smuggling claims against ex-President Mugabe's family could scupper his ambitions for a political comeback

SOUTH AFRICA: After a cameo court appearance, Zuma ponders a political campaign against his corruption charges

AFRICA/UNITED STATES: Africo Resources claims $600 million against Och Ziff, two years after it admits corruption and cuts a $400 million plea bargain deal

RWANDA: With GDP growth forecast at 7.3% this year, President Kagame reshuffles his cabinet and names new finance minister