Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A peek through the war on terror viewfinder

Tuesday 23 October 2007
United Nations Secretariat
New York City

Dear Confidentialers,

A whirlwind trip through New York and Washington this week shows that Africa has moved up the diplomatic and economic agenda - despite the Iraq-Iran obsessions here. However, so much of Africa is seen through the war on terror viewfinder. At the peak of the Cold War, there was no conflict in Africa that an earnest policy wonk wouldn't squeeze fit into a global scheme of US foreign policy.

The same holds today. The wonk can be pro- or anti-government but the fallacy is the same: Africa cannot allowed to be Africa, it must be corralled into a wider template of global power relations. Of course, Africa has its own international interests but the wonks attach too little importance to these.

Somalia has become Africa's front in the war on terror for the wonks. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, Mogadishu and Kismayo have become Iraq writ small for Washington and Addis Ababa. More puzzlingly, the Sudanese regime in Khartoum has become a source of vital intelligence on terrorism for the West. Even the once-reviled Moammar el Gadaffi of Libya is now feted as another key intelligence source - more logically because the overthrow of Gadaffi's regime is near the top of Al Qaida's to-do list in North Africa. At the other end of the credibility scale, serious-looking men in suits have asked me how many militants in the Niger Delta are on the Al Qaida payroll - as though Nigerians are incapable of running their own rebellions.

These arguments were well aired last Friday at the 50th annual meeting of the African Studies Association of the USA in New York. Washington's Ambassador to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Cindy Corville, was put up to defend US Africa policy against a critical barrage led by African intellectuals such as Mahmoud Mamdani of Columbia University and Akwe Amosu of the Open Society Institute. The critics' theme was that US policy in Africa has become irredeemably militarised and is now a poorly resourced sideshow to its failing policy in the Middle East.

As the African speakers picked over US policy, aided by speakers from the floor such as ex-USAID consultant Joel Barkin, Corville struggled to convince. None of the speakers on the floor - Americans and Africans alike - spoke in defence of US policy. Some even rubbished Corville's invitation for critics to engage with administration officials.

US policy had an easier ride back at base in Washington, at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. That is partly because the blame for economic failures is more widely and fairly shared between the many different parties. The other reason is that top US diplomat turned President of the World Bank Robert Zoellick scored some palpable hits in his new role, just three months into the job. African delegates to the Bank's meeting told me they were impressed by Zoellick's grasp of the key issues and by his approach: the World Bank would no longer see itself as the last word on development economics, producing policy prescriptions from on high, but rather as a team player, contributing money and ideas.

On Zoellick's team are two Nigerian women technocrats - Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Obi Ezekwesili - in top positions at the Bank, but the pressure is on for many more senior African appointments in the Bank in line with its renewed focus on the continent.

Next door at the IMF, an unhappier scene prevails. Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato hobbles out of the job, badly gored by a hostile board, some of whom are already expressing reservations about the new man, France's Dominque Strauss-Kahn, who takes over on 1 November.

Whatever the quality of their respective leaderships, the Bank and the Fund's toughest challenge is to stay relevant. The better news about Africa's economies has done the two institutions little good: better economic management in African capitals and higher commodity demand from China and India, not the Bretton Woods bureaucrats, get the credit. So Zoellick's more pragmatic and less bombastic approach fits the new zeitgeist.

It's a good time to be running a company in Africa. Watch out for lots of money from the Bank's private investment arm, the International Finance Corporation, which Zoellick and IFC chief Lars Thunnel hope will give Africa's private sector the boost it need to take advantage of the global rush for the continent's resources.

Yours confidentially

The first issue of our new publication, Africa-Asia Confidential, is due out next week. Africa-Asia Confidential will cover the intercontinental political and economic developments, getting behind the headlines to bring you the real facts and details about international relations, the major players and the big business deals. To sign up for a free sample copy, please email marketing@africa-confidential.com.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Recently in New York

Recently in New York,
11 October 2007

Dear Confidentialers,

In those days when grown hacks used to fight over datelines and the scrupulousness of sub-editors ruled, a favorite dateline would start with the words 'recently in...' followed by some interesting-sounding location.

It was a device much favoured by the Financial Times and Guardian. Lengthy stints in Nigeria for much of the 1980s meant I rarely earned the accolade when reporting for those august organs; once the Guardian gave me a 'Recently in Cotonou' dateline after I nipped across the border from Lagos. This week, some prompting from a quizzical friend, who occasionally doubts the accuracy of the datelines of this letter has encouraged the return of 'Recently in...'

Of course, datelines are part of the journalistic conceit. We hope you will take our story on the UN General Assembly more seriously if you know that we were actually in the UN headquarters when Ban Ki-moon was making his inaugural speech to the General Assembly and also when Comrade Robert Mugabe was berating the Brits and the Americans, along with his odd bedfellows from Iran and Venezuela (although this year Sr. Chavez gave the UN platform a miss).

Well, this year it was worth going to the press scrum at the UN General Assembly. Contrary to some expectations, Ban is taking Africa seriously and has spent much of his first nine months on the Darfur dossier. Again, contrary to expectations, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy is also taking Africa seriously. He hosted a Security Council session on Somalia and Sudan, announcing the European Union's operations in Eastern Chad and French naval support in the battle against pirates who attack supply ships heading for Somalia.

It was also the first UN outing for Nigeria's President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and Britain's new Foreign Minister David Miliband. So from the news gathered 'Recently in New York', we've tried to piece together the most important developments for Africa, with plans for 46,000 peacekeepers to be deployed in Sudan and Somalia.

To keep with the precision, I'm currently in transit, waiting for a UN flight to Monrovia where I'm due to interview some of President Johnson-Sirleaf's team. Next week, expect a letter starting 'Recently in Monrovia…'

Until then,

Yours confidentially

Monday, 27 August 2007

SA/Nigeria: on parallel tracks?

27 August 2007


Dear Confidentialers,

First of all, a belated apology for the long time, no write. Back at maison Africa Confidential, I've been working with colleagues on a couple of new projects. Firstly, we will be launching a new publication focusing on Africa's fast-growing relations with Asia later this year. And secondly, we are working on an overhaul of our website which will offer more interesting reports and analyses, as well as a clearer presentation of the current Africa Confidential material.

At last Africa Confidential will enter the blogosphere. This will give you an easier way to respond to the reports in each fortnight's edition, as well as these editorial musings. So you can wait for our web engineers to set up the blog and readers' reply facilities or send messages immediately to: info@africa-confidential.com - we'd love to hear your critiques, complaints and even concurrences.

Meanwhile our hard-working politicians have been summer-holidaying or summiteering in Lusaka. I've spent most of August on the road in search of stories. This time, the most interesting moments were in the frantic politics of South Africa and Nigeria and there are a few parallels between the two countries.

The saga of South Africa's embattled health minister Manto Thshabalala Msimang is a case in point. South African reporters' dogged pursuit of the hapless Minister resembled Nigerian journalists in hot pursuit of a particularly venal political target.

My old friend Mondli Makhanya has been editor of the Sunday Times for four dramatic years. He's faced down the crudest political pressure and his now leading a relentless investigation of Minister's Msimang's professional career culminating is last week's headline: 'Manto - a drunk and a thief'.

After the dismantling of apartheid and the ANC's election victory in 1994, many feared that the critical and independent journalism that undermined apartheid would be replaced by bland hackery without a mission. Proponents of sunshine journalism charged up their laptops in anticipation.

Such notions have been dumped in the recycling bin. Instead tough-minded editors such as Makhanya and the Mail and Guardian Editor Ferial Hafferjee are taking on the transgressions of political and corporate South Africa with a doggedness that matches the best investigative journalists in Nigeria and Kenya.

Newspaper journalists the world over face sharp budget cuts; nowhere do these cuts bite harder than in Africa. Yet South Africa's newspapers are undergoing a post-apartheid renaissance, more titles are appearing and the existing ones are getting feistier.

As for commercial realities - the Sunday Times is a highly profitable newspaper group that earned over US$30 million last year. That will help pay the legal bills after Minister Msimang's fistful of indictments.

Another South Africa-Nigeria parallel is the ambition of Jacob Zuma. Close-up, former Deputy President Zuma looks a much more skilled operator than his Nigerian counterpart, ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Both men were pushed from their deputy presidential perches by their respective Presidents; both have been accused of grand corruption. Yet Zuma has become one of South Africa's most popular politicians while Atiku's long stay in the United States of America casts him as a fugitive from justice.

There is a lesson for journalists. Zuma's popularity within the governing ANC is stronger than ever despite almost universally hostile press coverage. Atiku organised hugely favourable press coverage (and he owned several papers) by presenting himself as the main opponent of detested President Olusegun Obasanjo. Now even those seasoned ANC insiders who assured journalists that 'Zuma - the president just won't happen' are looking very nervous.

On to the third and most worrying South Africa-Nigeria parallel: the killing fields of kwaZulu/Natal and the Niger Delta. In the early 1990s, the boiling political rivalries between Nelson Mandela's ANC and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha party were being encouraged by shadowy apartheid die-hards and could have derailed the transition to free elections. Zuma's many disparagers today often forget that it was his patient and skilled mediation in his home state that finally brokered a peace.

Such skills are hugely in demand in the Niger Delta today. But it will also need much more than talk. A structural reform of the oil business that will end the shadowy relations between successive Nigerian regimes and Big Oil will help. There is a central political question: the need for a hardheaded review of the constitutional relations between the federal centre, the state governments and the troubled local governments.

Nigerians are being cheated of billions of oil dollars annually by an unholy network of business, political and military allies. Disbursements of over a billion dollars a year to the state governments of Rivers and Delta respectively made by the Obasanjo government should have alleviated the joblessness, environmental despoliation and the social crisis.

The murderous fighting in the Delta is a baptism of fire for President Umaru Yar' Adua. The militants and the criminals want to test the limits. But it is partly a protest against attempts by Nigeria's anti-corruption investigators to unravel the corrupt payment channels, and send some of the offending politicians and business people to gaol. Their strategy is to organise gang wars in which more than 100 Nigerians have lost their lives in the past two weeks. We'll be returning to this with news from Zimbabwe, Morocco and Congo-Kinshasa in detail in next week's Africa Confidential.

Until then yours confidentially

Friday, 6 July 2007

The debate is far from over

Black Star Square

Dear Confidentialers,

This is where it all started just over 50 years ago with Ghana's declaration of independence from the British colonial authorities and founding President Kwame Nkrumah announcing his vision of a United States of Africa. So this week's African Union summit here has been steeped in history as visiting leaders pay obeisance to Nkrumah's memory and his unity project.

You won't be too surprised to learn that the summit didn't end with the declaration of a federal government of Africa's 53 states. Instead, it's back to the study groups to produce more research documents for the next AU summit in Addis Ababa next January. The Accra Declaration released at midnight on Tuesday was a victory for Thabo Mbeki and the pragmatists; and a setback for brother Muammar el Gadaffi and the advocates of an immediately proclaimed African federal government.

For us journalists camped out in the media tent adjacent to the garishly pink-tiled conference centre, philosophical debate about a federal African government seemed rather arcane when set against the ongoing devastation in Darfur, Mogadishu and eastern Congo not to mention the economic and political chaos in Zimbabwe. Why, we wondered, were these issues being sidelined?

Enter Ghana's brisk Foreign Minister Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo to tell the legendary Ofeibea Quist Arcton of National Public Radio, Will Ross of the BBC and myself that African Union summits - like their European counterparts - were able to consider more than one topic at a time. Er okay, so we pursued a different line of questioning and Will succeeded in getting the 60-something Akufo Addo to predict that a Union Government for Africa could be established in his lifetime - '…if we go about it in an organised manner we will get there.'

Seasoned summit reporters struggled to give the story legs. Yes, we had brother El Gadaffi and his demotic outbursts for the unity cause but few of his besuited pragmatist adversaries were willing to press their case with the media. Inside the conference chamber, the in-camera debating sessions were getting less fraternal with a stand-up row between El Gadaffi and Mbeki. However, our Ghanaian hosts assured us all the 'vigorous discourse' would end in a consensual document.

That much was true and President John Kufuor assured me the Accra Declaration was passed unanimously and 'there were no dissenters'. So it's hard to see what happened to the pan-African enthusiasms of Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade, whose foreign minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio said his President had his pen ready to sign up to a Union Government by the end of the summit. Wade and El Gadaffi weren't in the chamber for the final reading of the summit communiqué. Instead I was delighted to learn that that El Gadaffi had retreated to the bar of my (Libyan-owned) hotel for political consultations. The debate is far from over and there is growing civil society pressure for African states to move faster towards economic and political integration.

Perhaps that is the value of the Accra summit: it gave new life to the Pan African vision even if the men in the sensible shoes remain in charge of the agenda. At least they see more clearly the need to end the petty rules that restrict the mobility and choices of millions of Africans as well as the outdated regulations that hold back trade between African states. The underlying vitality of Pan-Africanism is its economic logic and need to break away from the system of Balkanised markets.

For journalists, of course, the real meat of summits is the corridor chatter and the chance encounters with grandees of international diplomacy and the occasional head of state. As the security guards relaxed a notch, I managed to walk unharrassed into the VIP salon at the conference centre to see Wade holding forth at length on the virtues of an immediate continental political union. Within earshot of a bevy of Lisbon officials looking after Portugal's Prime Minister Socrates, Wade explained how European unity had transformed the economic fortunes of a 'poor country' like Portugal. One may fault the sweeping rhetoric but octogenarian Wade's energy is compelling - even if the suits won this time.

Then across the room to trouble European Union President José Manuel Barroso with a question about why Portugal was breaking ranks with EU sanctions and inviting Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe to the Euro-Africa summit scheduled for November in Lisbon. The EU's vital relationship with the African continent cannot be derailed for the sake of a country-specific issue, he huffed. That was his way of telling Whitehall to put the Zimbabwe sanctions in their pipe and smoke them - a civil offence after national smoking ban introduced on Britain on 1 July. Barroso evidently has been looking on frustratedly while China strengthens commercial and diplomatic ties leaving the Europeans looking flat-footed. That was going to change under his Presidency, he suggested.

Sitting elegantly on a Chesterfield behind Barroso was the new World Bank Vice President for Africa, Nigeria's former Education Minister Obi Ezekwesili who has moved seamlessly from defending the Obasanjo government's economic reforms to being an equally energetic proponent of the Bank's role in Africa. Press reports of the Bank's declining operations in Africa were wrong, she told me, operations last year were up to $5.7 billion, a billion dollars more than the previous year. Above all, she wanted to counter the idea that the bank still imposed policies on African economies: 'they are designing and running their own economic programmes these days'.

So you might guess that the latest issue of Africa Confidential is suffused with nuggets from the Accra summit but it also carries a report on the political shenanigans between Zimbabwean power brokers while President Mugabe goes on tour, and an inside account of the political fallout of the scandal at Tanzania's central bank.

For those following the race for South Africa's presidency, we carry an extended analysis of the style and merits of the two business candidates, Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale. On the economy pages you'll find a detailed examination of the issues raised by three new books on oil politics in Africa. As a friend of two of the authors I should declare a fraternal interest in their work getting a wider audience. They could have scarcely picked a better time to publish their tomes on this theme. And on the back page, the relentless Congolese General Laurent Nkunda talks to Africa Confidential in his hilltop redoubt, and we break some news about how Norway's Development Minister is pressing the World Bank to work on the devastating effects of trade corruption and the ensuing capital flight from Africa. So another full fortnight's reading…

To get the full details on these and other key stories, subscribe to Africa Confidential today - visit www.africa-confidential.com.

Yours confidentially

P.S. Your subscription to Africa Confidential also gives you access to our eight-year archive of stories on Africa.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

A political soap opera

Volume 48 No 12

Dear Confidentialers,

Here in the city of light, the most dramatic news about last week's G8 summit in Heiligendamm was the release on the internet of a video showing France's new President Nicolas Sarkozy holding a press conference during the summit shortly after a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during which M. Sarkozy appears to have 'drunken something stronger than water', according to the Belgian newscaster. Sure enough the video shows Sarkozy swaying and smiling without his characteristic political fluency.

Oddly, the footage hasn't been screened on French TV although its much watched on websites here and the poor Belgian newscaster has been pressed to say he was sorry for any offence he may have given to the French state. In his defence he's happy to say he has a French mother. That such an incident at the G8 can demand so much attention tells us something about the real importance of such summitry. It has become more and more a political soap opera in which the communiqués are negotiated and agreed several weeks before the summit and then given the requisite spin at the meeting itself.

We have first-hand experience of this because a German friend sent a copy of the draft communiqué on Africa policy, some of which we have reproduced in this week's Africa Confidential. Almost all of the 'agreed' communiqué survived the summit. The German drafters had left blank the amount of money that the summiteers were prepared 'to commit' to funding the programme they agreed to at the 2005 Gleneagles summit which would grant access to anti-retroviral drugs to all in Africa who needed them by 2010.

The summiteers filled in the blanks. They agreed on $60 billion but didn't say how it would be raised nor did they detail each country's contribution or when the payments would be disbursed. In other words the promise was as hazy as when it was made in 2005.

Campaigners are outraged. The ubiquitous Bono called it 'bureau-babble' telling reporters: 'I might be a rock star but I can count.' Some of us were deeply sceptical of the 'promise' when it was first made at the heat of the Gleneagles summit. The harsh truth is that to pay for the drugs to fulfil that promise would cost at least $25 bn a year for the next five years at the current rates of HIV/AIDS infections. To finance the healthcare delivery systems, to prescribe the drugs and give the necessary medical support to the patients in Africa's 54 countries would easily cost another $25 bn a year. So one has to ask why was the pledge made when the officials who announced it knew there was no chance of it becoming reality?

Certainly, this latest G8 episode will fuel a growing cynicism about Western aid in Africa and lend weight to the arguments that much of the aid is more mythical than real. In terms of capital flows, about $150 bn is siphoned out of Africa each year through various capital flight mechanisms and tax dodges while aid is currently running at around $20 bn. And for the part of the aid that is real, the critics claim that much of it either doesn't work or creates a national dependence in the recipient country, which holds back real economic development.

We review some of those arguments this week in our analysis on transition from outgoing premier Tony Blair to Gordon Brown in British politics and its effects on Africa policy. There is likely to be a general review of foreign policy, of which aid to Africa will come under greater scrutiny although incoming Premier Brown remains one of its greater supporters.
He is also surrounded by some hard-headed economists who take an increasing interest in China's economic successes, which are - through the rapid growth of south-south trade - sharply raising Africa's growth figures. When African states walk from the annual meeting of the African Development Bank in Shanghai with $20 bn worth of deals to finance infrastructure over the next three year from China's Eximbank - more than the G8 can muster all together - some new thinking is required. Expect to see some reorientation of British aid but no reductions in the short term.

Also in this week's issue we carry a lengthy analysis of the political battles ahead of Nigeria's new President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua as he tries to reform the political system and take on the powerful state governors. Things are still moving slowly in Abuja but announcements of the new cabinet are expected imminently; the nominations will then be put to the National Assembly, which will then hold confirmation hearings. The new ministers are unlikely to start work before early August.

Still on the political watch we have compelling stories about opposition alliances and betrayals in both Kenya and Congo-Brazzaville - in both countries the status quo has been strengthened. And in Namibia, the previous status quo under Sam Nujoma may still try to stage a return.

Now it's back to the editorial coalface in readiness for next week's menu of reportage, analysis and insider information.

To get the full details on these and other key stories, subscribe to Africa Confidential today - visit www.africa-confidential.com.

Confidentially yours

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Supersonic statistics and global asymmetry

20 May 2007
Shangcheng Road
Pu Dong

Dear Confidentialers,

It's been a week of supersonic statistics and global asymmetry here in Shanghai, which this week hosted one of the most successful annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) to date. Bankers and officials are checking their spreadsheets as they head for the Pu Dong international airport after a week of business negotiations, punctuated by acrobatics and firework displays.

Some numbers stick in the mind. Firstly, that China's Exim Bank will be financing some US$20 billion of trade between China and Africa over the next three years, according to the AfDB's President, Donald Kaberuka. In an interview with Africa Confidential, Kaberuka said that the $20 bn. figure emerged from a series of discussions with Exim Bank Chairman Li Ruogu.

The second figure is that Chinese companies are now winning about half of all state-funded public works contracts in Africa, according to the latest research from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The third figure is that China's trade with Africa in 2006 was worth $55.6 bn.

Put together, these three figures give an idea of the pace of China's commercial inroads into Africa. Remember that just six years ago Africa-China trade was just under $10 bn. The latest projection is that Africa-China trade will top $100 bn. by 2010.

And now the last statistic, I promise: this year, China's foreign exchange reserves are running at $1.41 trillion (that's a thousand billion) and due to top $2 tn. by 2010. That is why the $20 bn. worth of deals being done with Africa over the next three years looks feasible - and it may turn out to be an under-estimate. Perhaps, the Chinese project funding may not be cheap or transparent. However, Chinese infrastructure projects are often priced at some 20-30% cheaper than Western contractors, which may explain why they're starting to dominate the public sector market. And they don't come with sermons about how to run a government.

Senegal's Finance Minister Abdoulaye Diop told a seminar on Asian trade with Africa that the Chinese 'treat us like adults.' South Africa's Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said that Chinese engagement in Africa had proved much more benign than that of Europe over the past 300 years. Certainly, Shanghai's hosting of the AfDB meeting was an enormously successful marketing and diplomatic operation.

Where's the asymmetry you ask? While the Shanghai meeting was getting on with business, Europeans and Americans were tussling over the leadership of the World Bank in Washington DC, in a public row that has gravely damaged the institution. This might well be the week that irrevocably changes the international financial institutions. European officials in Shanghai spoke openly about switching funding from the World Bank to the African Development Bank.

A bigger issue is at stake. How representative are these financial institutions and how well are they governed? The Paul Wolfowitz saga has reopened questions about the manner in which Europe regards it as having the right to provide the head of the International Monetary Fund, while the United States has the right to provide the President of the World Bank. Oddly, some European ministers want to end the precedent of the USA providing the World Bank's leader but see nothing wrong with Europe benefiting from a similar arrangement at the IMF. They have opened a debate that is likely to mean wholesale reform of both institutions - partly for reasons that were on show in Shanghai this week.

Asia is now a major global player in the politics and economics of development. The G8 rich countries club meeting in Berlin next month wants China and India to sign up to its rules on aid and debt, and contribute more to transparent multilateral aid funds. In exchange, Asian politicians are asking for better representation and more say over policy in these organisations. And after the past week in Shanghai, they're likely to get plenty of votes of support from African officials.

In Africa Confidential this week, I'll be looking at how this backdrop will shape economic and political developments in Africa over the next year and our correspondents across the continent will bring you analysis of the week's main political developments.

Yours confidentially

PS. I must include a correction to the editor's email of last week that touched on the history of slave trade abolition. One of our subscribers, an historian, helpfully pointed out that the reference to the dates of United States' abolition was wrong. When they wrote the US constitution in 1787 '. the drafters included a provision (Article I, Section 9, clause (1)) barring Congress from banning the slave trade until 1808. In 1808, Congress banned it. Slavery, of course, took a civil war in the 1860s. Brazil, by the way, continued to have slavery (as opposed to the slave trade) until the 1880s.'

Monday, 14 May 2007

We don't do apologies

Luxembourg Gardens

Dear Confidentialers,

After sending another Africa Confidential to the printers in the smallish hours of Thursday morning, I jumped on a Eurostar on a mission to see President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy spend an uncomfortable half hour with outgoing President Jacques Chirac at the delightful Jardin du Luxembourg in the heart of the Latin quarter in Paris. The occasion was the unveiling of a statue of a broken chain to mark the abolition of slavery by France in 1848.

That was the Year of European Revolution. Somehow those phlegmatic Anglo-Saxons across the Channel had managed to pass a law barring the participation of Brits in the slave trade 41 years earlier ­ without taking to the streets in the continental way. Several Brits, however, colluded with the likes of Yoruba plutocrat Madame Tinubu to continue their slave-raiding and transporting operations, moving down the coast from Lagos to Ouidah, the capital of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, until Brazil finally abolished it in 1851. It took the United States a little longer and a civil war to follow suit.

The French law went further than than William Wilberforce's law, which was finally passed in Westminster in February 1807, and declared slavery a crime against humanity. Accordingly, last Thursday's event prompted some Gallic breast-beating about the atrocities of the vile trade, well, mainly by the outgoing President, whose emotional outpourings on Africa are unlikely to be imitated by his successor.

Nicolas Sarkozy, ­ like his Anglo-Saxon pal Tony Blair, ­ doesn't do apologies for the slave trade, nor for colonialism, nor indeed for much else. That morning's newspapers in Paris were excoriating Sarkozy and his wife Cécilia for luxuriating on a yacht belonging to corporate raider Vincent Bolloré. Sarko's response was that there was nothing for which to apologise.

He was a shade more diplomatic in the Jardin du Luxembourg at the statue, chatting for a few minutes with his arch-critic, Guadeloupe-born French football international Lilian Thuram. Afterwards, Thuram, who accused Sarkozy of insulting people caught up in the 2005 riots, said social issues were too important to be personalised. Initially, it seems, Sarko is on a charm offensive and he will be advised on African matters by people like his spokeswoman Rachida Data, whose parents come from the Maghreb, and immigration specialist Rama Yade, from Senegal.

Sarko's dear mère, Andrée, is doing better in the French press than his wife Cécilia, who distinguished herself by saying that she was proud that not a drop of French blood flowed through her veins. By contrast, Andrée tried to quell the fears of those who think her son might occasionally spin out of control. 'He was a little excitable when he was a small boy,' she told journalists, 'but these days he's very calm.' Tell that to the metaphorical marines in the Paris suburbs, Maman Andrée.

Sarko's week ended with the arrival in Paris of a freshly resigned Tony Blair, who had earlier feted his friend's election win with a congratulatory broadcast on Youtube in excellent tele-prompt French: Sarkozy would be 'strong leader', able to build a 'good and close relationship' with Britain. That makes the French a little suspicious, particularly when followed by equally fulsome plaudits from US President George Bush.

Much is likely to change in France. Sarkozy said he will try negotiations first; if that doesn't work, it will be the strong arm of the state. His relentless focus on restructuring France's domestic economy and social services has big implications. Immediately, Sarkozy has to raise 30 billion euro: that's to pay for his proposed tax cuts and for the restructuring of France's lavish public services. Africans believe somehow they will foot the bill. Sarkozy has already said that the French economy does not need Africa. Is he about to prove it?

Poor handling of the Paris-Africa axis, pretty wobbly in recent years, could destroy it altogether. Tight on funds, the French Ministry of Cooperation may spend less on development aid. Certainly Sarkozy has pledged to end Françafrique, the self-interested network of Franco-African political and business friendships.

More interesting and maybe more important is Sarkozy's proposal for a Mediterranean Union, bringing all the North African countries and Turkey together with the Southern European states of which France is the biggest economic force. The proposed Med Union will have its own institutions and may have common commissions with the European Union. With all that North African oil and gas sloshing around, it's a clever commercial idea even if the politics may be problematic ­ Sarkozy sitting down with Brother leader Moammar el Gadaffi of Libya, perhaps.

As Sarkozy comes steaming or sailing into power, his pal Blair leaves port in a tightly choreographed adieu ­ well at least until the next time. For Africa, the next time is likely to be pretty soon because, along with climate change and the environment, one of the main focuses of the new Blair Foundation will be African development. Indeed, it's a pity that Blair has booked a trip to Washington to bid farewell to President Bush; he might have learned more if he'd flown east to Shanghai for the African Development Bank Annual Meeting. That's where I'll be reporting from this week on Africa's fast-growing relations with Asia and their economic and political implications.

Before then, don't forget to check our latest edition featuring articles and analyses on: how President-elect Umaru Yar'Adua's transition is working in Nigeria; South Africa's Democratic Alliance party and its new leader; the diplomatic pressure ramping up on Sudan's government over the Darfur holocaust; Mauritania's new President and the challenges ahead; Zambia's ex-President Frederick Chiluba's state-funded haute couture; vulture funds; and an exclusive report on the state of Africa's political parties and parliaments.

Until next time in Shanghai,

Yours confidentially

Monday, 23 April 2007

Occidental tourist

The Occidental Grill
Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington DC

Dear Confidentialers,

Viewed from the reassuringly stolid interior of the Occidental Grill ­ 'Where statesmen dine', it says on the door ­ Washington could be mistaken for a benign provincial city where bow-tied professors and power-suited politicians meet for lunch to engage in a leisurely philosophical joust. In reality, the US capital is in ferment as the confrontation between the Republican Presidency and the Democratic Congress threatens to paralyse the remaining months of the George W. Bush administration.

Whatever the issue ­ funding the Iraq war, the Justice Department and now the World Bank ­ partisans from each side are ready to bombard the other with accusations and innuendo. The next presidential elections are 18 months away and neither party has chosen a candidate yet but that doesn't stop every public issue being pushed through the political meat grinder.

As I was chatting with my companions at the Occidental, a lone student had embarked on a shooting rampage at a local university. Within hours of news breaking about the tragedy, Democratic politicians had started lambasting President Bush's opposition to gun control.

My mission in DC was to cover the less bloody but equally fraught battle for control of the World Bank. Here the villain of the piece is beleaguered World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who has admitted to 'making mistakes' by twice promoting his girlfriend, a communications officer with the Bank, and raising her salary.

Wolfowitz, who as Deputy Defence Secretary helped plan the USA's ill-fated war in Iraq, doesn't regard his mistakes as a hanging offence. Understanding that his appointment as President of the Bank while his girlfriend was an employee represented a conflict of interest, Wolfowitz dealt with the matter on his own terms and without consulting the relevant Bank officials.

He is the latest of President Bush's neo-conservative acolytes to suffer a reversal of fortune as Washington's political winds change direction. Wolfowitz's attempt to resolve this conflict by seconding his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, to the State Department, where she was awarded a salary higher than Secretary Condoleezza Rice's, provoked a rebellion among the World Bank staffers.

Neither are the staffers particularly enamoured of the self-confessed Bush administration retreads that Wolfowitz recruited as his enforcers in the Bank. The two, former Spokesman for Vice-President Dick Cheney, Kevin Kellems, and former senior Treasury Department official Robin Cleveland, have a reputation for brusque interventions and for ignoring the views of Bank officials.

Resentments have built up about mega-salaries and special conditions for the advisors. One Bank source tells me that Ms Cleveland insists on driving her Humvee to work and that the staff car park had to be modified to accommodate the gigantic vehicle.

Another Bank source compared the staff's attitude to Wolfowitz, Cleveland and Kellems to the rejection of a transplanted organ by the host. 'It is a 100% rejection,' he said. That was clear from a series of internal meetings in the run-up to the Bank's annual meeting on 14-15 April.

However, the Bank's Executive Board has been much more divided on the Wolfowitz issue. Unsurprisingly, the US Director strongly supported Wolfowitz; more surprisingly they were joined by the African Directors at the bank, who hailed the President's anti-corruption campaign and mobilisation of Bank resources for debt relief and post conflict states such as Liberia. But Wolfowitz has lost the backing of Asian and Latin American Bank shareholders, despite some public expressions of support.

Britain and Germany, the main assassins, have struggled to mount a unified European position on Wolfowitz's dismissal. However the crisis plays out, the Bank will be greatly weakened, particularly as it gears up to raise some US$30 billion in concessional funds to finance its soft-loan affiliate, the International Development Association (IDA), of which about half is to be earmarked for Africa.

The Wolfowitz question comes as doubts grow about the G8's big push for Africa. Last year, overall aid levels to Africa decreased by 5% while the World Bank's own disbursements to Africa were down by about $1bn. A testing time about which I'll have more to say in this week's issue.

I can't end without referring to the Nigerian elections from where I'll be reporting over the next week. Last week's edition of Africa Confidential gave a state-by-state guide to the key gubernatorial contests and analysed how the post-election transition may play out. I'll be talking to some of the key politicians and activists in the Niger Delta this week as well as the generation of national politicians in waiting in Abuja.

We also have a detailed pre-election analysis from Freetown, Sierra Leone, that suggests the electoral contest there may have opened up a little and that some tougher challenges lie ahead from Solomon 'Solo B' Berewa, the Sierra Leone People's Party candidate. Building on those themes, there is an analysis of the successes and failures of post-conflict reconstruction in Africa, a subject of growing interest to the multilateral development institutions. We have reports from Congo-Kinshasa and Guinea, and a banking analyst explains what lies behind the boom in Africa's financial services industry.

Yours in confidence

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Zimbabwe: false dawns and ways forward

BBC Studios
London SW1

Dear Confidentialers,

Another day, another interview on Zimbabwe. The BBC's excellent Sheena McDonald is quizzing four of us - two journalists and two opposition activists - about what happens next. President Mugabe's regime isn't about to collapse nor are the military about to mount a putsch, we agreed. So is Zimbabwe at the tipping point?

Perhaps at the start of a tipping point, volunteered Christina Lamb, the Sunday Times journalist who has written a series of undercover reports from Zimbabwe.

The horrendous economic decline in Zimbabwe over the past decade presents a paradox: the general impoverishment has weakened the opposition and the people's will to resist with many of the most qualified people going into exile. Zimbabwe's economy has now shrunk more than those of countries where open civil war has raged - such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Liberia and Mozambique.

At the same time, the party barons at the top of the ZANU-PF hierarchy are beginning to see their assets threatened. They know that without political change at home, the international economic isolation won't end. Some of their overseas assets have been frozen. For example, the British government has frozen £1 million in an account in a bank in south London in the name of former spymaster and presidential hopeful Emmerson Mnangagwa. It would be interesting to hear Mnangagwa's explanation of how he got the million pounds in the first place.

It's been a rough week for the opposition. First there was the disappointing meeting for the Southern African leaders in Dar-es-Salaam and then the news that ZANU-PF has 'unanimously' backed President Robert Mugabe's nomination as presidential candidate in national elections next March.

None of the possibilities look good back in Zimbabwe. The trades unions' strike call won little support this week. Few people wanted to lose two days of precious pay or, worse still, their jobs. President Mugabe was unfazed: he jetted off to Malaysia to meet his wife Grace in the midst of the strike. His security services were on alert for protest marches in the major towns but had a quieter week than they expected.

After the false dawns of political change, it's more important than ever to look at ways forward to stem the economic and social decline and reopen political dialogue. Everything tried so far has failed but there is a sliver of a chance that could be pulled out of last week's talks among the Southern African leaders in Dar.

They appointed South Africa's Thabo Mbeki to look at mediation between the Mugabe government and the opposition parties. Perhaps South Africa, which has more interests than any other outsider, can nudge Zimbabwe towards a serious meeting of all the parties - the opposition groupings, civic activists and trades unions, the churches, and ZANU-PF - which would resemble the end-of-apartheid negotiations in South Africa in the early 1990s.

The carrot would be a recovery programme to address the health and education crises in the country, backed by the African Development Bank, the World Bank and IMF, the European Union and China and other international agencies. The trigger would be agreement on broad constitutional reform and the holding of credible elections, as well as the Harare government's agreement to take to shackles off the country's brave journalists. Mmm pie in the sky? Perhaps, the worsening crisis needs much more imaginative thinking.

Two Zimbabwean analysts have sketched out just such a programme of reform and resuscitation for the country in the current Africa Confidential. They want the discussions and the planning for change in Zimbabwe to begin now, and believe that such a forum would drive political change much faster. That's in our analysis section. No surprise that Zimbabwe also takes up the cover story this week. We point out that despite the lack of public finger-pointing, Southern African politicians are getting more openly critical of the Zimbabwe regime and the damage its doing to the region.

We also look at the latest twists in the Brett Kebble saga in South Africa and the beneficiaries of his demise. Then to Nairobi for a guided tour of the divided opposition parties who are trying to pull together to trounce President Mwai Kibaki in December's elections. Next door in Uganda, we report on the ruling party's political heavy-handedness despite its efforts to use this year's Commonwealth summit in Kampala to build a better image for the country.

There are also a couple of reports on Angola which this week celebrates five years of peace after the death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. Yes, the economic growth has been stratospheric - thanks to the country's galloping oil production. Sadly political developments have not kept track; so the government's authoritarianism and lack of accountability prevent the economic benefits being spread more widely. Nonetheless, Angola is one of Africa's fastest growing powers and one which Africa Confidential will be covering in increasing detail in the run-up to elections due in 2009.

To get the full details on these and other key stories, subscribe to Africa Confidential today - visit www.africa-confidential.com.

Yours confidentially

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Les femmes soutiennent ATT

Place de l'Indépendance
Avenue de Mali

Dear Confidentialers

It is hard to get away from Ghana's founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, this month. Here in the centre of Bamako, a statue of the kente-clad Nkrumah bestrides the grand square like a Colossus. It is a reminder of the solidarity among Africa's first wave of Independence leaders and a mark of the esteem in which Francophone leaders hold the pioneering Nkrumah.

However, most Malians are now looking to the future rather than to Africa's history, specifically the presidential elections that are due on 29 April. That much is clear from a walk through Bamako's dusty streets, which are lined with political posters and newspaper vendors, who jostle to sell you news of the latest opposition attack on President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) - or vice versa.

It was even clearer in my hotel on Sunday morning. As we chatted about politics and checked our emails in the lobby, a stately procession of Malian women descended from the mezzanine floor, all wearing t-shirts proclaiming 'les femmes soutiennent ATT' (women support ATT).

Ever since ATT or General Touré ousted the repressive Moussa Traoré regime in 1991, his stock has run high with Mali's women. Under Traoré's iron rule, women and schoolchildren had suffered as much as his many male opponents.

ATT's core support is in Mali's northern hinterland. The sophisticates of Bamako have become more sceptical after his first four years in power as elected President. So ATT is relying on his female ground troops to win back the loyalty of the capital.

Perhaps the greatest surprise in Bamako today is how lightly Malians regard their status as a global music capital, with the likes of Ry Cooder, Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and U2's Bono making their respective pilgrimages to pay homage to their musical heroes ­ the late Ali Farka Touré, Oumou Sangare and Salif Keïta. Add that to the growing celebrity of Malian filmmakers, such as Abderrahmane Sissoko and Manthia Diawara, and the country is becoming a cultural lodestar for the region.

Inevitably, news of Zimbabwe's political meltdown reached the pages of the Bamako press. President Robert Mugabe, the hero of Zimbabwe's Independence struggle and the villain of its last decade of decline, frustrates and horrifies Malians as much as anyone else.

Our lead story this week, 'Beware the Ides of March', focuses on Zimbabwe, but Africa Confidential doesn't pretend to know exactly how and when Mugabe will leave the political scene. Nor, it would seem, does he ­ but we do go into great detail about the power play within the ruling ZANU-PF, as we think that party ­ rather than the brave and increasingly bold opposition Movement for Democratic Change ­ will deliver the hatchet blow to Mugabe's rule. That change is coming soon is not in dispute. We also report on a Zimbabwe 'recovery fund' set up by a Botswana finance house: it predicts substantial returns within three years.

Ghana is floating a bond this year, which is designed to finance much-needed electricity generating projects. Our article from Accra this week looks at how the government has the chance to capitalise on this year's 50 years of Independence celebrations. Our report from Mogadishu is much less sanguine: the Somali capital remains on a knife-edge after the arrival of 1300 Ugandan peacekeepers. Few believe that conditions there will improve until President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's government gets more serious about reconciling with its defeated opponents.

If you're interested in hearing about a key economic issue well ahead of time, I recommend you read our analysis section on capital flight and tax havens, which confidently predicts that this will be the new battle line in the fight against corruption. Also not to be missed are our reports on the latest successes in Liberia and the struggle to end the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire. There is also another trendsetting piece from Congo-Kinshasa that reveals how policy-makers are trying to earn revenue from conserving the country's vast and important tropical rain forests. Don't forget the pointers: who were the mystery kidnappers in Ethiopia; Malawi's ex-President Bakili Muluzi announces his bid for a (non-consecutive) third term; rare dissent on Angola's airwaves; and displaced Darfurians, waiting in vain for the international community to act, send an extraordinary petition to Western governments.

Good reading and until next week,

Yours confidentially

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Ghana @ 50

Independence Square

Dear Africa Confidentialers

I've just walked across Accra's Independence Square, which was today the focal point of Ghana's celebrations of 50 years of Independence. The Square sits between the lapping waves of the Atlantic and Accra's majestic Freedom Arch, which was built for Independence in 1957.

Along with an array of foreign dignitaries, hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians packed into the Square, which was a sea of flags in the national colours of red, gold and green. Some had staked out places in the early hours of the morning.

Ghanaian air force jets swept low across the square, puffing out red, gold and green smoke, while the platoons of commandos and contingents of police officers, naval ratings and even junior school students marched in formation across the parade ground. The parade started and concluded with a march past by a Scottish pipe and drums regiment, which cheered any Highlanders among the spectators but puzzled Ghanaians. As expected in Ghana, the music was top rate, with army bandsmen conspiring to inject a jazzy swing into military marches with quick changes of marching tempo and the occasional improvisation on the bass drums.

As I walked through the crowd waving my hard-won press accreditation badge, President John Kufuor's words were echoing across the square. Kufuor paid tribute to Ghana's founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, and quoted his words: 'the Independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa.' With some pride Kufuor continued, 'Ghana thus became the Mecca for many freedom fighters and potential leaders who came here for inspiration and material support.'

That surprised a few of us. Kufuor's political allegiance is to the New Patriotic Party, the current ruling party whose leaders hark back to the conservative Danquah-Busia tradition in Ghana's politics with its trenchant opposition to the radical Pan-Africanist followers of Nkrumah.

Kufuor was evidently in reconciliatory mood. He poured praise on Ghana's 'Big Six' leaders - Nkrumah, E. Obetsebi-Lamptey, J.B. Danquah, E.Ako Adjei, Edward Akuffo-Addo, G.A. Paa Grant and William Ofori Attah. Most of the Big Six split split with Nkrumah over his radical stance but were comprehensively outmanoeuvred as Ghanaians mounted pressure on the British colonial authorities for Independence.

The Big Six

Then Kufuor disbursed the compliments both to Nkrumah's political allies such as Krobo Edusei, Kojo Botsio and Kweku Baako, as well as his opponents such as Dr. K. A. Busia, Joe Appiah and Victor Owusu.

Praising Africa's founding fathers and the pioneers of the Independence struggles, Kufuor threw in a few barbs. 'The new but mostly inexperienced leaders had barely any guide in the art of government. And for a long time, among both the political leaders and the people, it seemed that getting independence was the end in itself. This naivety resonated around the African continent'.

Any reference to Ghana's long list of military rulers, especially the most recent incumbent, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, was conspicuously absent from Kufuor's speech. Two days before, Rawlings had publicly rejected an invitation to share a platform with Kufuor at the anniversary celebrations, saying there was nothing to celebrate and that the government's efforts to put his wife on trial for corruption was part of its campaign of denigration against his family.

Joining the throng in the early morning, I bumped into a petite BBC journalist and together we tried to squeeze our way to the front to get a decent recording of the events. Journalists still carry a certain cachet in Ghana and people helped us push forward determinedly without too much collateral damage to her recording equipment. The overwhelmingly celebratory mood and the emerging sunshine kept spirits high.

I picked a vantage point just next to the press enclosure and could make out some of the more than 20 African leaders who had made the pilgrimage to Accra: next to President Kufuor was Nigeria's outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo, while behind them sat South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, King Letsie III of Lesotho and the President of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konaré.

The party in Accra started at midnight on 5 March, when thousands of people thronged the grounds of parliament to watch a re-enactment of founding President Nkrumah's Declaration of Independence. Troupes of dancers and musicians from across the country took to the stage to provide a vibrant backdrop to the main political drama of the evening. Nkrumah's words ­ 'Ghana your beloved country is free' ­ rang out, followed by a high-tech fireworks display.

This evening, the visiting dignitaries are to be received and lavishly banqueted at State House. For the rest of us, there are free concerts, sports and musical extravaganzas, as well as lectures by African intellectuals such as Wole Soyinka for the more cerebral.

When the party's over there will be more time for sombre reflection. To hear that, you have to listen to Accra's journalists and civic activists, many of whom retain some scepticism about the golden jubilee hoopla. One veteran columnist suggested to me that as the celebrations had cost Ghana US$20 million and given that Ghana's population was 20 million and a bottle of beer now cost the equivalent of a dollar, the government should have offered to buy every Ghanaian a bottle of beer. At that stage in the evening, he didn't have any suggestions on how to accommodate the millions of Ghanaians, apart from himself and his pals, who would have no use for a bottle of beer.

The latest issue is now online, featuring: Angola, where the post-war elections have been repeatedly delayed and President José Eduardo dos Santos' pledge to step down before the next presidential poll looks unlikely; accused of corruption, Nigeria's Vice-President tells Africa Confidential that it's a put-up job and he remains a candidate; the implications of the death of Sierra Leone's Chief Hinga Norman for the Special Court ­ and the country; the electoral victory of Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal; an analysis of the future for Franco-African relations after May's presidential elections; South Africa's Finance Minister Trevor Manuel's 2007 good news budget; moves in Zambia by unions and the opposition to redress the imbalance in the copper industry between the rights of miners and mining companies; and Malawi's tobacco sector.

We also have pointers on the International Criminal Court's indictments for war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region; growing violence against Southerners by the regime in Sudan; Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh expels a UN representative who expressed doubts about his cure for HIV/AIDS; Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's snap election win in Lesotho; and President Lansana Conté's truce with unions in Guinea.

Until next week, congratulations to Ghana

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

A 'new and cleaner' Françafrique

Rue de la Verrerie
Paris 75004

Dear Africa Confidentialers,

This week's letter strikes a Francophone note. Last week France's President Jacques Chirac welcomed more than 30 African leaders to Cannes for the France-Africa summit and the 2 March edition of Africa Confidential will carry a full report of the summit and the changing shape of French policy on the continent. There is the other matter of France's presidential elections due in April, which mark the pass/ing of a political era.

Personifying that era is President Chirac, who has been a fixture on the political scene for over three decades. But over the past five years, Chirac has lost power within the ruling Union pour un Mouvement Populaire that he helped to form. His ambitious but diminutive (Napoleonic in stature) Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has seized control of the party and is now standing ­ - against Chirac's wishes ­ - presidency.

Chirac's politics were forged in the heydays of the Françafrique policy, a complex network of political and business deals between politicians in metropolitan France and ruling parties in their former colonies in Africa. Essentially, corrupt business deals in Africa helped finance French political parties; similar things happen in Britain and the United States of course, but in France the system was much more brazen. French officials insist that Françafrique is dead and buried. Almost everyone admits that France's Africa policy needs reform, and Africa as an election issue will loom larger in France than any other Western country. Candidate Sarkozy has attacked Chirac's failure to reform relations with Africa. He called for a 'new and cleaner relationship' with Africa when he visited Benin and Mali last year. In Bamako, Sarkozy stated baldly: 'Economically, France no longer needs Africa.'

Sarkozy is not a sympathetic politician. His hard line during the violent clashes in French cities in November 2005 infuriated French citizens of African and Arab descent. He made matters worse by referring to the protesters as 'une racaille' (meaning rabble or scum), which they took as a racist insult. Undeterred, Sarkozy takes a tough line on race, culture and immigration. 'France, you either you love it or you leave it,' he told a television interviewer last year.

The main challenger facing Sarkozy is Ségolène Royal, presidential candidate for the leftist Parti Socialiste. An elegant mother of four, Royal talks a lot about family and the environment but is yet to make clear her differences with Sarkozy on Françafrique, race and immigration. Although Royal was born in Senegal in 1953, she has had little to do with Africa policy or foreign policy in general.

When Royal returned to Dakar last year, she pledged to do more to develop solar energy technologies for the benefit of Africa and to boost French aid to the continent. As a politician on the left, she appeals more to African and Arab voters but she has offered little alternative to Sarkozy's hard stance on immigration.

Neither Royal nor Sarkozy put in an appearance at Chirac's final extravagant France-Africa summit on 15-16 February in the sumptuous Mediterranean resort of Cannes that discussed 'Africa and the world equilibrium'. The older generation of African leaders such as Gabon's Omar Bongo, Congo-Brazzaville's Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Cameroon's Paul Biya bid a tearful farewell to Chirac while wondering what to make of his potential successors.

Our correspondent was in Cannes for the summit and will present an in-depth analysis of the meeting and the coming era in French policy in our next issue, published on Friday 2 March.

Meanwhile, in our current issue you'll find an exclusive interview with Malawi's ex-President Bakili Muluzi and inside reports on: Cyril Ramaphosa's pitch for South Africa's presidency; who's who in the new government in Congo-Kinshasa; the divisions over candidates in Kenya's opposition alliance; women's political progress in South Africa; rebel commanders' attempt to organise a conference in Sudan's Darfur province; Guinea's President Lansana Conté's ongoing battles with the opposition; the lacklustre reshuffle in Zimbabwe and an exclusive report on the toxic waste dumping in Côte d'Ivoire.

Yours confidentially

Turning out to vote in Senegal

Voting was colourful in the city of Thies, 70 km to the east of Dakar and Senegal's second most populous city. Men and women, young and old, turned out after mosque prayers in their hundreds at Kaba Sall primary school to exercise their right at the ballot box, waiting for several hours in the midday sun in queues that snaked round the campus courtyard.

A common complaint was that people have yet to feel the trickle down of the 4-5% economic growth that the country has been averaging since President Abdoulaye Wade's crushing victory in 2000 - a sentiment made more acute when coupled with the rising costs of living and stagnating wages. Wade's famed 'grand' infrastructure projects, including a super highway and a new airport, don't fill bellies.

Senegal's electorate is increasingly dominated by its politically conscious youth: 'More and more young people are voting, it is they that have the future, it is they that can work the computers and have information,' said Pap, 43 years old and an employee of Senelec, the electricity parastatal. 'Many of our leaders have been with us since Independence', he said referring to the 81-year-old Wade. 'It is time for a new epoque.' Abou Deng, a 19-year-old female student voting for her first time, agreed: 'I am voting for change.'

The sheer throng of people out to vote dispelled the nervousness of the past few days. Saturday night in Dakar was uncharacteristically quiet, the streets were subdued and the many usually thriving restaurants and bars were closed. This is the hometown of Wade's principal challenger and once trusted lieutenant, Idrissa Seck. Political tensions were raised on Thursday after Seck's convoy was attacked in the capital by supporters of a local Marabout, an ally of Wade, who hurled rocks at his Hummer jeep. Several of Seck's staff were injured but the challenger himself sped away unharmed. Seck told Africa Confidential on Sunday that the incident was an assassination attempt ordered by Wade.

Turnout was high across the country, with early results giving the President a lead and indicating a strong showing by the formerly governing Parti Socialiste. On Monday, Wade's staff briefed journalists that Wade had already won. Premature pronouncements only heighten suspicion surrounding the President - and raise the spectre of further violence. None of the [unofficial] opinion polls gave Wade a first round victory. Socialist candidate Ousmane Tanor Dieng says that he has evidence of a 'plan of fraud' initiated by President Wade - an accusation seconded by Idrissa Seck. The full results will not be out until at least late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

High drama at the summit

Farringdon Road,
London EC1

Dear Confidentialers,

One of those historical weeks in Africa has just gone by: summits and summitry in Addis Ababa, political intrigue unravels in Abuja, a peacekeeping force is readied for Mogadishu, China's President Hu Jintao embarks on a 10-day swing through Africa, while Guinea's military President wobbles under the weight of a two-week general strike.

It was high drama at the African Union summit in Addis when heads of state blocked Sudan's bid for the Chairmanship of the organisation and instead elected Ghana's President John Kufuor. Insiders say that there was no question of Sudan getting the chair: it is ruled out by the Khartoum government's policies in Darfur and the AU's deployment of a peacekeeping mission there. The real mystery was why Khartoum thought it was even worth trying to get the chair, having failed to do so last year when it was hosting the summit.

There were other sparky moments, when Presidents Idris Déby Itno of Chad and Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir of Sudan traded insults on the last day of the summit, but no great leaps forward on the substantial issues of organising a rapid deployment force for the AU or remodelling its grandiose but under-performing New Partnership for Africa's Development.

There were more dramas - and tragically more casualties - in Conakry, where a general strike pressured President Lansana Conté to hand back some of his powers to an as yet-to-be named new prime minister. The frenzied politics within and outside the military in Conakry show that although Conté may be on the ropes, he is certainly not planning to retire soon.

Frenzied also applies to the climate in Nigerian politics as the confrontation worsens between President Olusegun Obasanjo and his estranged deputy Atiku Abubakar. Obasanjo's circle insist that Atiku will be out of the race for the presidency within a month; Abubakar's circle say their man will fight on and win. That clamour has drowned out the frontrunners in the elections: Umaru Yar'Adua and Muhammadu Buhari. This week we have a profile of Buhari, following our analysis of Yar'Adua's chances in our previous issue.

With Hollywood's take on Africa - The Last King of Scotland (Uganda) and Blood Diamond (Sierra Leone) - still pulling in the crowds, we devote our analysis section to an investigation of the diamond trade across Africa and find that smuggling, corruption and human rights abuses are the biggest problems today. Our correspondents discover just how easy it is for the determined crook to circumvent the controls put in place under the industry-backed Kimberley Process.

And in the economy section, you'll find a list of Africa's top 30 listed companies (not including the mega-markets of South Africa or North Africa) and the story behind the current exuberance of African equities.

To round off the edition, the pointers section offers a couple of scoops on how the World Bank's anti-corruption rhetoric conflicts with its operations in Mozambique and why the British government drew up and then suspended a US$195,000 project to assist Sudanese militia leader Minni Minnawi.

I'm heading off for North Africa this evening but the next issue of Africa Confidential will be out next week with lots of coverage of South Africa, Congo-Kinshasa and Zimbabwe.

Until then, yours confidentially

Thursday, 25 January 2007

At the crossroads of Africa

Farringdon Road,
London EC1

Dear Readers,

It is one of those weeks when London lives up to its old reputation as the crossroads of Africa. The capital has hosted a procession of African stars beginning with one of Africa's most distinguished intellectuals, Ali Mazrui, who was followed in short order by Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete, two of Nigeria's three presidential candidates and then a bevy of cinema notables jetting in for the premieres of the two latest African box office hits - The Last King of Scotland and Blood Diamond.

Ever the controversialist, Mazrui took on America's Samuel P. Huntington and his Clash of Civilisations. In his first outing at London University, Mazrui argued that the United States' 'cultural imperialism' of the 21st century was more pernicious than Britain's 'racial imperialism' of the 19th. He contrasted reactions to the clubbing to death of a dozen Kenyan prisoners in a colonial gaol a century ago and the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Even during the worst excesses of colonialism there was a clear line of responsibility leading to the colonial government, which put the errant officials in the Kenyan atrocity on trial. That line of responsibility, Mazrui says, is missing in America's new imperium. Part of the problem may be that Washington denies that it is running an empire, even if much of the country's opinion ­ from liberal interventionists to the neo-conservatives ­ concurs that the American empire is an international reality.

Somalia is the latest theatre for Washington's new empire builders, Mazrui told Africa Confidential after the meeting: the American bombings in southern Somalia are a disaster for the region, and Ethiopia in particular has become a willing instrument in a proxy war. The idea that Ethiopian troops should have marched into Mogadishu and installed a new regime with no popular mandate seemed perverse to Mazrui, as did the latest exhortations from Washington to President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed's government to open a dialogue with the Islamists they had just ousted. Firmly in the camp of the Somalo-pessimists, Mazrui feared that this new frontline in the war on terror would further divide East Africa and rebound badly for Ethiopia.

Sudan is bleaker still. The killings in Darfur would be stopped only by imposing targeted sanctions against senior members of President Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir's regime and the issuing of credible threats to refer them to the International Criminal Court, Mazrui said. Regional outrage over the war in Iraq has shielded the regime, he lamented.

As Mazrui was speaking at London University, Tanzania's President Kikwete took the podium at Chatham House alongside Britain's Development Minister Hilary Benn. As the meeting was billed to tackle the fight against corruption, one of the first questions asked was about the British investigation into BAE Systems' alleged mega-commissions on the sale of its air-traffic control system to Tanzania. President Kikwete chose the escape clause, '...improper to discuss it while the investigation continued', closely followed by Mr Benn, who allowed himself a tilt at Prime Minister Tony Blair who had been a keen advocate of the BAE deal with Tanzania: '...of course, no one is above the law.' Perhaps a few swipes at Mr Blair before his replacement by Chancellor Gordon Brown this year might help Mr Benn's bid for the Foreign Secretary's job.

Hailed by London's Tanzanian community at another meeting at Central Hall in Westminster, Kikwete exuded a star quality. The big questions about his presidency are still open. Is he ready to shake up Tanzanian politics and bring a new generation of ministers into government? Is his zero-tolerance policy on corruption credible? (The BAE deal was signed and sealed under his predecessor Benjamin Mkapa.) Most importantly, can Kikwete settle the festering political row over Zanzibar and its mounting list of electoral and political injustices? For now, he has the benefit of the doubt.

Then we went on to a rented apartment opposite Saudi Arabia's palatial Embassy in Mayfair to see Nigeria's leading opposition candidate in this year's presidential elections, General Muhammadu Buhari. My first encounter with the General was almost 25 years ago in Lagos when he had just overthrown an unpopular civilian regime. Initially welcoming the military's return, Nigerians quickly tired of the Buhari government's 'war against indiscipline' and its propensity to arrest journalists.

Today, Buhari is a credible civilian politician. Our lengthy conversation ranged across Nigeria's political landscape and he insisted he will fight the elections on the issues ­ and on the record of President Olusegun Obasanjo's government. That may be just as well. His main rival, Umaru Yar'Adua, is an old school friend as well as the candidate for the governing People's Democratic Party.

Sacked Vice-President Atiku Abubakar was due to jet into London for a political meeting the following day, fresh from a month's holiday in America. Although he and Buhari have a cooperation pact, the General clearly is no Abubakar enthusiast. The pact's main value may be that it irritates their common foe, President Obasanjo.

Neither of the candidates had time to visit the cinema. That's a shame because The Last King of Scotland, which premiered in London during the week, is a powerful parable about political life in Africa and foreign perfidy. It should also remind Britain's ­ and now America's Africa policy-makers ­ that three decades ago Uganda's President Milton Obote was removed and replaced by Britain's and Israel's candidate, one Idi Amin Dada. Did someone mention Somalia?

Next week our correspondents in Addis Ababa will be bringing the inside story from the African Union summit and its deliberations on Somalia, Sudan and the rest of a crowded agenda, as well as more reports from correspondents in Abuja, Nairobi and Conakry.

Until then, yours confidentially

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Out with the old...


Dear Readers,

Happy New Year! I say that with more fervour than usual. The new year's prospects didn't look auspicious as the old year hobbled away. Just as I was setting off for the airport for a swing through West Africa, the radio and television news channels were demanding analysis of the new - although widely predicted - war in the Horn of Africa. Only the obsessives at Africa Confidential could be relied on to turn up at a television studio on 25 December en route to Heathrow to talk about the bombing of Mogadishu.

Thanks to split-second timing I didn't miss the plane but I flew out of London for Africa with a strong sense of déjà vu. And that sense is echoing across Africa in response to news of air strikes on suspected terrorists. The new Somalia war reminds many of the bad old days of the Cold War when the elephants of capitalism and Communism stamped all over the African grass.

I heard that complaint from officials at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and from political activists in Nigeria and Ghana. In this year when Ghana celebrates 50 years of Independence from Britain, the continent should dance to its own tunes, they insisted

In the many African states that will hold elections this year, the worry is that the democracy struggle will take second place to Africa's new frontline in the war on terror. There will be money for bombing raids but not for new roads or water pipes.

Apart from the rhetoric, few Western policymakers are making the link between security and development, let alone democracy. So Equatorial Guinea and Sudan have become Western allies in the war on terror and have negotiated a few concessions en route.

As in the Cold War heydays of Mobutu Sese Seko and PW Botha, 2007 looks like a good time to be an authoritarian leader presiding over valuable natural resources. If the West won't buy, a phone call to China or India should clinch the sale - for a good price and without the lecture on human rights.

The Asian trading axis with Africa will go on growing exponentially. Africa's trade with China hit $50 billion last year, level-pegging with the European and the North America trading blocs. That's driving up African commodity prices and African economic growth - to an average rate of 5.3% across the region in 2007 according to the World Bank.

Now the harder question is whether Africa will follow the Asian lead: that is by investing the commodity export bonanzas in education and infrastructure to achieve a measure of economic self-reliance.

It certainly will be tough to be a human rights activist or a journalist in Africa in 2007. The last year has seen rights activists physically assaulted in the Gambia and Congo-Brazzaville, journalists on trial for printing a joke in Morocco, spurious libel cases against reporters investigating corruption in Sierra Leone, and security agents raiding newspapers in Kenya and Nigeria, home to the liveliest newspapers in Africa.

It will be a busy year for the reporters and the politicians. Almost half the states in Africa are holding elections at presidential, parliamentary or local level: in the Gambia, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa and Kenya. The votes in Nigeria and Kenya with their threatened apocalypses will grab the headlines but many of the other polls will sneak under the radar.

So back to our starting point to assure that none of these will slip underneath our radar, neither will the dramatic events of the last three weeks in Somalia. The immediate question is where the escalation of the Somali conflict will lead?

Much will depend on the diplomatic skills of Abdullahi Yusuf's Transitional Federal government and its ability to win broad-based support across Somalia's complex clan structure and to cut a deal with the warlords who had been driven out of Mogadishu by the Islamists.

Plans to bring in a multi-national peacekeeping force quickly to shore up the Abdullahi government are stuck in negotiations. Assembling a credible force for Somalia is of the highest urgency. An Ethiopian working hand in glove with United States' counter terrorist units would be an incendiary affront to Somali nationalist sentiment and the target of Islamist attacks from the remnants of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council regime and its allies.

In this week's special 16-page edition of Africa Confidential we look at all the forthcoming elections, peace deals and oil deals in detail as well as the upcoming cabinet reshuffles and succession tactics. We also carry a special political map of Africa that lists all the key political events in 2007 and essential economic data.

Confidentially yours