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

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