Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The irresistible rise and rise of Africa-China trade

Two-way trade between Africa and China from January to November this year was worth US$114.8 billion, that is a 43.5% increase over the same period last year according to Beijing. These figures reinforce China's position as the single biggest trading partner with Africa, and one that is catching up fast with the entire European Union, an economic bloc with 25 member states.


These latest trade figures were released on 23 December as part of Beijing's White Paper on Africa-China economic and trade cooperation which argued strongly that both sides were benefiting. 'Practice proves that China-Africa economic and trade cooperation serves the common interests of the two sides,' the White Paper said, 'helps Africa to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals, and boosts common prosperity and progress for China and Africa.' 


Published by the State Council Information Office, the 29-page White Paper referred to a 'new historical starting point' in Africa-China relations which would boost trade, investment as well as the development of infrastructure and technical skills. 


Part of the White Paper can be read as a riposte to Western criticism of China's economic operations in Africa. A senior United States' official was reported to have referred to China's role as 'pernicious' in leaked diplomatic cables. But the authors insist that Beijing is willing to cooperate with other countries in Africa: 'China would like to work with other countries and international organisations to enhance consultation and coordination with African countries... and jointly promote peace, development and progress.'


Almost as important as the volume of trade is the pace of the increase: seven years ago Africa-China trade was around $10 bn. and two decades ago it was just about $1bn. The key driver is of course China's search for resources – oil, gas, copper, cobalt, iron ore, bauxite – all of which Africa has in quantum. That's clear enough from a cursory examination of the composition of trade: African exports to China are still dominated by exports of crude oil and unprocessed minerals; Africa imports mainly competitively priced manufactured goods and building services from China.


So far the pattern of China-Africa trade has mostly repeated the pattern of Europe-Africa trade. But there are some crucial differences. China has no colonial baggage in Africa, unlike Europe, and Beijing's Africa policy is unfolding at a time of rapidly growing demand for African resources across Asia. Economies such as India, Indonesia, Korea and Malaysia are growing almost as fast as China and their demand for resources is likely to mean record prices for African oil and mineral for a decade or more.


This coming bonanza from energy and mineral exports could finance an economic transformation of Africa. Africa's estimates gross domestic product of around $1 trillion in 2010 – about the same as Russia or Brazil – could double within a decade due to Asian demand. As that happens, Africa will become increasingly important as a market for goods and services and many more of its billion people will become middle class consumers.


Much will depend on how African governments negotiate the supply deals and manage the revenues. The China-Africa deals, which involve opaque countertrade and barter arrangements, will come under greater scrutiny – in the same way as the terms that Western oil and mining companies have secured in Africa. Chinese companies will also face more scrutiny on the ground from civic society activists in Africa over accountability and working and environmental conditions. 


Some African governments relish Beijing's stated policy of non-interference in local politics but civic activists and opposition politicians are less convinced, fearing it can help bad governments face down pressure from other quarters. When the manager of a Chinese-owned mine in Zambia shot some protesting workers in November, President Rupiah Banda toned down criticism of the company while his opposition rival Michael Sata berated the managers and used the incident as part of his campaign for next year's presidential elections.


Certainly, China-Africa relations are getting more important to both sides and more complex at the same time. Just as African governments have been pressurising the USA and European governments for better market access, they are making the same demands of China. They also want to process more of their exports to China. Beijing will have to address another African concern – that its growing role in African economies (mainly in extractive industries so far) neither creates many jobs nor transfers much technology. The legions of Chinese workers – both skilled and unskilled – that seem to accompany most of Beijing's big ticket projects in Africa are a big point of contention.


Some of this may be changing as China steps up investments in the mineral processing, textile manufacturing and even motor vehicle production. Some analysts suggest that Africa might become a workshop for Chinese companies as well as a market where they can test products ranging from the most basic industrial goods to really sophisticated luxury products.


For now, few Asian countries – let alone their European counterparts – can rival China's price advantage. China's ability to build infrastructure – power stations, roads, ports and railways – at such low prices explains why Chinese companies have won more than 50% of all the public works contracts in Africa. If they maintain that reputation for price and add reliability and accountability to it, the trend of fast rising Africa-China trade seems set for the coming decade.





Monday, 20 December 2010

Confidential Agenda (Week ending 26 December)


NIGERIA: PRIMARY PASSIONS

For an accidental President, Goodluck Jonathan is taking to the national political contest with alacrity. After a mini-national tour, Jonathan's campaign team have announced that 20 out of the 26 state governors loyal to the People's Democratic Party (PDP) will back his nomination as the party's candidate at its national convention in Abuja on 13 January.

That's good news for Jonathan as he battles former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the consensus candidate of the north, for the nomination. Neither side can afford to relax and both will focus their attention on the state governors and assemblies to win over party opinion.

And those opinions are far from settled. This week, the party is reviewing nominations for candidates for the state and national assemblies and the state governorships. The primaries for the governorships are due on 9 January, four days before the presidential primaries: so if the incumbent PDP governors win re-nomination for a second term that should help Jonathan. But a few upsets in the governorship primaries, especially in the North, could spell trouble for his campaign.

In the next month, Nigerians will also learn more about the likely presidential and governorship candidates put forward by the other parties such as the Action Congress of Nigeria and the Congress of the People. And electronic voter registration is due to start shortly after the new year. The success of that exercise will in large part determine the credibility of the national elections being organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission under Attahiru Jega.

GHANA: THE LOAN DANGER

The struggle for the good governance of Ghana's oil industry started long before the celebrations to the first commercial oil exports on 15 December.

Civic activists and opposition parliamentarians are already warning about signs of financial laxity. Their current focus is on the government move, narrowly approved in parliament in early December, to change Clause 5 of the Oil Revenue Management Bill to allow oil-backed loans. These are loans that the government takes out and then repays by shipments of oil instead of cash.

Ghana's Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas is set against it. More doctrinal opposition comes from the IMF, which routinely disapproves of the practice and forbids many of its borrowers to contract oil-backed loans.

The IMF objects because such loans can cause debts to spiral upwards when oil prices are unstable. The use of oil-backed loans by oil-producers such as Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and Nigeria has undermined efforts for greater accountability and, even if oil prices are high, the loans attract higher than usual interest rates and the handling fees and agency arrangements take a large slice out of revenues. Vice-President John Mahama insists it will all be different in Ghana and that the government will be using oil-back credits for vital investments to improve infrastructure.

In the first test of this strategy, Accra is seeking a $500 million syndicated pre-export, oil-backed loan led by Deutsche Bank. Civic activists and MPs will be watching developments very closely in the coming weeks.

TUNISIA: THE TIGER'S ROAR

There are real tigers as well as economic tigers in Tunisia these days. The United States Ambassador to Tunis, Robert Godec, described in a leaked Wikileaks cable how 'Monsieur Gendre' (Mr Son-in-law), Sakher el Materi, has a pet tiger called Pasha which eats four live chickens a day. Materi is married to President Zinedine Ben Ali's daughter Nesrine and, appropriately, keeps most of his money in a company called Princesse Holdings.

The American Ambassador says that Materi finds it hard to understand popular resentment at the luxury, conspicuous consumption, excess and nepotism of the Ben Ali clan, known locally simply as 'The family'. The Ambassador's cables dismiss one claim – that Tunisia is a police state. Why not? Because, the cable says, 'even the police report to The Family.'

According to the cables, President Ben Ali has called on his son-in-law Materi to popularise a moderate interpretation of Islam through his radio, television and publishing enterprises. Is Materi, as Ambassador Godec noted, very devout or is he both devout and also well aware that to succeed his father-in-law he must satisfy the strongly religious presidential old guard? Whatever Materi's game plan, the leaked US cables will not have helped it much by putting it under the spotlight.


RWANDA: PARIS AND KIGALI'S NEW DIPLOMATIC ACCORD

Of course, under the constitution of the French republic, political matters and legal powers are clearly separated. But occasionally diplomatic interests challenge that principle; for example, when the French courts names six close allies and colleagues of President Paul Kagame for questioning by investigating magistrates in the case of the shooting down of President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane on 6 April 1994, the eve of the genocide.

The case has become a particular mission for Jean-Louis Bruguière, the former anti-terrorist prosecutor in Paris. The most prominent of the men to face questioning are Defence Minister James Kaberebe and the Chief of the General Staff, Colonel Charles Kayonga. A formal arrest is normally required in such cases, but the interviews were arranged in Burundi, so removing that potential for embarrassment. The two French pilots and a flight attendant, along with Burundi's President, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and seven others also died alongside Habyarimana after surface-to-air missiles struck the private jet.

When France issued arrest warrants for these six in 2006 Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations, but now the two countries are co-operating. An official statement fro Kigali welcomed the latest enquiry as a way of clearing the names of the accused and said the case was originally centered only on 'political manipulations by people interested in destabilising Rwanda.' President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Rwanda in February, the first visit by a French President since 1975 and although the case has been a small headache, it wouldn't go away. The latest moves sound like an accommodation between the two countries and Bruguière's retirement must have helped.

SOUTH AFRICA: TARGET DE BEERS

Just as South Africa starts its long summer holiday, reports have emerged of a looming corporate multibillion dollar battle – for control of that family-run diamond conglomerate, De Beers. This time the predator is Anglo-American which already owns 40% of the firm which has remained a private company. Botswana owns 15% and the Oppenheimer family own 45% (their stake held through an entity in Luxembourg is valued at between US$3-5 billion).

Anglo, which itself has been under takeover pressure in recent years, may favour buying out the Oppenheimer family and then making De Beers part of its own organisation. Since the demise of apartheid in South Africa, the management of Anglo and De Beers have tried to untangle their system of opaque cross-holdings and myriad overseas subsidiaries.

In the late 1990s, Anglo transferred its main stock exchange listing to London and both companies have concentrated their efforts on the international markets and are doing less in South Africa. Indeed South Africa has lost substantial tax and other revenues following this move. Policy-makers in President Jacob Zuma's government will be watching this latest twist with much interest: the companies remain hugely important employers in South Africa and their fortunes partly reflect the health of the national economy.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Confidential Agenda (Week ending 19 December)

KENYA: Naming names or no names
Kenyans eagerly await the announcement due at 17.00 Nairobi time on 15 December from the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, about its efforts to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the post-election violence in 2008. Many believe that Ocampo will name the six politicians and business people that he deems most responsible for the violence that killed more than 1500 people and displaced another 300,000.

But we hear some senior Kenyan politicians have made representations to the Court, requesting Ocampo not to make public the identities of the suspects until the cases have been considered by the pre-trial chamber – that is the judges who decide whether the six should be formally charged by the ICC. If Ocampo does go ahead and name the people he holds responsible for the killings, expect a sharp reaction from their supporters in Nairobi and beyond. Kenya’s security forces will be on high alert on 15 December.

COTE D'IVOIRE: How many divisions has the UN?
The stand off between rivals Alassane Dramane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo – both claiming to have won the presidential election and now forming rival governments – looks set to drag on. The machinery of international outrage at Gbagbo’s attempts to steal the election is creakily gathering momentum. The critics are all the more effective because they are led by the regional Economic Commission of West African States and backed up by the African Union. And then the United Nations Security Council endorsed the independent electoral commission’s announcement of Ouattara’s victory.

However, it could take more than the opprobrium of these worthy councils to shift Gbagbo. Tensions are mounting and local rights groups report attacks on Ouattara's supporters in Abidjan. Gbagbo’s cheerleaders are calling for action against Ouattara and his protectors in the UN force. If violence does break out, the terms of engagement of the more than 9,000 blue-helmeted police and soldiers serving the UN mission will have to reviewed. This is shaping up to be the toughest test to date of the African Union and the UN’s willingness to defend free elections.

ANGOLA/SOUTH AFRICA: Dos Santos visits the comrades
Angola's President José Eduardo dos Santos arrives in South Africa on Tuesday 14 December for a state visit to consolidate his friendship with President Jacob Zuma and to sell some oil and gas to Africa’s biggest economy. Dos Santos prefers Zuma to ex- President Thabo Mbeki. Indeed, some say Luanda backed him financially in the battle for the South African presidency. Two years ago Zuma visited Luanda in what looked like a state visit – but for the minor detail of Mbeki still being President.

Expect much glad-handing, announcements of undying fraternal comradeship and plenty of energy deals. Angola and South Africa’s Petro SA are joining forces to build a 200,000 barrel-a-day oil refinery in Lobito, and there is bold talk of a gas pipeline linking Angola to Namibia and South Africa. With good relations between all three countries, and Angola’s substantial gas reserves, this could provide a well-priced solution to South Africa’s chronic electric power problems.

WESTERN SAHARA/MOROCCO: Back to the table without a road map
On 16 December, the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco resume informal talks about a solution to the problem of self-determination for Western Sahara under the auspices of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary General for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross. The last round, in New York in November, made no real progress and was quickly followed by Polisario protests in Laayoune and harsh reactions from the Moroccan military that led to several deaths. The progress of the talks has not been affected by the outbreak of violence and Ross talks hopefully about a converging of positions.

There is a fairly big gap, however. Morocco wants only ‘autonomy’ for Western Sahara; Polisario demands that the promised referendum be held with independence as an option on the ballot paper. Neither side has produced any proposals about how those huge differences might be navigated.

SOMALIA: Doubts about Kenya’s military bid
As talk of mercenaries being recruited to fight in Somalia reverberates around East Africa, the UN’s top Relief official Mark Bowden painted a grim picture of conditions in the country after 20 years of crisis. The toll includes 1.46 million people chased from their homes, continuing food supply problems and expectations of more drought. To that must be added the prospect of more violence.

The US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks included reports that Kenya was trying to mount an armed intervention over its Somalia border, apparently with China supplying the weaponry. Until now, Kenya has studiously stayed out of regional security efforts in Somalia, leaving Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to lead the charge against the Islamist insurgents, Al Shabaab. Nairobi’s reluctance to get involved was based on fears that an intervention would be socially divisive (there are hundreds of thousands of Kenyan Somalis) and that Kenya would be an easy target for supporters of Al Shabaab seeking revenge.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Confidential Agenda week ending 12 December

CÔTE D’IVOIRE: Laurent Gbagbo against the world

This week diplomats and their organisations are ratcheting up the pressure on Laurent Gbagbo to accept that he lost the second round of the presidential election on 28 November and hand power to his rival Alassane Ouattara. The regional Economic Community for West African States (Ecowas) is meeting on 7 December in Abuja, following a strong statement from its Chairman, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan, in support of Ouattara who was announced winner with 54% of the vote by the Commission Electorale Indépendante. Gbagbo's allies in the constitutional council claimed unconvincingly that electoral fraud in the north invalidated Ouattara's win.

Along with Ecowas, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the African Union have all endorsed Ouattara's win. All these organisations are trying to cut Gbagbo's room for manoeuvre and force him to compromise.

Yet so far the crisis has worsened with both sides claiming the presidency and naming their own parallel governments. Much hope is resting on former South African President Thabo Mbeki, whom the African Union has despatched to Côte d'Ivoire to mediate between the two rivals. Although regarded as sympathetic to Gbagbo in the past, Mbeki has referred to Ouattara as President.

Mbeki's approach to Gbagbo, according to a veteran journalist formerly based in Abidjan, is to 'lead the madman with the bomb out of the cinema'. He compared the situation to one of Congo-Kinshasa's periodic crises when oppositionist Etienne Tshisekedi demanded that Mobutu Sese Seko should be placed 'hors d'état de nuire' – that is rendered harmless.

Many are preparing for the worst such as the International Criminal Court's Deputy Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who reminded all sides that Côte d'Ivoire has been a signatory of the ICC since 2003 and called for restraint: 'All reported acts of violence will be closely scrutinised by the Office.'


SOUTH AFRICA: Trades unions warn Walmart on recognition

South Africa's trades unions are warning the United States' Walmart that they will insist the company, which last week announced a US$2.2 billion purchase of 51% of the equity of local supermarket chain Massmart, respects trades unions' rights in all wage bargaining negotiations. However, Walmart, which owns 55 brands in 15 countries, vigorously opposes union organisation and has been sued in the USA for sexual, racial and pay discrimination. Concerned about such conflicts, South Africa's Minister for Economic Development Ebrahim Patel has set up a panel to review the effect of Walmart's entry into the local market.


UNITED STATES: The cables that failed to shock Africa

The United States' diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks have produced few gasps of surprise in Africa, although a few oppositionists in countries such as Sudan worry that reports that they talk to US diplomats might endanger their safety.

So far we've heard that US diplomats regard Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak as not committed to free elections, that Kenya's government is extremely corrupt, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is a wily politician and his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai is inexperienced.

Some cables offer more elucidation such as the US view of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's failure to rein in the institutional corruption of France-Afrique after reforming minister Jean-Marie Bockel was ousted in 2008 when he incurred the wrath of the late President Omar Bongo Ondimba.

'The Bockel case is significant because it shows that killing France-Afrique is easier said than done; that France-Afrique has a life of its own, with vested interests on the African side that the French perhaps underestimated when deciding on the new policy; that African leaders can manipulate France-Afrique for their own ends as well as the French can or could; that a clever, skillful leader like Bongo can fight far above Gabon’s weight and humble a French politician of Bockel’s stature; and that France should take care in not trifling with Africans (which is what Sarkozy said in Dakar that France would no longer do). Bold talk of signing France-Afrique’s death certificate ended with Bockel’s departure and has not resurfaced. Bongo made his point.'


UGANDA: Kampala and Tullow join forces in Congo-Kinshasa

Ireland's Tullow Oil seems to have got President Yoweri Museveni's government back on side following its negotiations over tax payments with Kampala. We hear that Tullow's chief executive Aidan Heavey is working with Uganda's oil minister Hilary Onek to help the company's case in a dispute over ownership of its oil blocks in Lake Albert, on the Congolese side of the border.

Formerly chief critic of Tullow, Onek now seems to favour a rapprochement perhaps swayed by the investment involved. With its partners, France's Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Tullow has put together a financing package of around US$6billion for an oil refinery in western Uganda and a pipeline to the Kenyan coast.


SOMALIA: Who is Puntland picking a fight with?

We hear that the United Arab Emirates is the mystery Middle Eastern government financing the training and equipping of a 1000-strong anti-piracy militia in Puntland, the semi-autonomous state in northern Somalia.

Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole says the new force will hunt down pirates on land in the Galgala mountains. Although the pirates operate along Somalia's long coastline, the mountains are home to Mohamed Said Atom, whom the United Nations accuses of supplying arms to Al Shabaab, the Islamist insurgents.

Previously accused of benefiting from piracy, the Puntland regime seems to have joined the battle against the pirates and Shabaab. That may have something to do with reports of vast oil and gas reserves along its coastline and calls for better maritime security by would-be prospecting companies.


ZIMBABWE: ZANU-PF prepares the army for elections

On 15-18 December, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front will hold its congress to set out its plans for next year's national elections. Party Chairman Simon Khaya Moyo will campaign for 'total control of our resources through indigenisation and empowerment'. But Moyo was less forthcoming on the party's military plans for the polls. Our correspondents in Zimbabwe report the launching of 'Operation Boys On Leave', which provides for the granting of leave to army officers allowing them to return to their home towns and campaign for the party. Moyo said he had heard nothing of such plans. Yet a journalist in Bulawayo was arrested last week for suggesting that 'war veterans' were being recruited into the local police.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Confidential Agenda (Week ending 5 December 2010)

AFRICA/EUROPE: BAD MARRIAGE, LOW ATTENDANCE

Suppose I gave a summit and nobody came. That may be the question that Libya's mercurial leader Colonel Moammar el Gadaffi is asking himself this week. His grand Afro-Euro convocation in Tripoli is in danger of being overshadowed by the no-shows: European leaders such as Germany's Angela Merkel, France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's David Cameron have all sent their regrets that their ongoing struggle to save the euro currency will preclude their attendance. Other absentee leaders such as Angola's José Eduardo dos Santos and Cameroon's Paul Biya are more predictable.

But Sudan's President Omer el-Beshir, who faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, put a new twist on fugitive diplomacy when he announced he was boycotting the summit after European governments had asked him not to come. Khartoum said Europe's position was symptomatic of a colonial mentality. Some diplomats suggested that Khartoum simply worried that the fickle Gadaffi might succumb to the blandishments of his Euro partners and hand over Field Marshal Omer to a passing planeload of security officers from the ICC.

For a detailed analysis of political and economic developments in Libya see the next issue of Africa Confidential out on Friday 3 December.


COTE D’IVOIRE & EGYPT: ELECTION WATCH

Voters in Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt await the results of the elections on 28 November with mixed feelings amid security alerts. Many Ivoirian voters expect a close finish in the second round of the presidential contest between those old political bruisers, President Laurent Gbagbo and ex-Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. Indeed, such is the mood of eager expectation in the country – and perhaps the fears of the incumbent President – that the government has announced a curfew at least until the results are out this week.

In contrast, Egypt’s voters expect no surprises and a stonking victory for the ruling National Democratic Party. That will mean defeat for opposition politicians, especially the Muslim Brotherhood whose Islamist activists stand as ‘independent’ candidates to avoid the ban on religious political parties. The real battle will be next year when octogenarian President Hosni Mubarak has to decide whether to fight yet another presidential election or hand over to his business-minded son Gamel or a trusted general.


ZAMBIA: CHINA AND THE MINE SHOOTING

The two managers at the Chinese-owned mine in Collum charged with shooting 13 protesting miners are offering to pay compensation to two of the wounded men. The shot miners had been demonstrating, demanding that the company honour its agreements and increase pay.

With the government acting as an intermediary, the managers have agreed to pay compensation: K45m (about $9,300) plus five years' worth of school fees to the most seriously injured miner, and sums down to K20m (about $4,100) for the others. The managers have promised to improve working conditions, to provide housing, food and travel allowances.

Trades unionists on Zambia’s Copperbelt are waiting to see whether this offer affects the criminal charges against the mine managers.


CAMEROON: PRESIDENT BIYA’S PARIS PROPERTIES UNDER PROBE

The Union for an Active Diaspora, which is allied to Cameroon’s opposition Social Democratic Front, made a formal complaint against President Paul Biya in Paris claiming he has used stolen state funds to buy properties in France.

This follows the Cour de Cassation’s ruling that France had jurisdiction in cases of misappropriation of state funds abroad in the complaints brought against the heads of state of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo-Brazzaville. Yet Biya insists he owns no property in France. Maybe, but he does like the French lifestyle: in 2009 Biya and his entourage stayed at luxury hotels at the La Baule resort in the south of France, running up a bill of some €800,000.


FRANCE/AFRICA: THE NEXT INVESTIGATION

The ground-breaking report in 2007 by the French charity CCFD (Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement) was the inspiration of the spate of cases in France against foreign heads of state. Over 126 pages, it surveyed who owned what, where it was and how they probably got it. The loot came from several different sources – retro-commissions charged by corrupt executives of multinational corporations as well as African treasuries in Nigeria, Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, and Mali.


ANGOLA: NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT

What’s the top news on the website of the Embassy of the Republic of Angola in Washington DC? Angola’s participation in the Energy Summit in Washington last September, of course. There was no room to mention that the Embassy’s bank accounts were closed in Washington because of concerns about money laundering. Or indeed that the indefatigable Rafael Marques de Morais, who has received awards for his courage in resisting censorship and sticking up for a free press, narrowly escaped death in an ambush 600 kilometres northeast of Luanda as he drove to investigate claims of human rights abuses in Cuango near the frontier with Congo-Kinshasa.


MOZAMBIQUE: WILL THE POLLUTERS PAY?

Mozal, the aluminium smelter near Matola, is releasing toxic fumes into the atmosphere for six months while it replaces filters that normally ‘scrub’ the effluent – much to the horror of people living near the plant. President Armando Guebuza’s government and BHP Billiton, which operate the plant, say the levels are safe and below UN guidelines. Switzerland’s Société Générale de Surveillance has installed sensors around the plant to monitor emissions. But several environmental groups and thousands of people living nearby insist that releasing the fumes without filters poses a serious health danger. They are taking their claims to court to demand production stops while the filters are changed.




Thursday, 25 November 2010

Rattled

Before leaving Seoul last week, I stopped by the TBS eFM studio, overlooking the city from the slope of Namsan mountain, to discuss the G-20 outcomes with Hans Schattle and his gracious team at the ‘This Morning’ programme.

Schattle played a small role in the diversion that unfolded at the end of US President Barack Obama’s G-20 press conference on 12 November. Obama had taken questions only from the corps that followed him to Seoul, but the president caught everyone off guard with an off-the-cuff call for a final question from the South Korean press. The offer was promptly seized by a reporter who then revealed himself to be not Korean but in fact from China’s CCTV. (Evan Osnos at the New Yorker documents the confusion—and the subsequent firestorm on the Chinese blogosphere—that ensued.)

The ‘Korean reporter’ who finally got to question Obama was none other than Schattle, who shouted his credentials as an American citizen AND a representative of South Korean media over the din. (Kudos to both journalists for dogged persistence.)

That Schattle should show such grace under pressure comes as little surprise—he broadcasts live from a haunted studio. This I learned from one of his show’s writers as we loitered outside the studio door, waiting my turn at the microphone.

‘It’s the ghost of a teenage girl,’ she said.

An engineer, standing nearby, concurred. ‘With long, black hair, just like in the movies.’

With that, the ON AIR light blinked off. She yanked open the studio door and pushed me inside.

By all accounts, Seoul residents are showing similar sangfroid in the face of the far more tangible threat of North Korean belligerence. Pyongyang, silent during the G-20 meetings, revealed a clandestine uranium enrichment facility last week, then launched an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island Tuesday, killing two.

It was an unmistakeable cry for attention. As Seoul casts around for an appropriate response, China and the US appear destined to lock horns again.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed ‘concern’ without condemnation. ‘Dialogue through artillery fire is rarely an effective means to settle a dispute,’ opined the People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper. It went on to blame Seoul and Washington for failing to ‘fix North Korea’s sense of insecurity’.

The USS George Washington is en route to the Yellow Sea to participate in war games with the South Korean Navy. China will certainly oppose the presence of the aircraft carrier so close to its waters, and it is likely to do so more vehemently than it chastened North Korea.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Confidential Agenda (Week ending 28 November)

Nigeria: Ex-Vice-President Abubakar is northern contender for ruling party presidential nomination
It will be a straight north versus south contest for the ruling party's presidential nomination in next year's elections in Nigeria. This follows the emergence of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as the consensus northern candidate for the presidential nomination of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) at a meeting on 21 November. Under the agreement brokered by former Finance Minister Adamu Ciroma and other elders in the party, the other northern contenders – former military leader General Ibrahim Babangida, former Director of military intelligence Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, the Governor of Kwara State Bukola Saraka – have agreed to join forces to support Atiku's bid for the presidential nomination. The PDP's political dominance means that the winner of the party's presidential nomination would be the favourite to win the national predidency in elections now likely to be held some time between late January and April.

Atiku has both the experience and the political network to run for the nomination: he helped push through many economic reforms in President Olusegun Obasanjo's 1999-2003 government and developed a powerful network when he built a national party in the 1990s, with the Yar'Adua family, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua (who died in power this year) and General Shehu Yar'Adua, murdered in gaol by agents sent by military leader Gen. Sani Abacha. With the combined finances and political guile of fellow northern contenders, Atiku will present a formidable challenge to incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the PDP's presidential primaries, which are now likely to be held in Abuja in early January.

Ghana: Finance Minister Duffuor deflates oil bubble
In a budget that pleased almost nobody, veteran banker Kwabena Duffuor has made the most cautious projections on oil export revenues and effects of fresh Chinese loan finance. There is a brutal logic to Duffuor's calculations as he strives to balance the books and pay off substantial arrears to domestic contractors. But that logic – which involves tax hikes across the board – is not one that appeals to the ruling National Democratic Congress, now preparing for national elections in 2012.

Duffuor insists that much work still has to be done to stabilise Ghana's economy: the budget and trade deficits were nudging 20% of gross domestic product in early 2009 and inflation remains stubbornly high. Taking a pessimistic view of oil revenues – about US$400 million on a world oil price of $40 a barrel (just over half the current price) with production around 60,000 barrels a day – Duffuor's projections are about a third of previous estimates of revenues from Ghana's first full year as an oil exporter.

Congo-Kinshasa/Central African Republic: Bemba's trial starts in the Hague

This week, Congo-Kinshasa's leading opposition politician Jean-Pierre Bemba faces charges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague that he allowed his militia forces to rape, murder, and pillage. Prosecutors say the crimes were committed when Bemba's militia was supporting Ange-Félix Patassé, then President of Central African Republic, to hang on to power against the rebel forces of François Bozizé, who has since become President of CAR. Patassé is now safe in Bangui, contemplating his political options, while Bemba's Mouvement de Libération du Congo is searching for another candidate to fight for the presidency in the national elections due in Congo-Kinshasa due in late 2011.

France/Gabon: Libreville fights back

Pro-government activists in Libreville are fighting back against the French judiciary's support for an investigation into how late President Omar Bongo Ondimba financed his mammoth property portfolio in France. Five small organisations have filed a complaint against Transparency International for making 'defamatory statements' about the late President, and for attempting to incite unrest. The complaint was filed by Cashbo (Cash acquis solde Bongo Ondimba meaning that President Bongo properly accounted for his wealth). Filing the complaint, Cashbo's lawyer Ferdinand Abéna Bidzo'o said that he would take the case 'all the way to France or Berlin' (home of the anti-corruption lobby Transparency International).

France/Mali/Niger: Al Qaida makes its demands over hostages

President Nicolas Sarkozy, his new Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and Defence Minister Alain Juppé have now heard from the kidnappers of the seven Areva uranium workers in Niger. The kidnappers are demanding that France leave Afghanistan and negotiate with Usama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said. The AQIM statement may have been timed to greet the new French cabinet, and is clearly designed to supplement Bin Laden's own open threats to France recently over its ban on the full-body veil for women. Yet since Sarkozy's cabinet, including defence and foreign affairs, has lurched to the right, the chances of an accommodation or of ransoms being paid seems practically nil. The stage may be set for a military rescue attempt.

China: Beijing's next leader talks up African ambitions

Vice-President Xi Jinping, newly established as China's next President, has been touring Africa. He has just left South Africa with a massive military co-operation agreement in his pocket. Next, it was Botswana and then, the shining jewel for Chinese interests, Angola.China-Africa trade rose from US$10.6 billion in 2000 to $106.8 bn. in 2008 at an annual growth rate of over 30%. In the first three quarters of this year, the figure stood at $93.7 billion – up 48%. On arrival in Angola, Xi said that 'Sino-Angola relations will continuously march into a higher level'.

Congo-Kinshasa/Rwanda: Rising military tensions in Kivu
Rwandan Hutus of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda apparently killed 23 people in a truck, in an ambush at Walikale in Kivu on 17 November. The truck plunged off a cliff after the rebels shot the driver. This is believed to be the area that Rwandan Defence Forces were headed towards under an agreement between Congo-Kinshasa's President
Joseph Kabila and Rwanda's President Paul Kagame in early September (see AC Vol 51 No 22). The FDLR had largely been busy mining minerals in the area and no major armed incidents had recently been reported.

United States/Angola: Diplomatic accounts frozen

A number of United States private banks have closed the accounts of 16 African diplomatic missions in the USA, along with of a number of other countries. Few details have emerged but one of them was the Bank of America, which closed the Angolan Embassy's accounts. This is odd, as HSBC had been handling the official
Angolan accounts until they dropped them; BoA took over three months ago. Possible amnesia had struck. Pierre Falcone, the notorious arms dealer sent to gaol in France for six years and also Angola's Ambassador to UNESCO and a major pal of President José Eduardo dos Santos, used his BoA accounts to move dodgy money all over the world for 18 years.

The US Congress found out about it and BoA closed the accounts in 2007, and said sorry. Nobody is saying why all these missions have had their American monies stopped, and the State Department is most unhappy. Africa supremo Johnnie Carson said, '
The Department of State seriously regrets the inconveniences'. Possibly, the banks don't want a repeat of the situation at Riggs Bank, which was fined $16 mn. by the government for welcoming the millions of Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo into its Washington coffers. However, we think something else spooked the banks – probably a fear of liability in the event of corrupt practices by the diplomatic missions coming to light. You heard about it here first, so watch this space for more...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Confidential Agenda (Week ending 21 November)

AFRICA: Concerns on trade after the spats in Seoul

Worries about trade restrictions and protectionism peppers assessments from African diplomats of the G-20 summit in Seoul. Although Africa was sitting on the sidelines for most of the debate over currency values between the United States and China, several of Africa's commodity exporters could be squeezed badly if the money wars escalate into trade wars.

South Korean officials and many African states, represented by Presidents Bingu Mutharika of Malawi and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, fought hard to keep development issues on the agenda. And G-20 sherpa Rhee Chang-yong insists they succeeded with the Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth document that members states signed on Friday.

Its broad thrust was that development aid should move away from cheap loans and grants for social projects to finance for productive and infrastructure projects that would sustain economic growth. The tone was very similar to new thinking from the World Bank's Africa Department in Washington.

On trade, the best the summiteers could do is to agree a new deadline – December 2011 – for an agreement in the Doha round of negotiations. The logic is that US President Barack Obama would have to push the deal through Congress before the 2012 elections.

Trade deals will be in the news for the next few weeks as activists resuscitate their campaign for North America and Europe to end the agricultural subsidies that depress the world market price of Africa's export commodities and as the European Union prepares for its summit with Africa in Libya late this month. Top of the agenda will be the current stalemate in negotiations for a new trade agreement between the EU and Africa (see Africa Confidential Vol 51 No 22).



SOUTH AFRICA: Another BRIC in the wall

Also at the G-20 summit in Seoul, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev revealed that the BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) group had received yet another plea for admission to the new power bloc from South Africa. As with other pleas for admission from South Africa in past years, a cool answer was received. According to those who desire to rank countries in the manner of the ‘top 50 of all time’ compilations so popular on television, South Africa is not even close to BRIC status.

After BRIC come the ‘Next 11’, which ranks the countries next in order of emerging world economic and political power. It includes powerhouses like South Korea and Indonesia, but no South Africa. Medvedev made polite noises about South Africa in August just as he has just done, but has moved no further. Nor, according to observers, will he. Would admission to the club be a reflection of South Africa's power in the world, or another badge President Jacob Zuma can put on his bumper, many ask? Some friends of South Africa have quietly asked the country to drop this status-based initiative and when the next summit comes around we shall see how eager Zuma is to stay in the hunt.



NIGERIA: Iran arms imbroglio

An embarrassing international imbroglio for Tehran has started in Abuja after Nigerian security officials intercepted containers from Iran that contained weapons including 107 mm. rockets, which are normally only used as artillery, by conventional armies. The Embassy of Iran gave permission for one Iranian to be questioned but the other can claim diplomatic immunity.

Both are reported to be members of the 'Al Quds' elite section of the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards, which is normally responsible for relations with and training of overseas militants. Agency reports suggest that the arms came from Bandar Abbas, one of Iran's Persian Gulf ports. Investigators are uncertain whether the arms were meant for use in Nigeria, and of not where was the destination of choice. If Iran cannot give Nigeria an convincing explanation about the provenance of the arms (Iran is under a United Natinons arms embargo), Abuja will have little choice but to refer the matter to the UN.



UNITED STATES/AFRICA: Your money's no good here

Act one, scene one: President Barack Obama's government fires a shot across the bows of the kleptocrats in a speech by US Attorney-General Eric Holder on 26 July addressing the assembled African heads of government at the African Union summit at Munyonyo, Uganda. Not the first time that a US president has set his sights on illegitimate wealth acquisition by African leaders, but so far so sabre-rattling.

Act one, scene two: Attorney-General Holder launches the 'Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative' and declares he has assigned a team of prosecuting lawyers.

Act two, scene one: Several US banks have asked certain African heads of state to move their personal accounts elsewhere, Africa Confidential has lately heard on excellent authority.

Act three is expected to play out during the coming weeks.


FRANCE/AFRICA: Ne touchez pas à mon bling

France's Cour de Cassation caused a sensation when it decided on 9 November that the substantial property holdings of three African heads of state in France were a legitimate subject of criminal investigation by the French state. The investigation will centre on whether the vast wealth held in France by Presidents Omar Ali Bongo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and their families and associates, constitutes 'handling of stolen public funds'.

Expect no rush to the courts as the investigating magistrate to lead the inquiry has yet to be appointed. But the case is now occupying centre-stage in French politics because it has become part of a wider debate about whether the government has been assaulting, in trying to scotch this and other investigations, the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. More, therefore, than the bling of various potentates is at stake, and so the likelihood of the case failing is reduced. There could be long faces in the big-name boutiques of the Avenue Montaigne so favoured by the plutocrats of Francophone Africa.


WESTERN SAHARA/MOROCCO: Talk or fight?

What is behind the recent violence in Western Sahara? Certainly more to do with the talks in New York State that have just ended than with any strategic changes on the ground. As the informal talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front got under way, Moroccan security forces launched a violent campaign against a tent city that Polisario had set up outside Laayoune. The tent was intended to highlight the bad living conditions inside the main camps where the refugees normally live.

Morocco's forceful reaction, which claimed several lives, was intended to show it won't be bounced, whatever the cost. The UN, which has a Special Envoy in play, does not come out of this with its image as an effective go-between much enhanced. Whether the latest confrontations will fade, now that the New York talks have finished, or whether a spiral of violent escalation has begun should become clearer this week.

CONGO-KINSHASA: Kinshasa murder trial on trial

Justice for Floribert Chebeya at last (AC Vol 51 Nos 12 & 14)? Possibly. Five police officers are facing trial in Kinshasa having been charged with the murder of the Congo-Kinshasa human rights activist. Chebeya had managed to survive angering both Mobutu Sese Seko and Laurent-Désiré Kabila before being summoned to a meeting with police chief General John Numbi last June. It is not known if the meeting occurred before his battered body was found the next day. His death was followed by a tsunami of protest from donors, NGOs and human-rights advocates around the world.

Eight police officers were originally charged, but three have taken to their heels. Congolese law obliges a military court to hear the case which is certain, in the coming weeks, to be an arena for confrontation between the government and human and civil rights activists. The activists are determined to see that General Numbi gives evidence and to test the limits of the government's intentions towards the rule of law and civil society institutions.

Friday, 12 November 2010

G-20, dusted and done

It was an omen too trite to be invented. Thursday evening, as the remaining contingent of G-20 leaders descended on Seoul for the 11-12 November summit, they brought with them a dust cloud that moved in on west winds and spackled the city, encrusting the windows of the gleaming skyscrapers.

Initially high expectations for the summit had sunk as it became clear that the heads of state had packed a dizzying assortment of grievances.

British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived from China, where he had brought up censorship and religious freedom in a speech at Peking University. He also wore a poppy, honouring his fallen countrymen ahead of Armistice Day while unfortunately reminding some in the audience of the Opium War. Cameron's trip netted a $1.2 bn. contract for British engine-maker Rolls Royce. It was a far cry from the $14 bn. in deals agreed when China's President Hu Jintao called on President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris last week. (One supposes the Sarkozy's 2008 meeting with the Dalai Lama has been forgiven.)

China-Japan relations remain abysmal. The ongoing saga over the September collision between a Chinese fishing boat and two Japanese patrol boats off the Senkaku islands took a turn for the even-worse when footage was leaked of the incident last week.

United States President Barack Obama landed on Wednesday night after pledging support for an Indian seat on the United Nations Security Council. Obama and his host, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, immediately failed to reach a free trade agreement, an early blow against the anti-protectionist spirit Lee had hoped to engender at the summit.

The enduring US-China war of words over renminbi devaluation threatened to overwhelm all other discussions, and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner earlier in the week annoyed China, Japan and Germany by suggesting they restrain their trade surpluses.

Skip to tonight. At the conclusion of the summit, leaders accentuated the positive. Lee described the meeting as “unexpectedly successful”. Obama praised the consensus: “The twenty major economies are in broad agreement.”


Meanwhile, invited non-members Bingu wa Mutharika (Malawian President and African Union Chair) and Meles Zenawi (Ethiopian Prime Minister and Chairman of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the AU's economic development program) left quietly. Development issues, which Lee had hoped would receive a major push from the G-20, had been shunted aside.

Our full coverage of the G-20 summit will appear in AAC Vol 4 No 1, out next week.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

CONFIDENTIAL AGENDA (Week ending 14 November)

Côte d'Ivoire/Tanzania/Guinea: one election win and two close contests

Two of the election cliffhangers continue this week in Côte d'Ivoire, where the second round of the presidential elections is due to be held on 21 November, and in Guinea where results of the presidential elections held on 7 November are trickling out. In Côte d'Ivoire, the smallish gap between the two second-round contenders – incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo (38% of the vote) and former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara (32%) – shows how polarised the country remains eight years after the civil war broke out.

Would be-kingmaker and third-running contender, ex-president Henri Konan-Bédié, with 25% of the vote, has kept his word and thrown his weight behind Ouattara in the second round. Much less certain is how many of Bédié's supporters will follow their leader's command and vote for his old and distrusted rival Ouattara. Gbagbo's grip on the patronage machine and political guile shouldn't be under-estimated.

After last month's clashes in the capital, Conakry, the release of the results of the second round of Guinea's presidential elections is a matter of high sensitivity, and the authorities are rationing the news. In theory, the two candidates – Alpha Condé and Cellou Dalein Diallo – have pledged to work together in a unity government no matter who wins. But that plan will still take a lot of selling to the militants on both sides of the contest.

The confirmation of incumbent Jakaya Kikwete as winner of Tanzania's presidential election was hardly shocking, but the governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi has been weakened substantially by the resurgent opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) party.

Chadema candidates defeated two ministers and three senior party hacks, including the woman who formerly chaired the African Union parliament, Gertrude Mongela, who was widely excoriated for endorsing a stolen election in Zimbabwe. In his second term, Kikwete's supporters say he will start reforming the party and promoting more credible politicians such as former UN Habitat director Anna Tibaijuka. If he is to restore the fortunes of the CCM, he will have to tackle the spreading corruption in political and business life which prompted many to vote for opposition parties.

See next week's Africa Confidential for in-depth analysis of these key elections and the aftermath

Libya: dissent in the ruling family
When security agents detained journalists from the Libya Press in Tripoli last week, they joined battle in what appears to be growing differences within the ruling family of Libyan leader Colonel Moammar el-Gadaffi. Libya Press is owned by Col. Gadaffi's son, Seif el-Islam whose criticisms of the regime – 'there is no state in Libya'– have been growing more trenchant. The detentions follow the suspension of another newspaper owned by Seif el-Islam for publishing more articles critical of the regime. Col. Gadaffi remains uncharacteristically silent during these battles, declining to say publicly whose side he's on. Whatever his strategy, he seems heartened that critics of his regime, however close to home they might be, are unable to unite against him.

Liberia: Mama Ellen picks her new pre-election cabinet
Who will President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appoint to cabinet after she sent most of her ministers on compulsory leave? The official reason for the clear-out is '...that this administration is entering a critical stretch and this would afford her the opportunity to start with a fresh slate going forward.'

Many in Monrovia think the clear out is a bid to get rid of the most corrupt elements in the government as presidential challenger and former AC Milan striker George Weah launches his campaign for the 2011 presidential election. If President Johnson wants to campaign on a 'clean government' ticket she will have to take some tough action following the naming by a state investigation of the Ministers of Interior and Planning in cahoots with a British businessman on an allegedly illicit deal to use.

United States: How plea bargains in frauds against Africa help fund the US Treasury
The US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have accepted $236.5 million from seven companies found to have bribed customs officials, in Nigeria and Angola among others, to accept over-priced and poor quality products in continuing trade frauds in developing countries.

Panalpina World Transport was fined for paying 'thousands of bribes totalling at least $27 million', the DOJ and SEC said, in seven countries at least. The money was paid so that over-priced shipments could clear customs. Royal Dutch Shell, Transocean, Tidewater, GlobalSantaFe and Noble Corporation paid fines and a percentage of their profits.

Anti-graft campaigners argue that Africa loses at least US$150 billion a year in tax and trade fraud as overpriced goods are sold into Africa while its exports are deliberately under-priced. They want African governments to take on companies which dodge taxes and misprice contracts, as well as the corrupt local customs officials who facilitate the deals.

France: Foreign Minister Kouchner ready to jump ship
The imminent departure of France's Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, who had already threatened to quit over President Nicolas Sarkozy's policy of deporting Roma people back to Romania, is widely predicted in an upcoming reshuffle. It will have a symbolic rather than material effect on Africa policy. Kouchner had held up the flag for reform in the Sarko era – which initially had promised a rupture with the old habits of Françafrique – but he had been comprehensively undermined by the Secretary-General in the Elysée Palace, Claude Guéant. Francophone Africa's old guard leaders, such as Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaoré, added their weight to the anti-reform lobby.

But budget cuts may achieve something the reformers could not. The post of Minister for Cooperation (foreign aid) has been vacant since the last incumbent, Alain Joyandet, resigned after the French press reported that he had chartered a private jet on a mission to the Caribbean. Now, bean-counters in Paris are suggesting the portfolio could be abolished and the work undertaken jointly by the foreign ministry and the presidency.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

From Our Man in Seoul


Security is tight but low-key around the COEX convention centre in Seoul, South Korea, where the G20 conference is being held Thursday and Friday, 11-12 November. Bingu wa Mutharika was the first world leader to arrive at the summit; the Malawian president was invited as Chairman of the African Union.


Despite fears of North Korean mischief, tours to the DMZ continued as normal this week. In fact, the tour companies seemed especially busy with the sudden influx of foreign tourists. From the Dora Observatory, the border appeared quiet on Tuesday.





Homegrown dissent is a likelier hazard. Over 50,000 security officers are on duty around the city. A no-protest zone has been established in a 2-kilometre radius around COEX, though on Wednesday night this intrepid fellow slipped through.




Anti-globalisation groups, labour unions and civic groups held protests on Wednesday with further rallies planned for Seoul Station area on Thursday. Warning that explosive devices could be delivered by helium balloon or model aeroplane, police are monitoring the sale of helium and jamming the radio frequencies reserved for model aeroplane transmitters.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

CONFIDENTIAL AGENDA – (Week ending 7 November)

Cote d'Ivoire and Tanzania: The long, long wait for results
The latest round of elections in Africa is putting pressure on governments and civil servants to improve election organisation to address growing criticism from electorates. Two of the mooted polls scheduled for 'Super Sunday' on 31 October – the second round of presidential elections in Guinea-Conakry and the constitutional referendum in Niger – have been postponed because of logistical difficulties.

In the two national elections that went ahead in Côte d'Ivoire and Tanzania, voters have been protesting about the delays in announcing results. For officials facing huge organisational constraints, it is difficult to strike a balance between releasing results as soon as possible to quell unrest and suspicions and, at the same time, ensuring that all figures are as reliable as possible.

Voters across Africa heard news bulletins on the morning of 3 November replaying results from the mid-term elections in the USA held two days after polls in Côte d'Ivoire and Tanzania, where voters are still awaiting definitive news. Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete and the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party appear to have fought off a resurgent opposition but the outcome of the battle in Côte d'Ivoire between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and Alasanne Ouattara looks very much closer.

This week's Africa Confidential published on 5 November will have the latest election analysis from both countries.


Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo-Brazzaville: Three presidents and ill-gotten gains

On 9 November, the French courts will rule on a critical corruption case as to whether the Presidents of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville illegally acquired €160 million of property. It has become known as the “biens mals acquis” (ill-gotten gains) case. Since early 2007, the French section of Transparency International and other NGOs have filed suits in French courts claiming all the properties were bought with stolen state monies. So far, Messrs Teodoro Obiang, Ali Ben Bongo and Denis Sassou Nguesso have not deigned to comment on the proceedings.

If the property were the product of embezzlement of state funds, TI et al argue, then that would be a criminal offence under French law and therefore prosecutable in France. A file was opened and an investigation carried out, but the prosecution was dropped after none too subtle pressure from the Elysée. (Many of the details of the police enquiries, however, including a list of the mansions, the fleets of cars, and other evidence of very conspicuous consumption, were then leaked.)

TI and others protested and last year a prosecutorial investigation was re-opened, and then closed again by the government, citing lack of jurisdiction. That decision was upheld by a higher court and TI is now challenging that decision. The Cour de Cassation will be the final arbiter of the French state’s ability to prosecute. There is no precedent for prosecuting heads of state of foreign countries within the EU since most of them have sovereign immunity, but TI believed it had found a way around this using laws against disposal of the proceeds of crime.

Earlier on in this saga, the late President Omar Ali Bongo Ondimba darkly hinted that there were many murky episodes in France’s relations with Africa going back over so many decades, and it would be a shame if some overzealousness in Paris were to allow such best-forgotten matters to find the light of day.

Rwanda: Prosecutors target the hero hotelier
President Paul Kagame's government is publicly accusing Paul Rusesabagina, on whom the central character in the movie 'Hotel Rwanda' is based, of funding a Hutu militia linked to the 1994 genocide, the Front Démocratique pour la Libération de Rwanda (FDLR). A prosecutor in Kigali is building a case that Rusesabagina funded commanders of the FDLR, which he denies as absurd.

These days, the FDLR prefers illegally mining minerals and metals in eastern Congo to fighting the Rwandan government, but that may change with the recent incursion into North Kivu, eastern Congo, of the Rwanda Defence Force (see our article in the coming issue on this). Rusesabagina claims that Paul Kagame has never forgiven him for being featured so prominently in the movie.

Kagame called him a 'manufactured hero' while Rusesabagina has accused Kagame of committing war crimes. According to Rusesabagina, who has been in exile in Belgium ever since 1996, his home was recently broken into and documents stolen. The feud between the two men dates back at least as far as the release of the movie in 2004, if not before. While the latest chapter could be a continuation of the vendetta, many observers have been reporting an increasingly chilly reception from the Kigali authorities to dissent. There has also been speculation that Kagame is seeking more external enemies so as to maintain his base more effectively. Just because he is paranoid does not mean they are not out to get him.


Egypt: Surprise independence of the courts

Beneficiaries of back-door government dealing in Egypt are facing an unusual legal challenge. Lawyers have been taking the government to court for selling parcels of state-owned land to private investors without competitive tendering or even auctions. For the second time, Shehata Mohammed Shehata has mounted a law suit against the Prime Minister and the Tourism Minister over the sales. Winners in the private deals so far have included Egyptian Resorts, and the private equity fund Egypt Kuwait Holding.

While Reuters reported that investors have been 'unnerved' by the legal challenges, which could “slow property development in Egypt', others have welcomed the challenges to cosy deals, which could result in the Treasury getting better prices for state land and opportunities for corruption being curtailed, in this field anyway.

The most significant event in these challenges was the annulment by a court of the purchase of land for the $3 billion Madinaty development, north east of Cairo, by Talaat Mustafa Group. The government has been desperately looking for ways to revoke the court ruling. The latest challenge is another uncomfortable reminder for the government of the challenges of doing business in the time-honoured, behind-closed-doors ways when public pressure for greater openness seems to be growing. All the same, it seems unlikely this will feature as a major issue in the upcoming elections at the end of November.

United States/India: President Obama's Delhi trip has implications for Africa
Curtain-raisers to President Barack Obama’s visit to India include much talk of India and the US joining together to invest in African agriculture. Some official announcement will be made during the visit, and it is believed it will centre on the US providing financial backing for Indian-originated agricultural projects in Africa.

The type of investment will probably be oriented towards India’s food needs, but for the US one major advantage of a strategic relationship with India in Africa is to provide a counter to the massive influence of China on the continent. Indian investment in agriculture could also help favour Indian companies in the scramble for Africa’s oil and other natural resources.

In the same way that China builds infrastructure in Africa in exchange for natural resources, India may hope it can achieve something similar with agricultural investment. The US is unsettled by China’s massively increasing presence in Africa and any money spent helping India provide a counterweight is thought in Washington to make good strategic sense.


United States: mid-term elections and waiving sanctions on child soldiers

After President Barack Obama's administration took some heavy blows in the mid-term elections on 2 November and the Democratic Party lost of control of the House of Representatives in Washington, the expectations are that the USA will pursue a more conservative foreign policy, cutting foreign aid and support for democratic initiatives in developing countries.

Compromise and the seeking of middle ground are in the air in Washington, so President Obama's waiving of sanctions on the US providing military assistance to countries that use child soldiers last month may be a preview of the new policy order.

Radikha
Coomaraswamy, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, said she was very disappointed and had had no advance notice of the move. The countries benefiting from the waiver are Chad, Congo-Kinshasa, Sudan and Yemen, four of the six countries that US legislators had in mind when President Bush signed the Child Soldiers Prevention Act into law two years ago. Sanctions were due to come into force in October. Burma and Somalia remain covered by the Act.

One of the co-sponsors of the original bill, embarrassingly, was Joe Biden, now the Vice-President. The US maintains that it had to exempt these countries from the sanctions because the military assistance it is now providing is necessary to help end the practice of the recruitment of child soldiers, saying it is better to work with these countries rather than refuse all engagement.

The general view among Washington politicians, however, seems to be that the employment of child soldiers in these countries is nothing like as important as fighting terrorism and the Act begs the question as to the wisdom of passing the law in the first place. But perhaps the US in 2008 wasn’t expecting to be doing as much in the field of counter-terrorism in Africa as now appears to be the case.