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.

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.

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