Monday, 21 February 2011

Confidential Agenda 22 February

Côte d’Ivoire/South Africa/Nigeria: Zuma's warship in the Gulf of Guinea
The South African government has been making reassuring noises about the presence of its warship, the SAS Drakensberg, in the Gulf of Guinea. According to the Nigerian government, however, President Jacob Zuma is throwing his weight around over Côte d'Ivoire and should stick to his own region. Abuja may escalate the dispute this week.

Jambe Gebeho, the Secretary General of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), claimed that the Drakensberg had at one point docked in Abidjan, but South Africa denies it and our correspondent hasn't seen the warship. The Drakensberg had been cruising in mid-Atlantic, acting as an escort for the Cape to Rio yacht race, when it was redeployed to the Gulf of Guinea to offer 'possible assistance to South African diplomats, designated personnel and other South African citizens in Ivory Coast,' according to the South African Naval Defence Force.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and President Zuma are on opposite sides of the Laurent Gbagbo dispute. Zuma has questioned the validity of the Ivorian elections while Jonathan had been prepared to contemplate the use of force to allow President-elect Alassane Dramane Ouattara to take office (see this week’s issue of Africa Confidential). More irksome to Nigeria, though, is the South African military presence in West Africa.

The Drakensberg is described in the latest official statement as a 'non-combatant support vessel'; most reference sources list it as a 'combat support ship'. Whatever the title, it is not capable of credible offensive action. Even with its full complement of two helicopters on board, it could do no more than defend itself as it carries nothing heavier than a 20 mm cannon. Naval experts say this ship is most suitable for an evacuation. The Drakensberg could be standing by to rescue stranded nationals – although Côte d'Ivoire is not exactly bursting with South Africans – or to host a conference of the visiting African Union head of states panel or maybe to remove Mr and Mrs Gbagbo plus dependants.

Last weekend, Zuma was due to meet the other members of the AU panel on Côte d'Ivoire, followed by a personal visit to Abidjan later in the week. Zuma's swagger (see current AC) is playing well at home and dispatching warships to distant latitudes cannot hurt his image. He should not be too surprised, though, if the Nigerian navy turns up off Cape Town.

Malawi: Bingu's birthday bashed
President Bingu wa Mutharika may soon be sharing his birthday celebrations with all of Malawi, if things go according to plan. Mutharika's 77th is on 24 February and there will be a mass gathering to celebrate it at the Civo stadium in Lilongwe with music, a friendly football match, and other events on 25 February, as it is a Friday. Having recently called on Malawians not to emulate Egypt (see current AC), the President will no doubt welcome the opportunity to demonstrate how much love Malawians have for their leader with a massive showing at the party.

The 14 May birthday of Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi's leader from Independence in 1964 until 1994, is also a national holiday; Banda had designated it so himself. President Bakili Muluzi’s government abolished it in 1994 but Parliament reinstated Kamuzu Day in 2007. The plan to make Mutharika's birthday a holiday was leaked to the Nyasa Times, perhaps to test public reaction. If any of the comments on Malawi's online media are representative, the idea is not too popular.

Nigeria/Gambia/Iran: Gambian-Iranian imbroglio playing out in Lagos
Hopes of courtroom revelations were dashed this week with the adjournment of the trial of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Azim Aghajani in the Federal High Court in Lagos until 7 March. State Security Service lawyers got the Abuja court proceedings against Aghajani and his co-defendant, Nigerian Ali Usman Abbas Jega, annulled. They then re-indicted him to appear in Lagos.

Both men are pleading not guilty to charges of smuggling 13 containers of infantry weapons and artillery into Nigeria that were ultimately bound for Gambia. Several reports claim that the United States had a hand in the affair. If true, the USA probably had the shipment under surveillance as it sailed out of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf and, once it had reached Apapa port, called the SSS. Isolating Iran is a key US foreign policy goal.

Aghajani's defence is that the arms shipment was a 'normal business transaction' between Iran and Gambia, but President Yahya Jammeh has broken off diplomatic relations with Iran, which had been very cordial for four years, over the affair. Also the weapons were concealed under ceramic construction tiles and the bills of lading did not say 'weapons'.

Aghajani is apparently a member of the Al Quds force, the covert arm of the Revolutionary Guards with special responsibility for overseas operations. Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, the supposed commander of Al Quds operations in Africa, escaped arrest by holing up in the Iranian Embassy in Abuja. The then Iranian Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, made a special trip to Abuja to fetch Tabatabaei, who was then permitted to fly home. What Mottaki did to persuade Nigeria to let Tabatabaei go and why he had to come in person is another mystery.
Mottaki took the lead in expanding relations with Gambia in 2007 and has made most of the public pronouncements about their meetings. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sacked him on 13 December for unknown reasons.

The Iranians said this was the third of four intended shipments. If all the shipments were a similar size, that would make an eventual total of 52 containers stuffed with rifles, 107 mm shells, rocket-propelled grenades, ammo to match, and 23 mm Armour-Piercing Incendiary Tracer ammunition. Military experts say such arms would suit a conventional infantry force rather than terrorists or guerrillas. Speculation about the final destination of the weapons has been rife, with the dormant Casamance separatists touted as possible recipients. Some Casamance separatists were recently put on trial in Gambia charged with possession of weapons.

South Africa/United States: Another Walmart in the BRIC
A promise by South Africa's Minister for Economic Development Ebrahim Patel to set up a panel to review the effect of Walmart's entry into the local market and ominous threats about trade union recognition have not deterred the United States company from closing in on the acquisition of local retailer Massmart (See Confidential Agenda week ending 12 December 2010). The Competition Commission said no obstacles should be put in the way of Walmart, which is notorious for not recognising trades unions in its global operations.

Approval from the Competition Commission should be forthcoming but its open hearings are producing a courtroom-style drama. The unions are insisting that Walmart honour the current framework for negotiations with Massmart. Walmart has promised to do so but the unions still seem wary about working conditions, employment terms – and about the company sourcing its products in China rather than locally. Walmart is interested in Massmart not only for its 265 stores in South Africa but also for its outlets in 15 other African countries. The Congress of South African Trade Unions has threatened all manner of mass action if the Walmart deal goes through. Cosatu has staked a great deal on opposing the deal and the atmosphere remains tense, but no one seriously expects the take-over to fail.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Confidential Agenda (Week ending 13 February)

SUDAN: Western deal over President Omer el Beshir's genocide charges

A deal that would grant Sudan's president an annually renewable deferral of the genocide and war crimes charges against him was mooted at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa last week, according to African and Western officials (see the lead story in the latest Africa Confidential). The purpose of the deal, these officials say, is to encourage President Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir to reach agreement with Southern Sudan after last month's referendum and engage in credible peace talks in Darfur.

One immediate outcome if such a deal goes ahead would be a further deterioration in relations between the International Criminal Court at the Hague and the African Union. Already, AU Chairman Jean Ping has accused ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo of double standards and is blocking the establishment of an ICC office in Addis Ababa to liaise with the AU.

Any deal to defer the ICC case Sudan's President Omer would need backing from one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, probably France, to agree a deferment of the charges brought by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although Russia and China could be expected to support it, backing from Britain and the United States would be critical. Kenyan officials claim that their request for a deferral of the prosecution of six officials charged with involvement in the violence after the 2007 elections was also discussed at a high-level with Western and African diplomats in Addis Ababa. That is why, they say, the AU summit passed resolutions to request the UN Security Council to defer both the cases of Sudan's president and the six Kenyan officials at the ICC.

It was Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Kurti's visits to Paris and Washington that sparked the latest discussion on how Western policy towards Khartoum might change in the aftermath of a successful referendum on Southern Sudan.

LIBYA: Why US diplomatic cables could threaten Colonel Gadaffi

Like all other North African leaders, save for Mauritania's Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Libya's Colonel Muammar el Gadaffi failed to attend the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on 30-31 January in case some of his many enemies decided to fan the wind of change in the direction of Tripoli.

Pressure could still be mounting on Colonel Gadaffi this week after a tsunami of State Department cables on Libya obtained via Wikileaks is zinging around the internet, having been first published by the Daily Telegraph in London on 2 February. The cables tell tales of the criminality and pettiness of the Gadaffi regime and ridicule its claims of radicalism.

Oppositionists in Tunisia have said that the Wikileaks State Department cables, with their stark depiction of impunity, arrogance, nepotism, conspicuous consumption and rampant corruption by the Ben Ali clan, was one of the factors that helped tip the country towards rebellion.

Hundreds of new cables pick apart in unprecedented detail the nature of Gadaffi's rule, his relations with the United States, Britain, BP, governance of the oil industry and the negotiations over the release of Abdel Baset Ali el Megrahi, the man convicted of bombing PanAm 103 in 1988.

Our Libya correspondent confessed to being overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of the reporting, which he said is adding hugely to the outside world's understanding of the secretive state. Libyans also will be digesting the contents this week and making their dispositions.

What the cables reveal about the inner workings of the Great Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahirya is unflattering to the Colonel Gadaffi. One cable from the US embassy in January 2009 says that in spite of Gaddafi's cultivation of his image of a “philosopher king” standing “above the fray”, little concerned with the tawdry minutiae of government and business, he is in fact, "...intimately involved in the regime's most sensitive and critical portfolios.”

The cable reveals that Gadaffi uses the General People’s Committee for People’s Inspection and Control – also known as the Raqaba Shabiya (AC Vol 51 No 24) – not, as advertised, as an organ of oversight designed to ensure maximum probity, but “…to politically vet commercial contracts involving Government Of Libya [GOL] funds and ensure that opportunities to extract rents from those contracts are distributed to key regime allies.” It added that a local source told them that Gadaffi "...personally reviewed all contracts involving GOL funds that were worth more than US$ 200 million and exercised a great deal of influence over which foreign companies were awarded contracts." In fact, it added, he frequently involves himself in contracts well below that financial threshold.

Gadaffi not only uses the Raqaba to favour regime cronies, but also to award contracts to countries he wants to thank. A number of Scottish companies have been favoured with many new Libyan contracts in the year since the release of El Megrahi, as reported in the Scottish press, but until now they supposed that no causal link between the release and the contracts could be proved.

The cables make it clear that "rewards" of this nature is standard practice for Libya and that Scotland is being showered with commercial gifts for releasing the convicted bomber. Mostly, the Raqaba has been used to punish countries, like Denmark after the Mohammed cartoons episode, and Switzerland after Gadaffi's son Hannibal was arrested there.

One cable, by the ambassador, Gene Cretz, even says that Raqaba was used by Prime Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, with Gadaffi's consent, to harass the Tripoli branch of Marks & Spencer because its owners included Husni Bey, an old rival. Overall, Cretz remarks, '...Libya is a kleptocracy in which the regime - either the al-Qadhafi family itself or its close political allies - has a direct stake in anything worth buying, selling or owning.'

HEALTH: The Global Fund detects global fraud

More revelations and more outrage are on the agenda in the coming weeks as the scale of the misappropriation of monies granted by the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria becomes ever clearer. Although embarrassed by revelations of false accounting, diversion of funds, slow disbursement of legitimate grants and many other scams, it was the Fund's own Office of Inspector General (OIG) which uncovered the evidence and reported extensively on it just before Christmas.

There was much breast-beating about whether revealing the scale of the problems might not result in a loss of donor confidence that would lower funding and thus harm those in need. Germany, in fact, has suspended disbursement of its planned 2011 grant of €200 mn and Sweden followed suit. But generally, the Fund has been lauded for its commitment to transparency.

Nevertheless, the Fund reacted angrily to an Associated Press report based on the OIG report. The Fund said it misrepresented the situation and called on people to recall that only 0.3% of the $13 billion disbursed so far by the Fund, mostly in Africa, has been stolen. Zambia, Mali, Mauritania and Djibouti had corrupt programmes and measures had been taken to try and recover a missing $34 mn. It is clearly embarrassing the Fund that such practices should be discovered when its entire raison d'etre was to cut through ponderous governmental red tape and deliver direct to those in need.

The UN Development Programme is going shortly to have to provide some answers to the Fund about its role as a 'principal recipient', passing on Fund grants to organisations down the delivery chain. The OIG found, in one African contract for which the UNDP had overall responsibility, 77% of the $3.5 mn worth of the programme they had examined had gone astray.

Much of the trouble stems from the involvement of health ministry officials and politicians in Fund programmes which run, as intended, in parallel to less efficient state-run programmes. Fund monies are outside the normal government budget streams and could be more vulnerable. 'Local Fund Agents', often accountancy outfits like PwC and KPMG, are meant to be the eyes and ears of the Fund in the countries they are responsible for and yet few were aware of the frauds that the OIG uncovered.

Although UNDP is not the only problem here we believe a major storm is brewing between the UN agency and the Fund. In addition to the countries already mentioned OIG investigations are ongoing in Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Swaziland and Uzbekistan. The crimes cover the whole gamut of fraud and theft, from false invoicing to organised theft of drugs shipments. The Fund appears to be tackling the corruption with some determination, despite the risks to overall funding, and has found the money for seven new staff positions in the OIG, which is carrying out 15 audits this year, and has appointed a panel of experts to help and announced 'zero tolerance' of fraud.

GABON: Ali Ben Bongo's election win challenged, 18 months later

Andre Mba Obame, a former minister in Omar Bongo Ondimba's government and a presidential candidate in the August 2009 election, suddenly announced on 25 January that it was he who had won that election, and not Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba. He then turned up at the UN Development Programme’s Libreville compound with 20 supporters in tow. He proclaimed himself President and announced a parallel cabinet.

Obame’s inspiration has three sources: the French TV documentary that recently declared his vote had simply been switched with that of Ali Ben Bongo, the internet-linked ouster of President Ben Ali in Tunisia (Obame has a Facebook page), and the presidential stand-off in Cote d’Ivoire. Perhaps Obame sees a magical connection between the similarities of the names ‘Ben Ali’ and ‘Ali Ben Bongo’.

Obame has taken to styling himself ‘AMO’, in the manner of Ivorian president-elect Alassane Ouattara’s ‘ADO’. AMO is further attempting to emulate ADO by putting himself under UN protection, refusing to leave the UN compound, and saying his life would be in danger if he did. He may not be far off the mark. The government dissolved his Union Nationale party, accused him of high treason and closed down his TV station. There was rioting by AMO supporters outside the UN compound and police fired tear gas.

The African Union is not impressed. It condemned Obame’s dramatic move, which must have been timed to coincide with the AU summit in Addis Ababa. It is the UN, though, which will be suffering headaches this week. If they expel him from the compound they might be accused of complicity in whatever the government then does to him, and if they don’t, they risk ‘copycat’ actions in the many UN offices around the world. It promises to be an interesting week in Libreville.

When Africa Confidential asked President Ali Ben Bongo at the AU summit in Addis Ababa for his views about his challenger and where the wind of democracy in North Africa was heading, the President said he didn't want to get into that game and in any case he wasn't good at making predictions.

KENYA: Constitutional liberties

The week is going to see some heated arguments in parliament and court about what belongs to parliament and what belongs to the constitution. At stake are nominations for some of the government's most important offices. President Mwai Kibaki nominated Justice Alnashir Visram as the Chief Justice, Professor Githu Muigai as Attorney-General, Kioko Kilukumi as Director of Public Prosecutions and William Kirwa as Budget Controller (see page 3, current issue).

However, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his party are opposed to the nominations and said that there were no proper consultations over them, just the latest in a series of intra-coalition confrontations. Then, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Kenneth Marende, declared that it was unconstitutional for the government to make the nominations because the provisions for consultation and fairness had not been followed.

Marende was in an awkward position; approve the nominations and he risked the ire of the courts and Odinga; disapprove, and he risked being impeached, as one threatening letter warned. He duly declined to make a ruling but the pressure was already off, because, only hours before he stood up in the National Assembly on 3 February to announce his decision, the High Court had ridden to his rescue by striking out the nominations.

Justice Daniel Musinga said, "I am satisfied that the nominations were in breach of Article 27(3) of the Constitution that guarantees fundamental rights and freedom of women and men to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres." A group of civil society organisations, most of them bodies representing women's rights, brought the case. Kibaki's side insists that the nominations were legitimate and were properly consulted on. He has released details of horse-trading between the coalition partners over the nominations but Odinga insists the nominations are 'null and void'.

The court has said that the petition to the court by the civil society organisations must be heard. Depending on how long it takes that could cause big problems for the AU-backed move to have the ICC suspects' cases heard in Kenya. And it hardly inspires confidence that the man who formally put the presidential nominees to parliament was Francis Muthauru, who is on the list of the six ICC suspects.