Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Finance Minister Gordhan on mission to London and New York

We have commercial and political diplomacy in Nigeria and South Africa, a crowded field of presidential hopefuls in Benin, and a last and very ambitious bid at conflict resolution by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

SOUTH AFRICA: Finance Minister Gordhan on mission to London and New York
Determined to get South Africa's case across to the international markets, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan arrived in London yesterday (7 March) to meet investors who have been rattled by the country's recent political shenanigans. The London leg of the trip is being managed by Deutsche Bank and Investec. After London, Gordhan flies to New York for more investor meetings.
We hear that Gordhan is to meet senior officials in the London offices of Old Mutual, South Africa's US$9 billion financial services group. Over the weekend, details were emerging of Old Mutual's plans to break up the group, sell some assets and restructure some its holdings such as its stake in the leading South African Bank, Nedbank.

This follows the decision, announced last week, of Britain's Barclays Bank to sell much of its stake in its African banking operations, expanded in the wake of its takeover South Africa's ABSA investment bank a decade ago.

NIGERIA/SOUTH AFRICA: President Zuma in Abuja to repair frayed ties
The agenda is likely to be packed when South Africa's President Jacob Zuma arrives with a full retinue of ministers and business leaders for a two-day state visit starting today (8 March). Zuma and his foreign minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, are scheduled to meet top officials in Abuja including President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, and Zuma will address the National Assembly.

Relations between Nigeria and South Africa in recent years have been what one diplomat in Abuja described as 'unnecessarily bad', shaped as they are by petty consular disputes rather than big issues. Both countries have been badly hit by the fall in commodity prices and are looking for ways to diversify their economies and promote more intra-African trade.

The biggest outstanding dispute between the two countries is the Nigerian telecoms regulator's decision to fine South Africa's MTN some $5.7 bn. for failing to re-register all its SIM cards in line with new security procedures. Although the fine was subsequently reduced to $3.2 bn., MTN wants a further reduction and the South African delegation will almost certainly raise the issue in Abuja. But to make progress, the MTN team will have to offer some more serious concessions on their side about paying local corporation tax and more technology transfer.

BENIN: Results due after 33 candidates contest for presidency
Prime Minister and former investment banker Lionel Zinsou heads a crowded field of 33 candidates after Benin's presidential election on Monday (6 March). Other front-runners include another former premier, Pascal Koupaki, and a former top official at the International Monetary Fund, Abdoulaye Bio Tchané.

Although many of the candidates are technocrats offering ambitious programmes to restart economic growth in the country, the elections were hit by serious administrative shortcomings. There is also suspicion that the departing President, Thomas Boni Yayi, may have too much influence over the favourite to win, Zinsou. If, as seems likely, no single candidate gains more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will fight a second round, probably on 20 March.

MOROCCO/WESTERN SAHARA: UN chief tries to restart talks on territory 
Notwithstanding the fact that his tenure has been marked by horrific chaos and terror in the Middle East and parts of Africa, outgoing Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, is evidently looking for new challenges in his remaining months in the job. He has announced the restarting of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front to end the four-decade long war over the Western Sahara.

After the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the issue of the Western Sahara's sovereignty is generally thought to be the dispute on which least progress has been made. Rabat's offer to Saharawi nationalists of autonomy within a Moroccan confederation has been roundly rejected.

Visiting the Saharawi camps in Algeria's Tindouf region on 5-6 March, Ban said he wanted to relaunch negotiations so the tens of thousands of refugees can return home. Given France's and the United States's unrelenting support for Morocco's position it will prove extremely difficult, even for the head of the UN, to produce a practical basis for resolving the conflict.

No comments: