This week we start in Milan, Italy, where the state prosecutor is to open preliminary hearings on two multinational oil companies accused of massive corporate fraud in Nigeria's oil industry. Then to Nairobi where a committee of the opposition alliance has just recommended former Prime Minister Raila Odinga as its presidential candidate in August's elections. In South Africa, there are renewed rumblings about President Jacob Zuma's efforts to push through a mega-deal on nuclear power with Russia. In Kinshasa, the opposition is fuming at President Joseph Kabila's choice of Prime Minister and is planning a mass protest next week.
NIGERIA: Police raids, intercepts and careless whispers in latest twist in Shell and ENI's secret deal saga
The probe into how Royal Dutch Shell and Italy's ENI came to buy the OPL 245 oil concession – one of the biggest in the Gulf of Guinea – takes on a new lease of life when court hearings open in Italy this week. The companies face claims that they connived with former oil minister Dan Etete to pay bribes to secure the rights to buy the block for US$1.1 billion, seen as a bargain basement price at the time of the deal in 2011. Officials at Shell and ENI have repeatedly insisted they broke no laws.
The office of Fabio de Pasquale, the state prosecutor in Milan, set out the timetable to Africa Confidential. Preliminary hearings will consider the case against ENI and Shell this month and could continue until June.
Should Italy's prosecutors proceed against the companies, the main case will open in September and October. Although the Italian case will focus on the role of ENI and Shell, several business people and former officials are also under investigation by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Alongside these state investigations, a cache of Shell emails was leaked to the press and made headlines today (10 April) for the online news service Buzzfeed and the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore while the anti-corruption lobbying organisation Global Witness also published today a major report analysing much of the same material.
The deluge of new material raises the question as to whether the authorities in Britain and the United States – Shell and ENI are publicly listed in both countries – will launch their own investigations. Cases involving multinational companies accused of corporate fraud are rarely prosecuted in those jurisdictions. Instead, they tend to be settled by hugely costly Deferred Prosecution Agreements, essentially a corporate plea bargain. Many anti-corruption lawyers do not believe these deals deter fraud and corporations come to see them as yet another 'cost of doing business'. The fines, however, can be a substantial source of income for budget-strapped state prosecutors.
KENYA: Which is the biggest electoral threat to President Kenyatta – economic woes or Raila Odinga?
News that a technical committee of the opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) has picked former Prime Minister Raila Odinga as the coalition's presidential candidate has deeply divided activists ahead of national elections on 8 August. The committee assessed the candidates' qualities and Odinga came first, but the final decision is in the hands of the leaders of the four coalition partners.
Some see the choice of Odinga, 72, as inevitable given his high national profile and long experience. Others argue that his candidacy will encourage voters in Central Province, the base of President Uhuru Kenyatta and where Odinga has many political foes, to come out strongly against him. Insiders say it is likely that Kalonzo Musyoka, another senior figure in Nasa, will become Odinga's running mate.
One problem with a Odinga-Musyoka ticket is that it leaves Musalia Mudavadi, an architect of the opposition alliance and a former Vice-President, out in the cold. In the 2013 elections, he ran his own presidential campaign, rejecting offers to join one of the rival alliances headed by Odinga and Kenyatta.
If the tricky choice of the presidential ticket puts pressure on the opposition and boosts President Kenyatta's chances of a second term, the country's economic woes could still tell against him. Bankers in Nairobi are warning about the government's rising indebtedness and criticising what they see as heavy-handed regulation of the financial sector. They also point to a 45% loss in the value of equities on the Kenya Stock Exchange over the last two years and the effects on the local economy of the appalling drought in the Horn of Africa.
The government's cap on interest rates has sharply cut the profits of Kenya Commercial Bank but, more importantly, has led to a credit squeeze and a block on growth. Should the economy suffer further hits, the opposition could benefit despite reservations about its candidates.
SOUTH AFRICA: Claims that the Russian nuclear deal is reviving follow Gordhan's sacking
After a torrid week of national protests and ratings agency downgrades in the wake of President Jacob Zuma's midnight sacking of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on 30 March, there are reports that the government is seeking to revive the controversial $72 billion nuclear power deal with Russia. Also, there is speculation that Zuma may be planning to bring back his close ally, Brian Molefe, the disgraced former head of state power company Eskom into government.
Last month Molefe was made a member of parliament for the African National Congress and some sources in the Treasury suggest he could be appointed Director General there after Lungisa Fuzile resigned the post following Gordhan's sacking. That could give Molefe a decisive role in the management of the nuclear deal.
The independent Johannesburg-based weekly City Press reported on Sunday (9 April) that it had seen internal documents from Eskom that indicated discussions had been reopened on the Russian deal in recent weeks. A final decision could be taken by Zuma prior to national elections scheduled for April 2019.
The role of the Treasury and new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba would be critical in the negotiations. Gordhan strongly opposed the deal, raising questions about its value for money and financial risk. Ratings agencies Fitch and Standard & Poor's, which downgraded South Africa's debt to junk status after the sacking of Gordhan, have raised their own concerns about the financial viability of the nuclear deal.
CONGO-KINSHASA: Kabila tests opposition with unilateral appointment of new Prime Minister
President Joseph Kabila's choice of a new Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala last Friday (7 April) broke the rules agreed between the government and the political parties and looks aimed at dividing the opposition. Kabila announced his choice ten days ahead of a scheduled demonstration by the opposition against what they describe of the government's repeated violation of political agreements on the running of national elections, which are due by the end of this year.
Tshibala, formerly a top figure in the main opposition Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social (UDPS), was expelled from the party during a dispute about who would succeed its historic leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who died in February. After some manoeuvring, Tshisekedi's son Félix emerged as the new leader of the UDPS and of the national opposition coalition.
Another challenge for the opposition is the organisation of a funeral in Kinshasa for Etienne Tshisekedi. It is likely to be a massive rallying point for oppositionists but the government may again use deadly force to shut down such an event, hugely inflaming local opinion. Organising such a memorial would require cooperation and negotiation between Kabila and the UDPS: something which looks out of the question for now. Today the police banned all gatherings of more than ten people as security forces deployed in strength on the streets of the capital.