Thursday, 30 September 2010

Total E&P Vietnam discovers oil offshore Vietnam on Block 15-1/05

Total E&P Vietnam, and its partners on Block 15-1/05, have discovered oil in the Lac Da Vang prospect, located in the southern part of the block in the Vietnamese offshore.

The Lac Da Vang well is located approximately 125km east of the city of Vung Tau, about 65km off the coast, and was drilled in water depths of 48m. The well produced up to 3,500 b/d during the tests.

The discovery was made on the second exploration well drilled and the second discovery was made less than a year later. Phu Quy Petroleum Co, a subsidiary of Petrovietnam Exploration and Production Corp, is the operator with a 40 per cent stake. The other partners on Block 15-1/05 are Total E&P Vietnam with a 35 per cent stake and SK Energy Co with a 25 per cent stake.

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Jose Serra urges Brazil to back him in elections

Jose Serra has urged Brazilian voters to back him on Sunday, 3rd October. During the final rally, in the Sao Paulo district where he grew up, Serra called on his supporters to work to the end to win over voters and take the presidential contest into a second round.

Serra, a former health minister and Sao Paulo governor, is trailing behind Workers Party candidate Dilma Rousseff, whose popularity has taken a dive after corruption allegations surfaced involving a former aide, but she could still be on course to win outright on 3rd October. Speaking at the rally Serra, of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB), said that his government would be fair, ethical and free from scandal.

"We can have an ethical government. A government that focuses on the people and not on party politics and select groups. We want a government that is focused on all our fellow citizens," he said.

According to the opinion polls if the election does go to a second round on 31st October, Rousseff is expected to win. Rousseff and Serra will come face to face on Thursday [30th September] night for the final televised debate. Marina Silva of the Green Party and Plinio de Arruda Sampaio of the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) will also take part.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Brazil, please see Brazil Focus.

Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi accuses Libyan government of ineptitude

Saif Al-Islam Qadhafi has accused the Libyan government of ineptitude, highlighting ruptures within the country's ruling elite. Saif al-Islam is leader of a reformist group in Libya which is struggling to influence the old guard including higher-ranking figures within his father's own entourage.

Saif Al-Islam criticised the government after his visit to the Libyan pergola at the Word Expo in Shanghai. Saif Al-Islam oversaw the Libya's display himself, saying the government failed to take sufficient interest.

"The Libyan government did not even bother to send a junior employee to attend Libya's day at the exhibition. That shows that there is no state in Libya. It is me who arranged support for Libya's participation in the Shanghai exhibition because the Libyan state failed to give enough backing for the country's participation. Libya's participation in the Shanghai International Exhibition is the weakest and the worst participation," he said.

Saif al-Islam plays a crucial role in Libyan politics, and although he holds no official position, he was instrumental in negotiating the end of international sanctions on Libya after the country repudiated the banned weapons programmes, and since then he has been lobbying for the modernisation of Libya.

Source: Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Al-Ahdab oil field raided by Iraqi provincial officials

Iraq's Oil Ministry has accused provincial officials and local police of raiding an oil field, in the southern province of Wasit, currently developed by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). A local council member, Majed Askar, said the officials went to the field on Sunday [26th September] to investigate complaints over the contracts signed by the Iraqi government and CNPC.

The Oil Ministry released a statement saying that the Al-Ahdab oil field was a sovereign site subject to the control of the federal government only and, "intervention of the provincial councils in the ministry's job is a clear legal violation".

The Wasit council party and police demanded to see copies of all contracts signed by the Chinese company, said Chief engineer at the field Ahmed Abdul Ridha.

"When we saw the situation was about to explode and that armed clashes may occur, to maintain the lives of the Chinese, we allowed them to enter with their arms," said Ridha.

The Al-Ahdab was the first major oilfield development contract awarded by the Iraqi government after the US-led invasion in 2003. A CNPC official said the raid will not impact the company's work.

"We can't say we're not annoyed by this action. But we still consider it a domestic issue and we're confident the oil ministry will solve this problem. We are watching closely and we do not expect any effect on our work in the field," he added.

It is believed that Wasit council has formed a committee to investigate the contracts, worth $3 billion, to determine whether or not they had been signed without being tendered. Iraq's Oil Ministry has since issued a statement, saying all contracts between oil firms and the ministry were signed with the approval of the federal government and rebuked Wasit council for, "entering the site forcibly and using military force".

An Oil Ministry spokesman, Asim Jihad, said the ministry would file legal action against provincial council members who trespassed on the site.

Source: Upstream Online

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Libya releases details about Canadian citizen accused of industrial espionage

Details have been released regarding the repatriation of a Canadian citizen, Douglas O'Reilly, who had been prevented from leaving Libya after being accused of industrial espionage during a recent trip to Tripoli. There is no information on when he will actually leave Libya but the restrictions no longer apply. It is understood that O'Reilly was made to stay in his hotel room in Tripoli while investigations were carried out into the accusations.

The news will be of interest to those doing business in Libya because it highlights one of the concerns for foreign workers in the Jamahiriya. The vagaries of local security systems mean that there is always a chance, albeit small, of workers being hindered by overly zealous local authorities.

It was alleged that O'Reilly was working clandestinely for clients interested in disadvantaging BP's current offshore drilling campaign. It is alleged that they sought to highlight the numerous offshore archaeological sites that would be at risk if there was another oil spill similar to the one that BP has recently experienced in the Gulf of Mexico. O'Reilly had been placed under surveillance by Libyan authorities who didn't believe his claims that he was simply a touring archaeologist concerned about a new BP offshore rig.

It was also alleged in other reports that he was working with US intelligence “to gather information aiming to ensure the failure of the drilling project” and that he had been spotted meeting a US diplomat who is suspected of being a CIA spy.

Jim Delgado, of the Texas-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology, said that everyone wanted to avoid a repeat of the Gulf of Mexico spill but that his institute has been discussing the oil project with Libya, which he says is taking pains to ensure drilling doesn't adversely affect any future finds.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

More kidnapped in Nigeria

Fifteen school children have been kidnapped from Nigeria's south-eastern town of Aba on Monday, 27th September. Local police say the kidnappers, reported to have been heavily armed, have demanded $130,000 in ransom for their release.

Most local amenities have refused to open for business fearing further attacks from gang leaders infamous for demanding large ransoms. There has been a noted increase in kidnappings within Abia state, which rests on the fringes of Niger Delta. In the past the gangs often targeted foreign oil workers but recently due to improved security measures, the gangs have been kidnapping prominent Nigerians and their relatives.

The children were on board a school but on their way to Abayi International School in Aba, when a vehicle blocked the path of the bus. Police spokesman Geoffrey Ogbonna said the children, of nursery and primary school age, came from wealthy Nigerian families, and the police was intensifying its efforts to find their whereabouts.

Speaking about the latest kidnapping President Goodluck Jonathan described it as "callous and cruel".

"President Jonathan has ordered the inspector general of police and heads of other security agencies to take all necessary steps to rescue the abducted children and return them safely to their parents," said Goodluck's spokesman Ima Niboro.

Kidnappings in the Niger Delta region are often carried out by criminal gangs seeking ransom, but also by militant groups demanding a fairer distribution of oil wealth across Nigeria. An amnesty that came into effect in the Delta last year has reduced unrest in the region – although five French oil workers were abducted in an attack on an offshore drilling ship just last week.

The Nigerian parliament is currently reviewing a bill which would impose the death penalty on convicted kidnappers.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Human Rights Court in Accra resolves land dispute

The Human Rights Court in Accra has thrown out a legal objection raised by National Security Co-ordinator Lt Col Gbevlo Lartey (Rtd) in a case in which Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, the MP for Weija, is seeking to enforce her fundamental human rights under the 1992 Constitution. Lartey has been trying to get Botchway's case thrown out of court.

The NPP MP, who was a deputy minister under former president Kufuor, is battling the ruling NDC government in the law courts for the ownership of land she acquired at Ridge in Accra in 2007. She has jointly sued Brigadier General Joseph Nunoo Mensah (Rtd), Lartey, and the Attorney-General, claiming that the first two defendants are using security operatives to take the land which she has started developing. Mensah and Lartey argue that the land belongs to the state.

She said she reported the matter to the Director General of the Criminal Investigations Department on 16th April 2010. As a result, she sought "a declaration that the respondents' interference with her right to develop, use and enjoy her land is wrong and an unlawful interference with her right to property, and constitutes a violation of her fundamental human rights."

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Iran ready to set up economic bloc

Iran says it is ready to hold a meeting with the economy ministers of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey to discuss setting up an economic bloc in the region. Iran's Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Shamseddin Hosseini made the remarks in a meeting with Syrian Economy and Trade Minister Lamia Assi in Tehran on 28th August.

Hosseini expressed hope that the neighbouring states would increase their economic ties in an effort to form a regional bloc in the Middle East, Mehr news agency reported. The minister added that Iranian and Syrian officials plan to discuss setting up a joint investment company and the expansion of banking and insurance cooperation within two months. Assi welcomed further economic ties with Iran.

The talks came as Tehran signed a draft agreement in mid-August on free trade with Syria. The Iranian minister said that under the agreement, all existing tariffs would be reduced to 4 per cent within five years, adding that the deal does not interfere with economic co-operation with other states.

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Iraq approves a $733 million deal for new oil export terminal

The Iraqi cabinet has approved a $733 million deal for Leighton Offshore to build a new oil export terminal in the city of Basra. A spokesperson for the government, Ali Al Dabbagh, said the, “capacity of the new terminal will be 1.8 million barrels a day".

The terminal is expected to be operational in about 15 months, once the work commences. Dabbagh said that once the terminal is completed it would raise Iraq's oil exports capacity from southern terminals on the Gulf to 3 million b/d.

The approval followed a request by the Iraqi oil ministry to award the contract to Leighton Offshore, chosen out of four international companies invited to submit bids for the project. Dabbagh said that the project also includes extending pipelines to the terminal.

A sum of $175 million has been allotted for the project so far, the remainder would be allocated in the 2011 budget, said Dabbagh.

Iraq intends to install four new floating oil terminals and three new undersea oil pipelines to replace the old ones in Basra port and increase export capacity to 8 million b/d.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Two Libyan men on trial for spying in Germany

Two Libyan men, who can only be identified as Adel Ab and Adel Al, have gone on trial in Berlin accused of gathering information on Libyan opposition members living in Germany. The two men, aged 42 and 47, were arrested in the spring of this year.

A spokesperson for Berlin justice authorities Robert Baeuml said that the German government has charged the men with, "spying for the Libyan intelligence service between August 2007 and May 13, 2010, the day of their arrest here in Germany". He added that the spying was conducted, "on a personal level," and "there was no technical eavesdropping involved".

"There were attempts to contact opposition members through personal contacts and gaining their trust in order to gather information," he said. He added that the begging of the trial, "coincides with considerable attempts within the Libyan opposition in Germany to find out in Libya what the opposition is up to".

The trial is expected to conclude in mid October and if the accused are found guilty they are exected to face up to five years in prison.

Source: Aljazeera

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

Egypt on track to beat its budget deficit target

According to the Egyptian finance minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali the Egyptian government is on track to beat its budget deficit target for the second year running. Talking at an investment conference in Cairo Boutros-Ghali said that the deficit will, “very likely,” decline to 7.5 per cent of gross domestic product in the fiscal year through June from 8.1 per cent in the previous 12 months, official target for the deficit is 7.9 percent.

The International Monetary Fund recommended that Egypt reduce the shortfall by 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent of gross domestic product this fiscal year, to demonstrate its intentions of reducing the gap to 3 per cent by 2015. The Egyptian government relies heavily on borrowing from domestic banks to subsidise the deficit and thereby tends to crowd out lending to the private sector.

The finance minister said that the country may grow 6 per cent or more this year, driven by a, “very lively domestic demand component,” within the country's economy. He also said that despite the fact that both domestic investment and consumer spending had been affected by the crisis both sectors, “still held up”.

The government estimates that the country might attract as much as $9 billion in foreign direct investment this year, up from $6.7 billion in the previous year. Foreign investment, along with revenue from tourism and the Suez Canal, helped the economy expand at an average rate of 7 percent in the three fiscal years through June 2008.

Source: Bloomberg

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

South Sudanese vigilante group to be armed against LRA

Self-defence groups within Southern Sudan, namely the Arrow Boys vigilantes, are being supplied with guns to fend off increasing attacks from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. According to Western Equatoria state governor, Joseph Bakasoro, the government will spend around $2 million arming the Arrow Boys.

The UN has estimated that LRA has forced around 25,000 Sudanese from their homes this year alone, and believes that the group now also has a strong presence in Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as Sudan.

"The home guard units will be trained and armed so that they can provide effective defence until the regular forces can intervene," said Bakasoro.

It is feared that LRA's attacks in Southern Sudan might increase ahead of January's referendum on the region's independence. Some Southerners believe that Northern political powers opposed to the region's independence are supplying the LRA with arms.

LRA's leader Joseph Kony began his rebellion 20 years ago, aiming to estabilish a Bible based theocracy in Uganda, but has since expanded the group's operations to Sudan, CAR and the DRC. Kony was to sign a peace deal in 2008, negotiated by Southern Sudan, but refused to disarm at the last minute. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and now lives an itinerant life between Sudan and the CAR.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards kill 30 Kurdish “terrorists” across Iraq border

Iran's Revolutionary Guards have crossed the border in to Iraq and killed 30 Kurdish militants suspected of bombing a military parade. The Revolutionary Guards Commander Abdolrasoul Mahmoudabad said his troops were still tracking the “terrorist group” responsible for the attack.

The attack on the parade in the north-west of the country town of Mahabad killed 12 people, mostly women and children. Talking about the cross border operation Mahmoudabad told Iranian state TV that the Kurdish “terrorists” were killed on Sunday [26th September], in an attack "beyond the border". The Commander added that his troops were still in pursuit of two Kurdish militants who managed to escape the scene.

No singular group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack on Mahabad carried out on Wednesday [22nd September], but one Iranian governor has blamed “counter-revolutionary groups" for the bombing, which occurred on the 30th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Monday, 27 September 2010

PPPRA issues new conditions for allocation of import approvals

The Petroleum Products Price Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) has issued new conditions for the allocation of import approvals with effect from Q4 of this year. According to reports, PPPRA's decision stems from its concern that in the third quarter only 11 of the 50 approved marketers that were issued import licenses, actually submitted the required performance reports. The result was that only 22 per cent of the anticipated totals were imported.

The new conditions are also said to be in line with the objections raised by established marketers that the introduction of the sovereign debt notes scheme had brought about an influx of marketers who had no facilities or infrastructure and were not genuine marketers in the petroleum products import allocation scheme. According to reports, the new conditions which emerged after a meeting between PPPRA and marketers include the rule that marketers will now be required to produce proof of financial capacity, as evidenced by a letter of undertaking from a bank.

There is a penalty rider to the condition, which states that marketers who connive with banks to produce misleading statements of financial capacity will be subject to a fine of N10 million. The PPPRA will also no longer give approvals to transfer fuel import permits to third parties – this is in order to discourage the practice of bogus marketers simply obtaining import approvals with the sole intention of transferring/selling them on to third parties.

The PPPRA has also suspended the issuance of new import licenses and the revalidation of expired import licenses. This will enforce optimal performance by forbidding marketers who have not exhausted their allocation to roll it over to the next quarter. This use it or lose it clause means that the marketer who does so loses the right to revalidate the license and use it for the next quarter.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Latest news about French hostages and the Political repercussions in Algeria

The latest news on the situation from France's senior military officer, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, (via AFP) is that “France has no plans to use force to rescue [the] five hostages held in the Sahara by al-Qa'ida and wants to negotiate with the militant group.

“Military intervention is not, at the moment I am speaking to you, on the agenda," he told Europe 1 radio. "Of course, French authorities are ready to make contact at any moment, the only problem we have is that, as is usual in this kind of matter, it is the hostage takers who control the timetable," he said.

On 23rd September, French Defence Minister Hervé Morin revealed that France was attempting to get in touch with al-Qa'ida to discover if they have any ransom demands following the hostage taking.

Such incidents can have unforeseen consequences. One relates to the long-running 'story' of the 'secret US base' at Tamanrasset, built by Halliburton's corrupt and now closed subsidiary Brown Root Condor Spa (BRC). The 'story', first documented around 2003, that the US had acquired secret basing rights in Algeria's extreme south, has never gained much traction within Algeria itself. That is largely because the story has been raised mostly in international and predominantly English-language media.

However, on Friday (24th September) the Algerian daily El Watan, picking up on this story in France's Le Canard Enchaîné (CE), revealed to the Algerian public that 400 US troops were stationed at a US secret base [outside Tamanrasset] in Algeria's extreme south. Such a story, if true, would be political dynamite. Coming from Algeria's most respected daily, the story, now finally drawn to the attention of the Algerian public, appears to be causing political ructions.

How and why El Watan published the story is intriguing, and says much for the dangers of both the US and Algeria never having told the whole truth about the base. Hence, rumours and false information flourish. El Watan's figure of 400 US troops comes from an unverified media report from 2003 or thereabouts, which has been regurgitated on an almost annual basis. (Journalists rarely check their sources!). Certainly, it is true that the base does exist, with building having begun around the year 2000, and that the US has used it at various times.

In spite of denials, there is a secret agreement between the US and Algeria which grants the US certain user rights, etc. At one time, about 400 US forces were in the region, with many of them being based temporarily at the base or transiting through it. It is also almost certainly true that a small number of US personnel are based there more or less permanently to man electronic listening and surveillance equipment.

El Watan , we believe, took the story from CE, which in turn dug up the figure of 400US troops from its archives and added them to a Special Report written earlier this week by UPI and published in several media on 23rd September. The very speculative UPI report states: “It is from there [the Tamanrasset base] that the French surveillance aircraft hunting the jihadists and their captives are probably operating.” That may be correct, although most reports have the French air search operating out of Niamey.

This story, of questionable accuracy, looks as if it might finally gain traction within Algeria and thus add to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's internal political problems, as the way the El Watan story is running suggests that he was the key architect in granting this 'secret facility' to the Americans. In the last 24 hours, the story has received wide coverage through Al Jazeera (Arabic) and possibly other Arab-language channels.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Iran says “foreign enemies” responsible for virus attack on nuclear site

According to technology experts a virus identified as Stuxnet has infected approximately 60 per cent of computers within Iran. The head of Iran's Bushehr nuclear pant has said that the Stuxnet virus did not affect Iran's nuclear plant or government systems.

“A team is inspecting several computers to remove the malware. Major systems of the plant have not been damaged,” said Head of Bushehr plant Mahmoud Jafari.

Iran's Telecommunication's Minister Reza Taqipour said the virus did not “penetrate or cause serious damage to government systems”. The Iranian authorities were able to identify some 30,000 internet providers infected by the Stuxnet virus and blamed the country's “foreign enemies,” for creating it.

“The Stuxnet spy worm has been created in line with the West's electric warfare against Iran,” said the Secretary of Information Technology Council Mahmoud Liayi.

Source: The Independent

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Friday, 24 September 2010

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says most people believe the US responsible for 9/11 attacks

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said most people believe the US government to be responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York Ahmadinejad claimed that the US government had orchestrated the 9/11 attacks to tighten its loosening grip on the Middle East.

The US and other Western delegations walked out in protest during the speech. However, that did not deter the Iranian leader as he moved on to say that the sanctions against Iran were unjust and ineffective, and added he was ready for the annual public dialogue with the US president.

Reiterating Iran's denial of its nuclear programme Ahmadinejad said some members of the UN Security Council had, "equated nuclear energy with nuclear bombs,” and added that 2011 should be the year of nuclear disarmament.

Addressing the General Assembly, Ahmadinejad said it was mostly US government officials and statesmen who believed that Al-Qa'ida militants carried out the 2001 attacks on the US. He said it was universally believed, "that some segments within the US government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy, and its grips on the Middle East, in order to save the Zionist regime” and that the “majority of the American people as well as most nations and politicians around the world agree with this view".

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Algeria launches third oil and gas licensing round

Algeria has launched its third oil and gas licensing round in hope of new investment for the country's energy industry. Previous bidding rounds in 2008 and 2009 were largely unsuccessful as international oil companies complained that the terms stipulated by Algeria's state oil company, Sonatrach, were too inflexible to be worth the risks.

According to energy industry insiders Sonatrach is unlikely to make major changes in its terms, but a lot will depend on which 10 blocks are put on offer. The contractual conditions will not be disclosed before 30th September and further "clarification meetings" will take place between October and December, with opening of the bids scheduled for 3rd March.

Sonatrach has a 51 per cent stake in all upstream operations and there's a tax on every barrel of oil sold at more than $30. It is estimated that Algeria has 12.27 billion barrels of oil reserves and 4.51 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves. Oil and gas account for 97.5 per cent of the country's export, making it the world's third largest exporter of liquefied petroleum gas, the fourth largest exporter of liquefied natural gas and ninth largest oil exporter.

According to online sources 70 international companies were qualified to bid in the forthcoming licensing round, including Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Gazprom, BP, Repsol and Eni.

Source: UPI

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

Kazakh tax ruling reversed says Max Petroleum

Max Petroleum has said that the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan has reversed the rulings of the lower courts that had upheld a tax claim brought against the company and remanded the case to the Specialized Economic Court of Almaty for reconsideration.

As a result of the Supreme Court decision, payments towards the tax claim are suspended while the case is pending, including any further appeals, if necessary, through the Court of Cassation, the last court of appeal below the Supreme Court. Max Petroleum has has paid $3.1 million towards the tax claim and will apply to the local tax authorities to offset this amount against the company's other tax liabilities due in the fourth quarter of 2010.

The company continues to believe the tax claim is without merit and will continue to dispute it through the appropriate channels until final resolution, up to the Supreme Court, if necessary. This process is expected to take six months or longer. The Company has not yet received the written ruling from the Supreme Court and will update the market on additional details as appropriate.

To find out more about Max Petroleum please visit Max Petroleum's web site, which you can fine here.

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

Congo and Areva in uranium exploration talks

Democratic Republic of Congo and France's Areva are in talks over possible uranium exploration at a now-closed site that once produced material for the Hiroshima bomb.

Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu and Areva's Africa Chairman Zephirin Diabre met this week, both parties confirmed, and additional discussions were likely into next year.

"We are looking to have all the geological data available before a meeting in Paris," Kabwelulu told Reuters by text message on Thursday, adding that the next meeting was likely to take place in March 2011.

"All I can confirm is that they did indeed meet," a spokesperson for Areva told Reuters by email.

Congo's largest uranium mine, Shinkolobwe, provided the uranium that went into the atomic bomb deployed by the United States on Japan in 1945 during the Second World War.

The site in the south of the vast and minerals-rich central African country was officially closed in 2004, but the United Nations has since cautioned that radioactive material from Congo is frequently smuggled out.

The site is in poor condition, likely suffering from leaks that would be costly to contain, and a lack of fencing is has opened it up to smuggling -- raising fears among Western diplomats that some of the uranium is reaching Iran.

"Uranium is the one resource that's always been at the back of everyone's mind -- it explains U.S. interest in a country that was otherwise not very interesting," said Christopher Melville, Africa specialist with London-based risk consultancy, Menas Associates.

Source: Reuters

For more news about Nigeria, please visit the Menas Associates Newsroom.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Egyptian authorities have detained a top Palestinian security chief

According to state-controlled media, the authorities detained a top Palestinian security chief in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as he flew in from Damascus, where Hamas has its base in exile. Al-Ahram reported that head of the Hamas-run General Security Service Mohammed Khamis Dababesh was “suspected of involvement in activities harmful to Egyptian state security, including an attempt to traffic a significant quantity of sophisticated telecommunications equipment.” He is also accused of being responsible in his capacity as security chief for the death in January of an Egyptian policeman during an exchange of fire at the Gaza border.

The news coincided with press reports that the head of intelligence in Egypt Omar Suleiman and the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal had met in Saudi Arabia. The pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat said the talks aimed to reconcile Palestinian differences. Suleiman has led Egyptian efforts to mediate between Fatah, which it supports, and Hamas which controls the Gaza strip. The meeting took place in Mecca, where the Egyptian briefed King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on recent peace talks in Washington and Sharm el Sheikh.

The Foreign Ministry said Egypt would not allow convoys to cross into the Gaza strip through Egyptian territory. This directive was aimed partly at former British MP George Galloway, who has sent a convoy from Europe to try to break the blockade of Gaza. Egypt is caught between its desire not to help the Hamas government of Gaza, and not wishing to be seen to be lacking in humanitarian concern.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Antiquities uncovered in boxes in a storage room in Nouri Al-Maliki's office

Iraq's National Museum finally took possession this month of over 600 antiquities, some dating back to the third millennium BCE, which had been returned to Baghdad by the US in early 2009 but which had subsequently gone missing. The artefacts, which included jewellery, bronze figurines and clay tablets from various eras and which were seized by US customs officials, turned up in boxes in a storage room for kitchen equipment in office.

According to antiquities minister Qahtan Al- Jubouri, the disappearance of the returned antiquities, which had been smuggled out of Iraq since the toppling of the former regime, was the result of “inappropriate handover procedures”.

It seems that when the US army handed them over to Al-Maliki's office there was no representative for antiquities or heritage present and the objects were put away in the unlabelled boxes they were returned in and simply forgotten about. An inquiry triggered by Al-Maliki's office led to the objects being unearthed.

Whilst the find is great news for Iraq's heritage around half of the 32,000 pieces stolen from archaeological sites and from the National Museum are still unaccounted for.

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Two explosions in Kazakhstan damage pipeline disrupting gas flow

Two explosions in western Kazakhstan have damaged a pipeline disrupting gas flow from Central Asian and Russia. Kazakhstan's Emergency Ministry released a statement, saying that the blasts prompted authorities to stop all gas supplies.

According to the country's authorities a troop of 80 firefighters responded to the explosion, attempting to extinguish fires caused by the blast.

The pipeline was originally designed to carry gas from Turkmenistan in the south, but AO Inter Gas Central Asia had reversed the flow to deliver gas from Beineu to Uzen in western Kazakhstan before the explosion.

Source: Bloomberg Business Week

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

Three crewmen kidnapped off Nigerian coast

Three French crewmen have been kidnapped from a ship in an oil field off the Nigerian cost. The marine company Bourbon said the ship was attacked by pirates in speedboats on Tuesday, 21st September. The other 13 crew members were unharmed.

So far, there have been no ransom demands and no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The news comes shortly after reports of five French citizens abducted from a uranium mine in the Niger region on Thursday, 16th September.

It is not yet clear where the attack took place but Bourbon has said the crew were working in an oilfield owned by Addax Petroleum. The company's offshore wells sit about 60km south of the city of Calabar on the eastern edge of the Niger Delta.

"We are fully mobilised to obtain their liberation as soon as we can in Paris and in Abuja with our embassy and with the Nigerian authorities," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal.

Source: BBC News

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Omar Mukhtar memorial creating tensions with the government

Discussion of the location of the Omar Mukhtar memorial has created severe tensions with the government which wants to minimise the hero status of Cyrenaica's most important freedom fighter.

The campaign in Benghazi to protect the site of religious significance is being backed by the use of Facebook as a means of mobilising technology for political dissent. Beyond the discussions about the memorial is the security services' anxiety about keeping firm control of external modern communication systems which cannot be intercepted in Libya.

There are websites that are very critical of the regime and more damagingly, have lampooned the Leader and his family who have been deeply angered by these attacks. It is unlikely, however, that overt opposition in the eastern province will disturb the government, although it is a warning that the grandiose plans developed by the Qadhafi family for the development of Cyrene – which is Libya's second most important archeological site after Leptis Magna - as a cultural and tourist centre might not be accepted without stout opposition.

In general, the political situation is calm and under the firm control of the security authorities. The Qadhafi family continues to have a tight grip on Libya's population. There remains a lack of leadership among the overseas opposition groups so that no obvious threat can be envisaged from that quarter.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Cairn strikes oil in unexplored waters off the coast of Greenland

Cairn Energy has found oil in the largely unexplored waters off the coast of Greenland. The company, who has recently found gas in the same region, said it had abandoned earlier testing after concluding that the volumes of oil were not commercially viable.

Cairn's Founder Sir Bill Gammell said that the find in Baffin Bay, the sea between Greenland and Canada, was "extremely encouraging", but added that further testing was required.

So far, Cairn is the only producer to have been granted permission to drill for oil offshore in Greenland and the new discovery is bound to please oil industry officials who have long believed that the Arctic contains some of the greatest untapped reserves.

"The presence of both oil and gas confirms an active, working petroleum system in the basin and is extremely encouraging at this very early stage of our exploration campaign," said Gammell.

An official statement released by Cairn said the company found oil "intermittently" in a 400m section of the Alpha-1S1 well, which has reached depths of more than 4,300m. And initial, “geochemical analysis of various hydrocarbon samples recovered from the well … confirms the presence of two oil types, which have different origins and levels of maturity."

The find is expected to be welcomed by the Greenland government, who has been working towards diversifying its economy away from traditional sources of revenue such as fishing, tourism and cash subsidisation from Denmark. Greenland's Minister of Mineral Resources Ove Karl Berthelsen said the latest find was, "another encouraging result".

Source: Guardian

For more news and expert analysis about the region, please visit the Menas Associates Newsroom.

Russia ready to do business with Brazil

Russia's Energy Ministry has declared its interest in the Brazilian energy sector. A senior energy ministry official, Stanislav Dorzhinkevich, said that, “the Russian government is prepared to provide multifaceted support for the expansion of co-operation between Russian and Brazilian companies”.

Brazilian and Russian officials met to discuss prospective business during a gas conference in Rio de Janeiro. The Russian delegation included officials from Gazprom, Zarubezhneft, Power Machines and the Russian Energy Ministry, while the Brazilian delegation was represented by officials from the Brazilian National Agency of Petroleum and Petrobras.

Co-operation in oil production is likely to involve deep offshore oil fields, and these, “practical steps for co-operation were considered,” during the meeting, said the Russian energy ministry.

“It is not clear what advantages Russia offers for oil production. It is much more geo-strategic. Russia lends its pre-eminence and reputation to Brazil and allows it to say that it is diversifying on its own terms and own rights,” said Senior Energy Analyst at IHS Energy in Washington Andrew Neff.

Source: The Moscow Times

For more news and expert analysis about Brazil, please see Brazil Focus.

US government and chocolate industry pledge $17 million to end child labour

The US government and the chocolate industry have pledged US$17 million (GH¢24.1 million) to help end child labour in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. The Labour Department pledged US$10 million (GH¢14.17 million) and chocolate industry groups pledged US$7 million (GH¢9.92 million) to build schools and help rural families escape poverty so they don't need to rely on their children's earnings.

At a signing ceremony between representatives from the two countries, industry and the US Labour Department, Senators Tom Harkin and Eliot Engel, who drew up a similar agreement with industry in 2001, said that although some progress had been made over the past ten years, much remained to be done, and the pace of change was too slow

The initiative calls for a 70 per cent reduction of internationally unacceptable child labour by 2020. According to the new plan, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire will be responsible for enforcement. The agreement doesn't provide for a certification programme to ensure consumers that their chocolate isn't produced by children.

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Iran deliberates policies to counter UN sanctions

The head of Iranian Parliament's Economic Committee, Arsalan Fathipour, has said that Iranian parliament has outlined a number of policies aimed at countering the UN sanctions over the country's nuclear programme.

Fathipour said the changes related to a number of areas including trade, transport and foreign exchange, but gave no details of the measures outlined, saying the policies will be conveyed to the speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani, in due course.

Earlier in June, the UN passed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran restricting the country's financial transactions, and later additional sanctions in July targeting Iran's business trade with international companies.

Talking about the sanctions, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that UN-backed sanctions are “biting” Iran's economy, and added that, “The Iranian regime is quite worried about the impact”.

The Iranian government, however, has adamantly denied the sanctions' effectiveness on the country's economy and has said that they hace not impacted Iran's nuclear program.

Source: Bloomberg

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

Ghana and China sign $3 billion loan agreement

Ghana's President John Evans Atta Mills and China's President Hu Jintao signed a loan agreement for $3 billion, intended to develop Ghana's burgeoning energy industry. The agreement stipulates that the loan shall be used to target specific areas of the sector including its infrastructure development, job creation and other derivatives of the oil and gas industry.

The agreement was officially announced following bilateral talks between President Mills and President Jintao held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The loan distributed through China Development Bank, constitutes the first phase of China's financial assistance to Ghana.

Additionally, China has also agreed to give Ghana preferential buyers' credit worth $260 million for the development of the Kpong Water Works project and another loan of $150 million for Ghana's e-governance project. Shortly after the meeting a spokesperson for President Mills said that the Ghanaian president was fully committed to overseeing all projects in their entirety.

"On the basis of equality, mutual benefits consultation, the Government of Ghana and China Development Bank shall set up a long-term strategic co-operation through a long-term project financing for infrastructural development and have agreed to bring export competitiveness and co-operation in the oil and gas sectors, their derivatives and the agricultural sectors," said Head of Communications at the Office of President Mills Koku Anyidoho.

Source: Ghana News Agency

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

Turkmenistan calls for an international body to monitor energy supplies

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has said that the country intends to push forward the creations of a new UN body designed to monitor international energy supplies.

Talking in New York, Berdymukhammedov said that Turkmenistan is planning a draft proposal on the establishment of international body to monitor and ensure stable energy supplies on a permanent basis. The proposal will be unveiled to the world leaders during the 65th session of the UN General Assembly, said Berdymukhammedov.

Supplying natural gas and oil products to European markets constitute about 80 per cent of Turkmenistan's export trade, the number is expected to increase once the construction of a $2 billion pipeline to deliver natural gas from Turkmenistan's largest gas field, South Yolotan, to the coast of the Caspian Sea is completed. The Nabucco gas pipeline will connect the Caspian to the rest of Europe via Turkey.

Source: Ria Novosti

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

TNK-BP and PetroVietnam sign blend oil supply agreement

TNK-BP has signed a long term co-operation agreement with PetroVietnam to supply Russian ESPO crude oil to Vietnam. The first shipment of 100,000 tonnes is expected to reach Hanoi in November 2010.

The ESPO oil blend will be supplied via the East Siberia – Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline and loaded for export in the port of Kozmino, the oil comes from the Verkhnechonskoe field in the Irkutsk region. The agreement with PetroVietnam is part of TNK-BP's plan to develop and expand its trading operations on an international scale.

“The signing of this contract to supply oil to Vietnam is a first and important step towards broad-based cooperation between TNK-BP and PetroVietnam. We are committed to establishing a long-term presence in Vietnam and to pursuing joint projects in the upstream and refining sectors”, said TNK-BP's deputy chairman Maxim Barsky.

To find out more about TNK-BP please visit TNK-BP's web site, which you can find here.

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Monday, 20 September 2010

SERAP calls on Jonathan to take pro-active steps and appoint adviser on Sudan

Months ahead of the 365 Campaign on Sudan, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) group has sent President Goodluck Jonathan an open letter calling on him to appoint a special adviser on Sudan.

“We are concerned that despite Nigeria's contribution to the peace process in Darfur, and to the work of the Africa Union (AU), the country has repeatedly failed to show leadership and assert its authority to put political pressure on the authorities in Sudan to resolve the human rights problems in Sudan,” stated the letter signed by SERAP's Executive Director Adetokunbo Mumuni.

The human rights group released an official statement, saying that unfortunately, “the failure of leadership currently being demonstrated by Nigeria and other key members of the AU has had devastating consequences for innocent civilians in Darfur, especially children and women.”

The group also said that unless Nigeria and other key members of the AU took a more pro-active approach, conditions in Sudan would continue to deteriorate. It also pointed out that preparations for Southern Sudan vote are behind schedule and “risk of conflict is increasing saying the African Union (AU) and governments including Nigeria that promised to help implement the peace agreement have failed to develop a package of pressure and incentives to persuade the Sudanese parties to broker peace and not war.”

Source: Nigerian Tribune

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Iraqi Kurds prohibited to use Iraq-Turkey pipeline

Iraq's Oil Minister Hussain Al-Shahristani has signed and agreement with Turkey prohibiting Iraqi Kurds to export oil internationally without central government's approval. Under the agreement, Turkey is to bar the flow of Kurdish oil via the joint pipeline unless authorised by the Iraqi government.

The pipeline currently carries around 600, 000 barrels of Iraqi oil, from Kirkuk to the Turkish depot on the Mediterranean, and is the only available means for the Iraqi Kurds to export their oil to international markets.

According to national sources, the Kurds have the capacity to produce around 100,000 b/d, but have so far failed to reach an agreement with the central government about the use of the pipeline.

Several international oil companies have made deals with the Kurds to develop oil fields in their region. However, Iraqi government has made it clear that all such deals are deemed illegal since they were signed without the government's approval.

Source: Azzaman

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Vietnam's power shortages caused by delays in power projects

According to Vietnam's Deputy Chairman for Electricity Power Association Tran Dinh Long the country's power shortages are caused by the delay in construction of several new power projects.

“Hydropower plants account for 40 per cent of the total power output, and low water levels play a part in the power shortage, but not the whole part. There was critical power shortage, even during the flooding season, and that's because new power projects are behind schedule,” said Long.

Earlier this year the government had forecast loss of nearly 1 billion KW-hours of electricity at hydropower plants due to lack of water in reservoirs. Long said that power losses at existing plants could be counterbalanced by production of power in new ones.

“The power shortage has forced many thermal power plants to continuously run at full capacity, making them prone to technical problems that cause even more critical shortages,” he said.

Additionally, the government has taken no pre-emptive measures to control the country's power consumption and has therefore been unable to supply the increasingly rising demand. Long called for the government to take stricter measures in dealing with the construction delays, and said Vietnam should diversify its power sources by developing renewable energy and nuclear power.

Source: Thanh Nien Daily

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

General Babangida President Jonathan's biggest rival for PDP nomination

President Goodluck Jonathan formally declared his intention to stand for the presidency in 2011 at a rally in Abuja on 18th September amid indications that he is ahead of rivals in the delegate count for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) convention. His biggest challenger for the PDP nomination will be the former military head of state, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB).

Jonathan made his first public declaration of his intention to contest the 2011 Presidential elections through social networking site, Facebook. He made the announcement on

Wednesday 15th September in what appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from the Babangida's formal declaration on the same day in Abuja.

Informal polling in Nigeria suggests that Jonathan is likely to secure twice as many delegates to the PDP convention as IBB. The other likely PDP challengers who have declared – former vice president Atiku Abubakar and Kwarra State governor Bukola Saraki - are expected to collect a much smaller numbers of delegates, mostly from their home areas

To secure the PDP nomination, the winning candidate must secure 51per cent of the 3483 delegates at the convention. Jonathan's main stronghold is in a broad area of the south, while Babangida's support in concentrated in the north-west.

There is now the prospect of four northerners seeking the PDP nomination – Babangida, Atiku Abubakar, Bukola Saraki and the now former National Security Adviser (NSA) retired Lt-Gen Aliyu Mohammed Gusau. With no unified candidate from the northern region to oppose him President Jonathan therefore enjoys a considerable advantage.

Concern that divisions will cost 'the North' the presidency has prompted the establishment of a Northern Presidential Aspirants Committee to find a single northern candidate at October's PDP convention. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) timetable is for the presidential election to take place on 22nd January while the gubernatorial and state house of assembly elections will be on 29th January. The PDP presidential primaries are scheduled to take place in late October.

However, a number of official sources said holding the elections in January, as initially planned, might prove difficult due to the fact that election officials are looking for ways to delay the poll so they could work on a credible voters' roll.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Seven kidnapped by 'local bandits' in Arlit, northern Niger

Seven foreigners, including five French nationals, were kidnapped in the uranium mining town of Arlit in northern Niger in the small hours of Thursday 16th September. The identities of those abducted and the precise circumstances of their abduction are still not clear. Fuller details will be given in Menas Associates' forthcoming issue of Sahara Focus.

Niger is the world's fourth largest uranium producer, with most of its uranium coming from two mines owned by French nuclear company Areva, and located close to the town of Arlit.

All seven abducted were employees of either Areva, or the construction company Sogea-Satom, which is a subsidiary of Vinci, that was reportedly undertaking certain earth-moving operations for Areva. Five of those abducted were French nationals; the other two were from Madagascar and Togo.

Two of the French nationals are a husband and wife. The husband is an employee of Areva. It is not clear whether the wife is also an employee of Areva, as reported in some media, or merely accompanying her husband. According to information from Areva, it appears that only the husband is actually their employee. The other three French nationals are reported to be working for Vinci, as are the two from Madagascar and Togo.

Although this incident took place outside Algeria's national borders, and is not only part of the Algerian 'security complex', we have good reason to believe that its operation is likely to be known to Algeria's intelligence service, which has long had a high presence in the region.

We have been receiving information from our sources in the region throughout most of Thursday 16th. Although we do not know the identities of the kidnappers, we can pass on the following information, but we do emphasise that this information should be regarded as no more than well informed local opinion.


> the high level of political insecurity in this region as a result of the recent Tuareg rebellion and its fragmentation into a number of rebel movements

> the presence of AQIM

> the rapidly escalating level of banditry (and 'criminality')

> the collapse of traditional livelihoods since 2003, notably those associated with the tourism industry

> the provocative actions of Algerian DRS elements; and

> the escalation of drug trafficking across the region - local opinion is that the kidnappers could be 'almost anyone'.

No one has yet claimed responsibility. Eye witness accounts, cited by Niger government spokesman Laouali Dan Dahdit, said that up to 30 people, speaking Arabic and Tamasheq (the local Tuareg Berber dialect), were involved. Niger security sources confirm that there was “something of a commotion” with a lot of 4x4 vehicle activity in the town at the time.

Eye witnesses said that the abduction took place in the middle of Arlit, with the abductors going directly to the homes of the people taken, “as if they knew precisely where they were”. One eye witness told Reuters, “They went to their houses and grabbed them. They knew exactly where they were – it is very worrying”.

The consensus of speculation among our sources in the region is that the kidnappers are most likely to be 'local bandits', and quite probably young Tuareg former rebels of the effectively disbanded Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice (MNJ) who are now driven primarily by the need for money – “vehicles, arms, beautiful women – and adventure”. These young Tuareg are mixing and engaging with the many predominantly-Arab drug trafficking and local 'war-lord' networks that are now becoming well established in the region to the immediate south and west of the border town of Assamakka.

We have spoken with close associates of Rhissa Ag Boula, leader of the splinter Front des forces de redressement (FFR), who in 2007 had talked about launching a war on the uranium mines. We are absolutely certain that neither he nor his immediate associates are involved.

We are reliably informed that many of these 'ex-rebels' are now living in and around Tamanrasset, with the DRS fully aware of their presence. Indeed, it is suggested to us that the Algerian authorities are knowingly providing 'protection' to these bandits as part of Algeria's policy of destabilising northern Niger (and Mali).

It is believed by local sources that the motive of the abductors is unlikely to be political, in the sense of being either 'jihadist', anti-French or anti-Areva, although there has been long-term animosity towards Areva in the region. Rather, it is thought that the motive is financial, and that the abductors will try and 'sell' their captives to AQIM – most likely in Mali. This is a similar scenario to the capture of Michel Germaneau who was seized by two local 'bandits' in April in the In Abangerit area to the south-south-west of Arlit.

However, some media analysts are already speculating that the attack may, in fact, be 'political' to the extent that local militants are directly targeting France's extensive uranium mining investments in the region following President Nicolas Sarkozy's declaration of 'war' against AQIM. This was in response to AQIM's 24th July claim that it had executed Germaneau in response to France's botched raid into Mali on 22nd July, which was ostensibly to liberate the French hostage.

However, there is no evidence that Germaneau was executed, and many believe that he might have already died as a result of being denied medicinal drugs for a heart condition.

However, the main question raised by ourselves and our sources, is why these people were not living under greater security protection. Arlit has always been a dangerous mining town and over the last few years has become exceptionally hazardous. Any foreigner in the town or region is at great risk. Even local people are now declining to travel through this part of Niger.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Sheikh Al-Qarni visits Libya to give a series of lectures

Following the hugely popular visit to Libya of Saudi Islamic scholar Salman al-Awda at the start of June, organised by Saif al-Islam, his sister Aisha Qadhafi has jumped on the bandwagon.

In the spirit of Ramadan in which it is traditional to invite scholars and sheikhs to give lectures, the Leader's daughter, through her Al-Watassimu charity, hosted another important Saudi religious figure in the Jamahiriya.

Sheikh Aidh Al-Qarni, a highly popular Islamic scholar, gave a series of lectures that were so well attended that in some locations the security forces struggled with crowd control. In Benghazi, for example, it was necessary for security personnel to form a row to protect the sheikh from the surging crowds all trying to shake his hand.

There was even a rumour that spread like wildfire by SMS that Al-Qarni had been the victim of an assassination attack during the push to get closer to him. The regime's willingness to host another Saudi sheikh demonstrates a new openness on the part of the Jamahiriya towards religious personalities. In the past it would have been unthinkable for figures such as Al-Qarni to make such public appearances in Libya.

However, like other states in the region, a greater willingness is emerging within the regime to allow space for certain Salafist currents such as that promoted by Al-Qarni and Al-Awda. This presumably constitutes a way to offer a religious outlet other than the more overtly politicised forms of Islamist opposition such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Such currents preach obedience to the ruler of the day, and it seems that the Libyans are as keen as some of their neighbours to cash in on the sentiment. Moreover, inviting such figures is another means by which Saif al-Islam (and now Aisha) can boost their popularity among ordinary Libyans and demonstrate their own piety and religious conviction.

Libya also sought to make use of Al-Qarni in other ways. The Saudi sheikh was invited to give a lecture on the theme of tolerance in the Abu Slim prison. His audience comprised 400 Islamists, some of whom were released for the 1st September anniversary celebrations.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Friday, 17 September 2010

Algeria to start looking for unconventional methods to diversify energy sources

According to Algeria's Oil Minister Youcef Yousfi the country will start looking for unconventional gas deposits and study the use of nuclear power in an effort to diversify its energy sources.

“We are going to intensify exploration in the near future, especially in regions that haven't been explored much. We are going to do an inventory of unconventional hydrocarbons. The same way that you in Canada are looking for shale gas, we are going to look for oil and gas in shale and compact formations,” said Yousfi at World Energy Congress in Montreal.

Algeria produces around 1.4 million b/d of oil per year, and exports around 60 billion m³ of natural gas to Europe a year. It relies on oil and gas for the majority of its foreign currency revenue, and is the largest supplier of gas after Russia and Norway.

“We want to ensure a safe and durable supply of hydrocarbons and petrochemical products to our traditional partners in Europe, Asia and North America,” said Yousfi.

Yousfi also said Algeria wants to speed up the introduction of renewable energy, and the government will begin studies on nuclear power with a view to adopting it within about 10 years.

Source: Bloomberg

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

Formed Central Bank chief held responsible for Nigeria's economic crisis

Nigerian government has said it holds former Central Bank Nigeria (CBN) governor Charles Soludo responsible for the present problems facing the nation's banking and finance sectors. Nigeria's Minister of State for Information and Communications Labaran Maku said Soludo cause a number of problems within the sector before his departure two years ago.

"We hold Soludo, who was CBN governor until about two years ago, accountable for all that is happening in the banking and financial sectors," said Maku, adding that in the last year, Nigeria has been contending with issues in the financial sector resulting from Soludo's misdirection and sometimes misapplication of the banking reforms.

Maku said that the Assets Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) is to address some of the issues troubling the financial industry, and added that the report which the government got from the present CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, on the state of the economy showed that the economy is due to grow by 7 per cent and that this projected growth will increase from year to year as the nation proceeded with the implementation of the programme.

Soludo had warned that if pre-emptive measures are not taken now, Nigeria's economy is "doomed" to a worse form of structural adjustment programme. In an essay published in a national daily, Soludo, who ran for governorship election in Anambra State in March, expressed concern that the government had been piling up domestic and foreign debts with no improvement in the economy.

Source: AllAfrica

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Brazil's crude output reaches record levels

Brazil's National Petroleum Agency (ANP) has said that domestic crude oil output reached record levels in August, as offshore oil installations continued to boost productivity. The country produced 2.078 million b/d in August, up from 2.056 million in July. Production figures for August topped the record of 2.077 million b/d set in April.

Combined domestic crude oil and natural gas production also made record figures in August, reaching 2.471 million barrels of oil-equivalent a day, up from 2.448 million barrels of oil-equivalent a day in July.

August was the first month that the ANP released production figures for Brazil's offshore and inland oil fields. ANP's Director Victor Martins said the agency will now release production figures on a monthly basis in order to, “increase transparency in the agency's activities”.

Source: Wall Street Journal

For more news and expert analysis about Brazil, please see Brazil Focus.

Development of Sinai tourism creates frictions with indigenous tribes

Sinai has always been different from the rest of Egypt. It was not included in Herodotus' celebrated but still apt description of Egypt as the gift of the Nile. It is the bridge between Asia and Africa, the buffer fought over by conquering armies down the centuries. In recent years, the Egyptians have used it as the living emblem of what can be achieved through peaceful negotiation. Egypt recovered the Sinai from Israel as a result of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

For Hosni Mubarak, hosting the peace talks and previous major international get-togethers at Sharm el Sheikh helps draw attention to the benefits of jaw-jaw over war-war. Besides which, of course, Sharm el Sheikh is a very pleasant resort and being away from centres of population, it is easier to provide an appropriate level of security there.

However, the rapid development of the tourist industry in the Sinai, often through companies controlled by former regime stalwarts in the military and security establishment, has created frictions with the indigenous tribes. These look down with traditional disdain on the settled peoples of the Nile Valley. But they also resent the way that Egyptians have swamped the area with people from outside the peninsula. Since time immemorial, the Bedouin have survived by trafficking arms, cigarettes, drugs and, increasingly, people through the desert and mountainous region they know so well. Their resentment at the heavy-handed punishments given to miscreants has increased their sense of grievance against a central authority which they scarcely recognise and which they feel has done very little for them.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Ghana needs national policy to protect resources

Chairman of the of the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) Prof Albert Fiadjoe has said that Ghana needs a national polity to ensure transparency, equity and accountability in the management of the country's natural resources including oil and gas.

Speaking at a one-day consultation on oil and gas, as part of the Western Regional Hearing and Consultation of the CRC, Fiadjoe said that such a policy would ensure the country's resources are managed properly, and that the stakeholders were brainstorming to find the right constitutional framework for the policy.

Fiadjoe made it clear that Ghanaians and especially those living in the oil find communities must benefit from the resource, and further added that gaps in gaps in the oil and gas regulatory regime must be looked at seriously.

A number of participants at the consultation called for the establishment of a Coastal Commission and Petroleum Commission.

Source: GNA

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

General Vo Nguyen Giap at 100

Hanoi was awash with birthday wishes this month as Vietnamese authorities wheeled out elder statesman General Vo Nguyen Giap to celebrate his 99th birthday, though he is seen as 100 in Vietnamese culture.

Born in 1911 in storm-ravaged Quang Binh province on the north-central coast to a well-off farming family, Giap was educated through the French system. He entered Hanoi University in 1933 to study politics and law. Giap joined the Communist Party in 1931 after spending a year in jail for political activities.

Giap fled Vietnam for China in 1939 when the French made party membership of illegal. It was here that a close friendship and mutual respect developed between Giap and Ho Chi Minh.

While he was in China, Giap's wife sister, father, and sister in-law were arrested in Vietnam and executed. Giap returned to in 1944 and led Vietnamese troops against the Japanese until their surrender in 1945.

The birthday celebrations were incorporated into Vietnam's 2 September independence day observation, which this year marked 65 years since Ho Chi Minh stood in Hanoi's Ba Dinh Square, now the site of his mausoleum, at the end of the Second World War and announced Vietnam's independence from French rule.

The 1945 celebrations were short lived, as British forces arrived in southern Vietnam and Nationalist Chinese controlled northern Vietnam under an agreement signed by allies at the end of the Second World War. British and Chinese troops left Vietnam in 1946 once the French returned.

The independence movement then returned to the countryside and began an eight-year war of insurgency against the returning French government.This also marked the start of General Giap's illustrious military career. He led the Viet Minh troops in numerous victories against the French, culminating in a 54-day battle in the northwestern town of Dien Bien Phu that ended with the surrender of heavily defeated French forces on 7 May 1954.

General Giap went on to command North Vietnamese troops and insurgent Viet Minh troops in the south during the Vietnam War between 1960 and 1975. Though he is often credited with planning the Tet offensive in 1968, it has recently come to light that he was against the plan. It was pushed through by Prime Minster Le Duan and Vietnam's second military leader, Van Tien Dung.

General Giap left Vietnam for medical treat­ment before the Tet offensive began, only to return after the campaign had started. It failed in its main military objective to instigate a general uprising against the South Vietnam­ese government and American involvement and inflicted heavy losses on Viet Minh forces, which took some years to recover.

The offensive did have a huge political and propaganda impact, however, and for many marked the end of America's support for a continued presence in Vietnam. Despite the apparent disagreement between General Giap and Prime Minister Le Duan, Giap continued to wield considerable influence after the reunification of North and South Vietnam. He became defence minister in 1975 and deputy prime minister in 1976.

Though Giap was replaced as defence minister in 1980 and stepped down from the Politburo in 1982, he remained as deputy prime minister until 1991, retiring from politics at 80. Giap commanded Vietnam's military and insurgent forces for more than 36 years against the Japanese, the French, the Americans, the South Vietnamese, and the Chinese, and finally the Cambodian Khmer Rouge in 1979. Historian Stanley Karnow has described General Giap as ranking with Wellington, Grant, Lee, Rommel, and MacArthur.

In retirement, General Giap has remained vocal and often controversial, using his position as elder statesmen to be openly critical of the party and of development in Vietnam. He issues an annual open letter to the party and the press, using the opportunity in 2007 to criticise the educational system. He asserted that it needed a comprehensive, even revolu­tionary, overhaul as education had 'fallen far behind neighbouring countries.'

In 2009, he entered a more controversial debate when he used his open letter to criticise government plans to develop bauxite mining in the central highlands. Addressing the letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, General Giap outlined his support for opponents to bauxite mining, which at the time included Vietnam's scientific community as well as local residents.

Giap called for further study of the proposal, saying that studies going back to the 1980s had shown that bauxite mining could have a "very serious and long-term harmful impact on the environment that could not be remedied".

General Giap's contribution to the debate was not well received by the government and was seen by some as the work of those wishing to discredit Prime Minster Dung. Giap is still a well-regarded figure of the revolution and many make use of his name to support their views.

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates