Friday, 29 October 2010

National Assembly adopts crucial amendments

The National Assembly's two chambers – the Senate and the House of Representatives – have both voted overwhelmingly in favour of constitutional amendments that will allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to move the date for the elections from January 2011 to April 2011.

The voting on the constitutional amendments, which was conducted at the individual plenary sittings of both chambers, follows the adoption of reports by the committees mandated to review the 1999 Constitution. The new amendments have also addressed the adjudication of gubernatorial election petitions.

Specifically, the new amendments affect sections 76, 116, 132 and 178 of the 1999 Constitution as first altered, which provide that elections shall be held “not earlier than 150 days and not later than 120 days before the expiration of the incumbent's tenure in office”.

The new amendments now provide that elections shall be held “not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the incumbent's tenure in office”. Crucially, this means that while elections can still be conducted in January as previously planned, they could also be conducted in April 2011, which is “not later than 30 days” before the 29th May 2011 handover date.

The National Assembly further amended section 285 of the Constitution, which provides for gubernatorial election petitions. The new amendments have reinstated gubernatorial election petition tribunals, which were abrogated in the first amendment exercise, and extend the litigation process to the Supreme Court. Previously, gubernatorial election petitions terminated at the Court of Appeal.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Max Petroleum finds oil pay in Kazakhstan

Max Petroleum has said that that electric logs and oil shows observed during drilling indicate potential oil pay zones in the UTS-1 exploration well on the Uytas prospect in Block A in Kazakhstan.

The electric logs and oil shows suggests potential pay zones in the well, including 8m of estimated net oil pay in the Jurassic formation between 331m and 339m in depth, and 6m of estimated net oil pay in the Triassic section between 785m and 800m in depth. The company said that the well has reached the total depth of 827m.

The electric logs and pressure data also indicate an estimated 16m of net oil pay in the shallower Cretaceous section as part of a potentially significant 86m oil column ranging from 60m to 146m.

The company expects to commence the testing of the well in approximately one month using a workover rig upon receipt of the required government approvals. Following the running of the production casing in the well, the ZJ-30 drilling rig will move on to drill the Sekir West prospect in Block A.

“We look forward to testing all three zones in order to verify commerciality of what we believe could be a significant post-salt discovery,” said executive co-chairman James A. Jeffs.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Port of Aden suffers from lack of investment

Another issue that causes concern in the south is what is perceived as the regime's failure to honour a commitment made at the time of unity that Aden should be the commercial capital of Yemen. Older residents recall the glory days of the early 1960s when it was the second port in the world. It has subsequently been devastated by the closure of the Suez Canal for eight years after 1967, the ideologically-driven polices under the PDRY, a near civil war in 1986 and an actual one in 1994 and what might be described as benign neglect since then, punctuated by attempts by outside investors to do something to improve the port.

There are now complaints that the current operator of the container-handling facilities in the port – Dubai Port World (DPW) - is planning to divert traffic from Aden to its facilities in Djibouti or to the UAE, where new and modern ports are being developed. The DPW web site notes that Aden “is a key domestic cargo gateway for Yemen and is strategically located to capture significantly growing regional transhipment volumes. Its position on the main east-west trade route, only four miles away from the international marine shipping lane, makes it an ideal hub port for transhipment services to East Africa, the Red Sea, the Subcontinent and the Gulf region”.

A group of MPs is to investigate claims that DPW is discriminating against Aden through its fee structure. Whether or not this is true, there is an obvious disparity in the facilities available in Aden compared with competing ports. Aden needs investment.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Niger Delta's urban development may leave 200,000 homeless

The Nigerian government has been heavily criticised by Amnesty International for mass evictions in the oil rich Niger Delta. Plans for urban development, and subsequent slum demolition, in Port Harcourt may leave as many as 200,000 people homeless.

In 2009, River State government began plans to rebuild parts of the city which involve the demolition of slums on the waterfront inhabited by tens of thousands of people. The local government hopes to develop the area to create jobs, boost the local economy and improve roads.

The development plans include an eight-screen cinema, a shopping mall and hotels based on a buy-out scheme, paying those who own the properties to relocate. However, the majority of those who have received compensation have nowhere to go. Amnesty International has raised concerns that most of the inhabitants could end up homeless unless they are re-housed.

"These planned demolitions are likely to plunge hundreds of thousands of Nigeria's most vulnerable citizens further into poverty.The government should halt the waterfront evictions until they ensure they comply with international human rights standards," said Amnesty's Africa Deputy Programme Director Tawanda Hondora.

Source: BBC News

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

Libra field may contain as much as 16 billion barrels of oil

The Head of Brazil's National Petroleum Regulator (ANP) Haroldo Lima has said that the offshore Libra field may contain as much as 16 billion barrels of oil, twice the previous estimates, which would make it the biggest crude oil discovery in the Americas in over three decades.

The Libra field located in the Santos Basin off the coast of south-eastern Brazil may have 7.9 billion to 16 billion barrels of oil. The Brazilian government owns 100 per cent of the Libra field. Oil reserves of 16 billion barrels would make the Libra field twice as big as nearby Tupi field, which has estimated reserves of between 5 billion and 8 billion barrels.

Libra and Tupi, both in Brazil's Santos Basin, are located in a region known as the pre-salt, which runs 800 kilometers (500 miles) off the coast, holding oil deposits beneath a layer of salt resting as deep as 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) beneath the ocean surface and another 5,000 meters below the seabed.

Source: Bloomberg

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

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Israel to build security fence along Egypt border

Israel is to build a security fence along its border with Egypt, according to Israeli press reports. They quoted Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser as saying that the security committee of the cabinet has already given its approval. Work on the project, with costs ranging from US$285 million to US$ 375 million, is expected to start next month.

There is already an extensive security fence along the border but because of its length across the desert, there are few border patrols on either side. It is not clear if what is planned is a wall made of concrete T-sections like the one separating Palestinian from Jewish areas in the West Bank. The Israeli media said the barrier, fitted with modern security systems, is designed to prevent Islamic militants, drug dealers, African migrants and asylum seekers from entering Israel from Egypt. According to Israeli estimates, some 1,000 migrants, mainly Africans, cross the border illegally each year.

"The problem of illegal infiltrators in the south presents a threat to the Jewish and democratic character of Israel," Netanyahu was quoted as saying by Haaretz. "The urgency of this problem requires close and focused treatment."

On 24th October, the Egyptian authorities found 55 Sudanese, including nine women and six children, in a container as it was about to cross into the Sinai. It is believed they were seeking to enter Israel illegally.

There are reports that security is being tightened at the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel under the Suez Canal that links the Egyptian mainland with the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt allowed up to 300 activists from the Viva Palestina aid convoy to cross into Gaza after arriving at the north Sinai port of El Arish.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Guinea poll organisers propose date

Guinea's electoral commission has proposed holding the delayed presidential run-off election, meant to transfer power to civilians from soldiers, on October 31 but one candidate said on Tuesday that that was too soon.

The poll, the first free vote in the mineral-producing former French colony after decades of authoritarian rule, has been postponed repeatedly since September because of a lack of preparation and street clashes among rival political camps.

Electoral commission chief General Siaka Sangare told reporters he had proposed the date during a meeting with acting President and junta leader General Sekouba Konate on Monday. Konate is expected to ratify it.

But Cellou Dallein Diallo, one of the two candidates, said October 31 was too soon after a wave of violence between supporters of the rival political camps.

Diallo, a former prime minister, said 18 busloads of his supporters had recently been evacuated from Haute Guinea, a region loyal to his rival Alpha Conde, after they had been harassed.

“The biggest problem is to resolve the issue of displacement of this group,” Diallo said. “I think October 31 is too soon.”

Conde said he hoped the date would hold. Independent analysts said the decision to hold the vote as early as this weekend appeared to be a bid to keep ethnic tensions at bay, even though preparations might not be complete.

“I think that while there may still be issues over whether the election is free and fair and according to best practice, there are clearly dangers in allowing this impasse to continue,” said Chris Melville, senior associate at Menas Associates.

“What it means to Guinea in the medium term in terms of legitimacy of the process is another question,” he said.

Guinea, the world's biggest supplier of aluminum ore bauxite which has drawn billions of dollars in planned iron ore mining investment this year, has been run by a military junta since a coup in December 2008.

Konate has since won international plaudits for agreeing to hand power back to civilians, and has expressed frustration over a series of delays to the run-off after the first round vote passed relatively smoothly.

At least two people have been killed and dozens injured in political and ethnic clashes in recent weeks. Human rights groups said on Tuesday that security forces were not using enough restraint.

Sangare was chosen to lead the electoral body last week after Diallo accused the previous election chief of bias in a row that derailed the most recent October 24 poll date. Both Diallo and Conde have said they support Sangare's leadership of the electoral body.

Source: Reuters

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

Jordan keen to sign gas agreement with Egypt

The Jordanian government is keen to sign an agreement with Egypt to increase natural gas supplies into the country. Jordan's Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Khalid Irani has said that government officials are working closely with their Egyptian counterparts on an agreement to boost natural gas imports.

At the moment, Jordan receives 240 million cubic metres of gas from Egypt per year as stipulated in a 2004 agreement under which Cairo supplies Amman with natural gas at preferential prices. Under the new agreement, Jordan would receive and addition one billion cubic metres of gas. Sixty per cent of Jordan's electricity is produced from natural gas with the remained derived from oil and diesel.

Irani said that the new agreement was prompted by the fact that shortages in natural gas supplies over the summer forced Jordan to rely on diesel and heavy oil for 80 per cent of the country's electricity generation. He said this was due to the fact that Egypt faced availability shortages related to the expansion and maintenance of its natural gas wells. Irani stressed that Jordan will continue to seek alternative sources of gas and hoped that the demand can be met by Egypt.

Source: Jordan Times

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

Stakes rise with Guinea election gamble

A move by Guinean authorities to hold a delayed presidential run-off on Sunday marks an attempt to contain rising ethnic tensions in the West African country but could store up trouble for later.

The landmark vote, meant to end nearly two years of military rule, has been repeatedly postponed since the first round in June amid outbursts of violence between rival political camps and a lack of adequate preparation.

The newly-appointed electoral commission chief surprised observers on Tuesday by proposing to hold the vote on Oct. 31 -- a move widely seen as a bid to stifle rising conflict and the potential for a new military coup.

"There are clearly dangers in allowing this impasse to continue," said Chris Melville, senior associate at Menas Associates, a London-based consultancy watching Guinea and its large bauxite and iron ore mining sector.

But the attempt to rush the vote could lead to a chaotic election aftermath in a country that has drawn billions of dollars in investment from firms like Rio Tinto and Vale.

Junta leader General Sekouba Konate has yet to ratify the date and one candidate, ex-premier Cellou Dallein Diallo, said the date was premature -- raising worries that his supporters would vigorously contest the outcome if he lost.


Diallo took 43.69 percent in June's first round, relying on support from his ethnic Peul, who make up about 40 percent of the country. Veteran opposition leader Alpha Conde, one of the Malinke who make up about 35 percent of the country and have tended to enjoy political power since independence, took 18.25 percent of the first round.

But Diallo's lead may not be as strong as it appears.

Diallo said on Tuesday that recent ethnic clashes in regions that favour Conde had displaced large numbers of his supporters and no measures had yet been taken to ensure they could vote.

Conde has burnished his support with alliances with defeated first-round candidates Papa Koly Kourouma and Jean-Marc Telliano -- both of whom did well in the large Guinea Forestiere region -- and has strong support in Malinke stronghold Haute Guinea.

After complaints in the first round that some voters had to travel 20 miles (30 km) to vote, election officials have been adding new voting stations in those regions -- in theory making for a stronger turnout for Conde.

"The first round showed Diallo as the clear front-runner. But it will be interesting to see if the machinations of the political elite in between will affect those results," said Tara O'Connor of Africa Risk Consulting.

Analysts said the Peul would be in no mood to accept defeat this time around given their view that other ethnicities have ganged up to exclude them from power since independence from France in 1958.

But there has been pressure from Paris, the United Nations and neighbouring states on Guinea not to delay the election any further. Assuming Konate accepts the Oct. 31 date, the trade-off will be in favour of reducing the risk of violence before the vote in the hope of being able to contain it later.

"The damage to the electoral system has already been done," said O'Connor of an electoral process that was billed as being Guinea's first democratic vote since 1958.

"It is just better that they are getting on with it."

Source: Reuters

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

Congo resolves dispute over copper mine

Freeport-McMoRan, the US copper mining group, has resolved a long-standing dispute with the Democratic Republic of Congo over control of a vast copper mine by giving cash and shares to the government.

The Tenke Fungurume project, which could be ranked among the world's top 10 new sources of copper, has been plagued by uncertainty since 2007, when Congo's government decided to review all mining licences signed during the war in the country between 1998 and 2003.

More than a year of negotiations, thought to have involved the US government in support of Freeport, led to changes to the Tenke licence. Under the new terms, Gecamines, the state mining company, will own 20 per cent of Tenke, an increase from 17.5 per cent.

Freeport will pay $30m to Congo “in six instalments after reaching certain production milestones”, as well as $5m in “surface area fees”.

Freeport started producing copper at Tenke in south-eastern Katanga province in March 2009 and is still working towards full production. But until last Friday it did not have a clear licence.

Perception of risk surrounding the Tenke licence increased in August when Canada's First Quantum Minerals was stripped of the last of its assets in Congo.

The “international outcry” caused by this dispute might have “accelerated the settlement by strengthening Freeport's position and giving the government a greater incentive to show that it is not all bad”, said Chris Melville, an Africa mining specialist with Menas Associates.

Source: The Financial Times

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

Nigerian's State Security Service seizes arms shipment

Nigerian's State Security Service has intercepted a large shipment of weapons at the port in Lagos. The police seized 13 containers of arsenal including rocket launchers, artillery rockets, mortar rounds, grenades and other explosives concealed under the tiles. It has not yet been determined to whom the shipment belonged or where it was headed.

News of the seizure has caused speculation about possible outbreaks of violence during next year's elections. Some of the weapons were show to the media and have caused concern among security experts, who have identified the artillery rockets as Norinco rockets used by the Taliban in Afghanistan for high-intensity warfare.

Nigeria's National Security Adviser Andrew Owoye Azazi told the media that the authorities were in the process of establishing the origin of the weapons and their intended destination.

"At this point, the only thing we can say is that we have some armaments we have discovered at the port... Let's not jump to conclusions," said Azazi.

There has been an increase in security measures in Lagos since the 1st October bombings. Security officials have said that there have been some arrests in connection to the arms, but gave no further details.

Source: BBC News

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

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Libya's handling of incoming investment under strain

The Libyan experience of handling incoming investment is under strain, as a slump in foreign interest in the economy currently weakens the case for overseas corporations accepting the risks inherent in involvement in a basically difficult market place.

While Libyan foreign exchange reserves are considerable, it also has heavy commitments. In the past, the country has had a record of being able to manage no more than one large-scale project at a time. The Great Man-made River (GMMR) fulfilled this role until the present time. Now, there are major non-oil projects in hand in road and rail transportation, construction of housing - all in addition to the continuing GMMR scheme and large developments planned in oil and gas. These are either underwritten by the country concerned or are at the risk of the commercial company.

Nothing, meanwhile, has yet been done by way of passing a law on the attraction and protection of foreign investment to escape from the ramshackle legal structures under which foreign corporations labour, and which give so insecure a status in respect of payment for work done, and conditions that surround joint venture arrangements between Libyan and foreign firms.

Until such time as a more reassuring legal foundation is provided and acted on in good faith, Libyan attractiveness to foreign investors will remain volatile and will not necessarily bring in the best of suppliers.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Algeria's oil and gas output to dwindle in 2011

Algeria's Finance Ministry has said that it expects the country's energy production and exports to drop in 2011, judging by the oil and gas earnings which are down by 4.5 per cent this year. Revenues from oil and gas exports are expected to decline from $44.2 billion to $42.2 billion this year and further next year.

Speaking about the forecast for 2010 Algeria's Finance Minister Karim Djoudi confirmed that “production and exports will decline”. Algeria is the world's eight largest crude oil exporter and supplies a large portion of Europe with its energy demand.

Earlier this year, Algeria's liquid natural gas production capacity was cut by 20 per cent, in what some believe was a sign of broader problems. However, Algeria's Energy Minister Yousef Yousfi said that liquid natural gas capacity will be back to normal within a few months.

It is thought that Algeria's energy sector economic output could shrink 0.8 per cent next year, proving to be the third successive year of negative growth for the energy sector. Any reduction in energy revenues might have a significant impact on Algeria's economy with oil and gas accounting for more than 95 per cent of the country's exports.

Source: Reuters

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

Egypt detains MB supporters

Egyptian police have detained over 70 people in Alexandria as they were putting up posters in support of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Speaking about the detention a police official said the posters breached a law against religious insignia for election campaign purposes. A spokesperson for MB counteracted the statement saying the posters for Egypt's governing party contained quotes from Koran yet remained untouched.

The MB is the biggest opposition movement in Egypt and has been banned since 1954. However, it won 20 per cent of the seats in parliament in 2005 by fielding candidates as independents. The group has since faced heavy censorship by the Egyptian government. MB's MP Hussein Ibrahim said the posters used commonplace terms including "God is great" and "Praise be to God" rather than slogans associated exclusively with the Islamist group or direct quotes from the Koran.

"This is the beginning of a blatant election fraud since the ruling party candidates' posters were left untouched although they contained full verses of the Koran," said Ibrahim.

Source: BBC News

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

Ghana: NDC leadership struggle warms

A proliferation of large colour posters around Accra and other large towns proclaim Nana Konadu as the best hope for the presidential election in 2012. Their appearance is the clearest indication yet that the former first lady and her husband, former president Jerry John Rawlings, are planning a challenge to incumbent president John Atta Mills at the next party conference of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC).

Former president Rawlings has been gradually stepping up the volume and virulence of his attacks on Mills over the past year and seems unconstrained by concerns that he is splitting the ruling NDC and damaging its chances in the 2012 elections.

Heralded as a part of a campaign by self-styled NDC 'Foot Soldiers', the appearance of the posters supporting Nana Konadu has been shrouded in mystery. Anonymous callers claiming to be 'Foot Soldiers' have been telephoning FM stations in Accra to voice discontent with the Mills administration, but they will not explain how they have raised the money to launch the campaign.

At celebrations in Tamale to mark the 4th June anniversary of Rawlings' seizure of power in 1979, activists waved posters and banners in support of the Movement for Nana Konadu Rawlings 2012. However, the campaign has evidently mushroomed since then, with posters appearing in the main commercial areas of Accra, Cape Coast and Kumasi.

Spokesman for the Rawlings family Kofi Adams has insisted that Nana Konadu knew nothing about the 'Foot Soldiers' and their campaign. However, he said that as party activists they had the right to pursue their campaign and promote their ideas within the party.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Fifteen suspected Al-Qa'ida terrorists surrender

Fifteen suspected Al-Qa'ida terrorists have surrendered to the Albyan province governor. The surrenders followed a meeting of Gov Ahmed Al-Maisari and several tribal sheikhs in the Albyan provence in southern Yemen. Al-Maisari told news reporters the militants decided to turn themselves in after being persuaded by the tribal sheikhs.

Yemen has seen an increase in terrorist activity since the establishment of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula in 2009. The surrender comes shortly before the Gulf Cup soccer tournament, expected to be attended by teams from Iraq and six other Gulf states in late November and early December. Yemen's government is keen to show it is able to maintain order in the country after a series of criticisms from its neighbors.

Over the weekend, Yemeni security forces including 1,000 soldiers launched an intervention in the Shabwa province, thought to be a safe haven for al-Qa'ida terrorists. The operation was prompted by al-Maisari's ultimatum to local tribes to either "eradicate" al-Qa'ida operatives themselves or the army would move in to the region.

Source: CNN

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

Nigeria issues fraud backlist

Nigeria's Anti-Fraud Police has issues a list of more than a 100 prominent Nigerian figures proclaiming them to be unsuitable to run for political office. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said all those on the list were being prosecuted on corruption charges and discouraged political parties from endorsing them as candidates in next year's elections.

One of those named, Orji Kalu, is running for president but has been arraigned on over a 100 count of fraud charges, estimated to be worth around £21 million. Political figures make up at least 40 per cent of those on the list and include: 13 former state governors, five former ministers, three MPs and two serving senators.

The EFCC is adamant that those on the list, as well as those facing prosecution, should not be endorsed or allowed to campaign. The commission is calling on political parties to select only "credible candidates" and shun those named on the list.

Source: BBC News

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

Iran loads first fuel batch into Bushehr plant

Iran has begun the process of loading fuel into its first nuclear power plant. The Bushehr plant is expected to be fully operational and producing electricity by 2011. Russia will operate the plant, located in southern Iran, supplying fuel and clearing way the nuclear waste.

Iran has been subject to four rounds of UN sanctions due to lack of transparency regarding its nuclear programme, but experts say that as long as Russia operates the Bushehr plant, under the strict supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there should be no suspect propagation.

The uranium fuel, to be produced by the Bushehr plant, will be below the enrichment level needed for a nuclear weapon, which must be enriched by more than 90 per cent, the fuel at Bushehr will only be enriched by 3.5 per cent.

Source: BBC News

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

Monday, 25 October 2010

Iraq: Census causes tension

Iraq's census, now due to take place on 5th December after being rescheduled three times, continues to cause friction between Kurds and Arabs, particularly in the disputed territories. The Kurds have always been ardent supporters of the census, believing it will confirm a Kurdish majority in Kirkuk that could be used as the basis for a referendum on the area's status as set out in Article 140 of the constitution.

However, in a complete about-turn, they are now threatening to boycott the whole process. The reason for this change of heart is that the federal ministry of planning went ahead this month with a decision to remove a question about ethnicity from the poll. The Kurds believe that this move is another attempt by the Arabs to marginalise them and to sweep Article 140 even further under the carpet. They appealed to the central authorities to force the ministry to alter its decision and to reinstate the ethnicity question.

Arabs meanwhile have welcomed the ministry's move. Ninevah governor Afil al-Najayfi, for example, backed the decision claiming that the census is being held for development and economic purposes and as such there is no need for ethnicity even to be mentioned. For the moment it seems that the government is unsure about how to deal with the issue, knowing that the census has the capability to ignite tensions one way or another. The planning minister has backtracked a little, acknowledging that he should not have taken a unilateral decision to remove the ethnicity question but rather that it should have been agreed by the cabinet.

The federal court has tried to decouple the whole census affair from the status of Kirkuk, stating this month that the survey has nothing at all do with Article 140. Meanwhile some on the ground are taking matters into their own hands. There have been stories coming out of Kirkuk of Arabs being attacked by Kurds in what they claim have been efforts to force them out of the area. According to Arab sources, Kurdish armed groups have broken into a number of Arab houses, taken identity documents and left again. Similar stories are emerging about Arabs attacking Kurds to try to intimidate them into leaving the area.

It is clear therefore that tension is rising. Given these strains, it seems highly unlikely that the census will go ahead in December and will most likely be postponed yet again, something that will only serve to frustrate the Kurds and to make them feel even more marginalised.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Libya to receive aid from EU

Libya was offered up to €60 million over three years by the European Commission this month in order to help it deal with the problem of illegal immigration. This sum is a drop in the ocean compared to the €5 billion Qadhafi demanded during his recent visit to Italy.

However, Libya agreed to the sum under the border management deal that was struck during a visit by EU commissioners to Libya in early October. According to an EU spokesperson, under the agreement the money will be spent on assisting migrants and refugees (although Libya still does not recognise refugees or have any asylum policy), promoting better manage¬ment of migration, and funding initiatives related to border surveillance.

This deal does not mean that Libya will drop its demands for more cash in order to deal with the problem. Foreign Affairs Secretary Musa Kusa reiterated to the EU officials during their visit that 'Libya is asking the EU for €5 billion per annum to definitively stop clandestine emigra¬tion to Europe.'

Meanwhile, Libya has invested in a $28 million coastal radar system to monitor its coastline. The system, which has been provided by marine technology supplier Transas Marine, will cover almost 2,000 km and is expected to be installed within 16 months.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

US accused of appeasement towards Algeria

An article written by Hassan Masiky and published this week by the Morocco Board, the main portal for Moroccan Americans which often plays a significant role in feeding directly into the Moroccan media and hence public/national opinion, has touched a raw nerve in both the US and Algeria by suggesting that the US has been adopting “a policy of appeasement” towards Algeria.

Masiky questions Algeria's “commitment to eradicate terrorism and violence in the Sahel and Sahara regions.” In particular, he has seized upon the open criticisms of Algeria's policy in the Sahel by both Mauritania and Mali, which, as Menas has frequently reported, touch on the extent to which AQIM was created by Algeria's DRS and is now orchestrated by it. For instance, two weeks ago (P&S 08.10.10), a senior Mauritanian government minister accused Algeria of being the 'porte-parole' (spokesman) for AQIM.

The fact that America has been so silent over Algeria's 'AQIM involvement' has led to this latest accusation that Washington is 'appeasing' Algeria's activities in the region. We believe the accusation is, in fact, very close to the truth. Presenting Morocco with such strong propaganda material makes the US position in the region increasingly difficult, especially in terms of US-Moroccan relations. Such articles are able to give the impression that because the US is condoning Algeria's 'state terrorism' in the Sahara-Sahel, it is also backing Algeria's position on issues such as the Western Sahara, which are much closer and dearer to Morocco's heart.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Iran: Foreign trade volume

The latest report released by Eurostat indicates that the trading volume between Iran and 27 EU countries grew by 45 per cent in the first half of 2010, compared to the same period last year. The trading volume between Iran and Europe hit €11.85 billion, from €8.16 billion for the corresponding period in 2009. Experts believe that this growth is partly due to exchange rate fluctuations and oil price changes.

The European Union imported €3.35 billion worth of goods from Iran during January to June 2009, and €6.26 billion in the first six months of 2010 – 86.9 per cent growth. Crude oil accounted for the bulk of EU imports, and the higher oil prices were the main reason behind the growth. Iran ranked fifth as an oil supplier over the period, supplying 5 per cent of EU crude oil imports.

In the same period, the European Union exported €5.58 billion of goods to Iran, mainly machinery, showing 15.9 per cent growth. However, dissecting longer-term developments in Iran–EU trade underscores that the volume of trade depends strongly on the price of crude oil. When oil prices fell sharply between 2008 and 2009, the volume of EU imports from Iran dropped by 45 per cent. Nonetheless, it is interesting that despite international sanctions, EU's exports to Iran have grown between 2009 and 2010.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Minister claims 'year-end' completion of bid round and PIB

Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Allison-Madueke has insisted that a new oil licensing round will be conducted before the end of this year. She gave this assurance at a meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, Austria, last week. However, she did not comment on the reasons why the bid round she had previously announced would be conducted in August this year was not held as scheduled.

The Petroleum Minister also added that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will definitely be signed into law before the end of this year, as it was in its final stages at the National Assembly. She also stated that Nigeria's current oil production level is about 1.9 million barrels per day and that there were no plans to request an increase of the country's OPEC production quota.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Friday, 22 October 2010

Boko Haram issues new threats in Maiduguri

Boko Haram has issued new threats in the northern city of Maiduguri. Posters by the group bearing the name of Imam Abubakar Shekau, the group's de facto leader, warned the citizens of Maiduguri about assisting the police or approaching soldiers guarding the town at night.

The message on the posters read: "Any Muslim that goes against the establishment of Sharia (law) will be attacked and killed." Boko Haram is campaigning for the implementation of strict Shariah law. A dozen states across northern Nigeria already have Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.

The posters said it was from Shekau on behalf of "The Group of the People of Sunnah, Call and Jihad." Nigeria police officers began removing the posters of Wednesday [20th October ].

"These publications and messages on Boko Haram activities are seditious and could jeopardize our investigations into the four-month serial attacks and killings in the state," said Borno state police commissioner Mohammed Abubakar.

Source: AP

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

Guinea Presidential Run-Off Rivals Pledge to Push Ahead With Mining Review

Guineans vote in a delayed second- round presidential election on Oct. 24 that pits two candidates who have both vowed to overhaul mining laws in the world's biggest bauxite-exporting nation.

Former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, who received 43.7 percent of the June 27 first round, will compete against opposition leader Alpha Conde, who garnered 18.2 percent. The vote will mark the transition from military to civilian rule.

An ongoing review of mining accords has already led to a dispute with London-based Rio Tinto Group over ownership of the Simandou iron-ore project. Other companies operating in the country include Russia's United Co. Rusal, the world's largest aluminum producer, AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., Africa's biggest gold miner, and Brazil's Vale SA, the No. 1 iron-ore producer.

“Political and social pressures for a review of the legal framework governing the mining industry are unlikely to go away,” said Christopher Melville, a senior associate at Menas Associates in London. That may bring the new government “into further conflict with mining companies, many of which have negotiated special terms for their projects.”

Guinea holds as much as half of the world's reserves of bauxite, an ore used to make aluminum, more than 4 billion metric tons of “high-grade” iron ore and “significant” deposits of diamond and gold, according to the U.S. State Department. Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd. also operates in the country.

'Defending Interests'

The election is being held almost two years after army the seized power following the December 2008 death of President Lansana Conte, who ruled the country for two decades. Guinea hasn't had a democratic transfer of power since it gained independence from France in 1958. General Sekouba Konate became the leader in December after an aide shot the coup leader, Moussa Dadis Camara, in the head.

In the period since the first round vote, Conde has become the favorite to win the run-off after at least two defeated candidates pledged support to the 70-year-old leader of the Rally for the Guinean People.

“The momentum has clearly shifted toward Alpha Conde during the period of delay,” Melville said.

While beset with organizational difficulties, the June election was held “freely,” a European Union observer mission said after the vote. The run-off was then postponed for “technical reasons,” Konate has said.

Mining Deal

Conde will “renegotiate mining deals” and develop standard mining policies, Moustapha Naite, a spokesman for the RPG, said in an interview from Conakry, the capital, on Oct. 18. He also favors a stronger state role in the economy and plans to replace the leadership of the Central Bank of Guinea and promote economists who support lower interest rates, his adviser, Mamady Sinkoun Kaba, said in an interview on Sept. 10.

Diallo said in August he would also review mining deals if he wins the second round “to make sure that the interests of Guinea are defended.”

The 58-year-old leader of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea was prime minister of the country from 2004 to 2006.

In the run-up to this weekend's vote, supporters of Conde and Diallo were injured in clashes between the two groups. This week, at least one person died when police fired upon backers of Diallo at a rally in Conakry.

A plan announced on Oct. 12 by Conde and Diallo to form a national union government may indicate that “none of these candidates are confident of victory,” Rolake Akinola, West Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, said in an interview on Oct. 15. The plan was reported by state-owned Radio Television Guineenne, which didn't provide further details.

Growth Accelerating

Guinea's political turmoil won't prevent the economy expanding 4.3 percent this year and 4.5 percent in 2011, according to the African Development Bank. Mining generates 24 percent of the nation's total economic output, according to the bank's website.

Per capita income is less than half the sub-Saharan African average of $861, according to the World Bank, and the country ranks 170th out of 182 countries on the UN's Human Development Index, which measures life expectancy, literacy and gross domestic product per capita.

Source: Bloomberg

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

Guinea poll "difficult" to hold Oct 24 -commission

Guinea's election commission chief said on Thursday it would be hard to stage a presidential run-off on Sunday as planned, citing a "deplorable" lack of preparation that would lead to a disputed outcome.

The comments were the clearest sign yet of a likely further delay in the transition from junta to civilian rule in the world's top exporter of the aluminium ore bauxite after a dispute over allegations of bias within the election commission.

"I must stress to you that the date of Oct. 24 will be difficult to stick to," new commission chief Siaka Toumany Sangare said after meetings with key political players.

"I would not want to rush and send voters to the ballot boxes in such deplorable conditions that do not respect international standards and which will mean that the results will be disputed afterwards," said Sangare, who was named two days ago after his predecessor was accused of partiality.

The presidential run-off is seen drawing a line under decades of authoritarian leadership that left the West African country in poverty despite huge mineral resources.

Sangare stopped short of confirming a postponement but said he would carry out an "objective and inclusive re-evaluation" on whether the poll could go ahead as planned on Sunday. Further talks -- and a likely final decision -- are due on Friday.

Earlier, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has played a major role in efforts to guide Guinea towards civilian rule, suggested a delay of one week.

The run-off is due to pit former prime minister Cellou Dallein Diallo against veteran opposition leader Alpha Conde, strongly associated with the large Peul and Malinke ethnic groups respectively.


A June 27 first round passed off relatively smoothly but was marred by accusations of fraud and other irregularities which prompted street battles between rival factions in which one person died and several dozen were injured.

It also sparked a row over the leadership of the national election commission which was only allayed on Tuesday with the naming of Sangare, a Malian, as the new president of the body.

The ensuing delay in preparations has meant that many of the electoral lists dictating voter eligibility in the various constituencies were not complete, one member of the cross-party body set up to oversee the transition told Reuters.

Diallo came out on top in the first round with 43.69 percent of the vote compared to Conde's 18.25 percent.

Analysts say whoever wins is likely to face calls to shake up existing contracts governing the presence of international firms such as Rio Tinto and RUSAL in the mining sector.

"Any new government will be vulnerable to such calls in the aftermath of a highly contested election. This could bring it into further conflict with mining companies," said Christopher Melville, senior associate at UK-based Menas Associates.

Source: Reuters

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

Algeria's oil and gas exports up by 38.3 per cent

Algerian's oil and gas exports have gone up by 38.3 per cent in the first six months of 2010, said the country's Central Bank Governor Mohamed Laksaci. He also told the parliament that foreign companies operating Algeria gas exported lower quantities of energy in the first half of this year compared with 2009.

"(The value of) energy exports reached $27.6 billion in the first six months of 2010, an increase of $7.65 billion or 38.3 percent from the same period last year.The exported quantities remained stable. They increased only by 1.65 percent compared with their level in the first six months of 2009. This time (first half of 2010), the quantities exported by (foreign) partners declined," said Laksaci.

Total, BP, Amerada Hess, StatoilHydro and Anadarko are among the main foreign energy companies in Algeria, which is also the world's eighth biggest exporter of crude.

Laksaci said the earnings rise was made possible by higher oil prices, which he said averaged $77.5 per barrel during the January-June period this year versus $52.2 in 2009.

Source: Reuters

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

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Zhaikmunai set for production boost

Zhaikmunai, the AIM-listed independent that produces around 7,500 b/d of crude oil from the Chinarevskoye field in northwest Kazakhstan, is preparing to bring on stream a new gas treatment facility that it hopes will push production up towards 50,000 b/d in the coming years.

The facility was built by US-based Exterran and Kazakh engineering firm Kazstroyservice, which has a 26 per cent stake in Zhaikmunai, and is part-owned by Kazmunaigas chairman Timur Kulibaev. Zhaik, which is majority owned by its founder and chairman Frank Monstrey, a Belgian financier, is raising more funds by issuing a $450 million bond with a fixed coupon of 10.50 per cent a year and maturing on 19th October, 2015.

Zhaik will use the money to refinance existing debt, most of which is held with BNP Paribas , and to fund general running costs. The lead managers of the bond issue, which is due to be finalised soon, are Citibank, ING and JP Morgan.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

President Mubarak sets parliamentary elections date

President Hosni Mubarak has set a date for Egypt's parliamentary elections. According to state run Mena news outlet the elections are to take place on 28th November. For the first time in Egypt's history 64 seats in the 518-member chamber have been created exclusively for women.

Some have called on Egypt to boycott the elections, saying they will most likely be rigged, but Egypt's main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), has said it will take part in the November elections.

Many members of the MB have been arrested in the run up to next months vote seen as a test of government restrictions on political opponents before a 2011 presidential election. It is yet unclear whether Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for three decades, will stand for a sixth term in office.

Source: BBC News

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

News Digest: Africa Mining Comment & Analysis – Zambia

At the ground-breaking ceremony for the Konkola North copper project, President Rupiah Banda on 15th October reiterated his government's commitment not to reinstate the windfall tax provided for in the 2008 Mining Act, which was abandoned in 2009 following the collapse of global copper prices. Banda's statement followed a similar commitment from Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane at the Zambia Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ZACCI).

Chris Melville, Africa mining consultant with Menas Associates today commented:

“Consistent messaging from the government on this issue will be welcomed by mining companies ahead of the election in 2011. Differences of opinion within government were a key factor in the haphazard introduction of the new fiscal framework in 2008 and it is good to see senior members of the government singing from the same hymn sheet.”

“However, political pressures for a greater tax-take are unlikely to go away, with key constituencies – notably the churches and the mineworkers' union – pushing for further revision of the fiscal terms enjoyed by mining companies. These calls are likely to become more vocal as the election campaign approaches.”

“At present, Banda has little freedom of manoeuvre – the opposition PF has switched its stance on the windfall tax, accusing the ruling party of taking an anti-business stance, and Banda was never likely to use the opening of a major new project to outline plans for a swingeing new tax.”

“However, mining companies are not out of the woods yet. In coming months and assuming metals prices stay strong; Banda and his government may struggle to resist pressure to take a more aggressive line with the mining industry once the recovery has consolidated and as the election race heats up.”

© 2010 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Okah's defence says not enough evidence to convict

Henry Okah's defence lawyer Rudi Krause has said that the State has failed to bring sufficient evidence in front of the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court linking his client to the Independence Day bombings in Abuja.

Speaking at Okah's bail application, Krause said that the State did no provide enough evidence against his client because it “does not exist”. Krause insisted that the case against his client did not prove his involvement in the twin car bombings which left at least 12 people dead.

“Contradicting statements from Nigeria about who was responsible for the bombings should not be relied on as evidence,” said Krause.

Krause put forward that investigating officer Lt Col Graeme Zeeman, who conducted two search and seizure operations at Okah's home, without a warrant did so because he did not have “reasonable belief” that he would be granted the document.

Okah's defence said that the arrest and prosecution was an attempt by South African authorities to appease their Nigerian counterparts. Okah faces charges of engaging in terrorist activities, conspiracy to engage in terrorist activity and delivering, placing and detonating an explosive device.

Source: IOL

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

Unions highlight perceived deficiencies in oil revenue bill

The TUC has pointed to a number of weaknesses in the legal framework for oil revenue management.

A statement issued in Accra last week argued that in general the Ghana Petroleum Revenue Management Bill (GPRMB) gave too much discretion to the Minister of Finance. The TUC also expressed concern that both the GPRMB and the Petroleum Exploration Bill (PEB) are likely to be rushed through parliament without proper debate and scrutiny.

To avoid the challenges of other oil-rich African nations, Ghana required “good laws and strong institutions…a big push in transparency and constant oversight”, the statement said. It also required “rules that create a legitimate and effective framework for the conduct of public policy”.

While the TUC welcomed the establishment of the Investment Management Committee and the Petroleum Quantity Assessment Body to supervise oil revenue investment and management, it was disappointed at the lack of worker representatives on either body.

Parliament Majority Leader Cletus Avoka has promised that the PEB and the GPRMB will be passed before the 2011 budget is made public in November.

Speaking at an oil and gas workshop in Accra, he urged the committee deliberating on the petroleum bills to conclude their work so that the House can commence debate as soon as possible. Parliament resumed sitting on 19th October.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Ghana given 'compliant' status in energy and mining sectors

Ghana has been awarded 'compliant' status, by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), for improved transparency in the oil, gas and mining sectors. The new status is a reward for the government's transparency in disclosing payments it receives from companies extracting the country's natural resources.

EITI Board Chair Peter Eigen congratulated the Ghanaian government, the companies operating in the country and the civil society organisations that have supported Ghana in acquiring the new status. Speaking about the event, Eigen said, “the achievement of EITI Compliance status is well deserved and one that should spur on the country for strong management of the oil sector”.

The EITI is a group devoted to increasing financial disclosures in the oil, gas and mining industries. In order to obtain 'compliant' status, countries must complete a series of assessments of their disclosure and reporting practices.

Source: Joy Business

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

Yemen estimates reserves of around 11.9 billion barrels

Chairman of Yemen's Petroleum Exploration and Production Authority Nasr Ali Al-Humaidi has said that studies by the organisation have estimated that the total oil reserves in the 35 blocks tested contain around 11.9 billion barrels of oil.

Al-Humaidi said that the area in which work of exploration and production implemented at present are 25 per cent of the total area of the blocks. He said that the results so far were 'promising' and that Yemen is still in the first stages as a petroleum country.

“Exploration and production of oil and gas still need a lot of efforts and large investments and require teamwork and shared responsibility to provide different conditions appropriate to encourage the flow of domestic and foreign investments in oil and gas field. Oil and gas are one of the most important areas of investment in Yemen, if not the most important of all currently,” said al-Humaidi.

He also pointed out that the organisation has general oversight of all the operating processes in the blocks and that it, “represents the state as an essential partner in the areas to create a large infrastructure in the oil-producing blocks including production facilities to handle oil, gas, water, and exportation of crude oil units”.

Source: Yemen Observer

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

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Libya's elite under attack

Political change is once again a bone of contention in the Qadhafi family. Reports from Tripoli suggest there is a move on hand to disgrace rich and influential members of society for their illegal acquisition of wealth at the expense of the state.

It is alleged that the élite have been involved in arranging lucrative deals in a way that is possible only in the unique circumstances of the Qadhafi regime. It is believed that a rough assessment is being made of the funds controlled by a number of both the Old Guard and some of the more recent administrators/technocrats to enable action to follow against those who are suspected of gross involvement in bribery and corruption.

The mood is said to replicate a similar situation in 2000-01, and could be the motivation for a new assault on the cabinet in general and those ministers who are now in charge of corrupt institutions whose personnel have sold out the interests of the nation for individual gain.

The key to the change of atmosphere in Tripoli is the widely published recent criticism of the Libyan pavilion at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai by Saif al-Islam at the end of September. This rapidly escalated into a thoroughgoing attack on the incompetence and ineptitude of the government's management of national affairs.

Opposition sources have suggested that this opening is being manipulated to set the scene for a change in personnel and structures during the next General People's Congress (GPC). It is seen as a means of creating a role for Saif al-Islam within the formal institutions of state as a saviour of the country and as the president in waiting.

There are inevitable hazards associated with an attempt to disgrace the ministers and the cabinet together with some of the Old Guard, as well as longstanding members of the Revolutionary Committees and luminaries who are attached to the Leader's extended entourage. Many of these groups have a strong interest in retaining the status quo because they could lose out badly from change, and even face severe retribution from their enemies if the regime is altered to become a more legally-controlled and ethically-based system such as that which could prevail under Saif al-Islam.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Iran's non-oil exports up by 20 per cent

Head of Iran's Trade Development Organisation Babak Afghahi has said that Iran's non-oil exports have risen 20 per cent above the forecast level in the first half of the Persian calendar year.

"Iran's non-oil exports have grown 30 per cent in the first half of the current [Persian calendar] year (March-September 2010)," said Afghahi. The target for this time period had been set at 10 per cent. The value of Iran's non-oil exports in 2010 now stands at $14.4 billion.

Speaking at a conference in the country's capita, Tehran, Afghahi said that Iran's exports of pistachio, carpet, mineral products and technical and engineering services have grown by 100, 44, 150 and 75 percent respectively.

The figures come while the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank forecast the exports growths of 8.2 per cent for developed countries and 10.5 per cent for developing nations.

Source: Press TV

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

Niger's junta head fires intelligence chief

Niger's Junta Leader Maj Salou Djibo has fired his intelligence chief following the arrest of several junta members suspected of plotting a coup. There has been no official statement concerning the dismissal of Seyni Chekaraou, but he is said to be very close to former deputy military leader Col Abdoulaye Badie.

Badie was one of those arrested last week. The slits in the junta are a cause for concern as they might compromise the transition to civilian rule. A referendum is due to be held later this month on a constitution that would reduce the power of future presidents, with elections scheduled for January.

The junta, headed by Djibo, has promised to hand power back to civilians before the first anniversary of its ousting of former president Mamadou Tandja. The former head of state was ousted in February after he came under heavy criticism both at home and abroad for changing the constitution to allow him to stay in power for a third term.

Source: BBC News

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

Monday, 18 October 2010

Charles Okah arrested in connection to Abuja twin bombings

Henry Okah's brother, Charles Ohak, has been arrested in Lagos in connection to the twin bombings in Abuja. The attack on 1st October, to celebrate Nigeria's 50th anniversary of independence, killed at least 12 people. Henry Okah was detained in South Africa shortly after the bombings and is facing terrorism charges.

Henry Okah, former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) has denied links to the Abuja bombings but prosecutors say he was the mastermind behind the attack. Okah left Nigeria for South Africa after being freed from prison in July 2009.

Mend had issued a threat saying it intended to target the independence event shortly before the two blasts. An email warning of another bomb attack in Abuja was sent on Saturday and signed Jomo Gbomo. Nigerian police believe that Charles Okah used the pseudonym Jomo Gbomo, "to threaten and cause confusion" in emailed statements.

Charles Okah was arrested during a raid on his home in Lagos on Saturday [16th October]. According to an unnamed source Charles Okah was "mentioned” by other suspects as a “source of funds for the blast”.

Source: BBC News

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

A new measure to tackle LRA’s activities

Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Uganda have agreed to form a join military brigade to tackle Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) militants operating in the shared border regions. The LRA, which was formed in Uganda almost 20 years ago by Joseph Kony, has recently mounted deadly attacks in all four countries.

The latest LRA attack was in the Central African Republic's northern town of Birao last Sunday [9th October]. A spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) Adrian Edwards said the LRA has carried out more than 240 deadly attacks this year, killing approximately 344 people. Edwards added that the group’s activities also included looting, arson and abduction especially that of young girls.

The new measure to fight the LRA was agreed at Friday’s [15th October] meeting, by ministers of the four affected countries, in Central African Republic’s capital Bangui. The details about the size join venture have not been disclosed, but it is commonly believed that a military group to counter militant activity is thought to include at least 1,000 men.

The four ministers said there’d be a joint operations centre which would allow exchange of intelligence and strategy. The four countries concerned are also expected to set up joint border patrols which would be co-ordinated by special African Union (AU) representative.

Source: BBC News

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

Algeria: Desperation of the unemployed meets a ruthless state

Algeria's chronic unemployment among its young people takes on many different forms of social resistance. In Laghouat, as in most other parts of the country, there has been a long history of such distress, protest and a feeling among the local population of being abandoned by the state.

Last week, 27 unemployed young people from Laghouat, who had failed to gain an audience with the local wali about their difficulties, took their protest to Algiers to stage a hunger strike outside the 'Maison de la Presse', where they were beaten up by the police. They then moved on to take their protest to the Chambre Nationale d'Enregistrement (Ministry of Labour) on the boulevard Zirout Youcef. After again being beaten up by the police and refusing to move, they were eventually addressed, after some three hours, by a ministry official who promised that jobs would be found for them in two weeks.

In the meantime, the police had gone to the home of the group's 'leader' in Laghouat and threatened his family in an attempt to get him to come back from Algiers. It now remains to be seen whether the promised jobs materialise.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Nigeria: Tensions emerge between Senate and election commission

A storm appears to be brewing between Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof Attahiru Jega and the Nigerian Senate. The main point of contention is a comment credited to Jega that appeared to insinuate that the National Assembly was frustrating the Commission's plans to secure a delay in the election timetable.

According to a local daily, Jega stated that if the National Assembly delayed a decision on the approval of the election's timelines extension beyond November, it would negatively affect its plan for the registration of voters and the 2011 elections.

A number of Senators at a plenary sitting on Tuesday 12th October took umbrage at Jega's comments, saying they amounted to “blackmail to rubbish the image of the Senate.” The Senate leadership issued a statement that it was unfortunate for Jega to make such comments about the National Assembly given that the legislature had cut short its recess for the sole purpose of approving INEC's N87.7 billion budget.

Some Senators have stated that they had foreseen a situation in which the National Assembly would be unfairly blamed for the failure of the Commission to properly discharge its duties. Consequently, the Senate has directed its Ethics, Public Petitions and INEC Committees to investigate the comments.

Senate spokesperson Senator Ayogu Eze , addressing the media, also pointed out that the National Assembly was “apprehensive” about INEC's preparedness to conduct the 2011 elections even following any approval of its time extension request. The Senate's concern arises from indications that INEC had not yet ordered the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines, a crucial component of the Voters' Registration process.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Friday, 15 October 2010

Iran to take over OPEC presidency

Iran is to take over the rotating presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for the first time in 36 years. Iranian petroleum minister Masoud Mir Kazemi will hold the presidency from 1st January 2011.

Kazemi was elected as the next president of OPEC at a one day meeting of the group, which is made up of 12 oil producing nations. The energy information network said the "economic situation of the different countries including industrialized countries, developing countries, oil stocks and oil prices were reviewed" during the latest OPEC meeting.

Iran , who takes over from Ecuador, is OPEC's second largest oil producer and holds about 10 per cent of world oil reserves. During the meeting in Vienna, OPEC agreed to keep its oil production target unchanged at about 24.8 million barrels a day.

Source: BBC News

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

Niger junta's deputy leader Col Abdoulaye Bague arrested

Deputy leader of the Niger junta Col Abdoulaye Bague has been arrested by paramilitary police. Bague, who took power in Niger in February after the army ousted Mamadou Tandja, is being held at the gendarmerie headquarters. The reason for Bague's detention is yet to be specified.

According to local sources, Bague was arrested in on Wednesday [13th October] in Niger's capital city of Niamey. The arrest came three days after Bague's removal from his post, made public by state TV.

A referendum is expected later this month on a constitution that would reduce the power of future presidents. Bague has been a prominent figure in the army over the past 10 years, in charge of the military's finances. The junta, under the leadership of Maj Salou Djibo, has pledged to revert to civilian rule before the first anniversary of its ousting of former president Mamadou Tandja.

Tandja, a former army officer in his early 70s, was first elected in 1999 and was returned to power in an election in 2004. He was highly criticised following a change in constitution to allow him to stay in power for a third term. Presidential elections have been scheduled for January 2011.

Source: BBC News

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

HRW calls on Egypt to stop shooting migrants

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Egypt to stop shooting foreign migrants who try to cross into Israel. It made its appeal on the day that Egypt became chair of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). HRW, based in New York, said that Egyptian border police have, since July 2007, killed at least 85 migrants trying to cross into Israel; none of them were armed.

"Egypt today becomes chair of the UNHCR's governing body, while back home it shoots unarmed migrants and blocks UNHCR's access to detainees seeking the agency's protection," said Joe Stork, HRW 's director in the Middle East. "To be consistent with its position as the executive committee's new chair, Egypt needs to put its own house in order."

Hisham Badra, Egypt's UN ambassador in Geneva, refuted the allegations. He said that Egypt's border with Israel in the Sinai is a highly dangerous strip of territory used by arms smugglers, human traffickers and terrorists entering or leaving Egypt. "Fourteen Egyptian border guards have been killed in recent years monitoring it," he said.

He said that Egyptian border guards had been given clear instructions not to shoot unless fired on. HRW counters that none of the Africans shot dead was armed or posed any danger to Egyptian border guards. The tough Egyptian line does not appear to have deterred migrants desperate to escape hardship at home. Hardly a week goes by without another incident.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates

Minimum wage to rise again

The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA) has circulated a proposal to adjust Vietnam's complicated minimum wage structure. It puts forth an almost 21.5 per cent increase in the minimum wages of domestic firms and a rise of around 10 per cent for foreign firms.

The minimum wage structure is split into four regions and two enterprise sectors, and foreign enterprises are forced to pay more than domestic firms. The government is slowly trying to bring the difference in wages between foreign and domestic enterprises closer together in order to have one set of minimum wages by 2012 or 2013.

The minimum wage in a domestic firms is set to rise to $43.60 (VND830,000) per month for the lowest bracket and $66.80 (VND1.27 million) for the highest bracket, applicable in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

For foreign firms the lowest bracket will rise to $57.80 (VND1.1 million) per month from $52.00 (VND1 million) and the highest bracket, again applicable in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, will rise to $78.90 (VND1.5 million) from $70.50 (VND1.34 million).

Of course, many firms were quick to criticise the proposal, especially as this will mark the third increase in less than 18 months. The government also plans to raise the earnings of its public-sector employees.

Benchmark or basic salary?

Strikes in Vietnam are increasingly common and most concern wages more than working conditions.Labour analysts assert that firms use the government's minimum wage as their basic salary, rather than a benchmark below which they shouldn't fall.

As a result many sectors, especially garments and textiles, experience high staff turnover as people move for even a small increase in wages.

The Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM) argued in a recent report that the minimum wage as set by the state meets only 60 to 65 per cent of workers'basic needs.

A study by the now defunct Institute for Development Studies (IDS) found that the minimum wage in Vietnam was 40 per cent lower than the regional average. Low wages in the public sector have long been blamed for the high level of corruption.

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

© 2010 Menas Associates