Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Qadhafi forces continue to fight against resurgent rebels

Despite the speed with which matters seem to have moved in the last few weeks, elements from the Qadhafi regime continue to fight against the resurgent rebels. Loyalists are still fighting in parts of Tripoli and in the Qadhafi strongholds of Sirte and Sebha, which remain loyal to the regime. Pro-Qadhafi control is so strong in Sirte that rebel leaders have attempted to negotiate with the town rather than launch an all-out attack.

The whereabouts of Qadhafi is still a matter for debate. On 27th August, Associated Press announced that it had received a telephone call from his spokesman Musa Ibrahim. He claimed to have seen “Brother Leader” on 26th August, and said that he was carrying an offer from the Colonel to negotiate with the rebel leadership over a transitional government. The National Transitional Council (NTC) representatives have shown no interest in this overture.

The NTC has offered a reward of US$1,300,000 for anyone capturing Qadhafi. An amnesty has also been offered to anyone, including his supporters, who kills or detains the Leader.

Current speculations on Qadhafi's whereabouts are as follows:

There is a possibility that he is still in Tripoli, perhaps having utilised the many underground passages underneath his Bab al-Azizya compound
There is also a chance that Qadhafi has been in Sirte, or more likely in Sebha, for some time and is, together with his sons, directing resistance from there.
The latest rumour put forward by a former head of the special forces, Adbel Salam al-Hasi, was that the Leader has taken up a role with his Tuareg followers in the south western desert region of Fezzan, near the Algerian border.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Algeria: President Bouteflika meets his ministers

Since 2nd August, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has held individual meetings with ministers, a regular summer tradition in which officials essentially show off the progress of their projects. As usual, an official summary of the meetings is distributed to the local press. In the context of this year's social upheaval, it has been particularly important that the president demonstrates progress on social development, security and wider reform, and, as a result, the exercise has turned into a public relations drive. Some of the negative aspects of ministries' work, particularly those touched by corruption scandals, have been bypassed.

Bouteflika congratulated public works minister Amar Ghoul on the “great achievements” in his sector. “The progress made in the road, airport and ports infrastructure has contributed to the process of national development,” said Bouteflika. There was no mention of the corruption scandals, costing errors and delays that have hit some major projects in the sector, notably the east-west motorway scandal, which is still making its way through the courts.

Despite the publicity around the ministerial meetings, no images of Bouteflika with his ministers were published, prompting suggestions that he was too frail to be pictured.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Egypt's economic news

Egypt's battered banks are starting to hold their own, at least as far as the non-performing loans are concerned. Leading banks have reported either an improvement or no deterioration in this situation. This might seem a rather strange measure to judge the success of banks but given the history and the fall in Egyptian GDP in the first few months of 2011, it is mildly encouraging.

Tourism is down by 7.8 per cent in the first half of 2011 but, so far, Suez Canal tolls were up in June 2011 compared with the previous year, and remittances from Egyptian expatriates were at US$9 billion, well up on the US$6 3 billion of 2010 despite what is happening in Libya. Inflation fell in June.

The government has continued to prepare industrial enterprises for the proposed cut in subsidies for the industrial sector to save around US$0.85 billion in the budget, pointing to the earlier increase in production and experts from this sector.

Palm Hills, the real estate developer known for its luxury compounds and associated with the father-in-law of Alaa Mubarak, has reported second quarter losses. The company and some of its senior executive are being investigated as a part of the probes being made into the sources of revenue of people associated with the Mubarak regime.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

US$1.8 billion dollars unaccounted for

Government agencies in Ghana cannot account for GH¢2.7 billion (US$1.8 billion) of public funds for 2008 and 2009, according to a report by Auditor-General Richard Quartey. The missing money is a result of irregularities and errors in financial management.

The missing amount includes GH¢2.5 billion in salary over-payment, outstanding loans and debts owed to the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) by a number of oil marketing companies amounting to GH¢28.9 million, GH¢7.4 million in uncollected taxes, and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of GH¢226.3 million.

The report was the subject of scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on 17th August.

It noted that the discrepancies arose from ineffective supervision over scheduled officers and a lack of adequate monitoring. It urged the country's revenue agencies to toughen their internal control systems in order to perform their duties effectively according to tax laws.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 12 August 2011

Bomb blasts in Baghdad kill three

On Thursday 11th August, two bomb blasts killed three people in western Iraq. Meanwhile a succession of four explosions in Baghdad wounded 10 others. It is estimated that around 39 people were wounded in violence on Thursday.

In Baghdad, two bombs went off near alcohol shops in the commercial district of Karrada wounding four civilians. Another bomb targeted an army patrol in Dura in the south of the capital, injuring three soldiers, while a fourth exploded in the Al-Amil neighbourhood in south Baghdad, wounding three civilians.

In the western predominantly Sunni city of Ramadi, meanwhile, two explosions against the home of a police officer killed three and wounded 24 others.

Anbar province, of which Ramadi is the capital, was a key Sunni insurgent base in the years after the US-led invasion of 2003, but since 2006 local tribes have sided with the American military and day-to-day violence has dropped dramatically.

The city has been the target of several attacks in recent months, however.

In June, at least three explosions near provincial government offices in Ramadi killed 10 and wounded 15. In January, a suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car in a convoy carrying Anbar governor Qassim Mohammed Abid, wounding three bodyguards and six policemen but leaving Abid unharmed.

Violence in Iraq has declined from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common. A total of 259 Iraqis were killed in attacks in July, the second-highest figure for 2011.

Sources: AFP, The Associated Press, China Daily

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

Nigeria's army to investigate human rights abuses

Nigeria's army has been instructed to investigate alleged human rights abuses by soldiers fighting Boko Haram. Nigeria's Defence Minister Bello Mohammed called for an investigation after a woman was shot dead on Wednesday 10th August in clashes between soldiers and suspected members of the Islamist sect.

A number of human rights groups have accused the army of abusing and killing civilians. The violence in and around Maiduguri has intensified in recent months, causing thousands of people to leave their homes.

Mohammed said the army was "doing a very good job" in protecting the people throughout Borno state. He added: “However, a few bad eggs amongst them sometimes overreact to situations and create discontent amongst the civilian population thereby dragging the name of the military to disrepute."

Speaking after a woman was killed during riots in Born State, Mohammed asked the army to "investigate all incidents of military misconduct against law abiding citizens".

Last month, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima admitted that the army had been guilty of excesses in Maiduguri.

Next week a committee is due to report back to Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan on the security situation in Borno State and the prospects for opening negotiations with Boko Haram.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ, AFP

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

Nigeria: Police chief on the way out?

Nigeria P&S sources have revealed that the present Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force (IGP) Hafiz Ringim may soon be removed from office.

The Federal Government has been under pressure to remove Ringim since Boko Haram's June bomb attack against the Police Force Headquarters in Abuja, which highlighted not only the police's inability to quell the Boko Haram insurgency but also to secure its own premises.

Following the bombing of the police headquarters, it was widely reported that the IGP had earlier met the bomber in his residence and had unwittingly invited him to ride with the IGP's convoy. Although the claim was subsequently disputed by the IGP, it continues to tarnish his reputation.

Additionally, sources report allegations that Ringim cashed in during the April general elections. According to certain detractors, Ringim found the election period was so lucrative that he bought property in the UK, and is alleged to have acquired other assets from illicit dealings during the campaign.

During the elections, opposition parties in states like Bauchi and Kaduna accused security forces of being used as stooges of the ruling party to threaten and intimidate opposition party supporters.

Some observers now view Ringim as the most unpopular IGP ever; his case has not been helped by the deteriorating security situation across the country and the fact that he appears unable to deal with the security crisis in the country.

Ringim was appointed IGP in September 2010, following the retirement of his predecessor, Ogbonnaya Onovo. His appointment had been made in the face of some protest, notably over whether he was the natural successor to Onovo and specifically because he was only an AIG at the time, his elevation catapulting him above the heads of a number of his superiors.

Ringim is expected to be replaced with the present Deputy Inspector General of Operations, head of Department B of the Police Force's management team Audu Abubakar.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Mubarak's trial adjured until October

The judge hearing the appeal against the fines imposed on the former president Hosni Mubarak, his prime minister and his interior minister for cutting communications links in Egypt has adjourned the case until 3rd October. That should give him time to unearth who took part in the meeting that made the decision. Was defence minister and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ( SCAF ) Hussein Tantawi there? The army says he did not make the decision.

It does not really matter. The army was part of the old regime. It was its mainstay. When it saw that its position was under threat from the popular uprising, it sought to jettison the president so that it could remain unscathed. It was part of the old system. And it has played the pivotal role in shepherding in the new, as yet undetermined, system.

No one thinks that the army was blameless. The key will be what role it continues to play in future.

There is already great concern among liberal circles at the apparent closeness between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. They certainly share common views on the need for an orderly transition, without introducing so-called supra-constitutional articles. What has not been established is the extent of any co-ordination between these two disciplined bodies.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Iran criticises UK over riots

The UK has told Iran it would be glad to discuss its handling of the riots following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comments about British police using "savage" aggression against demonstrators.

On Wednesday 10th August, Ahmadinejad made disparaging remarks about the riots in the UK, criticising British police's "crushing attack" on unarmed citizens.

In a letter to Iran's Foreign Ministry, British Charge d'Affaires in Tehran Jane Marriott said that hopefully this would open dialogue between the two countries and encourage Tehran to allow a UN-appointed investigator to look into alleged human rights violations.

Marriott said: "I would remind you that the UK has a standing invitation to all U.N. special rapporteurs and has facilitated the visits of a number of these rapporteurs to the UK in recent years…I urge the Iranian government to extend a similar courtesy to the dedicated UN special rapporteur for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, to enable him to address the international community's grave concerns about on-going human rights violations within Iran.”

In March, the UN Human Rights Council nominated a special rapporteur for Iran to look into its crackdown on the opposition and frequent use of the death penalty. Iran is yet to allow the rapporteur into the country.

Eight people were killed in protests against Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009. Two people were shot dead in Tehran on February 14th this year during the first opposition demonstration for more than a year.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, WSJ

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

China on state visit to South Sudan

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is on a state visit to South Sudan, a first for the newly independent country. Yang met with President Salva Kiir in Juba, to discuss South Sudan's future.

Speaking to the press after the meeting, Yang said: “There's a bright future for China and South Sudan and for our relationship. So I wish the Sudanese people every success."

He added: "Our two economies are there for each other and we want to see good co-operation in such areas like agriculture, infrastructure construction, oil production."

Earlier this week, Yang held talks with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. China has always had strong ties with Sudan's president, despite claims of war crimes in Darfur.

South Sudan's Foreign Minister Deng Alor said Yang's visit would "set in motion a special relationship between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of South Sudan".

Alor added: “As a newly independent nation we definitely need a country like China to help us in development of our infrastructure, of our agriculture, vocational system and many areas."

Meanwhile, Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti has announced that Sudan has granted China more oil exploration rights, following Yang's meeting with Bashir Monday 8th August.

He said: "President Bashir has granted the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) three promising new petroleum blocs and offered a partnership with the national petroleum company Sudapet in the fields where it operates.”

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

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

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Libya is going through change and uncertainty

The country is going through an intensive phase of change and uncertainty. A new National Transitional Council (NTC) cabinet is under construction, which ought to herald a more penetrating period of management of the revolutionary cadres towards creating a new society based on principles of personal freedom.

In fact, the general expectations among ordinary Libyans were not high that any change will be for the better. The continued appointment of a string of former office-holders, who had previously been employed by the Qadhafi family, is causing ill-will and deep dissent among the fighting groups who, to a man, do not wish to see Qadhafi's influence perpetuated.

It is, therefore, unlikely that there will be any great lurch into any type of normal economic development which would facilitate a rapid growth of the economy in the short term. This does not, however, exclude some short-term breaks for the economy as it winds itself up into rapid growth in the energy sector once it is clear that hostilities have ended.

Meanwhile, the shadow of the war will be dispersed by some spending, both by Libyan oil companies and overseas investors in Libyan oil but much of this work will be used for reconstruction.

It is unlikely that there will be enough strong growth to create a demand for a more plentiful labour supply or personal incomes which would alleviate some of the difficulties faced by ordinary workers. The outflow of the foreign workforce will complicate the position in the labour market which, in turn, will make recruitment extremely difficult if serious violence persists.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Brazil's cracking-down on corruption

Brazilian authorities have arrested more than 30 tourism industry officials and businessmen, including Deputy Tourism Minister Frederico Silva da Costa, in connection to charges of conspiracy to divert public money for private gain. The allegations have been denied by the accused.

It is believed that as many as 200 police officers took part in the seizure. Costa is the third high-ranking official caught up in corruption allegations since President Dilma Rousseff took-up office on 1st January.

Reports says, that prosecutors suspect the accused had awarded contracts at very high prices to complicit firms that often were not qualified to carry out the work. According to Brazilian media, warrants were issued for 38 people 35 of whom were apprehended by Tuesday 9th August in Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Macapa.

The arrests follow recent allegations of corruption at the ministries of agriculture and transport. It is believed that Brazilian prosecutors have seized a number of computers at the agriculture ministry on Monday 8th August. Subsequently, Agriculture Minister Wagner Rossi has been asked to appear before an ethics commission. Rossi is a member of the Democratic Movement Party of Brazil (PMDB), Rousseff's largest ally in Congress.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Vietnam jails blogger for three years

A French-Vietnamese blogger, Pham Minh Hoang, has been sentenced to three years in prison for publishing articles that have reportedly "blackened the image of the country".

Speaking during his trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Hoang said he had joined an opposition group but emphasised the fact the he did not intend to overthrow the government.

There has been talk among human rights activists about the increasing numbers of imprisonments of those who dare critique the Vietnamese government. France's Foreign Ministry had earlier voiced "serious concern" about Hoang's case.

Hoang, who was said to have written over 30 articles under the pen name Phan Kien Quoc, asked for leniency, stating that he did not know he was breaking the law.

Addressing the court he said: "My writings were not aimed at overthrowing anyone…I only pointed out the negative things in society, and I think the country needs to be more democratic."

Hoang, who has dual citizenship, received a more lenient jail term of three years due to the aforementioned, and although he confessed to belonging to the banned opposition group Viet Tan, he said he was not acting as an active operative.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Bloomberg

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

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Nigeria to invest N679 billion into three nationalised banks

Nigeria's government is planning to invest ?679 billion ($4.5bn, £2.8bn) into three banks that were nationalised last week. The country's Central Bank took control of Afribank, Bank PHB and Spring Bank following a realisation that it was unable to raise fresh capital they required.

Control of the three banks has now passed to the State-run Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). It is thought that the company is aiming to raise the funds needed through bond issues. AMCON has also appointed new management to oversee the three banks.

The company released a statement saying: "The newly appointed boards are entrusted with the mandate to manage these banks along best commercial practice, to compete effectively in the Nigerian banking sector and provide quality service to customers…Depositors are again assured that their deposits are safe and employees are also assured of seamless continuity of business operations and job functions."

Trading in the shares of Afribank, Spring Bank and Bank PHB has been suspended.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Libya: NTC leader sacks cabinet

According to the latest news reports from Libya, Leader of the National Transitional Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdel Jalil has dismissed his executive committee, equivalent of a ministerial cabinet. The move is thought to have been prompted by the killing of rebel military chief Gen Abdel Fattah Younes.

There has been speculation among the rebels that an allied Islamist faction may be responsible for his death. A member of the NTC Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga told Al-Jazeera there had been "shortcomings" in the way some members of the Council had dealt with the matter.

The Associated Press quoted another member of the NTC, Fathi Turbel, as saying it was clear the re-shuffle was needed after the "military, security and media incompetence" following Younes' death.

An NTC spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah told Reuters the re-shuffle was a sign of "the maturing of the revolution, holding people responsible…It's healthy. The NTC is still the highest authority”.

Jibril is now expected to form a new cabinet forthwith. It is thought that he may reappoint some of his ministers.

Younes defected from Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's regime in February after serving the Leader since the 1969 coup, which brought him to power. His body, along with those of his two aides, was discovered on the outskirts of Benghazi on 28th July, after he had been recalled to give evidence on the on-going fight against Qadhafi. The exact circumstances of his death are unclear, and the killers are yet to be apprehended, but senior members of his tribe have demanded a full investigation.

Sources: BBC News, Al-Jazeera, AP, Reuters

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

Monday, 8 August 2011

Algeria: Problems of geographical identity, verification and disinformation

We commented last week on the difficulties of identifying many of the place names in Algeria's various security-related reports. Part of this is because of bad sub-editing in the media and part of it is that reports get passed on orally and are therefore subject to phonetic transcription. But the most serious problem is that the security stories are often nothing more than disinformation'.

In last week's comment, we referred to the problem of the reference to Libyan arms being shipped from a place called Adjila. In P&S 22.07.11, we raised questions over the veracity of a reported security force engagement with alleged traffickers in the region of Tisdirine, which the security forces claim to be the region where the three frontiers of Niger, Libya and Algeria meet, but which is unknown to us.

We cannot throw much further light on this ongoing problem, except in these latest two cases, to wonder whether they may actually be the same place or region. As we suggested, Adjila may be the Algerian Edjeleh, while Tisdirine could be a misrecording of Titserine, which as in the Libyan Tihemboka region, some 25-50km from the Algerian border.

What both Edjeleh and Tisdirine have in common is that they are now regions were Algerian-Libyan trans-shipments and 'trafficking' are taking place on an increasing scale and where Algeria's security forces are active. If we are correct in this, it does at least make sense of otherwise highly questionable reports from the country's security services.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Nigeria: NITEL may be bought after all

There are signs that the troubled sale of state-owned telecommunications company, Nigerian Telecommunications Company (NITEL), is finally making progress after the failure of an earlier attempt at divestment.

Mike Adenuga, the prominent business mogul and owner of Globacom, the operator of Nigeria's first indigenous GSM network, is reportedly in the process of making a US$450 million bid for the moribund NITEL and its mobile arm, MTel, which has been an albatross around the neck of the Federal Government since it started to privatise State-owned entities.

In the past few years, the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) has made about five unsuccessful attempts to sell off the State-owned telecommunications company. The most recent attempt collapsed when the winning bidder, the New Generations Telecommunications Consortium, failed to meet the financial requirements of the sale. The reserve bidder, Omen International, quickly followed suit.

It is expected that a sale to Adenuga, if it goes through, would be conducted under the “willing purchaser/willing vendor” clause of the BPE's terms of sale instead of going through the usual auction route, which has so far failed to deliver results.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Yemen: Southerners focus on survival

In the south, there have been few new developments as people are preoccupied with trying to run their own areas, obtain fuel and food and provide security in the continuing absence of an effective central authority. Aden is in a particularly sorry state, even compared with three months ago.

The organised protests have been mostly directed against the regime and make common cause with all those in Yemen demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh should go. The demand for secession has not gone away, even though the street protesters now argue for a solution within a united Yemen. The main external leaders met in Cairo in mid-July to coordinate their position with the Joint Meeting Parties and clarify the terms they want for a federal Yemen. They have been trying to explain exactly what they meant about a previous statement that said Yemen's oil would be owned by the south in any future federal Yemen. The leaders now say that the oil will be “owned” by the south but that the federal government would exploit it and distribute revenues according to an agreed formula. That will still be rejected by any likely regime in the north but it is a more conciliatory position than the previous one.

There is continuing concern about the fate of Hassan Baum, one of the most effective internal leaders of the southern movement, who has been in prison for some months. Reports in early August spoke of major differences between external leaders of the movement such as Haydar al-Attas and the secessionists, who tend to look to Ali Salim al-Bidh, ensconced in his Austrian Schloss, as the external leader they might accept. Brigadier Ali Mohammed Assadi, one of the internal leaders close to Baum, who wants nothing short of secession, gave his view of southern Yemen as “a liberal, social democracy, similar to current European socialism”. He said he saw this as carrying on from where the PDRY was in early 1990. He must have a very selective memory – but then one of the problems in the southern movement is that all have redacted memories of PDRY, most of which are conflicting and inaccurate.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 5 August 2011

Sudan threatens to shoot a UN helicopter

UN Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, has said that Sudan threatened to shoot a helicopter trying to evacuate UN peacekeepers wounded by a landmine in the disputed Abyei region. Le Roy added that the three wounded soldiers died amid negotiations.

The peacekeepers were sent to Abyei earlier this month. Shortly after their arrival from Ethiopia, their convoy hit a landmine in Mabok, south-east of Abyei town. One of the men died instantly, the other three later.

Speaking about the incident, Le Roy said: “"We didn't get the clearance for the Medivac helicopter to take off immediately…They prevented us from taking off by threatening to shoot at the helicopter."

According to various reports, seven other peacekeepers were injured in the blast. The village where the landmine exploded had been occupied by troops loyal to the government in Khartoum, which has signed the Ottawa Treaty banning the use of anti-personnel mines.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Voice of America

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

Double bomb blast kills seven in Ramadi

Two bomb blast in the city of Ramadi have killed at least seven people and left 13 injured. According to Iraqi officials, the bombs went off in quick succession at approximately 18:00 local time (15:00 GMT).

Some of the victims of the second bomb were police officers, who were on the scene investigating the first blast. Ramadi was once an Al-Qa'ida stronghold but now militant attacks are intermittent.

The latest attacks come amid a surge of violence across Iraq. On Wednesday 3rd August, a bomb killed a policeman at Al-Rusafa prison and a general was stabbed to death at his home. Three policemen were also killed when a bomb went off near in Bghdad on Tuesday 2nd August. More deadly attacks were reported in Mosul and Kirkuk in the north, and in Hilla, south of Baghdad.

Just days ago, a new report issued by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Junior showed that the security situation in the country is more dangerous than it was a year ago.

Bowen noted an increase in violence and attacks across Iraq as the US military prepares to withdraw its troops. The remainder 47,000 US troops are expected to leave Iraq by the end of the year, despite fears that Iraqi security forces may not be able to cope.

Sources: BBC News, Xinhua, CNN

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has let her Defence Minister Nelson Jobim go after he made disparaging remarks about fellow ministers. Jobim reportedly called one fellow minister a "weakling" and described others as "idiots".

Jobim is the third minister to lose his job since Rousseff's inauguration in January. He will be replaced by former foreign minister Celso Amorim. Jobim is one of several ministers who also served under Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

It has been reported in recent weeks that Jobim has been making crude remarks about fellow ministers; he went even further at an opposition event by saying he was surrounded by "idiots".

There has also been speculation that Jobim was disgruntled with Rousseff for overruling him on a multi-billion dollar contract to buy fighter jets. He caused further controversy when he admitted in a television interview that he had voted for Rousseff's opponent Jose Serra in last year's presidential election.

Jobim is the third minister to go since Rousseff took office on 1st January. Last month, her Transport Minister Alfredo Nascimento resigned over a corruption scandal and in June her chief of staff, Antonio Palocci, stepped down in the face of questions about his rapid accumulation of personal wealth.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, The Guardian

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

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Egypt: Hosni Mubarak's trial is an extraordinary event

Hosni Mubarak's trial is an extraordinary event in the modern history of Egypt and the Arab world. There are no parallels or precedents of a deposed leader being tried by his own people in such a way. In a region where the rule of law has been so absent and those in authority are not held to account, this is a breathtaking development.

It is also uncertain. Many in the military must have considerable misgivings about what is happening to their former commander in chief. They must also be watching proceedings with a sense of foreboding about what might emerge in the course of the trial.

And many outside the chattering classes in Cairo will also view the public humiliation of their leader with considerable anger. For many in the rural heartlands, not only was Mubarak their leader but also their guarantor of a degree of stability that is now gone.

The trial of the former president is about coming to terms with Egypt's past, or some episodes from it. The demonstrations on 29th July were altogether different and were a sign, an ominous one in the view of many secularists and liberals, of the possible future character of the state.

The early protests that concluded with the removal of the former president were led by youth movements. But it is the Islamists who have the organisational strength and ideological unity — despite some differences — to make a serious challenge for power in the new Egypt.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

New oil minister approved by Majlis

After months of political infighting in Iran over who will head up the oil ministry, a suitable candidate has finally been found: Brigadier General Rustem Ghassemi , a member of the all powerful Revolutionary Guard or Sepah who for the past few years as headed up the Sepah's contracting arm, Khatam Ol Anbia (or Ghorb ), which has benefited from several lucrative gas contracts, including a $2 billion deal to oversee Phases 15 and 16 of the giant South Pars project.

But Khatam's ability to secure any external funding has been made almost impossible by US and EU sanctions, which have designated the company a supporter of weapons proliferation. Ghassemi, who unlike his predecessor Massoud Mirkazemi has some oil industry experience, was nominated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the end of July to be full-time minister and the following week received the all-clear from the Majlis or parliament. Ahmadinejad, who is desperate to secure control of the oil sector to increase his political clout, in June nominated a close ally Ali Aliabadi , to be caretaker minister. But Aliabadi, who was most recently head of Iran's Olympic Committee, wasnever going to get parliament's approval.

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

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Libya's immediate future is shrouded by uncertainties

Libya's immediate future is shrouded by the uncertainties regarding rebel military action in the Jebel Nafusa and the Tripolitanian Jefara plain. Whereas the war in the Jebel Nafusa is serious, in terms of damage to people and property, it has so far had very little impact on the economy of the country. The beginning of hostilities in the western plains would affect most aspects of daily economic life in Libya's main productive area.

The doubt that surrounds the possibility of a successful attack against Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's forces is palpable throughout the southern zone, especially as oil and gas installations would be badly affected and few businesses would be unscathed. It is likely that a political meltdown in Tripoli and its immediate hinterland would affect basic provisions, including oil and oil products. Worse still, a major setback for the revolutionaries in western Libya would throw into disarray the already narrow margin of assurance that exists among the rebel groups.

The confidence of both the Libyan domestic and expatriate population in the ability of the revolutionaries to seize and then maintain power is being heavily undermined by the failure of their various constituent parts to come to terms on developing a joint policy towards foreign affairs and, in particular, to the kind of government that Libya needs after the fighting has finished. The rifts in the revolutionary ranks are, if anything, worsening with the passage of time. Different policies are being recommended in Misrata and Benghazi and this is both dividing the available resources and weakening the overall credibility of the rebels' efforts on the battlefield.

Those fighters in Misrata and Benghazi are impatient of the divisive and weak policies that are being put forward by the revolutionary administrations. The latter have little battle experience and little appreciation of the real needs of the fighters in the field. There is, for example, a general shortage of ammunition within the rebel territories and this is consistent with the needs of the current major campaigns that are being contemplated by the rebel side.

Other factors are also tending to diminish the perceived threat from the rebel army – the prowess of which is reduced by its inability to innovate modern battle techniques. The leadership of the armoured echelons is still renowned for its inefficiency and ineptness despite the acquisition of modern fighting weapons.

The overall forecast by both the military men in Benghazi, and the external advisers who are in position in South Africa, is that it will be a close call once hand-to-hand fighting begins.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Opposition MP renews veiled attack on party leadership

Samia Nkrumah, the opposition CPP's outspoken MP for Jomoro, has warned that the party will continue to struggle if it does not elect “credible and transparent” leaders, a veiled attack on Paa Kwesi Nduom, the party's lacklustre presidential candidate in 2008.

Daughter of Ghana's first president Kwame Nkrumah, Samia Nkrumah accused the current CPP leadership of failing to inspire confidence and losing touch with core party activists.

Nkrumah, who is contesting the CPP's chairmanship position, said the party needs fresh faces and a radically different approach.

“We need to move away from negative campaigning and focus on issues. We need that approach in politics. We need to rise above the pettiness and not be concerned with personality and maligning each other, but just focus on the work on the ground,” she said.

Nduom, however, has played down rumours of disunity within the party ranks.

He says that the current problems facing the CPP are “minor” compared to the crises that characterised both the largest opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), and the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) ahead of their respective party congresses.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Sea Trucks gets Hyundai contract

The Sea Trucks Group has announced a contract award from Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) for Total in Nigeria. The project comprises the charter of a DP3

accommodation support vessel and associated services for 430 company personnel at the USAN FPSO, located 100km offshore Nigeria inwater depths of 750 m to support the mooring, hook-up, commissioning, and start-up activities of the FPSO.

One of Sea Trucks' DP3 offshore construction/ accommodation vessels, with fleet number Jascon 30, will be used for the project with a new custom-built portable accommodation block installed on deck to provide extra facilities for 184 people. After Akpo in Nigeria and Girassol and Pazflor in Angola this is the fourth accommodation services project the group will execute for Total.

The work is expected to start at the end of July and to continue for a minimum of nine months with options to extend.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Security situation in Iraq worse than a year ago

A new report issued by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Junior shows that the security situation in Iraq is more dangerous than it was a year ago.

The news comes as the US military prepares to withdraw its troops. Speaking about the situation, Bowen noted that the killing of US soldiers and Iraqi officials has risen, along with the number of attacks in Baghdad.

The remaineder 47,000 US troops are expected to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year, despite fears that Iraqi security forces may not be able to cope.

In his quarterly report to the Congress, Bowen concluded that “Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work… It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago."

The report cited the deaths of 15 US soldiers in June, one of the most violent month for the US military in two years, but also said more Iraqi officials had been assassinated in the past few months than in any other recent period. The report noted that while the US and Iraqi security forces have subdued the threat from the Sunni based insurgency, Shi'a militias are believed to have become more active.

Additionally, the report said the north-eastern province of Diyala, bordering Iran, was "very unstable" with frequent bombings resulting in very high death tolls.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Vietnam and US sign military co-operation agreement

The US navy released a statement saying US and Vietnam have signed a co-operation agreement in Hanoi, paving way for a future military relationship. The statement said, the two countries will work together on health, setting the stage for exchanges and research collaboration in military medicine.

The new agreement marks the first formal military co-operation between the former foes since the neutralisation of diplomatic relations in 1995. The Navy's Surgeon General Vice Admiral Adam M. Robinson Jr said the agreement was not politically motivated but based on prospective future collaboration on health issues.

Robinson explained: “Medicine and medical research are universal languages that all countries and cultures understand. Diseases affect us all in the same way…By working together in areas such as infectious disease research, we not only help each other, we help the world meet these global health challenges."

The US is expanding military co-operation with the Southeast Asian nation despite concerns over Vietnam's human rights record. In fact, in recent months, a number of US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama's administration to improve relations with Vietnam contingent on improvements in human rights.

Sources: AFP, The Australian

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

Monday, 1 August 2011

Egypt: Mubarak's trial venue changed

Egyptian officials have announced that deposed president Hosni Mubarak's trial will not be held at a Cairo convention centre, due to unspecified security reasons. The trial, set to commence on Wednesday 3rd August, will now be held at a police academy further from the city centre.

Mubarak has been under arrest at a hospital in the coastal resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh since April. There has been speculation about his failing health, including fears about cancer. It has most recently been reported that Mubarak is refusing to eat solids and is looking very gaunt. These reports have not been verified by an independent source.

The former president is charged with corruption and ordering the killing of protesters before he was toppled in February.

President of Appeals Court Abdel Aziz Omar said Mubarak's trial was being moved "because it is difficult to guarantee the protection of the other place".

Speaking to MENA news agency, Assistant Justice Minister Mohammed Munie said the police academy auditorium where the trial will now take place can hold 600 people. He added that an enclosure for the defendants has already been installed.

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, The Guardian

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

Libyan rebel commander Abdel Fattah Younes' killed

On Saturday 30th July, rebel minister Ali Tarhouni announced that Libyan rebel commander Gen Abdel Fattah Younes was killed by suspected members of an Islamist group, Obaida Ibn Jarrah.

Younes, who defected in February, had been loyal to Qadhafi since the 1969 coup, which brought the Libyan Leader to power.

Following news of Younes' death and NATO's latest air campaign which bombed Libyan state TV transmitters, Qadhafi delivered another characteristically defiant statement saying: “The will of the Libyan people is stronger than Crusader aggression." He also vowed to "never to abandon" the fight against the rebels and the Western forces.

It is thought that Younes was killed by militants working alongside the rebels, but it remains possible that his death may have been carried out by people working for the Qadhafi regime. The exact culprits responsible for the death of Qadhafi's former interior minister are yet to be determined by the National Transitional Council (NTC), which is investigating the incident.

An unnamed TNC official said Younes' death was "regrettable but containable". He added: "This is not a revolution based on one man…It is based on six million people."

This latest mishap will compound growing doubts about the armed opposition, its ability to govern, fight as a united front and about the power of Islamist factions. Qadhafi's government in Tripoli has repeatedly warned the West that the rebels may have links with various Al-Qa'ida groups, and although there is no concrete evidence of this, government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the murder of Younes was "a nice slap [in] the face of the British” after it officially recognised the council in Benghazi as the government of Libya. He added that the TNC was not capable of capturing or governing Libya because it coundn't even “protect its own commander of the army."

Sources: BBC News, The Guardian, Reuters

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

Nigerian government keen to enter negotiations with Boko Haram

Following a number of bombings and attacks across Nigeria, the government says it is keen to begin peace negotiations with Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The government stipulated that it would open talks with the group and report back on progress by 16th August.

There has been no official response to the statement by Boko Harm. The militant group, based in northern Nigeria, is fighting to overthrow the government and turn Nigeria into an Islamic State.

The group, based in Maiduguri, has been responsible for a number of bombings and shooting across Nigeria. The recent resurgence in militant activity comes after a relatively peaceful interval, following a Boko Haram uprising across a number of states in 2009.

In the statement released by the Nigerian government, President Goodluck Janathan appointed seven people, including the ministers of defence and labour, to a negotiation committee. He said the committee's role would be to act "as a liaison between the federal government ... and Boko Haram and to initiate negotiations with the sect".

The statement added that the panel, to be inaugurated on Tuesday 2nd August, would also work with Nigeria's national security adviser to ensure that security forces acted with every "professionalism".

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

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