Thursday, 22 December 2011

Many Egyptians lose sympathy for the young revolutionaries

Many Egyptians, particularly in the deep rural Delta and Upper Egypt, have lost whatever sympathy they might have had for the young, mainly liberal, activists who led the protests that brought down the regime of Hosni Mubarak. And so have the voters. The revolutionary parties have won only a tiny percentage of the votes. In this last round of elections, they risk not winning any seats. The protesters, who also include many hardcore Ultra football fans who have had years of violent confrontation with the security forces, are also held responsible by many for the continued disruption to the economy.

The video footage of a half-naked woman being dragged away by troops, however, has provoked an altogether different reaction. One retired general insinuated that she got what she deserved; what self-respecting woman would be demonstrating anyway? But many will also be seeing this as a violation of a code of honour by the army.

The army knew when it took over in February that the longer it stayed, the greater the risk of making mistakes which would damage its reputation in the eyes of the Egyptian people. It said it wanted to leave as soon as it could. And yet it failed to act to do so; it is now paying the price.

The army is right to say that Tahrir Square is not Egypt. But the army will, nonetheless, be judged by the way it behaves there.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Kazakhstan: Oil Ministry to go softly on mining companies

Perhaps reflecting the labour movement's growing influence, the Oil and Gas Ministry has announced that wayward mining firms will be fined rather than have their contracts terminated, in a bid to safeguard jobs.

Announcing the decision at the end of November, ministerial secretary Kanatbek Safinov said that, “The termination of contracts will be used as a last measure, as in this case people will lose their jobs.” Instead, the government will prioritise economic sanctions against mining firms which violate their contracts, in accordance with last year's new subsoil law. Closer monitoring of mining companies will be undertaken, according to Safinov, and the termination of contracts is held out as a last resort.

Safinov gave no indication of how the extra monitoring will be carried out, or whether the process of appealing against fines will be toughened up, which may raise a few eyebrows among mining companies. Focusing on the livelihoods of mining employees may be a genuine populist touch, but fining companies rather than terminating contracts – 28 subsoil contracts were cancelled last year – is also undoubtedly a money-spinner for the state coffers.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

NTC asks UN to unfreeze more assets

The UN Sanctions Committee swiftly responded to the National Transitional Council's (NTC) written request to lift the freeze on Libya's overseas assets. Although sanctions against the National Oil Company (NOC) were lifted in September, both the Central Bank and the Libyan Foreign Bank (LFB) continued to be subject to sanctions and particularly an asset freeze.

The sanctions on the two banks were lifted on 16th December with no objections from members of the committee. The US immediately signalled its intention to unblock those funds that are being held by the US Treasury; the UK and France acted in a similar fashion.

It is likely, however, that it will take some time for the assets to produce any form of useful cash injection into the local economy. It should though assist the NTC in demonstrating to the Libyan public that it is capable of running the country.

Not only are banks inside the country currently reporting trouble providing sufficient cash but substantial finances will also be essential for the government to both take on reconstruction projects and achieve its primary aim of providing adequate care for those who were wounded or bereaved during the fighting.

These aims are becoming all the more important when viewed in the context of increasing dissatisfaction about the direction in which the country is going. Protests are becoming more common as Libyans revel in their right to express their opinions and be heard. Although demonstrations have become commonplace in several areas, including Tripoli, it is Benghazi which has seen the majority of protests.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Ghana: Government announces local content policy roadmap

The government's exact local content provisions and targets have been the cause of considerable debate, with a series of local content pronouncements being undermined by the lack of implementation of a defined policy.

At a recent Volta River Authority (VRA) organised forum on local content – which was attended by stakeholders including the Association of Ghana Industries – the Deputy Minister of Energy Emmanuel Kofi Armah-Buah claimed that parliament is focusing on the issue with the goal of finally implementing an official local content policy.

He claimed that, when implemented, the policy would have a number of goals, including:

increasing Ghanaian participation in the oil and gas sector to 90 per cent by 2020
the favouring of bids with higher local content over comparable bids with lower local content
priority purchasing of local products and services from Ghanaian businesses and providers even if their prices for comparable products or work were up to 10 per cent higher than that from foreign equivalents
the need to give first priority to Ghanaians when awarding contracts.
He also commended Kosmos, Tullow, and the VRA among others for their efforts to support "local content" to date.

This announcement comes the same week as another by the 13 member Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC), which was inaugurated in September as specified by the 2011 Petroleum Revenue Management Act and includes the AGI, the Trades Union Congress, EITI and National House of Chiefs among others. PIAC pledged to monitor Ghana's oil industry closely, giving "a true account of the oil revenues to Parliament, the Executive and Ghanaians in general".

It also comes soon after comment by Dr Steve Manteaw of the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) who is also a leading member of the Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas (CSPOG). He said that Ghana's small decline in Transparency International's global transparency ranking is partly due to the government's failure to ensure total transparency in oil contracts. He claimed that there is a perception of corruption possibly being increased because of the government's delays in passing of the Right to Information Bill and last year's dispute between the GNPC and Kosmos over oil exploration data.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Iraq issues an arrest warrant for Vice President al-Hashemi

An Iraqi interior ministry official has said that the government has issued an arrest warrant – under anti-terrorism laws – for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. This has caused many to fear the collapse of the newly formed government and an increase in sectarian conflicts.

The news follows the arrest of al-Hashemi's bodyguards, who reportedly accused him of having ties with terrorist groups. The main Sunni political alliance has said it is going to boycott the cabinet.

The Al-Iraqiya party, which represents most of Iraq's Sunni Arab community, had already withdrawn from parliament, on the grounds that the Shi'a Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is monopolising power. Al-Hashemi has been a forthright critic of al-Maliki.

Iraq President Jalal Talabani's office issued a statement saying he was "surprised" by the issue of the warrant. The statement went on to say: "Making hasty decisions and announcing them in the media will complicate the political solutions needed in this delicate stage in Iraq's history.” These latest developments come as US troops prepare to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year.

On Monday 19th December, Iraq's television broadcast a confession by the suspected terrorist linked to Hashemi, who said they had been paid by the vice president's office to carry out attacks on security officials and politicians.

One of the suspected terrorists said he had been given £2,000 by Hashemi himself. The names of the men have not been disclosed. Speaking about the situation a senior interior ministry official Maj Gen Kamal Hussein said: "According to article four of the anti-terrorism law, an arrest warrant has been issued against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and it is signed by five judges."

Al-Hashemi is banned from leaving the country, but has reportedly travelled to the semi-autonomous northern Kurdistan on Sunday 18th December. The warrant was drawn-up a day before, but the process was delayed as attempts were made to resolved the situation and persuade the Sunni bloc to abandoned its planned boycott.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

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

Algeria: Serbia's Defence Minister signs agreement

Serbia's Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac signed a military co-operation agreement with his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmalek Guenaizia, during his two-day 14-15th December visit to Algeria. Sutanovac told the media that: “Algeria is the Serbian Defence Ministry's most important partner in the military industry and both countries are interested in investing together in the development of new weapons and military equipment in the future.”

He was also reported to have met President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but this remains unconfirmed, possibly because of his rumoured health relapse.

Sutanovac's discussions with Guenaizia centred on closer military ties and cooperation between the two countries. Their discussions reportedly covered:

a proposed expansion of cooperation between the two countries in military health care, in which Serbia claims considerable expertise

modernising the production of certain weapons and military equipment for the Algerian army

establishing Serbia weapons and military equipment plants in Algeria as part of its technology transfer programme

schooling Algerian officers at the Military Academy in Serbia

the visit to Serbia in the near future of a delegation of experts from of the Algeria's Ministry of Defence

a visit to Algeria by Serbia's President, Boris Tadic, in the first half of 2012.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Monday, 19 December 2011

Sokoto governor passed to run in ruling party primary

Sokoto State's incumbent governor, Aliyu Wamako, has successfully navigated the screening process of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), ahead of the party's Sokoto State gubernatorial primary election which is scheduled to be held on 17th December.

Other candidates who passed the primary screening process are Senator Abubakar Gada and former Minister of Sports Yusuf Suleiman, who resigned his ministerial position a fortnight ago to contest Sokoto's gubernatorial elections.

There had been speculation that Governor Wamako might receive similar treatment to that given to his Bayelsa State counterpart, Timipre Sylva. The Bayelsa incumbent failed the screening test for the November primary and so was unable to contest the election. Suspicions were that Wamako would also be “screened out” to pave the way for Suleiman, who is thought to be the president's preferred candidate for next year's gubernatorial election in Sokoto.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 16 December 2011

Egypt: Higher turnout for second stage of parliamentary elections

The second stage of the elections for the People's Assembly began on 14 th December in nine more governorates: Giza, Menufiya, Sharqiyya, Ismailia, Suez, Beni Sueif, Beheira, Sohag and Aswan.

Around 3,400 candidates are standing for a third of the 498 seats in parliament. A further ten in the 508-seat People's Assembly will be directly appointed by the military rulers. These typically go to women and Copts.

As in the previous round, one third of the seats are being contested on the first-past-the-post system for individual candidates while two thirds are being fought for along party lists according to proportional representation. Twice as many candidates are standing for half as many individual seats: 2,271 for 60 seats compared to 1,116 for the 120 awarded on party lists. The imbalance shows that a greater degree of party discipline is required for the list system.

Some last-minute adjustments to voting were made in answer to circumstances. Head of the High Elections Commission, Abdel Moez Ibrahim, ordered the postponement of voting for party lists in parts of Beheira, Sohag, and Menufiya, because of outstanding court rulings over the amalgamation of party lists. They will take place at the same time as the run-off elections on 21 st and 22 nd December.

Initial reports showed a high turnout although in the first round the initial turnout figure of 62 per cent was later corrected downwards to 52 per cent. A number of abuses and irregularities were reported but nothing like the brazen and wholesale fraud of elections in the Hosni Mubarak era.

Amr Hamzawi – a leading liberal who has the rare and unlikely distinction of being one of only four candidates to win outright in the first round of seats for individual candidates – said that liberals had to work harder to unify their ranks and pick the lists and the candidates most likely to win, if they are to maximise their impact at the ballot box in the complex voting system.

He noted that Liberals "need to avoid generating and sustaining the impression among Egyptians that we as the civil [secular] camp fear Islamists. Those who fear do not convince at the ballot box. It's a highly diverse (Islamist) camp and there are real points of tension between them. The Brotherhood has a strategic interest in generating and sustaining an image for the party and the movement as moderate. Salafists will challenge them".

He added that candidates have to get out on the streets and that "You have to count your potential voters by the number of hands you shake."

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 15 December 2011

'Reconciliation conference' in Tripoli

On 10th December, the National Transitional Council (NTC) opened a 'Reconciliation conference' in Tripoli which was attended by representatives from various regional groups and by overseas supporters such as Qatar and Tunisia. It was intended to address some of the regional and tribal issues which plague Libya.

Although the both NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and Prime Minister Abduraheem el-Keib, focused on reconciliation between the pro and anti-Qadhafi fighters, there are clearly strong regional ties to be addressed which will impact on the strength of any new national constitution.

The NTC also supported a conference in Doha which was discussing the emergence of a free and independent Libyan media. It was co-chaired by the NTC's vice-chairman, Abdul Hafez Ghoga, and was attended by experts from various associated fields. These included Oxford University's specialist on government media policies, Professor Robert G Picard, and the president of the International Centre for Journalists, Joyce Barnathan.

The conference's closing statement called for a free, open, and independent media and communications system with an independent regulator and a new system of media and journalism training. For the NTC this would be a clear sign to other countries that Libya can look different in a post-Qadhafi landscape.

A more immediate problem is disturbance and unrest that is still being caused by the militia groups that dominate Libya and particularly Tripoli. The head of the latter's local council, Abdel Rafik Bu Hajjar, announced on 6th December that Tripoli's residents and the rebels in the capital were being called on to disarm by 31st December. It was also announced that non-local groups of revolutionary fighters would be urged to leave Tripoli before 20th December. Tripoli's own military brigade is to be dissolved by 31st December. The feasibility of any of these deadlines is, however, in serious doubt.

Local protestors have taken to the streets in Tripoli to support the disarmament policy. In one demonstration, on 7th December, around 2,000 people gathered in Tripoli's Martyr's Square.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Prime Minister al-Maliki calls on US businesses to invest in Iraq

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on US businesses to invest in the country to help it recover from the war. The message comes as US troops prepare to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year.

Speaking during a visit to Washington, al-Maliki said that the country's security situation has improved; and that Iraq was now being led by a civil as oppose to a military government. At present, the US is the leading foreign investor in the country.

Al-Maliki is on an official visit to Washington with 40 Iraqi delegates in a bid to sign trade co-operation agreements. Speaking to the US Chamber of Commerce, he said that Iraq was keep to sign oil co-operation deals and also others in healthcare, telecommunications, construction and financial services. He added that business possibilities for US companies were “limitless” and that they were best suited to help boost the country's economy.

He said: "It is not now the generals but the businessmen and the corporations that are at the forefront…All sectors of the economy are there, open for business for American business."

US President Barack Obama met al-Maliki on Monday 13th December. Speaking after the meeting he said he believed the Iraqi economy would grow at an even faster rate than India or China.

He also confirmed that all US troops would withdraw from Iraq at the end of the year, but added that the two countries would maintain a close relationahip.

He said: "We've got an enormous investment of blood and treasure in Iraq…And we want to make sure that even as we bring the last troops out, that it's well understood, both in Iraq and here in the United States, that our commitment to Iraq's success is going to be enduring."

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Sustainable cocoa project launched as Ghana cocoa continues to command premium

Ghana's cocoa production is strong and it commands a premium over that produced elsewhere which rose in recent weeks to between US$130-US$165 per metric tonne compared to prices quoted on the NYSE Liffe exchange in London. The growing demand for “certified” cocoa has been recently noted by local officials including minister of finance Kwabena Duffour at an Accra cocoa conference in November. As previously reported in Ghana Politics and Security he noted the increasing Western preference for “certified” and often “organic” produce.

The Singapore based agricultural trader, Olam International, and Rainforest Alliance which certifies cocoa, have announced that they will together fund a US$1 million investment over the next three years to produce “sustainable” cocoa in Ghana which is certainly timely. They plan to train around 2000 farmers, significantly increase cocoa yields, and plant native trees to regenerate depleted forests in cocoa growing regions to help counter Ghana's annual deforestation rate of just over 2 per cent. The two - who have already implemented projects in Cote D'Ivoire, Nigeria and Indonesia, say that Ghanaian farmers should be able to claim an even greater premium for “certified” cocoa.

Despite a recent cocoa surplus and market price reductions caused mainly by high 2011 production in Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana, long term international cocoa demand should rise. The leading chocolate maker Barry Callebaut AG, claims that approximately one million more tonnes of cocoa per year – i.e. more than Ghana's currently production – will be needed to meet demand by 2020.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Minister urges foreign companies to employ Ghanaian nationals

Ghana's Energy Minister Joe Oteng-Adjei has warned Indian companies against bringing their own workforce to the country, urging them to employ locals. The minister made the comments shortly after signing an agreement with India's MBH Power and Shreem Electrical Limited in Accra. He said: "We don't expect you to bring in a ship-full of Indians to climb poles when we have more qualified people here who could as well perform the task."

Oteng-Adjei's comments are thought to have been made in a bid to help the country tackle high unemployment by inssitng that foreign companies working within Ghana take on local workers, especially in the energy and oil sectors.

The two Indian companies are expected to co-operate on a project to supply electricity to 110 communities across two regions as part of a $18-million national electrification project. The project, finance by Ecowas Bank for Investment and Development, is under the government's Self Help Electrification Project (SHEP) and will see an increase in supply of electricity across the Brong Ahafo and Ashanti regions within the next 18 months.

Oteng-Adjei also cautioned the companies over the mistreatment of Ghanaian emploees, saying: "The government would not hesitate to recall the company and its people, should they engage in acts of derogatory remarks and actions aimed at dehumanising indigenes in the beneficiary communities."

He added: "My advice, therefore, to you as contractors is to ensure that Ghanaians, particularly indigenes in the beneficiary communities, become involved in the execution of the project."

MBH Power managing director Bagu Mukhi said the processes for the award of the contract were transparent. He added that Ghana remained the country with most potential in Africa.

Sources: The Economic Times, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Gunfire near Tripoli airport threatens country's stability

According to Libyan officials, fierce gun battles broke out near the international airport in Tripoli. An unnamed army spokesman told Libyan TV that on Saturday 10th December two gunmen opened fire on a convoy accompanying army chief Maj Gen Khalifa Haftar. He added that it was an "isolated incident".

The attack was reportedly followed by further clashes along the road. The latest violence adds to concerns about the country's stability following the death of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi.

The reports are, however, conflicting. Some army officials have told AP news agency that the rebels belonging to the Zintan brigade - who control the airport - were behind the attack. But a member of the Zintan brigade, Abu Bakr al-Ahrash, told AFP that it was the army who attacked his unit near the airport.

He said: "They confiscated two pick-up trucks loaded with anti-aircraft guns. They tried to take control of the checkpoint. They wounded two of our fighters and arrested two others."

The clashes came on the same day as the country's governing National Transitional Council (NTC) held its first conference on national reconciliation. It has given militias in Tripoli until 31 December to disarm and leave the city.

Sources: BBC News, AP, AFP

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

Iran: Steel factory blast kills seven

According to Iranian media reports, an explosion at a steel factory has killed seven people including, foreign nationals. Iran's official news agency, Irna, reported that the blast in the city of Yazd was caused by discarded ammunition designated for scrap metal.

The blast occurred on Sunday 11th December. Irna reported that at least 12 other people were injured in the explosion. Speaking about the incident, the governor of Yazd Azizollah Seyfi said "several of those killed were foreign nationals".

Additionally, a local member of parliament Ali Akbar Oliaw, said there appeared to have been unexploded munitions in with the steel. He noted: "Among the scrap metal was ammunition which had not worked, and this caused the blast."

There has been a number of suspicious explosions in Iran this year at factories and military sites, which has prompted some to stipulate of the West's involvement in a bid to disrupt the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme.

Despite several rounds of sanctions, Iran is determined to persevere with its nuclear activities and insists that it is not building a nuclear bomb.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

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

Yemen: Al-Qa'ida militants break out of prison in Aden

Yemeni officials have confirmed that 12 Al-Qa'ida militants have broken out of prison in the southern city of Aden. The militants and two other accomplices escaped through a six metre tunnel dug from the yard at the city's central prison.

The officials added that the militants were being tried for bank robbery or were charged with assassinations of security officers. In June, al–Qa'ida members raided the central jail in the southern city Mukalla, freeing dozens of prisoners.

The security situation in the country is deteriorating. Yemen's army has been inovleved in ongoing fighting with al-Qa'ida militants around the country for months. Yemen is undergoing a political crisis, which has incited insurgency in the north, a separatist movement in the south, nationwide protests calling for reform and free elections and heavy conflicts between different factions in the capital Sana'a.

Last month, President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to to hand his powers to his deputy and quit within 90 days. The most violent finding between security forces and the militants were reported in the city of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province.

According to the UN, suspected Al-Qaeda fighters have displaced around 45,000 people in southern Yemen alone.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Monday, 12 December 2011

Algeria: National Assembly votes to maintain two-decade ban on FIS

As anticipated, the National Assembly (parliament) voted on 6th December to maintain the two-decade ban on the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS). This will ensure that the FIS is unable to participate in next March's parliamentary elections and, therefore, remains locked out of power. The FIS, it will be recalled, won the vast bulk of the seats in the December 1991 elections but the army stepped in to cancel the second round of voting in January 1992 in an effective coup d'état which brought the current regime to power.

The National Assembly vote did not actually mention the FIS by name. It merely upheld the ban on “any person responsible for the exploitation of religion having led to the national tragedy (civil war) from founding a party or participating in its creation”.

The continuation of the ban was widely expected, having been recommended by the presidential commission that was established in the spring. The Assembly also approved an amendment that stipulated a ban being extended to all persons who have “participated in terrorist acts and who refuse to recognise their responsibility in the conception, the preparation and the execution of a policy in favour of violence against institutions of the state”.

In Doha, the FIS' exiled veteran leader, Abassi Madani, said the decision “violated international conventions on political and civic rights”. He said that he was going to take the matter to the UN and other international bodies. Back in Algiers, his deputy, Ali Belhadj said that he would demonstrate publicly against the ruling. He and his brother, Abdelhamid Belhadj, were both taken into custody for a number of hours, before being released.

As a number of commentators remarked, the government had placed itself in a 'lose-lose' situation. Having spent the last few years telling the world that “the FIS doesn't represent anyone”, why did they feel it necessary to ban it? On the other hand, if they had allowed it to stand in the March 2012 elections there is the distinct probability that it would once again have won.

As it is, most Algerians will almost certainly boycott next year's election. Although the government will no doubt falsify the turnout figures, as it has done in every election this century, the 'real' turnout is anticipated at only being between 15 and 25 per cent.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 9 December 2011

Prime Minister El Ganzouri announced cabinet

Kamal El Ganzouri, appointed prime minister by the ruling military after the resignation of Essam Sharaf after the violent protests in Tahrir Square that were put down by force with 42 deaths, waited until the results of the first round of parliamentary elections were in before announcing his cabinet. His appointments, however, show that the election results counted for nothing in his deliberations. The cabinet consists of the usual mix of former senior civil servants and technocrats who can administer, rather than politicians with vision or, at least, courage to take policy decisions.

Islamists might have won the popular vote, but this has not been taken as any right to exercise power or responsibility through government. None of the new ministers is a member of one of the Islamist parties.

Nor has the 78 year-old Ganzouri, who was Mubarak's prime minister in the 1990s, gone for youth. Most of the appointees are in the autumn of their lives.

He has retained two Mubarak-era ministers: Hassan Younis for electricity and Fayza abu Naga, for international co-operation (and one of three women in cabinet). The defence minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi remains unchanged but since he appointed Ganzouri he is above question. Half the cabinet remain. They include foreign affairs and tourism.

There was some delay because of the difficulty of finding someone competent and suitable to be interior minister. Once again, the interior minister is not a civilian but a former police chief and one who has, like all such men, a history of brutality in the repression of dissent: General Mohamed Ibrahim, former head of the Giza Security Directorate.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Brazil: Ruckus over royalties, again

An 'official' protest act was organised on 10th November by the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Sérgio Cabral , against a bill already passed by the Senate and pending in Congress that will redistribute a large share of the royalties formerly due only to the hydrocarbon producing states.

The 27 states of Brazil as a whole stand to gain. The state of Rio de Janeiro will lose. Some 150,000 people rallied in downtown Rio to put pressure on the government. President Dilma Rousseff said as a candidate that, if elected, she would veto the reallocation of royalties if Congress granted them to the non-producing states. In Congress, however, the mood is heavily in favour of redistribution.

Governor Cabral may perhaps be excused for his manipulation of public opinion, since the stakes are very high indeed. Through to 2020 the state of Rio stands to lose R$125 billion. Instead of having the ICMS tax collected at the point of origin of oil and gas production (mostly in the Campos basin, within the waters of Rio), the bill would levy the tax at the destination (elsewhere in Brazil).

The impact of the new legislation would be even more catastrophic for the 12 municipalities of the state in whose offshore waters hydrocarbons are produced: up to 74.5 per cent of their municipal revenues come from royalties.

While most oil and gas production in Brazil comes from Rio, São Paulo, and Espírito Santo states, in whose territorial waters the Campos, Santos, and Espírito Santo basins lie, at least six northern and northeastern states may join their ranks: Amapá, Ceará, Maranhão, Pará, Piauí, and Rio Grande do Norte. Others, like Alagoas, Amazonas, and Sergipe, show similar potential. The issue is therefore one of overriding national interest. Rousseff intervened in mid-November to postpone the Chamber of Deputies vote on the royalties issue to 2012. Thus, oil-producing states like Rio will continue to enjoy their privileged access to royalties for a while. Rousseff prefers to let tempers cool as the issue risks splitting the ruling coalition, which she cannot afford. For the government, other issues take precedence and must be voted on before the end of this year. Bills on the World Soccer Cup (Lei Geral da Copa), the federal budget, and DRU (the reallocation of budgetary appropriations) are up first.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Libya's new cabinet formed

On 4th December, the remaining government ministers were inaugurated into Prime Minister Abduraheem el-Keib's cabinet. Among the new ministers were Defence Minister Osama Juwaili and Oil Minister Abdul Rahman Ben Yezza. (See Libya P&S - 30.11.11 for further details on the task facing the new Oil Minister)

Also taking up his portfolio was Fathi Terbil as the new Minister for Youth and Sport. Terbil – the lawyer representing the families of the Abu Selim prison massacre whose arrest sparked the February 2011 revolution - reportedly told Reuters that he had been unsure about accepting the portfolio. Indeed, the rumours in the previous week suggested that he had resigned before taking up his post. According to the interview, Terbil had initially turned the position down because of his links to the National Transitional Council's (NTC) original Executive Committee. He also told Reuters that family and friends had advised him against taking the post.

Defence Minister Colonel Osama Juwaili, from Zintan, is facing a stiff challenge in drawing up plans to resolve the problems surrounding the country's numerous militias. It is almost universally agreed that it is essential to disarm all the volunteer fighters currently on Libya's streets and to bring both the 50,000 militia men and the various regional security forces under one central control. This challenge does not, however, only fall under his portfolio, and new Interior Minister Fawzi Taher Abdela'ali has suggested that the security forces will involve the assimilation of anti-Qadhafi fighters into both the Interior and Defence forces.

This process has already begun and is being assisted by the French police who have been training former revolutionary fighters. It is rumoured that a policy for completing the process will be announced shortly.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Yemen: Nexen may leave, Total hopes for extension

Canadian oil company Nexen, which has been active in Yemen since 1987, has announced that it is “reconsidering” its position after it was prevented from renewing its concession for the Masila oil field, which was due to end on 17th December. The company said that, “while we are disappointed we did not receive an extension, we are proud of the accomplishments we’ve achieved there. Our operations at Masila have generated significant value for our company, enabling us to deploy the cash flow to build our current portfolio of legacy assets.” The government has set up Masila Company for Petroleum Exploration and Production (PetroMasila) to take over the field and its proceeds will go to the ministry of finance. Production at the field has dropped to only about 10 per cent of its 2003 peak of 225,000 b/d. Nexen still has another small field at East Al- Hajr, producing 6,000–8,000 b/d.

Earlier this year, Yemeni government sources were signalling that the concession would be renewed. More recently, Nexen indicated that it was planning for a withdrawal should negotiations fail, suggesting that it did not expect to win. It is possible that the government desperately needs as much revenue as it can get from the field to make up for the reduction in income as Yemen’s other oil exports fall. The opposition says that the people will not see any of the money, as it will be squandered by the regime for political purposes.

The affair sends a very bad signal to other companies still looking to enter Yemen, either to farm into existing concessions or try to get new ones. Others are interested in Yemen’s considerable mining potential. Yemen clearly needs to do all it can to encourage foreign investment in both building on the promise of the transition arrangements and the international willingness to help Yemen overcome its problems.

Gas exports, which will be of increasing importance to Yemen, have not been interrupted. Total is negotiating arrangements over its oil concessions. This will no doubt be helped by the high-profile (for Yemen in these dangerous days) visit by the French ambassador to its Block 10 field in Hadhramaut.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

President Mills calls for UN to support peaceful elections in Ghana

Echoing calls in recent weeks for Ghana's elections to be free and fair, President John Atta Mills – speaking at its New York headquarters - asked the UN to provide its support in ensuring they are peaceful and unbiased. He said: “I will not allow Ghana to burn under my watch and want the UN to support me in my endeavour”.

Mills also emphasised that those seeking to “destroy our peace and stability” would be “dealt with decisively,” and that he was less focused on simply being president than being committed to improving Ghanaian living standards and ensuring “peace and harmony”. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon pledged support to Ghana's democracy and commended Mills for his role in supporting peace in Cote D'Ivoire.

Coincidentally, a representative of the United Nations Development Programme stated at an event in Accra - co-organised with the African Union, UNECA - that “Africans must begin to move away from the negative electoral tag of violence”, and “champion the good stories of Ghana and other African countries”. A local UN coordinator also highlighted the importance of examples like Ghana and Zambia for politicians and other participants in other African countries.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Iraq: Deadly bomb attacks leave 30 dead

Iraqi officials say at least 30 people have been killed in a series of bomb attacks targeting Shi'a pilgrims celebrating the festival of Ashura. This has been one of the deadliest number of attacks to date. A car full of explosives blew up as a procession of pilgrims passed through the al-Nil area, north of the city of Hilla.

According to local security officials 16 people were killed, among them women and children. Later, in two separate attacks at least 11 pilgrims died when a bomb went off in the capital city of Baghdad. And in another separate incident at least eight were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near a convoy of pilgrims in the northern district of Urr, while the other three were killed in Mashtal, in the city's east.

Explosive devices were also detonated near groups of pilgrims in the centre of Hilla and in the town of Latifiya, to the north, also leaving three people dead.

The violence came a day before the commencement of the religious festival , which has been a cause of sectarian violence since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is estimated that almost 200 people were killed in November, some are worried that the ongoing violence will increase when more than 10,000 US troops withdraw from the country by the end of the year.

Sources: Reuters, BBC News, WSJ

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

Yemen: Outbreaks of violence in Taez leave seven dead

Yemeni army and anti-government groups and tribal fighters have once again clashed in the city of Taez. Medical officials have told the BBC that seven people had been killed in the latest fighting, bringing the death toll to 30 since Thursday 1st December.

Taez, Yemen's second city, has been a site of major unrest during months of ongoing protests against President Abdullah Saleh's rule. Experts fear that the latest outbreaks of violence might threaten the power-transfer agreement recently signed by the president.

The deal reached last month saw Saleh hand over power to Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution

The Yemeni government is reportedly deploying einforcements to Taez in order to reinstall order in the city.

Although Saleh is no longer officially in power, he has recently made several announcements that have made many question his motives.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Egypt: Low turnout for parliamentary elections

Egyptians are voting in a second round of parliamentary elections. So far, the turnout has been low in the nine governorates holding run-offs, where a total of 52 seats are being contested.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won 36.6 per cent of the 9.7m ballots cast last week, while the Salafist al-Nour Party with 24.4 per cent. These are the first democratic elections in over three decades, and since the ousting on former president Hosni Mubarak.

Further waiting is set to take place later this month and in January. Egypt electoral system dictates that two-thirds of the 498 seats in the lower house of parliament, the People's Assembly, will be picked through proportional representation, using lists drawn up by parties and alliances.

The remainder of the seats are selected via the first-past-the-post-system, with individual candidates required win more than 50 per cent of the votes to avoid a run-off contest.

Only four seats were won outright in the first round, the remainder 52 are to be decided in the secondary round. Twenty four of the seats are being contested by the FJP and al Nour.

On Sunday 4th December, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned from politics during Mubarak's three-decade rule, urged its rivals not to contest last week's results.

The FJP's deputy leader, Essam al-Erian said: “We all believe that our success as Egyptians toward democracy is a real success and we want everyone to accept this democratic system. This is the guarantee for stability."

The secular Egyptian Bloc came third in the first round with 13.4 per cent of the vote, followed by the liberal Wafd Party with 7.1 per cent and the moderate Islamist Wasat Party with 4.3 per cent. The Revolution Continues, a group formed by youth activists behind the uprising that ousted Mubarak in February, won 3.5 per cent.

BBC News, AP, AFP, Reuters

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

Monday, 5 December 2011

Algeria: A new political map of North Africa

An editorial in the DRS-controlled daily, Ennahar, on 28th November, described Algeria as “surrounded by Islamism in the east and terrorism in the south.”

The result of France's 'good war' in Libya, and Algeria's duplicity in the Sahel, have created what the Algerian regime now sees as a new political map of the Maghreb and Sahel. In its bitter invective, Ennahar described how these events have enabled France “to re-establish its influence in its former Sahel colonies and to install political systems that obey her in Libya, Tunisia and Morocco.” This new political map represents, in the eyes of Algeria's rulers, the revival of France”. Algeria now sees itself as the “the only country outside the circle, surrounded from the east and the west by pro-France Islamist governments, from the southeast by a country ruled by armed gangs after the fall of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi and from the extreme south by weak regimes that cannot disobey orders from the Elysée.”

Most analysts would argue that Ennahar's analysis is exaggerated and a reflection of the neurosis of Algeria's rulers. Certainly, neither Morocco, nor Tunisia and Libya 'obey' France, while it is a moot point whether the Sahel states would be more inclined to disobey orders from Washington or Paris.

Nevertheless, elements within the Algerian regime are clearly angered by the situation in which they now find themselves, with the result that we are more than likely to see that anger being manifest in further action (i.e. 'terrorism') against French interests in the Sahel.

Indeed, the Ennahar 'analysis' raises the question of whether the kidnap of two Frenchmen at Hombori in Mali on 24th November, followed by the shooting of a European tourist and the kidnap of three others in Timbuktu the next day, might be the first salvoes in an expression of renewed antagonism towards France, its influence and interests in the region and perhaps, in the light of the Libyan rebellion, NATO itself.

These latest terrorist incidents in the Sahel are analysed in depth in the December issue of Sahara Focus. However, they do have major implications for Algeria.

While almost all media reports, especially those in Algeria, have assumed that the attacks have been undertaken by Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

our information from Gao, Timbuktu and Goundam, is that the attacks were most likely undertaken by Tuareg. That does not exclude possible AQIM involvement, nor the possibility that the five hostages will end up in the hands of AQIM.

According to local people in the region, however, at this stage it appears that the Tuareg who were involved, were returnees from Libya and were probably from Qadhafi's army or mercenaries. Local people believe that their primary motives were to seek revenge against France and NATO for the toppling of Qadhafi, and with the possibility of making some money on the side.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 2 December 2011

Chevron shuts down one of its production wells

Brazil's National Petroleum Agency (ANP) has ordered Chevron to shut down one of its 11 production wells and four produced water injection wells at its off-shore Frade joint-venture floating production-storage and offloading facility.

The move follows ANP's safety audit of the trade facility in late November. The production well cited by the ANP accounts for less than 10 per cent of trade total production of about 79,000 b/d. The company says all trade production and injection wells are safe and secure, and it continues to fully work with the Brazilian government agencies to address their specific issues.

Chevron conducts regular monitoring of the substance, a natural by-product of the
oil and gas production process. The company has safety systems and processes in place to ensure the utmost security at all times.

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

Nigeria: Seven Energy seeking investors

Seven Energy is seeking finance by divesting some of its shares. The indigenous company is headed by Philip Ihenacho, a British/Nigerian lawyer with interests in the finance sector. Ihenacho co-founded Afrinvest West Africa (AWA), which is also up for sale, and is also the co-founder of Amaya Capital Partners.

Seven Energy is offering a total of 73,302 units of its shares, in lots of 30,000 units and an odd lot of 3,302 units, by way of a private placement. The offer price is $350 per unit, with a 1 per cent placement fee. A special purpose vehicle, AFP Hydrocarbon Investment, has been set up for the divestment.

According to Seven Energy, the divestment represents an opportunity for investors to gain exposure to the Nigerian oil and gas industry. Earlier in the year, Seven's subsidiary Septa Energy acquired a lucrative strategic alliance agreement for the 55 per cent interest that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) assigned to its subsidiary, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), for two oil blocks previously owned and operated by Shell and its partners Eni and Total .

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Iraq: Al-Maliki at a low ebb as regional autonomy demands grow

Iraq is lurching into yet another crisis. Things seem to be going from bad to worse and the optimism that accompanied the run-up to last year's elections is but a distant memory. Not only is the country still paralysed by an interminable political stalemate that has the various blocs at each other's throats, but the security situation is worsening by the week. The latest string of bombings and suicide attacks to hit the country is yet another reminder that, for all his pre-election promises, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has been unable to halt the tide of violence. It is also a reminder that the power sharing agreement drawn up after the March 2010 elections was not really a solution at all.

Rather it amounted to a quick fix that brought all sides together at the lowest common denominator in the interests of getting an agreement.

To make matters worse, calls from a number of governorates for the formation of autonomous regions are growing, placing additional pressures on the already beleaguered PM. Al- Maliki is desperately trying to hold things together, as Iraq's national unity is being seriously challenged for the first time.

Yet the premier knows that things are about to get a lot worse. The withdrawal of US troops at the end of the year will leave the country even more vulnerable to violence and to meddling by other regional powers. Iraqis are bracing themselves for what they believe will be a very rough ride.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Libya: Reaction to El-Keib's new cabinet remains mixed

The domestic reaction to Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib's new cabinet has continued to be mixed, although the majority opinion is probably negative. There has been quiet criticism of what is perceived as a largely weak body.

One of the reasons for this is that the new ministers had to declare that they had no future political ambitions. This had the result that those powerful individuals who want to take part in the 2012 elections, or the subsequent presidential elections, could not be part of the interim government.

While the international community is relieved that there are no major Islamic figures in key portfolios, the domestic audience has found plenty to criticise.

In particular, it is rumoured that the Berber population, which felt itself very badly treated during Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's rule, is unhappy with their lack of representation in the cabinet in which Misrata alone has 5-6 ministers. So, too, is the east, and particularly Benghaz, which argues that it was the cradle of the revolution but has once again been marginalised.

Reported Berber protests, particularly in Benghazi and Tripoli, culminated in a forced meeting between their representatives and Prime Minister El-Keib on 27th November. Rumours maintain that, despite the meeting, the Berber/Amazigh Council of the predominantly Berber Zuwara area has temporarily broken with the National Transitional Council (NTC), although this has not been officially confirmed.

There have also been rumours that Youth and Sports Minister Fathi Terbi resigned his post after two days. According to several reports, he resigned on 25th November following public opposition to his appointment.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates