Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Turkey-Iran finalise energy roadmap


Energy Minister Majid Namjoo announced on 3rd May at a joint press conference in Ankara with Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz that Iran and Turkey have finalised an energy roadmap aimed at promoting investment and cooperation between the two neighbours. Namjoo stated that the agreement will have a "promising prospect" for Iran–Turkey energy transactions, boosting the two countries' electricity transmission capacity from "the current 500 MW to 1,000 MW."

According to analysts, Iran has several important reasons for seeking to increase its electricity cooperation with neighbouring countries. First, selling electricity instead of gas and crude oil will give Iran added value for its exports. Second, such exports allow Iran to maintain its energy balance as it exports gas and consumes electricity in the summer (when domestic gas demand is low), and exports electricity and consumes gas in the winter (when domestic electricity demand is low).

Lastly, by connecting its grid to neighbouring countries, Iran is making it more difficult for its energy sector to be placed under sanctions, as neighbouring countries would find it difficult to replace their reliance on Iran's electricity exports and would therefore resist or circumvent such measures by the international community.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Algiers' central role in Sahel's escalating security chaos

An extremely complex and potentially very serious state of affairs is fast developing in the Sahel, focusing primarily on Mali, but extending through Mauritania and Niger and, increasingly, Chad.

Full details and analysis of this situation will be provided in the June issue of Sahara Focus. The main points are:

There has been the appearance of a rapprochement between Algeria and these Sahelian states over the course of the last two or three months. This has been largely coerced by external powers, namely the EU and the US.
In October 2010, the EU Foreign Affairs Council, concerned by AQIM activity in the Sahel, placed the region at the top of its security agenda. It then commissioned a very detailed in-depth report on the region, which was researched and written by the author of Menas Associates' Algeria Politics & Security.
This report highlighted the role of Algeria, through its links with AQIM, in the Sahel's destabilisation. Although the full report has not been published, its key points were 'leaked' to Algeria, with the implicit message that its position in the Sahel could be undercut by EU intervention.
A similar message was relayed to Algeria by the US, which is not pleased with either Algeria's support for Libya's Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi, its increasing belligerency towards and falling out with almost all its neighbours, and its over-hyping and exaggeration of the Al-Qa'ida threat in the region.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

President Jonathan approves 2011 budget

The 2011 budget has finally received President Goodluck Jonathan's assent and that he signed it in Lagos State on Monday 22nd May.

He had accused the House of Representatives of padding the budget and stated that he did not trust the House to pass the amendments that he made to the budget. He therefore only reluctantly signed the budget after having made several deductions especially from the budget of the National Assembly, in order to end the six-month long impasse.

The budget has now been passed back to the National Assembly as an Act so that the presidential amendments can be effected.

The total cost of the 2011 budget is N4,407,052,300,582 (US$28.142 billion. Of this amount:

N387,824,288,743 (US$2.467 billion) is for Statutory Transfers
N495,096,682,115 (US$3.162 billion) is for Debt Service
N2,401,330,677,943 (US$15.34 billion) is for Recurrent
Expenditure; and N1,122,800,651,781 (US$7.170 billion) is for Capital Expenditure.
The unpopular Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dieziani Alison-Madueke, is desperately lobbying to be retained in her portfolio in the president's new cabinet. As part of her lobbying effort she recently sponsored a paid advertisement in national dailies purported to be from a national women's group, praising her achievements as the first female minister in the influential and highly lucrative Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

Insiders and many oil industry insiders are opposed to her because they are fed up with having to silently suffer through what they believe is her unprofessional and demanding approach. She is famed for throwing tantrums and exploiting her personal relationship with Jonathan to her advantage. She has been embroiled in several “cash for approval” scandals.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 27 May 2011

Algeria: Public spending set to rise by 25 per cent

The authorities recognise that how they deal with socio-economic challenges is of the utmost political importance, and this is reflected in additional funding contained in the supplementary finance law for 2011, approved by the cabinet this month. State spending is set to rise from AD6,618 billion to AD8,275 billion – a hefty 25 per cent increase. As finance minister Karim Djoudi explained, the spending hike is required to support the decisions reached by the government in February to alleviate the rising cost of living, to create job opportunities for young people and to promote economic productivity.

Included in the budget is funding for credits to enable access to housing and to finance, and to provide more sources of finance for citizens in need. Some AD400 billion has been set aside for civil servants' salaries and AD178 billion to fund extra subsidies for foods such as wheat, oil, milk and sugar. This means that the bill for subsidies will rise from AD93 billion to AD271 billion for the current year. Djoudi insists that the level of public spending is “sustainable”, and will remain so until 2014–15.

A 20 per cent increase in the state's non-hydrocarbons revenues in recent years would alleviate the impact of the extra spending on the state budget. “Today, what is important for us is to make sure that public resources are a lever for economic growth, job creation and greater equality in the social sphere,” Djoudi told a press conference on 5th May.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Libya: Transitional National Council reshuffles

On 12th May, the Transitional National Council (TNC) had a major reshuffle and created a new body, the executive board, with portfolios allocated across the main sectors. It is believed that it chose the term executive board to avoid accusations that it was trying to become a government in waiting.

The executive board chair is Mahmoud Jibril, the former head of the National Planning Council, who had been prominent in the TNC as number two in the pecking order. Jibril, who is also responsible for international affairs, seems to be emerging as the most important figure within the opposition, fast overshadowing council head Mustafa Jalil.

Although the retiring Jalil has stepped up his game in recent weeks, and in response to criticism of his leadership style has been more active, he still does not have the leadership qualities of Jibril.

Former finance secretary and ambassador to India Ali al-Issawi has been made Jibril's deputy on the executive board. Ali al-Tarhuni has been given responsibility for finance and oil. Al-Tarhuni, an economist from Tarhouna, was involved in the student opposition in the early days of Qadhafi's revolution, causing him to flee Libya in 1973. He was later sentenced to death in absentia.

He settled in the US, where he gained a PhD from Michigan State University. In 1985 he took up a post as senior lecturer in business economics at the University of Washington, where by all accounts he was a popular figure, known for his engaging teaching style and his wit. His wife is a lawyer with the Washington State attorney general's office.

While in the US, al-Tarhuni continued to be active in the Libyan opposition abroad and he was a member of the political committee of the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition, established at a major opposition conference held in London in June 2005.

So far, al-Tarhuni has gained a reputation for being one of the few opposition appointees willing to speak frankly about the movement's shortcomings and challenges.

Abdullah Shamia has been made responsible for economics. Shamia graduated from Benghazi University in 1973 with a degree in economics. He also spent time in the United States, gaining a PhD in the philosophy of economy from Washington University in 1984. He returned to Libya and in 1997 was appointed a professor of economy at Gar Younis University in Benghazi.

Shamia, who has been an advocate of privatisation and economic restructuring, was also a senior figure in the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and a member of its shura council. He was arrested in 1998 in the regime's mass campaign against the Brotherhood and convicted of belonging to a banned organisation. He was released in 2006 along with some 100 members of the group through Saif al-Islam's 'reform and repent' programme for Islamist prisoners.

Mustafa Jalil remains as head of the TNC but Abdelhafed Abdelkader Ghoga, who is also spokesman for the council, has been made his deputy.

It is not clear how the TNC and its executive board interact. However, the TNC is the over-arching body that is supposed to represent all of Libya and to lead the country until elections are held – and as such is more akin to a kind of parliament – while the executive board operates more like a government.

Transitional National Council

Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil Chair
Abdelhafed Abdelkader Ghoga Vice-chair, spokesman, and representative of Benghazi
Othman Suleiman El-Megyrahi Batnan area
Ashour Hamed Bourashed Derna
Zubiar Ahmed El-Sharif Representative of political prisoners
Ahmed Abduraba al-Abaar Economics
Fathi Mohamed Baja Political affairs and Benghazi
Suleiman al-Fortiya Misrata
Mohamed al-Muntasir Misrata
Fathi Terbil Youth
Salwa Fawzi El-Deghali Legal and women's affairs
Abdelallah Moussa El-Myehoub Legal and women's affairs and Qouba area
Omar Hariri Military affairs
TNC executive board

Mahmoud Jibril Chair and head of international affairs
Ali al-Issawi Vice-chair
Ahmed Hussein al-Darrat Internal affairs and local government
Mahmoud Shamam Media
Naji Barakat Health
Mohammed al-Allagi Justice and human rights
Hania al-Gumati Health
Abdullah Shamia Economics
Ali al-Tarhuni Finance and oil
Anwar al-Faytouri Transport and communications
Abulgassim Nimr Environment
Attia al-Aujali Culture and community
Abdulsalam al-Shikhy Religious affairs and endowments
Ahmed al-Jehani Reconstruction and infrastructure
TBD Education.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Egypt: Essam Sharaf calls for patience

Egypt's interim prime minister Essam Sharaf has called for patience. He urged Egypt to give the government time, saying: "It is difficult, even impossible, for us to deal with and realise all factional demands...on an individual basis," he said. "The problem isn't financial problems only. A lot of (the problems) depend on institutional and administrative reform. I hope that you cooperate with us and give us time to meet these demands in a way that is fair for all."

The protesters, however, do not like the way thousands are arrested and tried before military courts; that the government seems to have done so little other than condone the persecution of former regime officials.

Their expectations are impossibly high. There remains a naive belief that somehow Egypt will be able to recover the billions taken out of the country by its former rulers, senior officials and corrupt businessmen and that this will be redistributed to the poor and needy.

It will not happen.

The pledges of aid from international donors may give some temporary relief. But, the underlying economic structural imbalances of the Egyptian economy remain daunting.

Critics of the type of structural adjustment programme proposed by the International Monetary Fund say that it led to labour unrest in the textile industry which, in turn, helped fuel the protests that brought down the regime. But the alternative to neo-liberal economic policies, the kind of state control of the economy that appears to be the default position of the finance minister and others in the cabinet, will not generate the economic growth that is needed to provide jobs for the extra half million young people entering the labour market each year.

Egypt needs some plain speaking. There is hardship, and lots of it, ahead.

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

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Tullow to acquire EO Group's Ghanaian interests

On Thursday 26th May, Tullow announced that it was going to acquire EO Group's interests in offshore Ghana, for a combined share and cash consideration of $305 million. The acquisition will increase the company's interest in the West Cape Three Points licence by 3.5 per cent to 26.4 per cent and the company's interest in the Jubilee Oil field by 1.75 per cent to 36.5 per cent.

The date of the transaction is 1st December 2010. The agreement is conditional on the receipt of various approvals and assurances, including from the Government of Ghana. Upon completion, an application will be made to the UK Listing Authority and the Irish Stock Exchange for the shares to be admitted to the official list bodies.

Speaking about the deal, Tullow's Chief Executive Aidan Heavey said: “This acquisition represents an excellent opportunity to extend our interest in these high-quality assets in Ghana. Following our exploration and production successes over the last few years, which culminated in First Oil in late 2010, this purchase further demonstrates Tullow's long-term commitment to Ghana and our belief in its significant remaining potential.”

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

Sudan: Gunmen open fire on UN helicopters

A UN spokesperson, Hua Jiang, has said that gunmen from an Arab tribe fired at four UN helicopters taking off from the disputed town of Abyei. Jiang said the incident occurred late in the evening on Tuesday 24th May, she added that none of the helicopters were hit despite being targeted repeatedly.

Only days ago, the UN reported that Abyei had been set on fire, with looting and violence spreading throughout the area. News of the situation preceded UN's call on Sudan to immediately withdraw its armed forces from the region.

According to several sources, Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir gave northern troops the "green light" to attack southern forces if provoked.

Both North and South Sudan claim oil rich Abyei but the region's status is yet to be established, after a referendum on its future was shelved.

The seizure of Abyei by the North has confirmed concerns that violence may escalate between the two sides, which fought a twenty year civil war that ended with a peace treaty in 2005. The North said it acted after 22 of its men were killed in a southern ambush earlier this week.

South Sudan is set to become independent in July, after the majority of South Sudanese people voted in favour of secession in January. There are concerns, however, that the transition may be hindered by the on-going political turmoil.

According to the French ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, the North army's military operation “threatens to undermine the mutual commitment of the parties to avoid a return to war.”

Sources: AP, The Independent , AFP, Fox News

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

Yemen: US withdraws diplomats as fighting gets worse

It is estimated that more than 70 people have died during three days of violent clashes between Yemen's Hashid tribe fighters and security troops. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has once again refused to resign despite increasingly violent protests.

The clashes began in Sana'a's northern region, near the home of tribal leader Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmar. Former supporter of Saleh, Sheikh Ahmar joined protests against his rule in March. The fighting, which reportedly lasted over six hours, also involved machine-guns, grenades and tanks.

In view of the speedily deteriorating situation in the country, the US has ordered all its embassy staff to leave Yemen immediately. The US State Department released a stamen, saying: "The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest. There is on-going civil unrest throughout the country and large-scale protests in major cities… US citizens currently in Yemen should depart while commercial transportation is available."

The situation in Yemen seems to be escalating; many fear the prospect of a civil war. Saleh, however, remains defiant refusing to step down. Discussions about the on-going crisis in the country and arrangements for Saleh's departure broke down on Wednesday 18th May, when the president once again refused to sign the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) mediated deal which would have allowed him to leave office in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

On Wednesday 25th May, US President Barack Obama said Saleh should "move immediately on his commitment to transfer power". UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon added that he was "deeply troubled" by the violence and called on all sides to find a peaceful solution.

Sources: BBC News, The Guardian, CNN

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

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Libya: Failure to take Misrata has damaged the regime

The current lull in the war is not a harbinger of peace. On the contrary, the stalemate over Misrata has greatly damaged the regime where, despite overwhelming advantages, they have failed, so far, to take the city. Other minor fronts are still active, notably Zintan where Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's forces still prevail.

Unrest still pervades Misrata as the opposition seek to drive back the regime troops in the Zliten and Khoms region which are regarded, for defensive purposes, as the outliers of Tripoli. The overall chances of peace are slim and both sides are licking their wounds and preparing for the next round of fighting.

The disruption of civil life extends well into Tripolitania where shortages, particularly of fuel, are causing major stress in the population. The run-down of the efficiency of other aspects of the economy from foodstuffs to banking are apparent. Libyan operations are difficult for foreign personnel and, no doubt, unprofitable.

Security for inland sites has not been established and there is little or no security for foreigners travelling in any proximity to the militarised areas even if they have security support. The southern borderlands around Zintan are the scene of severe fighting and should be avoided at all costs.

The immediate future looks very poor for foreign stakeholders in both contracting and machinery supply. In part, this is the result of the UN sanctions and but also because the import system is being bypassed by the government in favour of ad hoc purchases from suppliers who will attempt to import goods without validation.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Iran: Soltanieh dismisses IAEA's latest report

One of Iran's senior nuclear officials Ali Asghar Soltanieh has publically dismissed the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) latest report on the country's nuclear programme. Speaking to IRNA news agency, Soltanieh said: “The report brings up repetitive and boring content... based on unfounded allegations and speculation regarding some activities with supposed military objectives…The agency's scientific and professional reputation will without a doubt be damaged for dealing with these accusations, failing to provide solid evidence, and seeking political objectives."

On Tuesday 24th May, the IAEA said it was assessing new data on Iran's nuclear activities which could potentially reveal previously “undisclosed” atomic intentions. AFP news agency, who obtained a copy of the report, said there were indications that the alleged work in Iran "may have continued beyond 2004."

Iran has always maintained that its nuclear programme was intended for civil uses, rather than for the development of military weapons. The international community, however, has continued to fear that the Islamic Republic is pursuing a nuclear weapons programme despite four rounds of UN sanctions.

Soltanieh added that the report showed Iran was "successfully" implementing its uranium enrichment programme, saying: "It has been clearly noted in the report that our nuclear activities, including enrichment, are being conducted successfully under supervision of the agency."

Sources: AFP, Press TV, Fars News Agency, IRNA

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

Ghana: Battle for NDC presidential nomination is a tree horse race

Having turned the battle for the presidential nomination of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) into a three horse race, Ekwow Spio-Garbrah is working hard to secure maximum political advantage. The former education minister never hid his political ambitions, and styles himself as the leader of the next generation of NDC politicians. Party insiders are puzzling over his tactics.

As a close confidante of both Jerry and Nana Rawlings, he has attracted accusations of taking a stalking horse role on behalf of his allies. On this calculation, Ekow-Garbrah, a Fante technocrat from Central Region was reckoned to be able to take votes from President John Atta Mills who, among other things, is seen as a Fante technocrat drawing substantial support from his Central Region base.

There has been no love lost between Mills and Spio-Garbrah since the 2008 NDC presidential nomination when Mills trounced Spio-Garbrah and has locked him out of the government ever since.

Three things could happen after the July NDC contest and all of them would be good for Spio-Garbrah: firstly, and most likely he could poll enough votes to reinforce his position within the party making it impossible for Mills to continue to lock him out; he could either emerge as king (winning the nomination outright) after several rounds of voting; or he could emerge as kingmaker, using his votes to secure victory for Nana Rawlings and perhaps getting a role as running mate.

On the debit side, if he loses, Mills will grant him no favours and he will continue be locked out. The big test for Spio-Garbrah is whether he has an independent base in the party or whether his support will depend on some sort of deal with Nana Rawlings.

A popular theory in Accra is that Nana Rawlings will drop out of the race about a week before the special congress, but endorse Spio-Garbrah as the face of the new generation. She would do so to avoid public humiliation by Mills but also in the hope that her 31 December women's movement will deliver all the female delegate votes to Spio-Garbrah, and that he might get a respectable showing and fatally wound Mills.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Mubarak and sons to be tried for killing demonstrators

Egyptian officials have announced that ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons are to be tried for ordering the deaths of anti-government protesters. Mubarak, who stepped-down in February, is being detained at a hospital, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, along with this wife Suzanne.

Mubarak's two sons, Alaa and Gamal, are under detention in Cairo's Tora prison. They also face fraud charges. All three have been charged with "premeditated murder of some participants in the peaceful protests of the 25th January revolution”. The charges were issued by Egypt's prosecutor general after the most recent calls on Friday 20th May for the Mubarak family to be brought to justice.

It is estimated that more than 800 people were killed during anti-government protests that ousted Mubarak. Many suspect the family has accrued a large fortune, worth tens of billion, but the Mubaraks deny these allegations. Their bank accounts in the capital, as well as those in Switzerland, have been frozen. Suzanne Mubarak has also agreed to hand-over $3 million worth of assets to the State following an investigation over corruption charges.

Since Mubarak's resignation, several minister linked to the regime have been put on trial. Earlier this month, former interior minister Habib Al-Adly got 12 years on charges of money-laundering and profiteering. He also faces charges of ordering the killings of demonstrators.

Sources: BBC News, Houston Chronicle, Sydney Morning Herald

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

Yemen: Hashid tribe clashes with security forces

Yemeni officials have said that three people have been killed and 25 injured during violent clashes between security forces and members of the country's powerful Hashid tribe in Sana'a.

The clashes occurred in the capital's northern region, near the home of tribal leader Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmar. Former supporter of President Abdullah Saleh, Sheikh Ahmar joined protests against his rule in March. The fighting, which reportedly lasted over six hours, also involved machine-guns, grenades and tanks.

The Associated Press news agency reported that security forces and tribesmen traded fire with guns and rocket propelled grenades outside the country's interior ministry. Some witnesses reported that Yemeni Airlines offices were set on fire.

According to Yemeni officials, two tribal fighters were killed, as well as one civilian, and 25 others wounded. A spokesman for Sheikh Ahmar said the security forces attempted to raid the Hashid leader's residence and were subsequently fought-off by the tribesmen.

The violence, most ferocious since the popular uprising began, comes several days after Saleh's refusal to sign a Gulf-brokered transition deal for the third time. As a result, the Gulf Co-operation Council suspended the initiative citing "a lack of suitable conditions".

The EU voiced its concern over Saleh's "repeated failure" to keep his promise, while US President Barack Obama said: "President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power.''

The deal, which would have allowed Saleh to step-down in exchange for immunity from prosecution, was reportedly rebuffed by the president because of immense international pressure. France called Saleh's move "irresponsible".

Sources: BBC News, The Associated Press, AFP

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

Iran: Abadan refinery hit by blast during Ahmadinejad visit

At least one person has been killed and 20 injured during an explosion which ripped through an oil refinery the southern Iranian port city of Abadan. The blast went-off on Tuesday 24th May, while Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was on site to inaugurate a new gasoline production unit.

According Fars news agency, the blast was caused by a technical problem. Firefighters were on site almost immediately to get the fire, which resulted from the explosion, under control. Another Iranian news agency, reported that the explosion was caused by a gas leakage in one of the refinery units, and added that a number of refinery employees suffered gas intoxication.

The development plan for the refinery stipulates that it will be producing premium 94 octane gasoline, with production reaching 72 million litres per day by 2012.

Last week, Ahmadinejad sacked three ministers as part of a bigger plan to merge several ministries. The country's Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi was one of the officials removed from office, his post momentarily taken over by the president. In a televised address, Ahmadinejad said: “The Iranian government and Parliament (Majlis) have consensus on the Oil Ministry merger…I am the caretaker for the Oil Ministry.”

Sources: BBC News, AFP, FT, Press TV

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

NATO increases pressure on Qadhafi with more air strikes

According to a number of sources, NATO's planes have launched a series of heavy air raids on Tripoli, which has seen three people dead and many injured in an attack on army barracks.

The strikes followed an announcement by France that it along with the UK would deploy attack helicopters to fortify the air strike campaign. Heavy explosions hit Libya's capital, as one strike was quickly followed by another.

NATO has said it bombed a transport depot near Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's, Bab Al-Aziziya, compound which had been used by his forces in attacks on civilians. The use of attack helicopters marks a significant move to up the campaign in Libya, in order to step-up the pressure on Qadhafi after weeks of deadlock.

France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France was sending NATO 12 French Tiger and Gazelle helicopters for the attack campaign against Qadhafi and his troops. The UK's Apache attack helicopters would deploy from HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy's largest warship.

Speaking about the most recent strike, a spokesman for Libya's government, Moussa Ibrahim, said three civilians were killed and 150 people wounded. He was quoted by Reuters as saying: “This is another night of bombing and killing by NATO.”

Sources: BBC News, Aljazeera, The Daily Telegraph, Reuters

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

Monday, 23 May 2011

Sudan: Abyei on fire

According to the UN, the town of Abyei has been set on fire. Earlier today, the UN Security Council called on North Sudan to immediately withdraw its armed forces from the region. It appears the situation has since deteriorated, with reports of looting and violence spreading throughout the region.

Abyei was granted a special status under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the two decade civil war between the North and the South. Terms under the agreement stipulate that both sides have to keep their troops out until a referendum to determine Abyei's future.

The UN Mission in Sudan (Unmis) released a statement saying it "strongly condemns the burning and looting currently being perpetrated by armed elements in Abyei town". Unimis emphasised that the North's troops were "responsible for maintaining law and order in the areas they control", urging Khartoum to "intervene to stop these criminal acts".

Speaking about the situation in Sudan, French ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said the North army's military operation “threatens to undermine the mutual commitment of the parties to avoid a return to war.”

The army, however, remains defiant and has vowed to hold territory it seized in the disputed region, directly ignoring UN's calls for withdrawal.

Sources: BBC News, KBC, AFP, Reuters

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

Iraq: Bomb blasts leave 16 dead

A series of bomb explosions in and around Baghdad killed 16 people on Sunday 22nd May, including 10 people who died when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid a crowd of police officers.

It is estimated that at least 14 bombs detonated in and around the capital during the morning rush hour. The worst of the attacks was recorded in the city of Taji, 20km north of Baghdad, where a suicide bomber killed 10 people.

A bomb hidden in a pile of rubbish, in Sadr City, killed one person and injured five others. Minutes later another roadside bomb, this time targeting a police patrol, exploded, injuring three policemen and four bystanders.

In the southwestern neighborhood of Bayaa, five explosions went off in rapid succession. First a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol, then a minute later another roadside bomb went off in a commercial street followed by two roadside bombs along the highway.

A parked-car bomb went off on a road that marks the intersection between Bayaa and the adjoining neighborhood. In total, five people were killed, including two policemen, and 15 people were injured, including six policemen.

Bloodshed in Iraq has subsided since the height of the insurgency five years ago, but almost daily attacks on both civilians and law officers continue.

Sources: BBC News, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times

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

UN tells North Sudan to withdraw troops from Abyei

The UN Security Council has called on North Sudan to immediately withdraw its armed forces from the oil-rich Abyei. South Sudan called the North's seizure of the disputed region an “act of war,” saying it resulted in civilians and southern soldiers being killed.

South Sudan is set to become independent in July, after the majority of South Sudanese people voted in favour of secession in in January. The status of Abyei is yet to be resolved after a referendum on its future was shelved.

According to the French ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, the North army's military operation “threatens to undermine the mutual commitment of the parties to avoid a return to war.”

The seizure of Abyei by the North has sparked concern that violence may escalate between the two sides, which fought a two-decade long civil war that ended with a peace treaty in 2005. The North said it acted after 22 of its men were killed in a southern ambush earlier this week.

Araud added: "The members of the Security Council call upon the government of Sudan to halt its military operation and withdraw immediately from Abyei town and its environs….They condemn the escalatory military operation being undertaken by the Sudanese armed forces. This constitutes a serious violation of the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005)."

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, Sudan Tribune

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

Algeria: Opposition to boycott reform talks

Algerian opposition leaders have said that they will boycott the proposed start of the democratic reform talks that are set to begin on Saturday 21st May in protest at what they call a "feeble attempt at real change".

As we have reported in recent issues, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has asked a panel of recognised political parties and experts in constitutional law to come up with further proposals that would be submitted to parliament or a referendum. He initially tasked the Speaker of the Senate, Abdelkader Bensalah, to get the process started. However, given Bensalah's generally perceived lack of qualities, Bouteflika, as we reported last week, provided him with two old regime stalwarts in the personages of the architect of the 1992 coup d'état, General Mohamed Touati, and a former minister Mohamed Ali Boughazi.

Opponents of the regime regard the appointment of this trio as merely an attempt by Bouteflika to keep his hold on power.

"We wait for concrete action towards change in order to reestablish trust in power and the state, not just fiddling around," said Karim Tabbou, secretary of the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) which will boycott the talks.

Said Sadi, leader of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) said that the government-initiated talks were simply a " monologue against change ." "The era of political tinkering is over," he added.

An El-Watan editorial said that the government "will find itself consulting itself.” It went on to say that the president's proposals are aimed at supporting a system which "wants to keep things in hand while making it appear it is reforming, which it is not."

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 20 May 2011

Nigeria: John Togo's camp raided

Niger Delta militant leader 'General' John Togo's camp in the areas around the Tambou and Obubu creeks in Bayelsa State was raided last week by the Joint Task Force (JTF) team in a battle, said to have lasted for no less than five hours. A number of JTF soldiers, as well as considerable numbers of Togo's militants, are said to have been kill killed during the sustained military onslaught.

Togo himself, however, is said to have escaped, although there are other reports which claim that he died during the raid. He remains on the JTF's most-wanted list and, although some reports claimed that Togo has called for a ceasefire and is ready to surrender, the JTF, through its spokesperson Lt Colonel Timothy Antigha, has stated that it is unaware of any alleged surrender.

Togo , who heads the Niger Delta Liberation Force, is the only prominent militant leader who turned down the 2010 amnesty that was offered by the late president Yar'Adua.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Yemen: Saleh refused to step-down, again

Yemen's long-term President Ali Abdullah Saleh has once again agreed and then refused to sign a power sharing agreement, brokered by the Gulf. The deal, which was originally to be signed last month, was cancelled at the last minute.

The agreement, which has been subject to amendments after US and European intervention, was also expected to be overseen by both Yemen's General People's Congress party and the opposition, the Common Front.

Yemeni opposition officials have said that the agreement would have seen Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for over three decades, out of office within a month.

Discussions about the ongoing crisis in the country and arrangements for Saleh's departure broke down on Wednesday 18th May, when Saleh once again refused to sign the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) mediated deal which would have allowed him to step-down in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Saleh's rebuff has prompted GCC chief, Abdul-Latif Al-Zayyani, to leave the country.

The president's aide, Ahmed Al-Sufi, confirmed that Saleh was not going to attend the newly scheduled signing on Sunday 22nd May. According to the spokesman, Saleh changed his mind due to the ongoing international diplomatic pressure.

Speaking about the situation in Yemen, US President Barack Obama said: "President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power.''

Sources: BBC News, Aljazeera, Voice of America, Reuters

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

Libya: NOC after Shukri Ghanem's departure

The apparent defection of the head of the National Oil Company (NOC) chief, Dr Shukri Ghanem, from Colonel Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's camp to the opposition was announced in mid-May. Reuters reported on 16th May that Arab TV stations, including Al-Arabiya, were announcing his departure from Libya.

There was at that time no official confirmation of this other than a news item put out by the Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) in Benghazi declaring this change of allegiance. He escaped through Tunisia before flying out of Jerba to a European destination.

Ghanem has always acted as his own man, beginning with a post in the Ministry of Economy in the 1960s and culminating with his appointment in 2004 as head of the General Peoples Committee (GPC) or prime minister. He has also always had his own views of the path forward for the Libyan economy to which he adhered.

This was despite their general unpopularity because they included the gradual removal of the expensive consumer subsidies. At one time he had the nickname “Shukri Tomato Paste” because of his plans to remove the subsidy on such an important and basic foodstuff.

He was one of Colonel Qadhafi's few Libyan advisers who was professionally qualified, highly experienced in oil affairs through many years at OPEC headquarters in Austria, and had the intellectual strength to manage an oil-based economy with some élan.

Ghanem's became Colonel Qadhafi's prime source of influence on the awarding of oil exploration and production agreements by installing his own competent and preferred personnel in key posts in the NOC system.

It is believed by oil industry sources that his loss will mean substantial co-option of new cadres and an internal struggle among NOC's ambitious men to try to recapture Ghanem's former role. If the Libyan clients-patron system persists in whatever new government structure is formed after the civil war, an altogether different clutch of individuals will be in power and a scramble for influence will begin.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Iraq: At least 27 dead in a bomb attack in Kirkuk

At least 27 people were killed and many more injured when three bombs targeting security forces exploded near a police station in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. According to several reports, two of the bombs detonated in quick succession, killing police officers who rushed outside after the first explosion.

An unnamed Iraqi official attributed the attacks to the Al-Qai'da. Witnesses have said that the first bomb was set off in the police car park, and was extinguished by fire-fighters.

AFP quoted a police officer, Sherzad Kamil, as saying: “I ran out from the headquarters after I heard the first bomb. I went with my colleague to check the parking lot but as we arrived, a huge bomb went off…I fell on the ground and saw several of my colleagues killed and wounded."

Shortly after first two explosions, a third bomb went off reportedly targeting a convoy of senior police officials, injuring several people. According to Iraqi authorities, at least 70 people were wounded during the explosions.

The police chief of Kirkuk province, Maj Gen Jamal Tahir, said the attacks were most likely perpetrated by the Al-Qai'da.

Sources: BBC News, Los Angeles Times, CNN, AFP

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

Sudan bombs Darfur village

According to the UN, Sudan has carried out an air strike mission on a village in the western region of Darfur. A number of the group's officials are trying to make their way to the Sukamir area in north Darfur to gauge the situation.

The UN believes that pro-government Arab militias are trying to cleanse the region of non-Arab residence. It is estimated that as many as 300,000 people have been killed in the strike.

UN's deligation in Darfur, Unamid, released a statement on Wednesday 18th May, saying jet planes struck Sukamir, located near Kuma, on Tuesday. It also said a team had been sent to the area "to collect information on possible casualties and newly displaced persons". The statement confirmed that UN flights to the regions of Shangil Tobaya, Fanga Suk and others in north Darfur have been suspended.

Khartoum has denied knowledge of the strike, which was similar to the one on Sunday 15th May when the town of Labado and the village of Esheraya in southern Darfur came under bombardment.

Head of Unamid Ibrahim Gambari has voiced concern about the situation, saying: "I call upon all parties to exercise the utmost restraint in the use of lethal force."

Citing “security threats,” the Sudan's government restricted all movement of peacekeepers in South Darfur state beyond a 15 km radius from Nyala, the state capital.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Bloomberg

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

Vietnam: Hmong history of unrest

The Hmong constitute Vietnam's largest ethnic group, with almost 1 million members throughout the country: predominantly in the northern highlands along the border with Laos and China, but also with large popula¬tions in the central highlands. Large popula¬tions of Hmong can also be found in southern China (3 million), Laos (450,000), Thailand (150,000), and as far as Myanmar.

The Hmong have various lineages and clans and were named the Montagnards, or 'mountain people,' by the French. They have a history of revolt, including against the French in the 1920s.

During the war between the United States and Vietnam, the Hmong in the central highlands and also in Laos worked closely with the Americans against the communists. As a result of this alliance, after the war the Hmong were initially mistrusted and heavily controlled. Numbers fled to camps in Thailand and more than 250,000 now live in America.

They also fought against Laotian forces throughout the 1980s and '90s and were forced to flee to Thai refugee camps. The last Hmong refugee camp was closed in Thailand in 2010 and remaining refugees either relocated to the United States or Australia or were forcibly returned to Laos.

Despite this history the Hmong in Vietnam have been gradually absorbed into Vietnamese society, though there was sporadic unrest in Dien Bien Phu province in 1999 and also in the central highlands in 2001 and 2004.

It seems that the timing of the most recent revolt was not an accident, coming a few days before Dien Bien Phu province was to celebrate the 67th anniversary of the defeat of French forces there in 1954. Celebrations were kept to a minimum as a result.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Former militant urges President Jonathan to take action in Niger Delta

On Tuesday 17th May, a former Niger Delta militant, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, led a demonstration of over 1,000 people to protest against the region's poor living conditions.

Dokubo-Asari, who is the head of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, said the region may see a rise in violence if President Goodluck Jonathan does not take action to improve things in the oil-rich but largely impoverished Delta.

Jonathan, who has won the recent election, is himself form the Niger Delta and is expected to be more sympathetic with the people of the region. Speaking, on behalf of the group, during the march, Dokubo-Asari said: "We are giving Goodluck a chance to make a difference to bring about change ... Goodluck does not have four years. He has one year.” He warned the president, saying "armed struggle is a last resort."

Niger Delta was fraught with conflict for years until the 2009 amnesty deal, which has reportedly quelled the violence in the region. Dokubo-Asari, however, warned that the ongoing problems, including poverty, unemployment and corruption could potentially lead to trouble in the Delta once more.

Sources: AFP, Nigerian Tribune, All Africa

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

Kazakhstan's regional security offices hit by suicide bomber

A suspected suicide bomber has targeted the National Security Committee office in Kazakhstan's northern city of Aktobe. The attack has reportedly left several people injured. Kazakh authorities have said a man by the name of Rahimjan Makhatov is believed to be responsible for the attack.

Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General's Office has said that Makhatov, 25, was a suspected member an organised crime group. The bomber has died at the scene. The authorities are yet to issue further information.

The attack has caused a bit of a stir in what is regarded as one of Caspian's most stable states. The country, has been run by long-time President Nursultan Nazarbayev, re-elected in April, since before the fall of the Soviet Union.

Aktobe, an oil town in northwestern Kazakhstan close to the Russian border, hosts major oil and gas pipelines, including one of the main pipelines to China.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Hurriyet Daily News

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

Libya's Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem flees the country

Libya's Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem has fled the country and flew to Tunisia before making way to the island of Djerba. Libyan rebel leaders have confirmed that Ghanem has defected and was making his way to an undisclosed European location.

A spokesman for the Libyan regime, Moussa Ibrahim, said Ghanem was in Tunisia on official business but noted that the government was unable to reach him. Ibrahim added: “If he did [defect], this is his business…It's not a big deal for us."

A Tunisian official told AFP that Ghanem did indeed stay in the neighbouring country, but added that the former oil minister had "not tried to contact the Tunisian authorities".

A spokesman for Tunisia's rebel Transitional National Council, Jumaa El Gamaty, said: "Mr Shukri Ghanem has defected. I think as we speak he's in [a] transitory European country."

The news of Ghanem's “defection” comes just days after, the International Criminal Court's (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said he was seeking the arrest of Libyan Leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi, his son Saif Al-Islam and the country's Intelligence Chief Abdullah Al-Sanussi.

Moreno-Ocampo said all three individuals were largely responsible for the "widespread and systematic attacks" on civilians. It will be up to the ICC judges to issue warrants for their arrests.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters

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

Ghana's economic activity has grown by 23.7 per cent

The Bank of Ghana cut its prime rate by 50 basis points to 13 per cent on 13th May, citing a stable outlook for inflation. Analysts had earlier predicted that the central bank would keep the same rate for a fourth meeting in a row because of future inflation risks. The announcement came after figures on 11 th May showed annual inflation in dropped from 9.13 per cent in March to 9.02 per cent in April.

Bank governor Kwesi Amissah-Arthur told reporters,“Given the balance of risks to prices and output growth and recognition of the improved economic environment, the Monetary Policy Committee has decided to reduce the policy rate by 50 basis points to 13 per cent...Our current baseline forecast for the next 12 months suggests that inflation will remain close to nine per cent on a year-on-year basis”.

Amissah-Arthur said that the Bank's index of economic activity grew by 23.7 per cent year-on-year for the first quarter of this year compared to year-on-year growth of 9.1 per cent in the last quarter of 2010, though consumer confidence remains low because of concern over fuel and utility prices.

Standard Chartered Bank analyst Razia Khan says that the cut “may provide a small, albeit short-term boost to Ghanaian fixed income” but that “ it is difficult to see the justification for a sustained easing cycle...In the absence of more long-dated issuance, extending the maturity of the domestic curve, the Ghana cedi is unlikely to gain substantially as a result ,” she said.

Amissah-Arthur has also announced that Ghana's total exports increased 62 per cent to US$3 billion (GH¢4.5 billion) in the first quarter of 2011 which were boosted by oil shipments.

Oil exports were worth US$484.2 million (GH¢727.7 million), earnings from cocoa rose 26 per cent to US$859.4 million (GH¢1.291 billion), and gold shipments increased from US$787 million (GH¢1.182 billion) to US$1.2 billion (GH¢1.8 billion), he told reporters in Accra. The higher exports helped cut the country's current account deficit from US$565.8 million (GH¢850.4 million) this time last year to US$220.2 million (GH¢330.9 million), he said.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Petroceltic wins another Algeria job

Petroceltic has signed KCA Deutag for a second drilling rig on the appraisal campaign on the Isarene Permit in Algeria. Last week, the company raised £37 million to subsidise the expansion. It has also hired two contractors to assist desktop-work on the Final Discovery Report for the licence.

Speaking about the developments Petroceltic's chief executive Brian O'Cathain said: "The contract for the second rig will see a significant increase in the pace of appraisal activity on the Ain Tsila discovery following the recent successful fund raising and the farm out to ENEL.

The award of contracts for the conceptual and geotechnical studies is of importance as they mark the start of the move from the exploration and appraisal phases of the production sharing contract into the pre-development phase."

The second drill rig has been contracted for three wells which means that the enlarged drill programme will stretch to at least six wells before the end of 2011. Petroceltic expects the rig to be mobilised in June with drilling expected to start in July 2011.

Sources: Upstream, Proactive Investors, Petroceltic

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

Nigeria: Post-election violence claims 800 lives

On Monday 17th May, the Human Rights Watch released a report stating that President Goodluck Jonathan's election win against opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, has prompted violence and rioting across 12 northern states.

Buhari supporters took to the streets to protest his defeat; the demonstrations turned violent resulting in killing sprees that have reportedly displaced more than 65,000 people. The group called on Nigerian authorities to “promptly” take action and bring those responsible to justice.

Speaking about the situation in Nigeria, a senior West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, Corinne Dufka, said: “The April elections were heralded as among the fairest in Nigeria's history, but they also were among the bloodiest…The newly elected authorities should quickly build on the democratic gains from the elections by bringing to justice those who orchestrated these horrific crimes and addressing the root causes of the violence.”

Reports about the number of people killed in the riots vary, but according to the Christian Association of Nigeria at least 170 Christians had died. The human rights group estimates around 800 Nigerians to have been killed in post election related violence in the northern part of the country.

Sources: The Christian Post, Vanguard, Afrique en Ligue

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

Egypt: Hosni Mubarak's wife to hand-over $3 million worth of assets

The wife of ousted Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, has agreed to hand-over $3 million worth of assets to the State following an investigation over corruption charges. Suzanne Mubarak has reportedly agreed to give-up funds held in various bank accounts and a villa in Cairo.

The Mubarak family is under investigation for corruption and illegal acquisition of wealth during Hosni Mubarak's 30 year reign. The former president, who stepped down on 11th February, has also been accused of ordering the killings of anti-government protesters.

On Monday 16th May, the former first lady, aged 70, promised to hand-over both the money and the villa to the authorities. According to expert lawyer, Nasser Amin, by relinquishing her claims, she would be benefit from articles in the Egyptian law which allow those accused of making illegal gains to give them up in exchange for dropping the investigation.

Amin said: “The decision may not be accepted by society, who after a revolution, side with the idea of revenge. But from the legal point of view, this is in line.”

Both Hosni Mubarak and his wife are currently under detention in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. The former first lady is recovering from a "panic attack", which she suffered after being detained.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Reuters Africa, RIA Novosti

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

Monday, 16 May 2011

ICC chief prosecutor seeks warrant for Qadhafi

The International Criminal Court's (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is seeking the arrest of Libya's Leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi, his son Saif Al-Islam and the country's Intelligence Chief Abdullah Al-Sanussi.

Moreno-Ocampo said all three individuals were largely responsible for the "widespread and systematic attacks" on civilians. It will be up to the ICC judges to issue warrants for their arrests.

Libyan authorities have announced they will take no heed of the statement. Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim said both the Court and its practices were "questionable".

Qadhafi is the second sitting head of State that Moreno-Ocampo has urged to be arrested on charges of war crimes. The first, and one yet to be brought to justice, is Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir.

Experts fear that Qadhafi's arrest would potentially complicate the situation in Libya and make it harder to negotiate a ceasefire. Libya has already vocalised its dismissal of ICC, however, Moreno-Ocampo has said that after reviewing more than 1,200 documents and conducting over 50 interviews with key insiders and witnesses, his office had evidence implicating Qadhafi in the ordering of the killings of “unarmed Libyan civilians".

Speaking at a news conference in The Hague, Moreno-Ocampo said: “His forces attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in public spaces, shot demonstrators with live ammunition, used heavy weaponry against participants in funeral processions, and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after prayers…The evidence shows that such persecution is still ongoing as I speak today in the areas under Gaddafi control. Gaddafi forces have prepared a list with names of alleged dissidents, and they are being arrested, put into prisons in Tripoli and tortured.”

He added: “The evidence shows that Gaddafi relied on his inner circle to implement a systematic policy of suppressing any challenge to his authority…His second-oldest son, Saif al-Islam, is the de facto prime minister and Sanussi, Gaddafi's brother-in-law, is his right-hand man - the executioner, the head of military intelligence. He commanded personally some of the attacks."

Sources: BBC News, Voice of America, FT, Los Angeles Times

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

Iran: Ahmadinejad sacks three ministers

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sacked three ministers as part of a bigger plan to merge several ministries. The country's Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi was one of the officials removed from office. In a televised address, Ahmadinejad said: “The Iranian government and Parliament (Majlis) have consensus on the Oil Ministry merger…I am the caretaker for the Oil Ministry.”

Iranian authorities have said that the decision to merge ministries was based on a “legal duty” and pointed out that the country's government is obligated to implement the law in view of “executive and scientific” obligations.

The three ministries to undergo mergers include: the ministry of Roads and Transportation to be merged with Housing and Urban Development; Energy with Oil; Industries and Mines with Commerce; and Welfare and Social Security with Labor and Social Affairs.

On Saturday 14th May, Ahmadinejad issued three decrees dismissing Welfare Minister Sadeq Mahsouli, Minister of Mines and Industries Ali Akbar Mehrabian and Mirkazemi in accordance to the 53rd article of the Iran's Five-Year Development Plan.

The plan stipulates that Iranian government is expected to downsize its ministries form 21 to 17 if it's to improve the efficiency of state administration.

Sources: Press TV, Business Week, Bloomberg, AFP

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

Sudan: SPLM rejects Ahmad Haroun's win

Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) has officially rejected the election victory of North Sudan's ruling National Congress Party's (NCP) candidate, Ahmad Haroun, on account of alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Haroun was declared the winner of the governorship poll in the oil-rich South Kordofan State, defeating his closest opponent and SPLM's candidate Abdul Aziz Al-Hilu by some 6,500 votes. SPLM said the vote was rigged.

Haroun is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly mobilising Arab militias to commit genocide, against black Africans residing in Darfur, during his time as a minister in the region in 2003-4. He has contested the allegations, saying they were not ture.

Speaking on behalf of the party yesterday 15th May, Head of SPLM, Yasir Arman, noted: “We will not accept these results because the vote was rigged.” Experts fear that this latest incident might provoke violence in the region where more than 1.5 million people have died during the decades of conflict.

Many believe that the ongoing tensions between the North and the South - quelled by a 2005 peace deal which paved the way for the South's independence - will flare-up again if various frustrated groups and individuals take up-arms once more.

Speaking to the BBC an official from the Justice Africa think-tank, Hafiz Mohamed, said: "These people were fighting for 20 years and their aspirations are not fulfilled...The way things are going, it's leading to a deadlock, which will end up with people carrying arms to release their frustration…If it starts, no-one can stop it – it will affect the south, it will affect the north. With the war in Darfur, we are heading for dangerous times."

Sources: BBC News, Los Angeles Times, Sudan Tribute, Sudan Vision

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

Algeria: Constitutional and political change - going back to 1992

When President Abdelaziz Bouteflika appointed the 69 year-old speaker of the Senate, Abdelkader Bensalah to chair the committee that has been charged with drafting constitutional amendments, it was clear to almost everyone, including most members of the regime, that Bouteflika had no intention of initiating any serious political reform.

The mere announcement of Bensalah's name was enough to confirm to many, if not all, opposition politicians that there would be little point in having anything to do with the

constitutional committee, or commission as many people call it. Bensalah is seen as little more than a weak and ineffective government lackey. Indeed, criticism of his appointment has been so widespread that many opposition parties and groupings, notably the FFS , have said they will boycott the whole approach.

The almost universally negative response to Bouteflika's announcements of constitutional reform and Bensalah's appointment, even from members of the regime itself, has spurred Bouteflika into sending his adviser, the retired Maj Gen Mohammed Touati, to Bensalah's rescue.

If there has been any doubt as to what sort of political and constitutional reform Bouteflika has had in mind, then sending in Touati to fix things up has provided the answer. As one prominent opposition spokesman told us: “He is one of Algeria's worst generals; a very bad man.” One look at Touati's CV is likely to see most opposition politicians confirming their boycott of whatever process the Bensalah-Touati commission may have in mind.

Touati is a Kabyle , now aged 74, which at least puts him on the right side of 70 to fit into Algeria's ruling élite, and a retired maj gen. His nick-name is “el mokh” (the brain), an epithet he acquired for being the architect behind the 1992 military coup d'état.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Al-Maliki deliberating whether or not to ask US troops to remain in Iraq

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is in the process of deliberating whether or not to ask some US troops to remain in the country after the end-of year deadline. Al-Maliki has indicated that whatever his decision it would have to be backed by Iraq's main political blocs in a meeting at the end of the month.

Al-Maliki added: “Let us hear the voice of the citizen, the politicians, civil society organizations and probably even the governors' opinion…After having the agreement of the majority, we will submit it to the parliament.”

The prime minister was keen to point out that the decision would depend on “everyone”, a majority, rather than a select few. He also refused to voice his “personal opinion” on whether or not he wanted the US to remain in Iraq. Al-Maliki was somewhat vague about what he considered to be a “majority”, saying: “When the consensus reaches 70, 80 or 90 percent, then I call this consensus.”

Noting the opposition from anti-US Shi'a cleric, Moqtada Al-Sadr, Al-Maliki said that if a majority voted to extend the stay of the US troops, he would expect opponents to go along with the decision.

Sources: Washington Post, The New York Times, Reuters

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

Colonel Qadhafi makes an appearance on State TV

It has been almost two weeks since Libyan Leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi has made an appearance in public, but yesterday Libya's State TV showed Qadhafi meeting Libyan tribal officials. According to Libya, the footage was filmed on Wednesday 11th May.

Qadhafi has shunned the limelight since 30th April when a NATO strike reportedly killed his youngest son and three grandchildren.

Earlier today, Libyan rebels said they have pushed back pro-Qadhafi troops and have captured Misrata airport. The western city remains under rebel control despite continued attacks by the Leader's forces.

NATO has carried out 6,000 missions over Libya since it launched its military operations there at the end of March. The air raids have aided the rebels in securing strongholds in eastern Libya, but it is unclear to what extent, if at all, they have loosened Qadhafi's grip on the west of the country.

Just days ago the UN called on Libya to suspend hostilities in order to ease the humanitarian crisis. UN aid chief Baroness Valerie Amos told the UN Security Council that Misrata was running short of basic supplies such as food and water.

It is estimated that almost 750,000 have fled Libya since the uprising. Amos said that the turmoil in the country has impacted the wellbeing of Libyan nationals and further called on the Security Council to ensure that all parties respect international law. The official said that use of cluster bombs, sea and land mines, as well as aerial bombing showed a callous disregard for civilians.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Voice of America

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

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The outlook for companies in Libya is bleak

The outlook for companies in Libya is bleak, and the prospect for foreign suppliers remains extremely unsettled. Small companies in particular will require some time to repair their positions in the country unless Libya is willing to undergo a period of financial retrenchment and to concentrate on the key oil industry.

This latter approach would give an advantage to foreign suppliers and contractors because the upstream and downstream oil industries are the most capital intensive and have the heaviest requirement for foreign-sourced factors of production. This would, however, also mean ignoring the case for the expansion of education, social welfare, housing and health, together with cleaning up after the war.

The post-war situation is likely to be bitter, and could be troubled by revenge attacks within civil society. The outcome of the current situation, which is a virtual civil war, remains very difficult to predict but there will inevitably be causes for confrontation remaining between the eventual winners and losers. There could also be transfers of ownership of assets from or, less likely, into, the Qadhafi family and also, given the highly polarised distribution of assets in favour of the few rich families, some readjustments so that some assets of those who have benefited from the Qadhafi era are distributed to the poor.

At the end of the war, rejuvenation will be a grey area in so far as there exists few credible development strategies other than those prepared by planners and intellectuals such as National Oil Company (NOC) head Dr Shukri Ghanem but which, because of the impact of the war, are already out of date.

If Libya does not opt for a concentrated drive to restore the underlying oil economy, a new regime might be persuaded to seek popularity through a programme of essentially social improvements and distribution of some of the oil revenues to the people. Having been through a war, self confidence could run high so that the Libyans themselves, also impelled by a need for economies, will want to participate in the re-development process to the exclusion of foreigners, as Iranians did after the Islamic revolution.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Iran's nuclear plant begins work

On Sunday 8th May, Iran's first nuclear power plant started work after months of preparations. The plant, located in the Southern city of Blusher, has begun operating on "minimum controllable level of power". It is expected to start generating electricity after about two weeks, and will join the national gird in the next several months.

In 1995, Iran penned a deal with Russia's Atomstroiexport Company which stipulated that all works should be completed by 1999; however, the project was continually delayed by Russia due to pressure from the US over Iran's nuclear programme. Construction was finally competed in 2010.

In October, Iran began injecting fuel into the power plant in the initial phase of launching the nuclear reactor while also carrying out special security measures to ensure safety. In March, after a safety scare Iran then started reloading fuel into the core of the reactor and said it would begin operating sometime in early May.

The safety of the plant was confirmed by Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Fereidoon Abbasi, and also in March by the Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Nuclear Safety and Security Department Olena Mykolaichuk who said: "We realized that Iran's safety system responsible for inspecting Iranian nuclear facilities and installations acts very well and is strong."

Sources: BBC News, Fars News Agency, AP

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

Egypt's former tourism minister sentenced to five years in prison

Egypt's former tourism minister, Zoheir Garranah, has been sentenced to five years in prison for squandering public funds. The country's criminal court also issued Garranah with a fine after finding the official guilty of allotting tourism licenses illegally.

Garranah is the second official to be given time in prison. The first, former interior minister Habib Al-Adli, was sentenced last week to 12 years after being found guilty for money laundering and profiteering.

News of the sentencing comes amid ongoing investigations of former government officials who had served under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Last week, Egyptian authorities announced that Mubarak himself would face the death penalty if found guilty of ordering the shooting of protesters during the uprisings that brought him down. It is estimated that at least 800 protesters were killed during the demonstrations which led to Mubarak's resignation on 11th February.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Ha'aretz, Voice of America

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

Sudan to withdraw troops from Abyei

North and South Sudan have agreed to withdraw unauthorised troops from the disputed Abyei region, according to a UN statement from 8th May.

There have been several clashes in the area in recent months, leading to dozens of deaths.

Both sides accuse the other of sending unauthorised troops and militia to Abyei, violating the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended decades of civil war in Sudan.

In a January independence referendum, South Sudan overwhelmingly voted to secede from the north, and will become a new state on 9th July, 2011.

The oil-rich Abyei region, which straddles the border, was due to have its own referendum on whether to join the north or south in January, but the vote never took place because Khartoum and Juba could not agree on voter eligibility.

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) released a statement on Sunday 8th May which said that the troop pullout would start from Tuesday, and should be completed within a week. The region would then be monitored by joint patrols.

The move was agreed at a meeting of northern and southern representatives and headed by UNMIS Force Commander Major General Moses Obi .

A peace accord signed in January also called on both sides to withdraw all forces, excepting the special Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) of northern and southern personnel, and UN peacekeepers.

The so-called Kadugli Agreement – named after the South Kordofan state capital where the agreement was signed – has not been upheld, and it remains to be seen if the most recent agreement is more successful.

South Sudan recently published a new draft constitution which specifically lays claim to Abyei.

Sudan 's President Omar Al-Bashir threatened to withhold recognition of the new state if the claims to Abyei were not dropped.

The north backs the Arab Misseriya tribes, which spend part of the year in Abyei as they search for pastures for their cattle.

The South supports the Dinka Ngok , permanent residents of the region.

Misseriya and Dinka Ngok personnel often clash, alledgedly with the support of the northern and southern armies.

Last week, 14 people were killed at a security checkpoint 10 miles north of Abyei town when fighting broke out between southern police forces and northern elements within the JIUs deployed there.

JIUs were established as part of the 2005 CPA, but according to the International Crisis Group , they have largely failed in their intentions.

They have performed poorly, been involved in numerous large-scale clashes and are characterised by mistrust.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, ICG, Sudan Vision Daily

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

Nana Rawlings formally launches bid to challenge incumbent John Atta Mills

Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings has formally launched her bid to challenge incumbent John Atta Mills for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) nomination ahead of the 2012 elections. Rawlings' husband, former president Jerry John Rawlings, has criticised Mills' “indecisive” leadership ever since he took office in January 2009.

The 62-year-old Nana Rawlings and her supporters say that Mills has not stayed true to NDC principles. On collecting her nomination papers on 3rd May, Rawlings told reporters it was “the beginning of taking the country Ghana back where it belongs”.

It is the first time since Ghana's return to democracy in 1992 that a sitting President has been challenged as party leader. Analysts say it shows divisions within the ruling NDC and a desire by former president Rawlings to increase his influence.

Jerry John Rawlings seized power in a military coup in both 1979 and 1981. He then served as elected president from 1993 to 2001, during which time President Mills served as his Vice-President.

Nana Rawlings is popular with her party's women's wing but Mills looks likely to win the nomination, unless other more credible candidates join the contest.

Some 2,500 NDC delegates will cast their vote for party leader at the party congress in July.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates