Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Iran: Turkey's price decrease request

National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC) manag­ing director Javad Oji acknowledged that Iran has received a request from Turkey to decrease the gas it exports to that country. Oji said Iran is looking into the request and plans to take measures.

He also noted that the government has no plans to increase gas rates with the implementation of the second phase of the subsidies reform plan.

Oji's remarks followed those of Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, who said that Iran had rejected its demand for cheaper natural gas and that Ankara might resort to international arbitration: 'We voiced our discomfort to them [Iranian officials] over the price of the natural gas we import and told them that the prices are high … so an international arbitration court seems inevitable.'

The announcement that Iran and Turkey are engaged in a spat over gas rates was a surprise, particularly as it came amid diplomatic visits by Iranian officials to Ankara. Iran views its gas exports to Turkey strategically, given that the country could provide a gateway to the European gas market.

Evidently, Ankara has leverage as it imports gas from both Iran and Russia. Turkey may also be taking advantage of the international pressure currently being applied against Iran in order to bargain for better conditions. Tehran will not be interested in prolonging a dispute over gas prices with one of its most important customers.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Caspian cooperation discussed with Iran

Iran's deputy foreign minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzade visited Ashgabat this month. Although nothing concrete came out of the visit, he was apparently there to ensure that the two states are on the same page when it comes to the situation in the Caspian.

In press reports released after the visit, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov said that Turkmenistan “stands for establishing a constructive dialogue in the Caspian basin” and called for “a coordinated, mutually acceptable decision on the status of this unique basin”. The usual call for the Caspian to be developed “in an atmosphere of peace and stability” was also made.

Relations between Tehran and Ashgabat have usually been good, but disagreements over the delimitation of the Caspian have occasionally strained ties. Iran has also sometimes been wary about Turkmenistan's role as a transport hub for US military supplies to Afghanistan and its friendly relations with Israel. In November an

Iranian MP accused Turkmenistan (as well as Azerbaijan) of being a base for Mossad.

The visit may also be linked with Iran's new Caspian oil and gas field, Sardar Jangal (see page 12). The precise location of the field has not been revealed but it may lie close to the maritime boundary with Turkmenistan, so Akhundzade's visit may have been intended to provide reassurances that it would not be drilling in disputed waters.

The trip may also have been aimed at securing more work for Iran's North Drilling Company in light of tightening international sanctions. Earlier this month Iranian oil officials announced that Iran had earned $300 million over the past five years by drilling 30 wells in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian, and plans to build more

wells in the years ahead. With new US and EU sanctions choking the Iranian economy, finding as many sources of foreign income as possible is a priority – this could raise complications for Turkmenistan as it seeks to boost the involvement of Western firms in its energy industry.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 27 January 2012

Egypt: Salafi rebuked by Speaker

The leader of the house - that is the eldest MP - Dr Mahmoud El Sakka opened the first session before the election of the speaker and his two deputies. Dr El-Sakka, 81, a member of Wafd, asked for recognition of the more than 800 Egyptians who had been killed in the protests that led to the overthrow of the former regime. “I invite the distinguished assembly to stand and read the fatiha (Muslim prayer) in memory of the martyrs of the 25 January revolution ... because the blood of the martyrs is what brought this day.”

Each new MP then had to read the oath. This process was going smoothly until Mamdouh Ismail of the Al-Asala, a Salafist party, added the phrase “in whatever does not contradict God's law”. The speaker rebuked him and told him to stick to the original text.

Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri, who is not a member of parliament, also marked what has become known as 25 January Revolution Day. He commemorated those who gave their lives: “They have sacrificed for the sake of the nation and for achieving freedom, democracy and social justice.” But he showed also where his loyalties lay by paying obeisance to the army: “I salute the brave military council for meeting its promises.”

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Nigeria: President Jonathan sacks police chief

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has sacked the country's chief of police Hafiz Ringim, pushing him into early retirement. The move comes after a number of attacks perpetrated by the Islamist sect Boko Haram, the latest of which on Friday 20th January killed 185 people.

The group is fighting to overthrow the government and impose Islamic law around the country.

According to AFP, Jonathan's decision was intended to meet "emerging internal security challenges". The calls for Ringim's resignation have been ongoing since a man suspected to be behind the Christmas Day bomb attacks on several churches escaped from police custody just weeks ago.

According to AP, Jonathan's office released a statement saying Ringim had been placed on "terminal leave" pending his planned retirement in the coming months. It went on to say that Mohammed Abubakar has been appointed as his replacement "as a first step towards the comprehensive reorganisation and repositioning of the Nigeria police force to make it more effective and capable of meeting emerging internal security challenges".

According to the document, all six of Ringim's deputies had also been approved for immediate retirement.

Sources: AP, AFP, BBC News

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

Iraq:Two bomb attacks leave 13 dead

Iraqi officials say that 13 people have been killed in two separate bomb attacks. According to reports, two brothers - both police officers – and at least eight of their relatives were killed following a house bombing in Musayyib, south of Baghdad, which is predominantly populated by Shi'a Muslims.

The Musayyib attack is said to have taken place at 0400 (0100 GMT), when several roadside bombs surrounding the house were detonated. According to AFP, the two dead policemen were Ahmed and Jihad Zuwaiyin. Six children are also believed to have been killed. Four people were reported to be injured and six homes nearby were also damaged.

In a similar but separate bomb attack, three people were also killed in Kirkuk. As well as the three fatalities, five others were injured.

Attacks of this nature have risen since US troops withdrew from Iraq at the end of last year.

Speaking to AFP, Police Brigadier General Adil Zain al-Abidine said the attack in the northern city of Kirkuk was caused by a motorcycle bomb parked near a primary school in the city centre.

These newest outbreaks of violence come amid a politically and socially fragile situation in Iraq, which has been made worse by governmental in-fighting and volatility.

Sources: AFP, Reuters, BBC News

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

Libya: Italy wants to resume its favoured trading relationship

The Italian government is pressing hard for the endorsement of the contracts which were signed between Italy and Libya following the 2008 bilateral Treaty of Friendship. In pursuit of this goal, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti and his entourage of diplomats, including Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, and businessmen visited Libya on 21st January for talks. The Italian authorities are hopeful that new offers of aid to Libya – including the strengthening of the national police force and improving security - will enable the original agreements to be restored.

Libya will receive US$5 billion from Italy over the next 20 years, including several major contracts of which the largest single project is for the construction of the coastal highway.

Meanwhile, Italy's ENI has reported that bilateral oil sector relations are very cordial. Its CEO, Paolo Scaroni, reported that ENI's output has now returned to pre-war levels of 260,000 b/d. The company has also signed a memorandum of understanding to undertake €380 million worth of social projects in Libya.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Ghana: Controversy over non-promotions of key police officers

Against the backdrop of the on-going cocaine for baking powder saga, which has previously be discussed in Ghana Politics & Security, and the controversial alleged role of police officials in the disappearance of a cocaine exhibit, Ghana's police force is now wracked by another controversy – albeit one that is internal to its operations. A recent round of police promotions of six officers from the rank of deputy commissioner of police to commissioner of police, which was announced by President John Atta Mills earlier this month, has been criticised for not including five high achieving officers.

According to local press, these five include the team leader of a successful investigation into a local serial killer who was responsible for over 30 deaths; the supervisor of an operation that seized almost 600kg of cocaine worth approximately US$38 million; a former director of the Ghanaian criminal investigations department with a mandate covering drug crime, terrorism and trafficking; and officers with a track record of success in international missions under United Nations task force and missions.

In particular some of these officers - who, under existing police policy, are usually promoted every four years - have not been promoted for around a decade. Specific reasons for their exclusion have not yet been released so one can only speculate whether or not there is an unsavoury reason but, given the current pressure on some sectors of the police, further internal police tension is unnecessary.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria: Priority for national pipeline constructors

Domestic pipe manufacturers will be given priority when Sonatrach issues procurement tenders for future pipeline construction projects. In his lengthy press conference at the end of December, Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi confirmed that he had instructed Sonatrach to ensure that this happened. The renewed emphasis on this appears to be related to the financial difficulties being suffered by ArcelorMittal's Annaba-based subsidiary TSS El Hadjar.

In principle, domestic producers and service providers have a competitive advantage built into public tender legislation. They are entitled to win with bids that are more expensive than those of international competitors. However, Sonatrach has recently been subjected to high level criticism of its failure to issue pipeline manufacturing contracts to a key local provider.

On 28th December, the powerful general secretary of the Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens (UGTA) Abdelmadjid Sidi Saïd wrote a public letter to Yousfi about the difficulties faced by TSS El Hadjar in obtaining pipeline sales contracts from Sonatrach.

In his response, the minister refused to accept Saïd's view that the company had been subject to “exclusion” from such contracts. He said he preferred to approach the problem from a technical and qualitative point of view. “We are ready to work with the national companies on condition that they respect qualitative standards and manufacture all diameters of pipe that are needed,” he said. In addition, Yousfi said that energy companies had been issued with guidelines to use locally manufactured pipes, but that these guidelines also set standards on quality and diameter.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 20 January 2012

Vietnam: Journalist arrested for bribing police

A campaigning anti-corruption reporter, Nguyen Van Khuyen, of well-respected southern newspaper Tuoi Tre News, was taken into custody by police in mid-January for bribing a police officer. He paid traffic police officer Huynh Minh Duc around $715 for the return of a confiscated motorcycle but was in fact 'assuming the identity' of a traffic offender in order to publish an excoriating report on police corruption in Vietnam.

'He should not be charged with bribery because of what he did in the course of an undercover investigation,' Reporters Without Borders said in a press release. 'He was acting as a reporter, not for personal gain.' The organisation estimates that he may be in prison for four months while authorities investigate. The police officer was suspended after the story ran but the journalist was still suspended from his paper in early December, apparently at the behest of the police.

Police corruption is a hot topic in Vietnam and the traffic police, who regularly threaten citizens and solicit bribes, are widely hated, to the point at which recent camera phone footage of a dying traffic police officer earned praise on various video sites.

Exposure of corruption by the press is sometimes encouraged by the government as it understands the anger it generates. Most targets are not main players and most journalists know who they can and cannot attack.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Nigeria: A fire rocks Chevron's oil rig in Bayelsa State

On Monday 16th January, a fire– thought to have been caused by a gas leakage – ripped through Chevron's oil rig in Bayelsa State, leaving two workers missing.

After several days of intensified searching, Chevron released a statement extending its condolence to the families of the two missing people. The company has, however, accounted for the remainder of workers, who had been present on the rig and a nearby barge when the fire broke out. It said two workers were treated for minor injuries.

The investigation into the fire is ongoing. There is little evidence of sabotage, and the company believes it was caused by equipment failure. It has been established that the explosion occurred between 4.30am and 5am and was reported to be an accident. Some of the evacuated workers confirmed that the drilling exercise encountered technical problems while working on a new gas well head.

Speaking about the incident, Chevron's General Manager of Public and Government Affairs said: "There was no explosion. It was a fire incident at the Finuwa Field. The name of the rig is KS Endeavour. It is owned by Fode Drilling. All workers are being evacuated."

Sources: Upstream, Afrique en Ligne, Reuters

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

Libya: Bringing the militias to heel?

Maj Gen Mohamed Al-Mangoush certainly has his work cut out. His main task is to build the Libyan army into a credible force that can bring the militias under its control. Doing so will not be easy. As things currently stand, with its handful of small units, the army is a David to the militias' Goliath. Convincing powerful revolutionary leaders to hand in their weapons or to come under the command of national military officers is an uphill struggle and, unless the army gets some serious clout behind it, unlikely to succeed.

Meanwhile the violence continues. It is true that the militias have a reduced presence on the ground and that the number of checkpoints has been cut back. This does not mean, however, that the militias have stopped throwing their weight around. As the clashes that erupted this month demonstrate, in the absence of a strong authority rival militias continue to take the law into their own hands.

Moreover, the presence of so many armed young men with little else to do does not bode well for future security. Despite the schemes currently being devised by the new authorities to absorb militia members – such as the

Planning Ministry's recent proposal to pay those who join the official security structures a salary of LYD600 a month – there is still no indication that the national army is proving any more attractive than the militias.

As one young man from Benghazi who is still holed up in Tripoli explained, "It [the fighting] was really exciting and fun most of the time and I made some great friends!" The fact that hundreds of uniformed soldiers took to the streets this month and staged a demonstration outside the Central Bank branch in Benghazi to demand their salaries can have done little to help matters. The demonstrators declared that the new government should focus its attention on building a new army and not on giving cash rewards to the revolutionaries.

The police are doing little better than the army in the effort to recruit revolutionaries. According to one report, 24 hours after the police force opened its doors for militia members to sign up only 100 had done so.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Libya: Lebanon still keen to know what happened to Shi'a cleric Imam Musa Sadr

The change of government in Libya has done nothing to dampen the Lebanese demand for information about the Shi'a cleric, Imam Musa Sadr, and two colleagues who disappeared in suspicious circumstances in Libya on 3rd August 1978. The loss of one of Lebanon's most senior Shi'a clerics gave rise to accusations that the Libyan government of Colonel Qadhafi was complicit in his disappearance. Tripoli has always claimed that Sadr and his companions left Libya on a scheduled flight to Italy but never arrived.

In the latest move, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansur arrived in Tripoli on 12th January; the first high level Lebanese delegation to visit Libya in more than 30 years.

The Libyans have offered to form a new joint commission with the Lebanese to determine the events at the time of Sadr's disappearance. Head of Political Affairs Fathi Baja has reported, however, that Libya has no new information.

The new government obviously hopes that the tense bilateral relations since 1978 can be successfully ended by presumably paying compensation to the relatives of the three men involved. The situation is, however, currently complicated by Libyan visa requirements which are not available to Lebanese citizens, but these sanctions are expected to be removed.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Ghana: Attorney General's accusations lead to a political storm

Recent allegations by Attorney General Martin Amidu, that there are senior National Democratic Congress (NDC) government appointees who are committing “gargantuan crimes” against Ghanaians, has led to attacks on him from both NDC members and the opposition including the minority Peoples National Convention (PNC). The former demand that Amidu resign following his allegations while the latter demand that he name the guilty individuals. Amidu also complained of allegedly coordinated attacks from the “rented” press ordered by, or in support of key NDC members, in response to his “gargantuan crime” remarks.

The NDC's discomfort at his claim is illustrated by its deputy general secretary Kofi Adam's statement that the allegations could harm the party's election prospects because comments like this “can even cost the party an election, it can reduce and trust that people have in the governance system” and follow similar criticisms from the Deputy Minister of Information. What led to Amidu's allegation is unclear but it appears that they may have been in connection with the Alfred Woyome issue described below. Also perhaps in response to criticisms and negative coverage from newspapers - such as the Daily Post, National Democrat and Ghanaian Lens (which he describes as being in the pockets of the NDC) - which Amidu believes are, at the behest of an unnamed government minister, perhaps unhappy that he is pursuing corrupt or “criminal” party members.

Amidu is no party outsider having served as deputy attorney general under the Rawlings Administration and even being President John Atta Mill's running mate for the 2000 elections. His accusations are therefore re-shining a light on the NDC's internal divisions are his comments are likely to be used by the opposition against the government during this election year.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Nigeria: Christmas Day bomber escapes from custody

Nigerian police officials have said that a key suspect in the Christmas Day bombing that killed at least 38 people has escaped from custody. Kabiru Sokoto, who is allegedly a member of the Islamist sect Boko Haram, was arrested on Saturday 14th January in Abuja. He escaped the following day as police attempted to search his residence outside the capital city.

Authorities say that Sokoto planned the 25th December bombing of St Theresa Catholic church in Madalla. They released a statement, saying the police commissioner responsible for the overseeing of the suspect has been arrested, due to alleged negligence.

The statement went on to say: “The police view this development as a serious negligence on the part of the commissioner of police and have since queried and suspended him from duty."

Sokoto was the only major suspect to be arrested on suspicion of the bombing, and other similar attacks around the country. President Goodluck Jonathan has voiced concerns that some members of the Islamist sect have infiltrated government offices and security agencies.

Some suspect police involvement with the sect, who is reportedly responsible for at least 74 killings this year alone.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, AP

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

Five policemen killed at a checkpoint near Iraq's Jordanian and Syrian borders

Reports have emerged that five policemen have been killed at a checkpoint near Iraq's Jordanian and Syrian borders. According to reports, gunmen in the western province of Anbar attacked police officers that were guarding the highway that links the country to Jordan.

One report said that an attacker was also killed in the clash. The attack follows a similar onslought on a government compound, which killed seven people in the provincial capital of Ramadi.

The security situation in Iraq seems more precarious than ever. Violence has been on a rise, with security and Shi'a religious congregations being the key targets. There has also been a marked downturn in the country's political progress since the withdrawal of US troops at the end of last year.

Most recently, an arrest warrant was issued for Vice President Tariq Hashemi on terrorism charges. He fled to the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq, and has denied the accusations against him.

The warrant has, however, sparked a political crisis as the biggest bloc in parliament accused Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki of using the law to monopolise power.

Sources: AFP, Reuters, BBC News

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

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Egypt: Hosni Mubarak's trial resumes

Following the reopening of former president Hosni Mubarak's trial in Cairo, his defence team began arguing the case. Mubarak stands accused of ordering the killing of demonstrators during national unrest, which led to his resignation last year.

According to Egypt's State media, the defence's arguments are expected to be heard over the course of three days.

Prosecutors insist Mubarak face the death penalty, along with his co-defendants, the former interior minister Minister Habib al-Adly and six senior policemen. Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, are facing separate charges of corruption in the same trial.

The former Egyptian ruler was wheeled into court on a stretcher. His laywers said Mubarak was unable to be upright for fear of suffering a stroke.

The charges against the defendant are as follow:

Hosni Mubarak: Conspiring in killing of protesters (15 years in prison or death penalty); abusing power to amass wealth (5-15 years)
Alaa and Gamal: abusing power to amass wealth (5-15 years)
Al-Adly and six police officials: conspiring in killing of protesters (15 years or death penalty)
Business mogul Hussein Salem: tried in absentia for corruption (5-15 years in prison).

According to a number of Egyptian sources, Mubarak's lawyer Farid al-Deeb is expected to reveal several surprises as he makes his case; however, he refused to elaborate when speaking to Al-Madry Al-Youm newspaper. He said: "Nobody knows what I will say."

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AP

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

Libya: Clashes between rival factions leave two dead

A weekend of clashes between rival factions, in the town of Gharyan about 80km south of Tripoli, has left at least two people dead and more than 40 injured. The authorities say they are now in a process of putting together a force to disarm the supposed Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi loyalists.

Speaking to the BBC, local officials in the town said they feel powerless in controlling their own revolutionary groups. According to a number of other sources, in the hills surrounding the town, revolutionary forces are again battling in full force, their anti-aircraft guns mounted on the backs of pickup trucks heading west toward the town of Assabia.

It is thought that the fighting began on Friday 13th January and continued throuought the weekend. The following day, Libya's Defence Minister Osama al-Juweili travelled to Gharyan to try to encourage a ceasefire but to no avail.

On Sunday 15th January, a group of tribal elders arrived in Gharyan in an attempt to mediate in the conflict and negotiate a prisoner exchange. The confrontations, however, continue.

Despite government's calls to disarm, various factions remain at large and seem to have no intention of joining the national army – an initiative proposed by Tripoli.

Some fear that there is a danger of a civil war, if the militias do not give up their weapons. The situation remains tense and the country's future is still unclear.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, BBC News

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

Monday, 16 January 2012

Iran warns “Arab neighbour countries” against boosting oil production

Following a joint request by the US and the EU to curb its oil production, Iran has warned Gulf nations against boosting their energy generation.

According to Sharq daily newspaper Iran's representative to Opec Mohammad Ali Khatibi said "our Arab neighbour countries should not co-operate" with the US and European countries. He continued that any such move would not be perceived as "friendly", adding that if they give "the green light to replacing Iran's oil these countries would be the main culprits for whatever happens in the region - including the Strait of Hormuz".

US has been seeking the support of Asian nations – some of the biggest investors in Iran including, China, India, Japan and South Korea – to encourage Tehran to reduce its oil exports and abide by the sanctions.

The oil needs of these fast pace developing countries are growing equally as rapidly and thus cuts in imports from Tehran have to be substituted by an increased supply from other sources.

China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has recently held talks with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, China's biggest oil supplier. At the same time, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik visited the region over the weekend, meeting leaders in Oman and the United Arab Emirates to discuss oil.

Although Asian nations are yet to make or announce cuts in oil imports from Iran, there are already fears of shortfalls. Not only that many are worried about the fact that Iran's supplies may not be substituted with another source, which will mean an increase in prices.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Algeria: Ahmed Ouyahia will not stand down as Prime Minister

The congress of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia's RND party was being held on Friday 6th th January as we went to press last week. It also came a few days after opposition party spokesmen had called on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to appoint a new Prime Minister and Cabinet before the forthcoming parliamentary elections on the grounds that the present incumbents could not guarantee a fair election.

Ouyahia gave a typically belligerent response. He announced on Saturday 7 th that he would not resign in the face of opposition parties' demands for a technocratic government to guide the country through the May elections. “I will remain in my post and will not resign,” he told reporters. “The decision to disband the government belongs to the person who nominated it,” he added, referring to the president.

The most politically relevant moment of the Congress was Ouhayia's questioning of Bouteflika's presidency. Rumours, put out by the president's camp, that Bouteflika is considering a fourth presidential term after the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2014, have been circulating for the last few weeks. In his address to the RND Congress, Ouyahia questioned whether Bouteflika should seek a fourth term. Ouyahia asked the Congress whether another term for the ailing 75 year-old would serve Algeria's interests.

The statement was interpreted by RND members and reporters that Ouyahia was laying down his marker for the 2014 presidential election. Ouyahia, 61, told reporters, however, that it was too early for him to address whether he would run in the 2014 presidential election.

In 2008, the constitution was changed to scrap the two-term limit of presidential terms, thus allowing Bouteflika to run for a third term. Ouyahia defended his support for that change, saying that the country needed Bouteflika at a time when Algeria was recovering from its 1990s insurgency.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 13 January 2012

Nigeria: Government fight-back failing

Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Alison-Madueke, and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Sanusi Lamido Sanusi have all given interviews in an effort to persuade citizens to give up the protests.

So far, this strategy has not worked and it appears that the interviews may in fact have had the effect of firing up the protesters' anger against the Federal Government. As each day of the strike passes, the government's stance continues to be one of defiance. Minister for Information Labaran Maku stated that the Federal Government would not be coerced into rescinding the decision.

This may be mere “fighting talk”. For each day that the strike continues, the country's economy continues to suffer. Analysts estimate that if the strike continues at least until 13 th January, the economy would have lost around N1.2 trillion (US$7.4 billion), an amount not far short of the N1.4 trillion (US$8.65 billion) the Federal Government estimated it would save by withdrawing the subsidy.

For many of the young, educated upper and middle-class protestors, the battle isn't only on the streets but has extended to social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and to instant messaging platforms like the Blackberry Messenger (BBM) service. Activists have used such media to exchange information and to disseminate facts and figures supporting the protests.

One such fact is that the mass transit buses, which President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned over the weekend as part of the Federal Government's “palliative measures” to ease the impact of the subsidy removal, are woefully inadequate. Jonathan had announced that the Federal Government had purchased 1,600 mass transit buses but only 1,100 buses have been commissioned which has left observers with the unanswered question of what happened to the other 500.

Most importantly, the inadequacy of such a gesture as a palliative measure has been pointed out. With a population of around 160 million, the provision of 1,600 buses translates into one bus for every 100,000 Nigerians. Activists have also been analysing the 2012 budget for evident waste and, in particular, the recurrent expenditure provisions.

A major point of contention is that the government is asking ordinary Nigerians to bear the brunt of the increase in the cost of living caused by the subsidy removal at a time when the government is still largely wasteful and extravagant in its spending.

Some figures to have been bandied about include the budgetary provision of a feeding allowance for the Presidential Villa of N1 million (US$6,180) per day; N200 million (US$1.2 million) to “water the gardens” of the Presidential Villa; N1.7 billion (US$10.5 million) on trips; and N1.3 billion (US$8 million) on office stationery. Other controversial appropriations include: overhauling of Aso Rock powerhouse generators for N127.5 million (US$786,000); and renovation and refurbishment of the family wing of the main residence at the Presidential Villa at N512.4 million (US$3.2 million).

The list really is endless. Although President Jonathan has announced that there will be some cutbacks, such as a 25 per cent reduction in the basic salaries of political office holders and cutbacks on foreign trips, many ordinary Nigerians are unconvinced that these cuts are commensurate with the hardships caused by the subsidy removal. In any case, it is a well-established fact that one of the largest sources of official income for political holders is not the basic salary but their myriad allowances, which are often far above their basic salaries.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Egypt: Constitution to be drafted before presidential elections

Further details have emerged about last year's talks between the military rulers and political parties, including the Islamists and liberals, about the timing of the presidential election. Should it be after the drafting of a new constitution or before? According to the Islamist lawyer and presidential hopeful Mohamed Selim El-Awa, who confirmed the meetings took place on 22nd November, it was agreed that the constitution will be drafted first and the presidential elections be held later.

There is logic in this. How can an Egyptian president be elected before a constitution is drawn up to define his powers and responsibilities?

The secularists fear, however, that those who will draw up the constitution will seek to introduce a greater Islamisation of legal code. Last month a group of activists put forward a proposal to bring the presidential elections forward to the end of March.

El-Awa, who is related by marriage to a member of the ruling army council, said that Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had been represented by the army chief of staff Sami Anan, who in effect is the number two in the hierarchy. He met representatives of the FJP, Al Nour, Al Wasat, the liberal Al Wafd and the Democratic Front party.

For its part, the advisory council, which was appointed by the military council, argued that a consensus has to be reached by all parties before the holding of presidential elections. Given the starkly opposing positions it is hard to see how such a consensus can be reached. Instead, the Islamists, with the greatest share of the popular vote, and the military, with the firepower, are in agreement.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Militias' future may be in the security forces

The future of the militias is closely tied into the National Transitional Council's (NTC) decision to co-opt them into the security forces. The apparent force of personality of two military leaders –head of the Tripoli Revolutionary Council, Abdullah Nakir, and head of the capital's military council Abdelhakim Belhadj - demonstrates the need for the continuing support for these leaders who certainly do not represent the authorities. It must be expected that conflict will break out if the militias are unconvinced of fair treatment.

The 3rd January inter-militia conflict in Tripoli, which reportedly led to the death of five militiamen, turns out to have been rather different from that reported in the press. Menas Associates sources in Libya understand that although the clash - in which two and not five died - was initially reported as being between members of the Tripoli and Misrata militias, the latter was in fact made up of a group of criminals with no real attachment to the revolutionary movement. Mistakes of this kind by the non-local militias will offer opportunities for further hostilities.

The issue of law and order is confused. The courts are, in fact, currently closed and unless the NTC implements its offer of a pardon to all those innocent people who are currently jailed - which is unlikely - then scope for further mischief is vast. There are likely to be further attacks on jails as relatives try to free their kinsmen In addition, however, the fate of prisoners of war is also a major problem, with many thousands of criminals, fighters and anti-government civilians cooped up together until such time that an amnesty is declared under the authority of Mustafa Abdel Jalil.

The NTC's foreign policy position is largely one of ignorance and incapability of managing affairs using a small cadre of officials originally employed by the Qadhafi authorities. So far, the NTC has made few friends, even in the near Arab world.

Links with Egypt are currently particularly sour despite an urgent need for manual labourers on Libyan farms and in the factories. The Egyptian workforce was knowledgeable and hardworking, and Libya has done itself few favours by taking umbrage at Egypt's giving sanctuary to pro-Libyan refugees.

The government, if it has any logical pattern towards foreign affairs, may be seen as falling in line with US requirements by standing against the Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood's recent electoral success in both Tunisia and Egypt has made Libya more important to the US in terms of its regional foreign policy. Trying to ensure that it remains secular cannot in any way, however, be viewed as a stabilising influence on Libya or North Africa.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Brazil: Mercosul summit

The 42nd Mercosul summit was held in Montevideo on 20–21st December, with President Dilm Rousseff in attendance along with her counterparts from Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The most important political issue addressed was Venezuela's membership in the trading bloc.

The Paraguayan Senate continues to oppose it, as it has for the last three years. At the initiative of Uruguay, and via convoluted legal reasoning, an attempt was made to by-pass parliamentary ratification to permit Venezuela to join. Ecuador's application is also expected. It was decided that about 200 products will be exempted from Mercosul's Common External Tariff and therefore have their tariff raised by up to 35 per cent. This is multilateralised protectionism.

Another decision taken at the summit, at the behest of Argentina, was to prohibit ships bearing the flag of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) from access to the ports of member countries. This extends a prohibition that has been in force for several years in Argentina. The summit also approved a free trade agreement with the Palestinian Authority (a quid pro quo for having in earlier years approved one with Israel).

The slim results of this Mercosul summit reflect the mediocrity of the trading group's agenda. Shortly after the summit, the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico) held its second summit, on 4th December at Mérida, Mexico. Panama indicated it might join. The trade volume of Alliance members may soon exceed that of Mercosul partners. In any event, the very creation of the Alliance may be interpreted as contrary to Brazil's old aspiration to a South American common market.

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

© 2011 Menas Associates

Monday, 9 January 2012

Yemen: Saleh will continue to lead the GPC

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been playing his usual games. One day he says he will leave Yemen for medical treatment. A few days later he says that he will stay, blaming the opposition for some real or imagined slight. The latest move was that he would remain head of the General People's Congress (GPC) and lead the campaign for Abd al-Rab Mansour Hadi 's election. He claims he needs to be in Yemen to help the transition arrangements and wants to get away from the attention on him and allow the national unity government to get on with its work.

There are difficulties over the question of immunity. The GPC will support the deal when it comes to parliament but the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) prefer a broader “reconciliation law” that would cover acts committed by some of Saleh's opponents. GPC leaders claim that Saleh's opponents were responsible for the attack on the Nahdain mosque on 3rd June and think the law is designed to prevent them from being prosecuted. The investigation into this is continuing but remains a potential time bomb.

Human rights groups point out that the immunity deal only applies in Yemen and that Saleh could face arrest if he travels abroad – and there are many who would attempt to bring action against him. This may have been the reason why the US administration seemed reluctant to allow Saleh to travel to the US for medical treatment, although it may also have wanted stronger assurances from Saleh that he would honour the transition deal. It may also be mindful of the protests that will come from the streets if Saleh not only receives treatment but also remain free while they are demanding his trial. Formally, the US did not respond to the request for a visa.

The Yemeni government will also have to take regard of a statement by Navi Pillay , the UN high commissioner for human rights: “Amnesties are not permissible if they prevent the prosecution of individuals who may be criminally responsible for international crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and gross violations of human rights. Based on information we have gathered, there is reason to believe that some of these crimes were committed in Yemen during the period for which an amnesty is under consideration. Such an amnesty would be in violation of Yemen's international human rights obligations.”

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria: Soltani's MSP to leave presidential alliance

Bouguera Soltani, leader of the MSP (Islamist Movement for Society of Peace), or Hamas in Arabic, is hoping to take advantage of the success of other Islamist parties in other North African countries that have held elections this last year. He has therefore withdrawn his party from the ruling coalition or 'presidential alliance', as it is known, that comprises the FLN, the RND of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, and his own MSP. The final decision was made by the MSP's shoura (advisory council) at its meeting at the end of December.

Soltani says that he wants to press for constitutional reform to limit the powers of the president. He is on record as saying that he does not believe that Bouteflika is serious about reform and has warned that voters would snub the ballot box in large numbers if political reform is not implemented.

He said: “The regime is not serious when it talks about political reforms. It continues to rule the country as it has always done... People continue to believe that the ballot is not the way for change….. Without serious reforms, the social front will remain unstable.”

Most commentators believe that Soltani's real reason for leaving the coalition, at least for the moment, as being to avoid losing votes in the upcoming elections, or, as he would no doubt word it, to attract more of the country's Islamist voters. His problem is that his party's membership of the unpopular ruling coalition, along with his own association with corruption scandals, could result in a collapse in the MSP vote as the Islamists support alternative parties.

As things stand at the moment, the MSP's departure from the ruling coalition would not strip the government of its majority. Currently, however, the party has a big following among conservative Algerians. Whether they will continue to support the party in the spring election is questionable. Soltani therefore sees his best chance of retaining support as being by trying to distance himself from the coalition. Few Algerians are likely to fall for it and most opinion is that the MSP vote is likely to collapse.

The MSP was founded in 1990 by Mahfoud Nahnah and Algerian members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Nahnah, who died in 2003, changed the party's name from Hamas. The party condemned the 1992 coup that led to the annulment of the 1992 elections, but did join the government coalition in 2004. The MSP currently has four ministers in minor posts.

The FLN General-Secretary, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, is on record as saying that there will be no Islamist tidal wave in the elections and that altogether the Islamists will not win more than 35 per cent of the vote.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 6 January 2012

Nigeria: Human Rights Commission condemns crackdown

The Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which was set up by the Federal Government, has responded to the forceful crackdown against protesters by the police and other security forces. In a statement released to the media, it stated that: “The National Human Rights Commission affirms that the right to assemble freely and to protest or demonstrate peacefully is a human right recognised and guaranteed within Sections 39-40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Articles 9-11 of the African charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which is domestic law in Nigeria”.

It further stated that the Government, in implementing its obligation, has a duty to “encourage its citizens to channel or express their grievances in a peaceful manner. Therefore, individuals or groups should be free to express their views, offer their criticisms, canvass their ideas for democratic change and improvement, and assemble or protest for these purposes provided they do not seek to propagate these ideas by violent means or in a manner that disturbs public peace, safety or security”.

NHRC went on to reprimand security agencies, saying: “At all times, it remains the obligation and responsibility of security agencies and law enforcement agents to ensure equal protection of all persons, including groups, within Nigeria and afford all the protections they require to exercise their constitutional rights”. The Commission reiterated that law enforcement agents must at all times respect and protect the human rights of all persons; avoid use of excessive force, arbitrary arrests and detention or resort to “third-degree” methods of policing.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Egypt: Mubarak trials resume

The trials of Hosni Mubarak and his family, as well as some of his cronies, have resumed amid moves to accelerate the process. There has been much resentment at the way the trials have been stretched out, leading to suspicions that senior members of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) hope that Mubarak will die before he can be found guilty.

The prosecutors are showing some determination, and this week accused Mubarak of being a corrupt tyrant who had devoted his last ten years in office trying to ensure that his son Gamal succeeded him. They said that he had ordered the killing of protesters when the demonstrations broke out early last year and have announced that they seeking the death sentence.

AFP reports prosecutor Mustafa Khater as saying: “The law foresees the death penalty for premeditated murder.” Given the severity of the charges, seeking the death penalty was always a possibility, but many Egyptians will be shocked to hear the demand put so bluntly for the first time in the trial.

Earlier, both head of SCAF, Mohamed HusseinTantawi, and ex-head of intelligence, Omar Sulaiman, had testified that Mubarak had not ordered security forces to open fire on demonstrators in early 2011 (860 died).

Although there is a popular belief that the Mubaraks salted away billions of dollars, the prosecution said that Alaa and Gamal had illegal assets of rather less: US$340 million.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Iran: Investors cool on South Pars bonds

Informed sources say that investors have purchased only 14 per cent of rial bonds that the Ministry of Petroleum sold through domestic banks across the country from 26th November to 1st December to attract funds for South Pars projects.

From the total investment of 5 trillion rials ($4.5 billion) expected to be attracted through selling bonds, only 700 billion rials ($630 million) was raised. Accordingly, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) announced that the bond offer would continue until the end of working hours on 4 December.

Experts believe that this cold shoulder results from an unpredictable gold and foreign exchange market, which attracts more funds and cash inputs. It could also suggest a lower level of overall liquidity in Iran's economy as investors have been attempting to deal with rising inflation.

The oil industry upstream sector in particular has been facing serious financial issues in recent years, which will be aggravated if bonds continue to sell poorly in further phases.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

New Saharan provinces in Mali

On 16th December, the Malian government announced that it was going ahead with the plan to create two new provinces in the northern desert regions of Taoudéni and Ménaka. Taoudéni is currently part of the Timbuktu region and Ménaka part of Gao.

This move is in accordance with the intention to increase the number of provinces from eight to 19 over five years. While justified as part of the state's decentralisation programme, the creation of these two new provinces in particular is also an attempt to improve the security of the country's northern region. The move will inject more administration into these largely ignored regions, as well as new military commands.

While the proposal appears to be welcomed by some sectors of the population, notably the Arab community of Timbuktu, it is receiving mixed initial views from the Tuareg population. While some see it as a genuine move towards decentralisation, others are wary that it will establish greater restrictions, especially militarily, over the predominantly Tuareg regions. The schedule for these new regions coming into practice is not yet established.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Ghana: Small parties may hold 2012 election balance of power

If, as seems likely, the December 2012 presidential election goes to a runoff - between the National Democratic Congress' (NDC) incumbent John Mills and the opposition NPP's Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo - then the disorganised and mainly leftist smaller parties could be important in deciding the outcome. This is why the two are energetically wooing them and why the NDC, which has many Nkrumahists in its ranks, probably has an advantage.

The oldest, but no longer the largest, Nkrumahist party is the Convention People's Party (CPP) which is chaired by Samia Nkrumah who is the daughter of Ghana's founding president, Kwame Nkrumah. Samia is the party's only MP and complains that it is disorganised: 'But, somehow, having an election every four years limits our ambitions.'

She is supported by Dr Agyeman Badu Akosa but they have now clashed with the party's former presidential candidate Paa Kwesi Nduom (see story below). He flounced out of the party on 27th December and is starting a new one on whose ticket he will run for the presidency. This year he may use his own considerable funds to support over fifty aspiring MPs.

The other Nkrumahist party, the People's National Convention (PNC), has four seats in parliament and could hold the balance of power. It is, however, divided between a group led by Somtim Tobiga, and the mainstream faction which includes Edward Mahama and the party's general secretary, Bernard Mornah.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Nigeria: Ibru struck from register

The Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) has struck out the name of a former managing director/chief executive officer of Oceanic Bank and honorary fellow of the Institute, Cecilia Ibru , from its register of members.

A statement from the body yesterday said the decision was in furtherance, maintenance, and observance of ethical standards and professionalism among practitioners of the banking profession in Nigeria. The CIBN explained that the action was taken in line with the decision of its disciplinary tribunal on 12th December, which was confirmed by the governing council of the Institute, at its meeting of 13th December.

The tribunal, made up of eminent members of the banking profession with a retired justice of the Supreme Court as an assessor, in a unanimous decision granted the CIBN's request, indicating that Ibru 'should cease to hold herself out as a member of the banking profession (as provided by s. 16 of CIBN Act). With this development the name of Dr. (Mrs.) Cecilia Ibru has been struck out of the Register of Members of the Institute and hence, Banking Profession. She has also ceased to be a member of the banking profession.'

On 14th August 2009, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) sacked Ibru alongside four other bank CEOs, after an examination revealing that the institutions they controlled had high level of non-performing loans, poor corporate governance practices, lax credit administration processes and an absence of or non-adherence to credit risk management practices, among other problems.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Mekong joint patrols

Joint patrols of the Mekong River by China, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar have begun as a way to combat crime and drug trafficking on the major waterway. The Golden Triangle has long been a centre of drug production, trafficking, and piracy. Gangs often hijack boats, which they then use for trafficking or smuggling and to kidnap people.

Earlier nine Chinese crew members were killed and nine Thai soldiers arrested. (They assert their innocence.) The murders finally prompted an agreement between the four nations in Beijing on 31st October.

The launch of these joint patrols is part of a plan to increase security in the increasingly busy river and shipping lane. They have set a precedent for more transnational cooperation in security issues in the region. On the first venture out, on 10 December, five armed police boats escorted 10 Chinese cargo ships along a stretch of the Mekong from China's southwesterly Yunan province to Thailand's Chiang Rai, heavily armed with machine guns and hundreds of soldiers.

The four nations will patrol 24 hours a day and provide convoy escort for cargo ships in an area that is rapidly becoming an important trade route for regional trade. One enthusiastic English-language Chinese newspaper called the plan 'a blessing to the 70 million people living in the river basin and the international commercial vessels travelling along the river.'

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria: Sonatrach executives jailed

A court in Oran has confirmed the prison sentences imposed on former Sonatrach president director general Mohamed Meziane and four other defendants last May (see Algeria Focus May 2011, page 9). Both the defence and the prosecution announced their intentions to appeal to the supreme court, the former continuing to insist on the men's innocence, the latter still hoping for a harsher penalty.

One media report described Meziane's “visible disappointment”. It said that, as he left the court, “with a gesture of his hand he showed that he could not find the words to react to the verdict”. According to Le Soir d'Algerie , the verdict surprised the five defendants. “We were expecting to be acquitted, it isn't just,” said one of them. A defence lawyer explained what had happened, saying that “it was easier to reconfirm the verdicts than to overturn them. We truly thought that they would all be acquitted.” Meziane was sentenced to two years, one suspended, and a AD500,000 fine. The former downstream vice-president Abdelhafid Feghouli , who temporarily took over as PDG after Meziane, received one year, of which eight months was suspended, and a AD200,000 fine.

Others with similar convictions were Benamar Touati , the former PDG of Sonatrach subsidiary Société de Conditionnement et de Commercialisation des Gaz industriels (Cogiz); Mekki Henni , former head of Sonatrach Aval 's studies and development department; and Nechnech Tidjini , head of the Algeria-French consultancy Safir . All have served their minimum terms and are therefore now at liberty. The trial concerned a contract awarded via the gré-à-gré system through Sonatrach Aval to Safir to build a nitrogen storage and conditioning centre.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates