Monday, 27 February 2012

Algeria: Government in panic over election

The government is in a panic over the up-coming 10 May election, and fears a massive abstention. The latest instructions being given to citizens by the government are along the lines of: “We know that many people are undecided on whom to vote for. That doesn't matter. Just go to the voting booths and get your fingers marked with the ink (dye). It lasts five days and we will be able to see who didn't vote. But, you don't have to vote. Just go to the polls to vote and get your fingers marked, but you don't then have to vote.”

In short, the government is not interested in how the votes are cast; it just wants people to register to vote to prove that there was a reasonable turnout – somewhere around 50-60%, or hopefully higher. The message also contains the veiled threat that those without 'ink on their fingers' will in some way be noted and perhaps punished.

The government's anxiety over an abstention, which would destroy its reform pretensions, were manifested by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on 23 February when he addressed a ceremony in Oran to mark the double anniversary of the nationalisation of hydrocarbons and the creation of the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA). The president said that Algeria is witnessing a critical stage on both domestic and foreign levels. The country, he said, was “going through a sensitive period both internally and externally.” He went on to say that the world was also going through a difficult period. “It requires wisdom,” he said, “in dealing with the situation.” He warned Algerians against “rumours and false information.”

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Iran cuts British, French exports

The Ministry of Petroleum confirmed on 19 February that Iran has cut oil exports to British and French firms in line with the decision to stop crude supplies to Europe. The stoppage came as no surprise to analysts, particularly after an earlier speculation that exports would be halted to six major European countries.

Ministry spokesperson Alireza Nikzad-Rahbar asserted, 'We have our own oil customers and replacements for these [British and French] companies have already been chosen and we will sell the crude oil to new customers.' This follows an earlier announcement by Petroleum Minister Rostam Qasemi that Iran was planning to cut oil exports to 'hostile European states' in an effort to pre-empt a EU embargo due to come into force in July. The minister also emphasised that Tehran had no intention of putting the European people under pressure during winter.

The move should be treated primarily as a media manoeuvre meant for domestic consumption. Britain and France are not the main consumers of Iranian oil and Iran will lose its clients in Europe within the next few months in any event.

The Majles earlier pushed for legislation to pre-empt the European Union's embargo in order to deprive European states of time to find substitute sources of oil, a move that would have affected the economically weak countries of southern Europe. But the Ministry is believed to have been against the move on the grounds that it would harm Iran more than Europe. It is not clear yet which countries will be Iran's new customers, amid signs that some non-Western customers, such as Japan and South Korea may also reduce their oil imports from Iran.

Qasemi's comments also contained a hint that things could soon get trickier. He noted that Iran had not yet resorted to barter deals in the face of difficulties over financial transactions, but 'if one day it is deemed necessary, it will not be a complicated issue.' But so far, he said, oil revenues have been transferred into the country by 'different ways' and 'numerous friends.'

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 24 February 2012

Libya: National reconciliation, extrajudicial killings

What is to be done about on the thorny issue of national reconciliation? Finding a way to integrate the numerous elements linked to the former regime is a challenge of gargantuan proportions.

The Natuional Transitional Council (NTC) has displayed a schizophrenic approach to this issue so far. While Mustafa Abdel Jalil indicated at the end of last year that Libya was ready to forgive those who had fought for the Qadhafi regime, the NTC's election law is overtly hawkish in its efforts to prevent anyone with the slightest link to the former regime from standing as a candidate. Yet the NTC is aware that it has to do something to resolve this issue because of its potential to create serious trouble down the line. Libyans more widely are also resigned to the fact that the matter has to be dealt with. Some of those celebrating the revolution's anniversary in Benghazi referred to Qadhafi loyalists in their chants and slogans as (green) 'algae' that they had no choice but to accept.

National reconciliation is all the more pressing in view of the catalogue of revenge attacks that are still taking place and besmirching the country's international reputation. This month it emerged that Libya's former acting ambassador to Paris, Omar Brebesh , had been tortured to death after being called in for questioning by Khalid Al-Blehzi , the commander of the Ashura Martyrs Brigade . The ex-diplomat's mutilated corpse was discovered in the mountains of Zintan after his family were tipped off by the brigade.

Although the alleged perpetrators have been arrested, certain elements within the new establishment seem rather ambivalent about his death. Colonel Ahmed Bani, a spokesperson for the army, told the Financial Times this month, 'We are not in paradise … Maybe he [Brebesh] made a mistake in the past. Now he pays for that.' Such extrajudicial killings are clearly not isolated incidents. Amnesty International released a damning report this month that cited evidence of gross human rights abuses by the militias, many of them carried out against alleged members of the former regime. The NTC has to act if it is to put a stop to this cycle of violence.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Militias remain outside central government control

The domestic situation is still far from secure. The Amnesty International reports on torture in Misrata prisons earlier this year hardened by mid-February into scarcely concealed charges of serious breaches of human rights. According to Amnesty, at least 12 individuals were tortured to death in prison in the last quarter of 2011, and no conclusive action to alter the situation was reported other than a name change for the guards running the makeshift prisons.

The militia who were involved in the management of the Misrata prison have continued to perpetrate abuse of inmates in direct contravention of National Transitional Council (NTC) orders and in flagrant violation of the human rights laws.

Since that time, the militias have become an increasing menace to the rule of law. In addition to keeping Saif al-Islam Qadhafi in confined quarters in Zintan, they are daily blocking the routes outside Tripoli and Benghazi, and are reportedly imposing illegal charges for safe passage. These unpopular militia activities impact on the lives of the urban population.

It would seem that the principal militias have now formalised an organisation which links about 300 groups, with a combined total of over 200,000 members. It is claimed by journalists recently in the region that the militias' objective is simply to oppose the NTC on key issues, undermining its status and ridiculing its efforts to implement constitutional change.

In practice the militias are frequently concerned with establishing authority on their home patch although those from Misrata and Zintan are often in conflict for more complex reasons. So far, the government has been completely unequal to the task of disarming this irregular and illegal military force. In their latest incarnation the militias have been acting as paramilitary units with little or no regard for the wishes of the central government.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Mubarak's trial enters final day

After six months of hearings, the trial of Egypt's former leader Hosni Mubarak is expected to resume today for the last time. Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for over 30 years, denies ordering the killing of protesters during the uprising that forced him to resign.

The former veteran leader could face the death penalty if convicted, as could his co-defendants including, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six senior police officers.

Both of Mubarak's sons – Gamal and Alaa – are facing separate charges of corruption with their father in the same trial. Business tycoon, Hussein Salem, is also being tried in absentia. All the defendants deny wrongdoing.

The judge is expected to deliver his verdict at a later hearing.

In his closing remarks on Monday 20th February, chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman said: "This is not a case about the killing of one or 10 or 20 civilians, but a case of an entire nation."

Suleiman told the court earlier that it was unlikely that Mubarak didn't give an order to the police to open fire on the protesters, especially because testimony collected from 2,000 witnesses, including police officers, suggested there were orders from above to arm security personnel with automatic rifles.

Defence lawyer Farid al-Deeb has counteracted the claim by saying that the army was, in fact, in charge of security when protesters were killed. He also noted that Mubarak had imposed a curfew on the afternoon of 28th January and transferred responsibility to the head of the army. He added that neither the police nor the interior ministry could therefore have been ordered to open fire on demonstrations.

Al-Deeb, however, did not shift the blame on the army or suggest it was the one to order the killings. He said it had denied ever firing on protesters, and that he believed "the army, because it does not lie".

On the last day of the trial, some of the defendants will be permitted to address the court, including Gamal Mubarak and Habib al-Adly. The verdicts, however, are not expected until next month due to the volume of documentation to be reviewed by the judge.

Sources: AFP, AP, BBC News

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

Ghana: Electoral Commission confident that biometric registration process is on track

With the December 2012 elections only several months away, the chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC) emphasised last week at the “Election 2012: The EC's preparations so far” conference that the use of biometrics in the election process was on schedule to go ahead, and that biometric registration for the elections – to be conducted under the watchful eyes of representatives of the various parties and election officials – will start on 24 March and continue on four “phases” until completion on 5 May.

Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan acknowledged that four phases, for different groups of polling stations, were needed because the 7,000 available registration kits fall well short of the 23,000 or more that are required to register voters across the country in a single phase.

In addition to providing some of the technical details, Dr. Afari-Gyan - noting one of the limitations of the registration process - stated that “it is only through vigilance that the registration of foreigners and minors could be prevented”. Another, more important limitation, is that some eligible voters may be unable to vote if they are away from their registered polling station on Election Day because of the current technical limitations.

Special measures are, however, being put in p[lace to support proxy voters and disabled citizens amongst others Given that the EC's budget is well over 240 million cedis (US$143 million), of which almost 150 million cedis US$89 million) or over 60 per cent is allocated for registration alone, any mishaps in the biometric registration process could be embarrassing. It will also damage the credibility of what are sure to be extremely close elections.

International observers have continued their support for the EC's activities and the biometric process itself, with the European Union providing seven million Euros to provide training and education – through the EC, Ghana's National Commission on Civic Education and the National Media Commission – on biometric registration. Lets hope that comments made last week by the EU Ambassador in Ghana, when revealing this Euro contribution, that Ghana is a “beacon of democracy” in Africa, do not prove to be wide of the mark.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Nigeria: Army in crossfire with Boko Haram, again

Nigeria's army has said that it has killed at least eight Boko Haram militants while fighting in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri. The militants reportedly died in an exchange of gunfire after several explosions at the local market.

The army also said that three civilians were injured in the crossfire, although according to some witnesses as many as 20 corpses were seen at the market.

Over the last couple of months Boko Haram has launched a number of deadly attacks across northern Nigeria, involving both security officials and civilians. Maiduguri residents told the BBC they heard several explosions rip through the Baga market.

Speaking to the BBC, a military spokesman said that soldiers had responded to the explosions and partook in a gun battle with Boko Haram members. The spokesman said eight militants were killed while several others escaped and were being hunted.

Boko Haram wants to overthrow the government and establish Islamic law in Nigeria. Last week, the group said it had carried out an attack on a prison in central Kogi state, releasing seven of its members.

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, WSJ

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

Yemeni voters go to the polls to choose new leader

Today is a momentous day as Yemeni voters go to the polls to elect a new president to replace former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Voters are expected to rubber-stamp Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the only candidate in the poll.

Tight security measures were set in place before crowds took to the polling stations this morning, in the capital city of Sana'a. The voting comes a year after ongoing anti-government demonstrations. New outbreaks of violence were recorded in the south on Monday 20th February ahead of the voting. One person is said to have been killed.

According to the BBC, the situation in Sana'a is relatively peaceful. The separatist Southern Movement and the northern Shi'a rebels, however, have called on Yemenis to boycott the poll.

It would seem that most of the anti-government demonstrators – who took part in the protests that began in January 2012 – are backing Hadi, who is from the south and has already called for dialogue with the local rebels.

Hadi is the only candidate, but the majority of the country seems enthusiastic about the prospect of him taking over from Saleh, who in theory is no longer the country's leader, but who still exerts substantial influence over the military and his former personnel.

Yemen is in a bad way, the country's economy is depleted, insecurity is rife and the al-Qa'ida militants have recently taken control of two districts. The country's new president will face a number of problems before Yemen regains stability.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Bloomberg

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

Monday, 20 February 2012

UN inspectors visit Iran and hope for “concrete results”

UN nuclear inspectors are visiting Tehran for the second time in a month to discuss the country's nuclear programme. The delegation's chief inspector Herman Nackaerts said his team's "highest priority" was to clarify the "possible military dimensions" of the country's nuclear agenda. He added that progress “may take a while”.

Despite Western fears over Iran's uranium enrichment work, which is thought to be geared towards making nuclear weapons, Tehran insists that its programme is designed for peaceful purposes only.

In recent months, tensions with Iran have increased further due to speculations that Israel may strike the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities. In view of the situation, US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon visited Israel this weekend for talks with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Sunday 19th February, however, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey warned that Iran's programme was still dangerous, irrespective of whether or not the country was at the stage of assembling a nuclear bomb.

He added: “On that basis, I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us."

Last week, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took part in an elaborate ceremony to unveil new developments in the country's nuclear programme. Tehran said it had used domestically-made nuclear fuel in a reactor for the first time, as well as developing faster, more efficient uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Speaking about the visit, Nackaerts said that he hoped to have a "couple of good and constructive days in Tehran". He added: "Importantly we hope for some concrete results from the trip. The highest priority remains of course the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme, but we want to tackle all outstanding issues…This is of course a very complex issue that may take a while. But we hope it can be constructive".

Sources: AFP, WSJ, Reuters, BBC News

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

Libyans still fearful of instability

Last Friday 17th February, marked the one year anniversary of the first demonstration against Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi and his rule. The uprising began in Benghazi, which later became the rebel stronghold, and quickly spread throughout the country. The eight month civil war was aided by NATO and was responsible for the ousting of the old regime, which culminated with Qadhafi's death in his hometown of Sirte on 20th October.

There were no official celebrations to mark the occasion as a show of respect for those who lost their lives in battle. Thousands of people, however, took to the streets with V for victory signs and pictures of those who died during the revolution. Commemorations began in Benghazi and spread throughout the country.

Speaking to the crowds in the former rebel stronghold, interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib said: "We promise to find Qadhafi loyalists who are abroad, who were involved in killing or stealing Libyan money… We promise to build up our national army ... Let's stay united until we reach the safe land.”

Before the momentous date, al-Keib addressed the nation saying the government would take a hard-line response to anyone who threatened national security during Friday's celebrations.

There were security measures put in place in major cities to prevent possible outbreaks of violence.

Speaking on the eve of the festivities in a television address chairman on Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdul Jalil said that the government has “opened” its arms to all Libyans irrespective of whether or not they supported the revolution.

He added: “But this tolerance does not mean we are incapable of dealing with the stability of our country…We will be tough towards people who threaten our stability. The thuwwar [brigades of former rebel fighters] are ready to respond to any attack aimed at destabilising" the country.

It would appear that the festivities went without major incident, but many still fear the insecurity situation across the country. Libya's government seems to have had little success in disarming the various militias and until they do the country could easily return to oppression and instability.

Sources: AFP, Reuters, BBC News

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

Algeria: Death of General Mohamed Lamari

The former Head of the army and the General Staff, General Mohamed Lamari, died on Monday 12 February aged 72. According to his brother, who was quoted by the Ministry of Defence, Lamari died after being rushed to a hospital in his home town Biskra following a heart attack. He was buried in Algiers on Tuesday.

Lamari is regarded by many Algerians as the Algerian General with 'most blood on his hands'. He was one of the inner circle of Generals who overthrew the government in January 1992 to forestall the electoral victory of the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS). The latter FIS had won a substantial majority of the seats in the first round of voting in December and needed only a few more in the second round in January to take power.

President Mohamed Boudiaf, who was assassinated in June 1992 on the orders of the ruling Generals, including Lamari, issued an order in March 1992 that Lamari should be but the order was never carried out.

Lamari was a leader of the military's so-called 'eradicators' faction which opposed any reconciliation with the rebels. In 1993 he was appointed chief of the staff of the army. He created a specialist 'anti-terrorism' force of 15,000 whose task was to hunt down and kill Islamist rebels. An estimated 200,000 Algerians were killed during this 'dirty war' of whom at half were at the hands of the security forces.

Lamari began his military career as an officer of the French army having been trained at the Saumur cavalry school. He joined the ALN in Morocco a few months before Algerian Independence in 1962 and he then trained in Moscow at the Soviet Union's military academy.

Lamari 'retired' in 2004, officially for reasons of ill-health but it was generally known that he was dismissed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who replaced him with by the current Chief of Staff, General Salah Ahmed Gaïd.

Mystery has always surrounded Lamari's unexpected 'retirement' in 2004. The reason for his dismissal was a deal between Bouteflika and DRS Chief, General Mohamed Mediène. Behind the deal lay Mediène's desire to have Lamari removed from office so that he would become Algeria's undisputed 'strong man'. He therefore offered Bouteflika a deal whereby he arranged for the electoral rug to be pulled from under the feet of Ali Benflis, who was Bouteflika's main rival in the 2004 presidential election, resulting in Bouteflika capturing 85 per cent of the official vote and Benflis 6.4 per cent. In delivering this service, Mediène also persuaded Bouteflika that the best way to give Algeria and its presidency a new image after the 'dirty war' of the 1990s was for Bouteflika to get rid of the most hated general of that time. Hence Lamari's 'retirement'.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Libya: Militias are destabilising the country

According to Amnesty International at least 12 detainees held by militias have died after being tortured for over six months. The report carried out by the human rights group is being published to coincide with the anniversary of the revolution, which toppled former Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi.

Last month, the UN estimated that about 8,000 of Qadhafi loyalists are being held by militia groups. The National Transitional Council (NTC) has been trying to get the militias to disarm, but with little success.

Amnesty International is worried as it believes that some Qadhafi loyalist are committing human rights violations without consequences or intervention by the NTC.

The forthcoming report cites witnesses' statements saying some detainees were repeatedly tortured, beaten with whips, cables, plastic hoses, metal chains and bars, and given electric shocks with live wires and taser-like electroshock weapons. Speaking to AP news agency, Amnesty International's senior crisis response adviser said: “Nobody is holding these militias responsible."

The group also said that in one detention centre in Tripoli investigators found tortured detainees concealed by their interrogators. The group added that among those detained were African migrants and refugees, who were suspected to be "mercenaries" for Qadhafi during the eight month conflict.

The report is based on research conducted in Libya in January and February.

Sources: BBC News, AP, AFP

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

Libya: New National General Congress

The Libyan Higher National Electoral Commission (LHNEC) was assembled from those representatives chosen by people in the regions in order to set in motion the machinery for the elections in June. The LHNEC was sworn in on 13 February, and the way is now open for the electoral laws passed by the NTC to be put into effect.

The constitutional changes awaited in Libya are scheduled to begin on 17 February when, for three days, there will be selection of committee members from the LHNEC who will review the proposed new constitution, determine the electoral rules and set the constituencies. It is expected that some 200 constituencies will be established on the basis of population size and surface area.

The designation of constituencies will cause some hard bargaining given the highly polarised imbalance between the thinly populated interior and the congested north.

Following that, the country goes forward to the June elections with the promise of a new democracy within a new constitution which will establish the newly elected National General Congress. At this stage, the National Transitional Council (NTC) and all other non-elected organisations will cease to exist.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Ghana: International analysts say Woyome could cost NDC the 2012 elections

The Woyome payment saga is shaping up to be a major issue in election year, with the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) continuing to support protests about National Democratic Congress (NDC) corruption and making a series of allegations. To this one can add matters like the fuel price controversy, and the internal NDC divisions that have been exposed by Woyome and perhaps led to the removal of attorney general Martin Amidu in the first place.

The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has now stated that “the negative impact on the election prospects of the NDC and Mr Mills should not be underestimated”, which is unsurprising given its effect on Mills' reputation because he must either have:

known about the payment to Woyome and taken no action, which he denies;
known about the payment but requested it not be made, which is what was suggested in the recent interim EOCO report; or
have had no knowledge of the payments whatsoever as he claimed recently which means either that Mills has shown poor judgement or that his team believes that they can simply ignore his commands and/or not even inform him about important matters.
That international observers are now speculating on the scandal's potential effect on the elections means that the scandal has been noticed overseas, and it is only a matter of time before observers ask whether it could add to the tension of extremely close elections which are, as the EIU suggests, high stake, given the access to future oil revenues and patronage that Ghana's fledging oil industry brings.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Iraq warns IOCs over Kurdish oil deals

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain Shahristani has said that Total would face “full consequencies” if it signed oil deals with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan.

Shahristani told Reuters: “The position of the Iraqi government will be the same as with the other oil companies, that no company has a right to sign a contract without the approval of the central government of Iraq…Any such contract has no standing with the Iraqi government, and the companies have no right to work on the Iraqi territories and they bear the full consequences."

Shahristan's comments came after Iraq opened a new Gulf crude export outlet in the southern oil hub of Basra on Sunday 12th February, which is expected to increase Baghdad's exports by about 300,000 b/d once the crud begins to flow.

According to Reuters, the plan should raise exports from Iraq's southern oilfields to approximately 1.9 million b/d by March and bring Iraq's total shipments to 2.3 million b/d. After years of war and sanctions, Iraq has recently signed deals with a number of IOCs including, Shell, ExxonMobil and BP to develop its southern oilfields.

Speaking about ExxonMobil, Shahristani said that the US major would not be able to participate in Iraq's fourth energy bidding round because of its agreements with Kurdistan, which has its own regional government and military force.

He noted: “Exxon was informed about the Iraqi government position clearly and openly. They asked for some time, and we are waiting for their final answer to inform them of our final decision…But right now they are not qualified to participate in the fourth bidding round."

The friction between Baghdad and Kurdistan remains as both regions claim autonomy over their oilfields, however, Baghdad is adamant that the central government has control over the country's oil reserves.

On Friday 10th February, Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie said the company would not seek contracts in the Iraqi bidding round due to conditions being unattractive but added that it was considering Kurdistan deals.

When asked by Reuters to respond to Margerie's comments Shahristanti said: "If they don't find it attractive enough, they are most welcome to withdraw from it." He also said that as he understood Iran would not carry out a threat to close down the Strait of Hormuz because Iranian oil supplies also relied on the shipping lane and the closure would be detrimental to Tehran.

He explained: “My understanding is that the Iranians would not close the Strait because they don't benefit anything from its closure…They are exporting most of their oil through the Strait of Hormuz, of course it is not to their benefit."

Sources: Reuters, News Wires, WSJ

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

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Nigeria: Security developments

Boko Haram members carried out multiple bomb attacks against key military installations in Kaduna State on 7 February. Eyewitness reports state that the first attack occurred at around 11:45 at the 1 st Mechanised Division Headquarters of the Nigerian army. A second blast occurred a few minutes later at around 12:00 near the main gate of the Nigerian Air Force base which houses the military flying school. A third attack occurred at around 12:15 at the Kawo Bridge in the Kaduna metropolis.

Reports state that the attack at the 1 st Mechanised Division was carried out by a suicide bomber in a Toyota Sienna car, apparently loaded with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Director of Army Public Relations Maj Gen Raphael Isa confirmed the incident, stating that the suicide bomber was dressed in military fatigues but driving a private car. According to Isa, the bomber's attempt to ram the front

gate was repelled by shots from police. The bomb was subsequently detonated but there was only minimal damage, with the suicide bomber being the only fatality. The incident at Kawo Bridge, on the other hand, recorded a number of casualties. None have been reported dead but there were several who sustained varying degrees of injuries and are receiving treatment.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks in a telephone interview granted by a spokesman who referred to himself as “the real Abu Qaqa”. It will be recalled that last week, a combined team of the Nigerian Army and the State Security Service (SSS) arrested one Abu Qaqa – the supposed spokesperson of the extremist sect in Kaduna State. Boko Haram denied that the man detained was its spokesperson, though it confirmed that the arrested individual was indeed a member who had been sent to explore the possibility of negotiations with the Federal Government. The SSS continues to insist, however, that the person it has in its custody is the sect's spokesman and that he has been assisting with their investigations.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria: Hillary Clinton's visit postponed

The visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Algeria later this month has been postponed until early March during her tour of the Maghreb region.

According to Echorouk's Djamel Lalami, she will not play a mediating role between Algeria and Morocco regarding the opening of the currently closed border although it is widely known that there is US pressure on both countries to move towards a normalisation of relations.

According to the same source, it is expected that Clinton will discuss a number of highly topical issues with Algeria, namely:

> the Arab Spring and the wind of change blowing through the region
arms trafficking from Libya
> the Islamists coming to power in some countries of the region
the Western Sahara issue and the Syrian crisis
> Algeria's political reforms and the forthcoming parliamentary election and
> military co-operation and counter-terrorism in the African Sahel.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

US company claims that Ghana is source of internet fraud

Although Nigeria is probably the country most associated with cybercrime – including “419” scams – Ghana is, according to one US company, quickly catching up with the leaders in terms of cybercrime and fraudulent internet transactions as a proportion of its overall online activity.

A recent announcement by Device Reputation Authority - which provides fraud protection services to online businesses and is therefore an interested party in highlighting fraud or supposed fraud - claimed last week that online transactions (including banking or financial services, gaming, social networking and retail sales) originating in Ghana were more likely to be fraudulent than those from any other country in the world, with Nigeria, the Philippines, China and Israel being the next most fraudulent countries.

Although one may be sceptical about this claim, which was accompanied by a plug for the company's products, a number of other reports or stories in the Western media have mentioned Ghana as a source of fraudulent transactions, and sometimes perceptions can be as important as reality.

Ghana has a justifiable reputation as a strong location for business process outsourcing (BPO) services and there have been a number of impressive local ICT efforts. Any prevalence or perception of online fraud – whether run by Ghanaians or by resident Nigerians – could therefore affect more than just the defrauded customers.

It is interesting that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently announced that it is conducting a study on both cybercrime and the responses to cybercrime by UN member states, the private sector and the international community as a whole. Governments will receive a questionnaire on “cybercrime prevention, policy, legislation, law enforcement and criminal justice response, international cooperation and technical assistance”, and the results will be published in 2013. Ghana's government, commended on a number of factors including peaceful elections and relatively strong economic policy, will not want to be seen as inadequately responding to domestic fraudulent activity.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Brazil: Argentinean protectionism

Argentina established new restrictions in early January on the importation of Brazilian goods, but President Dilma Rousseff 's government is determined to retaliate if the new licensing requirements are not withdrawn. A meeting of Mercosul entrepreneurs, plus those of Chile and Bolivia, is being organised in Buenos Aires to try to dissuade the Argentinean government from imposing its decision.

Argentina's economic situation is poor and deteriorating, especially with respect to external accounts, and this will have adverse consequences for Brazil, its largest trading partner. Studies by the Brazilian Agency for Industrial Development (ABDI), a government institution, reveal the loss of Argentinean competitiveness and the difficulty of integrating the two economies, particularly in the oil and gas and naval construction sectors.

Rousseff has displayed impatience with Argentina's growing protectionism. Paulo Skaf , the president of the São Paulo Federation of Industries (FIESP), has sought an audience with President Cristina de Kirchner to smooth bilateral trade relations, but there are lingering structural obstacles.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Libya's budget deficit to reach $10 billion

According to Libya's government the country's budget deficit will be $10 billion this year, as the it struggles to pay its public sector workers and meet energy costs. Speaking about the issue, National Transitional Council's (NTC) head Mustafa Abdel Jalil told French newspaper Figaro that the country has only recovered a fraction of $100 billion in assets frozen abroad during the civil war.

Abdel Jalil noted: “The production of oil has brought in $4 billion in the last five months, while the salaries of civil servants are $22 billion a year and spending on electricity and fuel $14 billion...The budget being prepared should be in deficit of $10 billion.”

On Monday 6th February, International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that restoring order to oil and gas production in Libya is central to rebuilding the country's infrastructure, which has endured considerable damage during the eight months of civil war.

Speaking on January 19th, Libya's Central Bank governor Saddeq Omar Elkaber, said that the government's 2012 budget would register a 7 billion dinar ($5.6 billion) deficit and that the lifting of UN sanctions on the central bank's assets had unfrozen 95 per cent of its $100 billion in assets.

The government, however, is in the process of recovering frozen funds. Abdel Jalil told the media: "Only $6 billion has been repatriated. We're still working to recover the rest.” He also said that local councils were putting together organisational structures and once they were in place money would be injected to pay civil servants. He added that the process should be completed by 17th February.

The NTC won NATO's backing with the removal of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi last year, but it has to restore order in the country and disarm the various militia groups. Abdel Jalil noted that it would be easier to amalgamate militias into the police and national army. He added: “Within two months we think we will have incorporated 60-70 per cent of the revolutionaries.”

Sources: Reuters, Albawaba, WSJ

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

Monday, 6 February 2012

US sanctions Iran's Central Bank

Repots have emerged that US President Barack Obama has put in place tigther sanctions on Iran's government and the country's Central Bank. Obama has reportedly frozen the Islamic Republic's asses held or traded in the US.

On Sunday 5th February, Obama said US and Israel were “in lockstep” as regards their policy towards Iran.

Both countries, as well as many other Western nations, are worried that Iran is in the process of developing nuclear weapons. Tehran, however, maintains that the country's nuclear programme is designed for civilian use only.

The new sanctions include a block on the Central Bank of Iran; imposed "in light of the deceptive practices" it reportedly keeps in order to conceal business transactions already banned by previous sanctions.

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

Egypt to put foreign nationals on trial

Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has said it is going to put some 43 foreign nationals on trial for funding non-government organisation in their protests against the military.
It has raided offices of several NGOs and banned a number of foreign company employees leaving the country. The US, whose national are among those in question, said that Washington could review US aid to Egypt unless Cairo respects human rights.

A spokeswoman for US state department Victoria Nuland said the US was "deeply concerned by these reports" and was seeking "clarification" from the Egyptian government.

Human Rights Watch has also called on SCAF to drop the charges and take heed of human rights. The group said: “Foreign funding is their lifeline. Egypt's military government is now using the kind of tactics used by Zimbabwe and Ethiopia to silence independent voices."

The revelation followed several days of violent street protests, which SCAF seemingly failed to keep in check and which claimed 74 lives.

According to AFP news agency the foreign nationals in question stand accused of "setting up branches of international organisations in Egypt without a license from the Egyptian government" and of "receiving illegal foreign funding".

Egyptian prosecutors said they were going on evidence suggesting some groups were violating the country's laws.

Sources: AFP, BBC News, AP

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

Algeria: The battle for abstention

e Algerian regime is staking almost everything on the spring parliamentary elections to prove to the world that it is really reforming; few Algerians believe it to be true. The regime's fear is that most Algerians will simply not bother to go to the polls. In many respects it does not matter which party wins the election as long as there is a reasonably high turnout. That is what the regime needs to show to the world, or at least its few Western allies and backers, that it is meaningfully engaged in democratic reform.

Most Algerians stopped bothering to vote a long time ago because they know the elections are rigged and are pointless, and few believe that much has changed in that regard. The regime, however, is showing signs of increasingly acute desperation. As we reported last week, the Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdallah Ghlamallah has ordered the imams to 'get people to the polling stations', while the Interior Ministry has taken to texting Algerians about the virtues of voting.

Against these increasingly desperate measures a movement is spreading through the social network channels urging people to abstain. In the absence of anything resembling a recognised polling system it is difficult to get any sort of quantitative feel of how the 'abstention vote' is playing. There is, however, a sense that the abstention movement is taking root as a direct form of opposition to the regime. Whether the government will be able to counter this is highly debatable and we will not know until polling day arrives.

As the awareness of the abstention movement grows, political parties and commentators are expressing fears that the government will resort to its normal tactics of rigging the ballot. Political party leaders, and especially the 'opposition' parties, as well as media commentators are warning that any attempt to rig the election will ignite an explosion.

Sheikh Abdallah Djaballah - leader of the newly registered Justice and Freedom Party, a moderate Islamist party which some Algerians see as one of the few credible challengers to the government - said in an interview this week: "We hope that we can go towards a democratic system peacefully ... but if fraud is committed during the upcoming elections, it will be the biggest factor that will push the people towards an explosion”.

Among several opposition elements whom we have questioned on this issue there seems to be a growing awareness that the government will have no choice but to rig the election, at least in falsifying the turnout figures, and that this will be the 'final straw', the catalyst, that will tip Algeria into the sort of national unrest that has long been anticipated but which has so far been held in check.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 3 February 2012

Egypt: Israel's threat to Suez Canal's supremacy

Israel has announced plans to build a rail-link between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea which could challenge the Suez Canal's monopoly. Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that the project would link Ashdod to Eilat and provide an alternative freight route from Asia to Europe. Ships would drop off freight at one port for it to be carried by rail to the other for its onward journey. Israel says there had been much interest from China and India.

There would be no strategic benefit to Israel other than to provide a source of income. There have been many other projects discussed linking the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, none of which has seen the light of day. The Israelis have proposed building an oil and gas pipeline (similar to the Egyptian-operated Sumed line); and they have made designs for a canal from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea and to the Red Sea, to refill the rapidly decreasing Dead Sea and to exploit the difference in water levels for hydroelectric power generation.

The Suez Canal has remained one bright spot on the Egyptian economy over the past year as its revenues depend more on the state of the world economy and are impervious to the political turmoil in the Nile Valley. Egypt will be watching warily for any challenge to its dominant position and will hope this latest project will stay on the drawing board like previous schemes.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Nigeria: CBN reports on petroleum subsidy

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has reported that the federal government paid a total of N1.76 trillion as petroleum subsidies in 2011, as opposed to the N1.5 trillion that had been widely announced. CBN made this revelation on 24 January to the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on fuel subsidy regime monitoring.

Deputy CBN governor Kingsley Moghalu, who represented governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, noted that the bank plays a limited role in fuel subsidy management but must 'ensure monetary and price stability.' He said the Petroleum Stability Fund (PSF) has its account domiciled in the CBN and operated by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA). Moghalu explained further that the 'account was opened on 15th of December 2001 and credited with N673.85 billion, and N 666 billion has been withdrawn, leaving a balance of N6.257 billion.'

Also, the deputy governor revealed that the Excess Crude Account (ECA) is domiciled in the CBN and operated by the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF). It had a credit balance of N2,562.78 billion between 25 September 2007 and January 2012. As of 17 January this year, the ECA balance was N 19,261 billion. It was also noted that subsidy went up eightfold in 2009, totalling over 110 per cent, and by October 2011 it had hit over 500 per cent.

Moghalu said this led to a high demand for foreign exchange, prompting the CBN to set up a special foreign exchange audit to determine the veracity of the demand. 'The audit is ongoing and this really put so much pressure on the forex market,' said Moghalu. 'In 2009, the total sales of foreign exchange was $38 billion, and $9 billion was sold to the oil sector alone.'

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Nigeria arrests Boko Haram spokesman

Nigerian officials have said they have arrested the spokesman for the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. A police official told Associated Press news agency, the man known as Abul Qaqa, was arrested in the north eastern city of Maiduguri, Borno state.

Officials are still trying to confirm the identity of the man arrested on Wednesday 1st February. An unnamed officer told Reuters news agency: “We are still taking to him. Since 'Abu Qaqa' is a pseudonym for the Boko Haram spokesman, we want to be sure of who we have with us."

It is estimated that more than 150 people were killed by Boko Haram last month, when a number of co-ordinated explosions were set off near security buildings and passport and immigration offices around the northern city of Kano.

The group wants to overthrow the government and install Islamic law around the country. Boko Haram militants have recently attacked police stations and security officials around the country, also bombing churches and killing many civilians in the process. The most recent attack, however, is said to have been the bloodiest.

Sources: AP, BBC News, Reuters

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

Ghana: EIU survey highlights Africa's investment potential

According to a recent survey of over 150 institutional investors by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), more than half those polled believe that Africa is “the most attractive region to invest”. While Nigeria and Kenya are likely to offer the best investment returns during the next decade they are followed by Ghana, Zimbabwe and Egypt. Despite this interest, however, more than half of the institutional investors (including banks, pension and hedge funds) admitted that Africa made up less than one per cent of their total investment exposures.

What makes the poll interesting is that investors increasingly believe that African growth is not simply about commodities. The CEO of an Abu Dhabi government-owned investment fund, Invest AD Asset Management, stated that Africa has “real economic growth drivers”, and is no longer just a “destination for grants and aid” but now a “destination for trade and investment”. Nevertheless, investors still believe that commodities, natural resources, and energy are those sectors which are most likely to produce the highest returns with agriculture, agribusiness, construction, and banking and financial services also being attractive. The survey's respondents are, however, still wary of political difficulties, bribery and corruption.

It is interesting that most of the highlighted countries have had severe political problems in recent years although, in one case, it has perhaps set the stage for a brighter political future. As always the potential size of returns could lead investors to discount some of these risks. The actions of Boko Haram in Nigeria have, for example, so far had a modest effect on the “foundations” or economic fundamentals of investing in the country.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Yemen: At least 13 Al-Qa'ida militants killed in air strike

According to Yemeni officials, at least 13 Al-Qa'ida militants have been killed in air strikes in the south of the country. One tribal leader said that at least four of the victims were local Al-Qa'ida chiefs.

The attack reportedly took place in the Abyan province. Islamists began taking control of parts of Abyan last year. Security forces have tried unsuccessfully to push them out and suffered heavy losses.

The details about the attack are yet to be confirmed but according to a number of sources a convoy of two cars was struck east of Lawdar city. AFP news agency, however, reported that a control post and a school hosting a midnight meeting of local al-Qa'ida chiefs and fighters were targeted in four overnight raids.

It was reported that one al-Qa'ida leader by the name of Monem al-Fahtani was among the dead. A source told AFP: "We think they were carried out by American planes.”

The US is thought to regularly conduct such drone attacks on suspected al-Qa'ida militants; an attack of this nature last year killed al-Qa'ida chief Anwar al-Awlaki. Some are concerned that the group have fortified their position in southern and eastern parts of Yemen during the protests last year.

Following months of upheaval in the country, last November President Ali Abdulah Saleh bowed to pressure to hand over power to his deputy. The former Yemeni ruler is now in the US for medical treatment after sustaining injuries in a bombing at the presidential palace in Sana'a, in June.

Sources: Reuters, AFP, BBC News

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

Iraq: New oil terminal to open but Hormuz threat causes alarm

One good news story for the Iraqi oil sector is that the new Gulf export terminal is expected soon to be up and running. The terminal, whose inauguration was delayed this month because of unfinished pipeline connections and testing, is expected to add some 900,000 b/d to Iraq's export capacity.

This increase in capacity is essential given the number of development contracts that Baghdad has awarded to IOCs in recent years, which are rapidly expanding production levels. However, increasing export capabilities seems all the more important at the moment on account of Iran's recent threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which most oil exports from the Gulf pass.

Tehran is threatening to shut down the waterway if the West tries to stop Iranian oil exports as a means of curbing its nuclear programme.

Baghdad can sympathise with Iran's anger over such western interference, but is alarmed at the prospect of having its oil exports curtailed by such a closure. Although the Oil Ministry initially tried to play down the threat, declaring that the closure would push oil prices up, enabling it to maintain revenue levels, officials are clearly concerned. Oil minister Abdelkareem Luaibi announced in January that he intended to travel to Iran to try to resolve the matter.

The closure of the strait would effectively cripple the Iraqi economy. Former oil minister Ibrahim Bar Al-Illoum stated this month that its closure would mean a loss of $250 million a day for Iraq. It is for this reason that Baghdad has now come out strongly and made it clear that it would consider any such closure to be an illegal act.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates