Friday, 29 June 2012

Egypt: Morsi's victory

The victory of Mohamed Morsi sets up an intriguing power struggle between the Islamists and the army but it will probably create more stability than a Ahmed Shafiq victory. Shafiq promised a return to law and order, and 48% of voters backed this stance, but if he had won, the Islamists would have remained a resentful and dangerous presence on the outside. What have emerged are two formerly secretive organisations, the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, having to manage a power sharing increasingly in the public gaze. What every arrangement emerges on 1 July will be dynamic and will evolve considerably over the coming months.

Much depends on the army, and its own internal dynamics. Many of the senior officers are due to retire. Others may not be so happy to have played the role the army had played in the past 18 months.

Morsi's own position has changed dramatically. Unlike former president Mubarak, who remained head of the ruling National Democratic Party, Morsi has renounced all his party affiliation. This marks his evolution from a radical fighter for a clandestine organisation into a putative world statesman. How much he can achieve will depend on how much power he can wrest back from the army. A former colleague, the defeated independent Islamist Abdul Moneim Abul Fotouh said the new president was “a ghost without the will or authority of a real president.”

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Nigeria: Jonathan shakes up security apparatus

Fresh from his controversial trip to Brazil for the UN Earth Summit, President Goodluck Jonathan has made some sweeping changes to his cabinet. Almost immediately upon his arrival, the President called for a meeting of the Security Council, where he announced the long-rumoured removal of Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi (ret'd) as National Security Adviser (NSA) – a move that follows mounting concerns about Azazi's failure to get on top of the Boko Haram crisis in Northern Nigeria. Jonathan immediately announced Azazi's replacement as retired Col. Sambo Dasuki.

The president also announced the removal of Minister of Defence Haliru Mohammed Bello but is yet to name a replacement. Sources reveal that the President had considered appointing Azazi as Defence Minister, but is currently rethinking that option in the face of criticism of the presidency from Azazi's supporters.

Sambo Dasuki, who is a son of the deposed Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki, was until his appointment as NSA a registered, card-carrying member of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). In fact, Dasuki had also been a member of the CPC's Renewal Committee, which is spearheaded by former minister of the Federal Capital Territory Nasir El-Rufai.

Ibrahim Dasuki was deposed as Sultan during the administration of late military dictator Gen. Sani Abacha (1994-1998). His son, Sambo, has apparently been engaged in private business since he retired from the Nigerian army.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Mahmoud al-Baghdadi extradited to Libya

In a public display of the lack of solidarity among Tunisia's three most senior of officials of state, Libya's 70 year-old former prime minister Dr Mahmoud al-Baghdadi was extradited to Tripoli on 25 June. This occurred despite apparent differences of opinion within the Tunisian political hierarchy on the legality and humanity of his enforced return.

The moderate Islamist-dominated government - led by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali who is also Ennahda's secretary-general - took and carried out the decision without informing the left-wing secular and largely ceremonial president Moncef Marzouki.

Regional and international human rights organisations have been uncomfortable with the internal bargaining games being played in this arena. Al-Baghdadi, who has been under arrest since he illegally entered Tunisia in August 2011, represents an important family in western Libya, including groups such as the Nuail. He served his medical studentship partly in the UK and was really only a political light-weight during the latter part of the Qadhafi era. Besides seeking vengeance against all Qadhafi regime officials, however, he is also wanted because it is believed he can reveal the regime's secrets.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Morocco: Public expression of social tensions

There have been further clashes between police and demonstrators in the port city of Mohamedia and in the countryside near Larache. On 16 June, in Mohamedia, east of Casablanca and site of the SAMIR refinery, residents of a shanty town demonstrated in front of the Prefect's Office and clashed with police preventing them from entering the building. Twenty demonstrators and six police were reported hurt.

In a rural area close to the port of Larache, south of Tangiers, there was violence between villagers and police. Media coverage was limited. Residents of the village of Chlihate had blocked the farm machinery of a Spanish agricultural company, Ribera del Arroz, which farms 4,500 hectares in the region, cultivating mainly rice. Feelings had been running high over difficult access to grazing land, the mosquito problem arising since the company switched the land to rice, and its failure to deliver jobs for locals. Negotiations between the local authority and the company since April had failed to produce any tangible results.

(Locals had demanded a barrier plantation of sugar-cane to reduce the mosquito problem.)

With the rice-planting season approaching, villagers decided to occupy the land. On 14 June, there were clashes between the demonstrators and the Gendarmerie. On 16 June, the heavily-armed police arrived, using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators. Police broke into houses, terrorising inhabitants and stealing property. The village's one shop was destroyed. On 17 June, Chlihate was encircled by militarised police and roads cut off. Water cannons were used on the villagers, wounding women and children. Many young men fled to the nearby woods.

On Wednesday 20 June, a solidarity mission composed of human rights activists was able to reach the village and talk to the terrorised inhabitants. Details of the human rights violations remain to be drawn up but there is good reason to believe that they are serious. In addition, pressure was placed on residents of surrounding settlements to refuse help to those fleeing Chlihate. The opposition PAM (Parti de l'authenticité et de la modernité) placed responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the authorities.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Iraq: Ninevah seeks own deal

Tensions between Erbil and Baghdad over the energy issue were stoked further this month when Ninevah waded into the heart of the battle. The head of the Ninevah governorate council, Atheel Al-Najayfi , a member of Iraqiya and brother of the head of parliament, Osama Najayfi , put the cat among the pigeons when he declared that he was in support of ExxonMobil 's Kurdish deal. It was also alleged that Al-Najayfi had struck his own deal with the Kurds, in which he had agreed to hand over 10km 2 of land from the governorate, comprising the oil-rich areas of Sheikhan and Quosh, so that the area could be included in the ExxonMobil deal.

It later emerged that such allegations were somewhat overplayed. Al-Najayfi admitted that his discussions with the KRG were still in their early stages and had not got as far as striking any deal. He told the local media, “We never discussed the reality of these contracts with the KRG… We were just in the initial stages. The second stage would be to go through legal bodies.”

However, it also emerged that Al-Najayfi had got as far as establishing and heading a factfinding mission and that he had contacted the US embassy in Baghdad to ask for its help in contacting ExxonMobil. When the embassy declined to contact the oil major on the mission's behalf, it asserted that it would find other ways to get in touch with the oil giant.

Atheel's request was a totally unexpected move from the Sunni camp. Given the tensions between the Sunnis and the Kurds in the area, it seems almost inconceivable that Atheel would have made such an overture to the KRG. However, his doing so was his way of sending a clear message to Baghdad: the government has failed to invest enough in Ninevah and thus the governorate wants greater control over its own resources. Atheel complained that the governorate has been marginalised and that it has had no say in the contracts signed for blocks in the region so far.

Furthermore, the move should be considered within the context of the political crisis that has enveloped the country. This was Atheel Al- Najayfi's way of taking a pot shot at Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki . As he told the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper after the news broke, “Until now we are not party to the contract but I am saying that we have to negotiate with our brothers in the KRG and the American company to guarantee our governorate rights and the governorate council needs to give its authorisation to enter into discussions.” He also declared, “Ninevah must be engaged in oil investments and not away from them, whether through contracts that the KRG has signed or that the central government has signed. We need oil and electricity.”

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Ghana: Prospects for a regional war are heating up

The bombing of a military column thought to be linked to Al Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has raised the stakes in what is quickly becoming an undeclared regional war in northern Mali and the wider Sahel region. We understand that a Mauritanian aircraft was involved in the bombing raid and that it was working in close collaboration with US and French forces in the region.

Although the regional organisation – the Economic Commission for West Africa States (ECOWAS) – has expressed the will to mount a military force to confront the separatist rebel forces in northern Mali, the planning is still at an early stage. Despite Burkina Faso taking on an ambitious brief to negotiate with the Tuareg separatists, there is no clear political track to the ECOWAS intervention strategy.

Any intensification of this war will unavoidably affect Ghana. President John Atta Mills' government is under pressure to take a more pro-active role in the crisis, given that the other two big states in the region – Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire – have their own internal crises to deal with. Ghana would be expected to commit a substantial military force to any expeditionary operation but it is unclear how this would be funded. Internal finance is extremely limited currently.

A wider war in Mali could – but is currently unlikely to - create another regional refugee crisis, and Ghana has the reputation for being a favoured destination. At the least, Mali's deepening crisis will put economic pressures on Ghana's military and test its capacity to absorb more refugees. Much less clear are the political implications for Ghana's own northern region if the government should engage in this growing regional confrontation.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Cameroon awards first oil licence on Bakassi

On 15 June, the government-managed National Hydrocarbons Corporation (SNH) awarded its first petroleum exploration contract on the previously contested Bakassi peninsula. The production-sharing contract for Bakassi West was awarded to a consortium led by Dana Petroleum (a subsidiary of the Korean National Oil Company), which heads a consortium of four firms.

The four-year agreement, worth US$31 million and could be extended by a further two-year period to increase to the tune of US$71 million, will be operated by Dana, with equity interests held by Canada's Madison Petrogas and Cameroon's Soft Oil & Gas Ltd.

The ceremony was overseen by Cameroon's Minister of Mines, Industry and Technological Development Emmanuel Bonde, while the accord was signed for Cameroon by the Executive Manager of SNH Adolphe Moudiki and Dana's country manager John William Downey.

The contract authorises the consortium to acquire, process and interpret seismic 2D data and the drilling of two exploration wells.

Thought to be rich in oil, Bakassi was under Nigerian control for at least 15 years until 2008, when the peninsula was returned to Cameroon following an October 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice. Although Nigeria has accepted the ruling, the area has faced pockets of resistance from armed splinter groups undermining Cameroon's authority there.

The groups have severally captured Cameroon troops and foreigners operating in Bakassi, urging Cameroon and governments of the captives to pay ransom. In 2010, Cameroon fortified the area with the anti-terrorist Rapid Intervention Battalion, causing a reduction in the groups' activities. Operating under the moniker Bakassi Freedom Fighters (BFF), the groups have not been entirely deterred, however, and made their last attack in October 2011, killing two Cameroonian soldiers.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria: Sonatrach to explore Algerian offshore

Speculation about possible exploration off Algeria's Mediterranean coast revived in late May after Sonatrach PDG Abdelhamid Zerguine announced that the company would start exploring in the Annaba offshore area that borders Tunisian waters. “Sonatrach has acquired geophysical data for the coast of Annaba and the decision to explore is already taken,” he said.

The plan is in line with Algiers' policy to diversify its exploration efforts and boost conventional hydrocarbons reserves. While Sonatrach has pledged to drill its first offshore well in 2013, a firm programme is to yet to be drawn. In March last year, the head of the exploration division at Institut Algérien du Pétrole (IAP), Djamel Bekkouche, vowed that work would kick off in 2011. The exploration licence for the offshore Bejaïa-Annaba perimeter (blocks 144-A and 145) was however granted to Sonatrach only last December by Agence Nationale pour la Valorisation des Ressources et Hydrocarbures (Alnaft).

Prospecting activities are also expected in waters adjacent to the wilaya of Jijel, which is part of the Bejaïa-Annaba perimeter. The overall area of coastal strip to be opened for exploration is estimated at 5,000km².

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Monday, 25 June 2012

Belkhadem retains control of the FLN

Although possibly foreseeable with hindsight, this is a state of affairs that has been brought sharply into focus since last Saturday's (16 June) Special Meeting of the FLN, which saw the party's secretary-general and Abdelaziz Bouteflika's personal representative, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, turn the tables – at least for the time being - on his many enemies within the FLN.

He accomplished an extraordinary, but not wholly unexpected (as we ourselves sensed – 'Houdini' act at the meeting. For weeks, even months, there has been growing anticipation – for some, a certainty - that the growing fissure in the FLN between Belkhadem and the seemingly increasing number of young Turks would result in his overthrow as the party's boss at last week's special meeting. The numbers seemed stacked against him and yet, even as we went to press on Friday 15 June, there was a sense that Belkhadem had something up his sleeve and that his overthrow was not entirely certain.

The outcome was that he won a no-confidence vote by a show of hands. If there had been a secret ballot, the outcome would probably have been very different. But Belkhadem's insistence, as Secretary- General, on a show of hands, was the trademark of a wily old fox. He had Bouteflika's support and there were many who could not be seen to be voting against him. He has already moved with lightning speed to remove many of his main opponents from key party positions around the country.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Iraq, Iran form OPEC alliance

There have been speculations that Iran and Iraq are forming a strategic alliance within OPEC. The Financial Times, reporting on the recent OPEC conference in Vienna, even suggested that Iran's allies inside the cartel are trying to win the support of other producers against EU sanctions on Iran's oil industry.

The bid, which was spearheaded by Venezuela, was eventually rejected by key producers such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Libya, and Kuwait. Nevertheless, the issue clearly overshadowed the OPEC talks and was blamed for 'strong disagreements' between members on crucial issues such as production and prices. The

Financial Times quoted unnamed officials as saying that the disagreements showed it would be increasingly difficult to maintain neutrality inside OPEC, as the sanctions issue is reinforcing already deep divisions between Iran, Venezuela, and Algeria on the one side and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE on the other.

It has now become clear that Iraq has joined Iran's camp, whose members are accused of trying to politicise OPEC in favour of Tehran – a position that is expected to bode ill for the crucial cartel.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 22 June 2012

Nigeria: PDP embarrassment over INEC 'bribe'

With gubernatorial elections in Edo State just around the corner, reports suggest that the State PDP has set aside the sum of N13.1 million to 'host' the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during its audit of PDP accounts for 2011. This obviously raises red flags and potential conflict of interest issues. Apparently, the National Auditor of the party, Bode Mustapha, had written an internal memo to the chairman of the party, Bamanga Tukur, asking him to approve the sum of N13.1 million for the hosting of the INEC auditors.

In a swift response issued by its Chief Press Secretary Kayode Idowu, INEC has stated that it is dissociating itself from such a gesture and that INEC will not allow itself to be used as a clearing house for party funds. According to the statement: “If anybody for whatever reason is looking for a head to tie an expenditure proposal that is within the PDP which has nothing to do with INEC, such person should look for other means. INEC will not allow its name to be dragged into the mud by any individual or organisation, as INEC will remain an unbiased umpire”.

It has also been revealed that Habu Fari, the recently dismissed Chief of Staff to the PDP National Chairman, had raised an objection to the N13.1 million expenditure, asking that the National Auditor provide a breakdown of expenses for what he deemed an outrageous sum. It had previously been reported that Fari had been dismissed because of a disagreement in the national secretariat of the party regarding Fari's overbearing attitude, which apparently incurred the ire of the PDP National Secretary Olagunsoye Oyinlola and other members of the National Executive Council.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Egypt's military council under scrutiny

Every military mission has as its cardinal principles: defining the objective, achieving the objective and securing an exit. No military mission should be attempted without an exit strategy. The alternative is mission creep.

The most benign interpretation of the military's actions over the past 18 months is that the army intervened to establish some kind of order with the intention of withdrawing to barracks once it could hand over to a duly-constituted civilian authority.

The army's actions over the past week put that interpretation under considerable strain. The catalyst for the army's change of tack was the rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament and to permit the man that the former regime had identified as a potential future president to stand against the Brotherhood's candidate. Critics were quick to point out that the judges in the court were Hosni Mubarak appointees. This is only partly true. All were appointed under Mubarak: what institution did not have its senior members appointed over the past 30 years that Mubarak ruled? But only the head of the court was actually appointed by him. Furthermore, the court has a reputation for quirkiness and had by no means always ruled in favour of the political powers that be.

The generous interpretation of the army's actions is that Constitutional Court rulings created a political vacuum which the army felt bound to fill.

Few support this view. They note that whatever the army might have said over the past 18 months, it has done little to re-assure citizens that it understands that the rules of the political game, the relationship between people and power, have fundamentally changed in Egypt as it has in other parts of the Arab world. They see an army, ostrich-like, reverting to default mode. It imposed limits on the media, sent 12,000 to military courts, was itself engaged in abuses, killed mainly Coptic demonstrators last October and held no one to account. The army has asked people to trust them. They have done little to earn that trust. The political transition has been a shambles, with its stentorian constitutional declarations and its swift appointment of an army general to guide whoever is elected president on economic matters. It is clear that whatever the army's original intentions, its most recent actions suggest an organisation unwilling or unable to delegate or to trust whoever might be elected by popular vote to rule.

Many felt that the Muslim Brotherhood was not politically mature enough to exercise power. Others that a time in power would expose the organisation to the compromises all those in that position have to make. But the army's actions have now left a Muslim Brotherhood bruised and resentful that the prize has been snatched from its grasp. The leadership has said it wants no violent confrontation with the army. Who knows what different approach some within the grassroots might take?

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Libya: Latest clashes leave 105 dead

According to Libyan authorities, recent tribal clashes in western Libya have left 105 people dead and around 500 seriously wounded. Government spokesman Nasser al-Manaa said there had been no fighting in the area since Monday 18 June, following the deployment of the army.

The towns in the crossfire include Zintan, Mizdah and Shegayga, approximately 150km south of Tripoli. The most recent clashes are seen as a test for Libya's new government, which has struggled to assert its power.

The recent battles were mainly between fighters from Zintan, backed by another tribe known as the Guntrara from Mizdah, and armed members of the Mashashya tribe based in Shegayga.

According to experts, the conflict dates back to the Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi era when one tribe was given land expropriated from another. It is thought that the latest spurt of fighting was sparked by the death of a man from Zintan after he was stopped at a checkpoint, which Zintan militias have blamed on the Mashashya tribe.

Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), which took power last year, has been trying to maintain stability since the civil war ended. The latest fighting comes just weeks ahead of elections for a national assembly.

Sources: Reuters, BBC News, WSJ

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

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ghana: EC announces creation of 45 new constituencies

Last week, the Electoral Commission (EC) chairman, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, made it known that the 45 new constituencies are to be demarcated in time for this year's presidential poll. Speaking at a forum organised by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) he said that the creation of the new constituencies was the EC's constitutional responsibility following the release of new census figures by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS).

The opposition claims that the timing of the announcement has been calculated to benefit the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC). Whilst conceding that the EC's actions are legal the New Patriotic Party's (NPP) parliamentary leader, Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, told the local press that the law allowed presidents to “create constituencies to favour a particular political party” which was, he said, the NDC's aim in this case.

The NPP's chairman in the UK, Hayford Atta-Krufi, told a London based radio station that the NDC and the EC are “in cahoots” to cheat the Ghanaian people in the forthcoming elections with the creation of the new constituencies, as further evidenced by the GSS withholding the results of the population census for two years.

Article 47(5) of the 1992 Constitution mandates the EC to “review the division of Ghana into constituencies at intervals of not less than seven years, or within twelve months after the publication of the enumeration figures after holding of a census of the population of Ghana, whichever is earlier, as may, as a result, alter constituencies”.

In 2004, the EC increased the number of constituencies from 200 to the current 230. The creation of further constituencies has been expected following the creation of 42 new districts last year.

The Electoral Commission has also announced that, out of Ghana's total prison population of over 13,000, only 476 registered to vote during the recent targeted biometric registration exercise. This fuelled further speculation that some prisoners had deliberately been prevented from registering. The EC continues, however, to deny this and says that the prison service had done everything possible to ensure that all prisoners who could provide the required registration form could participate.

Last year President Mills announced the government's intention to allow prisoners to vote last year, following many years of national debates and pressure from human rights campaigners, after a Supreme Court ruling was backed by the president.

The EC also said that a two-day “mop-up” exercise that took place at 186 registration centres around the country on 9 and 10 June produced an additional 16,487 voters. The Commission decided to allow those who were unable to register the first time round, because of technical and other difficulties, the chance to do so.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

China has said that it plans to import around 25bcm of Central Asian gas this year, a major increase in the 2011 figure and proof that China is becoming one of the most important destinations for Caspian gas flows.

The head of PetroChina said on 23 May that estimates for this year's imports through the Central Asia-China pipeline were between 23 and 25bcm, almost all of which will come from Turkmenistan. Although Uzbekistan has pledged 10bcm a year to the pipeline the actual figure has remained extremely low. Last month Uzbektransgas said that unspecified legal issues were delaying the shipment of Uzbek gas through the pipeline, but that it would contribute around 2-4bcm this year. Supplies are expected to increase next year.

The figures are a sharp rise on previously predicted exports to China. Although Ashgabat has been opaque on its own export plans, in April the head of Kazakhstan's KazTransGas said that its southern neighbour was expected to ship 9bcm to China this year. Even allowing for some additional gas from Kazakhstan itself alongside this, the new figure from PetroChina would represent almost a doubling of anticipated exports.

To lock in these imports, Turkmengaz signed an agreement this month with CNPC to boost its gas exports to China up to 65bcm, according to Turkmen TV. The framework cooperation agreement was inked by new Deputy Prime Minister (see below) and state hydrocarbon agency boss Yagshygeldi Kakaev and the chairman of CNPC's board Jiang Jiemin in Beijing on 7 June.

Ramping up to 65bcm would be a major undertaking, and no details were given on the timeframe for the increase or the sources of gas (earlier reports suggested that Chian was aiming for 60bcm from Central Asia as a whole by 2015). At a speech

It marks yet another increase in the scale of Turkmen gas exports to China, suggesting that Beijing's attempt to lock in most of Turkmenistan's upcoming production is bearing fruit. Chinese demand will almost certainly support it: the International Energy Association said that Chinese gas demand is expected to double in the next five years. Central Asian gas is expected to satisfy a sizeable chunk of this. The main constraints are the pace at which China's internal pipeline network can be developed, and the ability of Turkmenistan to bring new gas fields on in time.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Mauritania's refugee crisis

There are warnings of a growing crisis and security threat emerging from the increasing number of refugees who have fled from Mali into Mauritania. The number of refugees in the main Mbere camp in north-east Mauritania, 60km from the Mali border, has risen to an estimated 75,000. Food shortages are becoming critical and the health situation is worsening.

Humanitarian relief organisations, notably UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Mauritanian Commissariat of Food Security and the International Fund for Food Security, along with UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, are being stretched, especially as the number of refugees continues to increase and as the influx into the camps of poor families from the Mauritanian cities of Bassiknou and Fassale also grows. According to figures from journalists in the camps last week, about 100 deaths have so far been recorded, mostly among the elderly, women and children, while more than 1,700 people are suffering from severe to moderate malnutrition.

If relief efforts are not accelerated, food shortages will be exacerbated by the rainy season and blocked roads.

The US-based UPS delivery company flew some 13 tonnes of UNHCR aid items into Nouakchott from Copenhagen (Denmark) on 3 June for distribution in the Mbere camp, as well as vital UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP) supplies. UPS, which is a UNHCR corporate partner, is covering all transport costs.

However, the message from the aid agencies is that more substantial funding is urgently needed. Otherwise, the situation in the camps is likely to become a humanitarian disaster, with serious implications for Mauritania.

Malnutrition problems are not confined to the Malian refugee camps. The WFP announced on 5 June that it was launching a Canadian-financed distribution programme of food supplements to 30,000 six-to-23-month old children in the Gorgol and Brakna regions, two of Mauritania's 'priority' zones for intervention by the WFP and the Mauritanian government.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Suriname: Gregory Rusland is favourite to chair opposition NPS

Gregory Rusland, a former minister of national resources in the previous cabinet, is favourite to assume the presidency of the opposition National Party of Suriname (NPS). The party was almost permanently in office following the country's first democratic elections in 1987 after the military period. President Ronald Venetiaan governed the country twice – from 1991-96 and from 2000-10 - before being defeated by Dési Bouterse in the 2010 elections. Venetiaan, also known as 'the man with ten clean fingers', is still the NPS chairman but there has been criticism because of the lack of action during his presidency, with some people cynically saying that he has ten clean fingers because he did not use them.

Rusland was the minister who – as part of the Venetiaan government - signed a contract with Goldminer Iamgold which is often criticised as profitable for the Canadian multinational. Although it has never been proven, Rusland is often accused of corruption because, almost immediately after the deal was signed, he suddenly owned real estate in Florida which he could never have bought with his salary.

In this context, it is interesting to hear from Arnold Kruisland who is a senior and prominent NPS member. Without explicitly referring to Rusland's real estate, he said that “the NPS has a tradition of good governance by chairmen that only have 'ten clean fingers'. Any chairman of whom it is found out that he doesn't, will be removed. NPS, once the biggest political party of Suriname, is now in a deplorable state, having only two of the 51 seats in the National Assembly”.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Monday, 18 June 2012

Algeria: Parliament closes without any business concluded

The new intake of MPs have gone off on holiday without any parliamentary business, except for the election of a president (Speaker) of the Assembly being agreed and put in place, so there is a speaker and little else. The crises within the FLN and RND, along with the boycotting of either parliament and/or parliamentary business by most of the opposition parties, have meant that the new Assembly is effectively blocked. There is no parliamentary office (Bureau de l'APN) in place. Aside from the president, neither have the nine vice presidents or the presidents of the Assembly's 12 commissions been appointed.

The result is that the country's MPs have gone on holiday without having voted on a single item of business. Algeria now has to wait until the autumn to know how the new Assembly will eventually get down to work.

While the main cause of this crisis is the FLN's infighting, plus the uncertainty over Ahmed Ouyahia's position as both Prime Minister and in his own political party, most of the opposition parties are also boycotting the process. As the majority party, the FLN would have five of the nine vice presidencies and six of the commissions. But, with the party in a state of crisis, no names have even been proposed. If the Green Alliance persists with its boycott of parliamentary business then its seats will revert to the FLN and RND.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Cameroon: Prison letters from ousted minister, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, provoke regime disquiet

Since President Paul Biya's accession to the presidency in 1984 he has founded his regime – at least in part – on the projection of an image of stability and continuity, belying the backroom deals and intense competition for power within Cameroon's fragmented political elite. In this sense the recent and on-going revelations of the former secretary general to the presidency, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, represent one of the most significant threats to have emerged to Biya's presidency in the past 28-years. This is because they threaten to expose the corruption and maladministration on which Cameroon's much-vaunted stability rests while also highlighting the fragility of the regional and ethnic alliances which Biya has orchestrated.

Since his April arrest and detention on corruption charges, Marafa has issued a series of four open letters to Biya which have exposed and denounced the instances of gross corruption that he has witnessed during his 20 years as one of Biya's most valuable 'compagnons de route'. Marafa's arrest is not the first time that Biya has brought down the weight of law against his closest associates and the 1997 case of one of Marafa's predecessors, Titus Edzoa, is instructive. Nor is it the first time that Biya has moved against a potential rival; like Edzoa in his time, Marafa was once widely tipped as a potential successor. This is, however, the first time that one of Biya's victims has chosen not to take the medicine without complaint and has chosen instead to break the vow of 'omertá' observed until now by even disgraced ministers.

In his latest missive, published widely in independent media at the beginning on 5 June, Marafa alleged that in 1995 some 32 billion CFA Francs (US$48.8 million) allocated for the compensation of
families of 71 people killed in an air crash was misappropriated by senior public officials and most notably the current Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary. Marafa further revealed that the five survivors of the Cameroon Airlines (Camair) crash at Douala airport have still to be compensated.

This is, of course, a tremendously emotive issue, reference to which is explicitly designed to illustrate the Biya regime's lack of care towards the Cameroonian people. This is a common rallying cry for opposition to the aloof and, often literally, distant Biya. It is also interesting, however, that following Marafa's December 2011 dismissal as minister for territorial administration, (i.e. interior minister), it was Tchiroma who was frequently cited as the new 'strongman' in Cameroon's 'Grand Nord', effectively displacing Marafa who is also a Muslim ethnic Fulani from Garoua.

Given the importance to Biya – who is a Christian southerner – of a strong alliance with the largely Muslim north, Marafa's attack on Tchiroma looks designed to undermine the regime's North-South alliance, which has been in place since the near-victory of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) – a largely Anglophone party from western Cameroon – in 1992.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Burma's Leader Aung San Suu Kyi on visit to Europe

Burma's Leader Aung San Suu Kyi has given a speech at the UN in Geneva, which commenced her visit to Europe. She spoke at the UN's International Labour Organisation, which has spearheaded a long-term campaign against child and slave labour in Burma.

This is her first visit to Europe since 1988. Suu Kyi spent much of the past 24 years under house arrest in Burma.

During her speech, Suu Kyi thanked the international community for trying to reach out to her country, which has been long isolated due to its military dictatorship. She said: "The international community is trying very hard to bring my country into it and it's up to our country to respond the right way."

In the course of her two week tour, Suu Kyi will visit the UK, Switzerland, Ireland, France and Norway, where she will accept her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking before the trip in Burma, Suu Kyi said she expected the tour to be a novel experience. She noted: "Each country will be different. I will know how backward [Burma] is when I reach the other countries."

Suu Kyi has spent much of the past two decades under house arrest as a political prisoner. But as part of Burma's recent reform process, she was freed in late 2010 and won a seat in parliament in by-elections in April this year.

The fact that Suu Kyi is travelling shows great promise for change in Burma, spurred by the government of President Thein Sein, who has pursued a course of reform since coming to power last year.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Reuters

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Morocco's former finance minister publicly accused of corruption

On 11 June, parliamentary debates were suspended in the Chamber of Deputies when an MP of the ruling PJD, Abdul Aziz Avtate, accused former finance minister Salaheddine Mezouar of accepting bribes 'under the table' in a tirade about the need for reform. MPs of Mezouar's party, the Rassemblement national des indépendants (RNI), one of the largest opposition parties, expressed their anger before the speaker ended the session.

Avtate's accusation may be seen partly as a reaction to RNI deputies' acerbic criticism of the PJD's unpopular measures. Interviewed in the francophone global weekly Jeune Afrique, Mezouar said that Islamist PJD policies are just sensationalist. Elected as president of the RNI in April, Mezouar's ambition is to transform the RNI, a centrist party of technocrats and notables, into the leading opposition party.

In the November 2011 elections, the RNI won 52 seats (out of 395), as opposed to 39 in the outgoing parliament. Mezouar believes that the PJD has no real answer to current economic problems; the recent budget adopted by the Islamist-led government is simply the budget for 2012 drawn up under Mezouar last year. So far, from the RNI point of view, the Islamists have put forward fragments of legislation around religious and ideological issues to hide their incapacity to satisfy society's expectations in terms of jobs and improvements in daily life. Rather than being capable of implementing true reform, the current government prefers spectacle.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Libya: Elections delayed until 7 July

It was announced on 10 June by the president of the Electoral Commission, Nuri-al-Abbar, after a meeting with the National Transitional Council (NTC), that the elections for the 200 seats in the National General Congress have been delayed from the original date of 19 June until 7 July. This was said to be for “logistical and technical reasons” but, in reality, the process simply ran out of days, with more time being required for both voters to register and for rejected candidates to appeal.

Candidates who wished to stand in the election were informed on 9 June of their success or failure and those wanting to challenge their omission from the approved list were provided with a 48 hour window of opportunity to appeal. Because the appeal process takes five days, it was impossible to even have a definitive list of candidates before 15 June which would have only left them four days to campaign before the original election date.

It is obviously important that there are no further delays and that the election does indeed take place on 7 July. This year, Ramadan begins on around 20 July and lasts until 19 August and it is essential for both political and logistical reasons that the elections have taken place before it begins As it is, however, it will almost certainly be September before a new and more representative government is in place and Libya can finally begin to move forward..

Meanwhile, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff was nominated as the leader of the EU's 21-man team of election monitors who arrived in the country on 9 June to assess the validity of the elections as they are conducted throughout the country.

It should perhaps be noted that the EU's monitoring team gave the 10 May election in neighbouring Algeria a clean bill of health, despite not only being too small to visit more than a fraction of the polling stations but also being refused access to even the electoral role. The EU has since been embarrassed because an official Algerian government-appointed committee has shocked the country, not by the fact that the elections were rigged which everyone knew, but with the strength of the report's language and that the report was allowed to be published at all. Given Libya's sheer size, it is difficult to see how a 21-man team of observers will be able to monitor the election properly.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Mauritania: Biram and six others charged

Discussion, anger and demonstrations over the actions of Biram Dah Ould Abeid are likely to continue for a long time. He and six other anti-slavery activists were formally charged at the end of May with threatening state security after they burned certain Malikite religious texts that they interpret to endorse slavery.

Biram's actions provoked massive public outcry throughout Mauritania and far beyond, especially across the Islamic world. Human rights organisations have mostly come to Biram's defence. Amnesty International's West Africa Researcher Gaeton Mootoo said the activists should be released. “These human rights defenders have the right to express their opinion”, he said.

Mootoo noted that Biram, the leader of one local anti-slavery group, has been an outspoken critic of human rights in Mauritania. He said that Biram has long denounced acts of slavery and the impunity enjoyed by slave owners.

The announcement of the charge prompted a further demonstration by Biram's supporters, which was broken up by police.

No trial date has yet been set. However, what is certain is that Biram's case will long be the focus of dispute and demonstration, with his trial, if it takes place, being the subject of much international interest.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Situation in Benghazi has not yet stabilised

The post-election situation in Benghazi has not yet stabilised and minor demonstrations are still taking place. It looks, however, as if the Muslim Brotherhood did best and reportedly took about a third of the available seats. So far, the majority of the candidates have, however, shown no sign of amalgamating, and going forward it appears that individuals will act independently.

The head of Tripoli Military Council, Abdul Hakim Belhadj, recently declared that he would stand as a candidate in the National General Congress elections. He has therefore separated himself from his past connections with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and has been careful to take a very moderate line in the run-up to the elections. On the basis of the Benghazi local elections, it is forecast that the Islamists will fare only moderately well in the coming ballot.

There is on on-going debate on the likelihood that the elections, scheduled for 19 June, will be postponed. It was reported on 3 June that they would be delayed as a result of an National Transitional Council (NTC) decision to extend the time period during which candidates could register and conduct their public campaigns. The local press cited the resulting lack of time to produce accurate ballot papers.

In any event, it is common wisdom in Libya that even if it is delayed by a week or two, the poll will have to take place and most sources indicate that the election organisation is generally on time. The chairman of the Libyan Higher National Elections Commission, Ali Askar, has indicated that the elections would go ahead as planned. The overwhelming reason to avoid a delay is the escalating impatience of the young and the revolutionary groups to bring about a change in government.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Monday, 11 June 2012

Egypt: Who will gain most from the Mubarak verdict?

Former president Hosni Mubarak was convicted to life imprisonment for not preventing the killing of more than 800 citizens during the 18 days of protests, but who will gain most from the verdict? The disappointment of many at a verdict that seems once again not to have held to account anyone for the actual killing of more than 840 Egyptians may turn voters out of their armchairs to vote against Ahmed Shafiq for all that he stands for.

That said, his stirring of the fears that his rival would send the country back to the dark ages could equally appeal to those who feel most at risk of discrimination, especially the Christian community. He is appealing to the silent majority; Mohamed Morsi to those who shout out loud.

Egypt is at a critical point in its untidy transition. It still has no agreed constitution for whoever is elected. In the past, it was easy to say that he who was elected took power. So long as the army's intentions remain unclear - possibly even to itself - there is no saying how much power the president will enjoy.

The army has said that it will hand over to an elected president at the end of the month. It has said it will not interfere in the process by which Egyptians elect their new president.

To add to the uncertainty, the courts may disqualify Ahmed Shafiq. Then Egyptians would be faced with a familiar process: an election for president for which there is only one candidate. Not what the revolution was about.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria: RND punch-up

The sixth session of the National Democratic Rally's (RND) National Council, held in Algiers just after we went to press last week, was distinguished by violent scuffles between supporters and opponents of the prime minister and RND secretary general Ahmed Ouyahia. Security forces had to be called in to restore law and order and separate the protagonists.

According to Echorouk's report of events, Nouria Hafsi, a member of the National Council and an Ouyahia opponent, started handing out leaflets to journalists at the end of the Council's opening session to journalists which called for “the salvaging of the RND Party”. Suddenly, a group of unknown assailants, believed to be some of Ouyahia's thugs, stormed the premises and roughed up Nouria Hafsi, forcing the security forces to intervene.

The party situation and Ouyahia's position remain unclear. According to the Echorouk report, many of the party dissidents have called for the holding of an extraordinary party congress meeting at the earliest possible time in order to elect a new RND leadership, supposedly with a view to preparing for the next local elections.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Yemen: Major terrorist attack fails to intimidate the regime

A suicide bomber managed to infiltrate arehearsal for the 21 May Unity Day parade in Sab'in Square in Sana'a two days before the event and blew himself up. He killed at least 100 soldiers and wounded up to 350 others. Both Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Ansar al-Shariah claimed responsibility for the attack, which they said was in retaliation for the escalation in military action (which it described as American-led) against Ansar in Abyan.

There are conflicting reports about what happened and whether or not other suicide bombers may have tried and failed to attack the soldiers. AQAP says that the main target was the minister of defence but eye-witnesses noted that the bomber inserted himself into a group of soldiers some 500 metres from where the minister was standing. There were reports before the event that Yemeni security forces were looking for suicide bombers and reports since of the arrest of other bombers who failed to get into the parade rehearsal. Most of those killed or wounded appear to belong to the Central Security Organisation (CSO). Many of the injured have been flow abroad for treatment.

The parade went ahead, though it was switched to the more secure location of the Aviation Academy, in an area controlled by General Ali Mohsen 's First Armoured Division. The number of participants was greatly reduced, with most soldiers excluded. President Abd al-Rab Mansour Hadi , accompanied by his ministers and political, security and military leaders (from different persuasions and loyalties) attended in a gesture of solidarity and defiance. Security was in the hands of the Political Security Organisation, instead of the CSO. The chief of staff, General Ahmad al-Ashwal , said that the parade was a “response to the terrorists' savage suicide bombing in Al-Saba'in that was aimed at stopping the unity celebrations”. He added that it would not stop the war against AQAP and Ansar in Abyan.

Initial reports said that the bomber was Amir al- Din al-Warfi from Ibb, who had spent a period in prison for his links to Al-Qa'ida. This was quickly corrected after AQAP put out a statement naming the bomber as Haytham Hamed Hussein Mafurrah , who may have been a member of the CSO.

T here can have been few such devastating attacks by a single bomber. It says much about Yemen that such an attack could take place – and that it has not deflected the government, the international community or most Yemenis from pressing on with all parts of the transition process. It was a singular success for AQAP and it no doubt had in mind the symbolic importance of Unity Day in the eyes of south Yemenis. On the other hand, it has led to a new determination by Hadi and his international allies to eliminate AQAP and defeat Ansar al- Shariah. AQAP will no doubt plan further attacks – as it has done in Iraq and Afghanistan in not dissimilar circumstances. Yemeni security forces have strengthened checkpoints around Sana'a.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 1 June 2012

Iraq: Kurdish opposition gets tough on oil deals

Kurdish opposition parties are already flexing their muscles against their new prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani. This month, 38 opposition MPs in the Kurdish parliament demanded that natural resources minister Ashti Hourami come before the chamber to be questioned about oil policy.

The opposition has a list of complaints about how the minister is running energy policy, not least of which is the lack of transparency that surrounds the sector. In a memo, the group of MPs declared that, with oil production expanding in the region and an increasing number of foreign companies operating there, it was time that parliament was informed of exactly what was going on. The memo asserted, “Parliament needs to know what the KRG's ambiguous plans on oil are.”

The MPs didn't pull any punches in the memo. They not only complained that the ministry was not implementing many articles contained in the region's oil and gas law of 2007, they flagged up the fact that the ministry is carrying out its business without the knowledge or supervision of parliament. They also demanded to be informed of exactly what quantities of oil had been produced, the price it has been sold at, how it has been transported and what kind of oil contracts the ministry has signed with foreign companies. The MPs also insisted that oil revenues should be directed to local banks in the Kurdish region, particularly to those areas where fields are located.

Whether Barzani and Hourami will respond to these demands has yet to be seen. However, the move demonstrates the increasing insistence by the opposition that the Kurdish government start to become more transparent in the way it operates, including in its dealings with foreign energy firms.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates