Friday, 28 September 2012

Egypt: MB's Freedom and Justice Party consulting other parties about Islamic bonds

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party is consulting other parties about introducing sukuk or Islamic bonds. Issuance has been held up because no laws cover these Sharia-compliant instruments. The FJP says there is strong demand for them.

According to a Reuters report, the Salafist al-Nour party has indicated it would not oppose the proposed US$4.8 billion dollar loan from the IMF, despite the interest payments demanded which it does not approve of. Tarek Shaalan, head of the party's economic committee, was quoted by Reuters as saying that they believe the government can take out such loans if there is no other option. For its part, the IMF said it would send another mission to Egypt in the coming weeks to discuss the loan agreement which it hoped would be concluded by the end of the year.

The cabinet has set up a committee to look at how each and every one of 185 state-owned companies was sold off to ensure no financial irregularities.

Egypt's Energy Minister Osama Kamal went to Qatar to discuss a gas import deal - at a time when Egypt is planning to resume gas exports to Jordan. Egypt's shortage is in LPG for domestic cooking.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Nigeria: Opposition merger talks run into trouble

Merger talks between the main opposition parties in the country - Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); ANPP; and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) – are still ongoing. Sources have revealed, however, that ANPP is divided over the current talks with CPC. The ANPP's chairman, Ogbonnaya Onu, is reportedly in favour of the merger. The new chairman of the party's Board of Trustees, former Borno State governor Ali Modu Sheriff, is said to be opposed to the merger with CPC.

Sheriff defeated the ANPP's 2011 presidential candidate, Ibrahim Shekarau, to clinch the chairmanship and this has apparently upset Shekarau. In a bid to calm the latter's ruffled feathers, Bashir Tofa, who is from Shekarau's home state of Kano, is said to have been offered the position of chair of ANPP's merger committee. Tofa has, however, declined because of Shekarau and Yobe State's governor, Ibrahim Geidam, was chosen instead. Meanwhile, it appears that former Sokoto State governor, Attahiru Bafarawa, who is an ANPP chieftain, may be tilting in favour of merging with CPC. He recently visited CPC leader, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, at his home in Kaduna State, ostensibly to discuss the disunity in the North.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Libya: Cross border security problems continue

Unrest in Libya continues to have implications for its Western neighbours. The borders with both Algeria and Tunisia have long been primary smuggling routes. In the past, it was mainly drugs, cigarettes and illegal migrants being smuggled north, via Libya, to the Mediterranean coast but, since the revolution, it also includes Libyan weapons being smuggled out of the country to the Sahel.

The Algerian security forces have greatly increased their cross border surveillance activities in an attempt to reduce the smuggling of weapons. A recent operation apprehended a small group, including one Libyan, which was carrying 32 weapons and 14,000 rounds of ammunition stolen from Libyan army supplies. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the smuggled material comes from the Qadhafi era. Special Algerian units have been formed to supervise movements in this area and sophisticated night-time surveillance equipment is now in use.

Meanwhile, the difficulties which arose at the Salloum crossing from Egypt into Libya on 24 September have been temporarily resolved. A long tailback of traffic, held up by the Libyans, was only allowed through after threats of reprisals by the Egyptian security agents. The border remains open but the situation remains unstable.

The Egyptian authorities have arrested members of a Cairo-based gang which was forging visas for entry into Libya and other fake documentation. The report suggests that the visas were selling for LD2000 (US$1600). For would-be economic migrants the illegal transfer from Egypt into Libya could provide opportunities for work there or for onward passage into Europe via Italy or Malta. This journey is said to be undertaken by several thousand individuals each year and the latest arrests noted above will do little to stem the flow.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Morocco: Demonstrations against the oath of allegiance to the King

To celebrate the reigning monarch's accession, an annual ceremony is held during which all the country's leading politicians and dignitaries pay allegiance to the King. The bayaâ, as the event is called, is actually a ceremony resurrected by the late Hassan II as a public symbol of the nation's unity around its Muslim ruling house.

There have, however, been increasing murmurs of dissatisfaction with this ceremony because it requires citizens (or subjects) to bow and kiss the King's hand. People on the political left see this act as humiliating for free citizens, while conservative Islamists see it as inappropriate as it places an illegitimate authority figure between the individual believer and God.

In May, Ahmed Raïssouni, a key figure in the Mouvement pour l'unicité et la réforme (MUR), called for an end to the baise-main, the kissing of the royal hand. In an interview with the Al Massae newspaper in late August, Raïssouni criticised the Moroccan State's instrumentalisation of religion to secure its position.

On Tuesday 21 August, the date of this year's ceremony, a small group of Mouvement du 20-Février activists demonstrated in Rabat against the oath of allegiance. Neither the Palace nor the government commented which is an indication that the movement is running out of political steam.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates
A drought in the cocoa- growing regions could cause budding pods to wither and harm the 2012-13 harvest.

“The situation is bad, farmers are agitated,” a farmer from the western region told Bloomberg on 19 September. “We have not had proper rains from June to September, the small pods are dying.” Ghana recorded an unprecedented one million metric tonne harvest in the 2010-2011 season, but the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod) lowered its prediction for the 2011-2012 harvest to 900,000 tonnes, and its prediction for the 2012-2013 season, which begins in October, to 800,000 tonnes, because of the concerns over bad weather.

Meteorologist Charles York said that the rainy season, which lasts from April to August, saw much less rain than usual and southern Ghana has a 60% chance of below-normal rains for the rest of the year.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Libya: Oil sector news

This week, prominence has been given to a speech made at an oil conference in early September by OMV's Senior Vice President Dr David Latin. He indicated that the Libyan oil industry was capable of making a rapid recovery and suggested that the replacement of damaged plant and equipment had been achieved with extreme success. He quoted official Libyan sources in showing that oil production had recovered very rapidly to over 1.5 million b/d and had stabilised at virtually pre-war levels.

At the same time, however, with the political environment still evolving after the Arab Spring in a number of countries including Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, newly appointed officials are still finding their feet. Dr Latin stressed the importance of rapid decision-making by the governments as being one of the key challenges faced by OMV and other IOCs in the midst of all the ambiguity. In addition, he also stressed that security has to be managed particularly carefully in Libya and Tunisia. Libya is currently unable to take best advantage of market conditions because it lacks the underpinning of technical and financial strength.

Latin looked forward to a pick-up in business in the next six months and foresaw offshore oil and gas becoming of increasing interest to foreign companies. Offshore exploration obviously has less of the security and stakeholder issues that affect onshore operations. So far, however, Libya's new offshore exploration has, with the exception of Hess' gas discovery, been both extremely expensive and singularly unsuccessful in recent years.

As noted last week, on 4 September there was a gas leak and minor fire at the Amal oilfield in the eastern Sirte basin. Harouge Oil – the joint venture between NOC and Suncor Energy's Petro-Canada subsidiary – operates the field. The fire injured four people but was quickly extinguished, although crude output was disrupted.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Iran: Private sector exports first oil consignment

The Iranian private sector was reported in early September to have delivered the first consignment of crude oil via non-Iranian tankers to foreign buyers. Hassan Khosrojerdi, the head of the union of Iranian exporters of oil derivatives, said a private company had sold the consignment to an international client, emphasising that no discounts has been given over the trade.

The payment was used to settle Iran's debts. No cash was received from the client. And in mid-September some Iranian private-sector companies reached deals to sell two consignments, comprising four million barrels of oil, to international clients. The crude will be delivered in the Persian Gulf.

Khosrojerdi nevertheless complained that the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) is refusing to deliver on its promise to finalise the legal framework pertaining to private sector sales of crude. This development shows that Iran still has the ability to sell its oil, even under the current sanctions regime. Nevertheless, the volumes through such clandestine channels cannot be large, and it is not clear how long Iran will be able to maintain this strategy.

The US Treasury and related institutions in the United States are trying to close all loopholes through which Iran can funnel its crucial petrodollars home.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Monday, 17 September 2012

Nigeria: Babangida and Obasanjo may establish new party

A political group which is crystallising around two former presidents - Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) (1985-1993) and Olusegun Obasanjo (1976-1979 &1999-2007) - is beginning to make efforts to establish a new political party in order to take on the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) to which both men still belong. The first indication that the two are working together was the joint press statement they issued a few weeks ago on the state of the nation and the security challenges facing Nigeria. Sources say that Obasanjo and Babangida resolved that they could not work with either another former military Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari (1983-1985) of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), or the leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Tinubu and Buhari's opposition parties are currently in talks for a possible merger ahead of the 2015 general elections and this group is also said to be working with some of the Northern Governors. Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, is meanwhile said to be involved with the People's Democratic Movement (PDM) and the plans to revive the movement. The PDM was a socio-political group that was formed by the late Major-Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua – the older brother of late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua – who was vice president in Obasanjo's first term but was imprisoned by Sani Abacha' s military regime in 1995 and died in captivity in 1997.
The PDM was one of the socio-political groups that formed the basis for the PDP's establishment in 1998. Some politicians recently held a meeting in Abuja to kick off plans to revive the PDM. In attendance were PDP chieftains Tony Anenih; Titi Ajanaku; Ambassador Yahaya Kwande; Dubem Onyia and Lawal Kaita.
The latter is said to have been representing Atiku Abubakar at the PDM meetings. It has been said that Atiku has been reluctant to personally attend the PDM meetings in case he is seen as actively working against a party whose government he has benefited from
through the award of lucrative contracts. Atiku's company - Intels Logistics and Services Company - operates the concession for the Onne Port. It is in partnership with Orleans Invest in which his longstanding close business associate, Gabriele Volpi, is part-owner.
For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.
© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Government calls for more Caspian development

The government has called for further development of the Caspian shelf's energy wealth, adding to speculation that some new Production Sharing Agreements could be on the cards.
Economy and Development Minister Basimmyrat Hojamammedov said in late August that PSAs are “rapidly developing” in Turkmenistan, and that the government's priority was signing new PSAs on offshore fields. Specifically (and a little unusually given that talks are still underway), he said that negotiations were being held with companies including “Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total, Gas de France, Eni, ConocoPhilips, Midland Oil & Gas, British Petroleum and several companies from the Far East and the Persian Gulf”.

It is hardly a secret that most of these companies are interested in Turkmenistan's reserves: in particular the dogged efforts of Chevron and ExxonMobil to secure an offshore block are a long-running saga in Ashgabat. The decision to flag up the negotiations now could suggest that the government is moving towards signing new deals. However it's significant the news came from the Economy and Development Ministry – something of an outlier on energy policy - rather than the State Agency for Hydrocarbons, the Oil and Gas Ministry, or Baymurad Hojamuhammedov.

President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov also called for increased oil and gas development and “cooperation with foreign partners, including the world's leading companies with advanced technologies and know-how.”

Analysts will be keeping a close eye out as to whether this actually leads to any new deals being signed, particularly as conference season approaches. There is no sign that the government is prepared to budge on its refusal to grant PSAs onshore.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Ghana: IMANI calling on Parliament to recall a report on US$77.3 million housing deal

IMANI is also calling on Parliament to recall a report on a US$77.3 million housing deal with the Snecou Group that was laid before the House for adoption last week.

Executive Director, Franklin Cudjoe, has called for the deal to be returned to the Housing Ministry to ensure due diligence is done before its adoption. In a statement he maintains that Nigeria's Snecou, which is partnering the State Housing Company to build 1,000 housing units for the security services, is insufficiently credible to undertake such a project. Snecou and its chairman, Prince Ukachukwu, has been cited for numerous corruption-related controversies and inquiries in Nigeria.

“Clearly, the average cost of unit (US$77,000) is exorbitant in this scheme of things. In cost terms, the deal is worse than the STX one,” IMANI said of the deal. IMANI went on to refer to an October 2010 ruling by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which indicted Ukachukwu for using four of his companies to embezzle US$40 million of public funds belonging to Nasawara State.

Snecou Group has condemned what it says it IMANI Ghana's attempt to discredit it. The Group's General Manager, Daniel Nwokedi, denied the charges on local radio, explaining that his company had not been able to complete certain projects due to the political climate in Nigeria.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Yemen: LNG pipeline attacked again

The Balhaf-Marib LNG pipeline was attacked for the third time this year on 21 August, near Ataq. Some sources blame Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) but oil sector sources think the attack is linked to a tribal dispute. This part of the pipeline runs through an area that the military rarely enters.
Militant groups, some linked to AQAP, others not, have operated here and the tribes have previously resisted attempts by the armed forces to main a significant presence. When building the pipeline, Yemen LNG Company had to negotiate passage rights with a variety of tribal groups, with only limited support from the government, whose writ scarcely ran beyond the bigger towns.
The company has denied reports of another attack on the line in early September. The government, faced with continuing if lowlevel protests by workers, has banned strikes in the vital oil and gas sector despite union opposition. Yemen needs to extract every dollar it can get from its main exports to make up for the losses on production during the 2011 political crisis and sabotage of pipelines. There are promising signs that output is returning to normal and prices remain buoyant. Fish exports are also looking up.
For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

© 2012 Menas Associates

Monday, 10 September 2012

Nigeria: Power plant pricing dispute

Sources have revealed that the Ibom Power Plant, which is one of Nigeria's power generating companies that is part of the current privatisation process, has been purchasing gas from Seven Energy's subsidiary, Septa Energy, at a rate that is higher than the US$1.50 that the Federal Government prescribed for purchasing gas from oil majors. The Geregu Power Plant has also been buying from Seplat Petroleum Development Company at a negotiated price which is different from the prescribed price.
Incidentally, both Septa and Seplat have stakes in Oil Mining Leases (OMLs) 4, 38 and 41 which were divested by Shell and its joint venture partners Eni and Total. It will be recalled that Seplat - which is a merger of two indigenous companies; Shebah E&P and Platform Petroleum - secured a 45% stake in the OMLs with NNPC retaining its 55% stake which are assigned to its Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) subsidiary.
In turn NPDC sub-assigned the production and development of the blocks to Septa Energy in 2010 in an arrangement that was termed a Strategic Alliance Agreement (SAA). The latter saw Septa take on the petroleum operation costs and the provision of technical expertise for the production and development of the blocks. Septa is currently constructing a Central Gas Processing Facility at Eket in Akwa Ibom State.
For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Abdullah Senussi is returned from Mauritania to Libya

According to reports from Mauritania's Foreign Ministry the infamous former security chief and Colonel Qadhafi's brother-in-law, Abdullah Senussi, was released on Wednesday 5 August following a visit by Libyan Foreign Minister, Ashour Bin Khayal, and Chief of Staff, Yousef Mangoush. He was then handed over to the Libyans and it is understood that he is now on his way to Libya.

While the extradition from Tunisia of the former prime minister Mahmoud al–Baghdadi was of some interest, he was really just a technocrat. There is no doubt that Senussi is a much more important prize, because not only was he at the heart of Qadhafi's inner circle for many decades, but he was almost certainly responsible for almost all of the regime's most infamous crimes. These include overseas acts of terrorism – including the UTA and Lockerbie bombings and many others – but also decades of repression against the regime's domestic opponents. In addition there was the crackdown in Benghazi which sparked the 2011 revolution; Senussi's most notorious act, however, was his alleged orchestration of the June 1996 massacre of over 1200 inmates at Abu Salim prison.

Senussi probably knows more secrets about the Qadhafi regime than anyone else, with the possible exception of the former intelligence chief and foreign minister, Musa Kusa, who defected during the 2011 revolution. Senussi will no doubt be extensively debriefed and interrogated before any trial but there can be no doubt that that he will be found guilty of numerous crimes and will almost certainly be executed. Anything less would be unacceptable to the majority of Libyans for whom Senussi was the most feared and hated member of the Qadhafi regime.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Monday, 3 September 2012

Algeria: Amar Ghoul hints at (re-)joining government

A long article in the Pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper on 27 August supported the rumours that have been circulating for the last few weeks that Amar Ghoul is making a play to get back into government, either as a minister or possibly even Prime Minister.
He was a member of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) and the Minister of Public Works in the previous government. However, with the MSP no longer part of the Presidential Alliance, and with Ghoul now defecting from the MSP to form his own TAJ Party, his political future is the focus of much speculation.
In a seminar prior to the TAJ's constituent assembly, Ghoul gave repeated and strong backing for President Bouteflika, indicating his willingness to join the presidential alliance from which the MSP had withdrawn. He was clearly hinting that he was willing to take his new TAJ party back into such an alliance, which currently includes the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Rally for Democracy (RND).
Ghoul has a potentially significant political following, especially in the Algiers region, which includes a number of resigned MSP figures and some of the deputies from the parties that made up the May election's Green Algerian Alliance, including the MSP, the Islamic Renaissance Movement (Ennahda) and the Movement for National Reform (Islah). There is also speculation that  Ghoul may be attracting a following, albeit perhaps small, from certain Algerian student movements.
The latest rumour is that Ghoul may return to government, possibly reinstated as Minister of Public Works, in a ministry which could be expanded to include both transport and water. His name is also being touted as the possible new Prime Minister (to replace Ahmed Ouyahia), but this would seem to be a long shot.
For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2012 Menas Associates