Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Benghazi Joint Security Operations spokesman resigns

Colonel Abdullah Zaidi, spokesman of the Benghazi Joint Security Operations Chamber, resigned from his post this week in protest at the deteriorating security situation in the town and at the lack of support the chamber receives from the authorities.
This will come as a blow to the government that has made a major effort to bolster security in Benghazi of late, with its sending of army units and military equipment to the city. It seems, however, that for all the government's efforts, there is still a fundamental problem in the support it is giving to those responsible for security in the city.
According to former SSC head Hisham Bashar, the government has yet to deliver a proper budget to the Benghazi security directorate. Bashar recounted how there have been CCTV cameras in some parts of Benghazi for some time but that until last week, these cameras were not working because the government had not released the money.
While many will put such failings down to general bureaucracy and ineptitude, others believe that this failure to deliver adequate support is part of a deliberate attempt by certain Islamist elements to ensure that Prime Minister Ali Zidan's government falls.
For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2013 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Libya: General Prosecutor for Jebel Akhdar killed in Derna

This week has seen another senior figure from the judiciary targeted and killed in Derna. On 9 November, the General Prosecutor for the Jebel Akhdar region, Mohamed Al-Naas, was killed when a bomb exploded under his car.
The killing is reflective of the gaping security vacuum that has opened up in the town. According to one Libyan journalist who travelled to Derna recently, “There is no police, no security directorate, not even a security chamber in Derna. All policemen are sitting at home because of the threat to them by Islamists.” This corroborates the recent assertion by Derna Congressman Abdulfatah Shalwi that the town does not even have a functioning local council or security directorate.
The situation is so bad that, according to one Derna resident, the town is “divided between Islamists, gangs, weapons smugglers, drugs mafias and ordinary people”.
For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.
© 2013 Menas Associates

Monday, 11 November 2013

Morocco's latest spat with Algeria

Moroccan-Algerian relations appear to be returning to normal following their recent spat over the Western Sahara. A senior government official announced on 4 November that Morocco's ambassador to Algiers, Abdallah Belkaziz, had returned to the Algerian capital and was set to resume work on the same day.
He had been recalled to Rabat the previous week following President Bouteflika's provocative speech over Morocco's abuse of human rights in the Western Sahara occupied territories in suppressing the “peaceful struggle” of the Sahrawi people for freedom of expression and association.
The official stressed that the ambassador had only been recalled for consultations and had not been withdrawn, adding that Morocco "will always take measures against those who try to touch its territorial integrity." Referring to an incident last week, in which a Moroccan protester tore down the flag from Algeria's consulate in Casablanca, he said the authorities had been "firm" and the perpetrator was under arrest. But the official denied that Morocco had made an "apology" over the incident.
Ugly scenes had developed outside Algeria's consulate in Casablanca on Friday 1 October as Moroccans, egged on by their own government, protested against President Bouteflika's provocative comments over the Western Sahara. A number of other protests against Algeria were staged around the country and most notably in Rabat and Oujda. In what can only be explained as retaliatory action, Algeria arrested dozens of Moroccans living within its borders on alleged espionage and drug-trafficking charges.
Who gets the last word in before US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives on the scene (see below) is still up for grabs. So far, it is with King Mohamed VI, who, in his speech on Wednesday 6 November to mark the 38 th anniversary of the occupation of the Western Sahara, accused Algeria of systematic violations of human rights in Tindouf Sahrawi refugee camps.
For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.
© 2013 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

World Bank still rates Ghana as top West African country

World Bank still rates Ghana as top West African country for “doing business”, as Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur confirms that GDP growth should still exceed 7% this year. There has been no follow on after recent rumours that Minister of Finance Seth Terkper is set to be replaced by President Mahama because of his performance at the helm of the economy and the monetary policy-focused Bank of Ghana has escaped the opprobrium for the deteriorating fiscal position.
Ghana's Vice President and former Bank of Ghana governor, Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, has confirmed that Ghana's economic growth will still exceed 7% this year as Finance Ministry officials have recently indicated. According to Amissah-Arthur, GDP growth should reach 7.2% for 2013 even if over 0.5% lower than the predicted 7.9% - with this shortfall unfortunately one of the reasons that the deficit will be reduced more slowly than expected. The 7.2% figure is slightly less than the 7.5% figure presented by Terkper late last month when complaining about the Fitch ratings agency's decision to downgrade.
At least the World Bank is more optimistic, on a relative basis compared to Fitch, on the business environment. In its latest “Doing Business” report for 2014 it confirmed Ghana as the highest ranking West African or ECOWAS country. This is despite Ghana's global ranking fell slightly to 67th out of 189 countries because of increasing the administrative requirements on those starting businesses.
Ghana was, however, not on the World Bank list of countries that had most improving their business regulations since 2009 which was when John Kufuor handed over the presidency to John Atta Mills. One may interpret this in more than one way including that Ghana has provided a relatively business-friendly environment over a longer period of time. Indeed, Ghana is one of the twenty most improved countries since 2005 - with twelve significant regulatory reforms – and was highlighted as having made major strides in improving domestic access to credit over the past five years.
For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.
© 2013 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Libya: Religious authority condemns federalism

The federalists received a blow from the religious establishment this week when the Association of Libyan Scholars issued a fatwa castigating federalism as 'haram' (religiously prohibited). The association made sure to point out that it was not condemning federalism as a concept, but rather that they were prohibiting it on religious grounds because of the damage that it might do to the country. The head of the association, Omar Mouloud, commented that “federalism would take Libya backwards.”
Given that ruling something as haram makes it permissible to kill anyone who engages in it, the association also clarified that the “banning of federalism does not permit bloodletting.”
Meanwhile the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Sadiq Al-Ghariani, also laid into the federalists, accusing the announcement of the new Cyrenaica government as being tantamount to the declaration of a state within a state. He also warned that the country could not sustain any more division.
While the Islamists have long made clear their aversion to federalism, such condemnation coming from respected Islamic scholars, does further damage to the federalists' cause in the eyes of many Libyans.
For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.
© 2013 Menas Associates

Caspian: Tethys in unexpected farm-out

Tethys Petroleum is continuing to surprise market-watchers, with an unexpected farm-out of its Kazakh assets to a Chinese oil company owned by a major private equity fund. The company had not hinted it was planning a farm-out, which will help fund its work programme there as well as free up cashflow for expansion elsewhere.

On 1 November Tethys said in a statement that it was selling 50% plus one share of its Kazakh business to SinoHan Oil and Gas Investment, part of Beijing-based HanHong, for $75 million. Tethys will remain the operator for the assets in question and the two sides will have equal representation on the board of the local company. HanHong has assets already in Kazakhstan through other branches – four gold mining licences in which HanHong is an investor or manager – but this is its first foray into the energy sector.

The deal is a boost for Tethys, which has found it something of a challenge to effectively monetise its valuable Kazakh assets, which have 2P reserves of 26 million barrels. Getting oil to market (the domestic market, for now, since the company has not yet acquired an export licence) has taken some time while the Aral Oil Terminal has been expanded. The terminal, with a current loading capacity of 4,200 b/d and a storage capacity of 1,300 b/d, is being significantly expanded to over 12,000b/d, which will cut the need for trucking crude and increase Tethys's production ceiling.

Although the Aral Oil Terminal provides good access to refineries and ports, Tethys is also considering the construction of an oil export pipeline which would almost certainly connect to the Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline (currently undergoing expansion). Although a pipeline depends on an oil export licence, that appears to be just a matter of time, and the SinoHan farmout will give Tethys a cash boost for a pipeline, as well as to fund its ambitious drilling programme for the coming year. The additional cashflow will also be useful for operations in Georgia, the latest addition to Tethys's portfolio.

Although it's a very different beast to the Chinese majors (Tethys has farmed-out to CNPC, and Total, for its Bokhtar PSC in Tajikistan), SinoHan's involvement nevertheless aligns Tethys towards China in terms of oil and gas export. If and when export pipelines for oil and – one day – gas get built from Tethys's contract area, they will almost certainly connect to the existing pipeline network to China.

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

© 2013 Menas Associates