Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Ghana: President Mahama calls on army to fortify efforts against Boko Haram

President asks the army to work on its strategy to counter attacks by Nigeria’s Boko Haram militant Islamist sect.

In a major address to the rank and file of the Ghana Armed Forces, President John Mahama urged them to work with officers to counter any possible terrorist attack on the country.

Mahama said at Burma Camp in Accra on 27 May that the activities of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in the sub-region threaten a broad swathe of peoples across West Africa. Two days earlier, he had returned from South Africa where he met Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan and other regional leaders for discussions on a new regional security compact.

Mahama, whose relations with former military leader Jerry John Rawlings have improved in recent months, assured the soldiers that the government was seriously addressing the country's current financial and energy challenges.

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.
© 2014 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

French Defence Minister visits Algiers

Even more pressing for Algeria was the visit of French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Algiers on Tuesday 20 May, his first visit to Algiers. He met Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, Defence Chief General Gaïd Salah, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and President Bouteflika himself. Details of their discussions have not been released, but are known to have centred on the deterioration of the security situations in both Libya and Mali.

It is widely believed that Le Drian asked Algeria for support for France’s new counter-terrorism mission for the Sahel which had been announced on 8 May. (For full details see Sahara Focus.) This will see a further 3,000 French troops deployed throughout Niger and Chad, in addition to 1,000 retained in Mali. Such support is more likely to be logistical than in the provision of Algerian troops, which Algiers would almost certainly decline.

It is also being rumoured that France broached the subject of Algerian intervention in Libya, although nothing has been publically released in that regard and, at this stage, it would seem very unlikely. 

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

© 2014 Menas Associates


Nigeria: Foreign currency reserves

On the downside, there has been little improvement to foreign currency reserves, which rose slightly to just over US$38 billion at the beginning of May. Foreign reserves have fallen 15 per cent since the beginning of the year, due in part to President Goodluck Jonathan’s suspension of internationally respected CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

Foreign reserves are still below the US$40 billion that some analysts believe represents an important psychological threshold on which the capacity of the CBN to deter market speculation on naira devaluation hinges. Bismark Rewane, of the Financial Derivative Company Limited research firm, believes that CBN increases in private-sector cash reserve ratios (CRR) have had little impact on reducing excess liquidity in the banking system, as illustrated by relatively low money-market interest rates.

Banks, analysts, and telecoms operators continue to speculate on the likelihood of a naira devaluation, albeit differing on whether a devaluation would occur before or after the February 2015 election. Although market pressure on the naira has partly receded in recent weeks, that could change if Boko Haram continues to ramp up its insurgency campaign.

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

© 2014 Menas Associates

Friday, 23 May 2014

Iran: Gas pipeline to Iraq

Iranian Gas Engineering Development Company managing director Alireza Gharibi has announced that the construction of a 100 km pipeline to transfer natural gas to Iraq will be finished in the next four months.

The pipeline is now 75 per cent complete, and the Iraqi section is also being built according to schedule. The line will stretch from Assaluyeh, near the massive offshore South Pars oil and gas field in southern Iran, into neighbouring Iraq to feed its gas-run power plants.

On 2 July 2013, Iran signed an agreement to deliver 25 mcm/day to the Sadr, Baghdad, and Al-Mansouryah power plants through a pipeline. The 270 km line will earn Iran an estimated US$3.7 billion a year. It is projected to transfer 5 mcm/day in the first stage and 10 mcm/day in the second stage.

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

© 2014 Menas Associates

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Ghana to ration electricity

Ghana may need to ration electricity over the next 10 months because it does not have the capacity to replace plants that have been closed for repair.

Electric power continues to be a major issue on the domestic agenda. Despite downplayed power supply shortages earlier this year, the state-owned electricity producer has said that the company has no reserves, though demand and supply are all the same.

Ghana is currently only able to supply 2,000 MW of power, out of an installed capacity of 2,800 MW, because some thermal plants are down for maintenance and upgrades.
While that shortfall should end in May, the Volta River Authority (VRA) said, “we will ration power any time a plant has to shut down for maintenance or repairs” until early 2015 when the supply will increase by 330 MW due to newly refurbished plants.

The Ghana Grid Company Limited (GridCo) transmission company issued a statement in March claiming that an increase in annual peak demand from around 1,730 MW to just over 1,940 MW between 2012 and 2013, with current demand at approximately 1,980 MW, is the key driver of power shortages rather than reduced power generation, transmission and distribution. GridCo is under pressure from energy and petroleum minister Emmanuel Armah-Kofi Buah to increase its efficiency.
For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2014 Menas Associates

Caspian: Turkish refinery funding arranged

On 8 May, state oil and gas company Socar said it had concluded a financing agreement with a group of banks to fund the construction of the Star oil refinery at the Turkish port of Aliaga in Izmir province. The contract was signed with five export-import banks from the US, Japan, Spain, Italy and South Korea as well as 15 commercial banks.

The banks will provide $3 billion of funding in the form of 18-year loans. A further $500 million will be offered by Turkey’s Garanti Bankasi as a 15-year loan facility. The latter is also to process all future monetary transactions related to the oil refinery within 15 years after its commissioning. The total cost of the Star project is estimated at $5.7 billion. This means that Socar will still have to provide over $2.2 billion. Construction of the oil refinery is expected to be completed in 2018. The Star oil refinery has been wholly owned by the Azeri state since 19 May when Turkey’s Turcas Petrol sold its 18.5% stake in Socar Turkey Yatirimfor $59.4 million to Rafinery Holding, a local subsidiary of Socar Turkey Energy. The latter now owns 60% of Socar Turkey Yatirim, which owns the refinery project. The other 40% is owned by the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan. Last May an international consortium comprising Tecnicas Reunidas (Spain), Saipem(Italy), GS Engineering & Construction (South Korea) and Itochu Corporation (Japan) signed with Socar a $3.46 billion engineering, procurement and construction contract.

The Star refinery is projected to have an annual capacity of 10 million tons, 1.66 million tons of which would be naphtha that could go to the Petkimpetrochemical complex. Socar’s share in Petkim currently amounts to 61.32%. Besides naphtha, the new refinery is also expected to produce annually 5.95 million tons of diesel with an ultra-low concentration of sulphur, 500,000 tons of jet fuel, 630,000 tons of petroleum coke and 240,000 tons of liquefied petroleum gas. On 14 May Socar President Rovnag Abdullaev told The Business Year that the total volume of his company’s investments into various business ventures on Turkish soil has amounted to over $20 billion. The Azeri state firm is also active in neighbouring Georgia: as one of the largest taxpayers in the country, it has reportedly invested more than $400 million since 2006.

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

© 2014 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Algeria: Update on the In Amenas inquest

A second preliminary meeting between the UK Coroner and interested parties - a legal term for the narrow band of parties entitled to give evidence at a coroner’s inquest - ahead of the inquest in September/October, is scheduled for 20 May.

The families of the British nationals killed in the attack are under the impression that the coroner is committed to “leaving no stone unturned” in wanting to establish what led up to the attack. However, we have written confirmation from the London Metropolitan Police - who are acting as the agent for the coroner and who are effectively under the direction of MI6 on the matter - that the inquest will be strictly limited to the “who, when where and how” and not “why”.

We take it from this that the coroner, on the advice of the Met/MI6, will not be allowing the admission of evidence from eye witnesses to the meetings between the leader of the terrorist attack, Mohamed Lamine Bouchneb, and senior DRS officers, even though such witnesses are readily available.

The signs are becoming clearer that the inquest will be extremely narrow and could be an effective cover-up with regard to the key questions of why the attack took place and who was behind it.
For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2014 Menas Associates

Friday, 16 May 2014

Sahara: One dead, one alive?

There were reports in the French media at the end of April, notably in AFP, that Haroune Said, a former colonel in the Mali army who had deserted and become Iyad Ag Ghali’s right hand man, had been killed in a French military operation north of Kidal on 24–25 April.

Although Colonel Gilles Jaron, speaking for the French General Staff, did not confirm that the dead jihadist was Said, sources in the Mali military and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) both told AFP that it was. For a short while, there were also ill-founded rumours that Iyad himself had been killed. These may have stemmed from unverified reports on local social media some two weeks earlier that intimated as much.

Authoritative local sources are fairly certain, however, that Iyad, now wanted as a designated international terrorist, is being sheltered by the authorities in Algeria. It is widely believed that he is being housed just across the border in Tin Zaouatene, although his presence has also been reported in Tamanrasset. Confirmation was also received this month from a former high-ranking US intelligence officer responsible for the sector that Iyad was being sheltered by Algeria.

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.
© 2014 Menas Associates


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Ghana: Road workers' unions call on government to pay arrears

Two road workers’ unions have called on the government to pay arrears or face job losses and construction delays.

The Association of Road Contractors (ASROC) and the Progressive Road Contractors Association (PROCA) say the government should have settled its GH¢180 million (US$62 million) bill 16 months ago, and that the failure to do so has left 68,000km of the country’s roads in a poor state of maintenance, posing a threat to road users and vehicles transporting both goods and passengers.

Speaking at an Accra press conference, ASROC’s national chairman  Joseph Ebo Hewton, who made the appeal, raised the concern that  delayed payment was not only affecting the industry, but other  sectors such as agriculture too. Poor roads mean that farmers are unable to transport their produce to market centres and, as a result, lose revenue.

Also contributing to the discussion, the general secretary of the Contractors and Building Materials Workers' Union of Ghana, Pius Quainoo, said that 10,000 building and road construction workers had been laid off because of delayed payment by the government.  “The soaring unemployment has economic and social negative consequences on the country, and it doesn’t give good image publicity to the building and construction sector in Ghana,” he said. 

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

© 2014 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Libya: Debate over long overdue 2014 Budget postponed

The Congress put off discussing its long overdue budget for 2014 again this week. The budget was supposed to have been discussed during the Congress’s session on 11 May but, when it came to it, the budget law was not on the Congress agenda.

The ruling body gave no reason for the postponement and failed to specify a new date for discussions to take place. Congress sources did, however, tell the Libyan media that it had been shelved from the session on the 11 May because of security concerns.

Meanwhile, Congress member Abdelmonen Al-Yassir told a local satellite channel that the presidency of the Congress had informed members late on Saturday 10 May that there was a security risk which required the postponement of the session. While Al-Yassir stated that he did not know the nature of these risks, he hinted that it may be related to the ongoing controversy over the appointment of Ahmed Maitig as Prime Minister.

The draft budget is set at LD59,686 million (US$48,743 million) with a projected deficit of LD10,000 (US$8,166 million).

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

© 2014 Menas Associates

Monday, 12 May 2014

Belhadj comments on opposition, the “people” and the “street”

Ali Belhadj, the former deputy leader of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) had some interesting comments for the media on the subject of opposition to the government.

He confirmed that he had been approached by influential personalities in the regime but had rejected their offers. He also confirmed that the FIS is not part of the Coalition for Freedoms and Democratic Transition (CLTD) which only includes accredited political parties while the FIS is banned.
More interestingly, however, Belhadj put his finger on strengthening pulse of Algeria when he classified opposition parties into three categories: the accredited political parties; the unaccredited prosecuted parties such as the FIS; and an ignored party – “the people”. “The ignored party,” he said, “represents most of the Algerian people who boycotted the presidential elections and who have no trust in the executive.”

He went on to say that he believes that people who cannot find a political way to claim their rights will take to the street to get them. 
For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2014 Menas Associates

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Cameroon: GE to build new thermal electricity plant in Limbe

The Deputy Manager of Finagestion, GE’s French partner, signed an agreement on Wednesday 23 April in Yaoundé with Minister of Energy and Water Resources Basile Atangana Kouna. The deal authorises Finagestion to build a 314 MW thermal electricity plant in the Atlantic coastal town of Limbe in South-West Region. The plant will be run by gas-fired generators fuelled by Cameroon’s large gas reserves in and around the South-West oil and gas basins.

According to the terms of the accord, Finagestion will conduct a detailed study within 24 months dealing with, among other matters, the cost of the project and the compensation for the affected population. Through Kouna, the government has promised that it will facilitate the smooth functioning of the feasibility studies.

The project falls in line with the government’s plan to lift the country’s electricity production by 3,000 MW by 2020. Many heavy industries have been laden by low electricity supply despite President Biya’s ambition to take the country from a developing nation to an emerging economy by 2035. Observers have repeatedly warned that despite endemic corruption and administrative red-tape, Cameroon could still make great industrial strides with sufficient energy supplies, especially because the country has huge gas reserves and the plants to complement hydroelectricity with thermal power supply from gas-fired generators.

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

© 2014 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Ghana: Mahama cancels visit to WEF in Abuja

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered a three-day lockdown of Abuja during the upcoming World Economic Forum.

This week, President John Mahama wrote a letter, in his capacity as ECOWAS chairman, to his Nigerian counterpart expressing deep sadness at the recent bomb attacks in Abuja as well as the abduction by Boko Haram of around 300 schoolgirls from Borno State. We have heard, however, that Mahama has cancelled his planned visit to the WEF in Abuja citing pressure of work in Accra.  A government spokesperson told Ghana Politics & Security that the country will instead be represented at the meeting by a range of officials and leading local business people.

The meeting in Abuja, themed Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs, is scheduled to take place from 7-9 May and will be attended by world leaders and business executives around the world, including President Mahama, the presidents of Rwanda, Senegal and Kenya, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Jonathan has ordered officers and equipment to be deployed all over the city and its outskirts, and security has been increased at all strategic locations, entry and exit points, airports and highways. This is the result of Boko Haram’s recent attacks in Abuja. Last week, a car bomb exploded in the suburb of Nyanya, killing at least 19 people. In mid-April, there was an attack at a busy bus station in the same location which killed at least 75 people.

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

© 2014 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Militants take over in Derna

Militants in Derna moved to further consolidate their control over the town this week. It was reported that the recently formed group, the Majlis Shura Shabab Al-Islam fi Derna (the Shura Council of the Youth of Islam in Derna) (See Libya Politics and Security – 07.04.14) had taken over the local council and turned it into a religious court. According to the Bawabat Al-Wasat news site the group’s members have brought religious judges over from Egypt to preside in the court.

Meanwhile this week militants, who are believed to be from the same organisation, erected a wall across the campus of Derna University to separate male and female students. It is becoming increasingly clear that Derna has slipped completely outside of state control and it is now entirely in the hands of militant Islamist elements who are currently able to run roughshod over the local population. 

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

© 2014 Menas Associates

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Egypt: Presidential elections

The Presidential Election Commission has announced that the balloting will be monitored by 70 Egyptian and 16 international bodies. It has granted licences to a large number of local and foreign media organisations. The formal campaign will start on 3 May and end four days before polling starts on 27 May.

General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has been preparing his election campaign with military efficiency, though he has yet to announce his programme. As there is no doubt that he will win, he may want to leave as few hostages to fortune as he possibly can and focus on presenting a vision of what Egypt might be like after an El-Sisi presidency.

El-Sisi wants Egyptians to vote in “unprecedented numbers” for the “sake of the country”. He will use a star as his election symbol showing that he will be lighting the way for Egyptians.

His only opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi, can afford to promise the earth since he knows he will not win. He is speaking of confronting terrorism by tackling its root causes and not just its symptoms. He will strive for social justice and equality and to enhance the daily lives of all Egyptians.

He is winning some support: the Socialist Popular Alliance is the latest of several small left wing parties to declare their backing for him. He is no mean campaigner and did surprisingly well in the 2012 elections. His participation will this be more than a symbolic semblance of democracy although many will call into question a process that excludes any candidate representing the Islamic stream.
This absence may lead to significant abstentions, especially in Upper Egypt and parts of the Delta. Several Islamic parties and groups have jointly called for a boycott saying that the process will be a “farce” designed to appoint "the coup orchestrator" as president.

The regime will clearly pull out all stops to ensure that there is a large turnout. 

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.
© 2014 Menas Associates