Africa News blog

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Britain on Sudan: Selling out or cashing in?

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- Britain’s new coalition government made its priorities on Sudan very clear as Henry Bellingham, the minister for Africa, used 90 percent of his opening remarks at his first press conference in Khartoum to outline how Britain could increase trade with Sudan. The other 10 percent dealing with the run-up to the south’s referendum on secession which is likely to create Africa’s newest nation state and the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide all seemed like just an after thought. On first glance many would say Britain was selling out — engaging economically with a government whose head is a wanted man would destroy the global divestment campaign’s years of efforts to make investing in Sudan a poisoned chalice no one wants to touch in the hope of isolating Khartoum to pressure it to stop rights abuses and allow democratic freedoms. Many Darfuris and rights activists who have been victims of torture and harassment will be dismayed by the move which clearly extends a hand of friendship to Khartoum who had until now been reduced to almost pariah status since the ICC warrant for Bashir last year which propelled him to international fame — for all the wrong reasons. Is Britain selling out? In fact many ordinary Sudanese say no. They say U.S. sanctions, imposed since 1997 has had little effect on the government who took control in a 1989 bloodless coup and was elected in expensive and heavily disputed April elections. The economy has grown on average eight percent a year, Khartoum extracted the oil pretty much without Western companies, built hundreds of miles of tarmac roads, and erected high-rise government buildings which sparkle so much in the sun the rays mock the Americans even far out of town in their heavily secured embassy compound. But sanctions have made life almost impossible for any normal Sudanese to do business abroad or at home. It’s those struggling to become an emerging middle class who welcome initiatives Bellingham suggested to use the 35,000 Sudanese living in the UK to facilitate small and medium sized businesses investments in Sudan bringing much-desired jobs and training with them. Britain is the former coloniser of Sudan and many families have close links with the country often visiting to shop and visit family there. They would welcome British products instead of the often cheap and poorer quality Chinese goods flooding the market here in Khartoum. It would certainly lessen their excess baggage bills. But Bellingham went one step further saying British companies were lagging behind Chinese companies and missing out on great investment returns in Sudan, emerging from decades of civil war. He also mentioned the unmentionable. Oil. Most Western oil companies pulled out of Sudan citing rights abuses during the north-south civil war which ended in 2005 with a shaky peace deal which has just about held if only partially and reluctantly implemented. Some firms were even implicated by rights activists in those rights abuses. But for example a battered British Petroleum, a move into an oil industry in a country whose government has historically shown scant regard for its population or the environmental effects of exploration might be a silver lining to the clouds gathered over its HQ of late. So is Britain cashing in? Only if they can make it happen. Western oil companies have been reluctant to enter to a post-war Sudan. Oil exploration is a long-term and costly venture and the stability of the country is far from guaranteed. Many are waiting to see what will happen after the southern referendum on independence in five months because the oil lies mainly in the south. They worry contracts signed with a united Sudan may not be honoured post secession by a new nation fighting to survive as a country in its own right. British banks in the past five years all but stopped transactions to/from or those with any mention of Sudan, no matter what the currency and no matter who the recipient. Sudanese abroad had their bank accounts closed down regardless of who they were, foreigners working in Sudan received similar treatment and mortgage companies turned down anyone whose work brought them to the war-torn nation. Lloyds TSB, which also owns Halifax and Bank of Scotland, last year paid a massive $350 million fine to the United States for fraudulent transactions to U.S.-sanctioned Sudan, Libya and Iran. So how will Whitehall convince them it’s a good idea to facilitate investment in an opaque Sudanese economy dominated by companies many of which have been hijacked by government organs or ruling party officials? They will need considerable help from Sudan’s government to increase transparency and allow private businesses to flourish free from government interference. The jury is not only out on the moral implications of Britain’s new policy but also on whether London can convince UK businesses and banks to invest in a country which regularly ranks in the top five of failed states indices.

Britain’s new coabellinghamlition government made its priorities on Sudan very clear as Henry Bellingham, the minister for Africa, used 90 percent of his opening remarks at his first press conference in Khartoum to outline how Britain could increase trade with Sudan.

The other 10 percent dealing with the run-up to the south’s referendum on secession, which is likely to create Africa’s newest nation state, and the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide all seemed like just an afterthought.

At first glance many would say Britain was selling out — engaging economically with a government whose head is a wanted man would destroy the global divestment campaign’s years of efforts to make investing in Sudan a poisoned chalice and to pressure Khartoum to stop rights abuses and allow democratic freedoms.

Many Darfuris and rights activists who have been victims of torture and harassment will be dismayed by the move, which clearly extends a hand of friendship to Khartoum, virtually a pariah since the ICC warrant for Bashir last year.

Gordon Brown resurfaces. In Africa

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It’s odd to see a once powerful man walk slowly. And odder still to see him sit in the corner of a restaurant nursing a glass of water for more than an hour. But that’s exactly what delegates to an African Union summit in Ugandan capital Kampala saw former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown do on Saturday.

Brown has been treated as something of a fugitive by the British media since his May election defeat with a slew of “Have you seen this man? type articles published in the country’s newspapers. Speculation on what he was up to ranged from bashing out a book on economics to Alastair Darling’s “he’s reflecting”.

Live Aid anniversary: Unknown Ethiopia

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NEW YORK

This week is 25 years since a bunch of bouffant-haired pop stars staged the most ambitious concerts of all time to help millions of starving people who had never heard of them.

Live Aid, organised to raise money to stop Ethiopia’s catastrophic 1984/85 famine, was a huge success by some measures. An audience of more than 1.5 billion tuned in around the world to watch simultaneous live concerts from London and Philadelphia — an incredible technological feat for the time — and a staggering $230 million was raised for the emergency.

Will bandages mend broken ties in the DRC?

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CONGO-DEMOCRATIC/EXPLOSIONThe relations between First Quantum and the Democratic Republic of Congo have gone from bad to worse in recent months, after the country expropriated the miner’s $765 million Kolwezi copper tailings project in September.  

A recent court ruling in the DRC has also cast a cloud over the future of the company’s Frontier and Lonshi mines, located in the south of the country. The widely covered dispute has led the DRC to accuse First Quantum of running a smear campaign against the country, the feud nearly foiled the DRC’s efforts to secure a $8 billion debt relief deal from the World Bank.   

Africa optimism rising

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SAFRICA-When some of the most influential figures in emerging markets finance spoke to a group of Reuters editors, they were asked about top picks for growth beyond the so-called BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

One continent came up again and again – Africa – and one country in particular – Nigeria. Goldman Sachs global head of economic research, Jim O’Neill, highlighted the improvement in the growth-environment index of Africa’s giant over the past decade.

Nile River row: Could it turn violent?

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The giggles started when the seventh journalist in a row said that his question was for Egypt’s water and irrigation minister, Mohamed Nasreddin Allam.

The non-Egyptian media gave him a bit of a hammering at last week’s talks in Addis Ababa for the nine countries that the Nile passes through.

from Global Investing:

Libya: a mixed bag

It has debt levels to die for and huge amounts of oil, but economically it's lagging and political concerns remain.  Speakers at a Libyan trade and investment forum this week saw the North African country as a mixed bag.

RTR25J1A_CompRobert Tashima, an editor for Oxford Business Group,  highlighted the country's "elephantine" levels of FX reserves, and the privatisation of 80 companies so far, with telecoms and steel sales slated for this year.

Africa takes the stage in London

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nottageAfrica is providing a lot of fine material for the London theatre these days.

A rare outing for Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman was a highlight at the National last year. This was followed, also at the National, by Matt Charman’s The Observer,  which unpicked preparations for an election in an unnamed African nation.

More recently, Lynn Nottage’s excellent Ruined, which dealt with tough themes relating to women’s lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has just finished an acclaimed run at the Almeida in Islington.

Searching for it — not quite feeling it — in Polokwane

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- Searching for it — not quite feeling it — in Polokwane The fan fest sounded like a wild party with the vuvuzela horns booming through the empty streets of Polokwane town, one of the smallest of 10 venues for the first World Cup on African soil. Everyone must be there, we thought as there was little going on for a Saturday night in the northern South African town. Even the local Nandos restaurant on the main street shut by 8 p.m. But on closer inspection the soccer fan fest — loud as it was — was also pretty deserted. Soccer fever has yet to reach Polokwane. A sleepy town of just 500,000 people, it was hard to imagine Polokwane, which means place of safety, would host its first World Cup soccer match in less than 24 hours. In Johannesburg or Cape Town you could definitely “feel it”. Here we weren’t so sure. Driving through the town’s eerily deserted streets searching for a restaurant where we could eat and watch the soccer, we discovered that was not an easy find. It was also hard to imagine what long-term benefit the town would see from being a host city. While for the four matches to be played in Polokwane the few hotels on offer for tourists were full, in between there were plenty of rooms at the inn. No team was staying nearby which would bring with it the paraphenalia of adoring fans or news-hungry media and the associated business. Those playing were flown in for pre-match training, again the day of the match and ferried back straight after. Police closed down the roads near the stadium on the edge of town the night before. But those fearing traffic similar to the four-hour long queues witnessed in Johannesburg trying to get to Soocer City need not have bothered. The streets were empty, the car parks empty and — just 30 minutes before kick-off — the stadium was half empty. By the second half, the stands were just about three-quarters full, though the blasts of the vuvuzelas compensated for the missing supporters. The Peter Mokaba stadium almost looked like they hadn’t had time to finish painting it, with the stark grey concrete of the outer wall in direct contrast with Soccer City in Johannesburg’s brightly coloured exterior. The inside was still coated in construction dust and most of the refreshment stands remained shuttered and closed during the match. Just two hours after the players left we found ourselves the lone figures in a dark stadium struggling to see the keyboard as we tapped out the finishing touches to our stories. Even the name of the stadium was controversial. Mokaba was the African National Congress (ANC)’s youth league leader who, like his current counterpart Julius Malema, was fond of the phrase “Kill The Boer,” which upset many Afrikaners. Ironically there’s not even a local soccer team to make use of the sparkling pitch. Residents said the Rai Stars disbanded long ago and the nearby promising Black Leopards team are based more than 150 kilometres away in a less than World Cup standard stadium. <http://www.blackleopardsfc.com/10_stadium_info.htm> The Dynamos train 100 kilometres away. Neither team play in the country’s top league. “You can’t help thinking this huge stadium will just be derelict and empty in a few years time,” said one hotel worker.

Polokwane StadiumThe soccer fan fest sounded like a wild party with the vuvuzela horns booming through the empty streets of Polokwane town, one of the smallest of 10 venues for the first World Cup on African soil.

Everyone must be there, we thought as there was little happening on a Saturday night in the northern South African town centre.

Juwama vs. the Nile Republic – South Sudan searches for a new name

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salvakiirWhat’s in a name? An entire cultural and national identity if you are from Sudan’s oil-producing south.

The region of southern Sudan is now less than seven months away from a referendum on whether it should split away to form Africa’s newest country.

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