Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Angola throws back punches

Tired of being criticised for being one of the world’s most
secretive governments, Angola is finally throwing back some
punches.
Top government officials, including the economy minister,
the finance minister and the head of the central bank, held a
news conference late on Friday to discuss the government’s first
200 days in power — the second news conference of the kind this
year.
“You thought we wouldn’t do this again,” said Carlos Feijo,
Angola’s powerful minister of state who is seen by many as the
president’s right-hand man. “Well, here we are.”
He then went on to speak non-stop for 40 minutes, describing
how the economy had improved in recent months, plans to pay
billions in debt to construction firms and the fight against
poverty and corruption before opening up the floor to questions.
Many journalists praised the government’s decision to hold
the news conference as a step in the right direction in a nation
where officials seem to be paid to keep quiet and where people
are afraid to openly criticise the president.
Greater transparency could also bolster Angola’s chances of
receiving more Western loans and placing debt with private
investors abroad, as it seeks cash shore up its finances after
the recent slump in oil prices.
Angola was ranked in the bottom 19 of 180 countries in a
Transparency International corruption study last year.
State-run daily Jornal de Angola hailed the news conference
a success in an editorial a few days later.
“The Angolan government has explained how public funds are
being managed so that Angolans continue to trust in those they
elected into government for four years,” said Jornal de Angola.
“It is important that all Angolans, whether or not they
voted for the ruling party, to be aware of the importance of
this extraordinary performance.”
The question is whether the Angolan government is serious
about increasing transparency or simply using the media’s thirst
for information to campaign ahead of the nation’s 2012
elections.

West Africa’s aerial shuttle busses

Try and get from Dakar to Monrovia, a hop of 1,000 km down the West Africa coast, and you are likely to find yourself passing through any number of the region’s airports before getting there over 12 hours later, and at least $1,000 poorer. One suggested flight route is, in all seriousness, go on Kenya Airways via Nairobi and back.

West and Central Africa was once served by Air Afrique, a much-cursed but vaguely-reliable French-backed outfit which provided links within the region and abroad before going bust in 2002. Now getting around the region hinges on a patchwork of smaller airlines with hit and miss connections that make travel slow and extortionately expensive.

Hopes of a nation hinge on a document

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On July 7, 1990, fear spread around Kenya. It stretched from the capital, where the opposition had called demonstrations to press for a multi-party system and constitutional changes, right into rural areas.

When a lorry carrying packed milk, under a now long-discarded school-feeding scheme, approached a rural schoolyard during a break, schoolchildren ran into their classrooms because the black stacked crates looked suspiciously like the helmets of armed police.

Equatorial Guinea’s PR crisis

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Four months into a public relations offensive, Equatorial Guinea is still struggling to get good press.

The government of the tiny West African state, eager to shake a reputation as one of the most corrupt and repressive on the planet, hired a high-powered U.S. communications firm Qorvis in May in the hope of rebranding itself as a progressive nation and a good place to do business.Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (C) attends a wreath laying ceremony at Havana's Revolution Square February 16, 2008. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa (CUBA)

African agricultural finance under the spotlight

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ZIMBABWEKeith Mullin, Editor-at-Large of Thomson Reuters IFR, writes on prospects for the flourishing investment in African agriculture.

Africa is turning into a fashionable post-crisis investment destination as investors regain their confidence and start to focus on the continent’s lack of direct involvement with the global market’s volatility drivers and trouble hotspots. Africa is benefiting not only from a resumption of international debt and equity flows; it is also a beneficiary of international efforts to maintain the flow of trade finance via multilateral guarantee programmes – 45 issuing banks from 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have joined the IFC’s trade finance programme, for example.

At the same time, bilateral and multilateral development agencies are actively investing via an assortment of public and private-sector channels; the international capital markets pipeline is building – sovereign debt offerings on the docket for Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zambia with Libya believed to be looking – while the slew of private equity and hedge funds being raised this year for Africa are seeing healthy interest from public-sector and private LPs.

Banking on Africa

CHINA/Mining companies are looking more cautiously at South Africa after a brouhaha over  shady deals. Media and diplomats are nervous of measures they fear could curtail press freedom. South Africans in general are wondering how much damage an ongoing public sector strike will do and whether it is a sign of worse labour unrest to come.

But global banking giant HSBC certainly seems to be taking a positive long term view of Africa’s biggest economy with its talks to buy up to 70 percent of South Africa’s Nedbank in a deal that could be worth more than $8 billion.

France’s former colonies, 50 years on

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 Over the last week, a string of African nations have been busy celebrating 50 years of independence from France. Almost inevitably, the prickly relationship between Paris and her former colonies has come under the microscope.

 Sarkozy with former President Bongo in Gabon.

Under President Omar Bongo, Gabon represented the clearest example of Francafrique – the intertwined political and economic interests of the French government and the elite in former African colonies.

Fambul Tok in Sierra Leone

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naomiDuring Sierra Leone’s civil war thousands of children were forcibly conscripted and used to terrorize and kill civilians. After the war ended in 2002 many didn’t return home for fear of  revenge attacks but a new programme is trying to build bridges between them and their victims.

Baiima village seems peaceful now but 19 years ago it was the scene of some brutal attacks when civil war broke out. Massah Jusu can vividly remember the violence she and her family were subjected to by rebels at the time.

Breaking down the walls – Sudan’s oil transparency push

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It was a just another seminar on transparency in the oil sector. Seemingly banal. But this was being held in Khartoum, involving live debates between northern and southern Sudanese officials, a minerals watchdog and the international media, who were allowed free access to publicly grill those who administer what has for years been an absolutely opaque oil industry. What emerged was surprisingly positive and all walked away feeling that — at least until the Jan. 9, 2011 referendum on southern independence — this was the first step towards finally unpicking all the stitches that have sewn the sector tightly shut to outsiders. We are “PR stupid” said the newly appointed Minister for Energy from the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Lual Deng who instigated the forum. He said this to explain the discrepancies in oil production and oil prices uncovered by the Global Witness NGO whose report “Fuelling Mistrust — the need for transparency in Sudan’s oil sector” provoked the discussion. These include figures published by the ministry of finance web site of oil revenues with little clarification of how they had been calculated, even citing barrels of Sudanese black gold selling for as little as 15 cents a barrel. It also found discrepancies between China’s CNPC who dominates Sudan’s oil sector dogged by U.S. sanctions, and Sudan’s energy ministry output figures. Those figures were easily explained as the difference between gross production and net of water, gas and solids on Wednesday. But the fact an international giant like CNPC is publishing undefined production figures in an annual report provoked concern even from Sudanese officials. And why did it require such an elaborate showcase to provide such a simple response? Minister Deng’s answer was the “PR stupid” line. After months of chasing and waiting in vain for a reply from The government or CNPC to the discrepancies in oil output, including having the phone hung up on them by the Chinese, Global Witness went ahead and published their work. “Next time you should just call us to verify the figures,” was CNPC’s ironic response, with the presenter who had flown in from Beijing for the forum, flashing on a PowerPoint screen the email and mobile number of CNPC’s country manager in Sudan. Just five minutes earlier that same manager had declined my request for a meeting or to share his contacts “in the interests of transparency.” One of dozens of attempts I have made over the years to extract any information from the state-owned firm. I wonder how long he will keep that mobile number. But if you sifted through the barbed comments by Sudanese officials directed at the Global Witness reps and the attempts by CNPC to ridicule the figures, important progress was made. Sudan said it would commit to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, to which CNPC gave its support. It also agreed to a full audit back to 2005 and the ministry said it would publish daily production figures. It also gave French oil giant Total a public guarantee that whether or not the south votes to secede in just five months, its oil concession contract would be honoured. If all this happens, it will be a massive step towards opening up Sudan’s taboo oil sector which could convince those elusive big European companies who left during Sudan during the north-south civil war to come back and invest. Do you see European companies investing in Sudanese oil and gas? If Europeans come back in should U.S. sanctions be lifted to allow American firms to compete for the spoils? Is Sudan – likely to split into two countries in five months –worth the risk for investors?

oilIt was a just another seminar on transparency in the oil sector. Seemingly banal.

But this was being held in Khartoum, involving live debates between northern and southern Sudanese officials, a minerals watchdog and the international media, who were allowed free access to publicly grill those who administer what has for years been an incredibly opaque oil industry.

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

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UNAMIDincampDarfur’s joint U.N.-African Union peacekeepers face a dilemma in Darfur which could shape the future of the world’s largest U.N.-funded force.

After violence left five people dead in the highly volatile Kalma Camp, six refugees sought sanctuary in the UNAMID force’s police base there. They are thought to be rebel sympathisers and the government accuses them of instigating the camp clashes, demanding that UNAMID hand them over.

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