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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.

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 Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Lual Deng, who instigated the forum.

Is Angolan media becoming less biased?

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PORTUGAL/It was surprising to see Angola’s media regulator on Thursday accusing the nation’s only state-run newspaper of running a story that distorted a speech by the leader of the main opposition party to make him look favourable towards the government.
 
The National Media Council, a government run body comprised of journalists, seems determined to help Angola’s media sector become less biased towards the government . It urged Jornal de Angola to be more rigorous in its coverage.
 
The newspaper ran a story on March 14 based on a speech by UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva with the title: “Samakuva sees growth in several sectors of the economy,” when his words had instead been highly critical of the government, the regulator said.
 
Jornal de Angola “should avoid arriving at conclusions that may change the meaning of the facts reported even though the story may reflect the opinion of the newspaper or of the journalist who wrote it,” the regulator said in a statement published in Jornal de Angola.
 
UNITA spokesman Alcides Sakala, whose party had lodged the complaint with the regulator about the story, said the regulator’s move was a step in the right direction for a country that is opening up after a three-decade long rule that ended in 2002.
 
But Angola still ranks 119 out of 175 countries in Reporters Without Borders media freedom index.
 
The state owns two national broadcasters, the only radio station with nationwide coverage, and Jornal de Angola, the country’s most influential daily newspaper which often runs headlines praising the ruling MPLA party.
 
This has helped the MPLA secure almost 82 percent of the votes in Angola’s 2008 parliamentary elections – the first to take place after a civil war that ended in 2002.
 
The question now is whether Angola’s ruling MPLA party, which has ruled the oil producing nation for over three decades, is finally ready to loosen its grip on the media before the country holds parliamantary and presidential elections in 2012?

How will South Africa reward Caster’s triumph???

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South Africa ’s  Caster Semenya returned home today following her 800m gold medal-win at the  World Athletics Championships in Berlin .

She was greeted by headlines from the country’s newspapers, expressing collective  national pride for her achievement.  “Welcome home, Caster, our champ. Caster, this nation is proud of you and we stand behind you, from Cape Town to Musina.”, screamed  the Johannesburg-based The Times Newspaper.

Will Ethiopia’s PM step down?

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They say that the foundation of a good retirement is planning. By that measure, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi should have his rest period well laid out. The rebel-turned-leader has been saying he wants to step aside for almost two years now.

But after 18 years at the helm of one of the world’s poorest countries the 54-year-old is still in power and says he is trapped by the wishes of his ruling party. They will discuss his desire to retire at an executive committee meeting next month and a September congress would give him the opportunity to ask the party for his twilight years.

Sign of change in Zimbabwe?

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President Robert Mugabe joined the mourning for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife on Tuesday and called on Zimbabweans to end violence and support his old rival to help rebuild the country.

The death of Susan Tsvangirai in a road crash in which her husband was also injured has, at least on the surface, brought about a show of unity between Zimbabwe’s bitterest foes that might never have looked possible.

Time to stop aid for Africa?

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Far from being all bad news for Africa, the global financial crisis is a chance to break a dependence on development aid that has kept it in poverty, argues Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, who has just published a new book “Dead Aid”.

Moyo’s book, her first, comes out at a time when Western campaigners, financial institutions and some African governments have been warning of the danger posed to Africa by the crisis and calling for more money from developed countries as a result. The former World Bank and Goldman Sachs economist spoke to Reuters in London.

Should Zimbabwe’s election go ahead?

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zimbabwe-posters.jpgOpposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai detained twice in a week, U.S. and British diplomats forced from their cars by police, rallies banned, aid workers stopped from working, reports of violence from across the countryside. The campaign for Zimbabwe’s presidential election run-off on June 27 is being hard fought, literally.mugabe.jpg

The opposition accuses President Robert Mugabe of responsibility for violence and says 65 people have been killed. The ruling party blames Tsvangirai’s followers and says Mugabe’s Western foes and some aid agencies have been campaigning for the opposition.

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