Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Al Qaeda and France raise the stakes in the Sahara

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sarkoAl Qaeda’s North African wing has been creeping up the radar with an increase in attacks in the Sahara. But some have still sought to play down any strategic threat, citing the lack of key interests in the desert.

Westerners were at risk – a couple have also died in the hands of the Islamists – but incidents had mostly ended with in some sort of agreement involving a mix of prisoner swaps and, say experts, cash being passed to the right people.

There has also been intense debate over how loyal to al Qaeda-central the fighters are, as opposed to a bunch of bandits taking advantage of little government control.

Then five French nationals and two other foreigners – all of whom worked in Niger’s uranium mines where French nuclear giant Areva has vast investments – were plucked from their houses as they slept.

What’s in a name?

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nigerMy colleague Emma Farge has blogged  on the confusion that arose in oil markets after reports of a coup in Niger caused erroneous rumours that last month’s military takeover had taken place in Nigeria, a similar-sounding country with its own history of  interventions by the men in uniform.

This is not the first time the confusion has arisen. During my time as a correspondent in Lagos in the 1980s, a report appeared on the front page of a local newspaper saying Nigeria had rescheduled its foreign debt, an important issue at the time and a story I certainly did not want to miss.

Buy on the Nigeria rumour, sell on the Niger fact

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OilNigeriaConfusion over the names of two similar-sounding African countries may have helped boosted oil prices to near $80 a barrel this week as traders rushed to buy oil after reports of a military coup.

A Reuters reporter received a flustered phone call from a hedge fund partner who had heard animated discussion in the market about an incident in Nigeria, only to realise that traders had muddled up Africa’s biggest oil producer with its neighbour Niger.

Lessons for coup makers?

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Guinea soldiers.jpgPresident Barack Obama’s decision to end trade benefits for Guinea, Madagascar and Niger shows some stiffening of Washington’s resolve to act against those seen to be moving in the opposite direction to demands for greater democracy in Africa.

But the fact that new benefits were simultaneously extended to Mauritania may also give a lesson in how would-be coup makers should best behave if they want to get away with it.

from Commodity Corner:

Millions Fed: some solutions close at hand

More than a billion people go hungry each day -- about the same number as did in the late 1950s. That's both a "tragedy on a grand scale" and an "astounding success," according to a new report called "Millions Fed," produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
    
While the absolute number of hungry people is the same as it was 40 years ago, the proportion is dramatically smaller -- one in six today, compared to one in three then, the report said. It illustrates 20 successful case studies where progress has been made in the fight against hunger.

Some solutions come from science: new varieties of wheat, rice, beans, maize, cassava, millet and sorghum. Others deal with markets, government policies, or the environment.
    
Two farmers from the Sahel region of Africa, oft plagued by drought and famine, visited Washington last month to talk about solutions they found close to home -- one of the success stories trumpeted in "Millions Fed."
    
Almost 30 years ago, farmers in Burkina Faso experimented with a traditional technique called "zai," digging pits in their plots and adding manure to improve soils before the rainy season, resulting in dramatically better yields.
    
Yacouba"There was a long period of drought in my village," Yacouba Sawadogo told reporters. "Many people left because their life was very, very difficult. But I decided to stay," he said, explaining how he taught others the technique.
    
In Niger, farmers manage trees on their land to prevent erosion, improve yields, and provide livestock fodder. Before, women had to walk 6 miles to get firewood, but now they have enough for themselves and to sell to others, said Sakina Mati, who coordinates tree projects in six villages.
    
The projects have improved 13 million acres of farmland and fed 3 million people, said Oxfam America, a development group that works with the farmers.
    
It's food for thought as rich nations ramp up efforts to help small farmers grow more food in poor countries. "In our approach toward solutions and programs, we really need to listen as well as talk," said Gawain Kripke of Oxfam.
    
"Solutions don't always come from us."

Stumbling block for the Pharaohs?

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Egypt might have won the last two African Nations Cup tournaments but the Pharaohs seem to have hit a stumbling block when it comes to the World Cup.

For all their prowess at the last two continental championships, and their glittering array of successes at club level, Egyptian soccer is becoming increasingly haunted by the spectre of continued failure to make it to biggest footballing showpiece of them all.

France and Africa. New relationship?

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Before Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president in 2007, he made clear he wanted to break with France’s old way of doing business in Africa – a cosy blend of post-colonial corruption and patronage known as “Françafrique” that suited a fair few African dictators and the French establishment alike.

He has made the same point during his past visits to the continent.

“The old pattern of relations between France and Africa is no longer understood by new generations of Africans, or for that matter by public opinion in France. We need to change the pattern of relations between France and Africa if we want to look at the future together,” Sarkozy said in South Africa early last year.

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