Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Angola throws back punches

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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.

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.

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.

How has the G8 delivered on its Africa Action Plan?

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g8_bush_kikwete.jpgThis week’s G8 summit in Japan marks 6 years since the group of the world’s top industrial nations adopted a comprehensive action plan to support initiatives to spur the development of Africa. The G8 Africa Action Plan adopted at a summit in Kananaskis, Canada, in 2002 was seen as the biggest boost to Africa’s own home-grown development initiative, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, NEPAD. The G8 Plan pledges to help Africa tackle the main obstacles to its development — from promoting peace and security, to boosting trade and implementing debt relief to expanding education, health facilities and fighting HIV/AIDS.

As a followup to the Action Plan, the G8 at its 2005 summit in Scotland agreed to double aid by 2010 to $50 billion, half of which would go to Africa. But as G8 leaders prepared  for this year’s summit in Japan, the Africa Progress Panel set up to monitor implementation of the 2005 commitments issued a gloomy report last month. It said under current spending the G8 would fall $40 billion short of its target. Other aid agency officials accused the G8 of backtracking on its pledges to Africa.

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