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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.

To observe or not to observe?

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SUDAN-ELECTIONS/This is likely to be the question hotly debated in the more self-aware international observer missions covering Sudan’s elections, due to start on Sunday and marred by a wave of boycotts and claims of fraud.

Sudan’s first multi-party polls in almost quarter of a century had promised to be fiercely contested until revelations of irregularities caused boycotts by several parties.

Are you the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement?

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darfurThere is a classic scene in Monty Python’s film The Life of Brian where the hero sets off in search of a secret band of insurgents. “Are you the Judean People’s Front,” he asks a group of malcontents. “The Judean People’s Front!” they reply in disgust. “We’re the People’s Front of Judea … The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f***ing Judean People’s Front … And the Judean Popular People’s Front. Splitters!”

Darfur’s more Islamic rebels will not appreciate the Judean comparison. But there has been an undeniable Pythonesque quality to recent efforts to negotiate with the splintered insurgent factions in Sudan’s strife-torn west.

Is Obama Snubbing Kenya on Africa trip?

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President Barack Obama’s choice of Ghana for his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office has stirred debate in his father’s homeland Kenya.

Some Kenyans believe Obama ought to have come “home” first. Others, especially among critics of President Mwai Kibaki’s government, say he has deliberately shunned the country to show U.S. disapproval of rampant corruption and nepotism in political circles here.

U.S. under fire over Ugandan rebel hunt

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A multinational offensive aimed at wiping out Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels – and planned and equipped with U.S. support during the dying days of the Bush administration - has scattered fighters who have unleashed a wave of massacres on Congolese villages.
 
LRA fighters have killed nearly 900 people in reprisal attacks in northeast Congo since Ugandan troops, together with Sudanese and Congolese soldiers, launched a military operation in December against fugitive rebel leader Joseph Kony, whose two-decade insurgency has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted 2 million. (See Alertnet briefing for more)
 
Reuters reported on the U.S. involvement in December. The New York Times said recently that the Pentagon’s new Africa Command (Africom) had contributed intelligence, advice and $1 million in fuel. The Washington Post argues the operation has been so unsuccessful it amounts to little more than “throwing a rock at a hive of bees”.
 
Foreign Policy magazine said that the LRA, who failed to sign a planned peace deal in April, would be hard to stamp out and that the operation was putting the Pentagon’s reputation at risk.
 
There are sceptical voices in the blogosphere too.
 
“One of the first publicly acknowledged Africom operations has turned into a general debacle, resulting in the death of nearly a thousand civilians and sending untold numbers of children into sex slavery and military servitude,” Dave Donelson says on his Heart of Diamonds blog.
 
Writing in Uganda’s Monitor, Grace Matsiko said the offensive was proving a real test for officers of Uganda’s army (UPDF).
 
“Uganda should brace itself for a protracted war, should Kony and his top lieutenants continue to evade the UPDF dragnet,” the journalist wrote.
 
Meanwhile, aid agency MSF has accused the United Nations force in Congo, the world’s biggest, of failing to protect civilians from Ugandan rebel attacks – accusations the world body has rejected as totally unfounded. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has also accused U.N. peacekeepers of inactivity and of living alongside the LRA for three years and doing nothing about the guerrillas.
 
While expressing his horror at the what he called ‘catastrophic’ consequences for civilians from the offensive, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes has said the joint force still needs to see the operation through.
 
Should the offensive continue or is it time to halt it? If so, what should be done about the rebels? How big an impact should the conduct of this operation have for the U.S. Africa Command’s future role?

What would Obama do for Africa?

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obama-in-kenya.jpgWin or not in November, U.S. Senator Barack Obama has already become a hero to Africans.

He is a household name, putting a smile on everybody’s lips and spreading pride across the continent.

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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