HONG KONG/ABUJA (Reuters) – The planned $2.5 billion sale of Nigeria’s former state telecoms monopoly was thrown into doubt on Thursday when China Unicom <0762.HK> denied involvement in bidding in the African country’s biggest privatization.
But the small Nigerian operator involved in the consortium named as the preferred bidder for Nitel this week said China’s No. 2 carrier had only shown interest in providing technical support and financing would come from Dubai’s Minerva Group.
The puns were too much for the Nigerian press (and me) to resist in headlines after Goodluck Jonathan quietly managed to get himself into the top job without even appearing to want a position left open for more than two months by the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua.
Suddenly it seems that everyone and his brother is congratulating themselves on having found such a wise way out of the impasse that derived from the ambitions of those in the various camps and the ambiguity of a constitution that had never foreseen such an eventuality.
The simple answer to the question of how many people died in Congo’s civil war is “too many”.
Trying to get a realistic figure is fraught with difficulties and a new report suggests that a widely used estimate of 5.4 million dead – potentially making Congo the deadliest conflict since World War Two – is hugely inaccurate and that the loss of life may be less than half that.
Investment from China and other Asian countries was an important factor in several years of unprecedented growth in Africa before the global downturn hit.
It is very much seen as a critical driver for Africa’s future growth prospects as well.
African countries are often being told what they need to do to win more investment and expand their economies, but there is always a question as to whether making the changes will really deliver the rewards.
The lesson from top reformer Rwanda seems to support the argument that it is worthwhile.
All too often the Year of This or the Year of That fails to live up to the expectations of whatever we’re supposed to be highlighting or celebrating.
There is no doubt that 2010 is going to be a big year for Africa.
The question is whether in a year’s time we’ll be looking back and saying it was big in the right ways.
Quite apart from the Nigerian would-be plane bomber’s lack of success, there are other reasons why Africa’s most populous nation cannot be expected to produce a rash of similar cases.
As this Reuters story from Sahabi Yahaya in the bomber’s home town of Funtua points out, it is Umar Abdulmutallab’s foreign education rather than his background in Muslim northern Nigeria that is seen as having radicalised him.
President 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.
It would be hard for the leaders of South Africa’s COPE party to put a positive spin on its latest poll rating of just over 2 percent. If the breakaway group from the African National Congress gave the ANC a bit of a jolt before elections in April, the ruling party doesn’t seem to have much to worry about from that quarter now.
In terms of electoral success, it hasn’t been a good year for parties trying to challenge the former liberation movements that run most of southern Africa.
A few days back, I had the pleasure to moderate a lively debate on investment prospects in Africa involving private sector panellists and representatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The tone was upbeat, but discussion turned heated when it came to debt restructuring in Ivory Coast. While it might sound obscure (and I won’t go into all the details) it raised broader questions about the role of the international financial institutions in Africa and how that may be reinforced by the global financial crisis. The concern of some in the private sector was that foreign investors with exposure to local debt in Ivory Coast looked set to suffer the same restructuring terms that holders of foreign debt would have to bear – with the approval of the IMF. Their argument was that this would discourage foreign investors from buying local bonds in Africa. The IMF came back robustly, saying it was only playing by the rules in Ivory Coast and suggesting that investors make closer checks before putting in their money. But private sector participants were unclear where this might leave them in future, particularly at a time many African states are eyeing bond markets again. Some voiced broader concern over how the international financial institutions see the private sector’s role. Before the credit crisis, a number of African countries had begun turning to international capital markets. But Eurobond plans were put on hold when global markets seized up and the institutions stepped back in to provide emergency help to hard-hit countries. Amounts have been substantial even compared to the $10 billion in concessional financing promised by China over three years. The IMF board approved a $1.4 billion standby loan arrangement for Angola this week. The question now is how this may change the longer term balance in sources of finance for African states. Is the private sector overly wary of institutions that are simply doing their best to give emergency help now and fend off future debt crises? Or are those institutions muscling back in to impose their dominance in telling African states how they should go about managing their debts and getting the finance they need? How will Chinese money affect the balance?
Pictures: A money dealer counts the Nigerian naira on a machine in his office in the commercial capital of Lagos, January 13, 2009. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye; Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director, International Monetary Fund (IMF), is introduced at the International Economic Forum of the Americas conference in Montreal, June 8, 2009. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi