Friday, June 11, 2004

Did Libya attempt to kill Saudi leader? 

Reports that Libya's government plotted to assassinate Saudi ruler Crown Prince Abdullah may slow lifting of US terrorism sanctions. This means US authorities give credit to the "Libyan plot" theory:

Abdurahman Alamoudi, an American citizen detained in the US over suspicions of financing Islamist groups such as Hamas, is quoted as the main source of the allegations against the Libyan leader. In detention since September last year, Mr Alamoudi has given US police a large amount of information in an attempt to reduce his sentence.

Mr Alamoudi reported that he had met Colonel Ghaddafi in person last year, discussing advanced plans to have Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah assassinated. Financing Islamist movements through a Libyan charity, Mr Alamoudi claims he was to become a prominent brick in the network allegedly set up to organise the assassination.

US investigators reported the alleged assassination plot to central US and Saudi authorities, who later had produced parallel information from other sources. Saudi police allegedly have questioned a Libyan intelligence officer, arrested in Saudi Arabia, who had similar information.

The "Libyan plot" to kill Crown Prince Abdullah was made known to US media this week, although only described as an allegation under investigation. There was however no doubt US and Saudi authorities took the reports seriously.

Shell fueling conflict in Nigeria 

A December 2003 report commissioned by Shell says employees company's Nigerian venture are linked to criminals who sabotage Shell facilities so they can receive part of the compensation payments made by the company.

The study, entitled ``Peace and Security in the Niger Delta,'' said Shell companies have worsened fighting in the Niger delta through payments for land use, environmental damage, corruption of company officials and reliance on Nigerian security forces.

The actions of Shell companies and their staff ``creates, feeds into, or exacerbates conflict,'' the report said. ``After over 50 years in Nigeria, it is therefore reasonable to say that SCIN has become an integral part of the Niger Delta conflict.''

The report also says Shell may have to leave the area by 2009. Though Shell acknowledges it's difficult to operate "ethically" in Nigeria, the company seems committed to stay.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Darker than hell 

I wanted to write a piece about reagan and Africa. Thanks to Derrick Jackson, I won't have to.

Error in the Sahara?  

For over six months now, US pundits have been writing (without substantial evidence) that the Sahel is to become al Qaeda's next Afghanistan. Articles such as this one are full of big claims about terror in Africa, but have nothing to show except two magical words: GSPC (Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et Combat - a.k.a Salafist Group for preaching and combat, an Algerian terror group) and the Para (Amari Saïfi, a.k.a Abderezzak el Para). El Para's GSPC cell became famous last after kiddnaping European tourists and obtaining a $6 million ransom from the German government to release them.

However, when The United States, Algeria and any other state chasing El Paris have the best opportunity to arrest him, they act as if they didn't want him after all. Strange, isn't it?

Moreover, we learn now from Mali's president Toure that "For the last three or four days, no more armed Islamic terrorists from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) are in northern Mali." If we wait long enough, maybe we'll get some hard evidence on the reality of terror in the Sahara: in the meantime, AOP strongly suggest that those willing to convince us show some genuine "smoking gun". With all its surveillance technology, the NSA probably knows something. Except if there's nothing... of course.

G8 to push US "African Force" initiative 

The G8 countries will help make a US peacekeeping plan a reality. Two senior U.S. officials briefed reporters at the G8 summit on the issue:

"The centrepiece of this initiative will be a pledge by the G8 countries to train a certain number, we hope well in excess of 50,000 peacekeepers around the world, but beginning in Africa, over the next five or six years," said one of the officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified. ... They said that although the initiative would be launched in Africa, where the need was greatest, its scope was global. "The idea is to train peacekeepers and equip them and enable them to get to where they're needed all over the world," one official said.

The target number of peacekeepers is actually 75,000 troops, as stated in the original plan: 5 battalions of 3000 troops in each one of the 5 African regions (North, South, East, West, Center) makes a 75,000 strong highly trained, equipped and deployable African Force.

Global Peace Operations Initiative

The G8 summit thus represents an important opportunity to push the US Global Peace Operations Initiative launched three months ago and make it multinational.

Facing a chronic shortage of foreign troops for peacekeeping missions, President Bush has decided to launch an international drive to boost the supply of available forces -- a move that if successful could relieve some of the pressure on U.S. soldiers to join such operations, defense officials said. A plan approved by Bush [in April 2004] calls for the United States to commit about $660 million over the next five years to train, equip and provide logistical support to forces in nations willing to participate in peace operations. ... Pentagon officials who briefed The Washington Post stressed that the plan, which Bush has yet to formally announce, is not meant as a unilateral U.S. effort. They said Bush intends it to be a broad, multinational push, with other countries contributing trainers and additional resources, although consultations with potential partner nations remain at an early stage. (our emphasis)

Italy to train African Carabinieri

It has been announced that Italy -- a G8 country and a key ally in the war on terrorism -- has already offered the use of a training centre. Italy will thus help train so-called "heavy police or gendarmes" whose role has proved so critical in post-conflict situations as in Iraq and Haiti. In other words, this constubulary police will fill the gap between the police and the army:

Constabulary police in certain European countries are armed forces that have both military and police capabilities, and can therefore operate independently or in cooperation with other police forces in either a military or civilian capacity. The French Gendarmerie and the Italian Carabinieri are examples of this type of highly trained police force. Their primary function is the protection and well-being of the country and its citizens. In peace and stability operations, a constabulary force can provide for public security after the military combat units have pulled back, but before international civilian police are deployed and local law enforcement capabilities are restored.

The role of the United Nations and the African Union vis-a-vis such force is not clear yet. On the other hand, though the need for such a peacekeeping force is obvious, an excessive focus on counterrorism operations may create a backlash in countries without democratic institutions.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The real "fear factor": peak oil 

BBC's Adam Porter has authored an interesting account of the Peak Oil conference -- held on in Berlin by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO). This year offered a more visible presence executives from major oil firms who oppose the ideas of ASPO's founder, Colin Campbell. The debate between opponents and propopents of peak-oil produced a surreal episode that would be funny if it didn't reveal how severe the crisis actually is:

At ASPO's recent conference in Berlin, companies such as BP and Exxon and men such as Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, began to talk to the proponents of the peak oil theory. Whilst they may not agree with Dr Campbell's theories, their attendance highlighted ASPO's emerging importance in the oil debate. In public, Mr Birol denied that supply would not be able to meet rising demand, especially from the buoyant economies in the USA, China and India. But after his speech he seemed to change his tune. ... "If Saudi does not increase supply by 3 million barrels a day by the end of the year we will face, how can I say this, it will be very difficult. We will have difficult times. They must invest." ... But even Mr Birol admitted that Saudi production was "about flat". Three million extra barrels a day would mean a huge 30% leap in output in just a few months. When BBC News Online followed up by asking if this giant increase in production was actually possible rather than simply a desire he refused to answer. "You are from the press? This is not for you. This is not for the press." (our emphasis)

Such words reflect the schizophreny of the time as well as the market's "fear factor", not only about the terror threat to energy supply from Saudi Arabia, but also about Saudi's reserves. Roger Herrera's report for Petroleum News confirms Porter's impression: tough they tend to differ on the timing, the Establishment agrees on principle with the the peak oil theory. Two decades don't make such a big difference when one considers that we're talking about the decline of a century-old oil-based global civilisation!

The Berlin meeting promised to be interesting because it pitted the proponents of fairly immediate peak oil against the Establishment, represented by the likes of BP, ExxonMobil, the International Energy Agency, the United States Geological Survey, the Energy Information Agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, and Aramco, the Saudi Oil Co. Those represent fairly substantial Goliaths. The Davids were Dr. Colin Campbell [and Matthew Simmons] ... The Davids are worried that we should be already preparing for the inevitably decline in crude oil supply, while the Goliaths think that the world will have plenty of oil for at least 20 years of growth. ... One had to conclude that the Davids triumphed on the day, and whether their timing is correct or not is immaterial because something needs to be done to face the aftermath of Peak Oil.

As to what is to be done, Simmons says pricing oil "correctly" -- which means at $182 a barrel! -- while Campbell's opinion is that we need more "transparency with the figures". But none of them see that happening. As for the Establishment, I read a speech by Exxon CEO Lee Raymond at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Citing industry estimates that show Saudi Arabia holds about one in five of the world's oil barrels, Raymond proposed nothing more than the conclusions of the Cheney's NEP report: the United States needs to diversify its base of energy suppliers to include other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caspian Sea region as well as Alaska and the Rocky Mountain!

PS: Colin Campbell and the Uppsala Hydrocarbon Depletion Study Group has now made the 2004 upgrade of the peak oil model. The peak is moved from 2010 to 2008.

America-Libya for dummies 

So, you want to travel to Libya? Read on...

G8 partnership with Africa 

Right on time for the G8 Summit, the US Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) released a report on Africa -- Freedom, Prosperity, Security - The G8 Partnership with Africa: Sea Island 2004 and Beyond . The goal of the report is to assure that the commitments made by the G8 towards Africa in 2002 (Kananaskis, Canada) and 2003 (Evian, France) under the African Action Plan (AAP) are not downgraded at this June's summit at Sea Island, Georgia:

The report shows that Africa serves important American interests.
* Terrorist cells have penetrated the continent, attacking American embassies, and causing increased concern to American commanders in NATO and EUCOM;
* Africa is rapidly becoming a major source of oil for the United States, accounting for 20 percent of new oil coming on the world market;
* Africa has forty of the 147 members of the World Trade Organization and is playing an important role in the negotiations in the Doha round of world trade talks.

Following initiation of the Council project and participation with administration officials, the United States has now decided to invite six African leaders to confer with the G8. The report commends this decision. It opens the door for the United States "to fully incorporate African issues into the G8 discussion of the three themes of the summit: [freedom, prosperity and security]," as Africa is relevant to the G8's concerns in all three areas.

G8 debt relief plans: Africa vs Iraq 

Bush and Blair will play tit-for-tat on Billionaire Island. In this version of Monopoly, Bush wants a $90bn write-off of Iraqi while Blair wants to do something similar for 41 African countries.

In a last-minute softening of his stance, Mr Bush has signalled to Tony Blair that he is prepared to offer greater generosity towards impoverished nations in Africa in an attempt to win western backing for a $90bn (£48.8bn) write-off of debts built up by Saddam Hussein. ... This would make the world's 41 highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) eligible for 100% debt write-offs from their multilateral creditors such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, at a cost to rich countries of $1bn-plus per year.

The message is "back my plan and I'll back yours".

However, this should not be seen as as a vindication of Blair's hope that his support for the Iraq war has won him influence in Washington. Just look at the situation in the Middle East: the UN resolution to be finalized today is as bogus as the Bush-Sharon plans for the West Bank and the so-called Greater Middle East plan. G8 seal of approval will be nothing more than window dressing designed to hide the death of the road map.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Libya ships oil to the US 

William Lash, US Assistant Secretary for Commerce, said Libya resumed its former role as a supplier of oil to the US and started talks to buy Boeing passenger aircraft.

Libya's economic trump card is its relatively undeveloped oil and gas industry, which sits on proven reserves of about 36 billion barrels. The country, a member of oil exporters' cartel Opec, is currently negotiating deals with Western oil firms aimed at boosting production capacity from its current level of about 1.7 million barrels a day. News of Libya's oil exports to the US comes as oil prices are at their highest level in years because of soaring demand, bottlenecks at US refineries, and fears that unrest in the Middle East could disrupt supplies.

Lybia's leader Muammar Gaddafi said Sunday he regretted that Ronald Reagan -- former U.S. President and old enemy of his -- had died without ever being tried for 1986 air strikes. Gaddafi's adopted daughter had died in the strikes. I doubt these comments will affect the current energy relations between the two countries.

Where is El Para? 

It's impossible to say whether Amari Saïfi -- aka Abderazak El Para -- is free or in custody. Nobody real seems to know where he is. In the last few days, supposedly informed sources gave opposite accounts of El Para's whereabouts:

* Last week, French media (RFI, Le Monde) said that he had been freed by elements of the GSPC after they paid $200,000 to the Chadian rebel movement MDJT.

* Then, MDJT spokesman Brahim Tchouma denied such allegations in Algerian arabic newspaper El Khabar: he confirmed that he had been interviewed by the French, but said they were mistaken. According to him, the discussions with Algeria's authorities are still underway.

* Brahim Tchouma also said that the New York Times' article announcing that El Para is in custody of the Algerian security forces is untrue.

What's next? Maybe someone will write eventually that El Para is dead. A gravyard is the only place where one can be both free and in custody. Strange things happen in Algeria... very strange things.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

US Navy to patrol the Gulf of Guinea 

For the first time ever, the U.S. Navy will deploy an aircraft carrier strike group -- the USS Harry S. Truman -- for exercises in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa. The deployment, that will take place this summer, is a clear indication of Africa's growing strategic importance. As Tim Butcher wrote in the Telegraph, energy security is the main reason for such a move:

America has described the oilfields off the west coast of Africa as its fastest growing source of oil and gas and has already invested heavily in production from Angola, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea. With turbulence in Iraq keeping crude oil above $40 a barrel, America has a key strategic interest in finding an alternative to the Middle East as a source for oil. ... If America continues to develop its oil interests in West Africa it would consider the need for a military base, similar to the US navy base in Qatar that protest US interests in that region.

Summer Pulse '04

However, US military officials prefer stressing terror threats as the main reason of their increased interest for Africa. As a matter of fact, the secretary of the Navy, Gordon England spoke about "the ungoverned areas of Africa" when discussing the coming exercises. The USS Harry S. Truman is part of a group of seven aircraft carrier strike groups (CSGs) that are to be deployed simultaneously across the globe for an exercice dubbed Summer Pulse '04:

“Summer Pulse 04” will be the Navy’s first exercise of its new operational construct, the Fleet Response Plan (FRP). FRP is about new ways of operating, training, manning, and maintaining the fleet that results in increased force readiness and the ability to provide significant combat power to the President in response to a national emergency or crisis. Beginning this week and continuing through August, the Navy will exercise the full range of skills involved in simultaneously deploying and employing carrier strike groups around the world. Summer Pulse 04 will include scheduled deployments, surge operations, joint and international exercises, and other advanced training and port visits.

Summer Pulse is thus as a "show of force" for US military might, not only around the world - but also specifically in oil-rich West Africa. Alex Blida, who broke the story in the Voice of America, once again connected the dots with much foresight:

In that context, [Gordon England] the Navy secretary said, "the Gulf of Guinea, for example, is an area where a Navy presence would constitute a strong message." ... Defense officials have recently spoken of the need for security and stability in the Gulf of Guinea, in part because of the growing number of offshore oil operations there.

NATO in Africa

Before reaching the Gulf of Guinea, the carrier Harry S. Truman will be involved this month (June 12-21) in exercices that will aid prepare the carrier strike group for "eventual deployment to support real-world operations": Combined Joint Task Force Exercise 04-2 (CJTFEX). The exercice is aimed at (among other things) helping elements of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, as well as the Special Operations establish initial operational capability, conduct interoperability training, in a multinational environment integrating forces from the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, France, Germany, and Peru.

In his May 26 adress at the National Press Club in Washington, the US Navy secretary Gordon England stressed the multinational aspect of the American military presence in West Africa. He used words that are borrowed from the "African doctrine" led out by EUCOM generals Jones, Wald and Kohler. In the spirit of General Wald's African Clearing House concept, England said that NATO will be involved in the Gulf of Guinea:

“With the help of Marine General Jim Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander in NATO, we are looking to enhance our operations in the ungoverned regions of Africa. The Gulf of Guinea, for example, is an area where a Navy presence would constitute a strong message. Security, stability, and reconstruction operations are needed in this important region, and the U.S., along with our NATO allies, will be there to help.”

Though the mission of the Harry S. truman off the West African coast may seem "an unusual exercise" nowdays, it won't be so anymore in the near future: America's engagement in Africa will be long-lasting and multinational. A concept adopted last summer -- Fleet Response Plan -- requires more flexibilty from the US Navy, which is to be "driven by world situations" - in other words, the global war on terrorism and the quest for enhanced energy security.

Fleet Response Plan and Sea Power 21

Summer Pulse '04 is the first exercice and proof of concept for the Navy's new approach -- the Fleet Response Plan -- which is to help the Navy become more responsive and increase the rate at which it can augment deployed joint multinational forces as contingencies require.

“Summer Pulse 04” will be the Navy’s first exercise of its new operational construct, the Fleet Response Plan (FRP). FRP is about new ways of operating, training, manning, and maintaining the fleet that results in increased force readiness and the ability to provide significant combat power to the President in response to a national emergency or crisis. Beginning this week and continuing through August, the Navy will exercise the full range of skills involved in simultaneously deploying and employing carrier strike groups around the world. Summer Pulse 04 will include scheduled deployments, surge operations, joint and international exercises, and other advanced training and port visits. Under the FRP construct, the Navy can provide six CSGs in less than 30 days to support contingency operations around the globe, and two more CSGs can be ready in three months to reinforce or rotate with initially responding forces, to continue presence operations in other parts of the world, or to support military action in another crisis. Summer Pulse 04 will exercise the logistics and shore infrastructure necessary to execute a large scale surge operation, stress the operational concepts in the Navy’s Sea Power 21 strategy, and improve Navy interoperability with numerous allies and coalition partners, as well as other U.S. military forces.

In order to understand what is at stake with the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman in the Gulf of Guinea, one needs to be aware of the context: the global re-definition of America's priorities, strength and role post 9/11. In October 2002, a year after 9/11, Admiral Vern Clark updated previous ideas and concepts behind the current evolution of US naval power in a concept paper -- Sea Power 21 -- which stressed the need for a technology-centric transformation of the Navy in order to fight not only a regional national enemy, but a set of global transnational threats:

The events of 11 September 2001 tragically illustrated that the promise of peace and security in the new century is fraught with profound dangers: nations poised for conflict in key regions, widely dispersed and well-funded terrorist and criminal organizations, and failed states that deliver only despair to their people. These dangers will produce frequent crises, often with little warning of timing, size, location, or intensity. Associated threats will be varied and deadly, including weapons of mass destruction, conventional warfare, and widespread terrorism. Future enemies will attempt to deny us access to critical areas of the world, threaten vital friends and interests overseas, and even try to conduct further attacks against the American homeland. These threats will pose increasingly complex challenges to national security and future warfighting. Previous strategies addressed regional challenges. Today, we must think more broadly. Enhancing security in this dynamic environment requires us to expand our strategic focus to include both evolving regional challenges and transnational threats. This combination of traditional and emerging dangers means increased risk to our nation. To counter that risk, our Navy must expand its striking power, achieve information dominance, and develop transformational ways of fulfilling our enduring missions of sea control, power projection, strategic deterrence, strategic sealift, and forward presence.

The Navy has to transform, move away from routine patrols, to boldly go where US national security interests are at stakes. Offshore oilfields made the Gulf of Guinea a key region, where "nations are poised for conflicts", where "failed states... deliver only despair to their people", producing "frequent crised, often with little warning of timing, size, location, or intensity". The world market can't afford that civil unrest in Nigeria threatens the supply of oil. Helping the Nigerian military crack down on ethnic militias or organized criminals have become a key component of US military assistance to the Obasanjo regime. Likewise, helping Sao Tome organize its protection, will become more meaningful once a US-funded deep-water port will be built. The goal of Summer Pulse '04 is to make this clear through a show of force that will leave no doubt in the mind of "future enemies" -- those who deny US forces "access to critical areas of the world, threaten vital friends and interests" in West Africa.

Sea Power 21 looks fine on paper. In a forthcoming, we'll see that the "sea basing" approach may not be the best way to fight terrorism.

Friday, June 04, 2004

El Para in custody? 

According to the New York Times, Amari Saifi -- aka El Para --, has been arrested today:

Algerian forces took custody on Friday of a man believed to be one of North Africa's most powerful Islamic terrorists in a highly unusual multinational operation deep in the desert of Niger, according to an official from one of the countries involved. "From everything we're hearing it is Al Para," the official said, referring to Amari Saifi, a terrorist with ties to Al Qaeda. ... If Mr. Saifi is indeed in custody, he is expected to stand trial in Algeria. Germany, which has issued an international warrant for his arrest, would also like to try him for the kidnappings last year, during which one hostage died of exposure.

We'll check this new development and will send a post very soon. In the meantime, you can read our previous backgrounder.

US-France competition in Algeria 

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French minister for Economy, Finance and Industry, is visiting Algeria. One of the main energy suppliers to the European market, Algeria is the first non-OECD economic partner of France -- before China and Brasil!

* This visit comes just after European finance ministers, vowing collectivelly not to repeat clashes over tax cuts when oil surged in 2000, pledged a coordinated response to the jump in oil prices:

Finance ministers said they have learned from mistakes made in 2000, when France and Italy, bowing to protests by truck drivers, broke with an EU consensus against cutting fuel taxes. Ministers didn't disclose what this year's policy will be. ``There's a common opinion that unilateral actions of countries are not helpful,'' Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm said after ministers from the 12 euro countries met late yesterday in Luxembourg. Higher oil prices may shave 0.2 percentage point off European growth and add 0.2 point to inflation, the European Commission said. The commission forecasts growth of 1.7 percent in the euro region in 2004. ``The hope is that we won't see a repeat of the situation in 2000,'' French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said. ``We want to have a coordinated response.''

Whether France -- through Sarkozy -- is to be trusted remains an open debate. In the meantime, let's shed some light on the triangle between France, Algeria and the United States.

* Nicolas Sarkozy arrives in a country that is far from peaceful: riots, terrorist attacks, human rights abuse and assault on the free press are on the rise since Bouteflika was re-elected in April. But Algeria remains financially well off: the current oil prices made the country richer. As a matter of fact, currency reserves -- which used to be in excess of $34 billion -- are now near $40 billion. The youth population doesn't understand why the money can't be used to improve their lives. No political pressure will come from either France nor the US. They are too busy courting the generals.

* Sarkozy's visit is first a commercial one: he comes with a delegation of french companies and excutives. He's got a deal for Bouteflika - he wants to develop a "debt for business deals" partnership:

The French minister for Economy, Finance and Industry put forward, "the rush of the French companies for the re-conversion of the Algerian debt," Sarkozy quoted, on this subject, several sectors and activities which interest the French companies in particular Algiers subway, drinking water supply networks, energy and construction. "The largest French companies, of which several are represented within the delegation that I lead to Algeria, are in favour of the re-conversion of the Algerian debt and the acquisition of a holding in the great Algerian projects," Sarkozy said, pointing out "the announce made by President Bouteflika to build a million of housing units during the years to come. "France wishes to take part in this effort", Sarkozy indicated.

The rise of oil prices, Algeria's fat financial resources, that comes at a time of relative drop in islamist terrorism, has attracted growing investments in the country. France wants a bigger piece of the action.

* Nicolas Sarkozy's visit is both political and economic. He comes to Algeria as the Finance and Economy minister -- the most important position inside the french government after the prime minister -- at a time when both countries want to boost their economic cooperation: during his flash visit in Algiers, on April 15, Jacques Chirac said he wanted both countries to sign a "treaty of friendship". Hmmm, sounds nice. Except, everybody wants to be a friend of Algeria: the United States, China, and other oil hungry economies. As Algeria's most important trade partner, France is more than willing to develop this bilateral relation. A journalist from Algerian newspaper Le Matin has more:

Nicolas Sarkozy, who doesn't hide his ambition to succeed Jacques Chirac [as France's next president], seems ready to strike gold in Algeria. He came with a delegation of business executives, including the CEOs of [oil major] Total FinaElf (...). According to an official report, Algeria went from the 17th to the 3rd most market potential for french companies, and french exports jumped up to 60% in four years.

Le Matin adds that Sarkozy's visit is motivated by the serious competition from America: The US invested $800 million for the development of the port of Algiers. That gives an idea of US ambition in the country: in the whole, the United States invested $6 billion in Algeria, as opposed to France's $1 billion. Beside, Bush invited Algerian president Bouteflika (along with 5 other African heads of state) to the G8 summit. The French didn't like this. The growing US-Algeria commercial and military post 9/11 anti-terror partnership is a cause of concern for Paris.

To be continued...

G8 invites African leaders: so what? 

US President Bush has invited some of his African buddies to meet with G-8 leaders on June 10th: leaders from Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda will do something very special. They'll have lunch with the 8 most powerful world leaders. Condoleezza Rice confirmed at a press briefing held this week:

The G8 leaders will ... have lunch with the leaders of Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. This lunch is an opportunity for the G8 and African leaders to discuss how they can cooperate to accelerate private sector-led growth and development in Africa. The discussion will cover key issues including, among others, entrepreneurship, foreign direct investment and trade, famine, food security and agricultural productivity. HIV/AIDS and polio will also be discussed, as well as peacekeeping and support to peace operations on the continent.

This lunch reflects the President's strong commitment to Africa and, with the rest of the G-8, continued support for the new partnership for Africa's development and the G-8 Africa Action Plan.

Are we that dumb?

Beyond the obvious behind-the-scene oily talks (Algeria and Nigeria are OPEC members), courting African heads of states in a disputed election year makes sense. Some African-american voters will enjoy the picture. Most Africa-focused NGO's will beg to differ. Nothing new under the sun of Georgia.

It's a good thing the meeting doesn't take place at the White House: I won't be criticized for writing about "House Negroes".

Africa's economic tragedy revealed 

Though Elsa Artadi and Xavier Sala-i-Martin's contribution to the The Africa Competitiveness Report are worth checking out, The World Economic Forum's Africa Economic Summit 2004 where it was launched seems pretty underwhelming. However, a lively account of the session What’s Holding Back Africa’s Growth? helps grasp the level of some discussions:

Asked to outline the main contributing factors to positive economic growth in Africa, Trevor Manuel, Minister of Finance of South Africa, identified two issues – the environment in which Africa operates and the issues of Africa itself. The environment includes relationships shaped by the extraction of wealth, the lack of protection for African development, and Africa’s relationships with external capital markets. African issues include governance and capital outflows, with 60% of Africa’s savings invested in the northern hemisphere.

Manuel urged African countries to join in a campaign to "name and shame" companies involved in corruption on the continent. He also said the companies that were party to corruption at the Lesotho Highlands Water Project should be denied contracts elsewhere in Africa.

He was responding to Carl Grim, Chief Executive Officer of Aveng, a South African civil engineering firm, who said bribes demanded for getting machinery spare parts into African countries raised the cost of doing business on the continent and discouraged investment.

"We need to hit at the corrupters as hard as we hit at those who take bribes," Manuel said. "The public and private sectors must campaign together on this. We must have a campaign of name and shame."

He said South Africa and Lesotho are working together to blacklist the companies involved in corruption in the Lesotho project, "It is imperative that we are joined in a campaign to ensure that those companies are denied contracts. That will open space for companies that have conducted themselves impeccably and have done no wrong."

Manuel judged, from looking at the salaries of government officials in Africa, that they could not live off what they earned. The result is that "people have to go after baksheesh in order to survive."

There's probably a lot of truth in these words. But I don't understand how a government official can talk about "naming and shaming". If a person or a company has committed a crime -- be it economic or not --, he's supposed to face justice. Blacklisting people and organizations should be the work of NGO's such as Global Witness. They can't go any further because they don't have the judiciary powers of the state. Campaigning is not the harshest way to "hit at the corrupters" and "those who take bribes". Bringing them to court is.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

GSPC leader Abderrezak El Para freed 

Algeria's radical Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) paid 200,000 Euros to the rebel Movement for Justice and Democracy in Chad (MDJT) in order to free Amari Saifi -- aka Abderrezak El Para. Proceedings to transfer the GSPC leader from Chad to Algeria have failed. Algeria's most wanted terrorist had became rich and famous last year after the kidnapping of 32 European tourists from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. After weeks of talks between the MDJT and Algeria -- as well as the European countries that wanted El Para --, it became clear that Amari Saifi had became a hot political patato for the parties involved.

* French governmental radio station RFI reported the story two days ago:

Mastermind of the kidnapping of 32 European tourists, last year in the Algerian South, El Para and his group (more a band of gangsters than holy warriors) became wealthy after Berlin, Vienna and Bern paid $5 million to free their nationals. With this booty, that attracted lots of regional envy, the Algerian activists have been willing -- lately -- to buy weapons from Tuaregs in Chad.

They have been attaked by MDJT rebels after the deal was made.

Looking for new resources and logistics, the MDJT has mainly been trying to make amend and disassociate itself from the Algerian Salafists, in a region where it has become dangerous to be linked to the Jihadist-Salafist movement. The Chadian rebels have thus tried to sell El Para to the authorities from Algiers who have not shown much eagerness, nor genuine interst, to get their hand on this man, although he his officially ... one of the most wanted in his country.

Eventually, other GSPC activists paid the 200,000 Euros to the Chadian rebels and freed El Para and two of his fellow Algerian activits.

After their release, the three men reached the Algerian South - more exactly the Djanet region. El Para, though a bit less rich, but free, strangely free... in a region where US special forces operate.

* Based on an interview with Brahim Tchouma -- the MDJT representative who discussed with officials from Algeria, France and the United States --, Jean-Philippe Rémy wrote interesting things in an article published by French daily Le monde, "El Para", the salafist leader that nobody wants: while African countries didn't want to talk to the MDJT in order to avoid frustrating the legal regime in Chad, Algera had other reasons for not trying to arrest the Para. The most disturbing point being that Amari Saifi is connected to (or has connections inside) the Algerian security forces. If true, such links would certainly create problems with the United States, since the GSPC is also linked to al Qaeda by US counter-terrorist agencies. As a matter of fact, the Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI) has been specifically designed to fight the GSPC. Brahim Tchouma declares:

"The Americains asked us to talk to N'Djamena [the legal Chadian regime] that we as a rebel movement are fighting! As for African countries, they seems even less interested. We finally said to ourselves that it must be in everyone's interest in the region to let "El Para" loose. If he is arrested, eventually, the American transfer of money [read the PSI budget] will also be stopped. Isn't it?"

* The Algerian press adds more juice to the story and makes clear how tricky the extradition of "the Para" had become for the Algerian regime. Rachid Mokhtari writes in Le Matin:

Arresting El Para and handing him over to Algiers would endanger the national reconciliation process preached by [Algerian president] Bouteflika, who ... calls Hassan Hattab, El Para's chief, "Mister Hattab". Whatever the reasons, the fact is the GSPC won.

Chains of fools 

First, we learned on Wednesday that Bush had retained counsel with regard to the Plame investigation. Today, CIA Director George Tenet Resigned. What's the chain of connections here?

* Valerie Plame was a secret operative for the CIA -- an officer with "non-official cover", or a Noc: CIA parlance for spy. She specialized in countering proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But as a Noc, she had to operates under deep cover, as "a business executive, tourist, journalist or, in Plame's case, an energy consultant. If the Noc is caught, he or she has no diplomatic protection." Her name has been leaked by a source close to the White House.

* The leak aimed at punishing her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson: in a July 2003 article, he had gone public about his mission to Niger in spring of 2002. He strongly disproved the story that Iraq has tried to buy yellowcake uranium from the African nation. Wilson's account of the trip and his finding has been published by the New York Times with the title What I didn't find in Africa.

* In a book published in April 2004 -- The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's C.I.A. Identity — A Diplomat's Memoir --, Wilson writes that the White House official behind the disclosure of his wife's identity is "quite possibly" I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. But he offers no firm evidence to support his allegation. However, a grand jury investigation is underway:

The grand jury investigation stems from a syndicated column written by Robert Novak last July in which he disclosed that the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson is a CIA agent. Novak attributed the information to sources in the Bush administration. Under federal law, it is a felony to knowingly reveal the identity of a covert agent.

Yellowcakewalk in Iraq? Game over!

Of oilfish and warships: update on the Costal Security Programme 

The latest news from Nigeria paint an interesting picture of things to come in the Gulf of Guinea. Since April, western oil companies have been forced to cut back production in the Delta state because of inter-ethnic as well as guerrilla attacks against oil facilities and foreign oil-workers. But a cease-fire was signed just after local authorities announced a major military operation in the region. Now, we learn through Felix Onuah that Nigeria received 4 new US cost guards ships yesterday:

Nigeria has received four military ships donated by the United States to help Africa's top oil producer crack down on rampant theft of crude from its coastal oilfields, officials said on Wednesday.

The ships were donated as part of the U.S Security Assistance Program to protect fishing interests and stop theft of oil from crude flow stations, the U.S. embassy said.

The 180 foot cutters, now refurbished, had formerly been in the service of the U.S. Coast Guard.

"The American government donated some warships to the Nigerian military, there are four warships in number," said defence minister Rabiu Kwankwaso.

Two of the ships were donated last year, while the remaining two arrived recently, said Kwankwaso.

Back to basics

The U.S Security Assistance Program to "protect fishing interests and stop theft of oil" is thus developping into one of the main pillars of US security architecture in Africa: the African Costal Security Programme. It officially started last year, in April 2003 (three weeks before the Iraq war):

On Thursday, April 3, two ships donated to the Nigerian Navy by the United States Government, the SS KYANWA and SS OLOGBO, will arrive in Lagos harbor. The two 180-foot Balsam Class Buoy Tenders left San Pedro, California on February 22. These two ships are the first of a total of seven ships to be transferred to Nigeria under the United States Security Assistance Program managed by the Office of Defense Cooperation at the American Embassy in Abuja. Nigeria is expected to receive its third ship in June of this year with the fourth to follow in October. The remaining ships will be transferred, as they are refurbished, by the United States Coast Guard to the Nigerian Navy.

The SS KYANYA was transferred to the Nigerian Navy on 20 December 2002, with the OLOGBO transferred on 23 January 2003. The Nigerian Navy hopes to use these rugged and dependable ships to patrol Nigerian territorial waters to protect fishing interests and to check illegal bunkering of oil.

The ships were transferred to the Nigerian Navy under the United States Department of Defense, Excess Defense Article Program. Through a Foreign Military Financing grant of $750,000, 42 Nigerian sailors on each ship were provided three weeks of training in the United States on this new class of ship. The grant also provided for repainting of the ships and the installation of a state-of-the-art navigation and communication package.

"The training provided to the Nigerian officers and crew manning these ships has given them the confidence and competence to successfully operate and maintain these vessels as a key part of a rejuvenated Nigerian Navy," said Ambassador Howard F. Jeter. Ambassador Jeter added that the transfer of these ships is a great success and underscores the strong bilateral military engagement between the United States and Nigeria.

"These ships had a long and distinguished service with the US Coast Guard. There is still enough life in them to write yet several more chapters in the service of the Nigerian Navy," said Major Andrew Overfield, Chief of the Embassy's Office of Defense Cooperation.

The estimated value of each ship is about $3.5 million dollars.

The future

We can trust Major Overfield on this: "There is still enough life in them to write yet several more chapters in the service of the Nigerian Navy". That's for the equipment. What about the mission? The rest of Felix Ohuah's article gives (part of) the answer:

Nigeria has the strongest military force in West Africa and some Nigerian analysts have argued it should take a greater role in naval patrols of the Gulf of Guinea, where billions of barrels of new oil reserves have been discovered over the past 10 years.

In July last year the president of tiny island state of Sao Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea was temporarily ousted in a military coup linked to proposed oil deals in its offshore territory.

The country's president, Fradique de Menezes, asked the U.S. government in March for military ships like those donated to Nigeria following an alleged coup plot to unseat the president of nearby Equatorial Guinea, another major west African oil producer.

After last year's ethnic uprising, Nigeria deployed thousands of troops including navy to the oil rich Niger delta, to curb ethnic violence, piracy, armed robbery and the theft of crude oil from flow stations.

The "greater role" assigned to Nigerian in naval patrols of the Gulf of Guinea is to be made clear with the newly announced African Costal Security Program. We should thus expect an increased militarization of the Gulf of Guinea, with US-donated Nigerian warships: "Under the ACSP, the USA could provide the region with additional naval vessels, radar and communications equipment, coastguard training and co-ordination." Verstanden?

Whistle-blower says Chad's oil watchdog powerless 

In order to monitor the management of oil revenues in Chad, an oversight committee has been set up. Such a committee represented an interesting step towards transparency and accountability in the African oil and gas sector. Because of this, the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project was described as an important case study into what should be done across the continent. The reality is in fact a bit more disappointing: we voiced some skepticism since Chad became an oil producer in October 2003. This time, Therese Mekombe, a whistle-blower inside the monitoring committee confirms our fears:

The committee was set up under a World Bank plan to try to bring transparency to Chad's oil bonanza. But a senior member said neither Exxon Mobil - which has built a pipeline to export the crude - nor the government were providing sufficient information. A rather staid anti-corruption conference in London came alive when Therese Mekombe, vice-president of the Chadian oversight committee, got up to speak. It soon became clear that a whistle-blower had taken the stage. The committee, she said, was underfunded, understaffed and deprived of information by both Exxon and the Chadian government. In these circumstances, it could not do the job it was set up to do - which is basically to try to make sure that Chad's opportunity to lift itself out of poverty is not wasted. ...

An Exxon executive - who had earlier presented an optimistic picture of Chad's economy growing strongly as a result of oil revenues - replied that he would be happy to provide any information the committee required. He said the Chadian economy was set to grow by more than 20% a year as a result of oil revenues. But Mrs Mekombe continued to paint a negative picture of both the oil company and the Chadian government. She said her country's natural resources were being exploited in an atmosphere of suspicion and lack of confidence. Most of the Chadian population, she said, were disillusioned. The oversight committee is an unusual experiment in public participation. It was set up with World Bank help to prevent the corruption and environmental degradation that has surrounded oil production in other countries. But if Mrs Mekombe is right, the experiment is in deep trouble.

In deep trouble, indeed...

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