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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 20th December 2010

Confidential Agenda (Week ending 26 December)

Patrick Smith


For an accidental President, Goodluck Jonathan is taking to the national political contest with alacrity. After a mini-national tour, Jonathan's campaign team have announced that 20 out of the 26 state governors loyal to the People's Democratic Party (PDP) will back his nomination as the party's candidate at its national convention in Abuja on 13 January.

That's good news for Jonathan as he battles former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the consensus candidate of the north, for the nomination. Neither side can afford to relax and both will focus their attention on the state governors and assemblies to win over party opinion.

And those opinions are far from settled. This week, the party is reviewing nominations for candidates for the state and national assemblies and the state governorships. The primaries for the governorships are due on 9 January, four days before the presidential primaries: so if the incumbent PDP governors win re-nomination for a second term that should help Jonathan. But a few upsets in the governorship primaries, especially in the North, could spell trouble for his campaign.

In the next month, Nigerians will also learn more about the likely presidential and governorship candidates put forward by the other parties such as the Action Congress of Nigeria and the Congress of the People. And electronic voter registration is due to start shortly after the new year. The success of that exercise will in large part determine the credibility of the national elections being organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission under Attahiru Jega.


The struggle for the good governance of Ghana's oil industry started long before the celebrations to the first commercial oil exports on 15 December.

Civic activists and opposition parliamentarians are already warning about signs of financial laxity. Their current focus is on the government move, narrowly approved in parliament in early December, to change Clause 5 of the Oil Revenue Management Bill to allow oil-backed loans. These are loans that the government takes out and then repays by shipments of oil instead of cash.

Ghana's Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas is set against it. More doctrinal opposition comes from the IMF, which routinely disapproves of the practice and forbids many of its borrowers to contract oil-backed loans.

The IMF objects because such loans can cause debts to spiral upwards when oil prices are unstable. The use of oil-backed loans by oil-producers such as Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and Nigeria has undermined efforts for greater accountability and, even if oil prices are high, the loans attract higher than usual interest rates and the handling fees and agency arrangements take a large slice out of revenues. Vice-President John Mahama insists it will all be different in Ghana and that the government will be using oil-back credits for vital investments to improve infrastructure.

In the first test of this strategy, Accra is seeking a $500 million syndicated pre-export, oil-backed loan led by Deutsche Bank. Civic activists and MPs will be watching developments very closely in the coming weeks.


There are real tigers as well as economic tigers in Tunisia these days. The United States Ambassador to Tunis, Robert Godec, described in a leaked Wikileaks cable how 'Monsieur Gendre' (Mr Son-in-law), Sakher el Materi, has a pet tiger called Pasha which eats four live chickens a day. Materi is married to President Zinedine Ben Ali's daughter Nesrine and, appropriately, keeps most of his money in a company called Princesse Holdings.

The American Ambassador says that Materi finds it hard to understand popular resentment at the luxury, conspicuous consumption, excess and nepotism of the Ben Ali clan, known locally simply as 'The family'. The Ambassador's cables dismiss one claim – that Tunisia is a police state. Why not? Because, the cable says, 'even the police report to The Family.'

According to the cables, President Ben Ali has called on his son-in-law Materi to popularise a moderate interpretation of Islam through his radio, television and publishing enterprises. Is Materi, as Ambassador Godec noted, very devout or is he both devout and also well aware that to succeed his father-in-law he must satisfy the strongly religious presidential old guard? Whatever Materi's game plan, the leaked US cables will not have helped it much by putting it under the spotlight.


Of course, under the constitution of the French republic, political matters and legal powers are clearly separated. But occasionally diplomatic interests challenge that principle; for example, when the French courts names six close allies and colleagues of President Paul Kagame for questioning by investigating magistrates in the case of the shooting down of President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane on 6 April 1994, the eve of the genocide.

The case has become a particular mission for Jean-Louis Bruguière, the former anti-terrorist prosecutor in Paris. The most prominent of the men to face questioning are Defence Minister James Kaberebe and the Chief of the General Staff, Colonel Charles Kayonga. A formal arrest is normally required in such cases, but the interviews were arranged in Burundi, so removing that potential for embarrassment. The two French pilots and a flight attendant, along with Burundi's President, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and seven others also died alongside Habyarimana after surface-to-air missiles struck the private jet.

When France issued arrest warrants for these six in 2006 Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations, but now the two countries are co-operating. An official statement fro Kigali welcomed the latest enquiry as a way of clearing the names of the accused and said the case was originally centered only on 'political manipulations by people interested in destabilising Rwanda.' President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Rwanda in February, the first visit by a French President since 1975 and although the case has been a small headache, it wouldn't go away. The latest moves sound like an accommodation between the two countries and Bruguière's retirement must have helped.


Just as South Africa starts its long summer holiday, reports have emerged of a looming corporate multibillion dollar battle – for control of that family-run diamond conglomerate, De Beers. This time the predator is Anglo-American which already owns 40% of the firm which has remained a private company. Botswana owns 15% and the Oppenheimer family own 45% (their stake held through an entity in Luxembourg is valued at between US$3-5 billion).

Anglo, which itself has been under takeover pressure in recent years, may favour buying out the Oppenheimer family and then making De Beers part of its own organisation. Since the demise of apartheid in South Africa, the management of Anglo and De Beers have tried to untangle their system of opaque cross-holdings and myriad overseas subsidiaries.

In the late 1990s, Anglo transferred its main stock exchange listing to London and both companies have concentrated their efforts on the international markets and are doing less in South Africa. Indeed South Africa has lost substantial tax and other revenues following this move. Policy-makers in President Jacob Zuma's government will be watching this latest twist with much interest: the companies remain hugely important employers in South Africa and their fortunes partly reflect the health of the national economy.