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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 30th April 2018

NIGERIA/UNITED STATES: Islamic State threat and business likely to top agenda of Trump-Buhari summit

Patrick Smith

We start in Washington with a West African theme – on the summit meeting of Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari and United States President Donald Trump. Security will dominate those talks, as it does relations between Washington and Niger where a new US drone base is nearing completion. Across the continent in East Africa, the rivalry between Kenya and Uganda over oil intensifies. And in South Africa, the African National Congress appears about to push out Supra Mahumapelo, premier of the troubled North-West Province.

NIGERIA/UNITED STATES: Islamic State threat and business likely to top agenda of Trump-Buhari summit
Abuja's diplomats have been in overdrive preparing for the presidential summit today (30 April) between President Buhari and President Trump, which was called at the White House's request. An Africa-focused lobbyist told Africa Confidential that senior Nigerian officials were still trying to find out why President Trump had invited Buhari – only the second foreign leader to have received the call.

Some insiders say it is part of an attempt to reset US-Africa relations after the furore over reports of Trump's derogatory comments in January about the continent. There is also regional frustration at the sacking of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson half-way through his first tour of Africa.

The agenda is likely to be dominated by security, particularly the expansion of operations by Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) in the region and its alliance with the Abu Masab al Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. Last week, the Barnawi faction attacked the military headquarters in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, triggering a firefight with soldiers, police and local vigilante groups.

In Benue State, where 17 were killed in an Islamist militia attack on a Catholic church on 24 March, there are fears that the militants are trying to exploit communal clashes in the Middle Belt.

US intelligence estimates reckon that ISWA could have as many as 5,000 fighters in the region, who are far better equipped and trained than the Boko Haram militia led by Abubakar Shekau. Yet Nigeria's military commanders have been wary historically of close ties with the US military in the region, despite a series of arms deals between the two countries over the past three years.

One of the these – the sale of Super Tucano ground-attack aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force – is being scrutinised by the National Assembly. Representatives claim the government-to-government deal was arranged for three times the average international price for the aircraft package. They also complain that the Assembly was not consulted, as required by law, about the deal.

Trump is also expected to raise his government's concerns about difficulties experienced by US energy companies in the Nigerian market, compared to their Indian and Chinese counterparts. However, India became the leading customer for Nigeria's Bonny light oil, mainly because the US's development of shale oil substituted for imported crude.

NIGER/UNITED STATES: Over 800 US troops in Sahel as $110 million drone base at Agadez nears completion
As President Mahamadou Issoufou's government faces growing opposition over its security and migration deals with foreign governments, the US is stepping up military operations. There is a major push to open the US's new drone base at Agadez, in the centre of the country. Over 800 US troops are working closely with a team of 2,000 Nigerien Special Forces on operations against jihadist elements in the Sahel.

The Agadez base will be able to launch armed and unarmed Predator drones over most of the Sahel and Libya. Work on the base is over a year behind schedule and US$20 mn. over budget.

KENYA/TANZANIA/UGANDA: Kampala edges ahead of Nairobi in the great East African pipeline race
says it will make the final investment decision on its 1400-kilometre pipeline to Tanzania's coast by the end of this year – six months earlier than planned. The pipeline, to be jointly owned by Uganda and Tanzania, is to cost an estimated $3.5 billion. Growing political uncertainties in both countries and worries about increasing indebtedness could further raise the cost of the project, according to industry sources.

The two regional pipelines point to an escalation of the resource rivalry between Uganda and Kenya. Two years ago, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni halted plans to build a pipeline to Kenya in favour of a route through Tanzania, a much longer and more expensive undertaking. Uganda says it wants to start commercial oil production by the end of 2020, some two years ahead of the rival Kenya project.

Last week Kenya announced it had appointed the British-based Wood Group as its design consultants on its 890 km pipeline from the Lokichar basin to a terminal at Lamu. Officials spoke of a target date of 2021-2022 for Kenya's commercial oil production, saying a major fund-raising effort will get under way once design details have been finalised.

SOUTH AFRICA: Drive to push out Supra Mahumapelo from North-West provincial premiership gathers steam
This week ANC officials decide whether or not to convene a special National Executive Committee meeting to take emergency action on the deepening crisis in North-West. Such a meeting could see the ousting of premier Supra Mahumapelo, a key ally of ex-President Jacob Zuma, after the discovery of massive corruption in the provincial government's health department.

Last week the health department was taken into administration by the central government in Pretoria. Insiders say those provisions could be extended to several other departments, effectively declaring a state of emergency in the province. Less than a third of the provincial government's departments have met the basic standards for accountability set by the Auditor General.

The ANC team tasked with dealing with the crisis will be led by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was the main rival to President Cyril Ramaphosa in last December's leadership elections.


MALAWI: Joyce Banda's return home will test justice system and President Mutharika's corruption claims

ETHIOPIA: Term limits for prime ministers mooted by new premier Abyi Ahmed

FRANCE: Next phase in investigation into Bolloré's empire will targets government deals in Guinea and Togo

MOROCCO: King Mohammed VI extends influence in Central Africa after signing Congo river deal in Brazzaville