Liberia – Solar Energy Agenda

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The government commits to new solar farms as uncertainties around oil prompts a re-examination of energy policy.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the financing and cooperation in construction of a new 10 megawatt solar photovoltaic plant in the capital Monrovia, was signed by Gigawatt Global Cooperatief U.A.

The signing of the MoU took place during the meeting of the Permanent Mission of Liberia to the United Nations (UN) on September 23rd. Liberian Foreign Affairs Minister Marjon Kamara said that energy is one of the country’s top priorities.

Project Coordinator, Remy Reinstein indicated that besides the 10 megawatts (MW) to be built in Monrovia, an additional 30MW would be included in other parts of the country. According to reports the government will assist by securing the land for the new facility as part of the National Electrification Plan.

Gigawatt Global Cooperatief U.A. is a US, Dutch and Israeli renewable energy company, and delivered the first utility-scale solar plant in Rwanda, supplying 6% of the country’s electiricty needs.  The company has also recently signed a 135MW project in Nigeria, expected to be the largest solar plant in Africa, reported the Daily Observer

Around the world many campaigners and activists are urging a shift away from fossil fuels; in Liberia the main sources of electricity are private and the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) rely on diesel fuel generators.

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CC

However some have said that the global drop in oil prices means that a move towards renewables is less appealing for investors, although others stress the unpredictability of the oil market and climate change mean that oil-based sources of energy are unsustainable.

One Liberian environmentalist, Silas Siakor, said, “given the level of bad governance, given the level of the breakdown of the fabric of our Liberian society, if we decided to engage in the oil sector, the possibility of causing a lot of damages is way too high that it raises the question of the sensibleness to do that.”

The Liberian oil sector is currently reeling from the announcement that the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) was bankrupt, leading to international firms such as Chevron and Anadarko taking oil blocks off the coast.

There are also other obstacles to the high cost of solar technology; the World Food Program (WFP) said that 64% of Liberians live below the ‘poverty line’ and as many as 1.3m in extreme poverty; the technology itself both on an industrial and a household level is often expensive,  reported Front Page Africa.

However earlier this year the World Bank, approved a new financing agreement of US$27 million to increase access to affordable and reliable electricity and to foster the use of renewable energy sources in Liberia. The Liberia Renewable Energy Access Project (LIRENAP) seeks to establish a mini hydropower plant to benefit about 50,000 people, as well as small businesses, associations and public institutions in Lofa County.

Also, in August Liberia and Ghana agreed to cooperate in the power sector; the Ghanaian leader claimed that Liberia could benefit from Ghanaian technical expertise in expanding electricity supply throughout the country, reported Liberia News Agency.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Liberia – The Tide Turns Against The Biggest Slum
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 7, Pp.21346C.

POWER
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 6, Pp. 21334C–21336C.

OIL/GAS: Liberia
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 2, Pp.21188B–21190C.

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DR Congo – Protest Crackdown

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A number of civilians are killed during protests against the failure of the President to schedule elections.

There has been growing local and international pressure on President Joseph Kabila to step down in December this year at the end of his second term, the constitutionally defined limit to rule. Protestors have taken to the streets of the capital Kinshasa in dismay over his apparent aim to extend his hold on power and failure to schedule elections.

According to Georges Kapiamba, Director of the local NGO, Congolese Association for Access to Justice, the protests also took place in Goma, Bukavu and Beni regions. According to a Deutschewelle correspondent, the offices of President Kabila’s party as well as offices of other political parties allied to the president were burnt down.

European nations and the United States (US) have considered imposing sanctions, with a senior member of the US State Department stating that sanctions would be considered against any individual who worked to undermine the democratic institutions and elections process.

Phil Clark, a political scientist at SOAS University of London, commented that “It is looking increasingly unlikely that a new leader will take control of the Democratic Republic of Congo…all of Kabila’s moves over the past few months have suggested that he is doing everything he can to remain in power…there is a real concern in the Congo that this situation could continue to get drastically out of hand.”

Kabila took power in the DR Congo in 2001 after his father, Laurent Kabila, was killed by one of his bodyguards. The country has not seen a peaceful transfer of power since the Belgian colonial handover in 1960, reported Deutschewelle.

031106-D-2987S-019 President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo meets with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz at the Pentagon on Nov. 6, 2003. The two leaders are meeting to discuss defense issues of mutual interest. DoD photograph by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released)

President Joseph Kabila – CC

Amnesty International has released a report titled ‘Dismantling dissent: DRC’s repression of expression amidst electoral delays‘, documenting the lengths that President Kabila is going to to keep himself in power.

“The government is violating the rights of opposition politicians and pro-democracy activists to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly while expelling foreign researchers and threatening human rights organisations that are working to monitor these violations with closure,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for east Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, Sarah Jackson, said in a statement.

“The DR Congo government is riding roughshod over its regional and international human rights obligations. Denying people the right to freedom of expression could trigger violence in an already tense political climate,” Jackson stated, reported News24Wire.

Similarly Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released evidence documenting the crackdown on activists over the last two years. Government repression spiked in the days leading up to planned protests on September 19th. On September 16th, police in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi fired teargas and live bullets to disperse opposition party members.

On September 17th, security services arrested human rights activist, Patrick Pindu, after he participated in a civil society meeting. He was released the next day on the condition that he report to the intelligence agency every 15 days. At least 14 civilians and three police officers have been killed in the protests in recent days.

Rights groups have urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate rights abuses and for international powers to impose sanctions. According to local sources, much of the repression is being orchestrated by the Intelligence Agency Director, Kalev Mutond.

Many view the government’s efforts at ‘national dialogue’ as a ploy to delay elections and prolong Kabila’s stay in power, and most of the main opposition parties have not participated in the process, reported CAJNews.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

DR CONGO: Opposition Rally
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.8, Pp.21105C–21107A

DR CONGO: Increased Magnitude of Violence
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue. 8, Pp.21109B–21110B

DR CONGO: National Dialogue Group
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.7, Pp.21066B–21067A

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Africa – Resource Plunder

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A new report documents the scale of British involvement in mineral extraction across the continent. 

According to a new ‘War on Want‘ report entitled ‘The New Colonialism: Britain’s scramble for Africa’s energy and mineral resources‘ a total of 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) are involved in mining operations in Africa, controlling resources worth US$1 trillion.

The report documents how, under the guise of economic development, around $134bn is channeled to the continent each year in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid, while concurrently around $192bn is extracted largely through profits of foreign companies, tax dodging and the costs associated with climate change. The African continent is by and large a net creditor to the rest of the world of around $58bn each year.

At least five British government officials have taken up positions on the boards of mining companies working in Africa, and companies such as Glencore have revenues ten times the GDP of Zambia.  The 101 companies cited in the report control around 6.6bn barrels of oil, 79.5m ounces of Gold, 699.3m carats of diamonds and 3.6bn tonnes of coal, controlling concession areas totalling around 371,132km2.

The report also documents the disregard for human rights. For example in the Western Sahara, despite the Saharwi people’s right to self-determination, six British companies have been handed permits by the Moroccan government to actively explore for oil and gas resources.

One company working in the Western Sahara is Cairn Energy, based in Edinburgh and listed on the LSE, which in December 2014 became the first to drill for and discover oil off the coast of the disputed region.

The Saharawi people have consistently protested against the exploration activities of oil companies, but by doing deals with the Moroccan government, oil companies have gained access to these reserves. According to the report, the British government has actively championed them through trade, investment and tax policies.

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Screenshot of War on Want report. 

War on Want state that while LSE registered companies control resources across the continent, countries such as South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana and Lesotho. In South Africa the wealth from platinum, gold, coal, iron ore, nickel and aluminium is substantially in the hands of British companies.

As Chris Molebatsi of Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) in South Africa, says: “We want to see ethical mining that has respect for the land rights of the people on whose land they are mining. Our demands are for royalties and/or compensation to be paid to communities affected and in particular prior and informed consent to be obtained from those communities, not just from traditional authorities”, reported African Arguments.

Additionally of the 101 companies operating, a quarter are reportedly operating in tax havens raising considerable concerns about tax avoidance; it is estimated that the African continent loses around $35bn each year due to illicit financial flows and $46bn from siphoned profits.

The report concludes that, we “need to be demanding that the British government enforces corporate accountability of British companies operating in Africa. These companies should not be allowed to get away with the labour violations, human rights abuses and environmental degradation that is currently taking place.”

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin today:

GOLD: DR Congo
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.7, Pp.21368A–21368C

IRON ORE: Guinea
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.6, Pp. 21331B–21332C

URANIUM: Namibia
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.10, Pp.21046B–21047C

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Africa – Facebook Setback

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Plans for the rollout of satellite internet for remote parts of the continent are halted by explosion during test run.

During a test run, the SpaceX rocket carrying an Israeli-built Facebook communications satellite exploded on a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on September 1st. The company attributed the accident to an anomaly and declared that there had been no injuries.

The satellite, which was scheduled for deployment in partnership with French firm Eutelsat Communications to provide broadband coverage for much of sub-Saharan Africa. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was visiting Africa at the time, commented that he was “deeply disappointed…we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided,” reported BBC News

The Amos-6 satellite had a worth of around US$200m; “As far as the Israeli communications satellite industry is concerned, this is a very severe blow which could place the future of the industry in doubt if it is not dragged out of the mud,” said the chairman of the Israel Space Agency, Isaac Ben-Israel.

Particularly concerning are the reported causes of the accident, which involved the loading of fuel onto the rocket. SpaceX has been seeking to create reusable rockets for both state and private space travel.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket after successful landing – CC

The satellite was a major part of Facebook’s plans in Africa. Before the accident Zuckerberg visited Kenya and Nigeria to discuss emerging technological developments. However he added that “fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well,” reported Deutschewelle.

Aquila is a project to develop solar powered drones to fly without landing for three months, beaming internet access to remote parts of the continent, using a linked network of drones. The drones will operate above the altitude of commercial aircraft and will climb during the day and drop at night, when the solar panels will not receive charge. The first test flight took place in July this year, reported UK-based the Telegraph.

According to Facebook, as many as 4bn people do not have access to the internet and 1.6bn live in remote locations, where implementing existing network technologies is challenging and costly, reported EA Business Week.

According to Internet World Stats, Nigeria tops the leagues table of Facebook users in sub-Saharan Africa at 15m, followed by South Africa with 13m and Kenya with 5m. Facebook has also recently announced the rollout of new African languages including Hausa, reported Deutschewelle.

The company has also proved controversial on the continent, with many governments such as Ethiopia and Mali, banning the service, accusing it of being central in the organisation of protests and political dissent. During election time, governments in DR Congo, Uganda and Chad, have also cracked down on the use of the social media service, reported Venture Africa.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Africa – Facebook to provide free satellite Internet
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp. 21004B

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.3, Pp. 21182A-21183C

Facebook Office in Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 52, Issue. 6, Pp. 20895C

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Gabon – Election Tension

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Opposition leader declares his victory before the official announcement, leading to concerns there will be a political standoff.

As the results of the recent election are to be announced in the coming days, opposition leader Jean Ping has claimed an ‘unofficial’ victory, stating “I am waiting for the President to call and congratulate me.” However the government dismissed the claims as “illegal.”

The law in Gabon states that no candidate can declare the result before the official announcement, but Ping stated that he was seeking to stop President Ali Bongo from cheating. One law student from Libreville said, “We don’t know if the opposition will accept the results if they don’t go in favour of Jean Ping and we also don’t think the presidential camp or the militants of Ali Bongo will accept the results if they don’t go in favour of the president,” reported RFI.

The head of the Pan-African Democracy Observatory, an NGO based in Togo, downplayed the significance of Ping’s declaration. “We should not be surprised if one or the other declare victory. It’s all part of the game,” Djovi Gally said.

Until recently, Bongo was the favourite but protracted talks led all the key challengers to pull out and support Ping. Ping has met with French and US ambassadors stating that it is only him that can bring about meaningful change in Gabon.

However he has not escaped allegations of corruption; Ping was a former ally of Ali Bongo’s father Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for 42 years until his death in 2009. Omar Bongo got Ping a job as African Union Commission (AUC) Chairman.

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President Ali Bongo with French counterpart Francois Hollande – CC 2016.

Ping also has close familial ties with the Bongo dynasty, he was formerly married to Omar Bongo’s eldest daughter, Pascaline Bongo, with whom he had two children, reported RFI. However in 2014 Ping told French newspaper Le Monde that Gabon had turned into a dictatorship at the hands of a single family.

According to African Arguments, Gabon’s political system can be identified as what political scientists call “competitive authoritarianism”; formal democratic institutions exist but the rules are tailored to such an extent that is almost impossible for the opposition to win elections.

There are no presidential term limits and the first-past-the-post system means that the victor would not need an absolute majority. In the 2009 election Ali Bongo obtained just 42% of the vote. Similarly the Ministry of the Interior and the Electoral Commission, responsible for supervising the elections, are not fully independent.

The situation is concerning; according to the US-based NGO National Endowment for Democracy, “Côte d’Ivoire was plunged into post-electoral crisis in 2010, when Alassane Outtara and Laurent Gbagbo both declared themselves winner.” In the clashes that followed Bongo’s 2009 victory, several people were killed, buildings were looted, reported Al-Jazeera.

Aside from the political problems, whoever is declared the victory will have to deal with serious economic problems. According to the World Bank, Gabon has a population of 1.7m and has one of the highest per capita incomes due to oil wealth. However the revenues largely end up in the pockets of the political elites, and as oil prices flounder, the country, and particularly the poorest, will be put under increasing economic strain, reported Deutschewelle.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

GABON: Bongo To Stand
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 7, Pp. 21068B–21068C

GABON: Election Date
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue. 6, Pp. 21032A–21032B

GABON: Candidate Harassment?
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.5, Pp. 20997B–20997C

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Somalia – Upcoming Elections

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The government moves towards party politics in a bid to put an end to clan factionalism. 

According to a recent forum of regional and national leaders, members of Somalia’s new parliament must join a political party within two years or step down, as the country seeks to move away from clan-based politics, which has largely fuelled more than two decades of conflict in the country.

Elections for a new President will be held in October 2016 when 275 members of the lower house of parliament will also be chosen by around 14,000 people, in turn will be chosen by elders from major clans. While only a small part of the total 11 million people in the country, in 2012 the parliament was chosen by just 135 elders.

“The leaders of the National Leadership Forum agreed to promote the establishment and registration of political parties within two years, starting from the date when the 10th parliament is elected,” the forum said after a week-long meeting.

Many diplomats have been pushing for the elections are recurrent delays; the term of the existing parliament ends on August 20th while the President’s term expires on September 9th, reported Reuters.

The country continues to face widespread security risks from the Al-Shabaab group; between August 10-13th Somali commandos and US Special Forces killed 30 Al-Shabaab militants in the Middle Juba region near to the Kenyan border. Among those killed were senior commanders including Abu Ubeida the Al-Shabaab leader in Southern Somalia, reported Shabelle Media Network.

Somalia was plunged into civil war in the early 1990s following the toppling of dictator Siad Barre and has not held elections for several decades.

Current President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is standing for re-election alongside an as-yet-undetermined number of opponents, including Fadumo Dayib, a Finnish citizen who is aiming to become the first female leader in the country, reported Newsweek.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon emphasised, “the importance of Somalia’s 2016 electoral process being conducted in a transparent, credible and inclusive manner, and in a climate of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” reported the UN News Centre.

At the same time, amidst peace talks between the Somaliland, Puntland and a self declared Khaatumo administration in the Northern Sool region, an amnesty has been agreed for Somaliland politicians in the capital Mogadishu, reported Garowe Online. Politicians had previously been unable to travel from the autonomous regions to the capital.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

SOMALIA: Electoral Commission
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.7, Pp.21069A–21069B

SOMALIA: Suicide Bombers Target AMISOM HQ
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.7, Pp.21083A–21085A

SOMALIA: Elections Planned
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.6, Pp.21032B–21033A

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Africa – Piracy

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Frequency of attacks drops in East Africa but kidnappings rise in the Gulf of Guinea – AU says seaport security crucial.

On July 26th the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), part of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) said that piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia has fallen to its lowest levels since 1995, with only one incident in the last six months.

However, the IMB stated that it “believes that a single successful hijacking of a merchant vessel, will rekindle the Somali pirates’ passion to resume its piracy efforts.” The organisation added that Somali pirates continue to hold 29 crew members for ransom as of June 30th, reported Somali news service Shabelle.

A Netherlands-based firm, Atlantic Marine and Offshore Group, which was contracted to build six ships for the Somali Coast Guard in July 2013, is close to delivering the vessels and will also train the navy tasked with operating the ships, which is expected to take 5-6 more years. The vessels will be used to combat piracy, illegal fishing, waste dumping, and weapons deliveries to the al-Shabaab group.

Somali ambassador to the European Union (EU), Dr Ali Sa’id Faqi, said the creation of a coastguard represented a historic leap for Somalia and the government had signed an agreement with Netherlands-based Atlantic Marine and Offshore Group to train Somali coastguard personnel, reported Dalsan Radio.

IMB’s global piracy report recorded 98 incidents in the first half of 2016, compared with 134 for the same period in 2015. In 2010 and 2003, the IMB recorded around 445 attacks a year. The IMB has a live piracy incident feed, available here.

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NATO Counter-Piracy Troops, Somalia CC – 2012.

Despite a drop in East Africa the IMB report noted there had been a surge of kidnappings off West Africa, with 44 crew members kidnapped in 2016. China on July 28th announced plans to support infrastructural development in the Gulf of Guinea to help in the fight against piracy.

On July 25th the African Union’s (AU) African Day of the Seas and Oceans focused on the theme, ‘Maritime Governance for Sustainable Development’. Seaports are crucial to African economies but are easily accessible to criminals, pirates and drug smugglers.

According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) the low standard of living for populations living near to the ports can fuel port insecurity. Reports show that African ports often fail to meet the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code.

According to ISS the government in many countries seems to lack commitment to protect coasts and did not have maritime strategies in place, or if they did, they were not implemented satisfactorily.

In the Gulf of Guinea, the ISS reported that only two out of the planned maritime coordination centres are operational and while there had been some successes in Operation Prosperity by Benin and Nigeria, inter-state joint patrols are still at an experimental stage. (BBC News 13-17/7; Dalsan Radio 17/7; ISS 26/7; Shabelle 26/7; Xinhua 29/7)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Piracy
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.3, Pp.21217A

Piracy – Drop in Recorded Cases
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue. 2, Pp.21180C

Somalia – Piracy [Free to Access]
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue. 11, Pp.21076B

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.