Egypt’s diplomatic card game on the Blue Nile

Le Monde diplomatique English edition: 22nd APRIL 2014

by Nizar Manek

No electricity flows yet from the 6,000-megawatt Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a dream of the late rebel-turned-statesman Meles Zenawi. His unilateral decision to construct it is unravelling into an equally grand hydro-political fallout with Egypt. Addis Ababa has built strong regional diplomatic support behind the GERD. For Egypt, the preamble to its new constitution echoes Herodotus: “Egypt is the gift of the Nile and the gift of Egyptians to humanity.”

Suspicion over what is set to be Africa’s most contentious hydroelectric power project flows. “Everyone is involved,” says a person close to diplomatic and donor thinking on the $4.8 billion dam, which is probably the continent’s biggest-ever development project to be undertaken without grants or concessional finance. “Not taking sides means taking the Egyptian side, and they don’t want this to turn into a major conflict. The realm of perceptions is the most critical on the Nile hydro-political chessboard.”

After a meeting between Egypt’s foreign minister Nabil Fahmy and the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at the EU-Africa summit at the beginning of month, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency said the EU ambassador to Egypt James Moran confirmed that the EU is looking into the issue and is not providing Ethiopia financing support.

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Nigeria: There will be blood… and oil

Africa Confidential: Vol 55 N0 7 | 4th APRIL 2014

The stink of the OPL 245 scandal won’t go away

General Sani Abacha's son, now seeking political office with the governing People's Democratic Party (PDP), is building a coalition to obtain his part of the plunder. Middlemen are still litigating over their share and abroad, criminal investigations are under way Oil Prospecting Licence 245 represents the peak of a system of assigning Nigeria's oil wealth to its rulers and their friends and allies. The methods employed in this affair – and for other oil blocks and concessions – continue to plague the exchequer and oil industry and, far from declining, are expected to be applied with greater diligence as politicians amass their war chests for the 2015 elections.

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Nigeria: Chip off the old block

Africa Confidential: Vol 55 N0 7 | 4th APRIL 2014

The children of the late dictator General Sani Abacha are making headlines. The oldest, Mohammed Sani Abacha, operates a political network based in Kano, where his father was brought up. Mohammed was a stalwart of the mainly northern Congress for Democratic Change but when it joined with others to form the All Progressives Congress, he accepted the invitation to defect to the governing People’s Democratic Party (AC Vol 54 No 14, Inside the presidential fight). He was seen in February at a PDP rally in Kaduna, according to a Nigerian press report.

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Congo-Kinshasa: Hitch for dam plan

Africa Confidential: Vol 55 N0 7 | 4th APRIL 2014

The Inga III dam on the Congo River has a few more obstacles to overcome following a new World Bank report

The approval of a US$73.1 million grant by the World Bank’s Board of Directors on 20 March would suggest that all is well with Congo-Kinshasa’s 4,000-megawatt Inga III hydropower project (AC Vol 54 No 13, The real power politics). The funds, together with $33.4 mn. from the African Development Bank approved late last year, will finance the environmental and social assessments of the dam, and set up an independent Inga Development Authority. Yet the Bank’s 101-page report, obtained by Africa Confidential before the Board meeting, reveals that the project is beset by problems.

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Egypt | Saudi Arabia: Out of reach

Africa Confidential: Vol 55 N0 7 | 4th APRIL 2014

The shareholders of Egypt’s Ajwa for Food Industries Company are embroiled in a long-running dispute with the former non-executive Chairman, the Saudi Arabian billionaire Sheikh Mohamed bin Issa al Jaber. The regulator, the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority, is ready to reach a settlement with Al Jaber, provided the 55-year-old repurchases shares in the company that he sold in an ‘irregular fashion’ three years ago. EFSA Executive Chairman Sherif Samy says this is the ‘big outstanding issue’, after the company was suspended from the Egyptian Stock Exchange over the share dealings.

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Egypt | Ethiopia: Dam leak hits Addis

Africa Confidential: Vol 55 N0 7 | 4th APRIL 2014

Ethiopia risks isolation in the row with Egypt over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) now that the previously secret Independent Panel of Experts’ report on the dam has been leaked (AC Vol 55 No 4, Torpedo the dam). Egypt had appeared isolated in its opposition to the dam, which is set to be Africa’s largest.

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Morocco | Western Sahara | Norway: Kill the drill

Africa Confidential: Vol 55 N0 7 | 4th APRIL 2014

The Norwegian-based company Aker Solutions has decided to stop providing oil services to its drilling rig in disputed waters off Western Sahara after Africa Confidential publicised the case (AC Vol 55 No 6, Testing the offshore limits). The rig is leased via a South Korean company to the United States firm Atwood Oceanics, which has a contract with Kosmos for exploration work in the Cap Boujdour block. Atwood and Kosmos are listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

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Morocco | Western Sahara | Norway: Testing the offshore limits

Africa Confidential: Vol 55 N0 6 | 21st MARCH 2014

Sahrwai officials are again trying to get the UN to intervene with oil companies drilling in disputed offshore areas

A legal battle may be brewing between the Polisario Front, which since 1973 has aspired to rule Western Sahara, and Norwegian oil services company Aker Solutions over offshore exploration. Emhamed Khadad, an advisor to the Polisario Secretary General and President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, says the Front intends to involve the United Nations Security Council. On 14 March, he wrote to the head of Oslo-listed Aker Solutions that the SADR plans to inform the UNSC that his company is involved in drilling off the disputed territory’s coast.

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Morocco | Western Sahara | United States: Senate for Morocco

Africa Confidential: Vol 55 N0 6 | 21st MARCH 2014

About a month after the United States Senate passed a bill that, very unusually, affects the disputed territory of Western Sahara, Washington lobbyists Gray Global Advisors revealed they had a US$25,000 per month contract with Morocco to offer it ‘strategic advice on Moroccan-American relations’.

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