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African leaders’ relatives named in Panama Papers
April 4, 2016 | 0 Comments
The eldest son of former president of Ghana John Kufuor is said in leaked documents to have controlled a $75,000 bank account in Panama for his father and his mother that he ran through an offshore company (AFP Photo/Mujahid Safodien)

The eldest son of former president of Ghana John Kufuor is said in leaked documents to have controlled a $75,000 bank account in Panama for his father and his mother that he ran through an offshore company (AFP Photo/Mujahid Safodien)

Paris (AFP) – A nephew of South African President Jacob Zuma and the son of Ghana’s former president John Agyekum Kufuor were among African figures named in the Panama Papers trove of leaked tax documents.

Zuma’s nephew, Clive Khulubuse Zuma, is a cigar-chomping mining magnate who is thought to own up to 19 collectible cars.

The documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca show that Khulubuse Zuma was authorised to represent Caprikat Limited, one of two offshore companies that controversially acquired oil fields in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2010, as questions were raised about the acquisition, British Virgin Islands authorities ordered Mossack Fonseca to provide additional background information on Zuma. Later that year, Mossack Fonseca ended its relationship with the companies.

Zuma and representatives of the companies have rejected allegations of wrongdoing and claimed the oil deals are “quite attractive” to the DRC government.

Also implicated is John Addo Kufuor, the eldest son of Ghana’s former president John Agyekum Kufuor, who led the country from 2001 to 2009.

A trained accountant, the younger Kufuor is said in the documents to have controlled a $75,000 bank account in Panama for his father and his mother that he ran through an offshore company. He did not respond to the ICIJ’s requests for comment.

The son of Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso also appears in the Mossack Fonseca files, in the 1990s.

Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso is said to have approached Mossack Fonseca about setting up a company based in the British Virgin Islands, called Phoenix Best Finance, according to the French daily Le Monde, which is one of the media partners for the release of the documents.

Sassou Nguesso told Le Monde he did not know the law firm and had no knowledge of Phoenix Best Finance.

The documents were first obtained by German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung a year ago, led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and involving more than 100 publications from nearly 80 countries.

*Source AFP/Yahoo

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Congo-Brazzaville: Attacks blamed on Ninja militia group
April 4, 2016 | 0 Comments
A government office in the Makelekele district of Brazzaville was set on fire early on Monday morning

A government office in the Makelekele district of Brazzaville was set on fire early on Monday morning

The Congolese government has blamed attacks on government buildings in the capital, Brazzaville, on the Ninja militia group.

Security forces were deployed on Monday morning and heavy gunfire was heard in the streets

The Ninjas were a major anti-government force in the 1997-99 civil war.

The violence comes weeks after Denis Sassou Nguesso won a third presidential term in a poll that the opposition said was marred by “massive fraud”.

At least one police station and a government building were attacked in the Makelekele district.

The Ninjas were loyal to former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas, the father of Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas, who stood in the presidential election in March and got 15% of the vote.

Mr Sassou Nguesso, in power for more than 30 years, won the election with 60% of the vote.

Reuters news agency reports that on Monday morning young opposition supporters were chanting “Sassou, leave!” in Makelekele , which is in the south of the capital city.



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Uganda Supreme Court Confirms President’s Re-election
April 2, 2016 | 0 Comments

By James Butty*

FILE - An armed Ugandan riot policeman is seen on patrol against the backdrop of campaign posters for long-time President Yoweri Museveni, as well as local members of Parliament, on a street in Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 17, 2016.

FILE – An armed Ugandan riot policeman is seen on patrol against the backdrop of campaign posters for long-time President Yoweri Museveni, as well as local members of Parliament, on a street in Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 17, 2016.

Uganda’s Supreme Court Thursday upheld the re-election of President Yoweri Museveni in the February 18 national poll. The court rejected a petition brought by former Prime Minister and presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi.

The electoral commission announced on February 20 that Museveni had won 60 percent of the vote to opposition challenger Kizza Besigye’s 30.5 percent.

Mbabazi had asked the court to nullify the results on the grounds the electoral commission did not adhere to the country’s electoral laws. But the court noted that while there were some irregularities, they did not affect the final results of the election to justify annulment.

Retired major general Jim Muhwezi, Uganda’s minister of information and national guidance, said the Supreme Court ruling confirms the choice of Ugandans when they re-elected President Museveni. “The government, of course, is very happy because it has confirmed what we knew very well, that the people of Uganda had expressed their choice and President Museveni won the election by over 50 percent. So the Supreme Court has confirmed what we believe,” Muhwezi said.

Muhwezi said it is up to Museveni and the opposition to heal and reunite the country now that the courts have spoken.

“That is true that the responsibility is with the president and the government as it was when he took up arms and liberated this country and has done everything to bring to what it is today. It still remains his responsibility to bring everybody together. But it’s also the responsibility of anybody who takes upon himself to lead the people. The leader of the biggest opposition group also has the responsibility to make sure that he contributes to that process of unifying the country,” Muhwezi said.

Uganda’s main opposition leader and former presidential candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, said no process can legitimize Museveni’s re-election. Besigye, who has been under house arrest for than more 40 days since the election, said the Ugandan judiciary could not have delivered an impartial ruling because its independence has been compromised.

“Pretty much what I had expected and that is because of a number of reasons. First and foremost, every petition, even in the best of circumstances is faced with very many obstacles against a petitioner because a petitioner in an election has only 10 days to prepare and present a petition in court. But these are not the best circumstances. We are talking about a situation where there is heavy intimidation of the citizenry, and anybody who purports to be a witness. But over and beyond that, we have the challenge of our institutions including the courts,” Besigye said.

Uganda's main opposition leader Kizza Besigye, center, is arrested by police and thrown into the back of a blacked-out police van which whisked him away and was later seen at a rural police station, outside his home in Kasangati, Uganda, Feb. 22, 2016.

Uganda’s main opposition leader Kizza Besigye, center, is arrested by police and thrown into the back of a blacked-out police van which whisked him away and was later seen at a rural police station, outside his home in Kasangati, Uganda, Feb. 22, 2016.

Mbabazi, who brought the petition, told journalists after the court ruling that the struggle for democracy in Uganda will continue. The former prime minister said he will “continue to pursue the idea of reforming the law so that the petitioner is given enough time to gather and present enough evidence in court.”

Besigye said as a second runner up in the February 18 election, he would have been the right person to challenge the results. But he said he couldn’t because Ugandan police have held him under house arrest for more than 40 days since the election.

But information Minister Muhwezi denied Besigye is under house arrest. He said the police have been constructively engaging Besigye at his home in line with Uganda’s Public Order Management Act because Besigye has said he wants to defy the laws and march on Kampala city to cause violence.

“If you’ve been following the events both before and after the election, Dr. Besigye has been declaring and saying openly that he is going to defy the laws of the country. So all the police have been doing is just keeping under surveillance because of what the police know that when Dr. Besigye moves, he wants to create crowd and cause public disorder. That is all, but he’s not under house arrest. His movements are being monitored and regulated by the police,” Muhwezi said.

*Source VOA

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Why should anyone listen to the hypocritical whitewashing of Congo-Brazzaville?
April 1, 2016 | 0 Comments

by *

Former politicians need to keep busy, but are there not more edifying ways to pass the time than laundering the reputation of one of Africa’s most venal autocrats?

President Denis Sassou Nguesso has been described as a “a caricature of kleptocracy, of a rich head of state that leads a poor country”. Credit: GCIS.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso has been described as a “a caricature of kleptocracy, of a rich head of state that leads a poor country”. Credit: GCIS.

In the last 10 days, the former British MP Eric Joyce has written two similar articles published by The Guardian and New Statesmen, the former entitled ‘Why should Africa listen to the hypocritical criticism of its three-term leaders?’ and the latter ‘We trust British politicians with third terms. So why not African ones?’

In these articles, Joyce – who took a keen interest in African affairs, the extractives industries and fighting corruption while in office – has two clear objectives. One of these is reasonable, the other irredeemably not.

The more general argument is that there are too many double standards in the way Western governments interact with their African counterparts. In particular, Joyce says it’s unfair to insist on term limits in Africa while in Europe the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel will likely be elected for a fourth term in 2017.

At a time when several long-serving African presidents have recently organised referenda to change constitutions to help them stay in power, Joyce asks: if the population of Rwanda wants Paul Kagame to carry on as head of state until 2034, who are we to criticise? “Millions of voting Africans want to re-elect leaders whom they believe have kept them safe and brought economic growth,” he says.

This is an argument that has been discussed elsewhere and has numerous proponents and detractors, but it is the second purpose of Joyce’s articles that is much weirder and more unnerving: he sets out to paint a disturbingly inaccurate picture of Congo-Brazzaville.

On 20 March, while Joyce was visiting the country, a presidential election took place and returned to power President Denis Sassou Nguesso with 60% of the vote. The incumbent’s victory came as no surprise, but the lengths he had gone to previously in order to be eligible to run in the first place have raised eyebrows.

[See: President Sassou Nguesso prepares for final stage of his constitutional coup: elections in the Republic of Congo]

According to the Republic of Congo’s 2002 constitution, presidents can only have two consecutive terms in office and candidates can be no older than 70. At 72 and approaching the end of his second term, Sassou Nguesso’s race seemed to be run, but last October he organised a referendum that would remove both of those pesky prohibitions. According to the electoral commission, over 90% of voters approved the amended constitution, paving the way for him to run again.

Joyce may well be right that Western governments’ preoccupation with term limits strikes Africans as bizarre or brazen. And he might also be correct in implying Sassou Nguesso would win a free and fair election, asserting that the president “is as popular as the Congo’s progress under his leadership would seem to justify”. However, what are inexcusable are the liberties he takes in his description of Congo-Brazzaville, its government and recent election.

“A broadly functioning democracy”?

To begin with, Joyce claims that Congo-B “is a broadly functioning democracy”. However, this description fails to inform the reader that, apart from a five-year hiatus in the 1990s, Sassou Nguesso has ruled Congo-B since 1979. In fact, for more than a decade, the president ran the country as a Marxist-Leninist one-party state and only held multiparty elections in 1992 as the result of domestic and international pressure. Sassou Nguesso lost that election to Patrice Lissouba whom he then ousted in 1997 in the second of two civil wars fought by the two men.

After introducing a new constitution, Sassou Nguesso was elected as president in 2002 and 2009. Yet both these elections were heavily contested by opposition parties and, in reference to National Assembly elections in 2012, Freedom House reported that the elections “were marred by accusations of fraud, low voter turnout, and post-election violence”.

However, we don’t need to even go that far back to doubt the quality of Congo-B’s “democracy”. In the run-up to Sassou Nguesso’s move to alter the constitution last year, the opposition refused to participate in the ‘national dialogue’ that would smooth the way for the constitutional referendum and called on its supporters to boycott the vote. Before the polls, demonstrations turned violent and, according to Amnesty International, the Congolese security forces killed at least 16 protesters.

Then, after the vote, authorities reported that 92% of voters had approved the amendments on a turnout of around 72%. By contrast, a spokesman for the main opposition platform claimed that only about 3% took part. Both sides likely exaggerated, but the key point is that it was indisputably not a fair fight. As Paul Melly of Chatham House said at the time: “The government controls the electoral process very strongly. Most opponents know they are fighting a very unequal battle, and very many voters cannot see any point in participating at all…Anecdotal, on the ground evidence suggests that the turnout was very low in many places.”

Nevertheless, for good measure, security forces surrounded the house of opposition leader Guy Brice Parfait Kolélas a couple of days before the election and kept him and 25 supporters under house arrest for nearly two weeks. Meanwhile, according to Amnesty International, “From July to October, there was a wave of arrests of political opponents protesting against the constitutional review”.

The organisation of the March presidential election while Joyce was in the country was equally one-sided. To begin with, the European Union decided in February that it wouldnot be sending a team of electoral observers at all after it claimed reforms introduced in January were insufficient to guarantee a transparent vote.

Then, once polling booths had closed, Congolese police arrested a candidate’s campaign manager and fired teargas at opposition supporters on several occasions, including ahead of a news conference planned to denounce the election. Policemen also beat up three foreign reporters and confiscated their equipment. Five defeated candidates, including those who came second and third, said the polling was characterised by “massive fraud”.

The day after the vote, a US official issued a statement echoing these concerns, referring to the “numerous reports of irregularities that have raised concerns about the credibility of the process, including the media blackout during the polls, an imbalanced and restrictive media environment, significant disparity in access to state resources, a short timeframe for electoral preparations, and restrictions on freedoms of expression, communication, and association in the pre-election period”.

Not every allegation of an abuse of power by Sassou Nguesso will necessarily withstand examination, but the sheer accumulation of such criticism, from domestic and international sources, surely merits recognition. Not for Joyce, it seems.

An “exemplary member” of the EITI?

Another assertion Joyce makes is that: “Oil has helped fuel economic growth over the democratic, post-Marxist period since early this century”. Let’s address this claim next.

It is true that Congo-B is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producers, pumping nearly 300,000 barrels per day, and that the economy has grown; the IMF notes that GDP grew at an average of 5.2% annually between 2010 and 2014. However, what Joyce obscures in his rosy description is the fact that the oil-driven growth has not positively impacted the lives of ordinary Congolese and that it has overwhelmingly benefitted a tiny sliver of the population, in particular the president’s family and friends.

Oil prices soared in the 2000s and remained persistently high until a precipitous crash in 2014. During this time, billions of dollars poured into the Congolese treasury. Yet despite consistent GDP growth, the IMF states that Congo-B “continues to suffer from high rates of poverty and inequality”. It claims that the government has made “slow progress” improving its human development indicators which “is reflected in the national poverty headcount ratio which declined by only 4.2 percentage points from 2005 to stand at 46.5 percent in 2011”. Rural poverty even increased in that period to nearly 75%.

Congo-B’s population can justifiably ask what, if anything, they got out of the boom, but some certainly did profit. And at the front of this queue are Sassou-Nguesso, his family and their chums, a fact that makes Joyce’s portrayal of benign economic management even harder to fathom.

After all, in 2011 and 2012, Joyce used his status as an elected British politician to draw attention to flagrant misuse of natural wealth by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, just across the river from Congo-B. Ahead of the re-election of President Joseph Kabila, his government signed a raft of deals with offshore companiesgiving them control of significant mining concessions that previously belonged to the state. The anonymous shells were allegedly controlled by Dan Gertler, an Israeli businessman who is friends with Kabila and has a track record of securing lucrative assets from his pal’s governments at prices generally deemed well below market value. Joyce dedicated significant time to investigating the DRC’s dealings and concluded that the country’s “natural resources…are not being used as a legitimate source of revenue for the people”.

If only Joyce was equally concerned about similarly shading dealing across the border! For in Congo-B, the presidential family is currently being targeted by French investigators following a complaint filed by an anti-corruption NGO in 2007. According to press coverage from late-2013, the Sassou Nguessos had brought €60 million ($68 million) into France and had bought at least 20 luxury properties in Paris. The president reportedly spent €1.18 million ($1.3 million) on shirts and suits between 2005 and 2011, while his son, Denis-Christel, dropped half a million Euros on shirts in the same period. William Bourdain, a lawyer for Transparency International, has characterised Sassou-Nguesso as “a caricature of kleptocracy, of a rich head of state that leads a poor country”.

Denis-Christel is often described as his father’s apparent dauphin and holds a senior director position at the national oil company, the SNPC. He is the kind of high roller who reportedly spent millions of Euros renovating a Parisian mansion in the style of ‘Napoleon Empire’. In 2007, Denis-Christel lost a high profile court case in the UK during which he attempted to prevent anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness publishing company records and credit card statements indicating he had paid for goods worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with money deriving from the sale of state oil.

More recently, in 2015, a Swiss anti-corruption NGO published a report accusing Denis-Christel of abusing his position at the SNPC and giving an unknown Swiss trader run by a friend “an exclusive contract to export petroleum products with no public tender process and under highly questionable conditions”. It found that the trader had immediately sold the oil on to third parties and “pocketed substantial profits for zero logistical effort”, adding that the favourable deal was “granted at the Congolese population’s expense”.

There is also Denis Gokana, a man who could be seen to hold a position analogous to that of Gertler in the DRC. A confidante of Sassou Nguesso, Gokana is simultaneously chairman of the SNPC’s board and founder of Africa Oil & Gas Corporation (AOGC), a private company. In 2005, Global Witness determined that Gokana had “been secretly selling hundreds of millions of dollars in cut-price oil to private companies he himself owns”. The NGO calculated that by selling under-priced oil this way Gokana had denied the treasury of around $20million. As Rachel Owens, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, explains, “much more transparency is needed around who is really benefiting from Congo’s oil sector”.

Yet immune to the evidence, Joyce writes positively of Congo-B’s oil-fuelled growth and, in the New Statesman, claims the country is an “exemplary member” of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), “the leading world body that works to assure transparency in the extractives sectors”.

That Joyce is no neophyte in African matters makes his outlandish falsifications of the Congolese reality all the more bizarre. He should not be susceptible to the kind of slick whitewashing and apologetics in which a global industry of autocrat-friendly lobbyists excel. I have read and re-read the articles – and then read them again. Thoughts collected, it remains difficult to avoid the conclusion that, for whatever reason, Joyce has opted for a post-parliamentary life as the propagandist of a corrupt despot.

*African Arguments.William Clowes is a journalist based in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Follow him on Twitter at @WTBClowes.

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Republic of Congo Awaits Vote Results Amid Telecom Blackout
March 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Emilie Iob*

Congo incumbent President Denis Sassou N'Guesso casts his ballot, at a polling station, in Brazzaville, Congo, March 20, 2016.

Congo incumbent President Denis Sassou N’Guesso casts his ballot, at a polling station, in Brazzaville, Congo, March 20, 2016.

Vote counting is underway in the Republic of Congo but information is scarce, as the government has blocked all phone and internet use in the country. President Denis Sassou Nguesso is widely expected to win another term in office.

The Republic of Congo held elections Sunday cut off from the world.

Hours before the vote, the government of the Central African nation called on phone and Internet carriers to shut down service for 48 hours.

Phone, Internet blackout

Amnesty International denounces the move.

“Shutting down communication networks is unjustified and it’s an attack on media freedom. Authorities must ensure that everyone is able to carry out its work without fear, without harassment,” said Illaria Allegrozzi.

Despite the ban, the coordinator for Congo’s opposition coalition was able to send out tweets Monday, and retweeted video of people reading election results outside a polling station.

Online communications were blocked last year during protests against a constitutional referendum to change presidential age and term limits. That referendum, which passed with 92 percent of votes, allowed Denis Sassou Nguesso to run again after 32 years in power.

Alternative methods

Uganda employed a similar blackout strategy during polls last month – blocking social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook as votes were cast and tallied, though people used VPN access to get around the ban. Official results showed another of Africa’s longtime presidents, Yoweri Museveni, winning another term.

The Congo government says the current blackout is to prevent illegal announcement of election results.

A man cast his ballot at a polling station, in Brazzaville, Congo. Republic of Congo's president, who has ruled the Central African country for more than 30 years, March 20, 2016.

A man cast his ballot at a polling station, in Brazzaville, Congo. Republic of Congo’s president, who has ruled the Central African country for more than 30 years, March 20, 2016.

The main opposition coalition had created its own structure to tally the votes, claiming that the official electoral commission was biased in favor of the president.

Reuters news agency reports that late Sunday, police fired tear gas at a couple hundred opposition supporters assembled outside a polling station in the capital. Amnesty’s Allegozzi warned that this type of response will only “inflame an already tense situation.”

“So the use of force must be avoided and any use of force should be impartially investigated,” she stated.

The African Union sent observers to Brazzaville for Sunday’s vote, but the European Union did not, saying the conditions for a free and fair election had not been met.

 *Source VOA
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Congo orders telecoms shutdown during presidential vote
March 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Aaron Ross*

Congolese incumbent President Denis Sassou Nguesso (at lectern) holds a campaign rally ahead of Sunday's presidential election in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Roch Bouka

Congolese incumbent President Denis Sassou Nguesso (at lectern) holds a campaign rally ahead of Sunday’s presidential election in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Roch Bouka

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) – Congo Republic’s government has ordered the country’s two largest telecommunications providers to block all communication during a presidential election on Sunday for security reasons, a government source said on Saturday.

The decision will cause inconvenience and possible alarm in a country where many rely on cell phone communication and a prominent government critic said it would impede the work of election monitors.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso is expected to extend his long rule in the oil-producing nation by defeating eight opponents, including retired General Jean-Marie Mokoko who is seen as the strongest challenger.

Mokoko was summoned to the state security headquarters on Saturday as part of an ongoing security investigation, Charles Zacharie Bowao, the president of the opposition coalition that Mokoko belongs to, told Reuters.

“The Minister of the Interior indeed signed and sent a letter to … MTN Congo and Airtel Congo to tell them that the state wants them to cut off communication on March 20 and 21 for reasons of security and public tranquillity,” the government source told Reuters.

The move to block communications is unusual in the context of an election in Africa, though Uganda shut down Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp on the day of its presidential election in February.

“(The decision is bad because) there are other things to think about besides elections. Everything is being done so that the election is not transparent,” said Joe Washington, president of the Ebina Foundation, an activist group.

Sassou Nguesso has led Congo for 32 of the last 37 years and pushed through constitutional changes last October to remove term and age limits that would have prevented him from standing again.


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Meet the Colorado businessman who is running for president in Congo
March 17, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Alexandra Zavis*

Emmanuel N Weyi

Emmanuel N Weyi

On paper, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of Africa’s richest nations.

Its eastern hills are estimated to contain about $24 trillion worth of mineral deposits, including gold, diamonds, copper and cobalt. Its nearly 200 million acres of arable land could feed much of Africa, and the mighty Congo River holds the power to light up the continent.

Yet it remains one of the poorest, most hopeless and corrupt nations on Earth. More than two decades of conflict — fueled by an array of militias, some supported by the country’s eastern neighbors — have killed millions and caused the United Nations to label Congo the rape capital of the world.

Now a businessman in Denver is trying to convince donors and influencers that he can turn Congo around.

Emmanuel Weyi, who was born in the Central African nation and founded a fair-trade mining company with operations in four Congolese provinces, is running for president in elections slated for November.

It is unclear whether Weyi, who left Congo at 18, can rally significant support — or even whether the election will take place this year. The government’s opponents accuse President Joseph Kabila, a former taxi driver who succeeded his slain father as leader, of delaying tactics in an attempt to circumvent a two-term limit.

But Weyi, 56, says that peace and prosperity are within Congo’s grasp. What the country lacks, he told the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview, is good leadership. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

Why did a Colorado businessman decide to run for president in Congo?

The decision was in 2009. I was in the mining business, a company I co-founded, a renewable business. When I went home, when I saw what the country has become, the poverty, the misery, people going three or four days without eating anything, that’s really when I decided that the country needs a better leader, and I know I can do better.

Why are people living like this?

I believe the problem starts from the top. We have a very incompetent president, a very weak government. They don’t really understand what it takes to run a country.

That is why there are all those troubles in the eastern part of the Congo. Those bad guys, they know when a government is weak, and they take advantage.

The conflicts in the east go back years. How do you propose to bring peace to the region?

I’m going to propose two elements. The first one is as a government, to call on those countries that we border in the east — Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi — to sit down and create a treaty [so] that everybody is watching everybody’s back. If we have peace, if we help people do commerce on both sides, and they are paying taxes, everybody is winning.

The second one is an effective army. In Congo, what they do is they take young guys, they give them uniforms, they don’t pay them, they don’t give them accurate training. They just give them guns. We know that the army has to be trained, it has to be paid, it has to be housed, and you have to give them healthcare. Without those elements, I don’t think you’re going to have a good army. That’s why the bad guys are coming and doing all the bad things they do.

That will take money. How do you propose to get the resources?

We have more than 300 different minerals. So it’s a rich country.

Those minerals have often been used to line the pockets of corrupt officials and fund armed groups. How do you change that in a country that has become a poster child for the idea of the “resource curse.”

I don’t like that word, mineral curse or resource curse. The minerals are something that God gave to us and it’s a blessing. The only thing God didn’t send yet is a good leader.

I know people, before they started working for the government, they didn’t even own a bike. But now they own villas in the south of France.

My father was a banker. My mom was a businesswoman. So riches for me, it’s not something new. We had a chance to go live in Europe. I came to the United States. I started my business. Little by little, the business grew.

I took half of my company back home. I created good paying jobs. My sons went to college. They’re doing well. So there isn’t anything that I’m going to see for the first time and say, “let’s start stealing from the government.” No.

But how do you fight pervasive corruption?

There is no way you can eliminate corruption 100%. But first you pay people well. Second, you hold people accountable.

A former prime minister of Israel is going to prison because of what? Corruption. It doesn’t mean because we are in Israel, we are in the United States, there is no corruption. No, the difference is when you get caught, you are going to pay the price.

Second, if I know that every month, my paycheck is there, do you think I’m going to jeopardize my job by letting someone corrupt me?

In Congo, sometimes people go two or three months without getting paid. So, if you bring him 100, 200, 1,000 dollars, yes he’s going to take the money.

Questions have been raised about whether President Kabila will step aside. Do you think the elections will even take place?

Kabila knows that the constitution clearly says you have two terms. If he doesn’t respect the constitution, there will be pressure coming from the international community, so we know that he is going to step down.

Even if he does, do you think the vote will be fair?

It’s a good question. We are going to have everyone who can vote in a database, and everyone is going to have a biometric card. I’m not saying we’re going to have an election that is fraud free, but with technology, I’m expecting things to go well this time around.

Tell me about the people you are running against.

All of them, without exception, they worked for the government. [And] when they came to work for the government, they didn’t have what they have, so there is a real question of integrity.

I am the only one who can say every penny I have, I sweated for it, and all the taxes, every last cent, are paid. I never even cheated one penny out of the government.

Should your lack of political experience be of concern to voters?

I have never been in politics, but as a businessman I believe I am bringing more. Because as a businessman, I know how to create jobs.

Why should Congolese voters support someone who has lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years?

It’s a fair question. I have been going to Congo every year. I own land there. I have a home there. My parents are there. I have a company there. I know the country well. I am a tribal chief. Maybe as somebody who comes from outside, I can see things from a different angle. I can bring [solutions] they didn’t see.

*Source LA Times. Twitter: @alexzavis

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President Sassou Nguesso prepares for final stage of his constitutional coup: elections in the Republic of Congo
March 17, 2016 | 0 Comments

By *

The people may want change, but the government has made sure they won’t get it at the ballot box on 20 March.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso (right) will almost certainly extend his rule after Sunday’s elections. Credit: GCIS.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso (right) will almost certainly extend his rule after Sunday’s elections. Credit: GCIS.

When citizens of the Republic of Congo are called to the polls to elect the country’s next president on 20 March, turnout is likely to be low since most believe the results are foreordained.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled the Republic of Congo for all but five years since 1979, and is poised to extend his reign for at least another five. After seizing power in a 1979 coup, he ruled as a military dictator throughout the 1980s. Swept up in the “Third Wave of Democracy” that hit Africa as the Berlin Wall fell, Sassou Nguesso momentarily lost power in 1992 elections, but he reclaimed it following a brutal civil war in 1997 and has claimed victory in two fraudulent presidential elections since.

The 2016 presidential election was supposed to be different. Drafted by Sassou Nguesso’s personal lawyers in 2002, the constitution limits presidential terms to two and requires that candidates be no older than 70 years of age at the time of inauguration. Sassou Nguesso is now 73 and approaching the end of his second term.

In order to retain power beyond 2016 and maintain a veneer of legitimacy – however thin – Sassou Nguesso had to engineer a constitutional referendum.

“Preparing the ground”

The government advertised the constitutional referendum held in October 2015 as an act of democracy – an effort, in the words of the president, “to give voice directly to the people”. But in reality, the regime began its efforts to engineer the revision – “preparing the ground” as Congolese citizens describe it – in 2011, just two years after Sassou Nguesso won re-election previously.

This effort featured two components. First, the carrot. The regime signaled it would concede some amount of executive power in exchange for a third presidential term. This approach was undertaken by Sassou Nguesso’s longtime aides, chief among them Jean Claude Ibovi, in the pages of Brazzaville newspapers. The country requires a strong executive in the post-civil war period, the president’s champions argued, but conceded that its maturing democracy also needs a “real separation of powers between the executive and the legislature, so that ministers are responsible before parliament and not before the President of the Republic”. The regime also proposed reducing presidential terms from seven years to five.

Coupled with this carrot came the stick. If the opposition rejected the bargain, the regime made it clear that it was willing to employ violence. The strongest signal came in April 2013 with the launch of “Operation Smack of the Elders”. Between April and July, the government deported as many as 250,000 citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), often brutally. The government justified the operation with appeals to the crime rate, but the political opposition interpreted the violent campaign as a “show of force”.

Shortly thereafter, the regime moved against the press. After Elie Smith, a Cameroonian journalist who served as the lead anchor for Maurice Nguesso’s television station, announced his opposition to a constitutional referendum, he and his family were assaulted and deported. Sadio Morel Kanté, a Congolese citizen born to West African parents who reported the assault, was herself abused and deported to Mali. As many as ten other independent newspapers were forced to close. Meanwhile, once regarded as the “old gray lady” of Central Africa, La Semaine Africaine was pressured into adopting an obviously pro-regime editorial line.

The prospect of a constitutional referendum dominated Congolese political debate through late 2015. Sassou Nguesso, for his part, consistently refused to comment: “That is not the issue of the day,” he repeated when asked by the press corps. He sought to cultivate the appearance of disinterest, though few were fooled.

However, the president’s studied disinterest did buy him some time. After witnessing the Arab Spring in 2011 and the Burkinabé Revolution of October 2014, Sassou Nguesso was keenly aware that moments of popular frustration can easily coalesce into mass protests. By demurring for a time, Sassou Nguesso kept his options open; he could proceed with the referendum or, if Brazzaville’s political climate grew tense, change tack and anoint his son as his successor.

The referendum

On 22 September, Sassou Nguesso finally committed to the referendum. The timing of his announcement was strategic. It occurred just three days after the 11th African Games, held in Brazzaville, and after it had become clear that both President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda would brave international condemnation to secure third presidential terms as well. Indeed, Sassou Nguesso and Kagame moved forward in tandem.

Having committed himself to the vote, Sassou Nguesso moved quickly. The referendum was scheduled just five weeks later for 25 October. Congolese citizens responded angrily. On 27 September, only five days after the announcement, opposition leaders organised a protest of some 30,000 people, easily the largest since Sassou Nguesso’s return to power in 1997 and possibly larger than those that forced him to convene the National Conference in 1991 which had led to the elections a year later.

However, rather than suppressing protesters, Sassou Nguesso organised a “mega concert”, though it was ultimately boycotted even by headliner Roga Roga. Congo’s pro-democracy activists continued to coordinate via social media, and days later the hashtag #SassouFit emerged as the rallying cry, a clever phonetic play on ça suffit (“that’s enough”).

The opposition held a series of mass protests over the subsequent weeks, drawing thousands, and now, the regime responded brutally. One Pointe-Noire protest yielded more than 30 deaths, while the regime shut down SMS text messaging, limited internet access, and placed several opposition leaders under house arrest.

As repression intensified, the Congolese diaspora sought to attract international condemnation, hoping that Western governments would force Sassou Nguesso to abandon the “constitutional coup d’état”. On 20 October, protesters blocked traffic at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris during the evening commute and called upon the country’s former colonial master France to “assume its responsibilities”.

Less than a year earlier as the Burkinabé Revolution unfolded, French President François Hollande had proclaimed: “Wherever constitutional rules are abused, wherever freedom is violated, wherever democratic transitions of power are prevented, I declare here and now that citizens will always find in the Francophone world the support necessary to ensure that justice, rights, and democracy prevail.”

But by 21 October 2015, Hollande had radically changed his tone, saying: “In Congo, President Sassou Nguesso may consult his people. This is among his rights and the people must respond. Then, once the people have been consulted – and this goes for all heads of state around the planet – we must always be careful to unite, to respect, and to make peace.”

Sassou Nguesso’s propagandistic newspaper, Les Dépêches de Brazzaville, trumpeted Hollande’s announcement with an enthusiasm usually reserved for the president himself. Congolese citizens declared it a “knife to the back”. “By prostrating himself before Sassou Nguesso, François Hollande has weakened the word and the moral authority of France,” said one activist. Meanwhile, even French daily Le Monde, normally friendly to Hollande’s Socialist government, led with the headline “the African press denounces the complicit support of François Hollande to President Sassou Nguesso”. The outcry was so great that, on 22 October, the Élysée Palace issued a press release to reaffirm his previous proclamation of 2014.

Despite that slight reversal, for most Congolese citizens, this marked a moment of resignation, while for the government it was a moment of triumph. The referendum was held and, days later, it claimed that some 73% of eligible voters participated , with 92% endorsing the new constitution. In reality, most Brazzaville polling stations were deserted until late afternoon, when the regime began bussing in its few supporters – many of whom had reportedly been paid for their votes – to create the illusion of participation. The opposition had called for a boycott and the majority of Congolese citizens heeded the call.

Since reclaiming power in 1997, Sassou Nguesso has quietly accumulated one of the continent’s worst human rights records. As well as helping him extend his rule, the new constitution will prove useful in this regard too. In addition to forbidding extradition of Congolese citizens, the new constitution grants presidents lifetime immunity from prosecution. It even specifies the charge for transgressing these provisions: treason.

Hope for change?

With most Congolese citizens resigned to a Sassou Nguesso victory, the electoral campaign has proven far less turbulent than the referendum. Nevertheless, it currently features nine candidates: Sassou Nguesso, three candidates who comprise the “moderate opposition” and are likely funded by the regime, and five candidates who comprise the “radical opposition”.

The five “radical opposition” candidates claim membership in IDC-FROCAD, an umbrella alliance that organised the referendum boycott. Of these five, three – Guy Brice Parfait Kolélas, Claudine Munari, and André Okombi Salissa – have served as Sassou Nguesso ministers for a collective 29 years since 1997 and only resigned after the president chose to pursue the constitutional referendum. Regarded as “collaborators”, most Congolese citizens view the three with distrust, unworthy of their hopes for a better future.

The two other “radical opposition” candidates are General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Pascal Tsaty Mabiala. The latter has served as secretary-general of the opposition UPADS since 2006. Political heir to Pascal Lissouba, the only freely-elected president in Congo’s history, Tsaty Mabiala draws modest support from the southern regions of Niari, Bouenza, and Lékoumou but scant support elsewhere.

This leaves General Mokoko as Sassou Nguesso’s most credible opponent, and the one around whom the other candidates will coalesce if a unique “radical opposition” candidate emerges in the campaign’s final days. Mokoko remains among Congo’s few icons, one of the only national political figures whose reputation is largely unstained. Military chief-of-staff during the National Conference of 1991, General Mokoko ordered the military to protect the Conference’s sovereignty despite Sassou Nguesso’s orders to disband it. For this, he is regarded as a pivotal figure in Congo’s democratic transition of the early 1990s.

A native of Plateaux region in northern Congo, General Mokoko is also the only candidate who can credibly attract disaffected northerners – who would otherwise support Sassou Nguesso – and longstanding regime opponents in the south. Sassou Nguesso knows this, and in recent weeks General Mokoko has repeatedly been threatened with incarceration.

The 20 March election will be neither free nor fair. The “independent” electoral commission is filled with long-time Sassou Nguesso allies. On 26 February, the government refused entry to the head of the Amnesty International delegation, and there will be no election monitors from credible international organisations. And so, whatever the actual vote, Sassou Nguesso will claim victory, likely with around 80% of the vote and a turnout rate of 65%-75%.

Rather than through elections, Congolese citizens’ best hope for democratic change is a Burkinabé style revolution in which massive protests drove long-standing President Blaise Compaoré from power, with Mokoko the consensus choice afterwards. The regime knows this, and so the opposition will have to coordinate mass protests without the benefit of surprise, a factor that so often proves crucial to a revolution’s success. The majority of Congolese citizens want political change. But as things stand, it seems almost certain they will be deprived of it for at least another five years.

*Source African Arguments.Brett L. Carter is a fellow at the Centre for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Stanford University. As of August 2016, he will be an Assistant Professor at the School of International Relations, University of Southern California.

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AAI Conversations on Africa Seeks to Set Direction for the Next U.S. President
March 16, 2016 | 1 Comments
President & CEO of The Africa-America Institute Amini Kajunju

President & CEO of The Africa-America Institute Amini Kajunju

NEW YORK CITY – March 15, 2016 – As the U.S. presidential election gears up for the November election, AAI will host its next Conversations on Africa (COA) forum on April 21 on Capitol Hill, where congressional leaders, U.S. Government officials, policy experts and Members of the African Diplomatic Corps will take stock of the White House’s legacy on engagement with Africa and propose U.S.-Africa policy priorities for the next Administration.

The Conversation, Looking Ahead: Setting American Policy in Africa for the Next U.S. President”, will take place at Capitol Hill’s B338 Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

The two-term Obama Administration will come to a close in less than a year. The full-day Conversations on Africa offers a platform for reflections and panel discussions on the White House and the Congress’ strategy and engagement with sub-Saharan Africa.

The Obama Administration laid out overarching pillars for U.S.-Africa policy to: strengthen democratic institutions; spur economic growth, trade, and investment; advance peace and security; and promote opportunity and development.

The White House signature initiatives and high-level events include Power Africa, the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), and the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit with sitting African Heads of State in 2014. President Obama also became the first U.S. president to visit the African Union in Addis Ababa in 2015.

During President Obama’s tenure, U.S. Congress passed a 10-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the U.S.-Africa trade law, and the Electrify Africa Act, which aims to expand access to affordable and reliable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

“AAI’s Conversations on Africa forum offers an opportune time for us to look back and reflect on Obama Administration’s legacy on U.S.-Africa policy,” said AAI President Amini Kajunju. “It also is a time to identify what more needs to be accomplished before the end of the congressional session, and hear perspectives in moving forward on future Africa engagement from foreign policy advisors to the top presidential candidates.”

Moderated by Witney Schneidman, Senior Nonresident Fellow at The Brookings Institute, the panel“Africa: What Should the Remaining Priorities for the 114th Congress Be?”, with congressional staffers of the House and Senate Subcommittee on Africa, will review the Administration’s key priorities and give an update on progress to date. Staffers will share where Congress stands on proposed U.S.-Africa policy legislative bills.

The panel “Reflections: The Obama Administration’s Approach to Promoting Education in Africa”, moderated by The Honorable Vivian Lowery Derryck, President & CEO of The Bridges Institute, will offer insight into the White House’s focus on education. Confirmed panelists include Julie Hanson Swanson, Deputy Chief, Education Division, Bureau of Africa, USAID and Her Excellency Mathilde Mukantabana, Rwanda

The Honorable Reuben E. Brigety II, George Washington University’s Dean of Elliott School of International Affairs, will deliver a Fireside Chat on “Identifying Best Practices for U.S. Engagement in Africa” during the Policy Luncheon.

(L) Amini Kajunju and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma attend Africa-America Institute 60th Anniversary Awards Gala at New York Hilton on September 25, 2013 in New York City. (Sept. 24, 2013 - Source: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images North America)

(L) Amini Kajunju and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma attend Africa-America Institute 60th Anniversary Awards Gala at New York Hilton on September 25, 2013 in New York City.
(Sept. 24, 2013 – Source: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images North America)

Prior to taking the helm of the Elliot School, Ambassador Brigety was the U.S. representative to the African Union and U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. He also previously served as a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of African Affairs and in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, among other positions.

Carol Pineau, award-winning producer, writer, director and journalist will moderate what is expected to be a spirited panel “Beyond the Obama Administration: What Can We Expect for Africa?” with U.S. presidential candidate representatives. Candidate representatives will offer the presidential candidate’s perspective on U.S.-Africa policy and their vision for U.S. strategy for sub-Saharan Africa.

COA panels are still in formation and will be updated accordingly, leading up to the event.

*AAI .For more information, visit the Conversations on Africa event page

To RSVP to cover the event, please contact Shanta Bryant Gyan at email, or call (202) 412-4603.  

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Les Sapeurs of the Eastern Congo: sharp, stylish, subversive?
March 8, 2016 | 0 Comments

For the residents of Goma, the Amani Festival was an opportunity to both wind down and dress up.

by *

rsz_amani-matching-e1456312093356From the way they move to the rhythms of Nneka’s bombastic rock, it is hard to imagine that just a couple of years ago, the residents of Goma were left a little perplexed when a host of international bands descended on their hometown.

Back then, in February 2014, the Amani Festival was in its tentative first edition and the arrival of foreign musicians here in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was an unfamiliar sight. But two years on and the three-day celebration of music and dance has become a well-known and well-loved event.

This year’s edition, held from 12-14 February, gathered 34 artists from the neighbouring region and beyond to perform for festival goers who were able to pay the $1/day entrance fee. 33,000 people attended.

In an area better known for instability and violence, the Amani Festival was started to celebrate the town’s newfound stability. Amani means “peace” in Swahili, and as one attendee told African Arguments, “The Amani festival means that we have peace now”.

This has not been the case for most of the last twenty years, and the first festival had to be postponed as the M23 rebels swept across the region. But since the militia’s defeat in late-2012, Goma has been relatively stable.

The same cannot necessarily be said of the surrounding more rural areas where around70 militant groups still roam. But for those in town, Amani offers a welcome opportunity to forget about their troubles as they wave their hands to Ismaël Lo’s refrains or move to Werrason’s beats.

For the people of Goma, however, the event is not only about unwinding. It is also an opportunity to present themselves in the best light.

Many residents here enjoy dressing up when they go to church, and strolls through neighbourhoods afterwards often resemble catwalk fashion shows. But the festival brings dressing up to a whole new level.

amani-drummer-e1456312065734-768x561Against the grey volcanic backdrop of Goma, festival goers don vibrant colourful outfits and – in a subtle contest with Amani’s performers – try to draw attention away from the stage and to their flamboyant selves. And they are often successful, with their informal mixture of fashion parade and carnival sometimes as spectacular as the official show.

The inspiration for these outfits comes from a wide array of influences ranging from classic European fashion, to hip-hop and bling-bling, to traditional African clothing, to science-fiction films. Sometimes all of these inspirations are combined into a single ensemble. Visitors paint their faces with bright motifs and wear a vast array of accessories, while those arriving in groups often wear matching colours and patterns. These fashion aficionados find their treasures in second-hand markets, receive them from relatives in Europe and the US, or tailor them themselves.

Christoph, a festival attendee notes: “Les congolais aiment la sape”. “Sape” which both means “attire” in French and stands for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elégantes (Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People) is the Central African form of dandyism.

La sape is much more than just a passing trend. The phenomenon began under Belgium’s colonial rule, when the assimilated Congolese elite – the so-called évolués – dressed in elegant European clothing to distinguish themselves from their compatriots.

But since then, the meaning has significantly shifted, particularly under the long rule of Mobutu Sese Seko from 1965 to 1997, when the military dictator embarked on a programme of authenticité in which Western culture was denounced. Part of this programme entailed the invention of the abacost – an abbreviation of à bas le costume(“down with the suit”). This tieless shirt inspired by Chairman Mao’s suit became the national dress, and for much of Mobutu’s rule, certain Western-style outfits were banned. Defying this order by dressing up in sharp suits and ties thus became a symbol of resistance against the regime.

For many Congolese today, wearing extravagant clothing demonstrates dignity in a world of poverty. For the sapeurs, style is a religion and some take pride in spending their last cents on the latest fashion. But hidden in this apparent materialism, there is also an implicit political critique moulded for the Congo’s current concerns.

amani-mobutu-e1456312329682Under Mobutu, the musician and “pope of la sape” Papa Wemba refused to talk about politics and turned all his attention to rumba music and extravagant styles. Abstaining from politics was the only option for critique available in the dictatorship. In a similar way today, the decision to refrain from politics and invest all one’s energy into fashion can be seen as the only logical way to respond to a political system in which ordinary people feel powerless. Or, as Justine, a visitor of the festival puts it, “Politics has betrayed us. We’re here to listen to music and forget the rest”.

Indeed, despite the country’s vast natural resources, poverty and unemployment remain high, and the unpopular President Joseph Kabila looks intent on staying in power beyond his constitutional two term limit which officially expires this year. And the devastating situation in Burundi just 200 km away is giving the people of Goma a frightening example of where such eagerness for power can lead.

In a peculiar reversal of la sape, the Amani festival also saw a number of visitors turn up dressed like Mobutu, wearing colourful abacosts and donning thick-framed glasses, a toque and walking stick. “Congo was important then”, explains one imitator his admiration for Mobutu’s style.

On the face of it, these Mobutu stylists add even further to the eccentricity, flamboyancy and spectacle of the Amani Festival. But as with other Congolese fashions, there may be another sharp political critique lying beneath the surface – in a widespread sense of powerlessness and disaffection with the current situation, some Congolese may be seeing the current situation as so helpless that they forget about the destructive sides of Mobutu’s regime and only remember his few positives.

*Source African Arguments.Alex Kopp is a freelance journalist based in Bukavu, DRC.Photo credits: Alex Kopp

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Nigerian killed in Messi-Ronaldo row
March 8, 2016 | 0 Comments

-Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo row leads to stabbing death

Is Cristiano Ronaldo (left) better than Lionel Messi? The debate has divided many football fans for years

Is Cristiano Ronaldo (left) better than Lionel Messi? The debate has divided many football fans for years

A man was killed after arguing with a friend over whether Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo was the best footballer in the world.

Nigerian national Michael Chukwuma, 21, stabbed 34-year-old compatriot Obina Durumchukwu in a Mumbai suburb, Indian police said.

The incident took place following a party on Saturday night.

“They were discussing football players. One is a fan of Messi and the other was for Ronaldo,” a police inspector said.

“During the conversation a quarrel has taken place. The deceased threw a glass into the face of the accused person. The glass broke and caused small injuries.

“After that the accused took the broken glass and assaulted the deceased person who died due to heavy bleeding.”

Argentina international Messi, 28, is a five-time winner of the Ballon d’Or – the annual award given to the world’s best player by the governing body Fifa.

Portugal captain Ronaldo, 31, has won the accolade three times.


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A new road map for Power Africa
February 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Adva Saldinger *

A 500 watt solar system in a rural village in Uganda powers a home, drives a public broadcasting system, a barbershop and a video hall and generates new income for the business owner. Photo by: Sameer Halai / SunFunder / USAID

A 500 watt solar system in a rural village in Uganda powers a home, drives a public broadcasting system, a barbershop and a video hall and generates new income for the business owner. Photo by: Sameer Halai / SunFunder / USAID

An ambitious new road map released last week lays out how Power Africa, the United States government initiative to increase power generation capacity and access to electricity in Africa, will achieve its targets by 2030. The report outlines areas of new emphasis for the initiative, including a greater focus on energy access and on renewables.

And the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday unanimously passed the Electrify Africa Act, which codifies the work of the initiative and should ensure its longevity. The U.S. Senate passed the bill, which differs a bit from Power Africa goals — it sets targets at 50 million connections and 20,000 megawatts of generation, on Dec. 18 and it now awaits approval from President Barack Obama, which should be forthcoming.

In 2013 when it announced Power Africa, the U.S. committed $7 billion to tackle the challenge that more than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity. That initial commitment has leveraged about $43 billion dollars in pledges from public and private sector partners, according to the Power Africa Roadmap.

The initial goals were for Power Africa to increase installed power capacity by 30,000 megawatts and create 60 million new connections by 2030. To date, the 13 Power Africa projects that have reached financial close are expected to generate more than 4,300 megawatts of power, according to the road map.

It’s important to note, and Power Africa does so in the road map, that some of those projects were underway before the initiative launched. While they didn’t come about under the auspices of the program, they met other criteria, including U.S. government involvement and meeting environmental and social safeguards.

Power Africa spent its first year focused on grid-scale generation deals, but leaders of the initiative are now looking ahead to ambitious connections targets — Power Africa-supported projects have the potential to lead to more than a million direct connections — and making changes based on lessons already learned.

Generation and access goals, for example, are “actually two totally different things,” Andrew Herscowitz, Power Africa coordinator, told Devex. As a result, the road map lays out specific plans for each goal, and progress will be measured in actual connections.

“We’ve learned a ton,” Herscowitz said. “We don’t just trust everything people say at conferences. We focus on analysis and data.”

The road map

That knowledge has been poured into the road map, which has three main pillars: achieving the goal around generation; increasing the number of people with access; and driving regulatory and policy changes to improve investment opportunities and speed project timelines.

Power Africa is tracking projects in the Power Africa Tracking Tool, an app built for the initiative, that would total about 45,000 megawatts if the projects all came online, though the road map estimates that only between 18,000-21,000 megawatts will reach financial close by 2030.

In order to meet its 30,000 megawatt goal, Power Africa is looking for new deals, which are likely to support natural gas and utility-scale solar expansion. It will also work to improve efficiency at existing power plants.

The majority of projects in the pipeline, and certainly those that aren’t yet being tracked, are at an early stage in their development, so it seems natural that one of Power Africa’s focuses will be on early stage transaction support. Many project developers say it’s also where donors and development finance institutions are needed most.

Reaching the goal of extending access to 60 million people will take a mix of relying on old technology — expanding existing grids, and new — developing innovative off-grid solutions.

One interesting prediction in the road map is that 8 million to 10 million of the new connections will come through the currently underdeveloped microgrid segment of the market, though this raises questions about how to build the appropriate structures and frameworks for those projects to succeed.

Work on the third pillar aimed at building capacity and driving regulatory reforms may be able to help some of those issues. A number of Power Africa programs or partner programs are working to help countries create solid, transparent regulatory and policy environments to help them attract investment and structure good projects.

That capacity building can also help citizens get a fair deal — a single negotiated deal between a company and a government not only takes a long time but is unlikely to provide the country good value for money, in part because African government officials often lack expertise, said Jamie Fergusson, the chief investment officer and global sector lead for renewables, infrastructure and natural resources at the International Finance Corp.

South Africa sets an example

Examples of what’s working are quickly emerging. While in many ways South Africa may not be representative of the rest of the subcontinent, it has risen as an example of a success story, particularly in scaling up grid-connected solar projects.

It’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Program developed a clear structure and transparent bid process that has led to more than 2,000 megawatts of solar between 2011 and 2014 and cheaper bids over time.

SolarReserve, global developer of utility-scale solar power projects, has won several bids and built grid-connected solar projects in South Africa. The latest, a 100 megawatt project with 12-hour storage, is set to start construction in the next two months.

The company continue to bid on projects in South Africa because the government built a program that commercially makes sense, has political support at the highest levels and a committed team that carries out the work, is transparent and keeps its word, said Kevin Smith, CEO of SolarReserve.

While South Africa has some advantages — it’s size, local expertise, a strong banking system lower currency risks —other countries can learn from their example, he said. Governments need to put together commercial documentation that makes sense, provide clarity around the offtaker and how it works, needs to abide by international arbitration and devise a transparent and open bidding process that sticks to a set schedule, Smith added.

Working together

Since Power Africa was launched, a bevy of other organizations focused on electrifying the continent have emerged and the initiative has amassed some 120 partners, including the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Norwegian government and many private developers, financiers and foundations. Managing that many groups is not always easy.

Coordination amongst the donor and development finance institution community takes long, patient conversations, and some head banging, Ferguson said.

“There’s politics and good intent and different organizations with their own mandates,” he said. “It is not all perfectly coordinated. Lots of sensible people, but still those conversations have to be had.”

Herscowitz said he is proud of the initiative’s efforts, especially in bringing the various actors together. The level of coordination among the donor organizations is “unprecedented,” he said, citing the example of household solar, where Power Africa, the AfDB and the U.K. Department for International Development got together to discuss their work on in the space and decided to have DfID take the lead. That cooperation helped shape what U.K.’s Energy Africa initiative does, Herscowitz said.

There are organizations stepping up to lead on other issues as well, like the World Bank and AfDB on grid rollout, organizations like the U.S. Trade Development Agency on project preparation, and the IFC on grid-level solar.

With so many players, determining how each player slots in and where donor and DFI capital should be used is important.

The IFC’s Scaling Solar initiative, for example, emerged to fill a gap in helping to structure and simplify the process of developing grid-connected solar projects. The program developed a template process and document set to help a government run through a process determining how much solar they want on their grid, where it should go, if appropriate sites can be developed and how it could run a competitive process to identify an independent power producer.

“Scaling Solar is designed with collaboration in that donor and DFI ecosystem in mind,” Ferguson said.

Governments will need help paying for advisory work and in financing the projects themselves, which is where donors can step in. For example, in Zambia, the first country to sign on to Scaling Solar, DfID and Power Africa are helping pay for advisory costs.

Donor financing helped many of the rapidly expanding home solar companies get off the ground — one of the most exciting development to Herscowitz personally. Super efficient fans, irons and televisions are allowing off-grid customers to “live an on-grid life,” he said, which can change the market and impact the climate change discussion.

“Donors and public money is limited and precious and, I would argue, should be targeted where you can’t attract private capital — transmission lines, distribution companies, public utilities, all of those things that you can’t attract private capital for,” Ferguson said.

But every market where Power Africa is tracking deals has some role for the public sector to play — it’s role is to “bridge market imperfections,” test new models and get first-of-a-kind deals done, Herscowitz said.

How well Power Africa picks the places or types of projects it invests in and how that translates to achieving its goals will certainly be measured against the road map, which may well serve as a blueprint as the U.S. and it’s big coalition of partners work to push things along.

*Source Devex

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