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Mali militia says it obtains U.S. military vehicle from Niger raid

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Military, Politics

DAKAR/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Malian militia said on Wednesday it had obtained a sport utility vehicle abandoned by U.S. special forces in neighboring Niger during a deadly ambush last October, and offered to return it to the United States.

Four U.S. special forces members and at least four Nigerien soldiers were killed in the raid in the western Niger village of Tongo Tongo by dozens of militants armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Islamic State’s West Africa affiliate claimed responsibility.

The ambush marked the first U.S. combat casualties in Niger. It sparked an international debate about America’s covert role tracking Islamist insurgents in the arid and thinly-populated Sahel region, south of the Sahara desert.

It also prompted discussion within the United States about the military tactics being used in remote battlefields. After the incident, President Donald Trump clashed publicly with a congresswoman who accused him of speaking insensitively to the pregnant widow of one of the American soldiers who was killed.

Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Africa Command, said it was investigating the statement made by MSA-GATIA, a Tuareg militia group in northern Mali, but that it could not confirm its claim to have found the vehicle.

In the statement, which was accompanied by a photo of a beat-up blue Toyota Landcruiser and two military-style rifles, MSA-GATIA said it captured the material from unidentified “armed bandits” on the Mali side of the border with Niger in fighting on March 11 and 12.

“The MSA-GATIA coalition proposes returning this material to American authorities by legal channels,” the statement said.

The militia, composed mainly of ethnic Tuaregs, has frequently clashed with jihadist groups whose influence is on the rise in northern and central Mali.

The jihadists have used Mali as a springboard for attacks into neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, including coordinated raids on the military headquarters and French embassy in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou earlier this month that killed eight people.

Those attacks have alarmed U.S. officials, who fear that the Sahel could become a new haven for Islamist militants and have deployed hundreds of American troops to train local forces and gather intelligence.

 

(Reporting By Aaron Ross and Phillip Stewart; Editing by Edward McAllister and Peter Graff)

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South Africa’s Q1 business confidence rises 11 points to 45

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Economy, Leaders, Politics

(Reuters) – South Africa’s business confidence rose in the first quarter by 11 points in a sign that the country’s economy is picking up pace, a survey showed on Wednesday.

The Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) business confidence index compiled by the Bureau for Economic Research rose to 45 points in the first quarter from 34 points in the fourth quarter but remained below the 50-mark separating the net positive and negative territories.

“First quarter confidence jump is driven more by the expectation that the recent (mainly) market-friendly political development will boost activity levels in future than an immediate improvement in the real economy,” chief economist at RMB Ettienne Le Roux said.

Business confidence was dented by policy uncertainty under the leadership of Jacob Zuma but economists say President Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as leader of the ruling African National Congress in December, and as president last month, has raised expectations that the country will make economic reforms.

South Africa’s economy grew more than expected at the end of last year as agriculture and trade recovered, data showed last Tuesday, boosting its chances of avoiding a potentially debilitating credit ratings downgrade.

Earlier in the month, The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SACCI) monthly business confidence index (BCI) fell to 98.9 in February from 99.7 in January as exports, imports and retail sales fell.

“It goes without saying that the current uncertainty around land reform needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. If allowed to linger, the latest rise in the RMB/BER BCI (Business Confidence Index) could easily fizzle out with little or even no enduring positive impact on business capital expenditure and the economy at large,” Le Roux added.

 

(Reporting by Rahul B and Justin George Varghese in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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Nigeria increases excise duties on tobacco and alcohol

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy, Health, Politics

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has approved an increase in excise duties on tobacco and alcoholic beverages, the finance ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The west African country, which has Africa’s biggest economy, fell into recession in 2016 largely due to low oil prices. It emerged from recession last year, mainly as a result of higher crude prices, and is trying to raise non-oil revenues.

In addition to a 20 percent tax on tobacco, the government will add an extra fixed tax per cigarette. A percentage tax on alcoholic beverages will be replaced by taxes of fixed amounts based on volume.

The finance ministry said the changes will take effect from June 4 this year.

The move would have “a dual benefit of raising the government’s fiscal revenues and reducing the health hazards associated with tobacco-related diseases and alcohol abuse,” it said in its statement.

The ministry said the new regime was in line with a directive from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc on the harmonisation of member-states’ legislation on excise duties.

Raising duties in Nigeria for alcohol could further hit consumer demand amid fragile growth.

Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), the world’s largest beer maker, expects its new $250 million brewery being built in Sagamu, Nigeria, to start production in the middle of this year, its head of Africa head has said.

 

(By Camillus Eboh and Chijioke Ohuocha. Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Peter Graff)

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IMF tells Ghana to adopt new revenue plan before April review

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy, Politics

ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghana must legislate new measures to boost revenues by at least 0.5 percent of gross domestic product before the IMF reviews a $918 million credit deal next month, the Fund said.

The West African nation must also outline plans to clean up the financial sector and show stronger commitment to cut debt, including limiting its next Eurobond for budget support to $500 million, IMF said in a document seen by Reuters.

Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta said last week the government planned to issue up to $2 billion of sovereign issuance by June to pay down debt that hit 68.7 percent of GDP last November and help finance the 2018 budget.

Ghana is seeking a combined fifth and sixth review of the IMF programme in early April, government and IMF sources told Reuters. The fifth review, originally scheduled for December, had delayed pending implementation of benchmark structural reforms.

“Parliament to adopt revenue measures equivalent to 0.5 percent of GDP (one billion cedis) by March 31 and do more later,” the Fund said. The document, dated Feb. 26, formed the basis for talks between an IMF staff mission and the government this week.

The mission left Accra on Thursday after discussing the actions required for the next review, as well as other reforms needed to exit the programme early next year. It is unclear if the talks were conclusive.

Ghana, which exports cocoa, gold and oil, is in its final year of the programme, designed to stabilise an economy dogged by high inflation and debt, and low growth.

The Fund said the government must publish by end of March an agreement between the Finance ministry and Bank of Ghana to reinforce zero financing of the budget deficit, a core condition of the programme.

The government of President Nana Akufo-Addo, inaugurated in January 2017 said it inherited $2.3 billion in accumulated debt owed to power utilities and has launched long-term bonds for repayment. It is also probing unpaid contract arrears of around $1.6 billion.

The IMF said while the country made progress, the central bank must adopt a fully market-based foreign exchange management policy and cut non-performing loans.

The government aims to cut the budget deficit to 4.5 percent of GDP in 2018 from a revised 6.3 percent while inflation is projected to fall to 8.9 percent. It sees GDP growth at 6.8 percent from a projected 7.9 percent in 2017.

 

(Reporting by Kwasi Kpodo; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Barclays Africa lifts profit, looks to Nigeria for growth

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Economy, Leaders, Politics

By Ed Stoddard

(Reuters) – Barclays Africa Group, South Africa’s No.2 lender by market value, plans to extend its reach throughout the continent, it said on Thursday after posting annual profit up nearly 4 percent.

Chief Executive Maria Ramos said the bank, which is changing its name back to South African brand Absa after its split from former parent Barclays, aims to enter Nigeria as it seeks to lift its share of the African market to 12 percent from 6 percent over the medium term.

Finance Director Jason Quinn told Reuters that Nigeria has been in its sights for some time.

“We would have to think carefully about how and when to enter the Nigerian market and that is what we are going to start doing,” he said.

“We have to decide how we enter, whether we acquire or build.”

The bank had earlier reported normalised diluted headline earnings per share — the primary measure of profit in South Africa, stripping out one-off items — up 3.9 pct at 1,837.7 cents for the year to Dec. 31, helped by a 20 percent drop in credit impairments.

Net interest income, a gauge of lending profitability, rose by 1 percent to 42.32 billion rand ($3.56 billion), while its net interest margin was unchanged at 4.95 percent.

Growth in the United States was the positive surprise in the second half, even as Europe, Japan and China grew at or above consensus expectations, the bank said.

This more than made up for slow economic expansion in its main markets, which account for about 80 percent of group income.

Barclays Africa and its rivals have struggled to increase lending as slowing economic growth in many African markets tempers demand from corporate clients while retail clients in its home South African market feel the squeeze from rising interest rates.

However, confidence in its domestic market has been buoyed by the Cyril Ramaphosa’s elevation to the South African presidency last month, pledging to revitalise the economy.

Barclays Africa said it expects growth in loans and deposits to improve in 2018 and forecast stronger loan growth from the rest of Africa. It also forecast stronger loan growth in corporate and investment banking in South Africa.

($1 = 11.9025 rand)

(Additional reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng in Johannesburg and Esha Vaish in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates and David Goodman)

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South Africa’s rand at 2-week low as global headwinds, Fed jitters kick-in

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Economy, Politics, US

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s rand slipped to its lowest in two weeks on Thursday, succumbing to month end demand for dollars by local firms as the increasing chances of higher interest rates in the United States lured bulls back into long-dollar positions.

At 0640 GMT the rand was 0.4 percent weaker at 11.8350 per dollar, its softest level since February 14, compared to an overnight close of 11.7875.

It was the first time in more than two weeks the rand closed above technical support around 11.80, after weakening for three consecutive sessions, prompting some technical selling as well as portfolio rebalancing by corporates offloading excess rands.

Analysts said the “Ramaphosa effect”, named for the rise in investor confidence and rally in local assets after new president Cyril Ramaphosa took over as chief of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December, was now giving way to global headwinds.

“With the cabinet reshuffle out of the way, our local assets will continue to reprice in line with the global macro environment,” said fixed income trader at Rand Merchant Bank Gordon Kerr in a note.

The dollar index remained near 5-week highs early on Thursday, still drawing support after the Federal Reserve’s new chief Jerome Powell struck an optimistic tone on the U.S. economy, raising bets of at least four rate hikes by the bank in 2018.

Stocks opened softer with the benchmark Top-40 index down 0.13 percent.

Bonds were also softer, with the yield on the benchmark paper due in 2026 up 4 basis points to 8.165 percent.

 

(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Ed Stoddard)

 

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South Africa economic confidence to get a lift after cabinet reshuffle.

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy, Leaders, Politics

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Confidence in South Africa’s economy will get a boost after Monday’s cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramaphosa returned trusted hands to crucial budget-related ministries, a Reuters poll showed on Thursday.

Seventeen of the 20 economists surveyed in the past three days said Monday’s reshuffle would have a significant positive impact on South Africa’s economic confidence this year.

One economist said it would be very significant, while the remaining two said it would have an insignificant impact.

In that same sample, 18 indicated they were optimistic the country’s business sector would play a bigger part in job creation in the next two years. One economist was very optimistic while the remaining one was pessimistic.

“Both business and consumer confidence is likely to be boosted by the election of Cyril Ramaphosa to President of the Republic and the cabinet reshuffle that (followed),” said Jeffrey Schultz, economist at BNP Paribas in Johannesburg.

South Africa’s business confidence rose for a third month in a row in January to its highest since late 2015, on expectations the new leadership of the ruling party would stabilise economic policy, a survey showed last month.

“President Ramaphosa clearly has his sights set on improving the domestic business climate and promoting more public-private sector participation,” said Schultz.

Gross domestic fixed investment – normally capital spending, such as buying new machinery for future production – fell into a recession in 2016, recovering only slightly early last year before hitting another slump in the second quarter.

The private sector makes up nearly two-thirds of the gross domestic fixed investment contribution to GDP, although it has played a smaller role in recent years, with government pushing infrastructure projects to raise jobs.

Schultz added that it would take some time for the trust between business and the government to be rebuilt, but it was clear the new government has realised it needs business sector buy-in to get growth and reduce unemployment.

Unemployment was at just over 20 percent a decade ago and now more than a quarter of South Africa’s labour force is jobless.

 

OLD TRUSTED HANDS BACK AT HELM

Ramaphosa appointed Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister on Monday and Pravin Gordhan as public enterprise minister. All but one of the 20 economists polled singled out these two National Executive appointments as most likely to inspire economic confidence.

Both Nene and Gordhan served as finance ministers in the last administration but were unceremoniously sacked by former President Jacob Zuma.

A poll last month suggested South Africa’s new leadership would need to be prudent and creative in managing the economy to avoid a credit rating downgrade, by raising taxes without suffocating a chance for growth. [ECILT/ZA]

Moody’s is due to publish a review later this month, which economists said in February would offer the country a reprieve.

 

 

(By Vuyani Ndaba; Editing by William Maclean)

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Gabon accuses France’s Veolia of polluting amid concession dispute

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LIBREVILLE (Reuters) – Gabon accused French environmental services group Veolia on Tuesday of widespread pollution at SEEG, the power and water utility it operates there, amid a growing dispute over the company’s concession.

Veolia, which has already threatened legal action after the government seized SEEG earlier this month and said it would cancel its concession, rejected the accusations.

Speaking to reporters in the capital Libreville, government spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie By Nze said an environmental inspection of power and water pumping stations discovered “nearly all” SEEG sites were contaminated by petroleum waste.

“This is a very serious situation since, at this stage, aside from the obvious environmental damage, no one knows the consequences this pollution could have had or could have on public health,” he said.

He said that on top of legal penalties of up to 500 million CFA francs ($946,110) for each polluted site, Gabon would force SEEG to shoulder the clean-up costs.

Responding to the accusations, Veolia stated that the water it distributed continued to conform to World Health Organization standards and Gabonese regulations.

“It is surprising that none of the inspections of the public authorities … ever highlighted environmental damage,” it said. “The SEEG is subject to regular audits by the Gabonese authorities, more than 10 in the last 10 years.”

Negotiations between the government and Veolia over the concession broke down in October, and authorities seized SEEG earlier this month, citing years of poor service quality.

Veolia in turn blamed the government for failing to live up to its investment obligations, and on Tuesday said the state owed SEEG over 29 billion CFA francs in consumption charges and unpaid value-added tax reimbursements.

Gabon spokesman Bilie by Nze said the government had called for an audit of its 13 billion CFA consumption bill.

He rejected accusations it had neglected SEEG and said the state had invested around 1 trillion CFA francs in the company, around three times more than Veolia.

 

($1 = 528.4800 CFA francs)

 

(Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; Additional reporting by Laurence Frost in Paris; Writing by Joe Bavier; editing by David Evans)

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Sibanye clears most illegal miners from gold shafts

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater arrested nearly 1,400 illegal miners at its South African gold shafts last year in a blitz the company says has mostly ended the practice at its mines.

Illegal gold mining has plagued South Africa for decades and it costs the government and the industry more than 20 billion rand ($1.7 billion) a year in lost sales, taxes and royalties, according to a Chamber of Mines report last year.

Sibanye Chief Executive Neal Froneman vowed last year to take the war to illegal miners and clear them from its shafts by January 2018 under the battle cry “Zero Zama”, after the Zulu term for illegal miners.

According to data provided to Reuters by Sibanye, it made 797 arrests in 2017 linked to illegal mining at its Cooke operations and 1,383 overall. The blitz peaked in June with more than 500 arrests, above the 443 arrests in 2016 as a whole.

While Sibanye fell short of its goal of stamping out illegal mining altogether, Sibanye’s head of security Nash Lutchman said based on available intelligence, “there are only about 40 to 50 illegal miners operating now, scattered across our Kloof and Driefontein operations”.

Froneman said last year the number of illegal miners in the company’s gold operations numbered “in the thousands”. Sibanye was the first South African gold miner to set itself a deadline to stop the practice.

Most zamas are undocumented immigrants from neighbouring countries who have long provided migrant labour for South Africa’s mines, but are now being laid off. The syndicates that support them and traffic the illegal metals are well-funded, well-established and highly dangerous, security experts say.

 

‘END OF STAGE ONE’

Sibanye’s drive was helped by the mothballing of its loss-making Cooke operation west of Johannesburg, which was the epicentre of illegal mining activity in its shafts.

Illegal miners gain access to working gold mines through bribery and other means, forcing companies to dispatch security teams to the shafts and to tighten entrance measures.

Sibanye spent 300 million rand last year and will spend another 300 million rand this year on access and biometric controls at the entry points to its gold mines.

“It still costs us so I don’t know if we will ever declare a victory but we are at the end of stage one,” Froneman told Reuters.

“My biggest concern about illegal mining is the corruption of our supervisors and our employees. That just sets a path for creating a rotten organisation. Everybody gets bribed and the integrity of the business just gets undermined,” he said.

Froneman admitted there was no guarantee illegal miners would not try to return, so the company needed to maintain its costly vigilance.

Security experts have said Sibanye would struggle to eradicate illegal mining completely but could reduce it by 90 percent.

Sibanye is the second South African gold producer to announce a milestone linked to illegal mining this month.

AngloGold Ashanti said it would spend up to $500 million to mechanise its Obuasi mine in Ghana.

The gold mine was rendered worthless when it was invaded by thousands of illegal miners. They were removed by the military last year and the South African company decided to revive the mine as an automated operation after a feasibility study.

($1 = 11.5400 rand)

 

(By Ed Stoddard;Editing by James Macharia and David Clarke)

 

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Kenya raises $2 bln Eurobond but concerns over deficit linger

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya shook off a downgrade and the loss of access to an IMF standby credit facility to raise a $2 billion dollar bond at competitive yields, but market participants said on Thursday it still needs a credible plan to tackle its fiscal deficit.

Kenya received $14 billion worth of bids. It took just $1 billion in a 10-year note with a yield of 7.25 percent, and another $1 billion in a 30-year tranche with a yield of 8.25 percent, Thomson Reuters news and market analysis service IFR reported.

“They were in line with the yield curve,” said a fixed income trader in Nairobi.

The eventual yield reflected a tightening of the initial pricing area by about 30 basis points. It was close to the comparative yields for other African sovereigns like Nigeria, the trader said.

Last week, credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Kenya’s debt rating to B2 from B1 while officials were in the middle of the bond roadshow abroad, angering the government.

More bad news emerged on Tuesday, after the International Monetary Fund said it had frozen Kenya’s access to a $1.5 billion standby facility last June, after failure to agree on fiscal consolidation and delay in completing a review.

“They (the government) were able to weather the knocks of the Moody’s downgrade and the IMF issue,” said Aly Khan Satchu, a Nairobi-based independent trader and analyst.

But he warned that the government needed to convince investors it has a plan to tackle the fiscal deficit.

“People are worried about debt-to-GDP ratios and they want to see a stronger language about how this will be addressed,” he said.

Kenya’s total debt is about 50 percent of GDP, up from 42 percent in 2013. It has borrowed locally and abroad to build infrastructure like a new railway line from Nairobi to the port of Mombasa.

The finance ministry has published a plan to lower its fiscal deficit to 7 percent of GDP at the end of this fiscal year in June, from 8.9 percent in 2016/17, and to less than 5 percent in three years’ time.

Satchu said it was not enough for investors. They want to see more targeted infrastructure investments that will ensure a return, and attempts to reign in a ballooning public service wage bill and other recurrent expenditure.

“We have got to walk the talk. We are not even talking the talk yet,” he said.

 

(By Duncan Miriri. Editing by Katharine Houreld and Toby Chopra)

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