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Sibanye clears most illegal miners from gold shafts

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

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

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

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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Woolworths Holdings’ H1 profit falls on Australia arm write-down

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

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African retailer Woolworths Holdings Ltd posted a 15 percent fall in half-year profit on Thursday hurt by a hefty write-down charge on the value of its David Jones business in Australia and tough trading conditions in its home market and Australia.

Woolworths paid a big premium to bulk up in Australia via David Jones as part of Chief Executive Ion Moir’s ambitions to turn the firm into a leading southern hemisphere retailer, but the delayed execution of certain initiatives aimed at transforming David Jones is threatening that ambition.

“A challenging market, along with some mistakes in the implementation of new systems and ranges, has had an impact on our clothing businesses both in South Africa and Australia,” Moir said in a statement.

Australia has recorded soft retail sales growth for months as cut-throat competition, relentless price discounts and online competition sap demand for brick-and-mortar shopping.

While in South Africa retailers have struggled to grow earnings as weak economic growth and clothing markdowns by competitors hit sales.

Woolworths, which sells groceries, food and homeware, said headline earnings per share (HEPS) fell to 206.3 South African cents in the six months to Dec. 24, from 242.6 cents a year earlier, while earnings per share turned into a loss of 505.9 cents on the David Jones impairment.

Woolworths booked a non-cash impairment charge of A$712.5 million ($556.04 million) against the carrying value of David Jones as a result of the cyclical downturn and structural changes that have hurt performance across the Australian retail sector.

The retailer, which paid 21.4 billion rand ($1.84 billion) for David Jones in 2014, said the impact of these changes have been exacerbated by poor or delayed execution in certain key initiatives in David Jones.

David Jones sales were 3.3 percent lower on a comparable basis, while comparable store sales were 3.4 percent lower in Woolworths South Africa, hurt by underperformance in Woolworths Fashion, Beauty and Home.

The group declared an interim cash dividend of 108.5 cents, an 18.4 percent decrease on the prior period.

“Encouragingly, we are seeing signs of recovery now, with political change in South Africa expected to lead to increased consumer confidence,” Moir said.

South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was sworn in as head of state last Thursday after his scandal-plagued predecessor Jacob Zuma resigned on orders of the ruling African National Congress.

 

($1 = 1.2814 Australian dollars)

($1 = 11.6563 rand)

 

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

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In “tough but hopeful” budget, South Africa raises VAT for first time in 25 years

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy, Politics

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Africa’s new leadership announced on Wednesday it was taking the politically risky step of raising value-added tax for the first time in 25 years, part of efforts to cut the deficit and stabilise debt under new President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The government of Africa’s most industrialised country has to plug a revenue hole in its budget and repair its economy after nine years of mismanagement under the scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma.

The move to raise VAT to 15 percent from 14 starting in April is expected to generate an additional 23 billion rand ($2 billion) of revenue in 2018/19.

But with the VAT rate unchanged since 1993 the move was likely to prove unpopular ahead of a national election next year.

“This is a tough, but hopeful budget,” Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said, acknowledging the reality in his budget speech to parliament on Wednesday.

“We decided that increasing VAT was unavoidable if we are to maintain the integrity of our public finances.”

As Gigaba read his budget speech, the rand extended gains to 0.81 percent against the dollar, government bonds firmed and retail shares on the stock exchange fell.

Whatever cabinet Ramaphosa finally settles on will face an uphill battle to revitalise growth and create jobs in a nation still polarized by race and inequality more than two decades after the end of white-minority rule in 1994.

Much of the blame for the state of the economy has been laid at the door of Zuma and his allies. He was forced to step down as president this month by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), following a series of scandals. He has denied all wrongdoing.

But treasury officials sought to project a relatively optimistic outlook as they assessed economic prospects for the immediate future.

Gigaba said poor households would be cushioned against the VAT rate rise through a zero-rating of basic food items such as maize meal and beans, and welfare payments increases.

And the Treasury saw GDP growth at 1.5 percent this year, up from an estimated 1 percent last year, helped by a recovery in agriculture and improved investor sentiment.

South African debt faces the risk of a downgrade to “junk” by Moody’s after downgrades to sub-investment grade by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch last year. Moody’s said it would make a ratings decision soon after the budget announcement.

“We believe we have done enough to avoid a downgrade. We have taken the tough decisions. You can see our debt rates stabilising, you see our budget deficit improving,” Gigaba told a media briefing separately.

 

‘ASSAULT ON THE POOR’

But opposition leader and head of the Democratic Alliance party Mmusi Maimane said the budget meant the cost of living for poor people would rise sharply.

“This is a budget that is an assault against poor people. What we saw today is a consequence of nine years of mismanagement of the economy by the ANC.”

The ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters, which has six percent of the seats in parliament, boycotted the speech. It demanded that Gigaba, a Zuma ally, be removed.

The Treasury said South Africa faced a 48.2 billion rand revenue gap in the current 2017/18 fiscal year ending in March, down from an earlier estimate of 50.8 billion rand, and that the revenue shortfall was expected to continue into the medium term.

In a sign that it was mostly middle to high income earners who were targeted by the tax increases, the Treasury said the excise duty on luxury goods would be raised to 9 percent from 7 percent, among other taxes.

The budget deficit is expected to narrow to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020 from 4.3 percent in the 2017/18 fiscal year, while gross debt is seen narrowing to 56 percent of GDP in the 2020/21 fiscal year from nearly 60 percent seen in the October mid-term budget statement.

($1 = 11.6359 rand)

 

(By Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Mfuneko Toyana. Additional reporting by Wendell Roelf and Alexander Winning in Cape Town; Editing by James Macharia and Richard Balmforth)

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Nigerian state oil firm spent $5.8 bln on fuel imports since late 2017

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

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s state oil firm said on Tuesday it had spent $5.8 billion on fuel imports since late 2017, as it combats a fuel shortage that has left people queuing for hours at filling stations and hobbled an already-struggling economy.

“The corporation’s intervention became necessary following the inability of the major and independent marketers to import the product because of the high landing cost which made cost recovery and profitability difficult,” the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said in a statement.

The price of gasoline is a highly charged subject in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil exporter. President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016 raised the top gasoline price to 145 naira ($0.4603) per litre, a 67 percent hike, but did not remove a cap for fear of hurting people on low incomes.

The price cap makes it tough for many importers to profit from gasoline and NNPC has imported as much as 90 percent of the nation’s gasoline needs over the past year. Fuel shortages have gripped much of the country in the last few months.

An economic body that advises Nigeria’s government has been in discussion with the state oil company to determine whether gasoline is appropriately priced in the country, a state governor said last week.

The relatively cheaper cost of Nigerian fuel combined with crude oil price rises in the last few months mean smugglers can make more money selling fuel intended for the Nigerian market across borders, creating shortages in the West African giant.

Nigeria’s refining system means it is almost wholly reliant on imports for the 40 million litres per day of gasoline it consumes.

Efforts by Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, to end expensive subsidies in 2012 led to riots in the streets because the move would have doubled gasoline prices, angering citizens who see cheap pump prices as the only benefit from living in an oil-rich country

(Reporting by Paul Carsten, editing by David Evans)

 

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2017 Top African Finance Ministers

Comments (0) Africa, Economy, Politics

finance

Economic and finance ministries from West and East African have set the standard for 2017’s API. Ten countries from the region have mastered macroeconomic balance with growth rates above 5% that outpace their demographic growth. Burkina Faso topped the list with 53%, followed by Senegal with 52%, Tanzania with 48%, Ethiopia with 47%, Kenya with 46%, Rwanda with 45%, Niger and Guinea with 43%, Cote d’Ivoire with a 42% growth rate, and Togo with 41%.

The API was extended in 2017 to include all African countries, instead of only those in the CFA zone, or the central and west regions, as was the case in previous editions. API 2017 also saw the inclusion of a new category for evaluation: the digital financial infrastructure worth 40% of a country’s mark, along with endogenous factors 30%, and institutional and fiscal frames, worth 30%. Although growth was substantial last year, financial website Financial Afrik warns that unless African countries can maintain growth of over 10% for over a decade there will not be any major development in the country.

Leading the pack

Topping the list of Africa’s best finance ministers is Burkina Faso’s Minister of Economy, Finance and Development Rosine Sori-Coulibaly. In office since January 2016, Sori-Coulibaly has been working to reduce the weight of current expenditure in the state budget, and has also allowed the public greater access to small business loans. She is joined by Senegal’s Amadou Ba, who brought about an increased cycle of growth garnered by the country since 2014. Third on the list is Philip Mpango, the appointed minister of finance in Tanzania since 2015. Mpango continues to create structural reforms in the country to finance free education and complete the nationalization of precious stones.

Other ministers of note include Ethiopia’s Abraham Tekeste, who is in charge of the implementation of a five-year-plan in the country to display a GDP growth of 11% per year. Over this period, industrial growth is set at 24% per year. Minister of Finance in Kenya Henry K. Rotich is at the root of several in-depth reforms in the East African country. Advocating for diversification, Rotich faces the challenge of financing Kenya’s public external debt. Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Claver Gatete has distinguished himself in the rationalization of current expenditures, the implementation of innovative policies and the facilitation of procedures for economic operators.

Implementing policies

Rounding out the top ten is Niger’s Hassoumi Masaoudou, who has been minister of finance since 2016 and has the challenge of financing the Economic and Social Development Plan for Niger from 2017 to 2021. In a tense security environment Financial Afrik reports the first year of the plan has been quite successful. Guinea’s Malado Kaba has inherited several major infrastructure projects and is the first Guinean appointed minister of finance to obtain satisfactory results in regard to funding. Former head of the Ivorian Treasury, Cote d’Ivoire’s Adama Kone has reconciled the imperative of controlling the budget with the need for growth. The current cocoa crisis has not broken this balance and Ivorian fundamentals remain strong. Minister of Economy and Finance in Togo since 2015, Sani Yaya’s great challenge remains to restructure the country’s debt and to mobilize funds for development programs. In the two years as finance minister, Yaya’s results have awarded him respect.

Digital Financial Infrastructure

The API identifies four determinants that favor the construction of digital financial infrastructure in African countries. Innovation centers, the organization of public dialogues on financial and regulatory technologies, a national tool for digital verification of identity and the creation of a digital environment secure enough to experiment with the offer of innovative financial services. Both Kenya and Senegal scored highly in this area with both countries developing incubators of technological innovation, such as, spaces for co-creation between entrepreneurs and accelerators of enterprise. Also standing out in this area are Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Tanzania and Togo, thanks to the organization of public dialogues on the future of finance, financial regulation and inclusion.

According to Financial Afrik, Africa is improving in terms of economic and political governance, however in terms of transparency and institutional communication efforts must be made. Ministries of Economy and Finance are responsible for strengthening competitiveness between domestic and foreign companies, but at the same time, they need to ensure consumers are protected.    

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Zimbabwe’s Mugabe is gone, but political kow-towing still abounds

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Politics

HARARE (Reuters) – Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule may be over, but a culture of political fawning by the Zimbabwean state media and fear of those in authority still flourishes.

The Herald newspaper and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation – state and ruling ZANU-PF party mouthpieces – routinely heaped lavish praise on the 93-year-old Mugabe and his wife Grace in sycophantic articles and commentaries.

With the sudden change of guard, Zimbabwe’s official media is having a hard time shaking off old habits and is now tailoring its eulogies to fit Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s successor.

State radio intersperses programmes with martial music from the war of independence in honour of Mnangagwa’s war veteran allies and the army.

One morning talk show host spoke glowingly on Tuesday of seeing the presidential motorcade at 0645 GMT. This, he said, signalled the new leader was keeping his word to hit the ground running.

“The president is showing the way so get to work on time,” he said.

Mnangagwa, 75, a close Mugabe ally for several decades, took power after the military takeover on Nov. 15 following a succession battle that split the ruling ZANU-PF party.

“Comrade Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, (is) a true son of the soil who sacrificed his entire life to serving Zibmabwe as evidenced by the role he played in the liberation struggle as well as after independence up to this day. We are blessed to have you as our leader,” an advertisement by the ministry for women affairs, gender and community development gushed in the Herald.

 

PERSONALITY CULTS

Not all within the ruling party are comfortable with the trend though.

Justice Wadyajena, a Mnangagwa admirer and outspoken ZANU-PF parliamentarian, reminded his Twitter followers of the dangers of personality cults.

“Those falling all over each other pledging loyalty to President ED are just brutes playing meek,” Wadyajena wrote, referring to Mnangagwa by the initials of his first and middle names.

“If you really are principled, there’s no reason to bootlick, your conduct should speak for itself. We’ve seen the danger of personalizing governance and gatekeeping a NATIONAL FIGURE!!”

Mnangagwa, who served Mugabe loyally for 52 years, is expected to form a new cabinet this week. Zimbabweans are watching to see if he breaks with the past and names a broad-based government or selects figures from the Mugabe era’s old guard.

 

 

(By Emelia Sithole-Matarise. Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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New Reforms in Nigeria to Attract Foreign Investment

Comments (0) Africa, Politics

Oluyemi Osinbajo Nigeria

Foreign investment dropped in Nigeria with the fall of oil prices three years ago, but they have started to return thanks to reforms made recently by the Nigerian government. Earlier this year, Nigerian Vice President Oluyemi Osinbajo, acting for President Muhammadu Buhari during his medical leave, signed several executive orders aimed at improving business processes under the acting authority of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC). As part of a government bid to bring back foreign investment, changes to port procedures, business registration, and certificates for importing capital, have been declared.

Port Procedures

According to the Oxford Business Group, a key factor of the reforms was a move to tighten operations at Nigeria’s ports by reducing the number of agencies needed to clear cargo, creating single checkpoints for goods in transit, and banning non-official workers from the area. In the past 14 agencies were required to clear cargo at the port, but this has been reduced to seven. Now these seven agencies must act as a single task force, at a central location, and payments must be made through the Corporate Affairs Commission website (CAC). Only on-duty personnel will now be allowed in secure areas at ports and airports. The government hopes these reforms will quicken processes at entry points, and curb bribery and corruption.

Business Registration

Another way in which the reforms hope to dissuade corruption in the country is by making processes more transparent. Business registration will now be automated through the CAC website, via an online payment transfer, and all state agencies are required to publish a list of fees and conditions for business registration and license applications online. These agencies must also publish a set time-line for applicants, and if a response is not given in time, the application will be approved by default. In the past, new applications had to be made by visiting the country. These changes to the system mean investors can now register their business without having to come to Nigeria, saving both time and money.  

Electronic Certificates

According to Reuters, the central bank of Nigeria recently announced plans to issue electronic certificates for capital imported into the country, which will also save investors a lot of hassle. The electronic certificate will replace the hard copy issued previously, which investors or companies were required to get in just 24 hours, according to a 1995 law. The certificate is a declaration that the company has invested foreign currency in Nigeria and is necessary for the company to repatriate returns on those investments. Investors have complained in the past, that they have struggled to meet the one-day deadline.   

World Bank Doing Business Ranking

With a population of 180 million, Nigeria is still an attractive place for investment, however implementation and operating costs are high, and security within the county remains an issue. The country ranked 169th out of 190, in the 2017 World Bank ‘Doing Business’ survey, an improvement of one place from 2016, but a drop of 50 places in the last eight years. For starting a business, the country ranked 138th, for getting a construction permit, 174th, and for registering property, 182nd. The World Bank listed eight areas for improvement: starting a business, construction permits, getting electricity, getting credit, registering property, trading across borders, paying taxes, and the entry and exit of people across borders.  

Approval for Reforms

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) which said much more needed to be done to raise Africa’s biggest economy out of recession in March, has praised the new reforms. According to the Oxford Business Group, the IMF lauded Nigeria’s commitment to improving business transactions and investment inflows, and noted that the central bank’s foreign exchange trading window was a boon for investors. Investors needing to settle trade-related requirements in US dollars could now do so by phone, and at rates set by the buyers and sellers themselves, rather than by the bank or the market. The IMF said the moves would curb the market premium and push foreign reserve levels above the $30 billion mark. As dollars have been in short supply in Nigeria since the oil price drop, the country has had to look at new ways to attract foreign investment.

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Nigeria’s President continues to divide opinions

Comments (0) Africa, Politics

Muhammadu Buhari

When Muhammadu Buhari was elected as Nigerian President in March 2015; it was the culmination of a long and controversial involvement in Nigerian politics. While many have criticized his record on human rights, others have praised his seemingly incorruptible nature, and efforts to battle domestic terrorism. As recent health concerns have yet to be fully abated, the future of the President remains uncertain.

A history of political struggle

Muhammadu Buhari was born on December 17th 1942, in Daura, Katsina State, to a large family in which he was the 23rd child. By the age of 19, Buhari had joined the military, and within one year he had been sent to the UK for officer training. Buhari returned to Nigeria in 1963 and from here, until his election in 2015, he was rarely away from the political struggles within the country.

After serving the government in the Nigerian Civil War, Buhari was involved in the 1966 Counter Coup, before supporting the 1975 Coup that briefly led to him taking on nonmilitary roles within the new government.

But it is the 1983 Coup, that he led, which threw him into the limelight. Buhari took power from January 1984 until August 1985, in which time he led a fierce stamp down on political corruption, indiscipline and rising crime. While the measures were seen by many as necessary for economic reform, widespread human rights abuses were reported, and press freedom was severely curtailed.

Buhari’s brief stint in power came to an end in 1985, when he was overthrown and put into detention for 3 years. However, his ambitions as a leader saw him return to politics with a failed Presidential bid in 2003, followed by two more attempts at gaining democratic election in 2007 and 2011.

Legitimacy and the Future

Buhari finally succeeded in becoming the democratically elected President in March 2015, when Nigeria elected him to replace incumbent leader, Goodluck Jonathon. Buhari’s commitment to breaking the cycle of corruption within Nigerian politics was almost immediately displayed when he had former national security advisor, Sambo Dasuki, arrested for embezzling $2 billion worth of funds that were assigned for the battle with Boko Haram.

Several other senior government figures have also found themselves in jail, as Buhari looks to cut out the rot that he feels has hampered Nigerian progress for too long. However, this has echoes of similar moves that he made in his brief run of power in the 1980’s, and the world’s leaders are unlikely to be supportive of the other measures that Buhari employed at the time, including executions for drug users, and public floggings for people who did not line up at bus stops in an orderly fashion.

Thus far, none of the obvious abuses of the past have manifested themselves under Buhari’s new leadership, and there has been marked improvement in the security in Nigeria’s north-eastern region, which has borne the brunt of much of the nation’s Islamic extremism.

However, a recession hit Nigeria soon after Buhari’s electoral triumph, and Islamist forces pushed out of the north-east have begun to increase attacks within the nation’s oil rich, Niger Delta region. Buhari has also faced criticism over his recognition of women in government, as his cabinet is only 16% female, compared with the previous regime’s 31%.

Major concerns over Buhari’s health

Most recently, there have been major concerns over Buhari’s health, and whether he would be capable of continuing in power. In January of this year, Buhari traveled to the UK for treatment on an unspecified condition, and remained there for 7 weeks, before returning to Nigeria in March. Buhari then returned to London for more treatment on May 7th, and thus far has not gone back to his nation.

Although his wife has assured concerned Nigerians that he is recovering well, there is a growing demand in Nigeria for him to be declared unfit, and while vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, has been in control during Buhari’s absence, there are several other potential leaders looking for their chance to take the top post.

Buhari is a man who has fought in wars, coups and survived an assassination attempt in 2014; so regardless of ones opinion on his policies, it cannot be said that he is easily broken. The future of his leadership looks uncertain, but if he is physically capable, then we can be assured he is likely to do his utmost to retain his position.

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Shuffling the Deck: Saudi Arabia favors new minds over lifetime politicians

Comments (0) Featured, Middle East, Politics

Amidst a global re-shuffling of political office and norms, Saudi Arabia has appointed a new Minister of Finance. Mohammed Al-Jadaan has replaced Ibrahim Al-Assaf, who worked within the ministry for the previous two decades before being appointed its top position. Al-Jadaan is seen as a breath of fresh air for the Saudi Arabian economy, bringing with him an outsider’s view, free from the restrainst associated with career politicians. While Al-Jadaan has vast experience with trade policies and restrictions from his time at Capital Markets Authority, this will be his first governmental ministry post.

Re-gilding of the government

A royal decree announcing the appointment of Al-Jadaan was issued earlier this month by King Salman, the leader of Saudia Arabia. Al-Assaf has been appointed Minister of State and has been made a Member of the Cabinet, moving his expertise from finance to a broader scope of affairs. Al-Jadaan was integrated in the 2015 opening of the Saudi market to foreign investments and is expected to ease existing barriers in an effort to attract more overseas capital. According to Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics, Al-Jadaan “already has policymaking experience having overseen the opening up of the Saudi Tadawul to foreign investors over the past couple of years,” which is expected to positively influence his role as Minister of Finance.

Al-Jadaan studied both Islamic law and Islamic economy at Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh. Before his appointment as the chairman of Capital Markets Authority, Al-Jadaan was a founding partner of the Al-Jadaan and Partners Law Firm. He was listed in Chambers and Partners as a leading lawyer in corporate/commercial law and banking/finance practice for a decade and is expected to bring this wealth of real-world experience into the Ministry of Finance.

Right Hand Man

King Salman has already been seen as a mover and a shaker, mixing up the tenured ministry heads with younger men from a variety of backgrounds. He has notably centralised power, and is making an effort to ensure those around him will remain loyal and share his vision for Saudia Arabia. Al-Jadaan is expected to assist the new King in his desire to diversify the Kingdom’s economy from largely hydrocarbon based to other industries such as financial services. His appointment coincides with first ever sovereign bond sale, an order reaching $67billion. Many are lauding this as a sign of the freer economy to come, but experts caution against overexuberance, pointing to the Kingdom’s recent history of austerity as a better indicator of what lies ahead.

A diversified economy is, of course, the long term goal, but Al-Jadaan has inherited more immediately pressing matters, chiefly alleviating current market conditions. Saudi Arabia has been running a deficit due to the low price of oil. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that without a significant increase in the price of oil matched with level demand, the current budget deficit will continue to grow and will exhaust foreign exchange reserves as early as 2020. This would be disastrous for Saudi Arabia.

The oil price crisis is the umbrella underwhich Al-Jadaan will operate. He will be a key player in on-going discussion with Iran as other OPEC members continue to lobby for a reduction in oil exports from the Kingdom. Iran and Saudi Arabia do not currently have private negotiations on this or any other topic, but if Al-Jadaan is able to reopen such talks, his aim will be to get as many concessions from Iran as possible.

Another piece in the puzzle of 2016

Al-Jadaan’s appointment is but one among many injections of new men into global governments. As the world shifts away from the previous decades of western democratic hegemony into uncharted territory, it will fall upon men like Al-Jadaan to find a new balance.

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