Friday, August 31, 2007

Watch this space...


"Industry Players Differ On Scrapping of NNPC" - allAfrica.com
"Nigerians abroad plan mega firm to run refineries, power plants" - Guardian Newspaper

There seems to be a lot happening on the Oil & Gas scene in Nigeria this week...


Reactions yesterday greeted Thursday's approval by the Federal Government for the unbundling of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) into five new organizations as industry players differ on what will be the place of the corporation between now and six month's time when the new policy will take effect.

However, the President of Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) has described it as a welcome development, noting that it will make the oil companies autonomous and quickens decision making.

But his National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) counterpart, Mr. Peter Akpattason, has called for further clarification on the whole issue in view of the fact that the law setting up the NNPC is yet to repealed.

He argued that it was controversial for the federal government to effect the changes based on a new law in place, when the old one has not been repealed.

Some believe this exercise will "take Nigeria nowhere because it will worsen the bureaucratic process in the industry" (former President, Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), Mr. Austin Avuru). Others believe that "commercialization of NNPC's activities will translate into more investments, more innovations and more profit" (Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, Public Affairs Division of NNPC).

Meanwhile...


NIGERIAN professionals abroad have offered to work with the Federal Government to realize its goal of a viable oil and gas and energy sector.

For a start, they have proposed to float a public quoted company with global outreach to set up 24 refineries and generate 50,000 megawatts into the national grid.

The professionals, who operate under Nigerians for Super Energy based in Houston, United States (U.S.) said that the country needed about $29 billion to have a functioning energy sector.

They suggested that the government should provide $15 billion of the funds while Super Energy and its partners would source for the balance.

Apart from working with the government to realize the twin-goals, the experts are collaborating with the National Union of Petrol and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) to ensure that the local people fully participate in the project.

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This seems like an extraordinary initiative these "Super Energy" folks are undertaking, an effective way for Nigerians in the Diaspora to make hands-on change in the oil industry. It would be nice to know a bit more about what they stand for and who exactly these individuals are, as we wouldn't want a situation where they end up simply being a front for the naija "big players" under the guise of being well-meaning Diasporans (i hate that term but couldn't think of anything else). Thoughts pls.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Design a Uniform, Shape a School

A friend of the AfroBeat, Shirley, who works with the African Leadership Academy (ALA) (a world-class boarding school opening outside Johannesburg next year), wanted us to pass this along.

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At ALA, our aim is to develop a new generation of African Leaders. One of the core elements of our philosophy is that young people can (and will!) change the world. As a result of this, we are selecting a design for our school uniform by organizing a pan-African competition open to students and schools from all over Africa. By doing this, we're living our belief that young people can be given great opportunities for impact and trusted to deliver on them.

The competition will be judged by a panel of internationally-renowned African fashion designers. As a Ghanaian who is a huge fan of several African designers, I'm excited by the opportunity to explore the potential of a new generation of designers, and I think this is something that might interest your readers.

There is more information on the competition on our website here: http://www.africanleadershipacademy.org/site/resources/press_center/news_articles/ALA_Launches_Uniform_Design_Competition.html

Below is the news item we've published as well.

ALA Launches Uniform Design Competition

Design a Uniform, Shape a School

On August 1st, ALA launched a pan-African competition to solicit designs for the Academy's inaugural school uniform. ALA believes in the power of young people to change the world, and that young leaders will transform Africa. By opening the uniform design competition to students, we are giving them the opportunity to impact the lives of thousands of these potential leaders from all across Africa. The competition is open to individual students or groups of students between the ages of 12 and 20 all across Africa. The best design will decided by an international panel which will include world-renowned African fashion designers, and the winner will be commemorated with a plaque at the Academy. The first round runs until the 15 th of November.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Nicolas Sarkozy's Africa

Achille Mbembe's commentary (thankfully translated by my former African Studies prof) is an insightful critique of Nicolas Sarkozy's (and extends to France's elite ruling class in general) skewed view/language regarding Africa. It is chilling to think that this is the man who will rule France possibly for the next 10 years. Mbembe asks some thought-provoking questions such as: What credibility can we afford such gloomy words that portray Africans as fundamentally traumatized beings incapable of acting on their own behalf and in their own recognized interests? How is it possible to come to promise us a fanciful Eurafrica without even mentioning the internal efforts to build a unitary African economic framework? But the article is rather long so keep in mind that the excerpts below only make up about a quarter of the whole commentary.

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Nicolas Sarkozy's Africa - by Achille Mbembe

If they'd had the chance, the majority of French-speaking Africans would have no doubt voted against Nicolas Sarkozy at the last French presidential elections...a high price for his attitude to immigration when he was Jacques Chirac's Minister of the Interior, his alleged collusion with the racist extreme right-wing and his role in sparking the riots in France's deprived suburbs in 2005.

Violation by language
On his first tour of sub-Saharan Africa, he thus arrived in Dakar preceded by a terribly negative reputation: that of a hyper-active and dangerous politician, cynical and brutal, power-crazy, who doesn't listen, speaks his mind and more, doesn't skimp on the means and who, with regard to Africa and its people, shows nothing but condescension and contempt.


Regression
For those who expect nothing from France, the words pronounced at the University of Dakar were nonetheless highly revealing. Indeed, the speech written by Henri Guaino (special advisor) and delivered by Nicolas Sarkozy in the Senegalese capital offer an excellent illumination into the power to harm - conscious or unconscious, passive or active - which, over the next ten years, might well arise from the paternalistic and hackneyed vision that some of the new French ruling elite (on both the left and right) continue to project onto a continent which has nonetheless constantly undergone radical changes, especially during the second half of the 20th century.

The new French president's speech shows how, trapped in a frivolous and exotic vision of the continent, the new French ruling elites claim to shed light on realities that they consider their worst fears or their fantasies (race) but which, in reality, they know nothing about. To address "the elite of African youth", then, Henri Guaino contented himself to lifting, almost word for word, passages from the chapter Hegel devotes to Africa in his work Reason in History, which I again, after many others, recently criticized in my book On the Postcolony.
According to Hegel, Africa is a land of unchanging substance and dazzling disorder, the joyful and tragic country in Creation. Black people, as we see them today, are as they have always been. In the immense energy of the natural arbitrariness that dominates them, neither the moral moment, nor ideas of freedom, justice and progress have any place or particular status. Whoever wants to discover the most appalling manifestations of human nature can find them in Africa. Strictly speaking, this part of the world has no history. What we understand, in short, going by the name of Africa, is an ahistoric, undeveloped world, entirely prisoner of its natural spirit and whose place remains on the threshold of universal history.
The new French elites do not believe anything different. They share this Hegelian prejudice. They now consider that one can only address societies so deeply plunged into the night of childhood by speaking unguardedly, with a sort of virgin energy. And that is indeed what they have in mind when they now openly defend the idea of a nation no longer "hung-up" about its colonial past.
In their eyes, it is only possible to speak of Africa and to Africans by following the path of sense and reason in reverse. It doesn't matter if this is done so in a context in which each word spoken is so in a blanket of ignorance. It suffices to pile on the words, to employ a kind of verbal plethora, to advance in a suffocating wealth of images - all the things that give Nicolas Sarkozy's Dakar speech its abrupt, faltering, and blunt character.

How then, can one be surprised that his definition of the continent and its people is ultimately purely negative? Indeed, our ethno-philosopher president's "African man" is above all characterized either by what he hasn't got, what he isn't or by what he has never managed to achieve (the dialectic of lack and incompletion), or by his opposition to "modern man" (read "white man"), an opposition which apparently results from his irrational attachment to the kingdom of childhood, the world of night, to simple pleasures and a golden age that never existed.
For the rest, the new French ruling elite's Africa is essentially a rural, magical, phantom Africa, partly bucolic, partly nightmarish, inhabited by peasant folk, composed of a community of sufferers who have nothing in common other than their common position on the margins of history, prostrate as they are in a outer-world - that of sorcerers and griots, of magical beings who keep fountains, sing in rivers and hide in the trees, of the village dead and ancestors whose voices can be heard, of masks and forests full of symbols, of the clich├ęs that are so-called "African solidarity", "community spirit", "warmth" and respect for elders and chiefs.

Today, the cultural and intellectual prism through which the new French ruling elites consider Africa, judge it, or doll it out lessons isn't just obsolete. It leaves no place for the amicable relationships that would be a sign of freedom because coextensive with relationships of justice and respect. For the time being, when it comes to Africa, France simply lacks the moral credit that would allow it to speak with certitude and authority.
That is why Nicolas Sarkozy's Dakar speech will not be heard, and even less taken seriously by those he was supposed to be addressing.

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Achille Mbembe is a research professor in history and politics at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He has written extensively in African history and politics, and is the winner of the 2006 Bill Venter/Altron Award for his book On the Postcolony (University of California Press, 2001).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sierra Leone's REFUGEE ALL STARS

Here's a documentary worth checking out. The film follows a group of talented musicians who fled the civil war in their home country of Sierra Leone and met at a refugee camp in Guinea. Scheduled to be released on DVD on August 14th, the film has recently partnered with Netflix and every time a DVD of the film is purchased, $1 goes to ninemillion.org, a human rights campaign to raise funds for refugee children. So please spread the word...


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Sierra Leone's REFUGEE ALL STARS
(a documentary film by Banker White and Zach Niles)


The plight of the refugee in today's war-torn world is captured in the African proverb, "When two elephants are fighting, the grass will suffer." So it was in Sierra Leone from 1991-2002, where the government and various rebel factions carried out a brutal civil war in which the terrorizing of civilians, by killing, mutilation, rape, and forced conscription, was common practice on all sides. The war sent hundreds of thousands of ordinary Sierra Leoneans fleeing to refugee camps in the neighboring West African nation of the Republic of Guinea. That's where the remarkable documentary Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars begins.

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars are a band of six Sierra Leonean musicians who came together to form a band while living in a refugee camp in Guinea. Many of their family and friends were murdered in the war, leaving each of them with physical and emotional scars that may never heal. Despite the unimaginable horrors of civil war, they were saved and brought hope and happiness to their fellow refugees through their music.

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars chronicles the band over three years, from Guinean refugee camps back to war-ravaged Sierra Leone, where they realize the dream of recording their first studio album. And so begins a musical phenomenon that is making the world hear the voices of West Africa's refugees through the film Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars have been able to launch an international musical career, while drawing the accolades of Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Ice Cube (one of the executive producers of the film), and Joe Perry.

Through their unflinching spirit, their powerful stories of survival and their joyful music Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars celebrate the best that is in all of us. As violent conflicts multiply around the globe and the worldwide refugee crisis deepens, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars is a humanizing ode to all the innocent survivors of war whose brutal realities are often dismissed by surface mass media sound bytes.

www.refugeeallstars.org
www.myspace.com/refugeeallstarsfilm

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NINEMILLION.ORG
Nine million faces. Nine million names. Nine million stories. Nine million children are refugees right now. Ninemillion.org is a UN Refugee Agency led campaign to raise awareness and funds for education and sports programs for refugee youth, many of whom are forced to spend years of their young lives away from home with little hope of returning. What happens to them now, during their years as refugees, is up to all of us. Please spread the word.

Monday, August 6, 2007

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, NEARLY

We've been hearing a lot in the past two months about Yar'Adua needing to act quickly to establish the legitimacy of his government amidst the illegitimacy of the platform on which he won. However, the ND issues have not been at the forefront of these calls to action. Beyond the EFCC, and the fight against corruption that this Economist article highlights, there are the even more pertinent issues of the PEOPLE of the Niger Delta. Is the first step to address the corruption of these governors to ensure that the future pie is larger than it has been in the past (and can hopefully go towards alleviating the plight of the people)? Or do we need to be looking hard at what we can do to rectify the current appalling situation of the ND inhabitants, regardless of what's going on on the anti-corruption war front? On the other hand, do we need to be overhauling our constitution and fitting it to the current times, which call for the need to check the incessant corruption that thrives due to the constitutionally-protected autonomy enjoyed by state governors?

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MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, NEARLY - The Economist

After fraudulent elections a new and tainted president faces a mountain of problems


THERE must be few other countries on earth with such a glaring mismatch between their actual state and their extraordinary potential. Some call Nigeria Africa's slumbering giant. It more often behaves like the continent's suicidal maniac.

With 140m people, Africa's most populous country is the world's eighth-largest oil exporter. That has earned Nigeria about $223 billion in revenues over the past eight years alone. Yet so wasted has this windfall been that most Nigerians continue to live in squalor and poverty. The country ranks 159th out of 177 on the UN's human-development index. For all the energy resources that lie under Nigerians' feet, the fitful power supply dips at times to levels last seen when the country became independent nearly half a century ago.

The cause of all this is extravagant corruption and mismanagement, coupled with a political culture that owes more to the principles of gangsterism than to any textbook on democracy. April's elections were marked by violence and fraud on a scale that boggled the imagination even of jaded Nigerian voters. Many therefore regard their new president, Umaru Yar'Adua, who after months of dithering finally formed his cabinet last week, as tainted from the start.

And yet Mr Yar'Adua may yet achieve something in his four-year term. Although he was the principal beneficiary of all the ballot-rigging, his personal reputation, acquired as a state governor, is one of probity and competence. He has certainly been saying all the right things since the election about the evils of corruption and the need for transparency. And he has a receptive audience: voters sick of the looting of their country will back a leader who seems genuine about reform.

To make the most of these slim advantages, however, Mr Yar'Adua needs to act quickly. He could start by ensuring that the next election is less farcical than the last. This requires legislation to take the commission that organises elections, and the decision on who sits on it, out of the hands of the presidency and make it truly independent of the executive. The dismally partisan performance of the commission in April's election showed that it is now "independent" in name only.

Another aim must be to strengthen the anti-corruption drive that was begun by Mr Yar'Adua's predecessor as president, Olusegun Obasanjo. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which came to be used as a tool to discredit the government's opponents, must be allowed to go after anyone. It could start by prosecuting some of the former state governors, several of whom it has indicted.
Clean up the Delta, while you're about it

Cracking down on corruption could in turn help resolve the insurgency in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, which has shut down about 20% of the country's oil production. The Delta's problems do not stem from the federal government's miserliness towards local people, as is often claimed, but from the theft of the funds it sends the region. The budget of the main Delta state last year was a hefty $1.3 billion, all of this from the central government. Yet thanks to the avarice of local politicians, most was siphoned off before reaching the people, who remain some of Africa's poorest and sickest.

Mr Yar'Adua should get tough with the Delta governors to ensure that the money goes to its intended recipients. For example, he could channel more federal money into decentralised trusts and so bypass the state governors and their lackeys altogether. The Delta is where all Nigeria's plagues of political gangsterism, corruption and poverty converge. If Mr Yar'Adua can crack the Delta's woes, he may learn how to unpick some of the problems of the country as a whole.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Power Crisis

This article from the New York Times explains one of the reasons why Nigeria like so many other sub-Saharan African nations are performing poorly economically. Even though this article doesn't focus solely on Nigeria, the issue raised: power-blackouts, are reminiscent of the various problems experienced by Nigeria and Nigerians. Power blackouts are hardly a new phenomena in sub-Saharan Africa, where some homes can be without electricity months on end. The lack of such basic infrastructure has devastating consequences for Nigeria and the region as a whole.
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Toiling in the Dark: Africa's Power Crisis - Michael Wines



LUSAKA, Zambia — It is not that Jacob Mwale minds irrigating the 11 acres of land he farms just east of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. It is irrigating his 11 acres in the dead of night that angers him. Two or three times a week, the Mwale farm abruptly loses power, like the homes and businesses of some of Zambia’s 300,000 other electricity users. When the power returns, sometimes late in the evening, Mr. Mwale’s farmhands work overtime, watering the fields by moonlight. “If they shut down the whole day, I have to work nights, and pay extra,” Mr. Mwale, 39, grumbled. “It’s killing us.”

Power blackouts — “load shedding,” in utility jargon — are hardly novel in sub-Saharan Africa, where many electricity grids remain chewing-gum-and-baling-wire affairs. Even so, this year is different. Perhaps 25 of the 44 sub-Saharan nations face crippling electricity shortages, a power crisis that some experts call unprecedented.

The causes are manifold: strong economic growth in some places, economic collapse in others, war, poor planning, population booms, high oil prices and drought have combined to leave both industry and residents short of power when many need it most.


The implications go beyond candlelight suppers and extra blankets on beds. The lack of reliable power has already begun to hamper the region’s development, clipping more than 2 percent off the annual growth rates of the worst-hit African economies, according to the World Bank. Some nations, like Ghana, have tried to deal with their power crises by leasing huge teams of gas generators, producing emergency power at exorbitant rates until power plants can be built.
In Nigeria, Angola and some other nations, virtually all businesses and many residents run private generators to supplement faltering public service, saddling economies with added costs and worsening pollution.


The gravity of this year’s shortage is all the more apparent considering how little electricity sub-Saharan Africa has to begin with. Excluding South Africa, whose economy and power consumption dwarf other nations’, the region’s remaining 700 million citizens have access to roughly as much electricity as do the 38 million citizens of Poland.

Much goes to industry: a single aluminum smelter near Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, gobbles four times as much power as the entire rest of Mozambique. On average, the World Bank says, fewer than one in four sub-Saharan Africans are hooked to national electricity grids. Moreover, some grids are so poorly maintained that electricity suppliers get paid for as little as 60 percent of the power they generate. The rest is either stolen or lost in ill-maintained networks. For decades, the region had enough generating capacity — and few enough customers — to tolerate such waste. No more: sub-Saharan nations are adding about a thousand megawatts of generating capacity each year, World Bank experts say, but need up to twice that to keep pace with demand.

Some governments privatized chunks of their power industry in the early 1990s when free-market solutions to public-sector problems were in vogue, leaving it unclear who is ultimately responsible for providing power. Other governments, as in South Africa, failed to build power plants that experts warned were needed. The government monopoly Eskom, the world’s fourth-largest power utility, was advised in a 1998 report that it would run short of power in 2007, but planning and financing problems — not all within the utility’s control — stalled upgrades. The forecast was actually ptimistic: Eskom began running short in 2006.

Yet South Africa’s woes pale beside those of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Only 19 of 79 power plants work, the government said in April. Daily electricity output has plunged 60 percent from its peak, and blackouts cost the economy $1 billion a year, the Council for Renewable Energy in Nigeria says.

Poor management is but one problem. War has devastated the power grid in Congo, in Africa’s heart, and stalled plans to develop its vast hydroelectric potential. In Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and parts of West Africa, drought has shrunk rivers and slashed the generating capacity of hydroelectric dams. Drought in Ghana, for example, has crippled gold and aluminum production and set off blackouts in Togo and Benin, which buy power from Ghana.




Zambia, where power to customers like Mr. Mwale is rationed almost every day, is a template for such problems. Barely 20 percent of households are wired for power — only 3 percent in rural areas — but the Zambia Electricity Supply Company, known as Zesco, is signing up 10,000 new customers a year, said Christopher Nthala, the utility’s transmission director. Now Zambia is getting a push: a global commodities boom has jolted its moribund metals industry to life. Investors are building two smelters, and doubling the capacity of another, to handle the boom in copper, nickel and other metals, taxing the nation’s power supply.

None of that mollifies customers, who say blackouts are so common that service in much of Lusaka has become totally unreliable.“Every day — it’s either in the morning, when people are going to work or preparing to cook, or in the evening, the prime time when I’m tired and I need to go home and listen to the news and cook my supper,” said Bishop Peter Ndhlovu...Nighttime prayer meetings in his corrugated-roof chapel have been canceled. Bishop Ndhlovu and others say they lave lost refrigerators, televisions and DVD players to the utility’s blackouts and surges.

Zambia’s plan, like the plans of dozens of other nations, is to build its way out of the power crunch. Zesco plans $1.2 billion in generating upgrades and new capacity, financed mostly by China and India...The World Bank says its financing of power projects in sub-Saharan Africa is ballooning, from $250 million five years ago to $660 million last year to $1 billion in 2007.
But many plans remain just that. Issues like creditworthiness, lax regulation, domestic politics and the sheer difficulty of sending power over rundown grids to the customer make outside investments in power stations tougher than they appear, said Tore Horvei, the chief operating officer of South Africa's CIC Energy Corporation.

The best answer, most experts consulted agree, would be for nations to cooperate on regional power solutions. One or two large regional plants, they say, could supply power more cheaply and efficiently than dozens of smaller ones. But while that may be logical, Mr. Horvei said, “it’s very challenging in practice to do so.” “National pride and everything else comes in,” he added. There is an alternative: saving energy. Namibia plans a wind farm on its southern coast, while in South Africa, Eskom has handed out five million fluorescent bulbs and 140,000 insulating blankets for water heaters, and has paid industrial customers to switch off equipment during periods of high demand.