Germany to Build Internment Camps for Sudanese Government

I’ve written about E.U. plans to cozy up to East African authoritarian regimes in exchange for these governments blocking migrant routes to the Mediterranean. Bad enough. But new revelations by the SPIEGEL are adding whole new levels of disgust to the story:

documents relating to the project indicate that Europe want to send cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants. The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has confirmed that action plan is binding, although no concrete decisions have yet been made regarding its implementation.

The German development agency GIZ is expected to coordinate the project. The organization, which is a government enterprise, has experience working with authoritarian countries. In Saudi Arabia, for example, German federal police are providing their Saudi colleagues with training in German high-tech border installations. The money for the training comes not directly from the federal budget but rather from GIZ. When it comes to questions of finance, the organization has become a vehicle the government can use to be less transparent, a government official confirms.

How can anyone, especially the German government, be so ignorant and/or cruel to provide a country whose president is charged with genocide with money, advice and technology for imprisoning people? Are we as Germans/Europeans/rich people really so afraid of those who are coming in search of a better life that we are willing to sacrifice our last inch of humanity in an attempt to keep them away?

There would, of course, be another way. They way I see it, there are two overlapping migration phenomena: a refugee crisis, with people fleeing from violence and terror and an economic migration crisis, which sees many young people look for opportunities abroad.

To a certain extend, European countries should indeed just throw money at the problem, just not the way they currently do. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tracks humanitarian appeals and funding. And the 2016 appeals have so far only been financed to the tune of 26 percent, falling short $10.9 billion. Filling this gap would go a long way to reduce the suffering of refugees, alleviating some of the pressure on migration routes.

But maybe even more importantly, the E.U. needs to overhaul its immigration procedures. As it stands now, it is practically impossible for most of the worlds population to apply for and attain a visa to lawfully migrate to an E.U. country. As thousands of boat people have demonstrated, many by loosing their lives, this is an ineffective and stupid way to manage migration.

Instead, the E.U. should introduce generous quotas for visa and allocate these based on points system similar to what Canada has done for years. Making available a legitimate, transparent and fair option for would-be migrants and refugees to attain legal status prior to arriving in Europe is the E.U.’s best bet to take the drama out of the current migrant crisis.

On a fundamental level, though, we as European citizens should reflect on our attitude towards migration more generally, especially given the continent’s historical experience with similar patterns in the past, especially during and after WWII. And we should contemplate the responsibility of our own economic and foreign policy decisions for the dynamics that push people out of their own societies and across the Mediterranean on dingy death traps.

It’s a Good Time to Be a Dictator Again

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There was a brief period of time when it looked like openly fraternizing with authoritarian rulers might go out of style, especially in Africa.

The Cold War’s end suddenly obviated the West’s need to prop up local allies — and Russia simply didn’t have the means anymore to do the same thing. The brutal civil wars of the 1990s and 2000s brought the deadly consequences of dictatorship to the fore, and a new crop of African rulers promised to usher in multi-party democracy.

In stark contrast to the situation in the Middle East, most African countries weren’t strategically significant. To top it all off, the Arab Spring discredited Western foreign policy in North Africa — specifically, the hemisphere’s dealings with the likes of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

Western governments promised to have seen the error of their ways and solemnly swore to really push for democracy in Africa, and without foul compromises this time around.

Well, those feelings were short-lived. With right-wing populists breathing down the necks of European governments due to the migrant crisis and defense companies in dire need of sales after the financial crisis massacred Western defense budgets, any autocrat who has something to offer is back in the game.

Read the rest on War is Boring!

Voter turnout and disillusionment in Sudan

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Over at African Arguments, James Copnall makes some important observations about the recent elections in Sudan:

The result everyone was waiting for did, however, come with a turnout figure few expected. 46% of the electorate marked their ballot papers, according to the National Elections Commission. This figure will be received with some scepticism.

SPLM-North’s Yassir Arman estimated the real number at no more than 15%, while even the African Union monitors called the turnout ‘low’. Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the monitoring team, said he thought 30-35% sounded about right, and certainly no more than 40%. Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, the legendary journalist who covered his first Sudanese election in 1953, also guessed the figure would be in the 30s.

The numbers matter. Bashir was certain to win, but large crowds of voters would have given greater legitimacy to his victory. Instead, there were widespread reports of low turnout and the polls had to be extended into a fourth day to encourage more people to vote.

Copnall goes on to estimate that not even all of the ruling parties official members could be bothered to vote. If so, this is a real problem for (reelected) President Bashir and the (largely military) leadership of the regime.

Sudan is in a deep economic crisis that has severely impacted the regime’s ability to spread wealth around, while simultaneously waging several civil wars. Instead of focussing on a political settlement and developing alternative income streams to oil rents, the regime has opted to seek a military solution to the various conflicts. This chicken has now come home to roost in a big way.

With its core base obviously disillusioned, it is more and more only military might and suppression that holds Bashir and his team in power. They will probably be able to sustain this for a while, maybe even several years, but not indefinitely.

Bashir probably knows this, which is why the Sudanese government has lobbied hard for debt relief with western governments. Hopefully this relief will only be granted after the regime has addressed some of the democratic deficiencies of the state.

Source: Sudan 2015: After the elections, time for new ideas – By James Copnall | African Arguments

Brookings on the limits of the new “Nile Agreement”

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Nice recap of the issues at hand.

The Khartoum declaration, which was signed by the heads of state of the three countries—Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Egypt), Omar al-Bashir (Sudan), and Halemariam Desalegn (Ethiopia), has been referred to  as a “Nile Agreement,” and one that helps resolve conflicts over the sharing of the waters of the Nile River. However, this view is misleading because the agreement, as far we know, only deals with the Blue Nile’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project (GERDP) and does not tackle the broader, still contentious issues of sharing of the Nile River waters among all riparian states. Thus, the new agreement does leave the conflict over the equitable, fair, and reasonable allocation and utilization of the waters of the Nile River unresolved.

[…]

Over the years, especially as the populations of the other countries of the Nile River Basin have increased, and these countries have developed the capacity to more effectively harvest the waters of the Nile River for national development, disagreements have arisen over the fact that Egypt has insisted that the water rights it acquired through the 1929 and 1959 agreements (collectively referred to as the Nile Waters Agreements) be honored and that no construction project be undertaken on the Nile River or any of its tributaries without prior approval from Cairo. In fact, various Egyptian leaders have threatened to go to war to protect these so-called “acquired rights.” Upstream riparian states such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia, have argued that they are not bound by these agreements because they were never parties to them.

The spectre of a “water war” is regularly bandied around the international media, but the possibility of it happening are actually really slim, both for military and political reasons. That is not to say that the issue of the Nile is not taken dead seriously by countries like Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. With all of the riparian states still in their economic infancy, this will remain a hot button issue for some time to come.

Source: The limits of the new “Nile Agreement” | Brookings Institution

Can gold save Sudan’s economy (and regime)?

The Sudan has many problems, among them several civil wars and a host of unstable neighbours. But the biggest issue, especially from the perspective of the authoritarian government under president Omar al Bashir, may be the tanking economy.

The trouble began in earnest when South Sudan reached its independence, taking a large share of Sudan’s oil reserves with it. Later, the countries almost went into a full-blown war over the transport fees that Sudan levies on the sole pipeline leading out of the South Sudanese oil fields and Khartoum had to reduce these rates as a result.

The consequences were bitter for Sudan: the country lost more than half of its government income and two-thirds of its foreign exchange earning exports. This contributed to a massive inflation of over 30 percent since 2012. The dire fiscal situation led to deep cuts in government spending, especially concerning fuel subsidies. As a result, the country experienced the biggest anti-regime protests since the last coup d’État more than twenty years ago.

Trying to turn the situation around, the Sudanese government started to look at its considerable and gravely underdeveloped gold reserves. Encouraged by rising gold prices on the world market after the financial crisis in 2008, Khartoum decided to make gold the new oil.

This hope that gold can save the Sudanese economy and by extension the regime in Khartoum still persists:

The government is now consulting with international companies and contractors in an attempt to fill the hole left by lost oil revenues with gold exports.

Sudan’s Ministry of Minerals, which oversees all mining activity and licensing, has contracted BGS International, a company spun-off from the British Geological Survey, to help restructure its own state surveying organisation, the Geological Research Authority of Sudan (GRAS). […]

Gold is already rising in prominence in Sudan’s economic profile. In 2008 the sector represented just 1 percent of exports with a value of $112m, but this year gold will total more than $2bn in earnings, or over 40 percent of all exports. By contrast the value of oil exports has fallen to just more than 20 percent of its 2008 peak. [Gold: a glimmer of hope for Sudan’s economy – This is Africa]

But, especially compared to oil, gold has several disadvantages.

Artisanal mining and smuggling

As This is Africa rightly points out in the article linked above, a large part of the gold mining going on in Sudan happens in the informal, artisanal sector. Small-scale mining activities are hard to regulate and control, especially because many of them are located in areas which are contested between by armed groups.

As a result, the government has only limited direct income from the production and trade of the precious metal. A drive to bring more foreign investors and large-scale, formal mining operators into the country could change that, but this will take years. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold are produced without any government interaction and much of this is probably exported informally as well.

What is gold worth, anyway?

Even if the government is able to channel a substantial part of the gold revenues into official channels, there remains the question how big the resulting pie will be that the regime hopes to distribute to quell dissent and strengthen its support base.

At the time of South Sudan’s independence, the price of gold was near it’s all-time high of 1,900 Dollars per troy ounce. It reached these record heights as a result of the financial crisis of 2008, when private and institutional investors started looking at gold as an alternative to the volatile stocks market. Gold continued to trade at record levels throughout 2012, but went into free fall in 2013, losing more than 35 percent of its value. Today, a troy ounce trades at slightly above 1,200 Dollars.

This poses two problems for Sudan: Firstly, international mining companies are already looking at cost-cutting measures. Mines that were opened or expanded in recent years are getting closed or are experiencing lay-offs in Ghana and Burkina Faso. A continued fall of world market prices for gold will greatly reduce the likelihood that mining companies will invest in Sudan. Secondly, with gold now representing 40 percent of Sudan’s export value, the direct economic impact of falling gold prices for the country is immense.

Out of the frying pan into the fire

With betting on gold after its oil revenues plummeted, the regime in Khartoum may have made a big mistake. Almost certainly, it will not be able to realise the hopes it had for expanding the business with the precious metal in the near term. With oil production in South Sudan (and the corresponding transport fees) threatened by burgeoning civil war there, president Omar al Bashir will likely be pressured to enact further austerity measures. If the pattern of the last year holds, this will lead to further protests, seriously testing his hold on power.

Rich Links: Copper in Zambia, Gold in Darfur and more

As always, the best reads from around the ‘net:

Zambian copper project results in many disputes

An excellent article looks at the many controversies surrounding the Sentinel copper project in Zambia. Owner First Quantum Minerals is embroiled in land disputes, competing interpretation of mining and compensation law, as well as a governmental approach swaying between support and condemnation. Think Africa Press

A rare look at illegal oil refineries in Nigeria

The British Guardian provides insights into illegal refineries in the Niger Delta, where stolen crude oil is converted into Diesel under incredibly dangerous conditions for workers, communities and environment (including video). The Guardian

Detailed look at the future of East African oil

Many issues and challenges mentioned in this piece will sound familiar to observers of the East African oil business, but the article offers a nice and in-depth summary. Voice of America

Angola ends tax exemption of oil companies

The government has gazetted a law that applies consumption tax rates ranging from 5 to 10 per cent on activities of companies working in the oil sector. These were so far completely exempt from the tax that reaches rates of up to 30 per cent on luxury goods. This is Africa | Mining Review

Gold and violence in Darfur

A look at how government-supported gold mining activities contribute to increasing violence and a change of conflict dynamics in Darfur. The Guardian

Other stuff

  • Study forecasts continuing stagnation of the South African mining sector: African Mining Brief
  • The European Parliament has accepted a new Fishery treaty with Mauritania: Jeune Afrique
  • Uganda is looking to import Coal from Mozambique to develop local iron ore reserves: AllAfrica/New Vision
  • The European Union has lifted sanctions against Zimbabwe, allowing for diamond exports from its controversial Marange mine to resume: Mining Review
  • Thousands of people demonstrated against French mining giant Areva in the town of Arli, Niger: Jeune Afrique
  • Mozambique plans to finish its new natural gas legislation at the end of this year: Mining Review
  • Namibia plans to start exporting large quantities of cattle on the hoof to neighbour Angola: AllAfrica/New Era

Rich Links: Sudan fuel price protests and Congo’s oil law

The most important developments and most interesting reads around resource politics in Africa from around the internet:

End of fuel subsidy sparks violent protests in Sudan

In an attempt to limit government spending, the Sudanese fuel subsidy was cut in a surprise move, sending fuel prices at the pump sky-high. Prices almost doubled overnight, from $2.83 to $4.71. Protests erupted in the capital Khartoum and around the country, leading to at least 29 deaths. The demonstrations were said to be the largest of President Al Bashir’s 24 year rule. Schools were closed and the internet connection to parts of the country is cut off. Al Jazeera

Why hasn’t Botswana diversified out of Diamonds

Interesting Analysis on the question, why Botswana despite its sound political institutions and solid economic growth has so far not managed to move away from an extraction-based economy. Why Nations Fail

Congo’s oil law

The DRC’s proposed oil law would open the door to exploration in national parks (especially Virunga) and doesn’t provide any means to ensure transparency in the allocation of contracts and revenues. Think Africa Press

Ghana’s gold production likely to drop by 18%

Due to falling world market prices, gold producers are cutting their production in Africa’s second largest exporting country. This could have severe consequences for government revenues, with oil production already well below targets. The government has won elections mainly on the promise of investing heavily in power production and other infrastructure and planned on using funds from resource extraction to deliver on these promises. Mining Review