Atta Mills, President of Ghana, is dead

The BBC reports:

Ghana’s President [John Atta Mills], who was suffering from throat cancer, has died in the capital, Accra.

A statement from his office said the 68-year-old died a few hours after being taken ill, but did not give details.

Vice President Dramani Mahama is due to be sworn in as the new president.

Ghana is scheduled to hold general elections later this year. With the passing of Mr. Mills it is unclear who will become the ruling party’s presidential candidate (more on this soon).

More on this here, here and here.

Introducing the African School of Economics

Dr. Leonard Wantchekon of Princeton has set the ball rolling on what is a promising project.

The [African School of Economics] ASE will meet the urgent need for an academic institution capable of generating the necessary human capital in Africa. Although the region has seen significant improvements in primary and secondary education in the past few decades there is still a pressing need for advanced education centers.  Through our PhD programs, we hope to provide the missing African voice in many Africa-related academic debates. Furthermore, through our Master in Business Administration (MBA), Master in Public Administration (MPA), Executive MBA and MPA (EMBA and EMPA), Master in Mathematics, Economics and Statistics (MMES), and Master in Development Studies (MDS) programs, we will provide the technical capacity that will enable more Africans to be hired into top management positions in development agencies and multinational corporations operating on the continent. This will foster sustainable hiring practices that will retain talent and experience in Africa.

The school will open its doors in 2014.

Check out an introductory video by Dr. Wantchekon here.

In which I write about elections and democratic consolidation..

I have a piece in the July issue of the Journal of Democracy emphasizing the need to focus on legislative elections just as much as presidential elections.

Reflecting the immense powers of the typical “big man” president on the Continent, many election watchers (academics, journalists and “democracy practitioners” alike) have tended to focus almost exclusively on the outcomes of presidential elections. I make the case that cleaning up the conduct of legislative elections is equally important in the quest for democratic consolidation in SSA.

More on this here.

A trillion is 1,000 billion.

“A global super-rich elite had at least $21 trillion (£13tn) hidden in secret tax havens by the end of 2010, according to a major study.

The figure is equivalent to the size of the US and Japanese economies combined.”

More on this here.

Kleptocracy and Debt: Vulture Funds to the Rescue?

I am currently working on a project on commodities in SSA and have been amazed both by the region’s mineral wealth and how much of it gets stolen by local elites in cahoots with large MNCs. It is one thing to read about corruption from 30,000 feet. Getting an up-close view is another matter. The examples of the two Congos are instructive…

Congo-Brazzaville is one of the top oil producers in Africa. It is also a dirt poor country, with over 70% of its people living below the poverty line. Like in Equatorial Guinea (and other petro-states in the region), the ruling cabal in Brazzaville has turned the country’s oil wealth into private property – the symbol of which is the president’s son’s extravagant expenditures in European capitals (For more details see below).

These details of the sleaze around oil revenues in Congo were unearthed, by among others, Elliot Associates, a “vulture fund.”

Across the river in the other Congo (Congo-Kinshasa aka DRC) another vulture fund is trying to get Kinshasa to pay up. The vulture fund, FG Hemisphere, paid $3.3m for the debt to a Bosnian state-owned company, and then went ahead and sued for $100m in the courts of Jersey to recover the debt. Recently the Privy Council in the UK, the final appeals court, ruled in favor of Kinshasa. For more on this see the Guardian (here, here and here), which has been following this particularly case closely.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a mineral wealth estimated to be around $24 trillion. It is also one of the least and poorest governed places on the planet. A recent report indicated that as much as 5 billion dollars in revenue from minerals has disappeared from the state coffers in the recent past.

Should Brazzaville and Kinshasa be forced to pay up?

Opinion over the utility of venture funds is divided. There are those that blame them for going after the poorest countries, asking for taxpayers to pay for their rulers’ (sometimes dead and gone, like Mobutu) largesse. But there area also those who contend that the best way of making rulers less willing to steal is by forcing them to pay up their debts – especially considering that debt forgiveness alone cannot end corruption.

Eric Joyce, writing in the Guardian puts it thus:

Campaigners have always maintained that if FGH is unable to collect the debt then the money will go instead to public works in the DRC. This is simply not true. The doctrine of “sovereign immunity” applies across the world and it is therefore not possible for any creditor, “vulture” or otherwise, to access funds that have a sovereign purpose – that is, public expenditure. Creditors can only target cash being used to trade.

With this in mind, perhaps the do-gooders campaigning for debt cancellation and recovery of stolen monies could team up with vulture funds. The latter have both the expertise and financial incentive to go after monies hidden in foreign bank accounts and shell companies registered in tax havens. Just a thought.

Quick hits

UPDATE:

The Atlantic has a nice piece on the legacy of Meles Zenawi, the ailing Ethiopian Premier.

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The African Union elected South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to head its executive arm, the AU Commission. Ms Dlamini-Zuma is a former wife of the polygamist South African President Jacob Zuma. I hope that with Pretoria’s success in having her elected to head the AU South Africa will take a more proactive role in leading the regional organization. As I have stated before, I think the organization needs “owners” in the form of diplomatically powerful custodians. Being the region’s biggest economy, South Africa is well placed to provide strong leadership to the African Union, if it wanted to.

Still on the AU Summit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been conspicuously absent, fueling speculation that he is critically ill. Rumors abound that Mr. Zenawi has left the country for a Belgian hospital – the Saint-Luc University Hospital in Brussels (where he is believed to be receiving treatment for an acute case of hematologic cancer). Some opposition groups have suggested that Mr. Zenawi may have died in hospital. The last time he was seen in public was on the 19th of June. Mr. Zenawi has led Ethiopia since 1991. His record has been a mixed bag of aggressive and ambitious development projects (with results, growth has averaged over 8.4% over the last ten years) and militarism and authoritarian tendencies that have seen many opposition members detained, exiled or killed.

And in Somalia, BloombergBusinessweek reports on the massive corruption in the Transitional Federal Government.

The nearly 200-page report lists numerous examples of money intended for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) going missing, saying that for every $10 received, $7 never made it into state coffers.

The report, written by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea and obtained by The Associated Press Monday, says government revenues aren’t even clear: The Ministry of Finance reported revenues of $72 million in fiscal year 2011, while the accountant general reported revenues of $55 million.

The Somali Government remains an unrepresentative shell, propped up by African Union forces and barely in control anywhere outside of Mogadishu. No elections are in sight (and rightly so. I have never been a fan of rushed post-conflict elections. See Liberia circa 1997 for details), instead the UN and the AU are presiding over a process in which Somali power brokers will put together a list of electors to appoint the next parliament. The current government’s mandate expires the 20th of August (next month).

Senegal’s Democracy Still Shaky

Macky Sall’s party, the Benno Bokk Yakaar (United in Hope) coalition won 119 of the 150 seats (79.3%) in the just-concluded legislative elections in Senegal. President Sall assumed office this year after defeating former President Abdoulaye Wade who had been in power for over 12 years. Mr. Wade’s party got a total of 12 seats (8%). In the last legislative elections (2007) Mr. Wade’s coalition won 87.3% of the seats. Turnout in Sunday’s poll was a paltry 37% – a 3 percentage point improvement from 2007 (According to the African Elections database).

President Sall’s big legislative win is a bad omen for democratic consolidation in Senegal – and a sign of a shaky party structure characterized by unstable cycling super-majorities (see here). One would have hoped for a more competitive showing by former President Wade’s PDS in order to provide a formidable check on the president. With these results Sall might also fall into the temptation of trying to legislate his opponents out of political contention just like Wade did, and succeeded for a while.

More on this here.