Energy in East Africa

Still on my ongoing project on commodities in Africa, I came across an interesting piece on prospecting for oil in East Africa in which an industry expert had this to say:

The success rate in this region is outstanding. To provide some context, oil and gas exploration typically has a success rate just 10-20%. That’s terrible when you think about. It can cost $50 million to sink an offshore well, and the chance of making a financial return could be as low as one in ten.

But East Coast African energy exploration stands out from the crowd because in all but a few cases they hit oil or gas. To be exact — the success rate has been 87%. A strike rate of close to 9 out of 10 is almost unheard of.

Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda have commercially viable oil reserves. Tanzania has gas and, together with Kenya, has stepped up offshore prospecting in the Indian ocean.

And it is not just foreign MNCs that are in on the game. Locals, in collaboration with foreign investors, are also getting a piece of the energy bonanza in East Africa. Business Daily, a Kenyan paper, recently profiled one George Kariithi, a businessman who started off as a marketing executive and has since built multiple companies in the wider region. His latest investment is in Kenya’s emerging coal sector.

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).

[youtube.com/watch?v=VpGU1hsuSpU&feature=player_embedded]

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.

Mining and Voting in the Congo

Elections in the DRC have come to be marked by a fire sale of state assets. A recent report by the UK parliament estimates that the government may have lost up to $5.5 b due to undervaluation of these state assets before sale.

No prizes for guessing where part of the difference in these sales go.

The whole situation is pretty stinky:

The IMF has asked the government to clarify several obscure contracts signed by Gécamines, which suggests that state assets have been sold for absurdly low prices…….. This would put the loss to the state at $870 mn.

The Chief Executive of Gécamines, Albert Yuma Mulimbi, has refused all requests, from the Mines Ministry to the IMF and others, to publish the controversial contracts, claiming that as a private company it is not obliged to, even though the state owns all its shares. The government has instructed Yuma, we understand, not to provide the information.

More on this here and here.

quick hits

Mau Mau veterans allowed to sue the UK government for atrocities committed during Kenya’s independence rebellion. The court might have just opened a pandora’s box for a whole lot of lawsuits.

Kim on the ongoing protests in Malawi. Kenya’s Daily Nation reports that at least 12 people have died in the protests over the last two days.

Pardhan on the limits of the NGO movement in global development.

Some cool graphics showing the cellular connection map of the US.

The US will, after all, be sending humanitarian aid to Al-Shabab controlled areas suffering the ongoing famine in Somalia. I hope this does not turn into a farcical repeat of Ethiopia in the 1980s. Back then food aid was used as a weapon of war by both government and Meles Zenawi’s rebel forces.

Lastly, remember Glencore? The firm that has been involved in not so clean mineral deals in the DRC? Well, they are now in South Sudan. I hope Juba doesn’t go this route. You can’t stay clean while playing with someone covered in mud.