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Nigeria’s close call, Dar’s ports, Africa’s off-grid push, Senghor’s jewels. ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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October 24, 2023
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Africa

Africa
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Alexis Akwagyiram
Alexis Akwagyiram

Hi! Welcome to Semafor Africa where we’re marveling at Nigeria’s ability to dance on the brink of disaster without falling off the edge. Its government triumphed in a court appeal yesterday which, if it had lost, could’ve cost Africa’s biggest economy around a third of its dollar reserves. Nigeria had previously been adjudged to have broken a contract awarded to a company with no track record to build a gas processing plant that was never built.

It marks the culmination of a decade-long saga involving two Irish businessmen, alleged kickbacks and a secretive arbitration process. In the latter stages of the case it even emerged that Nigeria’s adversary claimed payments allegedly made to secure the contract were simultaneously both legal and illegal, as we reported here at Semafor Africa.

The case strikes me as having a deeper significance. Nigeria avoided a serious headache that would’ve exposed the depths of the country’s economic malaise. Dollars are already in short supply — so much so that the local currency is steadily weakening and recently passed the symbolic threshold of 1,000 naira to the dollar on the black market used by most households and businesses. The radical economic reforms imposed by President Bola Tinubu from the moment he was sworn in at the end of May at first seemed dynamic, then started to hurt ordinary Nigerians, and now seem reckless given the apparent absence of a plan to protect citizens from any potential negative outcomes. In the coming weeks we’ll report further on the impact of Nigeria’s currency crisis and efforts by businesses, consumers and Tinubu’s administration to deal with the country’s various economic challenges.

🟡 Also in today’s newsletter: clashes in eastern DRC raise questions about a truce with rebels, our weekly round up of technology news, and Senegal tries to safeguard the belongings of its first president.

Need To Know
Xinhua via Getty Images

🇹🇿 Tanzania has signed up Dubai’s state-owned DP World to lease and operate four of the 12 berths at the Dar es Salaam port for 30 years. The Tanzania Ports Authority’s director general said the deal will help reduce cargo clearance times and enable the port to process 130 vessels per month compared with 90 currently. DP World said it would invest $250 million over the next five years to upgrade the port. Dar es Salaam port is strategically important on the continent as it serves landlocked nations in East and southern Africa — including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Zambia.

🇳🇬 Nigeria’s government expects to receive $10 billion of inflows within weeks to help ease the foreign exchange crisis that has severely weakened the naira, according to its finance minister. Wale Edun, speaking at the Nigerian Economic Summit on Monday, said the government was implementing steps to boost foreign-exchange liquidity, including improving market transparency. The naira was exchanging at 1,000 against the dollar on the unofficial market on Oct. 20, signaling high demand for the greenback just a week after the central bank ended curbs on using dollars to buy dozens of imported items.

🇨🇩 Fresh clashes broke out in eastern DR Congo between pro-government forces and M23 rebels at the weekend, breaking a truce negotiated by East African leaders six months ago. Security sources said rebels had seized Kitshanga town, located at a crossroads in the Masisi region, about 80 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital Goma. The M23 rebel group seized the town in January, continuing capture of vast swathes of territory. The country’s army had said it was observing a ceasefire ordered by a regional mediator and had organized a press trip to the town on October 14, a week before the town fell back into rebel control.

🌍 More than 1,400 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa arrived at the Spanish-controlled Canary islands, over the weekend. Spain’s interior minister, who visited the islands off the coast of western Africa last week, attributed the increase in migrant numbers over recent months to political “destabilization in the Sahel”. The Canaries route has reportedly become more popular since the European Union began restricting arrivals through the Mediterranean route. Spain last week pledged a 50 million euro ($53 million) aid package to help the Canary Islands cope with the migration flow.

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Stat

The value of an arbitration award that Nigeria had been ordered to pay to a company — until that decision was overturned in a U.K. court yesterday. In 2017, the West African country was ordered to pay damages to P&ID, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, following the collapse of a gas project. That award against Nigeria was originally $6.6 billion, with the total rising to $11 billion due to ballooning interest. That decision was quashed by a judge at London’s High Court who ruled that P&ID’s award had been obtained by fraud. Nigerian officials have always contested the facts of the matter, insisting that contracts awarded to P&ID in the country’s oil and gas industry were obtained illegally, including through bribes allegedly paid to Nigerian government officials.

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Amindeh Blaise Atabong

Why Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis is now being fought in Washington

THE SCENE

Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon — On the evening of Oct. 4, two frightened-looking middle aged men in T-shirts were forced by armed men to sit on the ground in the middle of a village square in Guzang, in North West region of Cameroon, one of two main English-speaking regions in the predominantly Francophone Central African country.

The two men were alleged to have been spies for the national Francophone-led government. In a video seen by Semafor Africa, and shared widely on Cameroon social media in recent weeks, the men were lined up and executed by a firing squad in front of a small crowd of villagers. The execution has been claimed by the armed wing of the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGovC), a separatist group.

That moment of almost casual, coldblooded violence earlier this month is a dark reminder of one of Africa’s low profile but seemingly intractable armed conflicts taking place in Cameroon’s English-speaking North West and South West regions, which the separatists refer to as an independent state called Ambazonia.

THE NEWS

The battle has also moved to Washington DC’s K Street, infamous for its expensive lobbying firms. Houston-based separatist leader Chris Anu confirmed to Semafor Africa that, on behalf of the “Federal Republic of Ambazonia,” he had contracted the lobby firm Scribe Strategies, led by veteran Washington player Joseph Szlavik, in a bid to make their case to key Africa watchers on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations.

“La Republique du Cameroun [government of Cameroon] is in the habit of saying that it doesn’t know who to talk to in Ambazonia,” Anu said. “By hiring a lobbyist, we are saying to LRC that they now know who to talk to and how to reach us.” He said the separatists will be speaking with “one voice” in conducting future negotiations or referendum matters via the firm.

KNOW MORE

Cameroon’s armed separatist conflict has claimed the lives of over 6,000 people, displaced 630,000 internally and a further 88,000 as refugees to next-door Nigeria. Its roots lie in Europe’s imperial past. In 1884, Germany annexed swathes of independent kingdoms in Central Africa to form a colony it named Kamerun but lost it after World War I to Britain and France which partitioned the territory.

In the 1960s, some in the British territory wanted independence by forming their own state, and not by joining neighboring Nigeria or the already independent French Cameroun. However, they were not given that third option under a U.N.-organized referendum. This has bred frustration and secessionist agitations ever since. In 2016, protests against the imposition of French language officials in English-speaking schools and courts sparked protests and strike action by lawyers and teachers. But things turned violent the following year.

Read Amindeh’s View and Room for Disagreement.

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Evidence

Anyone who pays attention to global development goals or Africa specifically would, at some stage, have come across the statistic that more than 600 million Africans do not have access to power. One of the reasons that number seems to have been unchanged for some while now is that a lot of work is being done to expand access and increasingly by non-traditional grid buildouts. The World Energy Outlook 2023 report points to the number stabilizing this year.

The report expects Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Ghana and Senegal to reach or get very close to their targets of universal access. But it predicts the number of those without electricity access will continue to rise in many other African countries. One way that challenge will be overcome is that while utility debts and supply chain constraints have slowed investment in grid electricity access, “solar home systems sales rose to record levels in 2022 and contributed to half of the increase of people with access in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022.” Solar in the home is delivering power to more than 8% of households in sub-Saharan Africa that have access, it says.

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Tech Talk
Husk Power

Husk Power systems, a provider of solar mini grids in Africa, raised $103 million in a round of funding it says will be used to add 1,400 new mini grids. Investors in the company include ​​the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the French development finance agency Proparco, Shell Ventures, Swedfund and the Dutch government’s development bank FMO. Husk said two-thirds of the money raised will be invested in its Africa operations — it is present in Nigeria and Tanzania, in addition to India.

Airtel Africa expects its payments to Indian corporate parent Bharti Airtel to at least double over the next two financial years what was paid in the period that ended in March 2023. Airtel Africa said in a statement on Monday it paid $9.9 million to Bharti Airtel and its Dutch subsidiary Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands) for services “relating to finance, operations and corporate head office functions.” Airtel Africa’s latest financial report for the year ended June 30 showed a 4.8% increase in its Nigeria customers but the naira currency’s devaluation caused a foreign exchange loss of $471 million.

2Africa, the subsea internet cable project backed by a consortium led by Meta, is racing to go live this year as planned. Since making its first landing in Genoa, Italy in April 2022, the 45,000km cable has completed landings in Angola, Egypt and Kenya. But only in 11 out of 32 countries of the project’s span across Africa, Europe and the Middle East have cable landings been completed. Multiple landings have been completed in South Africa but work remains in progress, according to a map tracker of the project published by the consortium, and there will reportedly be two landings in Nigeria before the end of the year. The Meta-backed fiber optic cable project is one of two such undertakings by a big American company in Africa, the other being Google’s Equiano cable.

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Outro
Sophie Bassouls/Sygma via Getty Images

The Senegalese government is negotiating a deal to directly purchase items belonging to the country’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor. His possessions were due to be auctioned in France last Saturday before Senegal’s President Macky Sall directed his culture minister and the embassy in Paris to purchase the items, which include military medals, rings, bracelets, pendants and watches that were listed as part of the collection. The auctioneer said negotiations would be held over the coming weeks with state officials as they strive to reach an agreement. If an agreement is not reached, the auction will be rescheduled for December.

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— Yinka, Alexis, Alexander Onukwue, Martin Siele, and Muchira Gachenge

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