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Business Africa
Business Africa
Africa Business News at 1830 GMT
Updated at 1900 GMT on Wednesday September 19th 2001

Poor land management proves expensive in Nigeria
Nigeria's land and forests are being lost or ruined at an alarming rate - and at a cost to the country of 5 billion dollars a year. That's according to expert Dr Muhtari Aminu-Kano - executive director of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation. He's been telling a meeting on the country's environment in the capital Abuja that much of the damage results from oil and gas extraction in the Niger Delta region. But illegal logging is also speeding deforestation and the southward advance of the Sahara desert. Hear Dr Aminu-Kano in the 1832 edition. 19/09/01.

Pfizer defends actions in Nigerian meningitis epidemic
The US drug manufacturer Pfizer has defended itself against a lawsuit alleging the company violated medical ethics while conducting a anti-meningitis drug study in Nigeria. A number of children died and others suffered serious injury such as brain damage during the trial, conducted at the time of a epidemic which claimed the lives of thousands of people. The drug, Trovan, is said to have been used on half of a group of 200 children selected by the drug company for the study -- the other half received a more established treatment. The company says the study was well conceived, well executed, saved lives and conducted with the approval of the Nigerian authorities and with family consent. 31/08/01.

Trade Ministers gear up for WTO talks
As the date of the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Doha Qatar looms ever closer, concern is growing that the member countries are not making enough progress on reaching a consensus on contentious issues. Ministers from the developed and developing world are meeting in Mexico to try and reach a pre-cooked agreement to secure the success of the Doha talks and some say the future of the WTO. 31/08/01.

Tanzania criticised over new air traffic control system
The British government is under pressure from the big international aid agencies, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to consider blocking an export licence for a 40 million dollar air traffic control system for Tanzania. The Fund and the Bank say Tanzania doesn't need the sophisticated system that the manufacturer, BAE systems has designed for it. One of their concerns is it incorporates a military capability. They also say it is inappropriate while Tanzania, one of the world's poorest countries, is receiving 100 million dollars debt relief on top of 1 billion dollars of general aid. The situation provides a dilemma for the British government which is being pulled in two directions. Should it try to keep Tanzania's debts to a minimum or support national businesses? 13.08.01

Executives suspended at public sector firms in DRC
In a sweeping shakeup intended to signal his commitment to economic reform the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila has suspended 250 executives at the country's public sector firms. The government said it took the action after an audit revealed gross mismanagement and it has forbidden the managers to leave the country until they can prove their hands are clean. The Democratic Republic of Congo saw its public sector plundered and debilitated during the regime of the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Executives have now been suspended at companies providing water, electricity and transport along with the copper and cobalt mining giant Gecamines. The team in charge of the audit said production levels at most of them had plunged over the last decade. Joseph Kabila who took over as president after his father was assassinated at the start of the year has stressed his commitment to economic rehabilitation of the country. 10.08.01

Nitel misses deadline to launch digital mobile phone service
Nigeria's three new digital mobile phone services were all meant to be up and running by today - but the state run company Nitel has missed the deadline. It's one of three operators to pay 285 million dollars for a GSM licence. Nitel is currently getting ready for privatisation and said its not ready for the mobile launch because its biggest investment priority has been to expand its backbone in order for other licencees to interconnect. The other two operators, Econet and Mobile Telecoms Networks or MTN launched their services this week in the hope of revolutionising Nigeria's communications system. It's Africa's largest and perhaps most neglected telephone market - at present there is just one fixed line for every 250 people. With more than 120 million people living in Nigeria the opportunities for mobile operators are huge. 10.08.01

Nigeria approves draft power regime
The Nigerian cabinet has approved a long-awaited draft of legislation to restructure the power sector. The legislation promises to break up NEPA - the state power company whose initials many Nigerians interpret to mean "Never Ever Power Again". Independent power suppliers, a new commission to regulate prices, and competition will be encouraged. The draft bill has won cabinet support just four month's ahead of the December deadline set by President Obasanjo for a significant improvement in Nigeria's power supply. 09/08/01

Gold companies bolster Tanzanian currency reserves
Tanzania has earned a reputation as one of Africa's rising stars - helped by substantial funding from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the aftermath of industrial policies which championned self-sufficiency and import substitution, it's attracted about ten billion dollars of foreign investment over the past decade. Of these, only one industrial sector is really focused on exports - and that's by necessity - the market for gold is international. Ashanti, Anglo and Barrick have all taken stakes in the country's emerging gold industry, becoming the first foreign investors to bring significant hard currency earnings into Tanzania. 09/08/01

Telekom privatisation likely to produce lower revenues
The controversial sale of South Africa's telecoms sector is being widely seen as a test of how far the country has come in reforming its public sector - and building the infrastructure needed for life as an international business player in 21st century. But it hasn't all gone smoothly - the listing of a stake in the state fixed line operator Telkom now looks likely to raise around US$625 million - little more than half the government's original estimate. 01/08/01

Oil producers in Nigeria woo local companies
Representatives of six global oil giants are meeting in Nigeria for talks aimed at increasing the role of local companies in oil projects in the country. The state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, or NNPC, says its existing joint venture agreements with foreign oil companies are outdated and need to be changed. However, far-reaching changes are likely to face opposition from the oil companies themselves. 01/08/01

Kenya tries to cap bank interest rates
Kenya's Government has moved to try and limit the amount of interest that the country's commercial banks charge. The Kenyan Parliament has agreed to accept an amendment, required by president Daniel Arap Moi, that the cap on interest rates will only apply to future loans. The new law insists that the banks can only charge four per cent more than the rate set by the Government for its three month treasury bills. What effect will this have on Kenya's attempts to revive its ailing economy? Razia Khan, from Standard Chartered Bank, tells the BBC's Russell Padmore that rates will not come down. 27/7/01

Nigeria reluctant to adopt OPEC oil production cuts
It seems that Nigeria has reluctantly gone along with the decision by its fellow OPEC members to cut oil production, by one million barrels a day from September. It means the Nigerians will have to reduce their crude oil production by 82,000 barrels a day. It comes at a time when the country has drawn closer to getting its offshore oil industry working to the required capacity. These deepsea discoveries made in the late 1990's will bring Nigeria's crude oil reserves to about six billion barrels. No wonder then that the president, Olesegun Obasanjo, has expressed apparent dismay at OPEC's cutback in output. James Jukwey, an energy specialist for Reuters, who formerly ran their Lagos bureau, tells the BBC's Russell Padmore that OPEC's decision is badly timed for Nigeria. 27/7/01.

SA to issue two new fixed line phone licences next year
The South African government has announced its long awaited plans to reform the country's telecommunications sector. In a significant change from earlier thinking it said it would issue two new licences to compete with the monopoly fixed line operator Telkom. It will also expand the use of mobile technology. 26/07/01

IMF expected to resume lending to Kenya in October
Kenya's economy has been suspended on the edge of a crisis for much of this year. The country is coming out of a severe recession and its government has had a damaging public row with the International Monetary Fund. The IMF and other donors froze all financial support earlier this year saying the government was dragging its feet on pushing through privatization and anti-corruption legislation. As a result, the government does not have enough money to covers its expenditure and the budget deficit is increasing. However, the new central bank governor Nahashon Nyagah says that the relevant legislation will pass through parliament in the next few weeks and the IMF is expected to resume lending in October. 25/07/01

After G8, Africa lobbies WTO
After lobbying leaders of the G8 group of rich countries in Genoa at the weekend, African leaders claim their effort for a bigger role in global policy-making has begun to bear fruit. At least that's the official line. Many of the really big reforms that underpin the Millennium Africa Plan endorsed by G8 leaders ultimately depend on another forum - the World Trade Organisation, which will negotiate improved access to developed markets for African exports at its meeting in November. It's been dubbed "a development round" by the World Bank, which is lobbying hard to make the next WTO round, in effect, a "Single Issue" meeting. 23/07/01

Obasanjo's new economic adviser takes office
Doctor Magnus Kpakol, an expatriate Nigerian economics professor has returned home from the University of Dallas in the US to take up a new role as economic adviser to Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. He takes over at a time of profound change in the Nigerian economy, as the government embarks on a huge programme of privatisation. It's also a time of great uncertainty: economic reform will play an important part in diluting the old concentration of powers in Nigeria - and many vested interests will lose out. Dr Kpakol said the main thrust of economic policy would not deviate from the policies championned by his ousted predecessor, Chief Philip Asiodu. He insisted President Obasanjo's administration had made good progress in promoting economic reform. 23/07/01

Global Health Fund launched with $1.2 billion at Genoa
As expected, the G8 summit of leaders from the world's richest countries has launched a Global Health Fund. Initial donations come to just over $1.2 billion. But this is just a sixth of the minimum target set by the United Nation's Secretary General Kofi Annan back in the spring. So who is going to make-up the shortfall? One obvious provider of money is the pharmaceutical industry. Further, African hopes of new initiatives to cancel Third World debts at Genoa have not been met. Earlier this week, the U.S. President George Bush floated an idea along the lines that the one of the main debt providers, the World Bank, should in future issue grants rather than loans to poor countries. This was welcomed by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki who is attending the G8 meeting along with other African leaders from Nigeria, Algeria and Senegal. But Mr Mbeki emphasised that total debt write-offs remain a priority. 20/07/01

Orascom bid for Telkom Kenya collapses
The sale of a a major stake in Telkom Kenya is at the centre of the East African country's privatisation and reform plan. A year ago, the sale hit trouble when the authorities broke off talks with the Mount Kenya Consortium, its favoured bidder. Now, though, the deal could be back on, after Kenya rejected a rival bid from an Egyptian firm, Orascom. A communications subsidiary of South Africa's Transnet has also indicated it is considering a potential bid. 19/07/01.

President Bush calls for reform of World Bank lending
The US president George W Bush is facing significant opposition from fellow members of the G8 group of industrialised countries this week in his bid to change the way the World Bank operates. Mr Bush has suggested that the Bank should make up to half of its payments to poor countries in the form of grants - instead of loans - thereby reducing their debt burden. Britain and France have already indicated that the proposal goes too far - and the World Bank itself is a staunch opponent. 19/07/01.

SA's Reserve Bank calls in the spy cops
South Africa's central bank has fallen victim to industrial espionage. The Reserve Bank has called in the National Intelligence Agency to investigate the discovery of listening devices in its meeting rooms. Officials at the bank deny that any market sensitive information has been leaked. But the breach in security is a wake-up call to increasingly sophisticated methods being used to eavesdrop on secret meetings in the financial world. 17/07/01

Econet plans ambitious cellphone coverage in Nigeria
In a country where there is one telephone line for every 250 citizens, it's a claim which should be welcomed: the private operator Econet Wireless Nigeria says it will have half a million new cellphone lines operating by the end of the year - more telephone lines, in fact, than the state operator Nitel is running. But there's a problem - Econet has been struggling financially in recent months. 16/07/01

New e-commerce site launched - in Zulu
When the new economy bubble was at its most inflated a little over a year ago, it seemed that every day brought news of ambitious new e-commerce ventures. Then came the downturn - when the hype fell victim to harsh reality. In South Africa, some analysts have predicted e-commerce ventures will struggle ever to be truly viable. Nevertheless, some companies disagree - and today saw the launch of the nation's first site set up in its most widely spoken language - Zulu. It's intended - initally at least - to sell books to students. 16/07/01

Ghana's miners call for more freedom
Ghana's mining companies say the government should have less influence over their business. At the moment, the state holds a minimum 10 percent in every local mining firm. It also retains a so-called "golden share" in the businesses, which enables politicians to overturn decisions made by their directors. The Ghana Minerals Commission says these rules should be reviewed as they make the country less competitive and attractive to foreign investors than other African nations. 13/07/01

African leaders endorse MAP and African Unity
The 37th - and final - Ordinary Session of the Organisation of African Unity Assembly of Heads of State has closed in the Zambian capital of Lusaka. Delegates voted to replace the OAU with a new African Union, loosely modelled on the European Union. A new pan-African parliament, and judiciary may follow, although some African leaders have their reservations. Underlying this new Union is MAP, the Millennium Africa Plan, the brainchild of several African presidents - notably from Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa. MAP is intended to encourage peace, democracy and development - goals espoused too by the old OAU, which has largely failed to discipline those African countries which went in an opposite direction since it was founded in 1963. The new ingredient is a consensus on a liberal economic policy. MAP calls for a new emphaasis on "economic governance". Careful budgeting and debt relief are priorities, along with a renewed commitment to building regional markets. MAP also touts regional trade as the key to greater industrial diversification in countries which still rely heavily on exporting commodities. The comparison with the European Union does hold water to some extent. The emphasis on creating bigger regional markets leads, logically, to a fully-fledged economic union - and even a single currency. To the west of the continent, francophone Africa already uses the CFA franc. It's due to be merged with a new currency in the 15-member Ecowas - the Economic Community of West African States - in 2004, if the individual countries meet other fiscal criteria. It's not yet clear though what will happen to those countries which dissent from this new economic consensus. 11/07/01

Nigerian cellular launch triggers advertising blitz
The highway to the airport is flanked by billboards advertising Nigeria's new cellular phone operators. It's the biggest campaign since Benson and Hedges launched a new brand of cigarettes in 1994. And it's all the more remarkable because, until now, the old analogue cellular phones have been available only to the very rich in Nigeria. Victor Johnson, managing director of MCA Saatchi & Saatchi in Lagos, says the mass advertising reveals the operators' ambitions to make cellular phones widely available. 10/07/01

Rand hits new low
South Africa's rand sank to a new low of 8.2425 against the dollar as fears rise that emerging market currencies are becoming increasingly vulnerable in the global economic slowdown. 09/07/01

Nigeria on-track for power upgrade, says official.
Nigeria's government is determined to rehabilitate the country's crumbling power infrastructure. After years of neglect the total amount of electricity generated by the country's six power stations falls far below demand. Most homes and businesses have to rely on their own generators. But President Obasanjo has staked his reputation on changing this. He's said that generated capacity will go up from around 1,600 mega watts at the moment to over 4,000 mega watts by the end of the year. Sebastian Koko from the National Electric Power Authority says the government will meet this target. 06/07/01

African leaders overshadowed by land crisis
The deadlock over land reform in Zimbabwe continues to cast a long shadow over its neighbours in Southern Africa. A recent survey of foreign investors' confidence in neighbouring South Africa concluded that no matter how much politicians protest, most business leaders expect economic growth to remain sluggish - low skills and political tensions are most frequent causes of concern. Mr Mbeki has been fiercely criticised for his "diplomatic" approach to that crisis, and the often friendly greetings which framed his encounters with Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe. But Morgan Tsvangarai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, told the BBC that Mr Mbeki has done all he can. South Africa faces comparable problems in redistributing land seized by white settlers, which are being handled by a specially appointed Land Claims Commission. 05/07/01

Africa On-line expands on continent
Many African countries are already marginalized in the global economy. But the digital divide in terms of internet accessibilty is particularly stark. An estimated 90 per cent of the world's internet subscribers come from rich countries which account for only 15 per cent of the world's population. One company which is betting on a narrowing of this divide is African Lakes. It started life in 1870 as a colonial trading house but has recently shifted its emphasis to wiring Africa over the internet. Earlier this year it bought two Internet Service Providers, MenaNet in Egypt and its subsidiary Africa Online which operates in eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa. 04/07/01

SA's Telkom ready for fixed-line competition next year
South Africa's state-owned phone company, Telkom, has announced its end of year report. Revenue was up 15 per cent to the equivalent of about $4 billion dollars and operating profit was up 18 per cent to over $1.2 billion. Next May, the company's monopoly will come to an end, after which the government is expected to issue a licence for a new fixed line operator. Telkom's chief executive, Sizwe Nxasana, says the company's ready for competition and is preparing for a stock market listing. 03/07/01

Anti-corruption bill could cost Kenya US$595 million
In Kenya, a government proposal that there should be a blanket amnesty for all past economic crimes looks likely to meet serious opposition from aid donors and international institutions and investors. The government's target is to reconstitute the Anti-Corruption Authority --known as KACA -- but is sees forgiveness of past corruption crimes as a useful clean slate against which to enact new legislation. 02/07/01

South Africa releases positive trade figures
The global economy may be slowing - as Japan heads into recession and the United States struggles to avoid a hard landing - but analysts say South Africa seems to be weathering the pressure well, for the moment at least. The latest government trade figures show a mixed picture though. The country's trade surplus - the amount by which the value of exported goods exceeds the value of imports - was 360 million dollars during May. Still relatively high - but little more than half the level seen in April, as falling commodities prices took their toll. 29/06/01

New cocoa marketing system in Ivory Coast threatened
A row has erupted in Ivory Coast between two rival farmers unions in the run-up to the introduction of a new marketing system for cocoa. Union leaders are jockeying for positions in crucial talks with the government -- each side claiming to represent to greatest number of Ivorian cocoa farmers. The new forward selling scheme is to replace the old state-controlled sales body, CAISTAB, which had been widely regarded as corrupt. 29/06/01

SAA pay packet angers critics, minister
Top executives at South Africa's biggest state-run company, Transnet, are mired in controversy over a multi-million dollar package paid to the former chief executive of its subsidiary South African Airways. Coleman Andrews was recruited from the US to turn around the loss-making SAA in 1997. When he quit in March last year, the airline was making a small profit - while, his critics argue, Mr Andrews made a big one. His total remuneration of R232m (US$30M) divided government ministers and Transnet directors. Jeff Radebe, minister for public enterprises, has complained the deal represents a "systematic erosion" of corporate governance at the airline. But trade and industry minister Alec Erwin contends the payment was competitive and represented value for money. Under Mr Andrews' management, SAA did achieve a small profit. A twenty per cent stake was sold to foreign investor SwissAir and new alliances forged with other international carriers, while SAA's value is estimated to have increased by about US$160m. The cost was high however, and not only because of the boss's salary. SAA has been accused of predatory pricing on domestic routes after the collapse of competitor Sun Air, a small carrier which which also happened to be South Africa's first real privatisation in the airline industry. Mr Andrews also faced allegations of corrupt tendering and authorising lavish consultancy payments to friends. He eventually quit after what he called excessive interference by civil servants, protesting that his job had been made impossible by "Junior bureaucrats...calling or visiting every few days to demand this, require that, second-guess something else, threatening at every turn". 28/06/01

US backs Millennium Africa Plan
President George Bush has endorsed the Millennium Africa Plan outlined by South African leader Thabo Mbeki after meeting at the White House. Mr Mbeki is the second African president after Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo to meet with Mr Bush in the White House, where the US president said he would support efforts to help Africa "turn the corner" away from the daunting problems of poverty, Aids and conflict. But what can the Americans do? The Millenium Africa Recovery Plan is a broad strategy drafted by the leaders of South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria. It's due to form the basis of a new African Union, to be ratified at next month's meeting of the Organisation for African Unity in Lusaka. But many well-intentioned plans have gone awry in the past. 27/06/01

Americans create world's most valuable gold company
Anglogold, the South African mining group has been knocked from its perch as the world's most valuable gold company after two north American producers agreed to merge. Barrick Gold of Canada and Homestake Mining of the US will merge in a USD2.3bn share swop. The deal will create a USD9bn group, boosting gold production and reserves in this still very sluggish gold market. The new US giant will not actually produce more gold than Anglo, the world's biggest gold miner, but it is worth more money at current share prices. The move follows last year's failed effort by Gold Fields in South Africa to kickstart a process of consolidation in a deal with Franco-Nevada of Canada. Their merger was vetoed by the South African government, which was concerned its main beneficiaries would be Canadian shareholders. 26/06/01

ZCTU threatens national strike; Unilever boss finds consensus
Trade unions in Zimbabwe are preparing to stage a national strike to protest against a recent seventy percent rise in fuel prices. A deadline set by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions for a response from the government has passed, with the cash-strapped finance ministry refusing to back down. The ZCTU insists its motives are not party-political - but whether or not the ruling Zanu-PF is convinced by that claim, the worsening economic situation will only exacerbate the tense political situation. But behind the fear and loathing, a consensus over economic policy might just be the key to a way out of the political stale mate, according to Niall Fitzgerald, chief executive of Unilever. The man at the helm of Africa's biggest consumer goods group spoke recently to a younger generation of politicians from both the ruling Zanu and the opposition MDC. 26/06/01

Criminals making foreign calls defraud Tanzania Telecom
The chief executive of Tanzania's main telephone company, TCCL, Fred Van der Voort, has revealed that people illegally tapping into their lines, to make international calls, has become a widespread problem. Tanzania Telecom is also trying to correct a faulty billing system, that has prompted analysts to predict, that the recently privatised company is about to post big annual losses. 25/6/01

Mozambique minister celebrates investment boost
The huge investment required to expand the Mozal aluminium smelter is seen by Carlos Morgado, the minister of trade and industry in Mozambique, as an affirmation of the country's friendly business climate. The combination of attracting foreign investment and managing the benefits of massive debt write-offs are key to the government's attempt to increase the quality of life for the people of one of the world's poorest countries. 22/06/01

New smelter planned at Mozambique's Mozal
Three years after the first aluminium ingots rolled off the production line at Mozal - all three main shareholders want to do it all again. Mining group Billiton, the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan and South Africa's state-run Industrial Development Corporation today announced they will go ahead with construction of a second aluminium smelter in Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries. The South African mining multinational - due to merge next week with Australia's BHP - will maintain its joint venture with the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan and South Africa's state-run Industrial Development Corporation.
The $800m smelter will create 5,000 construction jobs, and a further one thousand long term jobs when it opens in 2003. 21/06/01

Cosatu threatens national strike
South Africa's largest labour federation, Cosatu, is planning to hold a two-day national strike in late August if the government does not respond to its concerns over privatisation. The union, which is one of the main political allies of the governing African National Congress, is concerned about huge job losses if the government pushes ahead with the privatisation of its national telephone and electricity monopolies. 20/6/01

Daimler-Chrysler SA tackles Aids in the workplace
The German vehicle manufacturer, the single largest foreign investor in South Africa, has announced a new corporate health programme to deal with the country's Aids epidemic which is increasingly affecting its workers and their families. The plan is intended to raise awareness of Aids and provide free medication to the company's employees and their dependents. 19/06/01

Court battle over Kenyan business empire
A man who was once a pillar of Kenya's business community and said to have enjoyed close links with the government of President Daniel arap Moi, Ketan Somaia, has been declared bankrupt in London. But, it seems, his creditors in Britain, who'll doubtless try to seize his assets in Kenya, could come away empty-handed. It's just been revealed that the ownership of Mr Somaia's vast business empire in Kenya -- ranging from banks to hotels -- is being contested by another businessman, Kamlesh Pattni, who like Mr Somaia, is of Asian origin. Both men have been named in a series of scandals involving the misuse of government funds.

East African coffee producers meet in Uganda
Member nations of the East African Fine Coffees Association are meeting in Uganda this week to discuss the problem of continuing low coffee prices. About one-hundred and fifty delegates are attending the conference in Kamapala -- not all of them from East Africa. Listen to Andrea Harrower of GNI, who regularly analyses the coffee market for us, give her thoughts on what's on the agenda.

Uganda budget benefits from foreign aid
Uganda's finance minister, Gerald Sendaula, has promised major increases in spending on schools, health and road building. However much of the plans will depend on collecting more money in taxes, not actually increasing taxes, but collecting more of what is actually owed. The spending plans will not have been helped by a drop in income from Uganda's key foreign exchange earner, coffee. Poor world prices saw the value of coffee exports fall in the last fiscal year by $31 million to $407 million. 15/6/01

Tanzania scraps duty on imported raw materials
In Tanzania, where the economy depends on income from foreign aid, the finance minister, Basil Mramba, announced that he would scrap duty on imported raw materials. He also said that Government spending would increase by 18 per cent. Mr Mramba has retained the 25 per cent tariff levied on imports of finished consumer goods. The Government in Tanzania expects economic growth to accelerate to 5.3 per cent, thanks to an upturn in the tourism and mining industries. 15/6/01

Kenya's budget aims to reassure IMF
While Uganda and Tanzania are enjoying funds from international donors, Kenya has suffered without the support of the International Monetary Fund. The IMF stopped loans to Kenya last year because it was unhappy about efforts to fight corruption and the slow speed of the Government's privatisation plans, especially the move to sell Telkom Kenya. The finance minister, Chris Okemo, has revealed that they want to finalise the sale of the telecom firm by the end of August. His budget statement also revealed plans to speed up the privatisation of other state assets like Kenya Commercial Bank. 15/6/01

Zimbabwe telecom group has funding problems in Nigeria
A company from Zimbabwe, which is part of a consortium launching a mobile telephone network in Nigeria, has been forced to reduce its investment. Econet was with a group that won a Government organised competition to get the rights to set up a cellular telephone service, in the West African nation. The firm is having difficulty raising the necessary funds and has been forced to reduce its stake in the project. 15/6/01

Mbeki talks up South Africa's economy
South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, has told an audience of business leaders in London that his country should be regarded as the gateway to the continent. The African leader, who has been visiting Britain with eight senior cabinet ministers, spent his last full day in the country trying to convince senior executives of multi-national businesses about the merits of his country's economy. Mr Mbeki expressed concern that news coverage of the continent often paints a bleak picture which could be misleading. 14/6/01.

South African interest rates move lower
South Africa's Reserve Bank has surprised the markets by cutting 100 basis points, or one per cent, off interest rates, taking the key lending rate down to 11 per cent. It is thought the country's commercial banks will be prompted to reduce their rates for borrowing which have been around 14.5 per cent. Most economists had not been expecting a cut, as the Reserve bank had signalled that it might leave rates unchanged to tackle the growing threat of inflation. 14/6/01.

Future of Air Afrique hangs in the balance
Senior Government ministers and several presidents from the eleven countries that own Air Afrique have been meeting in Ivory Coast to consider the options for rescuing the financially troubled West African airline. Air Afrique has crippling debts, reportedly as much as $200 million - the carrier is said to be losing as much as $7 million dollars a month. Although the World Bank has suggested liquidating the airline it is thought the best option open to the Governments meeting in Abidjan is to pursuade Air France to invest in it. The French carrier already controls a 12 percent stake in Air Afrique. 13/6/01

Government shake up in Nigeria
Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has dismissed four of his ministers in a sweeping cabinet reshuffle. Three of them had been working on improvements to the country's infrastructure. It is the second time this year that Mr Obasanjo has made changes to his government. Some analysts believe the president was unhappy about the slow progress of economic reform. 13/6/01

Investors await details of Government budgets
The economies of East Africa will be in the spotlight on Thursday as the Governments in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania decide on their budgetary spending over the next year. No doubt both entrepreneurs in the region and international investors will be wondering just how business friendly the budgets will be. Many of the region's manufacturers are hoping to see a reduction in taxes levied on raw materials. 13/6/01

SA mining companies accept 'Use It or Lose It' law
After fierce arguments, the Chamber of Mines announced it had settled its differences with the SA government over a proposed new law transferring the ownership of mining rights from private companies to the state. The consensus coincides with President Thabo Mbeki's state visit to Britain, and lays the basis for an agreement which would bring South African mining law into line with most parts of the world. The principle of "Use it or Lose it" would oblige companies which don't prospect or develop potential reserves to surrender them to rivals. Until now, it's been a different - and predictably more controversial story in South Africa, where mining rights traditionally have been held by private companies. They objected that draft legislation gave too much discretionary power to the minister and could jeopardise future investment in the sector. 12/06/01

Broadcasters target cellular phones in Zimbabwe
The liberating effect of information technology is a favourite theme among proponents of media liberalisation across Africa. In countries which condone them, cellular phones and commercial FM radio are a potent combination - and they've had a profound effect on civil society in countries like Ghana. Elsewhere, the momentum is gathering pace. Nigeria for example has commercial radio - but not many cellular phones. All that is supposed to change with the launch of new cellular operators in the months ahead. Zimbabwe has plenty of cellular phones but no commercial broadcasting. The government insists change is on the way there too - and different interest groups are currently arguing over the provisions of a new broadcasting bill. Even where the airwaves remain under strict control though, some broadcasters are turning to cellular phones instead. Three different broadcasters are now providing radio news bulleting direct to cellular phones on the Econet network. 04/06/01

Nigeria ponders port privatisation
Rival agencies in Nigeria are struggling to agree on a formula for reviving the country's docks. They were brought to a standstill earlier this month by workers and trade unions protesting at plans to privatise the ports - not least, because they have always been a profitable part of the state's assets. The government in Abuja, the privatisation authorities and the management of the state-run ports all have different ideas about how to proceed. One option is to sell a controlling stake to a single investor - in return for new capital and technology. Another is to cut back bureaucracy and revamp the docks - before they are sold. But Chief Bode George, chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority, told the World Business Report that a phased process of joint ventures between various state-run operations and private sector partners could win the confidence of maritime workers. 30/05/01

De Beers freezes operations in Angola
De Beers, the diamond mining company which supplies around 65 per cent of the world's uncut gems, says its freezing activities in Angola after failing to reach agreement with the government. Investing and prospecting operations in the country have been suspended because of a row about marketing of diamonds. But is this really the end of the story between the gem rich country and the leading diamond miner? 25/05/01

Unions pile fresh pressure on embattled Mugabe
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is warning it will call a national strike, if the Government goes ahead with a new labour bill. The Congress - which has been closely allied with the country's opposition party - the Movement of Democratic Change - is unhappy at provisions in the bill giving the Government new powers. It also wants the Bill to do more to protect workers' rights during the current economic crisis.

Cash lifeline for South Africa's Post Office
The South African Government is admitting that is will have to continue subsidising the country's Post Office. The move reverses a decision in March last year to end state handouts. The authorities are now expected to announce a payment of half-a-billion rand, or sixty-two million dollars to help towards losses for last year of more than ninety-million dollars. Longer term subsidies of around twenty-five million dollars a year are already being considered by the South African Government, in the hope of developing the country's postal infrastructure especially in rural areas. Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri told the country's parliament that, in terms of enterprise reform, the South African Post Office has not performed as well as expected. It was also acknowledged that the Government would have to continue supporting the Post Office, while the search continues for ways for it to achieve financial stability. The latest development comes ahead of a cabinet meeting next week to consider ending the Post Office's management contract with Transend Worldwide of New Zealand. The deal was agreed more than a year ago, on hopes that the private company would help to streamline operations into a far more cost-effective and efficient organisation. The management board of the Post Office claims this hasn't happened, despite the fact that Transend has already earned more than twelve-million dollars. Transend rejects the accusations, insisting it has successfully delivered results on a number of key agreed projects and objectives. The Post Office itself says talks are being held with ministers to determine a new subsidy structure. Its Chief Executive, Maanda Manyatshe admits the days of being given, as he puts it, a "blank cheque", are over.

Corruption claims scalp Senegalese finance minister
Barely a week after taking office, Senegal's finance minister has resigned over allegations of corruption. Mamado Seck was a leading member of the ruling Senegal Democratic Party. His departure follows a pledge from newly re-elected President Wade to clamp down on financial wrongdoing, no matter where it is found. The President has already gone on record to warn that no-one - including his closest colleagues - is immune from investigation. 24/05/01

Company faces complaints over mining plans in Tanzania
The South African gemstone company, Afgem, is facing calls for its licence to mine tanzanite in Tanzania to be revoked. Only last year, it won the mineral rights to two thirds of the reserves at the only place in the world that the stone is found. But local groups in the Merelani area are accusing Afgem of taking away their livelihood, operating illegally and seeking to monopolise the market

State run banks hold back growth
Developing countries which open up their financial systems to foreign banks can boost economic development and reduce poverty. That's according to a World Bank report which says developing countries in which the state retains a high degree of control over banks lose out. Authorities can be reluctant to open up their markets for fear of importing instability.

Platinum price could fall from sky high peaks
The outlook for world platinum prices could be radically altered if Moscow removes the bureaucratic hurdles which govern exporters. Valery Rudakov, head of the state precious metals and gems repository Gokhran said on Tuesday President Vladimir Putin is likely to sign a decree within the year allowing exporters to to get multi-year permits instead of yearly ones. Russia supplies about two thirds of the world's palladium and a third of its platinum. The metals are used to make catalysts which clean car exhaust fumes. Delays and red tape in issuing quotas and licences for Russian metal producers have caused price rallies in world markets - a change would remove some of the uncertainty and give a more stable outlook for world markets.

Nigerian authorities propose cut price fertilizer
The Nigerian government plans to start distribution of subsidied fertiliser to farmers as part of its drive to boost agricultural activities. The Minister of State for Agriculture Chief Chris Agbobu says the government will supply chemicals at up to 25 per cent less than cost price. The government's reacting to the rising cost of food in Africa's most populous nation.

Gold spike benefits equity market
Precious metal stocks have sent the Johannesburg stock exchange to record highs, on the back of an unexpected surge in the price of gold. Until Friday, the chances of gold rising above two-hundred-and-seventy-five dollars a troy ounce were thought by many traders to be slim. However, within the last few hours, theoretical ingots have been changing hands for as much as two-hundred-and-ninety-two dollars each. 21/05/01

UN poverty conference fails to convince critics
A major United Nations conference in Brussels has agreed an ambitious ten-year plan to improve living standards in the world's poorest countries. Delegates agreed a vision of a new partnership in which rich nations would do more to cut debt, increase aid and expand trade. In return, the least developed countries, or LDCs, would act to strengthen the rule of law and improve the business climate. It all sounds wonderful, but similar ideals were agreed at previous UN conferences back in the eighties and nineties. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan insisted that this time, the conference would mark a real turning point in the everyday lives of the world's poorest people.

One of South Africa's leading businessmen is calling for the country to position itself as a world hub of environmentally friendly technology. The Chief Executive of the South African Chamber of Business, Kevin Wakeford, believes he's spotted a major gap in the market which his country could be in a perfect position to fill. He's now urging politicians and business leaders to give the issue serious thought ahead of next year's International Earth Summit, which is due to be staged in Johannesburg. 21/05/01

New ruling leads to congestion at Nigerian ports
The Nigerian government says it is determined to enforce a new and tough customs inspection policy at its ports, despite growing congestion. Information Minister Jerry Gana says that the government is responding to high levels of smuggling and will enforce a 100% inspection policy - in other words, customs officials are ordered to inspect all goods and every ship entering Nigeria. But shipping agents in Lagos say the city's port- which receives about 65% of all cargo entering Nigeria - is now at a virtual standstill.

Coffee producers tackle global over-supply
The world's coffee producers meeting in London have agreed to a two pronged plan to try and rescue low coffee prices caused by a global over-supply. While keeping the so-called retention scheme, where producers hold back coffee supplies, they have also agreed to reduce the amount of low quality coffee available for consumption. Other uses for the poorer grades of coffee will be found such as using it for fuel. 16.05.01

Canada slaps sanctions on Zimbabwe
Canada imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe over the weekend accusing President Robert Mugabe's government of supporting a harassment campaign against its nationals. It will suspend development aid and cut off export financing. The sanctions come after escalating tension between the so-called war veterans and businesses and non-governmental organizations. Julius Makoni, the managing director of National Merchant Bank in Harare, says that the country must deal with the fact that Zimbabwe is suffering from an increasing state of lawlessness. 14.05.01

Zimbabwe's Econet Wireless seeks listing in London
There couldn't be a more stark contrast between two telecommunications companies. One is based in Europe and is an icon of the mobile revolution which has seen its share price collapse and is losing money - Sweden's Ericsson. The other, is based in Africa, is growing rapidly and is highly profitable - Econet Wireless. Starting in his home country of Zimbabwe, Strive Masiyiwa, the chief executive of Econet Wireless. has built an international telecommunications company which operates in, among other places, South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco and Botswana, as well as the UK and New Zealand, in mobile, internet and cellular services. The company has grown rapidly over the past few years and until now is only listed on the stock exchange in Harare. He is hoping to list the company on the London Stock Exchange later this year. 11.05.01

Southern African Power Pool starts short term trading
It has been a long time coming, but the Southern African Power Pool is now running a market for trading electricty. After years of operating under bilateral sales agreements, the 12 members of the power pool which stretches from the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Africa are planning to buy and sell surplus supplies of electricity through a power trading network. Namibia's national electricity provider has joined the first members of South Africa and Zimbabwe in the growing market. William Balet, who is the co-ordination centre manager of the Southern African Power Pool in Harare, says the market could radically overhaul the way Africa manages its electricity supplies. 09.05.01

Didata enters bidding war with Compaq over US e-business
South Africa's Dimension Data has triggered a bidding war for an internet consulting company in the United States. Didata came to prominence last summer when it listed on the London Stock Exchange and raised £1.5 billion. Its target is Proxicom, which is listed on NASDAQ, and had accepted an offer from Compaq Computers. The move is the latest step in the South African company's ambitions to be a global networking service. 08.05.01

Zimbabwe business community resigned to key government departure
There's been a bleak reaction from Zimbabwe's business community to the resignation of Nkosana Moyo, the country's former Minister of Commerce and International Trade. Those close to him say he felt powerless to act in an atmosphere of increasing lawlessness. His resignation is a particular blow because, as a former international banker who never joined a political party, he was seen as independent, and was well-respected by foreign investors. 07.05.01

Cipla to sell AIDS drugs at cost price
Charity isn't something most people readily associate with pharmaceuticals companies.But the Indian firm, Cipla, says it is in talks with South Africa about supplying anti-AIDS drugs at cost price. It has already reached a similar deal with Nigeria. Cipla does have much to gain from the move. The pharmaceuticals market in India is proving sluggish, with sales reportedly growing at half the rate seen a year ago and experts say a high profile in Africa could prove lucrative in the longer term. It is not alone either; Switzerland's Novartis has announced plans to sell malaria drugs in Africa at cost price; while the Franco-German group Aventis has said it will donate medicines to combat sleeping sickness. Cipla's managing director Armin Lulla, insists it has no ulterior motive for its actions. 03.05.01

Investors show doubts over raised bid for De Beers
Wednesday's trading on the Johannesburg stockmarket was all about De Beers. Investors had their first chance to react properly to an improved bid for the mining giant from a consortium led by Anglo American. Full details of the 18.7 billion dollar bid were released on Monday - and investors returning from their May Day holiday were unimpressed, it seems. De Beers' shares ended the day down 4.6 percent. 02.05.01

New satellite telephone venture aims high
Remember Iridium - the ambitious satellite telephone venture which collapsed after spending billions of dollars on a network of orbiting satellites? Well that experience, it seems, has not deterred the Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications company, which has just launched its own network - albeit with just one satellite. The United Arab Emirates-based firm claims its systems can make money and offer good communications in remote areas, including large tracts of Africa. 02.05.01

Changing role of De Beers makes Indian jewellers look elsewhere for gems
These are times of change for the global diamond industry. As De Beers, the South African diamond miner that for decades controlled the world market slowly loosens its grip on the supply of rough - uncut - gemstones, jewellery makers are seeking new sources. India is one of the biggest rough diamond markets in the world - Indian diamond cutters are legendary - but until now it has relied for its stones on buying from De Beers at major diamond centres such as Antwerp in Belgium. But now India is moving fast to cut out the middleman and is buying direct from the mining companies. Over the next two weeks around $4.5bn worth of uncut diamonds will arrive from Russia. 01.05.01

Talisman under pressure over Sudanese investments
Shareholders in the major Canadian oil company Talisman held their annual meeting on Tuesday in Calgary. But the event was held under a cloud of continuing controversy over the firm's activities in southern Sudan. Human rights campaigners are alleging that Sudan's Islamist government is using oil revenues to fund its long-running war against rebels in the country's mainly animist and Christian south.Talisman has a 25 percent stake in Sudan's oil project, and the row is damaging its reputation. But the company says it is playing a vital role in improving infrastructure in the country. 01.05.01

Anglogold's strategy of diversification pays off with 1Q results
The world's largest gold miner, Anglogold, has announced solid results in the first quarter of this year. Operating profits were steady at around $114m despite a fall in gold production. The group's strategy of diversifying its operations away from South Africa to low cost mines across the rest of Africa appears to be working. 30.04.01

Major De Beers shareholders accept offer
The Anglo American-led consortium looks set to win control of De Beers after one of the diamond group's biggest shareholders said it would accept an increased offer unveiled on Thursday. The deal is intended to unlock cross shareholdings between Anglo and De Beers and would see the rough diamond giant delisted and taken private. Old Mutual, which holds about eight per cent of De Beers shares says it's happy with a increased offer from the consortium, which includes Anglo American, the Oppenheimer family and the Botswanan government. Their 16.4 billion dollar offer has been increased by 2 dollars a share because of investor pressure. 27/04/01.

Old Mutual takes third step to US
Old Mutual, the London-listed but Cape Town-based financial services group, has taken a third and final step further into the US market. The group is paying $635m in cash and shares for F & G Life, the Minnesota-based Fidelity and Guaranty Life Insurance Company. It's also launching a new US life assurance business, to be called Americon. The move completes the global ambitions outlined by the group when it took up a primary stock exchange listing in London, and brings its share of non-South African revenues to about 27 per cent. The acquisitions add life assurance to its existing asset management and equity operations. Internet and administrative work may be sourced from South Africa. 26/04/01

New rice promises major benefits
Some 20 million West Africans are now rice farmers - but their production falls well short of demand, while consumption is increasing. The shortfall is made up with imports from Asia - which were worth nearly 1 billion dollars in 2000. Part of the problem is the nature of African rice - while it is considerably more resilient than Asian strains, and requires less water, it also offers a much lower yield. The so-called New Rice for Africa, or Nerica, has been developed by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA). It's inventors claim it combines the best features of both Asian and African rice - and is both resilient and productive. 25/04/01

Kenya faces record budget deficit
Kenya's economic woes show no sign of letting up in the near future. Shares on the Nairobi stock exchange fell to a new seven year low on Wednesday. That followed the announcement by finance minister Chris Okemo that the country could be facing an unprecendented budget deficit of up to 155 million dollars. He blamed a variety of factors, including the recent suspension of loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund - in a row over the government's alleged failure to clamp down on ciorruption. The main share index in Nairobi fell another half percent to 17-81.5. 25/04/01

Morocco devalues to promote exports
Morocco has devalued its currency, the dirham, by 5 percent against the US dollar. The move came in response to pleas from local exporters. The devaluation was the first in 11 years, putting the exchange rate at 11.5 dirhams to the dollar. Analysts say the move will boost the textile and clothing industry, which acccounts for nearly at third of all Moroccan exports. 25/04/01

Saudi Arabia looks to investment in Iran
Saudi Arabia's industrial giant Saudi Basic Industries Corp or SABIC is reportedly sizing up opportunities for investing in chemicals in Iran. Local press reports say officials from the firm have been meeting with their counterparts at Iran's National Petrochemical Company in Tehran to talk about a possible deal. An agreement could have implications for US and other foreign firms wanting a share of Irans oil and gas riches but prevented by the threat of sanctions from Washington. 24/04/01.

UNCTAD warns on risks for developing country economies
The UN has joined in with the chorus of concern about the world economy and with the calls for the European Central Bank to cut rates. In its latest annual trade and development report, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development says bolder policies and more co-operation between leading economies is necessary to stop the global outlook deteriorating further. It also says that among the poorer nations of the world, only Africa failed to enjoy a significant increase in income last year and warns developing countries are highly vulnerable to the impact of a global economic slowdown. UNCTAD was one of the few organisations to predict the onset of the Asian financial crisis four years ago. 24/04/01.

Tobacco farmers set to stockpile crop as auction floors open
As Zimbabwe's tobacco auction season kicks off, farmers are expected to stockpile their crops rather than sell, for the moment at least.
They are concerned that the over-valued Zimbabwe dollar, which is fixed by the government at 55 to the US dollar, could be devalued soon. The currency is currently trading at between 100 to 120 to the US dollar on the parallel market. And bankers in Harare believe that a devaluation is inevitable. Last year, Zimbabwe was the second largest exporter of tobacco in the world after Brazil. And for Zimbabwe's economy, the tobacco crop is the most lucrative source of foreign exchange for the country.

Zimbabwe subsidises gold
President Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe says it's going to subsidise gold prices to the tune of thirty per cent above the market price. The move is intended to keep Zimbabwe's struggling gold mines in business. Zimbabwe will now pay at least three hundred and forty three dollars an ounce for gold, at a time when the international spot bullion price is only about two hundred and sixty four dollars. Analysts say the move may prop up some mines in the short term, but will be unsustainable over a long period, if only because Zimbabwe would run out of already lovel levels of foreign reserves. 20/4/01

New aid package for west Africa
The African Development Bank has agreed a new multi-million dollar aid package aimed at protecting rural parts of west Africa.
Areas of Benin and Burkina Faso that have been hard hit by crop failure will benefit. 20/4/01

South Africa drugs case settled
The world's biggest pharmaceutical companies have finally reached a settlement with the South African government after backing out of a court case in Pretoria. The case revolved around a controversial Medicines Act which, once implemented, will give the health minister sweeping powers to buy and import the cheapest medicines worldwide.
Although South Africa represents only a tiny portion of revenues for the world's major drug companies, they feared a loss of control of their patents on life saving medicines. These are protected by the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights, or Trips as its known. 19/04/01

Nitel pursues foreign partner ahead of privatisation
Nitel, Nigeria's state-run phone utility, says it will pursue an alliance with pan-African cellular phone operator MSI - in spite of objections from rivals and protests from the Nigerian Bureau of Public Enterprises. The two companies have been in negotiations, as three new cellular phone operators prepare to launch operations in May. MSI Cellular dropped out of a public auciton of cellular licences in January, but confirmed its interest in Nitel after the utility was merged with an existing state-run cellular operator, M-Tel. The Bureau of Public Enterprises, a government agency in charge of privatisation, has opjected to the negotiations. Nitel has been earmarked as a strategic asset, likely to be sold to a foreign shareholder who will bring new capital and skills.

Cellular phones drive reform in Africa
The telecoms sector is among the hardest hit by the economic slowdown in the United States. The brash optimism of many company executives just a few years ago has soured in the big markets of Europe, East Asia and the Americas. But in Africa, the industry is booming - as more and more countries recognise the promise of new technologies, and cellular phones in particular. Strong regulation, and fierce competition, have helped improve governance and strengthened civil society across the continent. 16/04/01

Global coffee price lowest for three decades
The world price of coffee is currently hovering at around its lowest level for some thirty years. The price, of less than five-hundred-and-sixty dollars a tonne, has left many growers complaining that they are not making enough money to cover their production costs. The situation is especially acute in some African countries, where coffee is the principal foreign export. The situation is being blamed on overproduction, caused by the number of new producer countries. These include Vietnam, which has gone from exporting no coffee ten years ago to being the second biggest exporter in the world. Consumers in the west haven't, however, seen the benefit of the low global price. The cost in coffee bars is as high as it has ever been.

Row threatens merger of black and white business organisations
A planned merger of black and white business groups in South Africa is in jeopardy, after the predominantly white Chamber of Business criticised calls for the state to take a more direct role in helping black business. It warned that new legislation compelling local institutions to invest a proportion of their assets in black-run ventures could deter other investors. The slow pace of black economic empowerment - or Bee - and more specifically, what should be done about it, has driven a wedge between SACOB - the predominantly white South African Chamber of Business and the smaller National African Federated Chamber of Commerce - or NAFCOC - an alliance of black business leaders National African Chamber. At issue is the scope of government measures to give blacks a larger share in the economy. A raft of measures are already in place: the law requires affirmative action, gives preference to black companies tendering for state contracts, and charges a levy on company pay roles to fund skills training for employees. Many white companies have forged new partnerships with black shareholders, and a variety of state-sponsored lenders have been set up to improve access to capital for black entrepreneurs. The Black Business Council, set up to advise on government policy, wants new laws to compel white-owned financial institutions to invest a proportion of their assets in black-controlled business ventures. But such a prescriptive approach has been dismissed by ministers in the past. They fear it would send the wrong signal to investors - a view shared by SACOB.

South African president criticises snails-pace economic reforms
South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, found harsh words for the slow process of implementing racial equality in the country's economy - a concept known as black empowerment. Mr Mbeki vented his fustration about the present level of progress for South Africa's black majority population. 11/04/2001

Bitter oil dispute reaches Nigeria's Supreme Court
A battle over the distribution of Nigeria's vast oil riches has reached the country's the top judicial level, the Supreme Court. Judges will now have to consider whether the government has a constitutional case against 10 southern federal states who will not accept the current system of oil distribution. 9/04/2001

Kenyan Central Bank governer out of a job
The Central Bank of Kenya has a new governor, following the abrupt and unexpected departure of Micah Cheserem after eight years in the job. He was due to retire in June, but is being forced to take paid holiday until his contract ends. His departure comes just days after the sacking of the civil service head Richard Leakey and his so-called "dream team" of reformist officials. 05/04/01

South African rand plumbs new lows
The South African rand has slipped to a new low against the US dollar. At its worst, you would have needed 8 rand 15 and a half cents to buy just one American greenback. Some dealers believe the latest falls were triggered by "stop loss" selling, where currency speculators automatically sell rand when it falls to a certain level. The currency has been falling in value for some months, and is now seven percent weaker compared against the dollar than at the start of the year. 03/04/01

Sierra Leone pledges to crack down on so-called blood diamonds
The government of Sierra Leone has expressed concern that increasing numbers of diamonds smuggled from behind rebel lines are being sold through official channels. Despite an internationally-backed certification scheme to prevent the sale of gems financing a brutal ten-year war, the mines minister says so-called blood diamonds are still finding their way on to international markets. The government says it will deal harshly with any dealers found with diamonds from rebel areas.

South African tourism gets a boost from plastic surgery
South Africa has long been a good place to travel to if you want a holiday packed with sunshine, good food and culture. Now there's a new attraction if you're looking to get away from it all. Plastic surgery. According to the Plastic Surgeon's Association of South Africa, tourism is getting a major boost from visitors combining sightseeing with cosmetic surgery. One of the major attractions is the current weakness of the rand, which makes operations seem cheap to overseas visitors.

African tobacco firm taken over by Imperial
One of Africa's biggest tobacco companies has been taken over by a global giant with plans to get more people to smoke its cigarrettes. Tobaccor has been bought by Imperial Tobacco which says it is a unique opportunity to achieve a major market presence in Africa. Tobaccor sells more than 12 billion cigarettes a year in west and central Africa. Its most popular brand is Excellence, but it also sells other types of cigarette under licence. Britain's Imperial Tobacco has decided to pay the French firm Bollore 255 million dollars for a 75 percent controlling stake of Tobaccor.

African infrastructure in urgent need of help - ECOWAS
Better roads, railways and ports are needed to boost the economy of West Africa, according to the man spearheading the drive to improve the region's finances. Lansana Kouyate who is the executive secretary of the Economic Community Of West African States also says much more international co-operation is needed. Mr Kouyate says the continent's development depends on a sound infrastructure which would enable the continent's rich resource base to be traded more easily. Mr Kouyate also praised plans for the region's development recently put forward by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal. 2/3/01

Production has plummeted at one of South Africas biggest gold mines as workers down tools in a dispute over holiday leave.
South Africas huge South Deep mine near Johannesburg is operating at twenty per cent capacity after workers took industrial action in a row about holiday leave. The industry's Chamber of Mines have complained that long public holidays are damaging production and want labour agreements that allow the mines to stay open year round.
But holidays are an emotive issue for thousands of migrant miners who return home over Easter and Christmas. 30/03/01

Foreign exchange dealings by 25 Nigerian banks have been suspended
The Central Bank of Nigeria is rethinking the suspension of 25 banks from foreign exchange dealing imposed on Wednesday. The Central Bank has been attempting to regularise foreign currency dealings in Nigeria. Earlier this year it reached an agreement with commercial banks that, after they had withdrawn an amount in foreign currency from Central Bank deposits, an equivalent amount in local currency -- the naira -- would be put in a special account within two days. However, some banks -- and they have not been named -- have been slow to pay the money they owe. 29/3/01

South African mining strike is legal
Workers at South Deep - one of South Africa's biggest gold mines - have been given court permission to go ahead with a planned strike. The owners of the mine - Canada's Placer Dome and South Africa's Western Areas - went to court hoping the strike, organised by South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers' would be declared illegal. The union and the company are arguing over the application of an agreement which was supposed to settle on-going disputes. Report by Victoria Dale-Jones.29/3/01

Senior civil servants appointed by Richard Leakey in Kenya lose their jobs -- following Mr Leakey's removal as chief of the civil service
Most of those sacked were appointed by Richard Leakey, who was put in charge of the Kenyan civil service two years ago at the urging of foreign aid donors. His brief was to root out corruption.

The ambitious plan to take De Beers private comes under threat
The grand plan of South Africa's diamond giant De Beers and the mining group Anglo American, for De Beers to go private under a takeover bid led by Anglo American, now looks in jeopardy. Although a formal takeover bid has not yet been made, the group led by Anglo-American -- which is linked to De Beers through a complicated system of cross-holdings -- is reported to be offering about 43 dollars a share. A group of shareholders believes that's too low -- and now they've hired a stockbroker who also believes the offer should be higher to represent their interests.

Former ANC negotiator warns of black backlash
One of South Africa's most successful black businessmen, Cyril Ramaphosa, is warning the country could face a backlash if black people remain unable, as he sees it, to enjoy the economic fruits of democracy. On average, white people earn more than six times as much as their black counterparts. Even more alarmingly, black ownership of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is just two percent, despite the fact that almost nine-out-of-ten South Africans are black. As chairman of the Black Economic Empowerment Commission, Mr. Ramaphosa has completed a report urging President Thabo Mbeki to introduce a bill called the Black Economic Empowerment Act to make up for the shortcomings of the

African telephone summit staged in Ghana
Twenty five Government telecoms ministers from across Africa are gathering in Ghana for a pan-continent industry conference. They'll be meeting with senior executives of several leading telecoms and IT companies, along with the long-suffering users of some of the overcrowded networks. The summit is expected to deliberate on key issues affecting the telecom/IT industry in Africa in general and the pursuit of universal access in particular. There will also be debate on the methods of expansion, with mobile technology easier and cheaper to install than fixed line networks in many areas. HEAR AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CONFERENCE ORGANISER, LARRY ATTIPOE, IN THE 1832 GMT EDITION.

SA bows to criticism on procurement
The South African government will appoint an independent panel to vet public sector contracts, after bowing to criticism of its recent R43bn "arms-for-investment" deal. The government intends to "ring-fence" the procedure for awarding big state tenders, effectively acknowledging that previous mechanisms intended to eliminate corruption had failed to win public confidence. An independent panel of experts and lawyers will scrutinise the proposed public sector procurement of a smart card-based national identity system, expected to be worth R24bn.

South Africa's biggest chemicals producer plans to list its shares in New York or London
South Africa's Sasol used to be a state-funded energy company. Under apartheid -- white minority rule -- it was given the job of turning coal into oil. The idea was to ensure the country's energy supplies in case sanctions prevented South Africa from buying oil internationally. Today, Sasol is the country's biggest chemicals producer and its shares are listed on the Johanesburg stock exchange. Now, it's planning to become the latest of several South African companies -- including the mining companies Anglo American and Billiton -- to list their shares in London or New York. The company's deputy chairman, Pieter Cox, says Sasol is gearing up to expand internationally, but wishes to remain based in South Africa.

Unions defend Nigerian fuel subsidy
Trade unions in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, have begun a week-long protest against a government plan to abolish fuel subsidies. A litre of fuel costs LESS than a litre of mineral water in most of the country - and economists say the cost of subsidising Nigeria's inefficient oil refineries is a drag on the national finances. The dispute echoes a similar protest last year, which forced the government to back down. Analsyts say abolishing the subsidy would win win plaudits from the International Monetary Fund, and encourage new investment in infrastructure by oil marketing companies.

Kenya looks to mend rift with IMF
The Kenyan parliament resumed today after a three month break, with analysts confident the government's first priority is to secure new loans from the International Monetary Fund. Assistance was suspended after disagreement over the government's commitment to crack down on corruption - this time, less than a year after new loans were approved. Although the IMF and the World Bank have emphasised that African governments must take "ownership" of the reform process rather than accept prescriptions from outside, lenders say they will continue to lobby for improved governance as the chief criterion for any new lending.

South Africa's Billiton to overtake Anglo American in size
The South African and London-listed mining company, Billiton, is to merge with Australia's, BHP, creating the world's second largest mineral and steel giant. BHP Billiton is set to overtake the South African mining group Anglo American in size.


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