Weekly Update: September 19, 2022

Nigeria-Morocco Gas Deal

By Osetemega Iribiri

At about 200 trillion cubic feet, Nigeria possesses the largest proven gas reserves in Africa and the seventh in the world. It is predominately untapped, flared, or re-injected into oil wells. In December 2016, King Mohammed VI of Morocco visited President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria. The two leaders agreed on a monumental scheme to take the Nigerian gas northwards.

Consequently, on September 15, 2022, the two nations, represented by Mallam Mele Kyari, the Group Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian National Petroleum Co Ltd (NNPC Ltd), and Dr. Amina Benkhadra, Director General, Morocco’s National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines, signed a memorandum of understanding in Rabat, Morocco. This agreement also had the fifteen (15) Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member states as signatories represented by Mr. Sediko Douka, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Infrastructure, Energy, and Digitalization. Their assent is vital as the pipeline will provide gas to the fifteen (15) ECOWAS countries as it traverses to Morocco. The 7,000 km pipeline will originate from Brass Island (South-South Nigeria) and terminate at the North of Morocco, where it will connect to the existing Maghreb European Pipeline (MEP) that originates from Algeria (via Morocco), all the way to Spain. Thereby also providing Spain and the rest of Europe with gas.

This development comes in the wake of Russia shutting gas channels to Europe and their increasing need for alternative gas sources. This pipeline may take decades to complete and billions of dollars to fund, but it will be one of the longest built ever. Additionally, nearly $60 million is committed to financing feasibility and engineering studies by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Fund for International Development and Islamic Development Bank. Once completed, the project will supply about three billion standard cubic feet of gas daily.

The signing of this MoU is also a positive step in South-South cooperation. Also, the West African countries through which it traverses will be able to produce more electricity through natural gas-fired thermal power plants. This project will also facilitate Africa’s economic diversification through increased productivity with functioning industries and South-North diplomatic relations.

Solomon Islands Cancels Planned Elections

By Cameron Chambers

The Solomon Islands has canceled planned elections this past week. This comes as lawmakers in the Pacific Island state handed Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare a win by delaying the elections which will allow the Prime Minister Sogavare to remain in office longer. The measure received 37 votes in favor and nine against, which would move the election to April 2024, extending both executive and legislative terms. Furthermore, there is speculation that the Prime Minister Sogavare has not significantly prepared for elections since early 2021. Prime Minister Sogavare argued that the island “could not afford to hold elections and host the Pacific Games next year”.  Opposition lawmakers are concerned that such a cancellation would allow prime minister Sogavare to “consolidate power.” This move to withhold elections is a worrying sign of authoritarian shrift in the Island’s governance.

Australia has offered to help fund the election to ease the economic burden on the island state. However, Prime Minister Sogavare refused the offer which he saw as an attempt to interfere in the elections by a foreign nation. This may further strain relations between the Island, Australia, and the United States.

The Solomon Islands further strained relations by halting naval visits from the United States and the United Kingdom. The USCG Oliver Henry and HMS Spey were denied diplomatic clearance to port at the island. In response, the Prime Minister Sogavare stated that there is now a universal moratorium on all naval visits to the Island. Followed by the announcement, a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands was drafted in April. Australia views this agreement as a potential security threat that “changes the calculus of operations in the Pacific.”

These developments are of worry due to the lack of U.S. and Australian commitment to the Pacific Islands in the past two decades. It remains to be seen how the pacific island states will respond and how U.S. engagement will change in the long-neglected region.

Tensions Leading to Brazil’s Election Day

By Ciara Perez

On October 2nd, the people of Brazil will cast their vote in the presidential election, with candidates including right-wing populist, Jair Bolsonaro, and leftist candidate, Luis Lula. Bolsonaro is the current President running for reelection, and his main rival is Lula, who governed the country from 2003-2010. If no candidate wins fifty percent, a second round of the election will take place on October 30th.

Back in 2018, Bolsonaro won the presidency against Lula after Lula was imprisoned for corruption charges. Now, Lula’s conviction has been annulled and Bolsonaro is facing the repercussions for his poor management of the pandemic, corruption charges against his administration, misogynistic remarks, and the country’s economic challenges. According to an IPEC poll published on September 5th, Lula polled ahead of Bolsonaro by fifteen percent, with 46% of voter support compared to Bolsonaro’s 31% support.

In the months leading to this election, Bolsonaro has acted to better conditions in Brazil. Paulina Villegas reports that energy prices have stabilized, the double-digit inflation rates have declined, and employment has grown. Additionally, Bolsonaro has begun handing out monthly cash stipends to poorer families in need and granted land titles to rural farm owners. However, many Brazilians see these efforts as a front for the election, and their feelings about the economic environment have not swayed.  

Bolsonaro’s efforts to sway voters didn’t stop there. He used Brazil’s Independence Day on September 7th to campaign for his reelection. As Constancia Laviola said, “this should be a day of pride, but some of the politicians are trying to kidnap our day, because this is the day of the nation, of the people, and not for a political campaign”. Lula expressed similar sentiments in a public statement.

Despite these efforts, recent polls show that Bolsonaro’s approval rate has remained constant while his disapproval rate is slowly increasing. Some believe that Bolsonaro is laying the groundwork to remain in power, as he has also frequently criticized the electronic voting system, despite no evidence that the machines are prone to fraud.

Updates to this story will be made after the October vote.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

By Camden Hanley

For the first time in 970 days, Xi Jinping has left China for international travel. He has arrived at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The SCO is an intergovernmental organization formed by the PRC in 2001. It mainly focuses on regional security issues, but regional development is another priority that gets discussed. It has nine member states and twelve other states participate as observer states or dialogue partners.

His first meeting was with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was their first face-to-face meeting since late February when they met at the Beijing Olympics. Xi said he was happy to meet with his “old friend” again. Among the main topics discussed was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin readout on the meeting states “We appreciate our Chinese friends’ balanced position in connection with the Ukraine crisis.” It also said that Russia would address Chinese questions and concerns about the invasion.

However, its not all about the Sino-Russian relationship at the SCO meeting. Kazakhstan suspended its membership in the CSTO, a Russian led security organization that includes several former Soviet republics. The PRC has backed this move with a statement from the foreign ministry stating it “firmly supports Kazakhstan in safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” This shows the PRC plans on growing more assertive in Central Asia. This may complicate relations with Russia because Russia has generally viewed this area as within their sphere of influence. While they have similar interests, Russia and the PRCs interests in the area are different which could lead to future disagreements.

An Islamic Democracy at Risk

By William Lucht

Current Tunisian President, Kais Saied, has removed the parliament, released dozens of judges, and under the new constitutional referendum, “both the parliament and judiciary are subordinate to the executive and the president.” Further, President Saied stated, “Their powers and competencies to act as a check on the executive were either weakened or removed altogether.” Largely successful democratic construction designed to allow for separation of power and enhance the government’s ability to defend from one-man rule has slowly been dissolved by Saied over time.

In response to many of Saied’s actions, The National Salvation Front, his opposition–comprised of Ennahdha, the Heart of Tunisia party, the Dignity Coalition, the Movement party, and Al-Amal party–diligently mobilizes strikes and protests and are now signaling they will boycott the upcoming December elections to replace the parliament dissolved by Saied. Opposition has stated that the dissolvement was unconstitutional and that any re-imagination and reinstitution of a parliament under Saied’s direction would be a sham and further consolidate his alleged authoritarian agenda. The new changes realign the country from a “hybrid parliamentary system to a hyper-presidential one, removing a number of checks and balances.”

While Saied retains some support among Tunisians who see him as dramatic change needed to combat the political elite, which they blame for a host of social and economic woes, continued poor economic realities embolden political adversaries’ rhetoric. To further exacerbate issues, Saied in his most recent law has greatly limited the power of parties. Under the new law, voters will choose candidates from parties directly, as individuals, rather than voting in support of a single party. While this may seem reminiscent of western democracies, the new law will reduce the authority of parties to content with the increasing presidential authority already being consolidated. A reduction of the lower chamber from 217 members to 161 members will take effect and it is still unclear how these members will be formally elected.   

Beirut Woman Holds Hostages in Bank to Pay for Sister’s Cancer Treatment

By Bushra Bani-Salman

Another “hero” emerges in Beirut, Lebanon after holding hostages at gunpoint in a bank for access to her own funds. Sali Hafez and accomplices stormed Blom Bank in a successful attempt to secure funds that have been blocked from withdrawal for nearly two years. This is the second heist a patron commits for funds this summer. Earlier in the summer, Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein stormed his bank demanding his funds be released to help pay for his father’s operation. He threatened to burn the bank down with everyone in it if he did not receive his funds. In the end, he surrendered to authorities after the funds were released. The bank later dropped their lawsuit against him and he was released. Hussein was declared a hero throughout Lebanon and abroad via social media.

In an interview with a local Lebanese channel, Sali Hafez says, “The Bank has robbed us publicly…I got to a point where I considered selling my kidney to help pay for my sister’s treatment…Our money is in the bank. Money we earned with our sweat and tears…I took $13,000 from my own money. I did not take anything that was not mine…I took the gun from my nephew. It is fake… I told everyone in the bank not to fear because I will not harm them…”

Major protests broke out in 2019 in Lebanon with citizens pressing for resignations from their country’s politicians, demanding an end to political incompetence and corruption. Banks closed their doors for weeks, then reopened with tight limits on withdrawals in fear of depositors withdrawing all their funds amid political unrest and a financial crisis. Banks now allow for a maximum of $400 USD withdrawn a month plus some Lebanese pounds. 

While some Lebanese chose to live without electricity for the majority of the day (up to 20 hours), almost everyone in Lebanon relies on generators for electricity due to the country’s failed electricity grid. They dependency on generators costs the Lebanese people a hefty sum, as well as their health due to the toxic fumes spewed. In addition to the electricity shortage, there is a diesel and petrol shortage in Lebanon. People wait hours in line to fill their vehicles with gas that has shot up in price. The currency crisis is another factor. The Lebanese lira has lost 90% of its value in less than three yearsCurrently, one Lebanese pound (LBP) is worth $0.00067 USD. Growing grievances and frustrations from the Lebanese people have led to desperate measures. Officials fear that more patrons will take up arms in a desperate attempt to access their money, and some publicly blame the country’s political elites.

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