All posts tagged africa


MOMAN Outlines Agenda to Take Nigeria Out of ‘Subsidy Trap’

Nigeria’s petroleum product marketers, under the aegis of Major Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), have outlined a comprehensive agenda to take the nation out of the gasoline subsidy regime, which cost around $2Billion to service in the last one year.

The roadmap contains five clear messages, starting with the government divesting  the power to increase or decrease  petroleum prices, and including calls for annulling the Price Equalization Fund (PEF), discontinuation of Direct sales and Direct Purchase (DSDP)  programme, amending the law setting up the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and inaugurating an open access to foreign exchange to all petroleum product importers.

This radical blueprint of reforms, from one of the several stakeholders in Nigeria’s downstream sector, is contained in a statement by Tunji Oyebanji, Chairman of MOMAN.

In it, the association requests:

  • A fundamental and radical change in legislation is necessary. The clear and obvious risk is that the country has never been able to increase pump prices under the PPPRA Act, leading to high and unsustainable subsidies and depriving other key sectors of the economy of necessary funds.
  • Purchase costs and open market sales prices for petroleum products should not be fixed but monitored against anticompetitive and antitrust abuses by the already established competition commission and subject to its clearly stated rules and regulations.
  • A level playing field. Everybody should have access to foreign exchange at competitive rates to be able to import and sell petrol at a pump price taking its landing and distribution costs into consideration.
  • Discontinuation of the Direct sales and Direct Purchase (DSDP)  programme. All foreign exchange proceeds from all sales of crude be paid into the same pool from which all importers can access foreign exchange at the same rate.”
  • The Price Equalization Fund mechanism should be discontinued and its law repealed as the cost of administration of equalization has become too high and the unequal application of payments by marketers distorts the market and creates market inequities and unfair competition. Internal equalization has been the practice with diesel distribution and sales since 2010 when diesel was fully deregulated.
  • The pricing system should allow internal equalisation by marketers which would be both competitive and equitable.
  • Fuel import should enjoy priority access in allocation of foreign exchange, again through a transparent auditable and audited process of open bidding. Conditions for accessing foreign exchange should be streamlined and specific delays before access imposed unilaterally on the downstream oil industry should be discontinued as being inequitable.”

MOMAN said it was stating its position, in the context of the announcement by Timipre  Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, that the government would implement a policy of “price modulation”, which means, in MOMAN’s view, that the state will give effect to existing legislation enabling it to set prices in line with market realities through the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) as provided in its Act.

“The clear and obvious risk is that the country has never been able to increase pump prices under this law, leading to high and unsustainable subsidies and depriving other key sectors of the economy of necessary funds”, MOMAN stated.

MOMAN admits that “there is no country or economy where governments do not have the power to influence prices”, however, “Governments use economic tools such as taxes or interventions on the demand side or the supply side of the market and other administrative interventions to influence prices where it needs to”.

“The problem here is that government has retained for itself by law the power and the responsibility to fix pump prices of PMS which is what puts it under so much pressure and costs the country so much in terms of under-recoveries or subsidies when it cannot increase prices when necessary to do so.

”It makes sense to relieve itself of this obligation now when crude prices are low and resort to influencing prices using the same tools it does for any other commodity or item on the market”.

“Our current situation, laid bare by the challenges of Coronavirus to the health of our citizens in particular and and economy of our country in general, demands that we are honest with ourselves at this time. A fundamental and radical change in legislation is necessary.

“When crude oil prices go up, government has always been unable to increase pump prices for socio-political reasons leading to these high subsidies and we believe the only solution is to remove the power of the government to determine fuel pump prices altogether by law.”

MOMAN recommends a legal and operational framework comprising of a downstream Industry operations regulator, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) or Competition Commission (for pricing issues) and the interplay between demand and supply which will ensure a level playing field, protect the Nigerian Consumer and curb any market abuse or attempts to deliberately cause inequities in the system by any stakeholder.

“In line with change management principles, consultation and engagement with market players should clearly spell out the path and final destination which is full price deregulation”.

 


OPEC still has an important role to play in Global Oil Market

By Sebastian Wagner

Scan Western news about OPEC from the last few years, and a common observation tends to appear: OPEC had a huge influence on the global oil market back in the day. Now, in the shale oil era, not so much.

I would argue that OPEC can safely state that reports of its death—or dwindling relevance—are greatly exaggerated. In fact, OPEC has been at the center of one of the biggest stories of 2020 aside from COVID-19: a historic deal that resolved the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

From 2016 to late March, the two oil powerhouses had been part of a loose alliance of OPEC members and non-member producers known as OPEC+. Its purpose was to stabilize the global oil market through voluntary production cuts. The alliance was a success until early this year, when COVID-19 effectively shut down China’s economy and dramatically reduced its crude oil imports. To restore market balance, OPEC member Saudi Arabia asked OPEC+ member Russia to increase its production cuts. When Russia refused, Saudi Arabia stopped complying with its own production cuts and, instead, started flooding the market with oil. Russia followed suit, and plans to renew the OPEC+ agreement on April 1 were abandoned. Crude oil prices went into freefall, and U.S. shale oil producers started struggling to survive. It didn’t help when COVID-19 began forcing lockdowns around the globe, resulting in plummeting demand for crude and even lower oil prices.

The world was watching closely when Saudi and Russian leaders attended an emergency OPEC/OPEC+ meeting on April 9. After three days of negotiations, OPEC and OPEC+ members agreed to massive production cuts starting with nearly 10 million barrels per day May 1. The cuts, which will gradually decrease, will continue through April 2022. While low demand remains a concern, by stabilizing the oil market, OPEC+ will still provide economic relief and save jobs around the world. Shortly after the product-cut agreement was finalized, exhausted Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman shared his exhilaration with Bloomberg News. “We have demonstrated that OPEC+ is up, running, and alive.”

Indeed. Both OPEC and OPEC+ are very much alive and as relevant as ever.

A New Era?

Despite the condescending descriptions of OPEC I’ve read in American media coverage, I am seeing signs that U.S. leaders are starting to look at OPEC with newfound respect. Even one of the organization’s most outspoken American critics, President Donald Trump, had generous words for OPEC the evening before its April 9 meeting. “Obviously for many years I used to think OPEC was very unfair,” Trump said during a press briefing. “I hated OPEC. You want to know the truth? I hated it. Because it was a fix. But somewhere along the line that broke down and went the opposite way.”

Then there’s Ryan Sitton of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the exploration, production, and transportation of oil and natural gas in Texas. He responded to the Saudi-Russia oil price war by reaching out to OPEC and proposing statewide oil production cuts. After a one-hour photo call with OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo, Sitton was invited to attend OPEC’s June meeting in Vienna.

While I applaud Sitton’s initiative, I couldn’t help noticing what a departure it was from America’s usual “OPEC playbook.” U.S. energy policy has been driven by a strong desire to “free” the country’s oil and gas industry from OPEC’s influence. As recently as 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives attempted to pass the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act (NOPEC) (https://bit.ly/3bpS3h5). Had this harmful bill been approved, the U.S. Attorney General would have been empowered to bring antitrust lawsuits against OPEC and its member countries. The legislation likely would have jeopardized foreign investments in the U.S. oil and gas industry and cost America valuable commercial partnerships.

How dramatically things have changed. Two years after NOPEC was proposed, we had a representative from the powerful Texas Railroad commission offering to work with OPEC to help balance the market.

While it’s unclear whether Texas will cut production, Sitton’s decision to open communication with OPEC is a positive, and I hope other U.S. industry leaders will consider the same. Instead of viewing OPEC as the enemy, dismissing it, or avoiding it, why not learn to understand this important organization and lay the foundation for a productive relationship?

Gaining Perspective

I suggest starting with Amazon’s bestselling book, Billions at Play: The Future of African Energy and Doing Deals, which includes a chapter titled “A Place at the Table: Africa and OPEC.” Yes, the chapter covers the value OPEC membership offers African nations, but its insights are relevant to everyone with ties to the oil and gas industry.

The background on OPEC’s 2016 Declaration of Cooperation is particularly timely. It was that agreement among OPEC producers and 11 non-members that resulted in OPEC+. For the first time in OPEC’s history, member countries agreed to work with non-member countries to stabilize the global oil market after increased U.S. shale oil production triggered low prices. Together, participating countries committed to voluntary production adjustments of 1.8 million barrels per day. Until the extraordinary chain of events set off by COVID-19, the OPEC+ alliance remained firmly in place.

The book also delves into the reasons OPEC membership has so much to offer African oil-producers: strength in numbers and a commitment to unity. “The organization says that every new member adds to the group’s stability and strengthens members’ commitment to one another,” the book explains. “Different perspectives create a rich culture where colleagues can learn from one another, anticipate and respond to the complexity of today’s oil markets, and ultimately, influence prices.”

It’s not always a seamless process, but OPEC continues to achieve those objectives. And as we go forward, this kind of unified approach will remain critical. Most likely, the global oil and gas industry will be forced to deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19 and low oil demand for an unknown period of time. Instead of working at cross purposes, oil-producing countries will need to continue cooperating to find solutions, embrace opportunities, and keep the industry alive.

Wagner is the Chair of the German African Business Forum and the CEO of DMWA Resources, a pan-African energy marketing & investment firm. Worked for Trafigura & affiliated companies in oil trading, responsible for managing trading operations and pursuing pre-financing opportunities in around Africa.


ExxonMobil Heralds Reduction of Nigerian Rig Count

With its widely publicized notification of early termination of the contracts for the jackups Gerd and Groa offshore Nigeria, ExxonMobil has effectively inaugurated the widely anticipated reduction of the Nigerian rig activity.

Gerd and Groa, owned by Borr Drilling, were on locations in Asasa and Oyot fields in Oil Mining Leases (OMLs) 67 and 70 respectively, as of early April 2020.

Now other announcements of terminations of rig contracts by other companies are expected to follow, as market conditions worsen.

The two Borr rigs were under contracts originally committed until April 2021 and May 2021. The contracts for both rigs require 180-day notice for early termination.

Borr, a New York Stok Exchange listed company, says it is in discussions with ExxonMobil with regards to planning the discontinuity of operations.

Nigerian rig activity was at a three year high in January 2020, with 32 rigs in various stages of operations on as many locations.

But the combination of COVID-19 and a price war has, since then, has gutted the hydrocarbon industry worldwide, with cargoes of crude oil sloshing around looking for buyers.

 

 

 

 


Shell Plots A Return To Angola

By Moses Aremu, Editor

Anglo Dutch major Shell is keen on purchasing the operator stake in Angola’s Blocks 21/09 and 20/11, two very prospective acreages in the deepwater Kwanza Basin. These are the assets that Cobalt Energy, the US minnow, operated in the country until 2015, when it sought to sell its 40% stake in them to Sonangol, the state hydrocarbon company, for $1.75Billion.

That transaction fell apart in 2016, and Cobalt took Sonangol to international arbitration over its failure to extend the licence deadlines. The two companies reached a settlement-Sonangol reported in December 2017- which called for Sonangol paying $150Million by February 23, 2018 and a further $350Million by July 1, 2018.  

Sonangol has now put up, for auction, Cobalt’s 40% stake and operatorship of these assets.

Observers see Shell’s interest in the blocks as a way of re-entering the country. Cobalt’s 2016 annual report indicated that it made seven discoveries in the blocks with a total of 750Million gross barrels of oil equivalent. A significant part of the volume is natural gas, the hydrocarbon fluid type that Shell is most interested in trading with.

Shell went to Sonangol’s data showroom in Houston on early June 2018, with a delegation of about a dozen officials and the company was widely speculated as the leading contender for the assets.

Shell was one of the earliest entrants into the deepwater activity in Angola between the early and late 1990s. Its Bengo-1 well, drilled in Block 16, tested 1,780BOPD in one reservoir, the first discovery in deepwater Angola. The company’s initial enthusiasm about the structure was restrained by the well’s high gas cap and pancake thin reservoirs, but Shell was willing to risk an early production. The enthusiasm waned when Bengo-2 turned out to miss even the thin bed that was of such fascinating interest in Bengo-1. Then the more it drilled, the less fortunate the company got.  Whereas other operators: TOTAL, Chevron, ExxonMobil, even BP, went on to make discovery after giant discovery, Shell got trapped in a run of ill luck, drilling nine wells in Block 16, most with marginal results. This is curious, because Block 16 is located between the two most successful leases in the country: ExxonMobil’s Block 15 to the north and TOTAL’s Block 17 to the south. The last well Shell drilled in Block 16 was Chiluango-1 which was abandoned in early November 1998 as a dry well. In 1999, the company packed out of Angola and shifted its gaze to Nigeria where, by 1996, it had become sure of the deliverability of its huge Bonga structure, located in the upper slope of the deepwater Niger Delta.


Austin Avuru: Three Hard Knocks in The School of Life

By Toyin Akinosho

Austin Avuru, Chief Executive of Seplat, Africa’s largest homegrown E&P firm, most vividly remembers the day the company lost the bid for Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 in eastern Nigeria.

“That was one of our lowest points in this company because the acreage was going to be a company changing asset for us: it was going to give us the size that we seek”, Avuru reflected, in his office in Lagos, Nigeria, recently, as he prepared to celebrate a milestone that ties his own personal growth with Nigeria’s 60 year trajectory as an oil producing nation.

OML 29 is a sprawling, highly valuable property, spanning an area of 983 square kilometres (or 242,550 acres) onshore and holding some 2.2Billion barrels of oil equivalent, in proved and probable (P1+P2) reserves, in nine fields, according to a 2013 Competent Persons Report by NNS .

To put some context to the figures: Seplat, today, produces, on a gross basis, slightly higher than 60,000Barrels of crude oil and condensates and 400Million standard cubic feet of gas from five acreages, whereas OML 29 alone produces over 80,000BOPD, when there is no vandalism of evacuation pipeline.

“We had the cash on the table but we did not win OML 29. We were only a hundred million dollars away from Aiteo’s bid (to Shell, which was leading a divestment of itself, TOTAL and ENI from the tract). It was insignificant because we were talking about a $2.4Billion bid and $100Miilion was less than 5% of that, so it was insignificant”.

Avuru wonders whether the inability of Seplat to clinch OML 29 wasn’t due to “the politics of who Shell figured would more easily get the approval for the purchase” from the Nigerian government. “Otherwise they” (the company which won the asset) “couldn’t pay for one year after they got it, while we were going to write our cheque immediately because we had our money ready”.

It was the loss of OML29 that made such acreages as OMLs 25 and OML 55 important to Seplat, Avuru noted. “All these issues about OML 25 and OML 55 came because we lost the big fish”.

His disappointment about OML 29, Avuru explained, pales in comparison with a particular challenge he had faced when he was building Platform Petroleum, a marginal field operator. This was before he helped bring Platform, Shebah Exploration and M&P together to create Seplat.

“The biggest setback was the day I woke up and found out that cellar of the appraisal development well that we were drilling in Umutu had collapsed. We borrowed $10Miilion to drill that well and supplemented with our cash and in the end, the well cost us $19Million. We borrowed $20Million for the gas processing plant and our production was declining and we couldn’t borrow more. We were almost in the throes of death. This was in 2009 and that was when I scratched my head and thought ‘this is it’. The only thing that came to our aid eventually was the pipeline network that we had built all by ourselves to the cluster”, he recalled, referring to  a cluster of four oil fields in the Western Niger Delta, which evacuate their crudes into Platform’s facility. “The Ase River Pipeline was generating about $2Miilion in gross revenue in tariff every year. So that revenue stream was enough to negotiate a revolving credit facility with Skye Bank for $5Million. It was that money that we eventually used to work our way back to life”.

Not all of the huge regrets of Avuru’s life in the last 15 years were business related.

“One of the biggest potholes I have had was the day I lost my wife in 2005 after the two of us had inspected the site where we (Platform Petroleum) were building our flow station in Umutu and so on”.

Avuru remarried, several years later, and then this:

“And then the day I had to open my kitchen door to inform my wife that her 57-year-old father, who had been accidentally shot by a police man and was in the hospital, had died.

“I think those were probably my lowest points in the past 15 years”.

Otherwise, much of the path Avuru had travelled, since he left the NNPC in 1992, had been strewn with gold.

At least, so it seems.

Since he left NNPC as a star geoscientist (by his own account), Avuru had worked for Kase Lawal’s Allied Energy (which became Erin Energy, and has since ceased to be a going concern) and moved on to set up Platform Petroleum, from which platform he became the Chief Executive of Seplat, the only African indigenous E&P Company to be listed on the main board of the London Stock Exchange.

In the last 12 years he had been nominated by two successive Nigerian Ministers of Petroleum for the position of the Director of Petroleum Resources and had come terribly close to being appointed to the position of Group Managing Director of the NNPC, the hugely influential state hydrocarbon company. “I had a one-on-one interview with (President) Yar’Adua”.

To mark his 60th birthday on Friday, August 17, 2018, Seplat Petroleum’s management wove a theme around the fact that Avuru was born in the year that Nigeria first exported crude oil. An industry stakeholders lecture, at a princely venue overlooking the Atlantic, entitled 60 Years After: Preparing For A Nigeria Without Oil, was attended by over 300 people, a glittering gathering featuring the country’s top business brass, C-Suite level petroleum executives, energy bureaucrats and ranking politicians.

Full details of Austin Avuru’s career trajectory, his misses and hits, as well as blinding insights into how the world of petroleum E&P works in Africa’s largest hydrocarbon producer, is published in the August 2018 edition of the Africa Oil+Gas Report. Please click here…

This publication wishes him many more fruitful years in the service of his country.

 


Africa On A Three Year Rig Activity Surge

Africa On A Three Year Rig Activity Surge

Africa’s rig activity is at a three year high, even while the total number of rigs active on the continent was slightly down to 108, in September 2012, from 111 in August, according to the latest figures from Baker Hughes Incorporated. The small decline follows global trend, but Africa is on a roll.

The highest rig count for the continent in 2011 was 94, in February of that year. By December 2011 it was down to 79. The average rig count for 2011 was, indeed 78, which means that February 2011 figures were a spike. Baker Hughes figures also show that Africa’s average rig count for 2010 was 83, which was higher than 2011.

→   Read the rest of this entry


FDI Dries Up In South Africa

Foreign direct investment (FDI) to South Africa slumped 87% to $1,3-billion in 2010, according to a United Nations report. Some of the country’s economists believe that the decline could be linked to South Africa’s sluggish productivity, owing to the degradation of the country’s education and training system, together with the threatening monopolistic-like union movement. One key argument is that a large concentration of business was in corporate hands and that not enough small businesses and entrepreneurs were being encouraged to thrive. By some estimates, South Africa only shows entrepreneurial activity of about 5%.


Isreali Expelled For Zim Blood Diamonds

Israel’s Diamond Exchange says it has expelled a long-time member for attempting to smuggle illegal Zimbabwe blood diamonds into the country.

Spokesman Assaf Levin said Tuesday that the bourse expelled David Vardi after he was arrested at Israel’s airport last week with about $200,000 worth of illegal Zimbabwe stones. Levin said his organization “will not tolerate dealing in blood diamonds.”

Zimbabwe is banned from exporting diamonds under the Kimberley Process, the 75-nation regulatory group that seeks to end the trade of so-called blood diamonds which fund violence in Africa.

The Israeli Tax Authority said customs officials randomly selected Vardi for inspection at the airport and found his pockets full of diamonds.

Israel currently chairs the Kimberley Process.


Multilinks Implicated In Telkom Graft Report

A whistle-blowing report on alleged breaches of corporate governance at Telkom, the South African telecoms company, include a list of contraventions of the company’s processes and the country’s Public Finance Management Act, along with nepotism, bribery and corruption.

A key highlight was wasteful spending at Multi-Links, Telkom’s loss-making Nigerian subsidiary, such as the use of a third party to buy a SAP licence despite Telkom holding a universal contract with SAP, which entitled it to a discount. International tax, assurance, transaction and advisory services firm Ernst & Young is also mentioned in the report.

Among the other allegations are that several large contracts, which include those of Blue Label Telecoms and Altech West Africa, were not reviewed and approved by Telkom’s legal services in line with its governing structures, delegation of authority and procurement processes.

Most of the contracts were allegedly initiated and concluded under former chief executive Reuben September without the knowledge of the management at Multi-Links, except for its chief executive at the time, Thami Msimang, and its chief financial officer, Hasnain Motlekar. They allegedly allowed the payments to go through knowingly. The South government holds  a 39.7 percent stake in Telkom.


Tunisian Turnaround

By Toyin Akinosho

Why an uprising in Tunis, of all places?

Tunisia, under the ousted president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, was the most competitive economy on the African continent. In the World Economic Forum 200812009 Global Cornpetitiveness -Report, the country ranked first in Africa and 36th globally for economic competitiveness, well ahead of Portugal (43), Italy (49) and Greece (67).

Ben Ali’s country had been one of the three which had jostled for that Number 1 position for the past 10 years, The others are Botswana and Mauritius.

The irony is that Africa’s high achieving states are some of its least populated. Which means that however prosperous the country is, the wealth doesn’t translate into huge economic engines as noticeable as South Africa, Egypt or Nigeria. Botswana hosts two million people. Mauritians are fewer; they are 1.2Million. Tunisia’s population is much larger than these two, combined, but even with 10 million people, it is still les populated than many countries in Africa.

It is however, the one country where significant value is added to raw materials and turned to competitive exports.

By 2000, Tunisia had averaged 6% growth rate for eight years and become, perhaps, the most rapidly industrializing nation in Africa. As the 21st century arrived, Tunisia was boasting of mechanical and electrical industries expanding at 7% per annum, textiles at 6%. “There is one scientific technician per 2,000 inhabitants of the country”, declared one government report, released in 2000, “a rate comparable more with an Asian tiger like Malaysia than any African country, with per capita income leapfrogging from $30 in 1956 to $3000 in 1998”. The report claimed that poverty levels had been crunched from 33% in 1967 to 6.2% in 1997. Life expectancy had risen from 50years in 1956 to 73years at the end of 2000. Infant mortality dropped from 60 to 30 per thousand in the same space of time, the report claimed.

The former president, who escaped to exile after angry crowds took over the capital, was working, in his own words, ‘to move Tunisia up from “emerging economy” status to “developed nation” status by 2008’.

It didn’t happen. The global economic crisis, among others, slammed the brakes on his ambition. At the end of 2009, GDP growth had slowed down to 3%. Tunisia had 13% of the work- force unemployed. Yet, in comparison with the rest of the continent, this percentage of people out of work wasn’t a dramatically high rate. Afterall, South Africa, the continent’s  engine room, has 25% of its workforce unemployed.

Tunisia’s inflation was also a modest 3.5% in 2009 and the population below poverty line by 2005, the latest that the World Bank could come up with, was 3.8%, a good figure, by African standards.  Despite the 3% GDP growth in 2009, Tunisia’s growth rate for the ten years between 1999 to 2009  averaged 5% per annum and its GNP/capita level was the third highest in Africa.

 “Tunisia is the best organized country in the Mahgreb’ the Swedish export trade council proclaimed in 2009, using data from the IMF and the CIA fact book. “It had the region’s highest development index”.

The biggest export industry is the mechanical sector, especially automotive components, which maintained a strong and steady growth averaging 20 % between 2004 and 2009. The textile and clothing industry sector is the largest employer of the manufacturing industries employing more than 200,000 persons. Tunisia is the 5th supplier of clothing of Europe, exporting trousers, jeans, business trousers, women lingerie, and work clothing, The food industry’s share of value added remained constant over the period between 2004 and 2009, representing 27% of the production. Exports of agro-food sector increased from 1 227 million dinars in 2004 to 1, 592 million dinars in 2008. Still, it was a tidal wave of angry youths, protesting rising food prices,  that forced Ali to resign and flee.

The overall media analysis of the crisis, which had left a hundred people dead, had expectedly focused, not on the economy, but on the politics, with the perception of corruption of Ben Ali’s immediate family being shown as one of the triggers of the mass riot that forced the president out of the palace.

Ben Ali came to power in 1987 after ousting Bourguiba, then president- for- life, in a coup. He installed himself as prime minister. He was elected president with 99% of the vote in the elections he conducted in 1989, two years after coming to power. Six opposition parties participate on this occasion. His party, the RCD, wins all 141 seats in the national assembly In 1994, Ben Ali again called for elections. He polled 99.9% of the vote in an election in which he was the only presidential candidate, drawing international condemnation. Five years later, in 1999, he again received 99.44% of the votes in the general election to win a third spell as the country’s most powerful person.

Three years later Ali amended Tunisia’s constitution to allow a president to stay in power until the age of 75 and be re-elected unlimited times. Two years after that he was re-elected once more, again receiving an unlikely 94.5% of the votes. Opposition party the Democratic Progressives withdrew two days before the vote) branding Tunisia’s political system “a masquerade of democracy”.

Mr Ben Ali has delivered one of Africa’s most robust economies in his twenty three year rule, but has been less than sensitive in handling the politics of his country. Tunisia has not been immune from the hardline Islamist influence threatening to sweep the Maghreb. Attacks from groups allied with Al Queda have grazed the security infrastructure in the last four years. In 2006 a dozen hardline lslamists were killed in shoot-outs with security forces in the capital, Tunis.

Yet the anger on the streets in the Tunis, with everything about the ousted president, including his economic achievements considered trash-able, allows the possibility of the emergence of a far right Islamic group which may not necessarily continue the progressive economic development.

Western Europe has been keen on trading with Tunisia, Europe’s northernmost neighbour, because of its openness to investors and, more crucially, its ability to rein in terrorist groups. As Tunisia expands the space for democracy, will its economic fortunes turn around?

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