Africa in the news: Nigeria postpones elections for 6 weeks, U.S. bank ceases remittances to Somalia, and Mining Indaba forum highlights African potential

Nigeria’s Presidential Elections Delayed until March 28

Only one week before Nigeria’s scheduled presidential elections the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, announced a six-week postponement (from February 14 to March 28) owing to a warning from Nigerian National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki that the country’s security forces would not be able to ensure the safety of voters in the troubled northeast region, which under assault by Boko Haram. The six-week extension, Dasuki argued, would enable the military to cooperate with a new regional force to carry out a special operation against Boko Haram, neutralize the group, and stabilize the country in time for the revised election date.

However, many observers have argued that a six-week delay will not provide sufficient time to resolve the longstanding security challenge posed by Boko Haram, which the Nigerian military has been fighting for six years; nor will it allow the INEC enough time to print and distribute the remaining voter registration cards that approximately 20 million eligible voters are still waiting to receive; nor implement additional measures to stave off post-election violence, as tensions grow higher over the delay. Furthermore, many critics have suggested that the pressure for the postponement, which came from military chiefs appointed by the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, is meant to give Jonathan more time to revitalize his campaign, as recent polls between him and the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, have been too close to call. Alternatively, Dasuki has stated that the delay actually favors Buhari, since pacifying the northeastern region would allow more people from the area to vote, and the region has historically been a bastion of support for Buhari’s party.

President Goodluck Jonathan has stated that he was not consulted on the decision to delay elections and denies the accusations that the decision is meant to give his campaign an edge. Meanwhile, the Buhari has called for calm among his supporters to ease tensions over the postponement, although 58 people have already been killed due to pre-election violence according to Nigeria’s human rights commission.

Remittances to Somalia Halted by U.S. Bank

The U.S.-based Merchants Bank of California—which handles approximately 80 percent of the nearly $200 million in remittances transferred from the U.S. to Somalia every year—ended its services to Somalia last Friday, due to new, more stringent regulations on wire transfers overseas. Aid organizations, such as Oxfam America, have protested the bank’s closure, arguing that it will likely provoke a humanitarian crisis, as remittances pay for essential foods and medicines in Somalia, and far exceed foreign aid spending in the country. The U.N. Envoy to Somalia called remittances the “lifeblood and survival mechanism for many, many Somalis” and stated that moves to completely restrict their flow are “clearly worrying.”

In recent years, the U.S. wire transfer industry has experienced increasing pressure from government regulators to increase accountability in their flows of money abroad in an attempt to prevent remittances from funding terrorist organizations such as al-Shabab in Somalia. Last Saturday, a dozen U.S. lawmakers have called for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in order to consider legal alternative options to continue remittances to Somalia.

Africa’s Largest Mining Conference Explores Investment Opportunities

Mining, one of the most profitable sectors for African countries rich in mineral resources, has faced a number of challenges over the course of the past year, including declining commodity prices—estimated to have fallen by 17 percent from 2014 according to a Bloomberg Index—and commensurate drops in exploration and development spending from mining firms. It was against this bleak backdrop that the Mining Indaba forum took place in Cape Town, South Africa from February 8 to 12, 2015, and sought to catalyze investment for African mining industries by bringing together nearly 7,000 delegates from African governments, and international mining and investment firms. While participants acknowledged the current challenges facing the sector, they also showcased opportunities presented by the 30 new African mining projects scheduled to be operational by 2018, constituting nearly 18 billion in investment. Meanwhile, local civil society organizations held a parallel rally, calling for the indaba’s organizers to make the forum more inclusive so that community leaders and rights groups could be a part of the conversation on the benefits accrued to Africans from mining projects.