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Gabon vows no mercy over $250 million hardwood theft

The missing items, 5,000 cubic metres of illegally felled Kevazingo was seized between February and March

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Gabon vows no mercy over $250 million hardwood theft

350 containers of protected hardwood have gone missing in Gabon and the country’s President, Ali Bongo has promised to find and prosecute those involved.

The missing items, 5,000 cubic metres of illegally felled Kevazingo was seized between February and March, they went missing at the end of April.

The demand for the Kevazingo is high in Asia, despite the ban in Gabon.

The stolen Kevazingo in the containers would have a market value of at least 140 billion CFA francs (241 million U.S. dollar), according to Emmanuel Nzue, who runs a Gabonese timber firm.

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Kenyan police arrests finance minister, 27 top officials for graft

Henry Rotich and 27 other top officials are being investigated for abuse of office and graft related charges

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Kenyan police arrests finance minister, 27 top officials for graft
Kenya's embattled Finance Minister, Henry Rotich. (Photo by ZACH GIBSON / AFP)

Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich and other treasury officials were arrested Monday on corruption and fraud charges over a multi-million dollar project to build two mega-dams, police said.

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji had ordered the arrest and prosecution of Rotich and 27 other top officials on charges of fraud, abuse of office and financial misconduct in the latest scandal to rock Kenya.

Rotich, his principal secretary and the chief executive of Kenya’s environmental authority then presented themselves to the police.

“They are in custody now awaiting to be taken to court,” police chief George Kinoti told reporters.

“We are looking for (the) others and they will all go to court.”

Haji said the conception, procurement and payment processes for the dam project — part of a bid to improve water supply in the country — was “riddled with irregularities”.

“Investigations established that government officials flouted all procurement rules and abused their oath of office to ensure the scheme went through,” said Haji.

He pointed to the awarding of the contract to Italian firm CMC di Ravenna in a manner that he said flouted proper procurement procedures, and despite financial woes that forced the company into liquidation and had led to it failing complete three other mega-dam projects.

According to the contract, the project was to cost a total of $450 million, but the treasury had increased this amount by $164 million “without regard to performance or works,” said Haji.

Some $180 million has already been paid out, with little construction to show for it.

Another $6 million was paid out for the resettlement of people living in areas that would be affected by the project, but there is no evidence of land being acquired for this, the chief prosecutor said.

“I am satisfied that economic crimes were committed and I have therefore approved their arrests and prosecutions,” said Haji.

‘Well-choreographed scheme’ –

“The persons we are charging today were mandated with safeguarding our public interest and deliberately breached this trust.

“Under the guise of carrying out legitimate commercial transactions, colossal amounts were unjustifiably and illegally paid out through a well-choreographed scheme by government officers in collusion with private individuals and institutions.”

Rotich has previously denied any wrongdoing in the scandal.

The dams scandal is one of several in the country that has seen hundreds of millions of dollars of public money disappear due to fraud.

In 2017, Kenya fell to 143rd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption index.

In March 2018, a damning report from the auditor general showed the government could not account for $400 million in public funds.

A string of top officials have been charged since last year as President Uhuru Kenyatta vows to combat corruption — a refrain weary Kenyans have heard from multiple presidents.

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PepsiCo to buy South Africa’s Pioneer Foods for $1.7 billion

PepsiCo has offered 110 rand per Pioneer ordinary share in what would be its second largest deal since 2010

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PepsiCo to buy South Africa's Pioneer Foods for $1.7 billion

PepsiCo has struck a deal to buy South Africa’s Pioneer Food Group for $1.7 billion, the companies announced on Friday, lifting Pioneer’s shares and boosting a sector that has been hit by drought and tough trading conditions.

The U.S. drinks and snack group see Pioneer Foods’ product portfolio as complementary to its own and would help PepsiCo to expand in sub-Saharan Africa by adding manufacturing and distribution capabilities. 

“Pioneer Foods forms an important part of our strategy to not only expand in South Africa, but further into sub-Saharan Africa as well,” PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta said in a statement. 

PepsiCo has offered $7.89 per Pioneer ordinary share in what would be its second largest deal since 2010, the companies said, with the news lifting the South African company’s shares by 29.32% to more than 100 rand. 

Shares in agribusiness investment company, Zeder Investments, which holds Pioneer as part of its portfolio, also rose more than 22%. 

“It’s a vote of confidence in South Africa at a time when we really need it,” Pioneer CEO Tertius Carstens says.

Food producers have struggled amid a slump in retail sales as consumers cut back and dry weather hit maize and other produce. 

Pioneer, which uses maize in many of its products, reported a decline in half-year earnings in May, weighed down by shortages in the staple food. 

“It’s almost a signal to other overseas companies that we are open for business. If PepsiCo is willing to put money down it may lift sentiment of other foreign investors that might come looking at South Africa for bargains,” said Greg Davies, equities trader at Cratos Capital. 

Pioneer, whose brands include Weet-Bix cereal, Liqui Fruit juice and Sasko bread, is the latest consumer goods firm to be the target of a buyout after South Africa’s Clover Industries, which processes products including yoghurt, beverages, and olive oil, began takeover talks with a consortium of companies called Milco SA last year. 

Pioneer was in talks over a potential deal with “a multinational organisation” in 2017, but that fell apart after South Africa’s credit rating was cut to junk status.

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Kenya launches Africa’s biggest wind farm worth Ksh7 billion

The wind farm will deliver 310 megawatts of renewable power to Kenya’s national grid

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Kenya launches Africa's biggest wind farm worth Ksh7 billion
Kenya has inaugurated Africa's biggest wind power plant, a mammoth project in a gusty stretch of remote wilderness that now provides nearly a fifth of its energy needs. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

Kenya on Friday inaugurated Africa’s biggest wind power plant, a mammoth project in a gusty stretch of remote wilderness that now provides nearly a fifth of the country’s energy needs.

The Ksh7 billion ($680 million) project, a sprawling 365-turbine wind farm on the eastern shores of Lake Turkana, is delivering 310 megawatts of renewable power to the national grid of East Africa’s most dynamic economy.

The largest private investment in Kenya’s history, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project was beset with delays and took nearly a decade to rise from the arid landscape 600 kilometres (372 miles) north of Nairobi.

Today, the windmills — scattered across Turkana’s stark lunar landscape and rocky hills — deliver 15 per cent of Kenya’s entire installed capacity, connected to the national grid through a 428-kilometre power line.

“Today, we again raise the bar for the continent as we unveil the single largest wind farm,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta, after touring the project.

“Kenya is without a doubt on course to become a world leader in renewable energy.”

Turkana Corridor –

The project lies in a natural corridor dubbed “the windiest place on earth” and promises to harness this endless power at low cost.

The nearly-50 metre turbines were engineered to handle the fierce gusts that tear through the “Turkana Corridor”, a wind tunnel that generates optimal conditions, year-round.

The winds howling near constantly through the barren valley deliver double the load capacity enjoyed by similar projects in America and Europe.

“It is unprecedented. This is one of the most consistently windiest places in the world,” said Rizwan Fazal, the executive director of the Lake Turkana Power Project.

A Herculean effort was needed to construct the behemoth wind farm in Kenya’s farthest extremes.

The windmills, manufactured by Danish company Vestas, had to be brought one-by-one overland from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, some 1,200 kilometres away. 

Each one was customised so its different segments could be packed “like Russian dolls”, the company said

More than 2,000 trips were needed to bring all the materials from port to plant. 

Some 200 kilometres of road leading to the site had to be tarred to allow trucks through.

Another 100 kilometres of internal roads linking the turbines dotting the hot, desert horizons were also constructed.

‘Incredible journey’ –

The project, far more ambitious in scale than rivals elsewhere on the continent, has been closely watched as a case study of investing in renewables in Africa, where demand for energy is soaring as economies grow and populations swell.

In Kenya — which relies heavily on hydropower and geothermal — power is unreliable and costly, hindering business as energy-intensive sectors such as manufacturing look to take off.

Kenyatta has previously committed to 100 per cent renewable energy for Kenya by 2020 — a pledge the government has been accused of betraying with plans to build a coal-fired power plant off the coast in Lamu.

That project — deemed unnecessary by experts — has been stalled by legal challenges.

The Turkana wind farm involved years of planning and construction but the turbines went up quicker than one a day, with the last raised in March 2017, ahead of schedule.

But difficulties in financing the transmission line, being laid by state-owned power company Ketraco, and problems acquiring land, meant this landmark project didn’t connect to the grid for another 18 months — in September 2018.

“The farm was built on time. But the project can only operate if you can bring power to the client,” said Catherine Collin, East Africa head of the European Investment Bank. 

The EU’s lending facility loaned $200 million for the project, which received other finance from a consortium of European and African companies

“There was a delay, there was a few difficult moments, I have to say, for everybody, but in the end we all made it,” Collin said.

Fazal said it had been “an incredible journey” but more than anything it let the world know Kenya’s untapped clean energy markets were open for business.

“It sends a very strong signal about Kenya being ripe for projects,” he said.

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