A look at the wardrobe of South Sudan's president, plus election watch in Mali and solving Lebanon's power-shortage problems.
Date: 29 April (first round), 13 May (second round, if required)
Candidates: There is a lengthy queue of volunteers to succeed President Amadou Toumani Touré who is stepping down after the maximum two terms. It includes former prime ministers Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (pictured) and Modibo Sidibé, former speaker Dioncounda Traoré, veteran politician Mountaga Tall, and US-educated Mormon Yeah Samake.
Issues: A Tuareg revolt has recently engulfed several towns and may threaten election plans.
Monocle comment:The election could be Mali’s second consecutive peaceful power transfer – no small feat in West Africa.
Style leader no. 35
The president of South Sudan, the world’s newest country, is precipitously tall, steely-eyed and thickly bearded. He’s all determination and purposeful stride, Africa’s Man In Black. The 60-year-old is no parlour politician but a battle-tested rebel commander more used to fatigues than sharply pressed suits. Kiir – or Salva as everyone calls him – led his people to independence last July only to find himself once again facing the prospect of war against the old enemy.
This time Sudan and South Sudan are locked in a game of suicidal brinkmanship over the sharing of oil revenues. Relations reached a poisonous impasse in January when Kiir shut off the oil, a move that is choking north and south alike. At this rate it may not be long before he hangs up his silk ties and dusts off his old camo. Kiir is soft spoken but a formidable opponent. Toe-to-toe you’re unlikely to be eye-to-eye. He is about average height among his fellow Dinka tribesmen but towers over fellow statesmen.
The near-ubiquitous cowboy hat makes him taller still. He has a collection of them but his favourite black Stetson was a gift from that other renowned political cowboy, former president George W Bush.
The cowboy hat is a perennial wardrobe fixture and a knot of metaphors. It tells his countrymen that he is a Dinka cattle-herder at heart, it tells everyone of his allegiance to the US and it contains more than a hint of the Texas oil baron, fitting in a newborn, oil-rich state. The style is catching among Juba’s newly independent rich who stash 10-gallon hats in their primary-coloured Humvees.
The dark suit declares that while South Sudan may be one of the world’s poorest countries where pastoralists follow their cattle across roadless expanses it also aspires to modernity and the western wealth ethic.
In the capital, Juba, the ability to keep a pair of leather shoes this shiny and free of red dust signals that their wearer travels in an air-conditioned car and walks on pavements, which is the same as saying he works for the government.
South Africa is about to begin the country’s first major rail project since the 1970s. Costing an estimated R17bn (€1.67bn), the 146km Swazilink line will connect Lothair in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province with Swaziland’s Sidvokodvo Junction. The new line will mainly be used to transport cargo and is expected to significantly boost South Africa’s ability to export coal.
More than 20 years after the end of the war that destroyed the country’s electrical infrastructure, Lebanon still suffers acute power shortages. The country’s state-owned electricity company produces just about half of the 3,000 megawatts necessary. Two foreign countries are offering to help – a pair that neatly encapsulate Lebanon’s ideological faultlines. An Iranian plan would send electricity at a discount through Syria but would involve building more power stations. Denmark, which is actively promoting green energy, suggests setting up wind farms in north Lebanon, although the current unrest in the region will complicate any decision.
New parliament buildings cost money so for impoverished African countries that want to spruce up their legislative surroundings, the answer is to ask China. In recent years Chinese companies have built new parliaments in Lesotho, Malawi and Guinea-Bissau.