Africa News Roundup: Ethiopia and Egypt, Chad and Libya, CAR’s Crisis, and More

Los Angeles Times:

A battle over water has turned into a war of colorful rhetoric between Ethiopia and Egypt over the flow of the Nile, which begins in the African highlands but keeps Egypt from being swallowed entirely by desert.

An ambitious Ethiopian dam project is diverting Nile waters that Cairo says will reduce the river’s northward flow. The Egyptians have stumbled into crisis mode: At a meeting hosted by President Mohamed Morsi this week, several politicians, unaware TV cameras were rolling, suggested sabotaging or threatening to bomb the dam.

IRIN: “[Central African Republic] Crisis Remains Dire – and Neglected.”

El Watan (French):

Gao, Kidal, Anefis… Six mois après le lancement de l’opération Serval, que deviennent les villes du Nord-Mali ? Notre envoyée spéciale a échappé à un attentat kamikaze et a vécu des accrochages entre l’armée malienne et le MNLA. Elle témoigne de la peur et de la précarité dans lesquelles vivent les populations.

BBC:

Seven people have died in the Somali port of Kismayo in fighting between two self-declared leaders of the strategic city and surrounding area.

Residents told the BBC the clashes began in the town centre at midday and lasted for about 40 minutes.

They broke out after one of the leaders tried to meet the defence minister who is attempting to resolve the crisis.

VOA: “South Sudan Switches from Arabic Textbooks to English.”

From May (missed it then), Luke Balleny: “What Impact Has the EITI Transparency Initiative Had on Nigeria?”

The Economist: “Could Political Demonstrations in Ethiopia Herald Greater Freedom?”

Wall Street Journal: “Chad’s President Warns of Islamist Threat in Libya.”

What else is happening?

Roundup on Sudan, Israel, and the Yarmouk Weapons Factory

On October 23/24, explosions occurred at the Yarmouk weapons factory in Sudan. The Sudanese government has stated that an Israeli airstrike was responsible. The situation remains murky enough that I do not feel comfortable writing an analytical piece on the issue, but the incident has generated substantial media attention, so I thought I would round up some important stories.

International Press Reports

  • VOA: “The [US-based] Satellite Sentinel Project released images Tuesday that show six 16-meter-wide craters near the center of the explosion. The group said the holes are consistent with impact craters created by air-delivered munitions.”
  • NPR: “Israel Operates Inside Sudan, Israeli Official Says.”
  • AP: “In Sudan blast, signs of Iran and Israel’s rivalry.”
  • BBC (October 29): “An Iranian naval task force has docked in Sudan, carrying with it a ‘message of peace and security to neighbouring countries,’ Iranian state media report.” Reuters (October 31): “Iran Warships Leave Sudan after Four-Day Stay.”
  • Al Jazeera: “Sudan denies Iranian links to bombed factory.”
  • VOA: “Sudan’s Iran Alliance under Scrutiny.”

Speculative Commentary (International Media):

  • Time: “Did Israel Bomb a Sudanese Ammunition Depot?”
  • Reuters: “Sudan: A Front for Israel’s Proxy War on Sinai Jihadists?”
  • Washington Post/World Views: “Why Would Israel Bomb Sudan? Theories Cite Iran, Hamas, Even the US”

Sudanese, Egyptian, and Israeli Sources:

  • Sudan Tribune: “Sudanese Opposition Groups Condemn ‘Israeli Aggression,’ Criticize Government.”
  • Akhir Lahza (Arabic): “Explosions and Fire at the ‘Yarmouk’ Factory”
  • Ahram Online: “Egypt Military Dismisses Rumors of Israeli F-35 Overflights.”
  • Akhbar (Arabic): “The [Non-Governmental] Egyptian Delegation Returning from Sudan: The World Ignores Israel’s Crimes.”
  • YNet: “Egypt Denies Knowledge of Attack in Sudan.”
  • Jerusalem Post: “Sudan Strike – A Blow to Iran.”

What do you make of this whole affair?

Nile Politics: Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to Meet Regarding Grand Renaissance Dam

A few weeks ago, I looked at the regional politics of sharing water from the Nile River in the wake of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death. The conflict between upstream and downstream Nile countries over water usage has historically pitted Ethiopia and the upstream countries against Egypt and Sudan. In Meles’ final years, Ethiopia began pursuing a more aggressive strategy, including the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam, set to be completed in 2018. The Dam has been a source of tension between Ethiopia and Egypt, and Meles’ successors have continued to pursue the project.

Alongside disagreement, however, Egypt and Ethiopia have made efforts at dialogue. This week brings news that may help reduce tensions. From the Africa Report:

A tripartite commission, established by Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will meet on 8 October 2012 in Addis Ababa to discuss the impact of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam on the three other countries.

[...]

The commission, established after Egypt raised alarm, will discuss the effects of the Ethiopian on both Egypt and Sudan.

However, Ethiopia maintains that the dam over the Nile River will not affect either Egypt or Sudan.

Ethiopia seems unwilling to halt construction of the Dam, but it is possible that the commission could produce some agreements and compromises. With or without the Dam, the situation is unsustainable – by 2017, even under the status quo, experts predict that Egypt’s share of the Nile will be insufficient for its needs. And in the meantime the upstream countries’ water needs and dissatisfaction will only grow. The two sides will eventually need a mechanism to settle the dispute. Hopefully the commission will represent a step in that direction.

Nile Politics in a Post-Meles Era

Conflict and tension between upstream and downstream countries over the use of the Nile River has been going on for years. But changes in leadership in the Nile region could affect the course of the struggle. Egypt, the leader of the downstream bloc, and Ethiopia, the leader of the upstream bloc, both have new heads of state. At a recent meeting between Sudanese President Omar al Bashir and Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi shows, parts of the status quo will remain in place, but other parts may be set to change.

Kenya’s Africa Review reports (Kenya is one of the upstream countries):

In what must be construed as a warning to the other Nile waters sharing countries, both President Bashir and his Egyptian counterpart reaffirmed their countries “identical position” in regards to the water dispute.

Mr Morsy’s spokesperson did not hide the fact that the issue of the Nile Water is “an Egyptian national security issue”. The two countries receive 55 billion ( Egypt) and 18.5 billion ( Sudan) cubic meters of water annually thanks to a series of agreements that date back to 1929 and drawn by Britain when it was the main colonising power over much of the continent.

The upstream countries maintain that these agreements, which also give the two countries veto powers over projects deemed as “harmful’ to their interests, where [sic] signed during the “colonial era, and should be rewritten to allow countries to equally share in the river’s economic potential.”

One of Egypt long standing objectives over the body of water is that it would never consider the calls for a decrease in its annual share, in fact it would actively seek to increase it – already both Egypt and Sudan control approximately 87 per cent of the water resources of the Nile.

Back in 2010 then Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, following the signing of the the Cooperative Framework Agreement water treaty by Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania, flatly stated Egypt’s annual share would not be affected.

That view has pretty much remained unchanged in the eyes of the newly elected government and whilst it also seeks to increase that share, it has been at pains to add that this is “through cooperation and coordination with the Nile Basin countries”, not unilaterally.

In the midst of continuity – Egypt and Sudan against the upstream countries – there is also some change, at least in the diplomatic tone Egypt takes. Africa Review writes that “President Morsy’s government has gone on a charm offensive with its African counterparts,” adding, “What steps Khartoum and Cairo will take is still unclear, but the signs do point to a more conciliatory tone though not to the extent where they will agree nor accept the demands of the other Nile Basin countries unconditionally.”

Read about Morsi’s July visit to Ethiopia here.

How will the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who had ruled Ethiopia since 1991, affect Nile politics? Meles’ most ambitious move on the Nile issue as of late was the Grand Renaissance Dam, projected to be one of the largest dams in the world. Construction began in April, and by late May 10% of the dam had been completed, with the project set to finish in 2018. So far, it looks as though the project will remain on track even without Meles there to oversee it. The International Monetary Fund recently suggestion that Ethiopia slow down the project, but the government refused:

Ethiopia’s government won’t reschedule construction of the Grand Renaissance dam, said Communications Minister Bereket Simon, who co-chairs a fundraising committee for the plant.

“It was a well-considered plan and it’s one of the mega projects for which the government commits itself unconditionally,” Bereket said in a phone interview [September 13].

The Grand Renaissance Dam has caused substantial alarm in Egypt, which fears the project may reduce its water supply. Experts project that by 2017, even Egypt’s current share of the waters will be insufficient for its population’s needs. Egypt may attempt, then, to frustrate the Renaissance Dam project by “lobby[ing] foreign donors and international organisations to withhold financing for the dam because of the adverse impacts on its economy.”

The existence of South Sudan adds another complication to the status quo. The National writes,

The 1959 treaty did not foresee an independent South Sudan, and the implications for Juba’s share of Nile waters. Like most post-secession issues between Sudan and South Sudan, the South’s allocation of Nile waters is not agreed. Nor is Khartoum, like Cairo before it, likely to easily give ground to a state upstream. The acrimonious relationship between Juba and Khartoum is unlikely to help.

Tension with Khartoum has not, however, prevented Juba from taking action. As part of its strategy to meet the country’s energy needs, South Sudan has stated that it will build dams on the White Nile and its tributaries. Reuters reports, “One of the most ambitious plans is the construction of a 540-megawatt Bedden dam across the White Nile south of Juba, but the government has not yet provided details of funding for the $1.5 billion, seven-to-eight-year project.” As details on this and other projects emerge, South Sudan’s role in the new politics of Nile water usage will become clearer.

As populations grow, the Nile issue will only become more urgent over time. The new leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia, no matter how friendly the tone of their diplomatic interactions, will face difficult choices in the coming years about how and whether to share the waters.

Africa News Roundup: Algerian Elections, Egyptian Early Voting, Crisis in Mali, Ethiopia’s Meles on Corruption, and More

Algeria held elections on Thursday. The government reports turnout at 43%. The Islamist “Green Alliance” has alleged that fraud occurred. Results announced yesterday showed the government-allied parties the National Liberation Front and the National Democratic Rally taking, respectively, 220 and 68 seats in the 462-seat parliament.

The first round of Egypt’s presidential elections will take place on May 23 and 24, but expatriates voted yesterday, following Thursday’s presidential debate.

IRIN on a dying port project in Malawi.

Nigerian soldiers reportedly arrested a commander from the rebel movement Boko Haram in Kano yesterday.

Three articles on Mali: one on the junta’s continued political role (or control?), a US statement on the military “stalemate,” and a third piece on negotiations to free kidnapped Algerian diplomats.

Near the southern Somalian town of Hudur, battles are occurring between rebels from al Shabab and Ethiopian forces as the former attempt to block supplies to the latter.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on corruption in Africa:

“What is the poison that leaders face when you go to national palaces, and transforms people with vision sometimes into ordinary thieves?  Let’s start with the total amount of loot in Africa, and what our role as leaders in that loot[ing] is,” said Meles. “The vast majority of the loot[ing] is done by properly organized companies through all sorts of accounting gimmicks.”

Meles said African leaders are forced to be facilitators for foreign companies who demand favors in return for their investment that might means jobs for their people.

“It’s a difficult thing to manage because our bargaining cards are very limited,” he said. “We need these companies to create jobs, in order for them to come to Africa.  The image is very negative, so the risk is artificially spiked.  And if the risk is artificially spiked, the return has to be commensurate with the risk.  And so it’s difficult to attract them without extraordinary returns.”

What else is happening today?

Egypt Enters Sudan-South Sudan Conflict

Reuters, yesterday:

Egypt is mounting a diplomatic offensive to defuse tensions between Sudan and South Sudan that have raised fears the two former civil war foes could return to a full-blown conflict.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr arrived at Khartoum airport on Sunday for talks after the two countries clashed during the past week for control of an oil field.

“Egypt will make every possible effort to try to bridge the gap in viewpoints between Sudan and South Sudan and contain the existing border tensions between them after the occupation of Heglig,” Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.

Tensions have run high between Khartoum and Juba since South Sudan seized control of the disputed Heglig oilfield on Tuesday. Sudan has vowed to recapture the region, which produced about half of the country’s 115,000-barrel-a-day oil output.

The fighting, which has halted production at the field, has been the worst since South Sudan declared independence in July.

As Reuters writes, the seizure of Heglig (more on Heglig here) marks a tense moment in the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. The larger conflict stems from the history of violence between the two areas and from the issues left unresolved after South Sudan’s secession, namely oil revenue sharing, border demarcation, and the fate of various communities on the Sudanese side of the new border.

Egypt’s role in Sudan is complex. Egypt has been preoccupied with its own transitions during the last fifteen months, but historically Egypt has exercised tremendous influence in Sudan. Even if we just take the period post Napoleon, Egypt occupied Sudan from 1820 until the rise of the Mahdi in 1884/5, and acted as the UK’s partner in the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium from 1899 to 1955 (Sudan gained independence in 1956, having chosen not to remain part of Egypt). Since independence, strong cultural and political links have remained between the two countries – for example, Egypt and Sudan have presented a united front against the upstream Nile countries in arguing that the status quo for water-sharing (which the upstream countries say favors Egypt) should remain in place.

I bring up the Nile issue deliberately, because that conflict has often pitted Egypt against Ethiopia, the most outspoken of the upstream countries. Ethiopia has also been the site of African Union-mediated talks between Sudan and South Sudan in recent weeks. In light of that, will Egypt’s new diplomatic push be seen to imply Egypt’s lack of confidence in the diplomatic effectiveness of Ethiopia and the AU? Will Egypt be seen as pro-(north) Sudan? This is yet another illustration of how the break-up of Sudan is affecting relationships in the region: Egypt’s relationship with South Sudan remains to be fleshed out.

In any case, I think Egypt’s new level of involvement demonstrates how worrying the situation in the Sudans has become to their neighbors (and other countries with an interest in the Sudans, particularly China). It is not like Egypt has resolved all of its own internal uncertainties, so the fact that Egypt is making the Sudans such a high priority right now says that Egypt is quite concerned. We will see if Egypt can make headway where others, thus far, have failed.

North African Islamism, Past and Present

Ranging yet again outside my normal area of coverage, I was moved to write a quick post because of an Al Jazeera English segment I saw last night about recent Islamist electoral victories in Morocco and Tunisia and the potential upcoming Islamist victories in Egypt.

My thought was one I’ve had before, and one I’m sure others have pointed out, but it’s worth saying again: the political scene in North Africa now is in some ways (though obviously not all!) a remix of the aborted political transitions of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Islamist political mobilizations of that time were blocked by incumbent regimes (and by the West) at high cost, especially in the case of Algeria, where the military’s intervention to forestall an Islamist electoral triumph helped launch years of brutal civil war. I can’t predict the future and I do not have special insight into what North African Islamists will do with power, but I do think that a) the decision to block Islamists from elected office circa 1991 was a mistake and b) political groups who participate in elections have the right to be judged on what they do after they win, instead of being pre-judged for what they might do if they win.

All this reminds me of the fabulous edited volume Islam, Democracy, and the State in North Africa, which was published in 1997 but is still relevant in my view. My favorite chapter is Dr. Mark Tessler’s “The Origins of Popular Support for Islamist Movements A Political Economy Analysis.” Tessler gives real insight into why young Algerians – including people who were not as religiously pious as one might expect – were drawn to Islamist politics. Highly recommended for those who haven’t read it, and worth reflecting on at this particular moment in the region’s political trajectory.

Also for what it’s worth I think Libya, then as now, is moving to a different rhythm than the rest of the region.