Ethiopia and Egypt Continue Nile Talks

When I last wrote about the politics of water-sharing among Nile basin countries, Ethiopia (a leading proponent of a greater share for upstream countries) had announced plans to build a dam on the river. This move potentially put them at odds with Egypt (a proponent of the status quo, which involves substantial Egyptian control over the Nile), but both countries seemed somewhat willing to work things out. The change of government in Egypt has created opportunities to rework the existing arrangement, and the two regimes are pursuing talks that may lead to a solution.


Ethiopia has agreed to postpone ratification of a treaty on sharing Nile River water until a new Egyptian government takes office to join the negotiations. The delay eases a long-running dispute between upstream countries at the source of the Nile and downstream countries that claim historic rights to the water.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has told a visiting Egyptian delegation he will freeze consideration of a treaty that would reverse colonial-era agreements giving Egypt and Sudan rights to 90 percent of the Nile’s water. Six upper riparian states have signed the deal, clearing the way for ratification. But downstream countries Egypt and Sudan have refused.

The article goes on to say that Mubarak’s regime generated considerable ill will on the issue and that Ethiopia, along with fellow upstream power Uganda, are willing to give the new regime time to get its bearings before they ask for a decision regarding the treaty. Still, the upstream countries are making sure the new Egyptian regime understands the importance of the Nile issue.

Ezega, a source I am not very familiar with, has more.

Egyptian Parliamentary Elections Roundup

I do not normally cover events in Egypt, but today’s parliamentary elections have drawn a great deal of attention and commentary. The outcome of these elections, and of Egypt’s 2011 presidential elections, will affect events in the Middle East and Africa in the coming years.

And here’s a video from Al Jazeera:

Saturday Links: Niger Coup Attempt, Guinea Clashes, Mubarak to Run Again, Etc.

Niger: The military junta confirms rumors of a coup plot.

Guinea: An indefinite delay in planned elections, announced last night, resulted in clashes between police and demonstrators in Conakry today.

Egypt: This is already old news, but in case you didn’t see it, President Hosni Mubarak plans to run in next year’s elections.

Somalia: The African Union wants the UN to blockade Somalia. Meanwhile, IRIN reports that stability in Somaliland has improved the schools there.

Sudan: The US is sending a number of diplomats to provincial capitals in Southern Sudan in advance of the January referendum, tripling the US presence there.

Sahel: A Monday meeting of EU foreign ministers will explore Europe’s options for assisting in the fight against AQIM.

Finally, check out this roundup from Jihadology, which links up a number of interesting articles (via a private Twitter account, so I won’t link).

Vice President Biden’s Africa Trip

One big story I couldn’t cover while traveling last week was Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa. Biden traveled partly as Obama’s surrogate at the World Cup and other events, and partly to deliver messages urging reform and stability in different African countries, including not only Kenya but also its neighbors, particularly Sudan.

Biden traveled first to Egypt and met with President Hosni Mubarak. They discussed Gaza, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Sudan, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and next year’s elections in Egypt.

The Vice President spent the next two days in Kenya, where he gave a speech linking political reform with increased American investment. Biden also focused on Kenya’s role in East Africa. While in Kenya he met with Southern Sudanese officials and attended a discussion about Somalia.

Kenya’s East African sees regional worries trumping US concerns about Kenya’s internal politics.

US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Kenya can be seen as signaling a shift in the Obama administration’s approach to East Africa.

Comments by Mr Biden, coupled with reports of an expanding US “secret war” against Al Qaeda, suggest that Washington is now focusing more on Kenya’s strategic sub-regional role than on concerns about corruption and human rights abuses within the country.

The coalition government’s agreement on constitutional reforms represents a major reason for the marked change in Washington’s tone. But growing US trepidation over instability in the region – particularly in Somalia – has also contributed to the decision to cultivate a more co-operative relationship with Kenya.

NTV Kenya goes so far as to say that Biden “endorsed” the new Kenyan constitution, which has sparked controversy in Kenya because of provisions relating to shari’a courts.

On Thursday Biden traveled to South Africa to attend the World Cup. The South African leg of his visit, where Biden met with his counterpart Kgalema Motlanthe, seems to have focused less on substantive political discussions than on the political symbolism of an American presence at the World Cup, but in South African Biden talked Sudan, as he did elsewhere.

Biden’s trip to Africa is a clear sequel to Secretary Clinton’s seven-country journey to the continent last summer, which also included stops in Kenya and South Africa. Whereas Clinton’s approach sometimes seemed stern, Biden’s style has been called “cheerful.” But the same political issues and challenges remain in play, especially with regard to Kenya, where Washington wants to push for reforms but also preserve an alliance with a regional power. Kenya’s perceived importance to Washington has increased even more since last year, it seems, because of continued instability in Somalia but also because of the potential for serious disruption connected with the January 2011 referendum in Sudan.

At Foreign Policy, in fact, Josh Rogin writes that the trip was “all about Sudan.” Rogin says that Biden’s meetings with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and with other African leaders show that concern about Sudan is moving up the hierarchy in the Obama administration. Apparently choosing whom to send to the inauguration ceremonies in Khartoum split Obama’s Africa/foreign policy team last month. Biden’s efforts on Sudan coincided with other US diplomatic moves, including a separate meeting between Scott Gration and Egyptian officials and a stronger strain of criticism toward Sudan coming from the State Department. The absence of Nigeria and Angola from Biden’s itinerary, countries Clinton visited last summer, also suggests that the trip was primarily focused on political stability in East Africa and not on broader US economic interests on the continent.

The Brookings Institution offered a number of perspectives on the trip as it started last week. Check them out and see what you agree or disagree with. Diplomatically, it seems to me that the trip was a success in terms of its stated and presumed aims. But I still feel that Washington’s approach to Africa is narrowly focused on attempts to engineer political outcomes, a strategy that often backfires and also distracts from other kinds of engagement, particularly economic partnership (the language is there, but is always tied to reform, and always overshadowed by politics) and cultural dialogue. In any case, Biden seems to have been a hit, though of course many African leaders are hoping for a visit by the Big Man himself.

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: UK Foreign Policy, Sudan Referendum, Liberian Diaspora

Here are some links I liked this week from Africa/foreign affairs blogs:

Owen Barder discusses how the new British government will conduct development, and Steve Coll recounts a meeting with William Hague, the new Foreign Secretary.

Jon Temin looks at the National Congress Party‘s decision-making process on the 2011 referendum on Southern Sudanese independence.

Analysis of Sudan often displays a common weakness, especially when it originates from outside the country: limited understanding of dynamics within the NCP. The party is, often justifiably, portrayed as the source of much of Sudan’s suffering. But it is also portrayed as a single-minded monolith, rather than a party that struggles with internal divisions and consensus building, as any political party does. One trait that distinguishes the NCP – especially compared to the SPLM of late – is how effectively it keeps those internal divisions from public view. But that shouldn’t be confused with an absence of internal divisions or uniform thinking on key issues.

Inevitably, factions within the NCP disagree on whether to proceed with the referendum. Contrary to conventional wisdom, in all likelihood there are NCP factions that are actively pro-secession, with the critical caveat that they support secession only if a favorable post-referendum wealth sharing agreement is reached (and agreed to prior to the referendum). For them, secession offers an opportunity to consolidate authority in the north and move towards the vision of the “Hamdi Triangle.” Surely there are also factions that are resolutely opposed to secession and refuse to let the NCP preside over the division of Sudan (though the recent elections, in which President Bashir received only approximately 10% of the vote in the south, suggest that a unity outcome of the referendum is a tall order), with some opposed to allowing the referendum to proceed at all. And, as in any debate, there are those who are undecided and are probably being courted by either side.

Two pieces, unrelated, on Liberia: Loomnie features Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf‘s reaction to the death of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, and Texas in Africa discusses a Liberian town hall in Atlanta.

Music from Cameroon.

Louisa Lombard on efforts at transparency in the Central African Republic.

A few pieces on US policies in Africa: UN Dispatch on an anti-LRA law that passed Congress, and The Majlis’ Evan Hill on US aid to Egypt and the actions of the Mubarak regime.

And least but not least, I can’t resist: tell me what you think of this picture of Secretary Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Chinese Culture in Africa, Egypt-Sudan Relations, Uganda Anti-Gay Law, Africa and Haiti

Reuters discusses China’s cultural outreach to Africa:

While China’s economic influence is now mighty and its cheap goods can be bought everywhere from Lagos to tiny tribal villages in remotest Ethiopia, Africans, especially young ones, still admire and try to copy U.S. culture.

Middle class teenagers in Nairobi dress like suburban kids from Atlanta, posters of Obama adorn minibus windows in Kinshasa, American hip-hop is everywhere.

China now seems to have realised this.

Here in Addis Ababa this week China and Ethiopia signed an agreement to work on a “cultural exchange program” from 2010 to 2013. Ethiopia’s state news agency said the countries will dispatch “art troupes, artists, writers and art exhibitions” to each other. It will be interesting to see how mutual the traffic is.

Sean Brooks explores relations between Egypt and Sudan.

Over at Foreign Policy, Kayzan Farzan says politicians are backing away from a proposed anti-gay law in Uganda. “Friction over the bill,” Farzan writes, “has led to a proxy battle over the U.S.’ cultural influence in the region.”

Kal looks at dialogues between Islamic scholars and Salafists in Mauritania. At Al Jazeera, Mohamed Vall addresses the same topic.

Chris Blattman passes on some “undiplomatic” remarks on the UN from James O.C. Jonah, former Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs under Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Louisa Lombard analyzes an encounter between an American gold mining company and the government of the Central African Republic.

Texas in Africa fills us in on Africa’s efforts in the Haiti crisis.

And here’s a blog I just came across: Roving Bandit, on South Sudan.

What are you reading?

China-Africa Summit This Weekend

This weekend, China and Africa will mark another major milestone in their relationship. The most significant aspect of the event may not be the fact of its happening, but the fact that serious diplomatic exchanges between China and African countries are now regular, even commonplace.

sharm el sheikh

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

On Sunday, African and Chinese leaders will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, for a summit on trade. VOA notes that

despite the global financial crisis and lowered expectations, the relationship is going strong.

China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun says the theme of the conference will be a new type of strategic partnership, and cover such disparate topics as energy security and climate change.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has already arrived in Egypt, and will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before the summit.

As I said above, exchanges like this are nothing new. This summit is the sequel to one held in Beijing in 2006 which was attended by some forty African heads of state. Chinese President Hu Jintao paid visits to Africa in 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2009.

Persistent Chinese diplomacy has assisted in the expansion of Chinese economic and political influence in West Africa and other parts of the continent. The numbers are staggering: “direct Chinese investment in Africa soared from 491 million dollars in 2003 to 7.8 billion dollars in 2008,” while “trade between the two has increased tenfold since the start of the decade.”

Of course, the Chinese presence in Africa has occasioned serious concern in the US and elsewhere, where “critics have accused China of worsening repression and human rights abuses in Africa by supporting countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe in its drive to gain access to vital natural resources.” Similar charges appeared after the conclusion of a trade deal between China and the regime in Guinea; ongoing Chinese investment despite the government crackdown in Guinea, for some, reflected “established Chinese business practices in Africa, characterized by huge investments in a still-poor continent but also secrecy and often scant regard for labor and human rights.”

My own view is that for the moment a pragmatic focus on economic interests motivates China – a “thirst for African oil” and minerals – but that already, and increasingly, China will have to make sophisticated political maneuvers in Africa. For example, it’s not an accident that “malaria diplomacy” figures in Chinese outreach to Africa. Chinese elites may describe the project in instrumentalist terms, saying that “helping developing countries eradicate malaria will help China project its influence and prestige as a global power,” but the fact is they’ve already felt compelled to bolster economic wheeling and dealing with humanitarian undertakings. No superpower, or would-be superpower, can avoid politics altogether. That doesn’t necessarily mean China will eventually have to pay more attention to human rights, but it does suggest that it won’t always be possible to get in and make money without taking local realities into account.

So the summit may not represent a dramatic shift in the relationship, but it provides a moment to reflect on where the relationship is going. British analyst Tom Carghill has a perspective worth considering:

“Over all, I think it has been a largely balanced relationship,” Carghill said. “African governments that have negotiated strong, good deals with China, including Angola, have done well out of it. But also China has gotten access to the markets and the commodities that it needs.”


“I also think that we have to be realistic,” Carghill said. “China, ultimately, is still a third-world country in many respects, and its companies and its business people come from that background, and it would be strange if they applied a higher standard in the African states in the way they do business than they do back home in China.”

Carghill adds that, since the last conference in Beijing, both sides have become, inevitably, more realistic about how the relationship will work in the future.

Carghill’s is not the only perspective that merits reflection, though. Politics, after all, involves more than one side. So if you’re interested in political backlash against China in Africa, head on over to the New Pragmatist and check out a video and some links he has on the situation.