Monday, January 22, 2018

Despite Cordial Meeting, Egypt and Ethiopia Remain at Odds Over Nile Dam

 Friday, Jan. 19, 2018
Editor’s Note: Every Friday, WPR Associate Editor Robbie Corey-Boulet curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent.
It was a busy week for diplomacy related to a long-running dispute over the Nile River, culminating Thursday in Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s first visit to Egypt. “We must make sure that this great river never becomes an object of competition, mistrust or conflict,” Hailemariam said in Cairo. But recent events, including statements from earlier in the week, highlight the extent to which it already has.

Ethiopia is nearing completion of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, an enormous project on the Nile’s main tributary that is estimated to cost up to $5 billion. The Ethiopian government says the dam is essential for expanding access to electricity and fostering development. Egypt, however, says the project, in particular plans to fill the dam’s reservoir, threatens access to water Egyptians need to survive. 

As Julian Hattem reported for WPR last July, the Nile has been a regular source of discord, with Egyptian officials talking of sabotaging projects that might disrupt water flow and floating the possibility of military action. The dispute has drawn in several countries; Egypt accuses its neighbor, Sudan, of siding with Ethiopia, and is also wary of Turkish meddling.

Ahead of Hailemariam’s visit, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had conciliatory words for both Sudan and Ethiopia, trying to assure them he had no desire for conflict. “We are not prepared to go to war against our brethren or anyone else for that matter,” he said Monday. “I am saying this as a clear message to our brothers in Sudan and Ethiopia.” His appearance with Hailemariam on Thursday was similarly friendly, though Sissi noted his “extreme concern” over the stalemate on the substance of talks. 

Indeed, discussions about future management of the Nile, including a summit hosted by Uganda last year, have underscored the apparent intractability of the dispute, and all parties clearly recognize just how high the stakes are. As Rashid Abdi, project director for the Horn of Africa for the International Crisis Group, told The Wall Street Journal this week, the dispute “is a proxy conflict over who should be the regional hegemon, Egypt or Ethiopia.”

This Week’s WPR Africa Coverage

On WPR this week, we published an in-depth report by Philip Kleinfeld examining how rebel groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are moving beyond local concerns and eyeing the toppling of President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa. Though there are serious obstacles to their making a run on the capital, it appears the country’s political gridlock is aggravating a security situation that was already grim. Our latest update on the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon looks at how Nigeria is increasingly being roped into the unrest and how it’s likely to respond. And we published an interview with Jalel Harchaoui about the Tawergha community in the years since Libya’s civil war and what their story says about broader prospects for reconciliation. 

Keep up to date on Africa news with our daily curated Africa news wire

Here’s a rundown of news from elsewhere on the continent: 

Southern Africa 

Zimbabwe: President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that elections intended to cement the transition away from Robert Mugabe would be held “in four to five months’ time.” Mnangagwa also told The Financial Times that, unlike Mugabe, he would welcome foreign observers. As he prepared to head to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, Mnangagwa declared that his country was “open for business.” 

South Africa: Pretoria joined the chorus of African capitals voicing outrage in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s slur of African nations as “shithole” countries, and the foreign affairs ministry summoned American diplomats for a meeting. In a statement, the ministry said, “It was noted that Africa and the African diaspora has contributed significantly to the United States and to its development into the country that it is today, and that the African and international reaction to the alleged statements clearly serve as a united affirmation of the dignity of the people of Africa and the African diaspora.” On the domestic front, Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly elected head of the African National Congress, pressed on with his anti-corruption drive amid continued speculation that President Jacob Zuma would be pressured into leaving office prematurely. James Hamill, whose new book on South Africa comes out next week, has written extensively for WPR about South Africa’s political future, most recently in December following Ramaphosa’s election to the ANC presidency. 

North Africa 

Tunisia: Protests over high prices and other economic woes continued, despite a government pledge to allocate an additional $70 million for the poor. Soccer fans were among those clashing with security forces on Monday. 

Sudan: Protests also continued in Khartoum, where opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi urged people to “rise against the regime,” according to the BBC. Reuters reported that police “fired tear gas, struck demonstrators with batons and arrested several people” on Tuesday. While frustration over rising bread costs and the high cost of living in general was the immediate catalyst for the protests, they also featured calls for regime change. 

Central Africa 

Republic of Congo: About a month after the government announced it had signed a cease-fire deal with the Ntsiloulou rebel group, known as the “Ninjas,” the two sides met this week for talks on its implementation. The conflict in the southeastern Pool region dates back to President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s controversial re-election in 2016. In late December, rebel leader Frederick Bintsamou, alias Pastor Ntumi, said he had not been given a chance to review the cease-fire deal and called for negotiations. Earlier this month, we wrote about the humanitarian toll of the conflict, which has been largely shielded from public view, as well as the ever-weakening position of Sassou Nguesso’s government. 
Two U.N. soldiers stand guard in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nov. 30, 2012
(AP photo by Jerome Delay).

Democratic Republic of Congo: Jean-Philippe Chauzy, chief of the mission in Congo for the International Organization for Migration, warned this week that rebel groups in the east were banding together and adopting a “political agenda.” As mentioned, Philip Kleinfeld examined this same development in a feature for WPR. The same day Chauzy addressed a news conference in Geneva, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni accused Congo’s U.N. peacekeeping mission of “preserving terrorism” in the east. His remarks came shortly after Congo’s army launched an offensive against the Allied Defense Forces, a notorious Ugandan rebel group believed to have been behind the deaths of 15 peacekeepers last month. Violence also continued in the central Kasai region, where four soldiers were hacked to death by men armed with machetes. The U.N. warned this week that hundreds of thousands of people in the Kasai region were at risk of starvation. 

East Africa 

Uganda: The Uganda Law Society filed a legal challenge to a constitutional amendment removing the country’s presidential age limit, which would allow President Yoweri Museveni to run for re-election in 2021. The government is working on its response. Back in October, two months before lawmakers approved the measure, Julian Hattem reported for WPR about the uproar it had caused, and how Museveni had evolved from the idealistic young leader who once bemoaned African presidents’ tendency to stay in office for too long. Also this week, Museveni announced during a graduation ceremony for prison wardens that he intended to bring back the death penalty as a crime-fighting measure. 

Burundi: Voice of America reported on a government campaign to quell opposition to constitutional revisions that would allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to stay in power beyond 2020, when his current term expires and he hits term limits. “So far dozens of people, about 60 people were arrested in many sides of the country, and this is one of the signs that [the] referendum will not be fair since those campaigning against are arrested, while those campaigning for ‘yes’ are not arrested,” said Vital Nshirimana, head of the Forum for Strengthening the Civil Society. Voting on the changes is expected in May. Burundi has been grappling with unrest ever since Nkurunziza opted to run for a new term in 2015, a move his critics said was unconstitutional. Nina Wilen provided an update on the crisis last April. 

West Africa 

Niger: Lawmakers in Italy approved a plan to deploy 470 soldiers to Niger and send additional soldiers to Libya as part of an ongoing effort to curb migration. The troops will be redeployed from Afghanistan and Iraq. In November, we wrote about how the policies of Italy and other European Union countries were exposing African migrants to abuses in Libya and elsewhere. Separately, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced she was sending three Chinook heavy-lift helicoptersto Mali in support of French-led efforts to combat Islamist extremists in the region. 

Nigeria: A new video released by Boko Haram purportedly shows some of the girls rounded up in the mass abduction from the town of Chibok that captured the world’s attention in 2014. In the video, one of the girls declares that they have chosen to stay with their captors and “are never coming back.” The girls’ identities were not immediately confirmed. On Wednesday, a suicide bombing at a market in the city of Maiduguri killed 12 people and injured dozens. The following day, security forces said an attack in neighboring Niger killed four soldiers. In Kaduna state, two Americans and two Canadians were kidnapped in a road ambush that left two police officers dead. And farther south, the Niger Delta Avengers threatened to strike offshore oil facilities. 

Top Reads From Around the Web
Congo-Brazzaville’s Hidden War: Taking advantage of three weeks of rare access to the Pool region in Republic of Congo, Philip Kleinfeld comes back with firsthand accounts of the government’s scorched-earth tactics and the humanitarian crisis they’ve created. While government operations including aerial bombardments were ostensibly targeting “Ninja” rebels, some Pool residents said there were none in the area. “There were no Ninjas,” said bombing survivor Isma Nkodia, recalling one raid. “Just civilians.” 

Using Comedy to Strengthen Democracy: Writing for The New Yorker, Adrian Chen offers a behind-the-scenes account of the creation of The Other News, which is often described as a Nigerian version of The Daily Show. The piece also addresses some of the thornier questions raised by a project involving two white foreigners educating Nigerians in political satire, an art form they’re hardly strangers to. 

Coming up on WPR: Reports on the recent coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea and prospects for political reform in Ethiopia. 

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