Hydropolitics of the Nile Basin

I just finished reading John Waterbury’s The Nile Basin: National Determinants of Collective Action. The book offers a concise introduction to the politics of international water basins as well as the various points of contention among the riparian states in the wider Nile Basin.

Here’s an excerpt:

All upstream riparians in the Nile basin, including the Sudan share varying degrees of suspicion towards Egypt and Egyptian motives in seeking cooperative understandings. It seemingly follows that Ethiopia could mobilize these fears and occasional resentments into an alliance of upper basin riparians. The British in fact tried to do just that from 1959 to 1961, as Egypt and the Soviet Union jointly pursued the Aswan High Dam project at the expense of the upper basin (p. 86).

Why would upper basin riparians care about how Egypt uses water that flows up north?

As Waterbury explains, this is because of the international norm of Master Principle of appropriation — “whoever uses the water first thereby establishes a claim or right to it” (p. 28). Therefore, Egypt has an incentive to use as much of the Nile waters as possible in order to establish a future right to high volumes of downstream flows. Increasing domestic water consumption makes it easy for Cairo to demonstrate “appreciable harm” if any of the upper riparian states were to divert significant volumes of the Nile’s flows.

This is principle is in direct conflict with the principle of equitable use that also underpins riparian regimes (which are legion, apparently. Read the book). And that is where inter-state power politics come in.

Waterbury accurately predicted the current problem bothering Cairo:

The ultimate nightmare for Egypt would be if Ethiopia and the Sudan overcame their domestic obstacles to development and to examine coolly their shared interests in joint development of their shared watershed in the Blue Nile, Atbara, and Sobat basins. Given Ethiopian and Sudanese regional behavior in the 1990s, Egypt need not lose sleep yet (p. 149).

Well, it is time for Egypt to lose sleep. Big time.

A resurgent Ethiopia is damming the Abbay (Blue Nile) and is likely to divert more of its waters in the future for agricultural projects.

What’s puzzling to me is why Egypt is not interested in cutting a deal right now. Given that Ethiopia is only likely to get economically and militarily stronger with time, why wouldn’t Cairo want to cut a deal under conditions of a favorable balance of power?

An obvious explanation is that Egyptian domestic political concerns make it harder for the government to sign a deal that diminishes claims to the Nile (Sisi doesn’t want to be the one that signed away water rights!) But this problem will only get worse for Egyptian elites, assuming that Egypt will get more democratic with time.

I am not surprised that Ethiopia is playing hardball.

What are the (feasible) options for stabilizing South Sudan?

If you are following the farcical saga of the return of Riek Machar to Juba (the BBC reports that he finally landed!), here is an excellent backgrounder on the options available for stabilizing South Sudan (by Alex de Waaal).

Briefly stated:

South Sudan today is a collapsed political marketplace. The country’s political market was structured by competitive militarized clientelism for access to oil rents. Those oil rents have almost disappeared but the structure of competition is unchanged and the price of loyalty has not reduced to a level commensurate with the available political funding. The result is that political loyalty and services are rewarded with license to plunder. This is inherently self-destructive. South Sudan’s political economy is being consumed to feed its political-military elite.

How can the collapsed political marketplace be fixed?

The short term crisis could be resolved only by one of three means:

1. Buy-in: a power-sharing deal among the contenders. This was the strategy of the CPA. It was possible in 2005 because the budget was increasing by more than 25% per year. It is not possible under current conditions of austerity.

2. Victory and repression: one contender secures military domination and uses an efficient security apparatus to enforce loyalty. This is not possible because the civil war became an ethnic war, making outright victory impossible, and the army is unreformed.

3. Skilled management of the political market: the CEO negotiates a pact with the political financiers to obtain more funds and to regulate the marketplace, providing enough leeway to stabilize the situation. This remains an option but it requires skills and coordination that have been in short supply.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.38.29 AMThe Saudis and OPEC aren’t helping with Option 1. And for the longest time I had faith in the international community’s ability to engineer and enforce Option 3. But the older I get more I think about it, the more I am convinced that autonomous recovery, i.e. Option 2 might be the best long-run solution (with important lessons from Idris Deby’s Chad noted).

Too bad there is not a single warlord in South Sudan (including President Salva Kiir) who is strong enough to become the main stationary bandit in Juba.

So Option 3 it is. But for how long?

 

 

Understanding Uganda’s Military Adventurism Under Museveni

On January 15th 2014 President Yoweri Museveni finally admitted that Uganda People’s Defence Force troops are engaging in combat operations within South Sudan. Right after the political fallout in Juba and escalation of hostilities between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those behind his former deputy Riek Machar, Mr. Museveni threatened Machar with military action if he did not come to the table to negotiate with Kiir. Museveni’s military involvement in the conflict has caused concern in Nairobi and other capitals in the region. For one, Uganda’s military intervention in the conflict may yet jeopardize the ceasefire agreement that was signed on January 23, 2014 in Addis Ababa. The regional body IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) is supposed to be a neutral arbiter and monitor in the conflict. Museveni’s clear leanings towards the government in Juba may bring to question IGAD’s neutrality in the mediation effort.

For historical reasons (see below) Khartoum fears Kampala’s military involvement in South Sudan. But this time the situation is slightly different, and a little more complex. Bashir has already shown his hand in support of Juba against Machar, possibly for two reasons: (i) Khartoum needs Juba’s help in weakening the rebellion by the rump SPLA (SPLA-North) that is still active in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, regions that border South Sudan; and (ii) Bashir needs to keep the oil flowing in order to ward off internal turmoil within Sudan due to rapidly deteriorating economic conditions (see here). Kiir’s willingness to throw SPLA-N under the bus comes as no surprise since it is an offshoot of the “Garang Boys” (mostly PhDs) who occupied a special place, unlike Kiir and others, in John Garang’s SPLA. SPLM-N’s leader Malik Aggar, shared Garang’s vision of one united reformed Sudan, as opposed to secession by the South. At the same time, however, Khartoum does not want a super strong South Sudan free of rebels. Total cessation of conflict in South Sudan would rob Khartoum of proxies to keep Juba in check. Uganda’s involvement could tip the balance in Juba’s favor vis-à-vis potential Bashir allies.

Meanwhile in Nairobi and Addis Ababa concern is growing over Uganda’s claim that the IGAD should foot the bill of UPDF’s adventures in South Sudan. Both Ethiopia and Kenya prefer settling the conflict at the negotiating table, partly because both have their security forces stretched by domestic armed groups and bandits and the war in Somalia. Kenya has said categorically that it will not send troops to South Sudan, even under IGAD. The wariness in Nairobi and Addis to send troops or cash for a military cause in South Sudan contrasts sharply with Kampala’s choice of military action from the moment the current flare up started in Juba. This despite the fact that Uganda also has troops serving in Somalia.

Which raises the question: What explains Uganda’s international military adventurism under Museveni? The answer lies in the confluence of history, international geopolitics, and Uganda’s internal politics.

Uganda is one of the more militarized states in Africa, with the military having direct representation in parliament (10 seats). It is also interventionist, with a history of combat engagement and support for rebel groups in six neighboring states – Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia, and South Sudan. More recently, the nation has been a key advocate for greater integration within the East African Community (EAC). Indeed, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni fancies himself as a possible head of an EAC political federation should it ever materialize. Uganda is also a key player in the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), a proposed standby force with capacity to rapidly deploy troops to trouble spots in Africa (other key supporters include South Africa, Chad, and Tanzania).

Museveni and his kagogo (little) soldiers

Museveni and his kadogo (little) soldiers

President Yoweri Museveni’s military adventurism and internationalist outlook have deep roots. As a young student in Tanzania, Museveni was involved in exile organizations opposed to Iddi Amin. Indeed, Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), started off as the Popular Resistance Army (PRA) in Tanzania (As testament to its Tanzanian roots, NRA borrowed the idea of political commissars from the Tanzanian military to educate civilians in “liberated” Luweero Triangle). In Tanzania and even after returning to Uganda Museveni made regional connections that he maintained even after he ascended to power in 1986 – including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Sudan’s John Garang’, and leaders of Mozambique’s FRELIMO. Before rebelling against Kigali, Kagame was Museveni’s Chief of Military Intelligence. Museveni supported Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

Once in power, Museveni styled himself as the guarantor of peace and stability in Uganda. Many (both at home and abroad) evaluated his performance relative to the disastrous years under Amin and the ensuing civil war. The resulting peace dividend (albeit restricted to the south of the country) was marked by relative macro-economic stability, with growth averaging about 6% for much of the 1990s. This made Museveni a darling of Western donors and international financial institutions. However, Museveni’s record with regard to democracy and human rights remained dubious. This put him in awkward position vis-à-vis the West, especially since the 1990s was the zenith of Western promotion of liberal democracy.

To this Museveni reacted cleverly, and worked hard to position Uganda as a strategic player in the wider region’s geopolitics. In order to maintain his international stature and secure his position domestically, Museveni labored to bolster Uganda’s relevance to the West.

Museveni enters Kampala (Source)

Museveni enters Kampala (Source)

Beginning in the early 1990s, Uganda got militarily involved in a number of neighboring states. Support for Garang’s SPLA drew the ire of Khartoum, which in turn supported the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda. Subsequently, the Ugandan military conducted raids against LRA bases in Sudan while also offering combat assistance to the SPLA. For instance, the 1997 battle at Yei featured Ugandan soldiers alongside the SPLA against the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). It is around this time that the seed was planted for future military involvement abroad at the turn of the century (this time in Somalia under the Western-funded AU mission, AMISOM, to help stabilize the country). After US President Bill Clinton designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terror, Uganda positioned itself as an ally in the frontline of “Global War on Terror.” Kampala served as an intermediary for US aid to SPLA, thereby further strengthening US-Uganda military ties. It is telling that in 2003 Uganda was among only a handful of African states that supported the US-led Iraq War. About 20,000 Ugandans worked in US military bases in Iraq (this was also an excellent job creation tool; and a way of earning Forex).

So far Uganda’s most complex military adventure was in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A mix of strategic geopolitical positioning, the need to secure markets for Ugandan goods, private greed and domestic politics drove Uganda’s invasion of the DRC. The first Congo War (1996-97) was swift, aimed at helping Laurent Kabila oust Mobutu Seseseko (Rwanda and Angola also helped). Soon after Uganda and Rwanda fell out with Kabila, occasioning the Second Congo war (1998-2003), which involved four other African states. It is then that the façade of intervention for regional stability completely broke down. Ugandan and Rwandan commanders exploited existing and new cross-border smuggling and semi-legitimate trade networks to orchestrate massive pillaging of natural resources in eastern DRC (Competition between the two militaries later intensified, resulting in the “Kisangani Wars.”)

For instance, in the year 2000 despite only producing 0.00441 tonnes of gold, Uganda exported 11 tonnes. A UN report indicates that well-connected generals (including Museveni’s half-brother) created entities headquartered in Kampala to facilitate the illicit trade. It’s important to note that Museveni’s tolerance of the semi-autonomous activities by his generals was strategic (it generated revenue through Kampala-based entities and kept the generals happy) and did not lead to fracturing within the military. Indeed, many of those involved were later promoted.

Museveni meets Somali President, Shayk Sharif Ahmed in Mogadishu in 2010

 

Incidentally, the present involvement in South Sudan also reflects the multifaceted logic of Ugandan international military adventurism. Historical alliances with the SPLA against the LRA and SAF make Kampala and Juba natural bedfellows. But the intervention is also about securing markets for Ugandan goods. According to figures from the Bank of Uganda, in 2012 the country’s exports to South Sudan totaled an estimated USD 1.3 billion. About 150,000 Ugandan traders operate across the border, not to mention countless more primary producers in agriculture who benefit from cross-border trade with their northern neighbor.

The above account explains Museveni’s efforts in the recent past to build an image as the regional powerbroker: heading peace talks between the DRC, Rwanda and eastern DRC rebels; intervening in Somalia to prop up the government in Mogadishu; and in the latest episode siding militarily with President Salva Kiir in South Sudan’s domestic political cum military conflict. Domestically, Museveni’s grip on power is as strong as ever. Recent reshuffles in the military removed powerful Historicals (the original “bush war heroes”) thereby leaving Museveni (and his son) firmly in control of Uganda’s armed forces. There is no end in sight for Uganda’s international military adventurism.

In many ways Uganda’s international adventurism has been a case of agency in tight corners. The country is a landlocked; has neighbors with sparsely governed borderlands that provide rear-bases for Ugandan armed groups; and Kampala needs Western aid to maintain the regime, a situation that necessitates acts of geopolitical positioning – especially with regard to the “Global War on Terror” and maintenance of regional peace and stability. Furthermore, oil discovery along the conflict-prone DRC border on Lake Albert and the need for pipelines to the sea to export Ugandan oil will necessitate even greater regional involvement. So while Uganda’s present outward adventurism is primarily because of Museveni’s peculiar personal history, it is correct to say that even after Museveni (still far into the future) the country will continue to be forced to look beyond its borders for economic opportunities, security, and regional stature.

Who will stop khartoum?

It appears that the war between north and south Sudan is inevitable. The north overran the disputed town of Abyei last week and now is angling to take over two border states. The Times reports:

Now, according to a letter from the Sudanese military’s high command, the northern army, in the next few days, plans to take over Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states, two disputed areas with a long history of conflict that are still bristling with arms.

Analysts, local leaders and Western diplomats fear that if the northern army carries through on its threat to push out or forcibly disarm the thousands of fighters allied to the south in these two areas, it could set off a much bigger clash between the northern and southern armies, who have been building up their arsenals for years in anticipation of war.

Malik Agar, Blue Nile’s governor, said Sunday night that northern forces had recently moved “dangerously close” to the bases of southern-allied fighters and that he didn’t think the southern-allied forces would surrender.

A part of me still thinks that Bashir’s sabre-rattling is designed for the northern public. After all he will go down in history as the president who lost the south. In order to avoid immediate ouster he must, at least, pretend to put up a fight. My other side, however, thinks that Bashir (and his generals) might actually want war. Oil and water are on the line.

So how can a war be avoided?

Right now everyone appears to be looking in the direction of the UN for help. But the UN is busy putting out fires elsewhere, not least in Darfur where Khartoum’s forces keep firing at UN helicopters.

That Khartoum would let the south go peacefully was always a long shot. Many analysts had predicted that the north would either finance mini-rebellions in the south or go for a full blown war. It appears that Khartoum is going for both.

South Sudan does not need this war. The whole country has less than 200 Kilometres of paved road, among other mind-boggling underdevelopment records. Its human capital development is lagging behind the regional average by decades. A sustained war would take away vital resources from much needed development work.

Which brings me back to the title of this post. Many a time I have lamented at Africa’s lack of a regional hegemon. A hegemon that would take the mantle of regional conscience and policeman. A regional power that would put out fires even when the UN and the global powers that be were too busy (like they are now) or just plain indifferent (remember the mid-1990s?).

If it occurs the north-south war will be bloody and dirty (read land mines, more child soldiers, crimes-against-humanity tactics). As many as hundreds of thousands of people could die. Millions will be affected. It will also mean more light arms in an already volatile region, not to mention potential for spillovers into ongoing insurgencies in The DRC, Chad, Uganda and Ethiopia. Who will stop Omar al-Bashir and his generals?

 

development in southern sudan

Blattman stresses the importance of security, stability and predictability over other forms of intervention.

States, like people, have attention problems, only more extreme. The new government may only accomplish one or two big things in their first five years. If, fifty years hence, we want the poor of South Sudan to prosper, paradoxically the last thing we need to do is push for the Millennium Development Goals today.

give every incentive for elites, especially the ones apt to war, to invest in fixed assets whose value depends on stability and growth. Make them entrepreneurs. Oil rigs don’t count. Property in Juba does. So do plantations and small factories, even if they need subsidies to operate at first. This is hard, and will require attention and dedication.

With these accomplished, I’d next aim for economic growth. Which may or may not involve pro-poor transfers. Given the choice between three big resource firms and 1000 microenterprises, I’d choose the firms. (And remember: I work on fostering post-conflict microenterprises for a living.)

My two cents on this:

This is absolutely right. But with the caveat that the security hawks should be watched. They tend to overstay their welcome. Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia needed security more than a decade ago. Now their saviors, Kagame, Museveni and Zenawi, respectively, are quickly turning into latter day Bokassas.

talks between north and south sudan break down

The US Foreign Ministry (State Dept.) has announced on its blog that talks between the NCP and the SPLM have broken down. The blog post partly said:

In this sensitive period, it is critical that the NCP and SPLM maintain their dialogue and make further progress toward the creation of sustainable economic, political, and security arrangements between the two parties. To that end, we urge President Bashir and First Vice President Kiir to take steps against alleged actions that destabilize each other’s governments and territories, and to lay the ground for mutual cooperation with the goal of the creation of two viable states in July.

The communique also made note of the rapidly escalating war by proxies (Omar al-Bashir is the king of such tactics in the Great Lakes region):

We also condemn the violence in Malakal, Southern Sudan, on March 12. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) rules out the existence of armed groups outside the two established forces of the parties. Allegations of support to proxies are serious, and should be investigated through established CPA mechanisms and the good offices of UNMIS. The members of the Troika stand ready to assist.

The war between north and south Sudan is almost inevitable. Unresolved border issues in Abyei, Jonglei, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, renegotiation of oil revenues and the south’s internal problems will most certainly result in war in the very near future.

North Sudan must be thinking that given how fast the south is arming (through Kenya) it might be prudent to strike while Juba is still weak (right after independence in July) than wait until the south is strong and has a pipeline through Kenya thus no longer needing the north’s pipelines and refineries. Plus having “lost the south” and facing continued pressure following events in the Middle East and North Africa, Omar al-Bashir could use a little of the tried and tested war of distraction tactic.

south sudan and the challenges of self-rule

The BBC reports that at least 100 people have been killed in clashes between the South Sudan government and soldiers loyal to a renegade rebel, George Athor, in Jonglei State.

This latest clash does not come as a surprise. Most analysts predict a high likelihood of civil war in post-independence South Sudan. Conflict will most likely come from two sources: Khartoum funding local dissident groups in order to check Juba and internal ethnic rivalry over government positions and the sharing of oil wealth.

Civil war in South Sudan may prove to be deadlier than the 2 decade war against Khartoum. Civilianization of the two decade war placed guns in the hands of most able bodied young men (In the South cattle herders tend to their animals with AK’s in hand). The prospect of Khartoum supporting secessionist movements along its border with the South is not pure fantasy.

The spotlight is on the political elite in the South. Will they hammer out a power and resource sharing deal or will despotism yet again kill the independence dreams of an African nation? I can’t stop thinking that John Garang’ de Mabior died too soon.

It’s almost official

The BBC reports:

South Sudan has reached the 60% turnout needed to pass the referendum on secession from the north, the south’s ruling party and ex-rebel group says.

“The 60% threshold has been achieved but we are asking for a 100% (turnout),” the SPLM’s Anne Itto said.

She did not give exact figures, but said it was based on polling centre reports for the first three days of the week-long vote which began on Sunday.

 

southern sudanese independence: cause for cautious optimism

That Southern Sudan ought to be an independent state should have been apparent as early as 1956. The Anglo-Egyptian condominium that ran the Sudanese colony ensured a legacy of division between the North and South. The idea of two Sudans, already etched in people’s minds at independence, was further buttressed by years of what some have called “internal colonialism.” The marginalization of the South precipitated the two civil wars (57-72 and 83-05). 2 million people died and millions more were displaced from their homes.

Challenges abound for the new nation. The lack of basic institutions of state is hard to miss. Poverty and illiteracy are endemic. Corruption and ethnic favoritism remain to be serious threats to post-independence stability. To compound these problems, the North still refuses to recognize boundaries along oil-rich borderlands. Both sides are arming in case of a flare up.

The challenges aside, there is cause for optimism. Investors from Kenya and Uganda have been trooping into Juba since the signing of the CPA in 2005. Kenyan banks are now a familiar presence in Juba. Kenya also plans to build a new port in Lamu and link it to the oil fields of Southern Sudan. Juba will be a natural new member of the East African Community. Because the regional economies stand to lose in case of a return to conflict, I am cautiously optimistic that Southern Sudan will prove the naysayers wrong.

Southern Sudan is not the Belgian Congo circa 1960.