The Other Nile River

The battle over the waters of the Blue Nile, pitting Ethiopia against Egypt and Sudan, has been all over the news lately. Notably, the debate has focused on the Blue Nile and largely ignored the other Nile, the White Nile. Which is odd because most accounts of the “source of the Nile” and official measures of the river’s length focus on the White Nile. More importantly, any lasting diplomatic solution to the ongoing inter-state contests over Nile waters will necessarily have to include all the Nile basin states — many of which are politically relevant on account of being part of the wider White Nile basin.

Screen Shot 2020-07-28 at 4.14.56 PMThe reason for ignoring the White Nile is simple: less than half of its waters actually reach Sudan and Egypt. An estimated 50% of the White Nile’s waters evaporate in the Sudd (a massive swamp whose full extent is about twice the size of Rwanda). Overall, the river contributes about a fifth of the Nile’s total flow. It therefore makes sense that Egypt and Sudan care more about the Blue Nile and Ethiopia’s ongoing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Yet the While Nile has not always been ignored. Multiple times over the last century, the loss of water to evaporation in the Sudd generated debates about how to ensure that more of the rivers’ waters reached Egypt. Potential solutions included damming upstream lakes (Albert, Kyoga, Victoria) to act as reservoirs and reduce water loss to evaporation, dredging parts of the Sudd to increase the rate of flow, and building earth banks to prevent overflow into the wetlands.

However, the one idea that actually got off the ground was the construction of a canal to bypass the Sudd (see image below).

Screen Shot 2020-07-28 at 7.54.30 PMThe first plans to build the Jonglei Canal emerged in the early 1900s under the colonial Anglo-Egyptian condominium in Sudan. After Sudan’s independence in 1956, Egypt convinced Khartoum to build the canal. Construction works started around 1975, with Egypt and Sudan agreeing to jointly shoulder the $300m cost of the project (about $1.44b in 2020 dollars). But then politics and conflict intervened. Following the collapse of the Addis Ababa Agreement and resumption of Sudan’s civil war in 1983, the canal construction sites became easy targets for rebel forces seeking to depose Gaafar Nimeiry’s repressive regime in Khartoum.

At the time, about two thirds of the 360k Jonglei Canal (which is visible on google maps) had already been excavated. The canal was intended to be about 50m wide on average and between 4-8m deep. For comparison, when completed the Jonglei Canal was going to be longer than the Suez (193km) and Panama (80km) canals combined.

Proponents of the project argued that it would provide effective flood control, boost agricultural development, improve riparian navigation between Bor and Malakal, and free up of more water to flow downstream the Nile. Critics of the project have often highlighted the likely reduction in fishing resources, exacerbation of competition for grazing areas among communities that rely on the region’s grasslands, likely aridification of the central South Sudanese region due to reduced rainfall, risk of ecological damage (the Sudd has a rich flora and fauna), and disruption of vital wildlife migration routes.

Various models suggest that the construction of the canal would decrease the size of the Sudd by up to 32%. The figure could be higher (up to 50%), especially as upstream Nile basin counties build their own dams and expand their use of water for irrigation (other scholars have placed likely peak contraction of the Sudd at 16%). While it is possible to regulate the flow into the canal to mitigate extreme aridification of the Sudd wetlands, the fact that such decisions would be at the discretion of politicians pose real environmental risks.

As tensions rose over Ethiopia’s GERD, some commentators suggested that the Jonglei canal may provide a way out of the impasse. But authorities in South Sudan remain opposed to the project. In addition to the hard-to-predict environmental impacts of the canal, Juba is rightfully worried that a piece of international infrastructure of this kind would likely turn South Sudan into a geopolitical pawn. Most reasonable people would agree that Juba is in no position to enter into a fair agreement with its neighbors to the north. That said, it is not inconceivable that as Ethiopia uses ever more of the Blue Nile’s waters, Egypt and Sudan might be forced to give South Sudan a better deal to complete construction of the Jonglei Canal. And it goes without saying that the success of such a deal would be predicated on support from the other Nile basin states.

Estimating mortality in South Sudan’s civil war, 2013-2018

This is according to the Mail & Guardian:

southsudan.jpgDuring the period December 2013 to April 2018, we estimate that 1 177 600 deaths due to any cause occurred among people living in South Sudan, and that 794 600 deaths would have occurred under counterfactual assumptions. This yields an excess death toll of 382 900.

….. The first is that the researchers use different variables as proxies for mortality: proxies such as rainfall, climate, how much food is grown, the price of food (measured as “amount in kilogrammes of white flour that an average medium goat can be exchanged for”) and the presence of disease. This is how it works: if there is low rainfall, they know that people will struggle to get water and grow crops, so deaths are likely to go up. Using data from all around the world, they can make an ­educated guess about how many deaths were caused by a specific deficit of rainfall.

These proxies are combined with the limited survey data available to give an overall death toll for South Sudan in the relevant period. But the war didn’t cause all those deaths. It didn’t even cause most of them. Many deaths can be attributed to old age and natural causes; others to poverty and diseases such as malaria that would have happened regardless of the conflict.

Here is a summary of the state of the current iteration of the South Sudanese peace process.

And here is a documentary on the war economy and grand corruption in South Sudan.


Reason for African Petro-Rulers to be Worried

Africa’s petrorulers (heads of state of Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Sudan) may be headed for tough times later this year. According to a piece by (Steve Levine) over at FP, Saudi Arabia – the world’s leading oil producer – is considering flooding the global oil markets with the aim of sticking it to the Russians and Iranians. Saudi action of this nature could lower prices to as low as US $40 a barrel from the current $83.27.

With the exception of Ghana and Cameroon, such a drop in oil prices would almost certainly lead to political unrest in the rest of Africa’s oil producers. Sudan and South Sudan are already facing huge revenue shortfalls due to a dispute over the sharing of oil revenue.

More on “The Coming Oil Crash” here.

South Sudan to relocate capital to Ramciel

The Sudan Tribute reports:

“The survey for the proposed new capital of South Sudan, Ramciel, is expected to be completed within the next six months, reports the official in charge of the project.

resolved to suspend any construction of new public buildings for the national government in Juba.

Juba was disqualified for a number of reasons including administrative stalemate over which level of government its jurisdiction should fall under.”

That is the official reason.

Source: Political Geography Now

I know very little about the deliberations that resulted in the move but another reason could be that Juba was too far from the new nation’s centre of (ethno) political gravity (see maps; click on image to enlarge). Relocations of capitals almost invariably have political considerations. One only hopes that the Bari community whose ancestral homeland is around Juba will not suddenly find themselves completely abandoned by the central government.

The government should ensure that Ramciel does not suddenly suck in all the money. It could prove beneficial to decouple the political and economic capitals of the country.

Source: Gulf 2000 Project

On the plus side this is a sign that the new government in Juba is willing to try out new things. A fresh start in Ramciel might not be such a bad idea.