Tag Archives: Sudan

Bashir says it with cows…

Supporters of the Egyptian revolution will be glad to know that Omar Al-Bashir, president of Sudan and supporter of democracy everywhere (except Darfur, South Sudan, East Sudan, eastern Chad, Eritrea, northern Uganda…you get the picture) has given the Egyptian revolution his blessing, with the gift of 5000 head of cattle (worth over $1 million, depending on the state of the cows). The cows began the trek from Khartoum to the Egyptian border on Monday, coinciding with the visit of Egypt’s prime minister Essam Sharaf (himself, incidentally, completely unelected). The two leaders talked about water. Specifically, about the Nile Basin Initiative. If Sudan and Egypt lose any significant portion of the Nile waters to the upstream countries, on which they both depend, they’re up shit creek without a paddle. Except the creek will be dry.

The cows are just one part of Bashir’s strategy of ingratiating himself with Egypt’s new leaders, which began with a visit to Cairo at the beginning of the month. Since Mubarak fell, his government has been very critical of the Mubarak regime, claiming that they’d been a victim of ‘blackmail’ ever since Mubarak narrowly survived an assassination attempt in Khartoum. This is all posturing; Bashir would have been very unsettled by Mubarak’s departure. For a dictator, any form of people power is far more dangerous than another dictator, no matter how much they do or do not get along.

VERDICT: Omar Al-Bashir goes 4th; he’ll have to try a lot harder to impress his more sophisticated Egyptian colleagues than that. And no, camels won’t cut it either.


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Egypt’s river dries up as Burundi joins Nile Basin Initiative

In the midst of the chaos across the Middle East, has no one noticed that Egypt has just lost control of its most significant and valuable resource? No, not oil – not everything’s about oil, and besides, Egypt doesn’t have that much of the black gold. No, it’s not tourism either – the hotels might be hurting but the pyramids aren’t going anywhere, unless Gaddafi decides to bomb them in a fit of retaliatory pique.

It’s water. Egypt needs a lot of it, being a desert country and all, and gets what it needs from the life-giving waters of the Nile. Despite the fact that the great river flows through ten African countries, Egypt – along with Sudan – gets most of the water. 90% of it, in fact, is shared between Sudan and Egypt under the terms of a colonial-era treaty.

But this treaty is being challenged by a coalition of five Nile-bordering countries, spearheaded by Ethiopia, who have set up the Nile Basin Initiative to renegotiate its terms. This week, under the cover of popular revolutions, Burundi became the sixth member of the group, giving it enough legal weight to scrap the treaty without Egypt’s consent, under the provisions of international law. They haven’t done so – yet.

Egypt is obviously in no position to respond – this is further demonstrated by the fact that Al Masry Al Youm, Egypt’s leading independent newspaper, had to seek comment from the former Minister of Water and Irrigation, who made the nonsensical statement that any decisions coming from the new coalition are only binding on the members of the new coalition, and would not apply to Egypt or Sudan. All true; but if they decide to use dam the water upstream, it will suddenly start looking very applicable indeed.

This is Egypt’s – and Sudan’s – most serious foreign policy consideration, as we’ve commented on before. Don’t be surprised if this causes the next revolution or war. Egypt is a fundamentally unbalanced, with not nearly enough fertile land to support its population, even if the water supply remains constant. Take away the water and there will be problems.

VERDICT: This is bad news for Egypt, but the existing treaty is very unfair and deserves to be replaced with something more thoughtful. And we always like to see African regional integration. So the Nile Basin Initiative goes forth.

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Omar Al-Bashir goes to Chad, ICC goes 4th

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir (Image courtesy of http://www.fettan.com)

Last week, Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir decided to thumb his nose at the International Criminal Court  by paying an official state visit to Chad. As a fully signed up and ratified member of the Rome Statute (which founded the ICC), Chad is technically supposed to have arrested Al-Bashir upon arrival due to his outstanding arrest warrant for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and – added just last week – genocide.

Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, yet again, the ICC looked just as weak and ineffective as always as it called for Chad to do ‘the right thing’ while having absolutely no means to make it do so. Al-Bashir, as any good internationally shunned leader would, has made the most of this powerlessness, claiming his trip as “more than a double victory”.

And so it was. As well as strengthening ties with notorious frenemy Chadian President Idriss Deby, this trip was the first taken to a country that recognised the ICC and was thus something of a risk. As for Chad, while it may have earned wide condemnation from the UN and the EU for its decision, it was an opportunity to establish itself as something more than just an international puppet, as well as curry favour with a fairly important neighbour.

No doubt it is the ICC who have come off worst with Al-Bashir’s little holiday. Not only was its helplessness over arresting one of the world’s most wanted men freely advertised, but the familiar claim of its racism was rehashed too, as Chad, in a frenzy of support for Sudan, accused it of anti-African bias. While this claim may not be strictly true (let us not forget that of the 5 investigations currently being carried out into situations in Africa, 3 were referred to the Court by the governments of those countries themselves), it has been one that the Court has had to fight off multiple times in its short history and has not been helped by the African Union taking this opportunity to reiterate its decision to order member states not to co-operate with the ICC. So far, as all indications go, most of its members are listening. Except for arguably the strongest member: South Africa, who has just released a statement that Bashir had better not try his luck in Johannesburg.

One can’t help but feel pity for the Court; afterall, it is simply trying to arrest someone accused of extremely serious crimes. And if Al-Bashir really is as innocent as he claims, why not defend himself in a Court of law and clear his name once and for all?

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The Great Green Wall goes forth

This is a fascinating idea. Spearheaded by Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade (he of the infamous African Renaissance statue), African leaders agreed last year to the establishment of a “Great Green Wall” across the Sahel and Sahara deserts, and US$120 million of funding has just been approved by the Global Environment Facility. Basically, this is a 15 km strip of trees which would stretch for 7,100km across the continent, East to West, and act as a barrier to desertification.

This is an important step which hasn’t received much coverage. Every year the desert creeps further down the continent, drying up water sources and making previous arable land infertile. This desertification has already had huge consequences – it is often cited as one of the root causes of the violence in Darfur, as it pushed people out of their traditional areas and into places where they had to compete with others for the scarce resources.

If it works – and to receive the backing of the Global Environment Facility it must have scientific merit – the Great Green Wall is a particularly elegant solution, touching on desertification, forest depletion, climate change, African unity, and regional integration all at once. And imagine how good it would look from space.

Nonetheless, implementing this idea is going to be tricky. Trees need attention to grow; specifically, they need water. And water is not something that Sahel and Sahara deserts are famed for. If irrigation is sorted for the project, how exactly are the local population going to react when the trees get lots of water, while their crops wither?

A cross-continental effort, of any kind, also needs lots of cooperation from lots of different governments. And even if the governments are on board, the Great Green Wall is going to pass through some areas where the government just doesn’t have very much control – Eastern Chad and Darfur are the obvious problem areas.

Nonetheless, the breadth of vision of this project must be admired, and it is encouraging that the Saharan/Sahelian countries are taking steps to combat a problem that is only getting more serious.

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Do not Genocide, Do not War Crime – the ICC goes 4th

Even Ocampo's reassuringly steely gaze cannot mask the ICC's problems

In honour of the recent review of the International Criminal Court in Kampala – attended by all sorts of dignitaries, both major and minor, including Ban-Ki Moon and his prosecutorship Luis Moreno Ocampo – it seems appropriate for Third World Goes Forth to conduct its own review of this most recent of all the international institutions.

The conference in Kampala was, of course, self-congratulatory and upbeat. Ocampo was on fine form: “It is only a matter of time [before] Sudan president Omar Al Bashir and LRA’s Joseph Kony will be arrested,” he said, sounding every inch the bullish wild west sheriff that he always reminds me of. But I’m unsure – both of the likelihood of arrests, and of exactly how much the ICC is achieving.

The ICC is, of course, a wonderful concept. That all men and women should be bound by the bare minimun of human dignity. That there is a point where one person’s behaviour is so bad that the world rejects it out of hand. And that punishment will follow for those found guilty of contravening the court’s central tenets – Do not Genocide, Do not War Crime.

The first problem is in the name. The ICC is not ‘international’; it does not represent the world. Specifically, it does not represent the USA, or China, or Israel, or Russia; to name but a few. There was another international institution that didn’t have the support of the USA – it was the League of Nations, the predecessor of the UN which was, somewhat ironically, established largely due to the ferocious campaiging of the then-US president Woodrow Wilson. He persuaded the world to join, but not the US Congress; and from that moment the League of Nations became a lame duck, failing utterly to prevent the the second World War.

Similarly, the ICC suffers massively from the lack of support from key countries, allowing others to ignore it as and when necessary. This was most evident after the March 2009 arrest warrant for Sudan’s Omar Bashir, when all African countries (with the honourable exception of Botswana; again leading the continent in respect for rights for all humans except bushmen) chose to ignore the warrant at the AU conference in Siirte. The refusal of the US and China to participate in the ICC process meant that they would face few repercussions by ignoring the ICC’s arrest warrant.

There is also a distinct whiff of the political in the ICC’s choice of exaclty who to prosecute, and when to do so. African countries have been up in arms at the perceived anti-African agenda of the court. A quick look at the list of faces being prosecuted by the court reveals an astonishing racial bias – they’re all black Africans. According to the ICC, only black people have committed war crimes in the last few years. And bear in mind that not all these faces are from countries which are signatories to the Rome Statute. Sudan “unsigned” the Rome Statute – relieving itself of all obligations to the ICC – in August 2008, six months before Bashir was indicted. Yet the ICC has not gone after the citzens of any other non-signatory nations for atrocities; say in Iraq (Fallujah, perhaps, or Abu Ghraib?), or in the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. It has also not gone after seemingly obvious targets such as Osama bin Laden. Of course, there are enough people looking for Osama, and enough charges against him, that another one from the ICC would make little real difference [For the record, Osama’s hiding here]. But it would make significant symbolic difference, and this is what the ICC so far has failed to understand. Of course, the UN Security Council must take some responsibility, as one of the primary bodies that can refer cases to the ICC. But by only prosecuting African faces – regardless of the fact that those faces are fully deserving of prosecution – the court is sending a message that citizens of other countries are above the law; defeating the whole point of an impartial, international criminal court, and making it so much easier to ignore.

As soon as the law is applied to everyone, then the ICC will stand a much greater change of gaining the respect it deserves. Investigating the Gaza flotilla incident might be a good place to start.


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Taking the African out of African-American – Obama’s Uganda law goes 4th

More than a year into the job, Barack Obama – Africa’s president – is finally focussing some of his attention on the continent. He has displayed a surprising lack of interest in Africa until now, to the palpable disappointment of many in the aid and development community, who saw him as a some kind of saviour. What he could do, no one was quite sure, but everyone thought he would do something.

And he had quite an act to follow. For all his faults, George Bush’s Africa policy was generally effective. Staying away from politics and overt policy interventions, his administration – under the direction of African secretary Jendayi Frazer – quietly got on with the business of fixing things, particularly in the HIV/Aids arena. Obama has not continued where Bush left off. He’s cut funding for Bush’s HIV/Aids program, and shown little sign that Africa is high on his admittedly large list of priorities. not much African in the African-American, some say derisively.

Today, however, he made his first move by signing a strange bill into law. Basically, the law targets Joseph Kony and his followers of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), the particularly vicious rebel-without-a-cause group whose modus operandi is to wander freely between Uganda, Sudan and the DRC, raping and pillaging at will. The law calls for a “comprehensive strategy with regional governments for dealing with the rebels, including steps to protect the civilian population, provide humanitarian assistance, apprehend the LRA leaders and disarm its followers within six months.”

This is a very wishy-washy piece of legislation. For a start, the USA is already involved in the fight against the LRA, with their Africom command center helping with intelligence. Realistically, they’re not going to do much more – I don’t foresee any American troops being deployed in Northern Uganda. So how exactly do they intend to finish the group off in six short months? That’s by the end of November. And given the fact that the LRA hop borders at will, and thrive in countries where the USA is not exactly powerful or popular (I’m thinking particularly of Sudan), they can escape to a fairly secure hideaway anytime they want.

This is just a meaningless piece of public relations. There are plenty of ways that the USA can be extremely effective in Africa. Merely continuing Bush Junior’s legacy would have been an achievement; by rolling back those policies, and replacing it with public relations nonsense, Obama is swiftly losing his African credentials.

On a side note: the Lord’s Resistance Army has always fascinated me. Joseph Kony sounds like a messianic figure, a devil incarnate; he seems to exert a mystical hold over his followers. And never forget that everything they do is in the name of Jesus; just as Islam has its extremists, so does Christianity, and I don’t think it would be difficult to argue that the LRA out-extremes anything Al-Qaeda or the Taliban have done.

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First Skirmish in the Water Wars – Egypt’s supply goes 4th

The Nile's inconvenient length poses geopolitical problems (pic: WWF)

The pharaohs of Ancient Egypt recognised the Nile as the source of life; it watered crops, it watered people, and it was the only efficient means of transportation for a people yet to discover the wheel. In the thousands of years since, its function has changed little; it’s a little dirtier, perhaps, but it is still the lifeblood upon which Egypt relies, providing all the country’s irrigation and most of its energy.

The problem is this: the Nile is not Egypt’s alone. Indeed, the river fulfils much the same function for Sudan, and provides livelihoods to millions in the other eight African countries through which it passes. But Sudan and Egypt are the only countries among the ten Nile nations who are permitted, under international law, to make proper use of the water. Under a colonial-era treaty, Sudan and Egypt are guaranteed 90% of the water flow, and Egypt has an absolute veto on all project proposals from the upstream countries. In effect, this means that Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi are unable to build dams and generate electricity from the flow of the Nile.

This is not as crazy as it sounds – being downstream, and being primarily desert countries, Egypt and Sudan rely on the Nile to a degree that the other countries do not. Also, they may as well dam the waters of the Nile by the time it gets to them because otherwise it will just flow uselessly into the seas. But profits generated by Nile projects in Egypt and Sudan are certainly not shared, and so it is an inherently unequal state of affairs.

This cosy arrangement – cosy for the North Africans – has recently been threatened in what is potentially the most dangerous political development of this year, anywhere. Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and now Kenya have signed a unilateral treaty which states, basically, that they will do whatever they like with the Nile water. The treaty seeks to ensure equitable use of the water, and was spearheaded by Ethiopia. Apparently, one Ethiopian government official was quoted as saying “If those Arabs can sell their oil, then we can sell our water”. He makes a good point. Water is a valuable commodity now, and it is only becoming more precious. There is certainly money to be made.

But I wonder if the treaty signatories appreciate just what a bold diplomatic step this is. Egypt is already facing appreciable water shortages, even with the Nile in full, uninterrupted flow; its massive population is just not sustainable. This is terrifying Hosni Mubarak and his ruling elite, because the root of their longevity has been a basic social contract – Egyptians may not have any rights or participation, but they will always have access to cheap, basic goods (water prices are negligible, and bread is massively subsidised). If the bread, and then the water, disappears, then Mubarak will too. Egypt will do whatever it takes to ensure it keeps what water it already has, including legal, diplomatic and even military action. Whatever happens, the stakes are high.

Keep an eye on this one, it is set to run and run.


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