Will increased rhetoric over control of the Blue Nile’s critical water resource lead to eventual conflict?
The twenty-first African Union (AU) Summit was held in Ethiopia’s capital between 19 – 27 May 2013. The event has based itself in Addis Ababa since 1963 because of its regional and continental role. Ethiopia also benefits from the perception across Africa that the state has institutional stability and a history of successfully repelling colonial occupations. Ethiopia may possibly feel that the gravitas this event affords can enable it to push forward with a grander and further reaching foreign policy including its plans for the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERM) project; despite the fact the GERM project will attract the significant ire of Cairo. A day after the AU Summit ended, Ethiopian authorities formally began to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile in preparation to construct a 6, 000-megawatt hydroelectric dam and power plant. The move caused instant controversy with nations downstream of the Nile, such as Sudan and its larger northern neighbour and regional barometer Egypt. Egypt has chosen to be the most vocal opponent. Although the plans for the GERM have been known for several months as part of a US$12 billion investment project to boost power exports, the political sensitivities around Ethiopia’s agreement to put the GERM project into action still remain. The GERM project has the potential to continue to raise regional tensions. Talk of all out war between the neighbours in the short term has even begun.
For many armchair analysts, East Africa appears to have enough problems. Plagued by pirates riding the waves of the Indian Ocean, and bullied by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants that threaten the very foundation of Somalia, the region has been a constant focal point for insecurity. To be fair, the pirates are starting to let up. Moreover, the latest reports paint a picture of an al Shabaab on the decline – at least for now. However, a looming fight over oil and gas could threaten to undo any transition toward stability in the region, particularly when it comes to Somalia’s relationship with Kenya.
Niger is becoming a new battleground of sorts for competing international powers and terror groups alike, thanks in part to the French-led war on neighbouring Mali’s militants. Despite making significant gains in Mali, France’s Operation Serval has also forced armed groups in their hundreds to migrate throughout the Sahel, many of which are now wreaking the very same havoc in Niger. In particular, Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya (also known as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO), has already been blamed for a number of high-profile attacks across the border in Niger. To that end, on 23 May 2013, MUJAO militants reportedly planted a series of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) beneath two vehicles located in opposite ends of the country. The first IED-laden vehicle exploded outside a military barracks in Agadez, which resulted in the deaths of twenty-four soldiers and one civilian. Meanwhile, approximately 240 kilometres north in Arlit, more explosive devices detonated inside a vehicle parked near a uranium mine facility. Whilst zero fatalities were reported at the site of the second bombing, at least thirteen employees of the French-run nuclear firm, Areva, were left seriously injured.
Both bombings have been described as proof that the overused social science phrase, the “balloon effect”, is more than just a theoretical concept. In this case, military pressure applied against armed Salafists in northern Mali has clearly pushed militants toward other less resistant areas, namely the remote, mountainous region along the border with Niger. But the two attacks have also shed light on another interesting development: the growing role of Niger as a “playground” for global power politics.
All eyes are on Zimbabwe this month as the African nation enters the home stretch of its high-profile, if predictable, election season. Indeed, perhaps the only ‘unpredictable’ facet of the Zimbabwean polls is when, exactly, voters are slated to cast their ballots. Despite repeated promises from President Robert Mugabe and his allies to have the contest take place in June 2013, Zimbabwe’s media outlets are now variously reporting that the election will take place anywhere between July and November of this year.
The uncertainty of the actual date aside, for most observers it would appear that the poll should result in, at the very least, the nominal win of the eighty-nine-year-old familiar face of Mugabe and his polarising Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). This is because for all the supposedly positive intentions of the recently passed constitution, ZANU-PF still has the upper hand and its members seem unwilling to concede to even the slightest loosening of their grasp on power.
(Image provided by Inkerman personnel)
A sense of anxiety permeates the air in Libya, with citizens and foreign nationals expressing unease over the Maghreb nation’s deteriorating security condition. As can be expected, Libyans remain apprehensive with regard to the ability of the government to safeguard residents following another high-profile attack in a major city. This time, however, the attack did not occur in terror-prone Benghazi. It occurred in the comparatively safer capital of Tripoli, leading worried foreign interests to reconsider whether they should maintain a presence in Libya at all.
(Note: This is part two in a series that analyses the risk of kidnaps in Libya)
When undertaking an operation as ambitious as physically rooting out wayward militias in Libya, a few ‘security snags’ are expected to pop up along the way.
Indeed, as the Maghreb nation’s government-backed forces remain entrenched in their campaign to expunge armed groups in the capital under the rather unimaginatively titled “Operation Tripoli”, authorities have also simultaneously noted a rise in criminal activity, especially the hostage-taking kind. This has led to assumptions that – in addition to a rise in general reporting from an increasingly confident national police force – the growth of kidnaps as of late could also stem from the intensification of government’s ‘anti-militia’ operations. In other words, these rogue militias, angered by the perception that the world may actually be caving in around them, could be resorting to retaliatory acts of abduction in a last ditch effort to cement their power.