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Nile Basin Initiative

Gemma Ware


The World Bank and other multilateral donors’ Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) has had some success in its decade-long existence: river basin countries no longer adopt shrill tones when dealing with one another. As the NBI’s Gordon Mumbo puts it, there is growing “confidence-building and trust among the riparian countries as they cooperate and invest, meaning issues of stereotyping disappear”. But it has failed on core water-sharing problems like off-take from the Blue Nile.


As White Nile countries need far less water, they are less engaged in the talks and sometimes use the issue as a bargaining chip for other negotiations. For the NBI to be effective, Egypt needs to be persuaded to prepare for a new agreement over Nile water sharing, which should at least include Ethiopia as a party. ? 


Back to Nile, Troubled Waters

Nile: Troubled waters


Some 300 million Africans from ten different countries live in the Nile basin and compete to use its waters for farming, power, drinking and sanitation





The growing tensions over the Nile, the economic lifeline of eastern and northern Africa, follow a geopolitical tradition that dates back to the pharaohs. Egypt’s agriculture and its food security are critically dependent on its control of the Nile; what is changing is the fast-growing demand for water from other countries along the river’s basin. Back in 1979, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat said: “The only matter that will take Egypt to war is water.” Thirty years later, there are still few effective mechanisms to resolve the growing political and economic disputes over the Nile’s waters.


In Africa, the Nile is claimed to be even longer than the Amazon, and its waters are shared by ten countries in the east and north of the continent: Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.


From its major source of Lake Victoria, the White Nile flows 6,625km northward through Uganda and into Sudan where, at Khartoum, it meets the Blue Nile, which originates in Lake Tana, situated 1,850 metres above sea level in the Ethiopian highlands and collects its flow from tributaries in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan over a distance of 1,529km. From the confluence of the White and Blue Nile at Khartoum, the Nile flows northward into Egypt and on to the Mediterranean.

Nile facts
6,825km in length
Annual flow of 84m megalitres
300m people live in the Nile basin,
half of whom directly depend on its
waters for their livelihoods
Egypt uses the nile for 95% of its
total water needs


Modest but vital


The Nile is a major resource for socioeconomic activities in the Nile basin countries. Though it serves a large population, the Nile’s average annual discharge of 84bn cubic metres is modest in comparison to the other major river systems in Africa. Due to growing populations, increasing water shortages constitute the single greatest threat to the basin’s food security.


Egypt is almost completely dependent on the Nile, which provides more than 95% of its water needs. The first agreement exclusively dealing with sharing and allocating the water of the Nile was signed in 1929 between Sudan, represented by Britain at the time, and Egypt. The agreement allocated 48bn cubic metres to Egypt and 4bn to Sudan. From the 1930s, as Sudan began to irrigate its deserts, its demand for water increased. As a result, on the eve of its independence and following the Egyptian revolution in 1952, the administration in Sudan demanded a renegotiation, and a new agreement was signed in 1959. Based on new calculations, Egypt receives 55.5bn cubic metres of water, with 18.5bn allocated to Sudan.


Demographic crunch


Egypt is already using most of the flow of the Nile and it plans to use even more. The population of Egypt is projected to grow to 96m by 2026 and could reach 115m before it stabilises around 2065. In spite of Egypt, using most of its share of the Nile for irrigation, it at present imports more than half of its food grains. Increasing demand for food brings further pressure on scarce water supplies. Egypt also plans to create new towns and industrial areas in the desert to make living space for more than one fifth of its population. Egypt’s water requirements have also increased due to greater irrigation works resulting from land reclamation projects in the middle of its western desert. Adding to Egypt’s precarious water situation, the evaporation from the surface of the 600km-long Lake Nasser apparently exceeds the earlier estimated amount.

 Egypt and Sudan population

Egypt has long used its relative economic, diplomatic and military strength to maintain its supremacy over the Nile’s water, a position which has remained mostly unchallenged. Until the mid-1990s, several upstream countries were plagued by political instability, internal conflicts and economic distress. Their improved political and economic stability, growing populations and national demands for economic development have helped them to develop their water resources.


Water is very unevenly distributed in the basin. The upstream White Nile countries are well endowed with water resources, while the Blue Nile countries suffer scarce water supply. The White Nile countries are determined to undertake various hydro-power projects and have come together with Ethiopia in their opposition to the 1959 agreement between Sudan and Egypt. They are now asking for a basin-based sharing arrangement. These developments have posed challenges to the relations between the countries in the basin.


Water wars?


?The real threat to Egypt’s future water supplies comes from the Blue Nile basin, where three rivers (Blue Nile, Sobat and Atbara) contribute more than 85% to the total Nile flows reaching Lake Nasser. Ethiopia has the basin’s most suitable locations for large dam construction, and Sudan has the basin’s largest potential for irrigated agriculture. ?


Sudan is the largest country in the African continent and has a population of 35m people, of whom 70% are dependent on agriculture. Sudan has managed to cultivate only 16.7m hectares of its land out of a potential 105m, and it needs more water to meet food demands. Its plan to irrigate more land will raise demand for water. ?


Since the 1959 agreement, Egypt has tried to push Sudanese policy to favour maintaining the status quo on Nile water sharing, openly supporting President Jaafar Nimeiri’s hold on power in the 1970s and early 1980s. Egypt persuaded Sudan to construct the Jonglei Canal to divert up to 4.7bn cubic metres of water annually from the wetlands back to the White Nile, of which 3.8bn were to be allocated to Egypt. But the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army halted the digging of the Canal in 1984 and after Nimeiri was overthrown in 1985, Egypt’s relations with Sudan deteriorated quickly.?

Hydropolitics and diplomacy


Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan
tussle over water. Read more. 


Sudan’s role in the failed attempt on the life of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa in June 1995 further charged the atmosphere between the two neighbours. Hassan al-Turabi, leader of Sudan’s National Islamic Front, threatened to stop the water to Egypt by redirecting the Nile’s flow. President Mubarak aggressively responded to this Sudanese threat in an interview with the Al-Akber newspaper, saying: “Those who play with fire in Khartoum... will push us to confrontation and to defend our rights and lives.” ?


Before, Sudan had only a limited capacity to develop large-scale water projects, but foreign investment and its own oil revenues have helped it become a real competitor for more Nile water resources. With Chinese and Arab funding, Sudan has built the huge Merowe Dam, initially for hydropower purposes but also potentially for irrigation. It is also increasing the height of the old Roseires Dam to boost its hydro-power production and has plans to extend its capacity for irrigated agriculture, taking its water extraction from the Nile above its quota in the 1959 agreement. Gradually, Sudan is moving strongly to challenge Egyptian domination in the basin.?


Hungry for irrigation


?The other major challenge to Egypt comes from Ethiopia, which plans to harness the waters of the Blue Nile and other tributaries. Ethiopia cultivates 90,000 ha of irrigated land, which is only 4% of the potentially irrigable land in the country. Having suffered severe famines in the past, Ethiopia wants to achieve food self-sufficiency at any cost. Its population is growing faster than that of Egypt, and, by 2025, it could have more people to feed than Egypt. ?


Nile Basin Initiative


River basin countries are no
longer talking in shrill tones.
Read more. 

Ethiopia’s water-development plans worry Egypt because they could substantially reduce the water flow in the Nile. Given its needs and with the head-waters of the Nile being one of its few natural resources, Ethiopia is serious about using more of the Nile’s water for its own use. Relations have been difficult for many years. Back in 1979, Ethiopia’s ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam criticised Egypt’s water-transfer plan for Sinai and threatened to reduce the Blue Nile’s flows in retaliation. Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat responded by warning: “If Ethiopia takes any action to block our right to the Nile water, there will be no alternative for us but to use force.” Before his fall in 1991, Mengistu had unsuccessfully tried to obtain the support of Israel and even invited some Israeli engineers to help Ethiopia in developing its water potential. In 1990, Egypt was instrumental in blocking an AfDB loan to Ethiopia for water-development projects.


?Since the mid-1990s, Ethiopia has emerged from civil war and famine into a phase of accelerated growth and economic development. While Egypt still uses its diplomatic influence to limit international support for Ethiopian projects, financial assistance from Western countries has increased. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government has developed water master plans for all the Ethiopian river basins with the help of international consultants. Several water projects have been initiated unilaterally. Besides several micro-dams in the highlands, Ethiopia has constructed a large hydropower dam, the Tekeze Dam, on the Atbara River. Such projects have become possible due to favourable construction contracts offered by China. Ethiopia is hopeful of receiving further Chinese support for its planned irrigation projects in the Nile basins, including a controversial project at Tana-Beles.?

 Nile flow

Ethiopia’s action increasingly demonstrates that it is not prepared to wait for basin-wide agreements to go ahead with its own large irrigation projects. The emergence of China as a powerful alternative lender facilitates possible unilateral actions by Ethiopia. This certainly doubles Egyptian worries about its future water supplies from the Nile.?


With support from the World Bank and a wide range of other donors, a basin-wide organisation, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was launched in February 1999, of which all but Eritrea are members (though Eritrea participates as an observer). However, over the past decade, the NBI has not been able to transform the mind-sets of basin countries, which tend to think about Nile water development from a national perspective rather than adopting a basin-wide strategy. Thanks to the principle of consensus, the NBI has made some progress on less-controversial issues, but it has failed on critical water-sharing matters involving Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. With the core issues of water sharing in the Blue Nile basin still not addressed, the NBI has not been able to move ahead in bringing real and effective cooperation among the basin states. For the NBI to be effective, Egypt needs to be persuaded to prepare for a new agreement over Nile water sharing, which should at least include Ethiopia as a party.


Cooperation and conflict


?To resolve the issue of water scarcity and enhance regional cooperation, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt need to build a strong cooperative framework for the use of the Nile’s water. The Ethiopian highlands could be used for common storage of water and hydro-power generation for the three countries. Only constant cooperation among them can prevent future military conflicts over scarce water supplies and bring trust and development in the region. The first steps have been taken, but pressures on the Nile’s limited resources will only increase over time.  

A way out of the tunnel

Gemma Ware

Grwoth projectionsInternational institutions are prescribing higher social spending, more flexible monetary policy and a watchful eye on the banks. 



South Africa: What the elections mean

Gemma Ware


The three biggest parties can all draw some comfort from the election results. The ANC fended off the challenge from some of its former comrades, and opponents are pleased that the ruling party won just less than a two-thirds majority, its total of just below 66% of the poll was down by more than 3% on its 2004 victory. Voter enthusiasm remained high with a 77% turnout.?


The opposition is now more consolidated with the Democratic Alliance (DA – 16.74%), the new Congress of the People (COPE – 7.32%) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP – 4.99%) taking most of the remaining votes. The DA probably drew most of the National Party’s former support, especially among coloured (mixed-race) voters in the Western Cape. It will govern in the Western Cape without needing coalition partners and will have an impressive 67 seats in the National Assembly, but its 21% share of the vote in Gauteng was about the same as it was in 2004.?


For a new party without resources, COPE did not do too badly, with relatively strong support in the Eastern Cape, the Free State and the Northern Cape. But its results were not the seismic shift hoped for by the ANC dissenters who founded the party. Its poor showing in Gauteng (7.78%) suggests COPE failed to dent the ANC’s black middle-class support. The disaffected notables who broke away last year did not take much of the ANC’s branch-level organisation and grassroots support with them. ?


The ANC kept its support among the rural poor and the urban working class. With a million more votes than in 2004, the ANC benefited from the higher turnout, particularly among young first-time voters. The ANC also made big gains in KwaZulu-Natal, nearly doubling the total of its ballots since 2004. Here the gains were chiefly at the expense of the IFP, with the ANC picking up support among rural voters in former IFP strongholds.


Back to South Africa, Zuma's targets: jobs and services

Zuma: The man and his allies

Gemma Ware


President Jacob Zuma’s early days in office are refusing to live up to his critics’ characterisation of him as a South African version of Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose battles against corruption allegations have become as legendary as his special loathing for judges and journalists. The mood at Zuma’s first press conference on 10 May was sweetness and light: indeed, he looked a little tired having spent half the night hammering out cabinet appointments with ANC barons.?


Friends and fans of Jacob Zuma have been telling journalists they’ve misread the man. Far from being the hard-nosed ideologue with a troubled history in security operations, he is a determined pragmatist who did his best to fight for the lives and good treatment of the ANC’s underground fighters in the 1970s and in the 1980s when he headed the ANC’s internal intelligence wing. In government, Zuma’s finest hour was his mediation between ANC and Inkatha cadres to end the political clashes in KwaZulu-Natal in the mid-1990s which had cost tens of thousands of lives. He owes much of his popularity in the province to those efforts.?


Zuma’s first moves show a sureness of touch in balancing the communists and the neo-liberals in the government. The great unknown is whether Zuma can exercise the presidential authority to make the balancing act produce positive results. Those who backed him on his campaign trail for the presidency over the past five years – friends such as Siphiwe Nyanda, Mo Shaikh and Tokyo Sexwale – have no doubts.


?Behind Zuma’s affable manner, they say, lies a steely determination to make government work better and to put people back to work. As the country struggles to shake off the financial crisis, that test is clear enough. South Africans will know the answer within a year. 


Profiles of Zuma's new team 


Tokyo Sexwale?, Human Settlements Minister


??Known to have presidential ambitions, Sexwale has spent several months tidying up his business dealings and putting them in a blind trust. There was talk of conflicts of interest: his company Mvelaphanda invested in Group Five, which deals with mass residential housing – an area that will come under his control as minister. Premier of Gauteng after the 1994 elections with a wide and growing support base, Sexwale was accused with two others in 2001 of plotting to overthrow President Thabo Mbeki. He dismissed the claims as absurd and they were never followed up. He set up Mvelaphanda in 2002 and chaired it until 2007 when he stood down to become non-executive chair, also standing down as non-executive director of ABSA. Sexwale boosted his profile in 2005 by hosting SABC’s ‘The Apprentice’.


Siphiwe Nyanda?, Communications Minister


??Described as a ‘mystery’ general, 59-year-old Nyanda has long experience in different intelligence organisations and served as head of the South Africa National Defence Force (1998-2005). Before 1994, he was chief of staff in the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, but he remains virtually unheard of in the telecommunications industry and public broadcasting sector he is set to influence. While in the military, he fought corruption, especially amongst soldiers who were accused of robbing Zimbabwean refugees crossing South Africa’s borders. He also has stakes in arms companies and interests in five businesses, including a security firm. Questions remain about his proximity to the multi-billion rand arms deal that shadowed Zuma for so long.


Mo Shaikh, Former Speical Advisor to Foreign Ministry ?


??Brother of Schabir Shaikh, the man who was convicted of brokering the arms deal in which Zuma was implicated, Mo Shaikh is a former ‘special advisor’ to the foreign affairs ministry. His career path was blocked after his brother’s conviction. During the anti-apartheid struggle, Mo Shaikh was an underground operative, alongside Siphiwe Nyanda, of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. After 1994, Shaikh took a senior post in the National Intelligence Agency before joining the foreign ministry and serving as ambassador to Algiers. A close ally of Zuma’s, Shaikh sees the corruption case as political victimisation. He will play an important role as a discreet advisor and negotiator, and will bring a wide-ranging network of local and international contacts to the new order.


Zweli Mkhize, Premier of Kwazulu-Natal


??Between 1991 and 1994, Zweli Mkhize was a member of the ANC’s national health secretariat before becoming KwaZulu-Natal’s health minister in 1994-2004. He subsequently became the province’s minister of finance and economic development, where he was noted for engaging directly with businesses and banks, urging the latter to provide finance for small enterprises. Last year he won substantial damages from City Press which claimed that he helped arrange a murder. Very active within the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Mkhize has long played a role in stabilising relations between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC in the province. He played a leading role in the ANC’s massive increase of votes in KwaZulu-Natal in the April elections.


Zwelinzima Vavi, ?COSATU General Secretary


??Appointed general secretary of Cosatu in 1999 after coming up through the union movement. A former gold miner, he cut his teeth as an organiser in the National Union of Mineworkers. A long-time opponent of Robert Mugabe’s government, he has criticised the ANC’s approach towards Zimbabwe. In January, he was nominated as an ANC representative in the National Assembly but turned it down. He insists that workers expect measurable results from the Zuma government on livelihoods, education, health, crime, corruption and rural development. A powerful orator, the government will want him on its side. Since 2007 he has been a member of the local organising committee board for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and a member of its audit committee.


Back to South Africa, Zuma's targets: Jobs and services

The long view: Mexico's war on drugs

Gemma Ware

The long arm of the cartels


After seizing leadership of the cocaine trade between Colombia and the US, Mexican cartels seem to have all the weaponry and information they need for many years of successful business


Nobody knows who is really who in Mexico. Governors, judges, intelligence officials and policemen of every rank have been found guilty of corruption in the past few years, most of them bought by the gangs who smuggle cocaine into the United States.


?“Nationwide, every time we recruit policemen, we know that some of them are narco-agents trying to infiltrate the system, and that some others are, soon or later, going to collaborate with the narcos, either because they accept their money or because of pressure on their families”, says an interior ministry official who does not want to be named.?


Life in the police is a vicious circle. An honest policeman is under threat. A dishonest one is not any luckier; if he joins one of the four main drug cartels, he will become a target for the other three. A young policeman can earn 5,000 pesos ($366) a month, but the gangs will promise him ten times that plus a brand new automobile. But as his family’s standard of living rises, his life expectancy falls.?


The law running scared?


The war between the cartels has already killed more than 7,000 people this year, 160 of them by decapitation. The violence reaches into the US itself, with cartel-backed kidnappings on the rise in Arizona and other southern states. In January, a police commanding officer’s head was dropped off in front of the police station just outside Ciudad Juarez, the twin city of El Paso in Texas, with a message saying “for the Sinaloa Cartel."


?In Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa State, cradle of the narco-dynasties, fewer and fewer people want to join the police. Bodies are picked up in the streets every day, making mortuaries the fastest-growing businesses in this dusty city. In February, in the Caribbean seaside resort of Cancun, the head of the local police, Francisco Velasco, nicknamed ‘The Viking’, was arrested on charges of murdering a retired army general.?


Corruption is taken for granted in Mexico, but President Felipe Calderón says “the same phenomenon of corruption of the authorities is happening” on the other side of the Rio Grande. And so Mexicans were pleased to hear US President Barack Obama say during his first visit to the country that the US “could not pretend this is Mexico’s responsibility alone”.


?Formerly acting as subcontractors and considered as such by Colombia’s Pablo Escobar and his colleagues, the Mexican cartels are now the masters of the game. They control the entry points to the US along a 3,200km border. The cocaine may still come from Colombia, but the Colombians are now only the suppliers.?


Calderon’s ‘cancer’?


The Gulf, Sinaloa, Juarez and Tijuana cartels are well-supplied with weapons, from traditional ‘macheta’ (to decapitate opponents) to automatic rifles, rocket launchers and even anti-aircraft machine guns, like the one seized in mid-April in Sonora State, just a few weeks after the US said it would pay for Blackhawk helicopters to tackle the cartels under the three-year, $1.4bn Merida Initiative.


?Thanks to inside agents, the narco-gangs are generally one move ahead. When he was elected president in 2006, Calderón launched an aggressive offensive against the drug barons, sending 36,000 troops and policemen into the most conflict-ridden areas. The government claims to make regular arrests of the heads of the cartels and to be delivering fatal blows to the trade, but this does not seem to have weakened them.


?The drug traffic is like “a cancer”, says Calderón. And in spite of the measures taken by the authorities, no significant change has been seen in drug availability on the US side of the border: the price of cocaine has been stable, which means supplies are still getting through. ?

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