Course Notes – GEP: Big Dams!

China’s Three Gorges Dam may be a huge mistake, reports Business Insider. Criticisms of the project are by no means new, but the most recent statements that 100,000 people may still need to be moved in response to landslide risks around the dam have brought its downsides back into focus.

Meanwhile, China continues to be involved in major dam projects around the world. One such project is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a project which is creating major conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt. The Economist recently called it the “jewel” of Ethiopia’s hydropower strategy, expected to generate 5250MW of energy when finished increasing electricity production in Ethiopia fivefold. This is more than twice Ghana’s current electricity production from hydropower. Here is Egypt’s Minister of Water, Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam, interviewed just recently:

In short, it would lead to political, economic and social instability. Millions of people would go hungry. There would be water shortages everywhere. It’s huge (The National).

While Ethiopia is funding much of the project by issuing its own bonds, approximately $1.8 billion in turbines and electrical equipment are reportedly being financed by Chinese banks (The Economist).
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Africa Notes: The Sudanese War

The news is bad. Sudan and South Sudan are, reportedly, now “locked in a logic of war” (BBC). The key disputes center on the still-disputed border regions where oil fields are present. (Map available here.)

Khartoum, unfortunately, seem to be moving along the path towards further conflict. Reports CapitalFm:

Omar al Bashir’s government says that will conscript all its citizens to fight in an all-out-war with South Sudan following an escalating oil conflict.
Sudan’s Ambassador to Kenya Kamal Ismail Saeed said on Tuesday Khartoum would sustain the war ‘at all costs’ until Juba withdraws its troops from a disputed oil field in Heglig.

AlJazeera has posted this report on how the Sudanese Parliament is now calling South Sudan the “enemy”.

South Sudan, for its part, claims that Sudan is violating the laws of war, using “indiscriminate bombing” in its attack on Heglig.

Overall, I get the sense that Sudan may be beginning to win the land war, but South Sudan may be earning broader support from its African neighbors and the international community.

Regional Dimension
There is, of course, an important regional dimension to this conflict. Two regional powers, Egypt and Kenya, have made bids to help resolve the feud diplomatically.

Thurston reports on Egypt’s roles here. As he notes, “It is not like Egypt has resolved all of its own internal uncertainties, so the fact that Egypt is making the Sudans such a high priority right now says that Egypt is quite concerned.” My view is that Egypt’s current situation also means that it is unlikely going to have the kind of impact that is needed to resolve the situation.

With the case of Kenya, objectivity may be the big obstacle to their playing a role as peace broker. Kenya has been a big winner with South Sudan’s independence. It is likely, for instance, that oil will soon flow from South Sudan to its port of Lamu (Reuters). But the recent conflict threatens both those economic interests and potentially Kenya’s broader influence in the region. As Thurston mentions at Sahel Blog, concerns about future refugees and associated humanitarian challenges are also relevant here.

Ethiopia… well, there really isn’t much news about Ethiopia’s government playing a role in any of this, though they are the host for the African Union’s efforts. Indeed, Ethiopia and Sudan seem to have their own border dispute issues (Sudan Tribune).

Efforts by the African Union, including talks held since in July in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, have also failed thus far. As one security analyst notes: “Thabo Mbeki [former South African president who is leading the mediation] and his panel are losing their edge” (The Star).

The International Community
I am still not very clear on what roles China is currently playing in all of this. Ever since secession was clearly going to happen, China has actively courted South Sudan’s leaders. South Sudan’s President Kiir is due to make a state visit there within the next few weeks (Reuters).

As for the United Nations, no clear policy for dealing with the situation has emerged yet. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is making the basic pleas for peace. And the Security Council is hearing reports on the issue. One option on the table is sanctions (Reuters).

But we are all waiting.