Diplomats from Ethiopia and Eritrea are calling it a “joint declaration of peace and friendship” but that innocuous name is masking what may be one of the most important political changes in East Africa in the past 20 years.
With a simple, five-pillar agreement the presidents of Ethiopia and Eritrea, which were once one country but were bitterly divided by one of Africa’s most expensive and devastating conflicts, jointly declared its end.
It is very easy to be sceptical of the peace declaration given the region’s history of unremitting conflict and political false starts. The Derg regime, which came to power in Ethiopia in 1974 following the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie, was supposed to mark the end of imperial rule in the country, but in no time itself became a violent, bloody regime.
After fighting a war of liberation against the Derg regime for many years, Isaias Afwerki took control of the newly independent Eritrea in the early 1990’s and swiftly transformed it into a hermit state.
In the name of remaining ready for war, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have been forcefully conscripted into interminable military service. Despite its small population, Eritrea has consistently been producing the largest number of African refugees to Europe for years.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia constructed the most elaborate security state in East Africa. Millions of dollars that could have been spent on food security and development have instead been wasted on armies and surveillance, turning citizens into spies and destroying freedom of expression.
Therefore, the excitement and enthusiasm with which Ethiopians and Eritreans at home and abroad received the announcement about the end of the 20-year-long African Cold War are understandable. Thousands had been forced into exile as a result of rapid militarisation in both countries, and Monday’s landmark agreement is the surest indicator yet that a pivot away from security-centred statehood is possible.
Yet, in the rest of East Africa, some have found it hard to process the news. The Kenyan media, for example, failed to devote any coverage to the event on the day and has only had marginal analysis since, despite the fact that thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans currently live in Kenya. The changes Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is pursuing in Ethiopia will have an impact beyond the borders of his country and its neighbour, Eritrea. So how should East Africans especially, but outsiders in general see this peace declaration?
Between ending the war and decriminalising various political groups, Ahmed is breaking a network of political taboos that have been a constant hum in the background of east African politics for the past 20 years. Specifically the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia has been a seemingly unchangeable fact in a region that has a long history of protracted conflicts. So even floating peace as a possibility is a radical act of political transformation that changes the scope of what is possible or imaginable within the political arena – this could be the beginning of a major shift in the discourse around peace and security in East Africa and that needs to be acknowledged.
Of course, such a move will have political implications beyond this. In Kenya, the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) is a major infrastructure project that was developed with the explicit aim of connecting landlocked Ethiopia with the sea.
The animus with Eritrea meant that shared infrastructural connections between the countries that predated Eritrean independence could not be used. As the most stable country in the Horn, Djibouti has been a natural alternative for Ethiopia, although recently Addis Ababa has also made overtures to Somalia and Somaliland for the use of Berbera port.
Kenya maintains that the LAPSSET project is part of a broader continent-wide North-South, Cape to Cairo transport network, but regardless, the utility of the LAPSSET project and the displacement and disruption it has already created will now be under greater scrutiny following the peace accord between Asmara and Addis Ababa.
At the same time, tensions between Somalia and Somaliland about the use of Berbera port will seem less urgent if Ethiopia is able to develop a workable alternative through Eritrea. In June, Mogadishu accused Hargeisa of violating the conditions of semi-autonomy by entering into an agreement with Ethiopia over the development and use of the port, which they argue should have been approved at the federal level.
The tension forced Ethiopian diplomats to backtrack on commitments to direct trade through Berbera. With peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia, both of whom stand to gain immensely from normalisation of their relationship, the tension between Somalia and Somaliland will perhaps dissipate, at the very least taking another point of contention off the table.
None of this should overshadow the human element of this declaration – the fundamental reason why this matters. Like India and Pakistan, or Sudan and South Sudan, the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has torn families and communities apart, particularly those living along the border.
The political separation was further entrenched by the severing of communication ties and travel bans, making any dialogue between the citizens of the two countries impossible. As mentioned above, militarisation of public life in both countries has significantly distorted networks of trust within communities and a key hope is that the end of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war will feed into a broader process of demilitarisation in both countries.
The images of joyful Eritreans and Ethiopians receiving this news is a reminder that war happens to people and to communities, and the end of war is always cause for celebration for everyone.
Of course, it is far too early to make definitive declarations of what the future holds for these two countries. Yet, while cynicism has value in political thought, and especially when history provides ample examples of good faith gone bad, it is important to be as ready to accept good news as the bad.
Independently of what happens moving forward, this is a special moment for East Africa that must be cherished and encouraged. For those of us who are neither Ethiopian nor Eritrean, this is a timely reminder that within the politics of a complicated region, sometimes good things do happen.
Commentator: Nanjala Nyabola
Water Management: Morocco’s greatest threat or opportunity? By Jasper Hamann
Morocco has its work cut out for itself when it comes to water management. While the country is rich in innovative agricultural thinking and houses high-tech institutes and is one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers, many of the country’s farmers continue to depend primarily on rainfall to supply water for agricultural production.
Morocco’s future outlook could be dire if it does not heed warnings about the ever-escalating climate crisis. As the world continues to output massive amounts of carbon and methane, droughts and extreme weather are increasingly becoming a part of daily life.
An Evolving Crisis
The last few years have aptly shown the destructive nature of the climate crisis, as Morocco has faced its worst drought in nearly half a century. While droughts were already common in the North African country, occurring on average every three years, the current trend shows that things are only going to get worse.
The UN’s sustainable development division has pointed to Morocco’s water scarcity as the “main constraint on expansion” for its vital agricultural sector. While Morocco can have little impact on the evolution of the global climate crisis, local academics, businesses, and government are attempting to step up, and help the country prepare for what is to come.
As one of Morocco’s top officials on this dossier, Minister of Equipment and Water Nizar Baraka in May pointed out that Morocco is set to lose 30% of its current water resources by 2050. Baraka has called for the need for the country to invest in water efficiency, and emphasized the need for “hydro-diplomacy,” to establish solid international agreements to prevent future water resources from dwindling water supplies.
Meanwhile, the government is mustering its financial resources to aim to protect Morocco’s water supply, while making satellite data available to better manage the country’s outdated irrigation networks.
In January, the cabinet allocated $260 million for its 2021-2022 water emergency plan, yet such amounts can only provide minor temporary solutions. The country’s Court of Auditors recognized this fact in a report in March, calling for massive structural funding to update irrigation, limit water waste, and protect domestic water resources.
But billions are needed to increase, not just protect, Morocco’s water supply. Minister Baraka recognizes this and has pointed to Morocco’s expansive coastline as a possible asset where futuristic desalination plants would help convert seawater into potable water resources.
Whether desalination will be a viable option for all of Morocco remains to be seen, as experts say this prospect depends on the cost to construct the plants, creating the (sustainable) energy needed to run them, and finding solutions for its waste product, brine.
As is common with Moroccan public projects, the country is not thinking small. Instead, it is constructing the world’s largest desalination plant in Casablanca, the success of which is likely to determine whether Morocco will repeat this strategy elsewhere.
“Managing water is like managing your bank account,” Dr. Abdelghani Chehbouni, Professor at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), recently told MWN.
The professor is part of several key innovators and thought-leaders working to address Morocco’s growing water crisis. Solutions vary from simple low-tech changes, such as moving towards drip irrigation in Moroccan agriculture, to the ultra-high-tech ideas coming from the country’s foremost knowledge institutes.
UM6P, the country’s top research institute in this area, is building on the potential of AI machine learning, drones, and other innovative technology through its dedicated research institute, the International Water Research Institute (IWRI).
Similarly, the country’s largest company, fertilizer and phosphate giant OCP Group is counting on technology to provide solutions to the growing problem facing Morocco and the rest of the world.
For its own operations, OCP has introduced one of the most far-reaching water conservation initiatives of any large corporation worldwide, aiming to exclusively use non-conventional water sources within a decade while already recycling much of its own water needs. “We’ll use zero fresh water by 2028,” the company has vowed.
OCP’s ambitions go far beyond its own operations, however, as the fertilizer company is investing heavily in domestic and continental initiatives to combat water stress while contributing to major international fora on the topic.
At the 2022 International Water Association’s Forum for Industrial Water Users this past Friday, OCP presented their most recent effort, an e-book to promote sustainable water use for industry.
In many ways, OCP Group’s operations present a microcosm of African water issues. Phosphate mining, transportation, and fertilizer production are water-intensive processes that mirror the growing need for water resources in Africa’s growing industrial sector and agriculture.
OCP’s approach however presents a sense of hope, as it is already applying some of the methods that governments across Africa are likely to depend on in the future.
Future African and Moroccan solutions can already be found in OCP’s current strategy of far-reaching water conservation, intensive use of desalination, and water treatment while generating much of the energy for these processes in a sustainable manner.
As Morocco, Africa, and the rest of the world scramble for solutions to growing water scarcity, Morocco’s efforts are increasingly tailored toward turning a threat into an opportunity and presenting an optimistic technology-driven vision for a sustainable future in an evolving global climate context.
EAC presidents retire young, keep them busy and tap their knowledge by Charles Onyango-Obbo
On Tuesday, former Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta handed power to his former deputy, William Ruto, at a colourful ceremony in Nairobi. Uhuru fell out with his deputy in 2018 and didn’t back him in the August 9 elections that Ruto won, allying with former prime minister and rival Raila Odinga instead.
Kenyatta was nevertheless gracious, showing up and doing his duty with a smile, and sitting expressionless through some awkward moments as new Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, standing a few feet from him, shredded his record.
And off he went.
It was easy to miss one little significance of his exit.
At 60 years of age, Kenyatta was the youngest president to step down in Kenya. Both Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki retired just as their walking sticks beckoned.
Relative youthful retirement is a growing East African Community trend. Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila set the record in 2019 when he left the presidential palace at 49, remarkable considering that he in power for 18 years.
Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, who died in June 2020, a few weeks before he was to step down following elections, was also younger than Uhuru, at 56 years.
In Somalia, a likely future EAC member, former president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (also known as Farmaajo), was sent packing at the age of 60, following elections in May after he was defeated by former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Previously, the youngest regular retirement in the EAC — that is, the big man is not chased by mutinous soldiers, rebels emerged from the bush, or angry street protestors — was by Julius Nyerere in Tanzania in 1985 at 64. Hard to believe for a man who left such a huge footprint on his country, Africa, and the world.
The World Health Organisation said in a recent report that life expectancy in Africa had increased by an average 10 years between 2000 and 2019.
The median age of death in Africa in 2000 was 46. By 2019 it was 56. WHO noted that while 56 was lower than the global life expectancy of 64, the 10-year increase was far higher than the overall global increase of five years.
This means by retiring today, well-fed and sufficiently medicated leaders who were on a trajectory to live much longer than the masses, anyway, could be around longer than the previous class.
If we count the leaders who stepped down and weren’t hounded off State House, Nyerere died in 1999 at 79. Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki died in April last year at 90. His predecessor, Moi, died in February 2020 at 95. There is something in Kenya’s soil. Their average age is 88. We add at least 10 years to that; then, the recent retirees will live at least 98.
If they don’t fall into depression, their planes don’t fall out of the sky, or their successors don’t hang them in a tragic turn of events, this means Kenyatta will be around until 2060. Kabila will be roaming DR Congo until 2074.
That’s a long time away. Considering that more youthful future leaders will join them, there is a need for a grand East African scheme to harvest their knowledge of statecraft and keep them meaningfully occupied. Any ideas?
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3
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