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Putin’s tribal war by Dare Babarinsa

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The Ukrainian conflict may prove to be the most consequential war of the 21st Century. It may also signal the end of the Vladimir Putin era in Russian politics and the reduction of the once-mighty Russia into a glorified Third World country armed with nuclear weapons. That may be the ultimate oxymoron, but it is not far-fetched.

On Monday, Russia and China denied America’s allegation that Russia is seeking military help from China. That this allegation could be made, at all, is a pointer to the terrible straight Russia had found itself under Putin. Without its oil export today, Russia cannot even compete with China not to talk of its old Western Allies with whom it fought Germany during the Second World War.

The Ukrainian War may also signal an end to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), in its old form as a military alliance. Faced with serious challenge from the catholic economic muscle of a resurgent China, the NATO alliance needs to reconsider itself as a military body.

Economics and diplomacy may dominate future conflicts without counting the army divisions of each side. The Western powers may be thinking that it is time to seize the initiatives from the Chinese factory workers who are dominating the world. They have even surpassed the Japanese as the ultimate economic rival to the Western World.

In 1987, I had joined a team of 15 distinguished visitors to Capitol Hill, the home of the American legislature, The Congress. On the corridor were many television monitors broadcasting live on C-Span network, the proceedings of The Senate. All the television sets that we saw were Japanese-made, mostly of the Sony brand.

A female Senator, who hosted our team in her office, complained that Americans were surrendering to the economic aggression of the Japanese.

Few years after our visit to the Capitol Hill, Japanese automaker, Toyota, surpassed General Motors as the number-one automobile manufacturer in the world.

Now both Japanese and the Americans are facing the competition of their lives from the Chinese. These were the Chinese that were so beholding to the Russians in the first half of the 20th Century.

During his 25 years in power, China’s Supreme Leader, Chairman Mao Zedong, travelled outside his country twice. On both occasions, he journeyed to Moscow to meet with Russian leaders.

During the Chinese Civil War that lasted for almost 30 years, the Chinese were the clients of the Russians, beholding to them in every way. Mao knew the Chinese Revolution would have been a non-starter without the help of the Russians and their leader, Comrade Josef Stalin, the famed Man of Steel.

Today, there are not enough steel in Russia to arm its troops and change the map of Europe. Putin’s gamble in invading Ukraine is nothing but a reckless attempt to force the world to reckon with him. Russia still has the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Its military is still ranked as second only to America’s.

By igniting another tribal war in Europe, Putin is making a bad situation worse. His victory, if it ever comes, would be very costly and unsustainable in the long run. Instead of having Ukraine as a buffer zone between his country and the West, he is turning almost all former satellite states of the old Soviet Union into anti-Russian countries.

Putin has rightly gambled that the West would not want to confront Russia militarily on the ground or in the sky. Despite the repeated request of Ukraine and its leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that America and its NATO allies should declare Ukraine a no-flying zone, America declined to do so. Ukrainians know that if America declares Ukraine a no-flying zone, Russia does not have the capacity to confront America in the sky. The Russian air force is second-rate compare to the air-muscle of the United States and its allies. Though it might be tactically effective to create a no-flying zone over Ukraine, it would be strategically suicidal.

Russia is not just another country with a second-rate air force. It is a nuclear power, the greatest in the world after America. It has enough nukes to destroy the world 10 times over. Russia is also a dictatorship where one man rules. If Putin is humiliated in the sky, he might be tempted to use chemical weapons or even reach for the nuclear button. A thermonuclear war with Russia may not last more than one week, but all the major cities of the world; New York, Moscow, London, St Petersburg, Paris, Washington DC, Rome, would be destroyed. Humanity may be reduced to ground-zero and civilisation returned to where it was 5,000 years ago.

It is evident that the Ukrainians are the losers in this conflict. The young Ukrainian president, who came to power on the wings of anti-Russian rhetoric, refused or was unable to acknowledge the strategic importance of Ukraine to Russia. In recent past, Ukraine had joined NATO forces in staging an elaborate joint military exercise on Ukrainian soil.

Zelenskyy had also upped his rhetoric against Russia by saying he was ready to defend his country’s territorial integrity by all means. He thought his NATO allies would go to war to defend him. He was wrong.

Putin has done enough to provoke Ukrainian hostility. First he seized Crimea, the rich resort of Ukraine. He is also promoting separatist agenda within Ukraine in provinces that have substantial number of native Russians. In truth, Putin was acting as an arch-tribalist, promoting only the interests of his kinsmen. Yet despite these provocations, a more mature leadership would have handled Russia differentially.

There are many things for Ukraine to protect. Its citizens live better than the Russians; they are richer, healthier and have greater access to the good things of life. Ukraine has the best health system in the old Eastern Europe, certainly better than Russia’s. This week, the United Nations Secretary General described Ukraine as the food basket of the world. If the truth must be told, the Russians envy their wealthier cousin, the Ukrainians.

With a more experienced leadership, Ukraine would have avoided this new tribal war. They could have done less with Russian baiting despite the heavy breathing of the Russian bear and the reckless ambition of Putin. By their ceaseless dalliance with the West, they provoked the anger and belligerence of the insecure Putin. It is no consolation that this war is most likely to end badly for Putin and his corrupt and inefficient oligarchy.

There is a lot to learn from the Ukrainian experience. One, war does not give sufficient notice. Two, no one, no matter how much he loves you, will fight your war for you. Three, it is always better to be prepared for war if you want peace.

Nigeria is not at war, but we have seen how unprepared we are even to maintain a semblance of peace. Few weeks ago, some well-fed billionaires imported bad fuel for us and for weeks, queues have resurfaced at fuel stations. No one has been sanctioned or considered culpable. Let the people bear the brunt. There is no strategic reserve for our oil in case of crisis, war or natural disaster. Mere wrong importation by some fat blokes had disrupted the national balance.

Even our trains cannot run its schedule course without running out of fuel and passengers get stranded in the middle of nowhere. Of course, it is normal and no one it to be blamed. How then can we be surprised that a suspected killer had the presence of mind to become the queen of Kirikiri Prison? One wisecrack declared: “If you are living in Nigeria and your BP is normal, then you are not normal!”

 

Strictly Personal

Water Management: Morocco’s greatest threat or opportunity? By Jasper Hamann

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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.

Government Response

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.

 

 

Funding Solutions

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.

Thought leaders

“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.

Private Sector

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.

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Strictly Personal

EAC presidents retire young, keep them busy and tap their knowledge by Charles Onyango-Obbo

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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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