Category Archives: Africa

Water Wars

On October 11th, the Nobel Prize Committee announced its decision to award the 2019 Peace Prize to Ethiopia’s charismatic Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali for his efforts to “resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.” After 30 years of insurgency and 21 years of war, Ethiopia may finally have peace with its breakaway neighbor, a conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives. With the Nobel Prize announcement, the young and energetic former Army Lieutenant Colonel joined 99 of history’s most treasured peacemakers. Eleven days later, he promised he would mobilize millions of soldiers to fight Egypt if that country sought to prevent completion of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The spectacle of a Nobel Laureate threatening war, even a defensive one, over water rights may seem like an anachronism but it is not. Water wars are the future of conflict in many parts of the world and the distribution and intensity of that conflict is intertwined with history, climate change, population growth, and of course geography. In East Africa perhaps most of all. The Nile River is the longest in the world. Its waters flow through 11 countries and provide water to 250 million Africans on its way to Alexandria, Egypt where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea. That geographic fact has determined the rise and fall of empires from the time of the Pharaohs, through the rule of Alexander the Great and later the Ottomans. Its course shaped European colonialism on the continent and is the source of a great deal of tension between source and consumer countries today. Despite this, riparian states like Ethiopia say Nile waters are not distributed fairly.

Africa’s Water Tower

Ethiopia is a vast country that sits on a mountainous plateau. It is the source for 84% of the water in the greater Nile river system upon which so many millions depend. The country’s mountainous geography and unique political history are the reason Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never fully colonized by Europeans. Despite this, Ethiopia remains poorly developed and water-stressed. Successive regimes in Addis Ababa viewed dam-building as a birthright solution to Ethiopia’s water and power needs but were blocked by vigorous opposition from more powerful governments down stream. No longer it seems. Increasing pressure to dam the Blue Nile led to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. Announced in 2011, it will be the largest dam in Africa when it is finally complete next year.

Egypt sees the Renaissance Dam as a threat to its security. So does Sudan. Both have promised to defend their rights to Nile waters. This is not hyperbole. Ninety-five percent of Egypt’s 99 million citizens live within 20 kilometers of the river and receive 90% their water from it. Any reduction of Nile waters is quite literally a limitation on the viability of Egyptian society and industry. Thus far, both Egypt and Sudan base their claims to Nile water on the 1929 Nile Waters Agreement and the 1959 Egypt-Sudan Agreement which guarantee 66% of Nile waters to Egypt and 22% to Sudan. Designed to allocate Nile waters between British colonies in East Africa and the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, those treaties included no provisions for Ethiopia or the other riparian states that subsequently achieved independence. More importantly, the 1929 agreement gave Egypt veto power over construction of dams upstream.

Unsurprisingly, Ethiopians reject this arrangement on the basis that they were never a party to the agreement. More recently, they have been working with other upstream countries — Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya — as a bloc to pursue a more inclusive agreement that is nonetheless sensitive to Egyptian concerns. As part of that effort, Addis Ababa offered to release 30 billion cubic meters from the dam annually, a total they claim is the maximum they can release while filling the reservoir. Egypt however, is not satisfied with this number and wants 40 billion cubic meters instead, a discharge rate that would increase the time required to grow the reservoir from 5-6 years to 7-9 years. For the time being, Sudan is comfortable with 30 billion and was brokering a mutually acceptable quantity until those talks broke down last week over drought provisions.

Diplomatic Timeline of Nile Water Utilization

Water Talks

Where the talks go from here is a matter of growing concern in the region and beyond. The dam will be complete sometime in 2022, a decision point in Egyptian calculations and the reason the Egyptian Foreign Minister said the dam “will have negative consequences for stability in the region” if Egypt’s concerns are not addressed. Recognizing the danger of a conflict that could engulf all of East Africa, the United States and Russia have both offered to mediate but even the question of their respective roles remains a matter of some disagreement between the parties.

The controversy of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam demonstrates that water wars are no longer a topic limited only to science fiction. They are indeed a real and growing concern that erodes existing mechanisms of diplomacy and international security at the exact moment global warming, population growth, environmental degradation, and great power competition are changing the dynamics of supply and demand between source and consumer countries. Though resource wars are not new, the explosive results of water wars, like the one that could happen on the Nile, will carry these conflicts far beyond their parched origins to areas less vulnerable to water conflict. Responding preventatively must be an international diplomatic priority today so it does not become an international military one tomorrow.

Lino Miani, CEO Navisio Global LLC

Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC.

South Africa Faces a Downward Spiral

This article has been republished with permission from our partner, Stratfor. The original version was first published in Stratfor’s WORLDVIEW and can be found here.


  • Beset by infighting, the ruling African National Congress is incapable of effectively tackling the country’s worsening economic and social situation.
  • Those problems will drive more highly skilled individuals to emigrate, robbing the country of productive workers and tax revenue in the years ahead.
  • Deepening economic malaise and internal fissures will accelerate the erosion of the ANC’s once-dominant electoral position, possibly opening the door to more extreme parties, with serious policy implications.
  • As South Africa struggles to get its house in order, its influence over the rest of southern Africa will wane.

“We are sorry for what happened,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told a group of workers earlier this month in Durban. “Our image, our standing and our integrity [were] negatively affected.” Ramaphosa offered the heartfelt mea culpa following yet another wave of xenophobic riots across South Africa, yet presidential apologies are unlikely to stanch more violence directed against foreigners there — or cure the deeper malaise that drives the unrest. That’s because successive governments in Pretoria have failed to foster essential economic growth in South Africa, which posted an eye-popping unemployment rate of 29 percent earlier this year. Every week, thousands of its citizens are forced into unemployment or underemployment in the extensive black market.

The Big Picture

Years of economic and social woes have taken a toll on South Africa. As the country grapples with yet more indications of weak or negative growth, sky-high unemployment, massive crime rates and coming political change, its ability to remain a continental economic powerhouse will be under threat.

See 2019 Fourth-Quarter Forecast

See Sub-Saharan Africa section of the 2019 Fourth-Quarter Forecast

See Old Leaders in a New Africa

And it’s not just joblessness that is eating away at the rainbow nation; a host of other factors are driving home the severity of the country’s crisis: rising government debt, crumbling infrastructure, collapsing education standards, rampant crime and violence, currency volatility, investment outflows, and more. Together, it’s given rise to the sentiment that South Africa is increasingly a country of “haves” and “have nots,” tearing at the country’s social fabric, resulting in mass alienation and disenchantment with the political system. And with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) seemingly unable to get its own house — let alone South Africa’s — in order, the continent’s powerhouse will go through plenty more trials and tribulations before it sees any glimmer of hope.

A Battle Over Spoils

In spite of ever-worsening economic and social problems, the ANC government is incapable of implementing drastic and fundamental reforms to jump-start growth, offering instead “pie in the sky” policy rhetoric that has failed to translate into reality. At the heart of the problem is the ANC itself: The party is riven by massive internal factionalism. In the years immediately after apartheid, ideological differences may have driven the party’s divisions. But since then, the ANC has become mired in corruption and mismanagement, with the effects becoming evermore pronounced in recent years. In effect, the main battle brewing inside the ANC today centers on access to money and resources; policy differences, ultimately, are largely irrelevant. South Africa’s economic boost during the global commodity supercycle driven largely by Chinese demand in the late 2000s obscured this internal conflict and its negative impacts until the good economic times ended in 2014. Since then, bleaker prospects have challenged Ramaphosa and his allies’ efforts to turn around the party and government through anti-corruption efforts, in part because he must contend with other powerful factions — most notably those aligned with his predecessor, Jacob Zuma — that benefit from his administration’s failure to root out graft at all levels of government.

This has serious policy implications. Given Ramaphosa’s flimsy coalition against other ANC factions, the president cannot robustly push “controversial” economic reforms which, in the South African context, entails market-based reforms that demand increased efficiency. For starters, these limitations have hindered Ramaphosa’s goals of overhauling the country’s embattled public utility company, Eskom. After nearly scuttling the South African economy last summer amid blackouts that it instituted to protect the unstable electrical grid, Eskom has already sucked up billions of dollars (necessitating ever-mounting debt) in 2019 to keep the lights on. Unsurprisingly, there is little sign of an improvement in store.

Economic SnapshotDespite the gravity of the situation, several of the country’s powerful unions have vowed to turn on Ramaphosa if he seeks to turn around Eskom by either privatizing the utility or laying redundant workers off. (According to the International Monetary Fund, Eskom’s workforce is bloated by a whopping 66 percent.) Should Ramaphosa opt not to alienate the powerful labor leaders who paved his path to the top of the ANC in 2017, he will have few policy options with which to deal with Eskom. In the end, one thing is certain: Failing to fix the company risks plunging South Africa’s economy into more crisis. As one Eskom board member recently warned, the current electrical grid cannot handle even a relatively minor uptick in economic activity without experiencing a system meltdown.

Over the Cliff

The long-term implications of years of ANC-led mismanagement loom large. For one, recent data proffered by an emigration services company, Sable International, strongly suggests that an exodus of South African individuals with a high net worth, as well as highly skilled workers, is underway. This, naturally, will have consequences as South Africa continues to rely more heavily on its shrinking tax base for government revenue. In addition, the flight of highly skilled workers will affect key sectors in global demand, like healthcare and high-tech, robbing the country of the more productive segments of its society. Most troubling for the government, data shows that the vast majority of these individuals do not return to the country once they emigrate.

Pretoria’s inability to make the tough policy choices to alter course will ultimately result in the country’s economy continuing to take on water. With weak or negative growth projected for the next several years, unemployment will remain high, resulting in yet more misery, high crime and violence. And in addition to Eskom’s woes, the country’s water systems, public transportation, waste management and other critical infrastructure will further deteriorate, pushing the costs and consequences onto its citizens. This, in turn, will encourage more highly skilled workers to leave the country for greener — and safer — pastures. South Africa’s political elites will find this downward spiral difficult to break, paving the way for the country to lose its ability to influence its much smaller neighbors. And as the author R.W. Johnson has pointed out, unlike the case of Zimbabwe — which sent millions of economic migrants over the border to South Africa when its economy collapsed — South Africans trying to escape economic misery have nowhere else in the region to go.

By the time the country’s leaders receive a stronger popular mandate to remedy its dire situation, South Africa will be in a far deeper hole with far fewer human resources to help dig it out.

This constraint on mass emigration will create an increasing number of disaffected voters who will erode the ANC’s once-dominant electoral position. Amid the economic stagnation and political infighting, younger voters who have few memories of the ANC’s struggle against apartheid — and, thus, little loyalty to the party — will look for other options come election day. Quite when the ANC will lose its political predominance is an open question, but South Africa’s poor economic trajectory and the ANC’s internal squabbling mean that a sea change will come sooner than later.

Ultimately, the impact of the ANC’s eventual reckoning will depend greatly on which political parties step in to fill the political void. For example, a weakened ANC that loses its majority will likely have to join an alliance with another major political party — an act that in itself that will likely accelerate the ANC’s breakup as dormant ideological debates erupt and battles over resources lead to a final splintering. Accordingly, does the future ANC opt to align itself with the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters? If so, the impact would be huge. To begin with, such a partnership would cause a sharp left turn in the country’s policies, resulting in the accelerated transfers of wealth to the impoverished black majority (at a huge cost to market efficiency). Policies like these would spook foreign investors, increase the brain drain, cause capital flight and send South Africa-based corporations scattering to other major African hubs. Relatedly, it would turn Pretoria’s focus away from the rest of the continent, thereby speeding up South Africa’s decline as a regional economic and political power (with no country in the region likely to assume its place).

An uneasy future alliance with the center-right Democratic Alliance could push the ANC into adopting more market-based policies. However, this scenario would be no panacea, as it could only occur if it receives serious political backing from voters who have otherwise favored populism over market efficiency. (What’s more, it would also likely usher in the ANC’s fragmentation into splinter parties, greatly upending the political system.) Popular support for tougher market reforms is only likely to come after more years of economic and social woes. By the time the country’s leaders receive a stronger popular mandate to remedy its dire situation, South Africa will be in a far deeper hole with far fewer human resources to help dig it out.

Amid its political leaders’ inability to pursue the tough policy choices needed to address the country’s growing socio-economic crisis, South Africa is sinking. The result, for the time being, will be the increase of internal strife and policy uncertainty, the erosion of the country’s economic base, and the loss of its regional hegemony. The only question, then, is just how stern South Africa’s reckoning will be.

Stephen RakowskiStephen Rakowski is a Sub-Saharan Africa Analyst at Stratfor, where he monitors political, security and economic trends unfolding across the continent. Mr. Rakowski holds a master’s in government with a focus on diplomacy and conflict studies from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. He also holds a bachelor’s in international relations from Franklin University Switzerland in Lugano, Switzerland. In addition to his studies, Mr. Rakowski has traveled and lived throughout Madagascar, Morocco and Kyrgyzstan.

Mugabe’s Heart: A Zimbabwean Valentine

Cover photo: Robert Mugabe puckers up for his wife Grace.  Will Zimbabwe see a dynastic transition of power from husband to wife? Photo credit:

In January Robert Mugabe returned late from his annual Christmas vacation to Asia. A delay in Dubai caused him to miss the arrival of his friend and ally, President Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea at the start of a three-day state visit to Harare. The bizarre refusal of Mr. Mugabe’s office to issue an explanation for the regrettable misstep sparked rumors that he may have suffered a massive heart attack. A sudden cardiac event is certainly plausible for someone of Mugabe’s age – he will be celebrating his 92nd birthday next week – but even a minor illness raises fears that Zimbabwe may be cast suddenly into what is effectively a struggle for succession.

Mugabe’s strong opinion is notably absent on the question of transition, leaving room for factions to form within his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Some speculate that through inaction, Mr. Mugabe may be paving the way to power for his wife Grace, a political novice. Whatever the case, after nearly four decades under Mr. Mugabe’s dominant leadership, it is not clear that ZANU-PF is ready to weather the storm effectively.

The Rise of ZANU-PF

Like its South African cousin, the African National Congress (ANC), ZANU-PF, was born as a counter to white-minority rule. Unlike the ANC however, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF was the result of a struggle and ultimate reconciliation between two communist-supported factions. Mugabe’s five-year political-paramilitary struggle against the white government of Ian Smith in the 1970s followed by a low level conflict with the rival Zimbabwean African People’s Union (ZAPU), hardened Mugabe’s attitude towards white landowners and allowed him to tightly consolidate his power as leader of the unified party.

The result has been a spectacular story of longevity in power. Mugabe and ZANU-PF have continued to rule Zimbabwe without interruption since winning the country’s first post-independence election in 1980. There have been setbacks, including a brief civil war with the remnants of ZAPU and a more recent electoral challenge by Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Mugabe responds to these challenges with a combination of political accommodation and serial repression of key rivals. The brutal story of Morgan Tsvangirai’s unity deal illustrates Mugabe’s great skill in employing these tactics effectively without touching off a deeply rooted tribal backlash.

Organized in 1999 as an alternative to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, the MDC rose quickly into a viable opposition party with a strong showing in the 2000 parliamentary elections. The overwhelming win for MDC in Matabeleland hinted at dangerous tribal divisions in Zimbabwean politics as the leadership of ZANU-PF is mostly Shona. Not surprisingly, the government quickly began targeting MDC officers, arresting (and acquitting) Morgan Tsvangirai three times for treason. In the last instance in 2007, he was tortured and his injuries became public after photos were smuggled out of the prison where he was being held.

Morgan Tsvangirai after his release from prison in 2007 where he was allegedly tortured. Photo credit:

Tsvangirai’s travails splintered the MDC into two factions though the Zimbabwean intelligence service, the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), is widely thought to have engineered the split. Matters came to a head in 2008 when the general election forced a runoff between Mugabe and Tsvangirai whose refusal to participate in the runoff sparked a month of violent tension across the country. Eventually, South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki was able to negotiate a power sharing agreement but three weeks after it was signed, Tsvangirai’s car was hit head on by a lorry, severely injuring him and killing his wife instantly. That the lorry was an official US Agency for International Development (USAID) vehicle carrying medicines somewhat mitigated conspiracy accusations but it did not stop MDC officials from speculating about the possibility.

Fear of a Post-Mugabe World

After the death of his wife, Tsvangirai never seemed to recover his drive to force Mugabe to share power. Sensing opportunity, the old fighter used the political respite to further consolidate his grip on politics in Zimbabwe. A constitutional change after the 2013 general election abolished the office of the Prime Minister and effectively ended the unity government, once again making Mugabe the sole executive leader in Zimbabwe. Responding to a perceived threat, he purged Vice President Joice Mujuru and her supporters in 2014 by accusing her of plotting to murder him.

Though ZANU-PF is enjoying its political zenith, there is a fearful undercurrent of what will come next and a growing recognition that the question of Mugabe’s age cannot be ignored any longer. There are indications that behind closed doors some ZANU-PF officials quietly acknowledge the need for planning though very indirectly. Ongoing factionalism within ZANU-PF has elevated Mugabe’s wife Grace to a level of political prominence and she is increasingly seen as an alternative to Vice President Mnangagwa despite her lack of a background in politics. In keeping with the bizarre reluctance of ZANU-PF to openly address the succession, Grace routinely disavows interest in politics while actively campaigning on her own behalf.

Some fear that politics under “President Grace” would be a tumultuous affair with rival factions, opposition parties, and even some civil society groups emboldened to oppose her in ways they would not have dreamt of doing with her husband. Though Mugabe’s failure to organize an orderly transition is essentially an internal matter for ZANU-PF, opposition parties like the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are growing bolder in their calls for a National Transitional Authority. This kind of open discussion of a taboo subject by an opposition party would have been unthinkable not too long ago and may be an indication that ZANU-PF is losing its grip.

A Zimbabwean Valentine?

Absent a coherent transition plan from Mugabe and ZANU-PF, the manner of Zimbabwe’s succession will be determined in large measure by the circumstances of their leader’s death.  An unexpected passing could lead all the players to consider bold moves that would potentially result in social unrest or even organized violence whereas a longer decline would feature intense jockeying for position both within the party and outside it.

Though the pressure will certainly mount as the succession question gathers momentum, it is not clear which players benefit from which scenario. Within ZANU-PF, Mrs. Mugabe and Mr. Mnangagwa seem headed for a clash, with Grace enjoying a protected position as the nation’s first lady. However, as the noted scholar, James Hamill points out, her advantages could quickly melt away if she doesn’t consolidate her position in the days just prior to or immediately following the death of her husband. A slow decline could make it harder for her to do so leading to the macabre realization that a sudden death of her husband Robert could be seen as a very big Valentine for Grace.

Lino Miani

Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC