Last week, an African Union (AU) official reported that funding for a multinational force to combat Boko Haram’s deadly Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa remains well short of its target.
In comments made shortly after a meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss funding, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council disclosed that so far, including Nigeria, Switzerland and France, have pledged about US $250 million to fund the 8,700-strong regional force. According to Orlando Bama, communications officer for the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, the US $250 million includes both previous pledges and those made during Monday’s conference. That effectively covers just over a third of the US $700 million budget that was announced for the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) last year.
The task force, which is to be made up of regional African militaries, has yet to mobilize. Instead, national armies are tackling Boko Haram individually, however they often cannot follow the insurgency across the region’s long, porous borders. Regional armies from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria mounted an offensive against the insurgents last year, which ousted them from many positions in northern Nigeria. The United States has also sent troops to supply intelligence and other assistance, however progress has been slow, with Boko Haram continuing to have the capabilities to launch deadly attacks both inside Nigeria, as well as in the Lake Chad Basin.
Monday’s talks come after the militant group’s latest attack, which killed at least 65 people in northeastern Nigeria on Saturday.
South Sudan Reconciliation “Possible” As Two Sides Meet
A chief negotiator in South Sudan has indicated that rebels are confident that “full reconciliation” can be achieved with the government. Taban Deng’s comments come as the two sides hold ceasefire talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. South Sudan’s Information Minister Michel Makuel has also indicated that the government is committed to ending the conflict. Fresh violence erupted in South Sudan on 15 December 2013, resulting in around 1,000 people being killed since then. In turn, nearly 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting, which has seen clashes between members of the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups.
After days of disputes pertaining to procedural issues and the agenda, direct talks between the two sides finally began on Sunday in Addis Ababa. On Tuesday, chief mediators Seyoum Mesfin and Lazurus Sumbeiywo flew to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, in order to hold talks with President Salva Kiir. A major issue to be raised during the talks will be the demand made by Riek Machar to release twelve people who have been detained over allegations of a coup plot. The president has so far repeatedly ruled out their release, stating that they will face justice. Mr Machar however denies that there was a coup plot, stating instead that the current president’s forces are responsible for the violence, which is being used as a mechanism to consolidate his hold on power ahead of elections which are due in 2015.
Since fighting began in mid-December of last year, both sides have been under intense diplomatic pressure to end the fighting in South Sudan, which is the world’s newest state. On Monday. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, met with the two parties in Addis Ababa and urged them to negotiate a ceasefire. China is a major investor in South Sudan’s oil industry. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir also held talks with President Kiir on Monday. According to Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti, the two leaders were “in consultations about the deployment of a mixed force to protect the oilfields in the South.
When it seceded from Sudan in 2011, the South ended up with most of the oilfields however it has to export the oil using pipelines through ports in Sudan’s territory. With fighting escalating over the past few weeks, the government in Khartoum, Sudan now fears that the fighting that is occurring in the South will disrupt its oil revenue.
Despite the two sides hold talks in Ethiopia, fighting in South Sudan has continued. On Monday, heavy fighting between President Kiir’s and Mr Machar’s forces occurred near Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. Army spokesman Philip Aguer indicated that it was only a “matter of time” before Bor was recaptured from the rebels. The United Nations also announced on Monday that militiamen had taken control of a UN food warehouse in Bentiu and that UN vehicles had been commandeered in the rebel-held town of Bor.
On Monday, the South Sudanese government announced that it had agreed to a cessation of hostilities with rebel leader David Yau Yau. The government, which has been fighting Mr Yau Yau for nearly two years, feared that his troops, which are stationed in Jonglei state, would joint the new rebellion.
First Chemical Weapons Leave Syria
Meanwhile in Syria, the United Nations has confirmed that the first consignment of chemical weapons has left the Syrian port of Latakia. Officials at the UN have indicated that Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Russian frigates are escorting the consignment. A previous attempt to collect the arms was aborted after Syrian officials failed to deliver the toxic chemicals to the collection point in Latakia. The “most critical” chemical include about twenty tonnes of blister agent sulphur mustard.
The weapons are due to be taken to Italy, where they will be loaded onto a US Navy Ship and shipped into international waters for destruction in a specially created titanium tank on board. Removing the most dangerous chemicals is the first step of a UN-backed agreement that aims to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of this year. The agreement was brokered by Russian and American officials after rockets filled with nerve agent sarin were fired at three towns in the Ghouta agricultural belt located around the Syrian capital Damascus on 21 August 2013. The attack resulted in the deaths of hundreds of peoples. While Western powers have indicated that the assault could have only bee carried out Syrian government forces, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has blamed the attack on rebel fighters.
Route of First Consignment
- The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons from twelve sites across the country to the port of Latakia. Russia has supplied large-capacity and armoured lorries, while the US has sent container drums and GPS locators.
- Russia has also provided security for loading operations at Latakia, for which the US has supplied loading, transportation and decontamination equipment’s. Meanwhile China has sent ten ambulances and surveillance cameras while Finland has sent an emergency response team in the event that accidents should occur.
- Denmark and Norway will provide cargo ships and military escorts in order to take the chemicals to an as yet unnamed port in Italy. Russia and China will also provide naval escorts.
- Upon arrival in Italy, the “most critical” chemical weapons will be loaded onto the US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray, in order to be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. Meanwhile less toxic chemicals will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels for disposal at commercial facilities.
Ethiopia’s plan to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile for a hydroelectric dam has caused outrage in Egypt. The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of a major investment project to boost power exports. The dam will have a capacity equivalent to six nuclear power plants.
Ethiopia, which is the source of the Blue Nile, believes that it could wean itself off of food aid by irrigating the river, however some experts say that the reserve could cause nearly 20% reduction of the water supply to Egypt and Sudan. A colonial agreement gives Egypt and Sudan the right to use up to 90% of the Nile’s water. In 2010, six countries attempted to create a new arrangement for redistribution of Nile waters, but Egypt and Sudan refused to enter any agreement that affected their share of the water supply.
Egyptians see the building of the dam as a threat to national survival. As a desert nation with very little rainfall, the growing population is increasingly dependent on the water supply. The nation relies on the Nile for 98 per cent of its irrigation, and estimates show that Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050 to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million. Supporters of the dam say Egypt could solve the crisis by being more efficient with water usage; opponents argue that Egypt already recycles up to 15 billion cubic metres of water.
In a surprise move in late May, Ethiopia decided to proceed with the project days after a state visit by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The Ethiopian government says a scientific report ensures that the dam will do “no appreciable harm” to Sudan and Egypt downstream. The report, which was to be released in early June, is still shrouded in secrecy.
The Egyptian Parliament denounced Prime Minister Hashim Kandil for failing to prevent the construction. One MP shouted, “Egypt will turn to a graveyard… We have to stop the construction of this dam first before entering negotiations.” Egypt’s Foreign Minister is planning a visit to Addis Ababa on 16 June to continue discussions.
In early June, senior Egyptian politicians were unknowingly caught on live television discussion options with President Morsi. Ayman Nour, head of Egypt’s Ghad party, suggested leaking false reports that Egypt was building up its air power. Younis Makhyoun, leader of the al-Nour party, suggested supporting Ethiopian rebels, or as a last resort, destroying the dam. The “secret” meeting triggered heavy backlash. Egypt has not issued an official apology for the broadcast; one member tweeted she was sorry members of the meeting were unknowingly broadcast. Opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei was invited but did not attend the meeting. He tweeted sincere apologies to the people and governments of Ethiopia and Sudan.
Egypt’s ambassador to Ethiopia has been summoned to explain the hostile remarks.
Meanwhile, President Morsi gave a speech to supporters on 10 June, in which he announced that “all options are open” in dealing with the situation. Morsi said to a cheering crowd, “We are not calling for war, but we will never permit our water security to be threatened.” Morsi received a standing ovation after quoting from an old Egyptian song, “If it diminishes by one drop, our blood is the alternative.”
A spokesman for the Ethiopian prime minister called Morsi’s speech irresponsible, and promised that the project would proceed. “Of course we are going to go ahead with the project, because we believe we are justified.”
Nile Basin Nations Water Relations
Disputes over the Nile’s water supply span over a century. Colonial treaties promised Egypt a vast majority of the water supply, and an agreement following Sudan’s independence in 1956 allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres of the Nile to Egypt, and 18.5 billion to Sudan, totalling 87 per cent of the Nile flow. However, the treaties provided nothing to nations further upstream.
Ethiopia and other nations believe the colonial treaties are antiquated. Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said, “Ethiopia cannot remain poor. It must utilise its resources to lift its people out of poverty.”
The Nile Basin Initiative was created in 1998 to bring together all ten states that border on the Nile to discuss the issue, but have failed to reach an agreement as the Cairo government guards historic treaties. The failure to agree on water redistribution has created deep bitterness among other Nile nations. In March 2011, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Tanzania signed a new agreement to overturn the colonial-era treaties and replace them with a more equitable utilisation of the river.
Many in Ethiopia believe that Egypt is the source of many of its troubles. In 1959, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser excluded Ethiopia from the planning of the Aswan Dam. In response, Ethiopian
Emperor Haile Selassie caused the separation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from its sister church in Alexandria, ending a 1,600 year relationship.
In response to the Emperor’s actions, Nasser backed the Eritrean revolt against Ethiopia, and encouraged Somali Muslims to fight for Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. Eritrea’s eventual independence caused Ethiopia to become a landlocked nation, a source of great anger. Eritrea backs the Egyptian position over the Nile.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia continues with the project, with a $1 billion loan from China. The project, according to the Ethiopian government, began in May and is 21 percent complete.