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Sudan

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River of the Dammed

When Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed got the Nobel Peace Prize last year for ending his country’s 20-year military confrontation with neighbouring Eritrea, Donald Trump got quite cross. He should have got the prize, Trump said, because it was he who had prevented a war.

“I made a deal, I saved a country, and I just heard that the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country. I said: ‘What, did I have something to do with it?’ Yeah, but you know, that’s the way it is,” said Trump, philosophical as ever. Real super-heroes know that saving countries is a thankless task, but they do it anyway.

Part of the problem in this case, however, is that Trump was talking about the wrong country. War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography, but Trump missed all of his generation’s lessons (heel spurs). Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt, what’s the difference? They’re all in Africa, and they all start with ‘E’.

The conference where Trump allegedly saved a country was about preventing a war between Ethiopia and Egypt, not between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Nobel Prize Committee can’t give him a prize for his walk-on role in those talks because Egypt-Ethiopia is not a war-that-didn’t-happen (here’s your Prize), just a war-that-hasn’t-happened-yet (no prizes).

Three months later that war still hasn’t happened, but it might. In fact, the deadline for an agreement in months-long direct talks between the main parties in the dispute, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, passed yesterday (Wednesday). Now the dispute goes to the three heads of government to agree on a mediator – and if they can’t agree, maybe we’ll see our first real ‘water war’.

Various think tanks have been touting the idea of water wars for decades. (Never ask the barber if you need a haircut, never ask a think tank if there’s a risk of war.) But this time they might hit the jackpot: a war between Egypt and Ethiopia, each with 100 million people, and Sudan as piggy-in-the-middle.

It would be hard to arrange, since Egypt and Ethiopia don’t share a border, but they do share a river: the Nile. Ethiopia is building a huge dam – the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – on the Nile, and Egypt is very unhappy about it. So unhappy, in fact, that it would be no surprise if there were Ethiopian anti-aircraft missiles hidden in the hills around the damsite.

Egypt depends on the Nile for almost all of its water – it’s basically a big river flowing through a desert – so it’s very sensitive about people tampering with the source of that water. The branch flowing out of the Ethiopian highlands, the Blue Nile, accounts for 85% of that flow, so Cairo is bound to get twitchy when Ethiopia starts building a dam on it.

On the other hand, the GERD is strictly a hydroelectric dam, meant to double Ethiopia’s supply of electricity. They’re not taking any water out for irrigation, so all the water should just flow through, spin the turbines, and carry on down to Sudan and Egypt. The only water lost would be the relatively small amount that evaporated in the reservoir.

That’s the theory, but in practice there are two problems. One is just filling the dam’s immense reservoir. That’s 74 cubic kilometres of water that will never flow down the Nile: a full year’s flow if you took it all at once. But then everybody in Egypt would starve, so the dam must be filled over a period of years. The dispute is about how many: Ethiopia wants 4 to 7 years, Egypt is talking about 12 to 21 years.

That’s even before they get into the details, like what happens if there is a succession of drought years? Does Ethiopia go on filling the reservoir anyway, or does it stop, maybe at the expense of enduring big power cuts because the dam is still not producing its planned electrical output?

With good will it could all be sorted out, but good will is notable by its absence.

Egypt is a brutal military dictatorship; Ethiopia is a democracy. Egypt is the traditional great power of the region; Ethiopia is the rapidly rising rival. And the Egyptians, naturally enough, are paranoid about the Nile: even without the dam, their rising population means they will face grave water shortages within five years.

Back in 2013, at a conference to discuss the dam, senior Egyptian politicians discussed ways of destroying it with then-president Mohammed Morsi. (They didn’t realise the meeting was being televised live.) The preferred method seemed to be backing Ethiopian anti-government rebels, but as Morsi said, “All options are open.”

The man who overthrew Morsi, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is certainly no stranger to violence – and Ethiopia will start filling the reservoir this summer.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 11. (“Various…middle”; and “That’s…output”)

Sudan: No Surprise

It’s like Tienanmen Square in miniature, and maybe not all that miniature. The official death toll in Khartoum after Monday’s massacre stands at 35, but the whole city is still locked down, with columns of Rapid Support Forces (RSF) vehicles driving through the streets firing at practically anything that moves. There may be a lot more dead.

The RSF used to be known as the Janjaweed, and they are not soldiers; they are professional killers. They are the local solution to the problem any dictatorship faces when it decides to end a non-violent protest by murdering the protesters. By that time your soldiers will usually have been on the streets for a while, and will have had personal contact with the people you want to kill.

The ordinary soldiers come from exactly the same society as the protesters and, knowing who these people really are, will by now be quite reluctant to kill them. Dictators know that you must never give your soldiers an order you know they will disobey, because that creates a dilemma for them that they can only resolve by killing you. So you must find some other group to do the massacre.

They may just be soldiers you bring in from out of town, who have had no previous human contact with the protesters before the order to kill is given. That’s what the Chinese regime did before the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989.

They may be special forces troops and secret police, left over from the old dictatorship and long rewarded for abusing and murdering the old regime’s enemies, who will gladly serve a new dictatorship. That’s who General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi used to kill at least a thousand non-violent protesters on Rabaa Square in Cairo after his military coup overthrew Egypt’s elected government in 2013.

In Sudan that group began as a bunch of camel-herding tribesmen, already at war with the local farmers, who were then recruited by the old regime to torch villages and slaughter their inhabitants in western Sudan. They acquired a taste for rape, pillage and murder and became known as the Janjaweed. They are now called the RSF.

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s dictator since 1989, originally created them to carry out a genocide in the separatist western province of Darfur, a crime for which he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. They were never seen in the capital in those days, but now they have uniforms of a sort and they are all over Khartoum.

They are doing the job that the soldiers of the regular army might have balked at: killing enough citizens, more or less at random, to frighten the rest back into submission. The ordinary soldiers’ reluctance was often on display in the early days of the Sudanese revolution, when they sometimes intervened to protect the protesters from the RSF.

The generals who have now unleashed the RSF never felt that reluctance themselves. Unlike the private soldiers, they have profited greatly under Bashir’s rule and have no intention of giving up their own privileges and power. They were happy enough to sacrifice Bashir to the protesters (he’s now under arrest and awaiting trial), but they don’t do self-sacrifice.

So they played for time, negotiating a ‘democratic transition’ with the protest leaders while waiting for the support to flow in from other Arab tyrannies. It duly arrived: an immediate gift of $3 billion from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to help Bashir’s military heirs buy back support, and the promise of political support for any killing that they saw as a necessary part of the process.

The military junta, calling itself the ‘Transitional Military Council’, kept up the facade of power-sharing with the opposition ‘Alliance for Freedom and Change’ right down to last weekend. On Sunday the TMC spokesman said that a deal was almost done: there would be an election in two years, and civilians would have a majority of the seats on the interim council.

Then on Monday morning the Rapid Support Forces/Janjaweed went in shooting and cleared the square in front of Army Headquarters that had been occupied by pro-democracy forces for the past two months. The TMC’s head, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, declared on state television that the military had decided to “stop negotiating with the Alliance for Freedom and Change and cancel what had been agreed on.”

What had changed? Nothing. The military were never negotiating in good faith; they were just buying time. The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), whic spearheaded the nationwide protests, is calling for a campaign of “sweeping civil disobedience to topple the treacherous and killer military council,” but unless it can take back control of the streets, it’s all over.

Can it do that? Probably not. The Janjaweed don’t care how many people they kill, and none of the most powerful governments in the Arab world do either.
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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 5. (“They may…2013″)

Sudan Is Not The Norm

26 April 2012

Sudan Is Not The Norm

By Gwynne Dyer

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has been having some fun with language recently. He has come up with a new name for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the party that has formed the government of South Sudan since it finally got its independence from Sudan last July.

“Movement”, in Arabic, is “haraka”, but Bashir has started using the word “hashara” instead. “Hashara” means “insect”, and Sudan’s official media have obediently taken up the abusive term. Everybody remembers that the Hutu regime in Rwanda described the Tutsi minority as “cockroaches” when it launched the terrible ethnic genocide in 1994, and it’s particularly troubling because Sudan and South Sudan are on the brink of war.

The oil town of Heglig, on the new and disputed border between the two countries, has changed hands twice this month: first South Sudan drove Sudanese troops out, then the Sudanese took it back. South Sudan’s government insists that it withdrew voluntarily, but the facilities that supplied half of Sudan’s oil have been comprehensively wrecked.

The war, if it comes, would be over the control of the oil reserves along the undefined border, but it would also be an ethnic conflict. The majority in Sudan thinks of itself as Arab, and looks down on the “African” ethnic groups of South Sudan. Members of the Sudanese elite, conditioned by centuries of Arab slave-trading in Africa, sometimes even use the word “abd” (slave) in private when referring to southerners.

The rhetoric is getting very ugly. Bashir recently told a rally in Khartoum: “We say that (the SPLM) has turned into a disease, a disease for us and for the South Sudanese citizens. The main goal should be liberation from these insects and to get rid of them once and for all, God willing.” It will, he implied, be a total war: “Either we end up in Juba (South Sudan’s capital) and take everything, or (they) end up in Khartoum and take everything.”

This is nonsense: neither side’s army has the logistical support to advance as far as the other side’s capital. But they could certainly kill a lot of people – about two million died in the 22-year war that ended in South Sudan’s independence – and they seem determined to do it all over again.

So what are we to make of this folly? Many people will simply say “It’s Africa. What did you expect?” Others, more sophisticated, will lament that mankind is still trapped in an endless cycle of wars. Almost nobody will say to themselves: “Pity about the two Sudans, but they are just one of the inevitable exceptions to the rule that war is in steep and probably irreversible decline everywhere.” Yet that is what they should say.

War between countries is not the norm in Africa: there are 52 African countries, and only two pairs have gone to war with each other in the past twenty years.

Internal wars are much more common, and some, like those in Rwanda, Somalia, Congo and Sudan, have taken a huge number of lives. But those wars were killing on average more than half million people a year in the 1980s; now the annual death toll from internal conflicts in Africa is around 100,000. It’s not as bad as people think it is, and it’s getting better.

There has been a profound change in attitudes to war not just in Africa, but all over the world. Most people no longer see war as glorious, or even useful. They don’t see it as inevitable, either, and their governments have put a lot of effort into building international institutions that make it less likely.

No great power has gone to war with any other great power in the past 67 years. That is a huge change for the better, for the great powers are the only countries with the resources to kill on a truly large scale: it would take a century’s worth of Africa’s wars at their worst to match the death toll in six years of the Second World War.

This change of attitude has not reached the Sudans, where several generations have lived in a permanent state of war. It is hard to imagine anything more stupid and truculent than the decision of Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, to halt all oil production (although it provided 98 percent of his government’s budget) because Sudan was siphoning off some of the oil.

No, wait. That was no more foolish and aggressive than Omar al-Bashir’s unilateral seizure of much of South Sudan’s oil (which crossed Sudan in pipelines to the sea), just because the two sides had not reached an agreement on transit fees. Now both countries are short of oil, strapped for cash – and about to waste their remaining resources on another stupid war.

But at least the rest of world is trying hard to stop them. Even South Sudan’s closest friends condemned it for seizing the town of Heglig, and forced it to withdraw. The African Union has sent former South African president Thabo Mbeki and special envoy Haile Menkarios to mediate between the two sides. China, which took most of the oil exports from both countries, has sent its envoy to Africa, Zhong Jianhua, on a similar mission.

Who knows? They might even succeed. Miracles happen all the time these days.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 6 and 11. (“The war…southerners”; “This is…again”, and “No great…war”)

 

Sudan: The Left-Over Country

12 July 2011

Sudan: The Left-Over Country

by Gwynne Dyer

The flags have been waved, the anthem has been sung, and the new currency will be in circulation next week: the Republic of South Sudan has been launched, and is off to who knows where? Perdition, probably, for it is a “pre-failed state”, condemned by its extreme poverty, 15 percent literacy and bitter ethnic rivalries to more decades of violence and misery. But what about the country it leaves behind?

It’s telling that there is a South Sudan, but no North Sudan. What’s left is still just Sudan. It’s still the second-biggest country in Africa, and it still has four-fifths of the people it had before the south broke away. But it has lost a big chunk of its income: almost three-quarters of the old united country’s oil was in the south. It’s also an Arab country run by a dictator who has been in power for 22 years. So we know what comes next, don’t we?

The dictator, President Omar al-Bashir, is unquestionably a Bad Man. He seized power in a military coup in 1989, and he is the first serving head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. In 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in his conduct of the war in the rebellious province of Darfur. It added three counts of genocide last year. But he’s not all bad.

He inherited a much bigger war, between the predominantly Muslim north of the country and what is now South Sudan. It was a squalid, dreadful affair that killed about two million southerners and drove another four million – about half the southern population – from their homes. Bashir has a lot of blood on his hands. But he eventually realised that the south could not be held by force, and he had the wisdom and courage to act on his insight.

In 2005 he ended the fighting by agreeing that the two parts of the country would be run by separate governments for six years, after which the south would hold a referendum on independence. He knew that the south would say “yes” overwhelmingly – in the end, 98.83 percent of southern Sudanese voted to have their own country – yet he never reneged on the deal.

“President Bashir and (his) National Congress Party deserve a reward,” said Salva Kiir, now the president of South Sudan, after the votes were counted in February. And Bashir said: “We will come and congratulate and celebrate with you…We will not hold a mourning tent.” His decision made him very vulnerable politically in the north, but he stuck to it for all these years, and as a result many tens of thousands of people who would have died are still alive.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that north-south relations will be smooth after the South’s independence. Most of the oil is in South Sudan, but the new country is landlocked: the oil can only be exported through pipelines that cross Sudan proper to reach the Red Sea. Yet there is not a deal on revenue-sharing yet, nor even on the border between the two countries.

The dispute over the province of Abyei flared into open fighting between northern and southern forces last week, although there is now agreement to bring in an Ethiopian peacekeeping force. There is no agreement, however, on the referendum that was promised for the province but never held.

Abyei’s permanent population is mostly Dinka Ngok, who are Christian or animist by religion and “southern” in their loyalty. The north, however, insists that the Misseriya, Arabic-speaking Muslim nomads who bring their herds of cattle into Abyei to graze during the dry season, also have the right to vote in the referendum. Deadlock.

Such ethnic quarrels will persist and proliferate: at least five rebel groups are fighting the new southern government, and Bashir’s regime faces big rebellions in Darfur, South Kordofan and Nile Province. South Sudan will almost certainly end up as a one-party state that spends most of its revenue on the army – “the next Eritrea,” as one diplomat put it – but the future of Sudan itself is harder to foretell.

Bashir’s immediate problem is economic. The deal to split the oil revenue equally between north and south lapsed with South Sudan’s independence, and he is bringing in harsh austerity measures and a new currency as part of a three-year “emergency programme” to stabilise the economy. But the price of food is already soaring in Khartoum as confidence in the Sudanese pound collapses.

Unaffordable food was a major factor in the popular revolts against oppressive Arab regimes in recent months, and Bashir is trying to insulate himself against that by promising stricter enforcement of Islamic law in Sudan. That may win him some support among the Muslim, Arabic-speaking majority, but by the same token it will further alienate the north’s remaining religious and ethnic minorities. So more rebellions in the outlying regions.

On top of all that, Bashir will forever be seen, however unfairly, as the man who “lost” the south. His status as an indicted war criminal does him no harm with the majority population at home; his failure to crush the southerners by force is what really undermines him. So he may soon have to go abroad and live with his money.

He did one good thing in his life, and no good deed goes unpunished.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8, 9 and 10. (“The dispute…foretell”)