Africa in the News: Egypt and Ethiopia Disagree about Nile Dam, South Africa and DRC Experience Power Outages, and U.S. Defense Efforts in Africa Focus on Training

Egypt and Ethiopia Disagree about Damming the Nile as Water Scarcity in the Region Increases

Egypt has disagreed with Ethiopia’s plans for the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Hydroelectric Dam since construction started in 2011. In January, Egypt appealed to the United Nations for support on the issue, and this week the country appealed to Saudi Arabia for mediation. The $4 billion dollar hydroelectric dam in Ethiopia is on the head of the Blue Nile and would reportedly reduce Egyptian access to drinking water and destroy poor farmers’ land. However, the project is estimated to provide 6,000 MW of energy to rapidly growing Ethiopia. Egypt’s boundaries do not contain any of the Nile’s head waters, but Egypt and Sudan have the legal mandate to a majority of the use of the Nile based on documents from the colonial era. 

In related news, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Conference Near East and North Africa officials met in Rome last week (February 24-28) and water scarcity was at the top of the agenda. The FAO estimates that water availability in the region could drop 50 percent by 2050.

South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Experience Power Outages

This week Eskom, for the first time since 2008, announced rolling blackouts across South Africa. The South African power company provides 95 percent of the country’s electricity. The cause of the outages was a damaged store of coal that became wet due to rain. The power outages, which ended yesterday, were reportedly highly disruptive to the manufacturing sector, shut down retail shops and caused flight delays. 

In other African energy sector news, the Democratic Republic of the Congo expects longer-term power deficit problems potentially lasting a year. Due to these issues, the DRC government warned mining operations (typically gold and copper) to halt mine expansion. On a more positive note, the World Bank reopened talks with the DRC in consideration of $12 billion in funding for construction of a hydroelectric plant.

United States Defense Efforts in Africa Focus on Training 

The New York Times reported this week on U.S. defense efforts in the Africa region. In countries like Niger, the U.S. military is working to combat various terrorist sects, without having to put soldiers on the ground. The United States military strategy in Africa is focused on “enabling” interventions rather than direct warfare. Some examples of enabling interventions include: training soldiers in Niger to build counter-terrorism abilities and partnering with European countries in African countries by providing support not troops, e.g., refueling French planes during Operation Serval in Mali. The U.S. is also planning to train 850 Nigerian soldiers to counter the terrorist group Boko Haram.

On the other hand, John Campbell discusses why the training of the Nigerian Rangers might not be the United States’ best option for containing Boko Haram.