|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives | Search|
Issue 434 -- May 22-28, 2010
Establishing Criminal As Well As Civil Responsibility Under International Law
Written by solomon
A major factor in the absence of a workable peace and security order in Northeast Africa is the unresolved issue of the Nile Waters and regional power order, which are not totally unrelated to each other. This structural logjam is both civilisational and geographic and is deeply embedded in history and geopolitics.
It is one of the existential problems in Africa. Borders and resources form a web of fault lines at which political and security problems tend to accumulate and intensify. Nonetheless, the issue of the Nile is not only about water resources.
The final years of the last century saw a dramatic swing in the international relations of the Horn of Africa. The apparent change was occurring in the realm of traditional Egyptian influence in the Horn of Africa. This, to some degree, impacted the asymmetrical power relations (linked to asymmetric control over the Nile’s water resources) in the broader sub-region.
Eleven years ago, the 10 Nile riparian countries established the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), the first cooperative institution in the basin to include all 10 riparian states. This was meant to be a precursor for real and meaningful negotiations for a new legal and institutional regime on the shared and equitable use of the Nile Waters which was referred to as the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA).
As far as the issue of the Nile is concerned, historical agreements, negotiations, and water institutions play a critical role.
The NBI, which was established in 1999, was the result of a much broader change at a global and regional level, which forced Egypt to adopt a different posture. First was the change in the conception of security. The end of the Cold War led to the redefinition of security to famously include cooperative security or common security. One consequence of this was the creation of regional security organizations. African countries were encouraged, often pressured, to resolve their problems through dialogue and cooperation.
The end of the Cold War was also marked by some dramatic swings in regional and international alignments in North-East Africa. The National Islamic Front (NIF) leadership in Khartoum, Sudan, which came to power in a military coup in 1889, increasingly distanced Khartoum from Cairo and swiftly began pursuing an aggressive Islamist based foreign policy. This removed a stable buffer zone on the southern borders of Egypt, making Cairo’s otherwise delicate regional area of influence shakier than ever.
In the 1990s, Egyptian influence in the Horn of Africa was at its lowest. Indeed, Cairo became increasingly aggrieved by the emerging hostile tendency of the new regimes in Khartoum, Asmara, and Addis Abeba towards its hegemonic posture. Some of them were Islamist, others were nationalist, but all of them were ideologically assertive, although there have been some changes in this regard in recent years.
This was followed by new economic and political developments in the countries of the region. Besides, increased political and economic stability in recent years has meant that upstream countries are now in a position to develop the hydropower and irrigation potential of Nile Waters. These led to an important shift in terms of bargaining power, and not only in material terms. Moreover, upper riparian countries decided to use their collective voice and streamlined position to get concessions from downstream countries, mainly Egypt.
In recent years, the “collective power” of upstream countries has been greatly enhanced. Many of them have continued to stay involved in the process, in the belief that negotiations will bring about a new legal agreement or the much anticipated CFA as well as much needed financial investments by external donors for hydrological projects. The possibility of securing alternative external support (such as China’s) for Nile Basin projects compounded the new external element.
Alas, as the new kid in the block, the rise of China seems to impact everything that matters in Africa. Downstream countries, particularly Egypt, have begun to exploit their bargaining power. Egypt had to stay in the process, albeit without giving too much. Political and economic factors in Sudan have also contributed to reducing Khartoum’s comparative weakness in relation to Egypt.
Egypt has nothing to offer by way of a solution except to delay. This is neither useful nor tenable.
NBI 2010: Nothing in Sight
Notwithstanding this, the NBI served as a forum of dialogue and cooperation. With the strong support of the international community, there was real hope that a multilateral agreement would be signed to move the whole region towards peace and cooperation. However, those hopes were disappointed.
Discussions surrounding the initiative are stalled and may have recently (since last June) faced real setbacks with Egypt and Sudan not willing to sign the CFA. A clearly agreed multilateral agreement on the Nile is less likely.
Renewed negotiations will likely start, but real progress will be delayed by several months, if not years.
Egypt does not have a clear policy; it only has tactics, delaying tactics. As in the Middle East Peace Process, Egypt wants the process not the solution. Apparently, on the part of Egypt there is no change in policy, only a different posture. Cairo is unlikely to change its mind and easily relinquish its position of what it calls its “acquired rights,” unless it faces some form of international pressure, which is less likely to happen anytime soon.
Evidently, negotiations on the Nile will continue to be messy and protracted. Hence, the NBI will face an increasing risk of polarization.
However, the would-be standoff is unlikely to lead to confrontation and withdrawal from the NBI. The risk of having to go it alone, in the face of multilateral cooperation, would increase. Most of the countries of the Nile Basin will gravitate towards a ragtag kind of partial and bilateral cooperation.
What are the necessary political and technical resources required for the successful conclusion of the Nile Basin Initiative and rapprochement between Egypt and Ethiopia?
Ethiopia and Egypt are two major powers with a historical rivalry bordering two interlinked conflict systems. Both countries played an important role in shaping the region. The two countries are prisoners of history and geography. The contentious relations between the two are mainly historical and structural and deeply cultural and political.
This is compounded by conflicting myths and narratives. Age-old strategic concerns such as control over the Nile Waters, which were causes of major wars a hundred years back, are still a major feature that continues to shape their respective positions as well as roles in the sub region.
Ethiopia is a major African power with a relative weakness that conspires against its full-fledged leadership role in the Horn of Africa region. Egypt is more powerful than Ethiopia, and still maintains an advantage, though an increasingly declining one, over Ethiopia. However, Egypt is also a country with its body in Africa and its head in the Middle East. Security specialists should interrogate the issues surrounding the absence of a power hierarchy in the Northeast African region, and how this directly impacts the lack of a regional peace and security order.
Some have correctly opined that the main problem in the Horn of Africa region is probably due to the lack of an internal hegemon. This refers to the unfortunate geostrategic situation of the sub region lacking an internal hegemon and being adjacent to Egypt.
A major requirement for a robust regional peace and security order in the Greater Horn of Africa, including Egypt and the Red Sea, is thus peace and cooperation in the Nile Basin, particularly between Egypt and Ethiopia. And it is exactly here that one sees a major strategic short-sightedness. Here one has two major powers with the lion’s share of the distribution of regional power.
Thus far, however, there has been little attention given by the international community to tackle a problem that does not seem to be immediate This despite the fact that the geopolitical damage that everyone would suffer, should the main players in the NBI come to blows, is incalculable.
The international community, mainly the United States, should focus on forging closer relations between Egypt and Ethiopia. The region has seen several bad moons rising on the horizon, including the death of a state, the proliferation of failing and pariah states, and widespread radicalization.
Somalia also reminded everyone that when a state fails or, rather, when we allow the state to fail, there is no playback to resurrect it. With Yemen ailing and Somaliland not recognised or supported, the region is increasingly running short of strong and responsible state actors that can deliver. And the two strong states that helped shape and define the sub region are not cooperating or helping each other.
The situation in Yemen should not be viewed as a separate incident. The world should approach this with a real sense of urgency. It is probably too late to think about Somalia or Yemen. However, it is time to think about peace and cooperation between Egypt and Ethiopia.
The complacency of the international community to deal with the issue of the Nile in general and relations between Ethiopia and Egypt in particular is to some extent understandable. The two countries are not at war and they are not visibly failing.
On the contrary, they are forging closer economic relations, which need to be reinforced and complemented through diplomatic and political dialogue. In the face of immediate disasters, such as Sudan and Somalia or Yemen, there is no sense of urgency to stir interest and govern the engagement of Ethio-Egyptian relations. Yet the issue is crucial and deserves to be one of the major priority areas for Washington in Africa. It is time the US initiates a meaningful, serious, and robust dialogue between Egypt and Ethiopia.
BY MEDHANE TADESSE
Medhane Tadesse is a specialist on Eastern Africa regional affairs. This article first appeared at www.currentanalyst.com.