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7 June 2011

Guinea Bissau: One in the eye for multilateralism

Guinea Bissau has suffered an apparently endless cycle of assassinations and coups.  But the problems of the tiny West African country seemed attractively manageable – a  small but vociferous military; a corrupt political class; a desperately poor population.  The sights of the international community's (proxy) big guns focussed on Guinea Bissau.  Here was a conflict prone state where the international community could breeze in, preach and practice its post-conflict sermons and be successful before moving on in short order to other – more important – conflict areas like DRC, Somalia and South Sudan.

The European Union fired up a large military mission to deal with soldiers.  The United Nations established one of its Integrated Operations to deal with the politicians.  And as for the poverty…  Well, someone would get around to that when the security context was better.  What could go wrong?  With the world’s post-conflict architecture stepping in to deal with the situation, multilateralism looked to be in the ascendency.  Hooray!

But the various interventions made little headway.  Somehow, the EU’s efforts with the military never quite seemed to get off the ground.  Somehow the UN’s efforts were laudable but somehow never quite as successful as planned.  And somehow, it never quite seemed the time for the international community to sit and discuss with each other – and with the Government – exactly who would do what, how and when.  Surely, with such large and capable organisations apparently unable to make headway, the problem must be intractable indeed?

One by one, the brand names of the new world order slunk back to their bunkers.  For a while, it looked as though Guinea Bissau would continue to be a cancerous conflict in the region.

But then, Angola decided that enough was enough.  With a bit of effort and – admittedly – quite a bit of money, Angola decided to sort the problem out.  Pausing briefly to gather the odd Lusofone, Angola set about dealing with the military and the politicians.  And now, some semblance of normality seems to have set in.  Dispensing with the interminable hand wringing of the multilateral system, Angola just rolled up her sleeves and got on with the job in hand.  Her agility and decisive approach leaves the multilateral institutions looking like the maiden aunts of the international community.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  And Angola’s commercial interests in Guinea Bissau provided plenty of incentive to get ahead.  But how many Bissau-Guineans would swap their new found relative peace and stability, bought with the coinage of Angolan commercial interests, for the good old days of multilateralism?

4 February 2011

Sharing the Nile waters

Southern Sudan is set for independence.  Baring some unforeseen upset, it will join the community of nations in July 2011 as the 154th country in the world.  It faces a number of severe challenges, but one thing it has in abundance – water.  Or does it?

The use of the Nile waters is a particularly tricky issue.  Egypt relies on Nile water as it has almost no rain fall of its own to call upon.  And by long standing convention (set in stone by a decades old treaty), Egypt has the right to the majority of the water in the river.  Essential to Egypt’s economic survival, the bulk of the water comes from other countries in the region, particularly Ethiopia.  Egypt’s insistence on its rights is an obstacle to economic development upstream – a source of extreme irritation to the countries along the Nile’s course.

From time to time, the argument over how best to share the Nile water’s threatens to turn violent.  Some of the countries in the Nile Basin have begun to collaborate in order to demand a greater share of the river’s water.  They need to generate power, reduce poverty and drive economic growth.  The negotiations have gone on for years, and seem far from close to a resolution.

But thanks to Southern Sudan’s impending independence, the balance of power amongst the countries of the Nile Basin just might be shifting.  The amount of water allocated to North and South Sudan will have to be shared by the new country in the south and its new neighbour in the north.  But perhaps more importantly, Southern Sudan seems likely to fall in with Ethiopia and the countries of East Africa.  (A glance at a map shows the dividing line between the fertile south and the desert north starkly.)  The amount of water the countries agitating for change can draw upon between them won’t change a great deal by including Southern Sudan in their group.  But it gives the group an extra member and potentially a stronger position in the negotiations. 

In many respects, this argument may not matter very much to Juba at the moment.  (After the Nile is where it has always been.)  But countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia will be keen to embrace the world’s newest country – as much for trade and regional security as for its added weight in negotiations over the use of the Nile’s waters.  Juba will need to be wary of East Africans bearing gifts if it doesn’t want to disrupt a very delicate regional security balance.  One which, given the vital importance of Nile water to Egypt’s future, offers at least the potential for violent and destructive conflict.


9 January 2011

Southern Sudan: The party begins

Southern Sudan today begins the process of formally separating from the North. Voting in the referendum begins today and will continue for some time. Voters are almost certain to vote for eventual independence, likely to be in July 2011. At that point Southern Sudan will bring the number of nations in the world to 193.  The world is arriving for the party.  And there is no doubting the popular will to succeed peacefully.

But voting on Sunday (or during the following week) only marks the begin of a process which is far from guaranteed to deliver safety and welfare for the new country’s citizens; or national or regional stability.  As the citizens and their guests celebrate the vote today, there is likely to be a long hangover tomorrow.

The sad truth is that those citizens of the world’s newest state who are poor, marginalised and insecure now will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  Indeed once the unifying spirit engendered by the popular will to break away from the North dissipates, many domestic political, social, economic and security tensions which have been parked are likely to bubble up.  The morning after the night before will be fragile. 

Following a vote for independence, on the agenda are:

- reaching agreement with the North on how to address those issues necessary to separate the two states.  Currency, citizenship, land ownership, what to do about national security institutions and a host of other challenging issues need to be addressed.  Some – possibly all – of these issues can be parked until later.  But experience elsewhere in the region highlights the dangers of doing so.  Ethiopia and Eritrea parked the question of currency.  The resulting tensions arguably sparked the as yet unresolved border conflict.

- reaching agreement with the proliferating number of Southern political parties on the nature and composition of Southern Sudan’s government is not going to be easy.  There is already agreement that an interim government should include groups outside Salva Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).  But the question of which ones and who they represent is highly contested.

- At the same time, Southern Sudan needs to start delivering basic services to its citizens.  And to be seen to doing so.  In terms of need, the government in Juba is largely irrelevant to the majority of Southern Sudan’s citizens.  A de facto process of decentralisation has made State Governors more relevant to citizens than the national structures of government.  At best, this places instruments of power and resources in the hands of an individual closer to the needs of citizens.  But at worst, this creates centres of political and security power far from the centre.  Making government relevant after the vote is a key challenge.

As if these challenges were not enough, and independent Southern Sudan will radically alter the look and feel of the region.  Southern Sudan is clearly looking towards the East African Community.  And East Africa is reaching out to embrace the emerging country in a fraternal hug.  But Juba will need to be clear why its neighbours are so keen to keep it close.  Uganda and Ethiopia see Southern Sudan as an economic hinterland.  A place into which their commercial sectors can expand, helping to address domestic pressures such as rising unemployment.  Kenya and Ethiopia are keen to attract Southern Sudanese business for their ports.  (Of course, Ethiopia doesn’t have any actual ports but it has invested significantly in the transport infrastructure to both Djibouti and Berbera – both of which are closer to Juba than Mombasa.)  And Uganda and Rwanda are keen to help develop Southern Sudan’s oil refining capacity so that they are not so reliant on Kenya.  Finally, and looking much further ahead, Southern Sudan will be another significant Nile Basin state.  Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda (and to a lesser degree Eritrea and Kenya) badly want to alter the balance of power of the use of Nile waters. 

But for now, the government in Juba might also want to ask itself why they get so much attention from the United States.  It can’t just be brotherly love.  And the concerns of Southern Christian voters in the US don’t really explain it either.  Is it perhaps the case that the US have spotted the strategic potential of the country too?

So as the hangover clears, Juba will need to get to grips with the cold light of day quite quickly.  But can it?