This week Ethiopia freed 74 members of the Benshangul Peoples Liberation Movement (BPLM). The release of prisoners was part of a peace deal with the BPLM. The agreement, signed in August 2012, ended a 17 year-long insurgency. Ethiopia’s Benishangul region (Benishangul-Gumuz) borders on northern Sudan. BPLM guerrillas operated from camps in Sudan, though Sudan denied it supported the BPLM. Nile River water politics played a role in the peace deal. The BPLM had threatened to attack Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam project on the Blue Nile River. The dam site is in Benishangul-Gumuz. After the peace deal was signed, a BPLM faction claimed that it rejected the peace agreement. The Benishangul people are also called the Berta and about 180,000 live in Ethiopia.
May 4, 2013: Ethiopia promised Somaliland (separatist enclave in Somalia) that it will help Somaliland defend itself against Al Shabaab fighters who are seeking sanctuary from AMISOM peacekeeping units.
April 25, 2013: Ethiopia said it intends to withdraw its military forces from Somalia as soon as possible. However, after Ethiopian forces withdrew from the town of Hudur (Somalia) in early March, Al Shabaab fighters re-occupied the town. Ethiopia has assured the Somali national government that it will only withdraw its forces when African Union peacekeepers in AMISOM are able to secure Ethiopian positions.
April 19, 2013: Kenyan authorities claimed the secessionist Mombasa Republic Council (MRC) has ties to Islamist militant extremist movements in eastern Africa. The implication is that the MRC is linked to al Shabaab in Somalia. The government believes the MRC has also received help from Iran.
April 17, 2013: The Ethiopian government acknowledged that the new Gibe III dam on the upper Omo River (southwest Ethiopia) will flood an area that is now the home of some 90,000 people from the Nyangatom, the Bodi the Daasanach and the Mursi tribes.
April 15, 2013: The Egyptians claim that Eritrea supports Egypt’s claim to its historic (traditional) Nile River water rights. The Eritrean position is no surprise. Ethiopia is Eritrea’s bitterest enemy and Egypt and Ethiopia are involved in a complicated dispute over Nile water.
April 13, 2013: Deposed Central African Republic (CAR) president Francois Bozize claimed that Eritrea provided weapons to the Seleka rebel movement, which toppled his government in March. Eritrea denied the charge.
April 9, 2013: Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as Kenya’s president. However, he remains under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ceremonies were peaceful.
April 8, 2013: An Ethiopian oil company claimed that the country has two fields (in the Gambella and Jijiga basins) which could hold from 1.6 to 2.9 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
March 31, 2013: The Kenyan government increased security throughout the country after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that Uhuru Kenyatta had been properly elected president. The court rejected a challenge by Kenyatta’s opponent, Raila Odinga. After the decision, a riot broke out in the town of Kisuma where two people died before police could calm things down. The government is trying to avoid a repeat of the 2007 post-election violence.
March 28, 2013: A gun battle erupted in the Kenyan town of Malindi when 100 members of the separatist Mombasa Republic Council (MRC) tried to storm and rob a casino. The attackers killed a policeman who was part of a small detachment protecting the casino. A larger force of police officers responded to the attack and killed six of the attackers. Police described the incident as a gang attack but a hundred fighters is a very large gang. Malindi is a resort town on the Indian Ocean in Coast Province. It is located 120 kilometers north of Kenya’s main seaport, Mombasa, about midway between Mombasa and Lamu.
March 24, 2013: Egypt continues to downplay any talk of a military confrontation with Ethiopia (over Ethiopian damming sources of the Nile River). Well it should, because revolutionary Egypt already has enough political and economic turmoil. However, Egypt and Ethiopia do have a significant difference of opinion over a very precious resource: water. The Egyptian government has said that it seeks its equitable share of Nile River water. The Egyptian government equates equitable to traditional; upstream nations, like Ethiopia contend that the traditional division favors Egypt.
Ethiopia also objects to the 1929 Nile Water agreement (engineered by Great Britain) which gives Egypt the right to veto upstream water projects. Ethiopia did sign the agreement. However, the 1929 agreement does affect Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. In 2010, Ethiopia authored a new regional water sharing proposal, the Entebbe Agreement. This is also called the Cooperative Framework Agreement and Nile Basin Initiative. This agreement would give Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania a diplomatic mechanism for altering the 1929 division of water rights. Rwanda and Burundi also support the Entebbe agreement. Kenya and Uganda are Ethiopian allies and have forces serving in Somalia. Egypt refused to consider the Entebbe Agreement. Sudan also rejected it. Today, South Sudan’s government said that South Sudan will support the Entebbe agreement. Sudan and South Sudan are always five minutes away from going to war with one another.
Nile River water is absolutely essential to Egypt’s existence. This isn’t news – it has been that way for at least 7,000 years. Currently Egypt gets 95 percent of its water from the Nile. Ethiopia’s dam projects are on the Blue Nile (which starts in the Ethiopian highlands), the source of 85 percent of all Nile River water. No wonder every so often Egyptians say they will go to war with Ethiopia over water rights.
However, Ethiopia’s political and geographic position makes it a tough adversary for Egypt. Ethiopia is unquestionably the dominant political actor in the Horn of Africa. Somalia remains chaotic but the situation there, compared to a decade ago, increasingly favors Ethiopia. Eritrea, which would love to ally with Egypt against Ethiopia is broke. Every month there are new rumors of coups and infighting among Eritrean factions. Sudan, another likely Egyptian ally in a war with Ethiopia, is on the outs politically with the region and the UN. Worse yet, Sudan faces numerous insurgencies, from Darfur to South Kordofan.
Both Egypt and Ethiopia value good relations with the European Union and the U.S., if only because the EU and the U.S. provide them both with economic aid. Saber-rattling, much less warfare, would give the EU and U.S. political fits. Water war? Not likely. Hardball water diplomacy? That is already happening. (Austin Bay)
March 20, 2013: The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it will not drop the criminal charges against Kenya’s presumed next president, Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta is charged with crimes against humanity, committed in the violent aftermath of the 2007 elections that left 1,200 people dead. Kenyatta allegedly helped plan the clashes and attacks on opposition political supporters.
March 16, 2013: Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga filed a legal challenge contesting the election results. Election officials declared that Uhuru Kenyatta won a very narrow victory. Police in Nairobi used tear gas to disperse a small crowd (100 to 150) of Odinga’s supporters. One person was injured during the demonstration. Odinga’s legal complaint alleged vote fraud, fraudulent voter registration, and inaccurate counting. Odinga, however, urged his supporters to continue to avoid post-election violence. So far that is the big story in Kenya. Despite the deep political divisions and accusations of vote fraud, the country has not experienced any significant violent clashes related to the election, and certainly nothing like the violence which followed the 2007 disputed election.
March 14, 2013: A Djibouti’s Constitutional Council denied an opposition party challenge to the country’s February national election results. The council is the highest legal authority in Djibouti. The ruling means that Djiboutian president Ismail Omar Gulleh will continue to control the legislature. Djibouti’s main opposition group, the Union of National Salvation (UNS), claimed the election was rigged. The complaint was dismissed on technical grounds. The council said the UNS petition was not filed on time.