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A waterfall on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia
A waterfall on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Photo via Unsplash

President Donald Trump has instructed U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo to pull back from a commitment to provide $100 million in security related aid to Ethiopia, a leading developing nation on the African continent. According to the New York Times, the State Department indicated this would be a “temporary pause” on some aid in response to “Ethiopia’s unilateral decision to begin to fill [its] dam before an agreement was reached…” This action by the Trump administration is more than an outrageous encroachment of Ethiopia’s sovereignty. It is an assault on the right of emerging nations to take actions to improve the living conditions of their people.

In response to the decision by the State department, Eyob Tekalign, Ethiopia’s state  finance minister said correctly, “We don’t think that the U.S. has thought this through carefully…We are hopeful that they will reconsider because Ethiopia is doing what is absolutely right and in all senses of the word legally, morally as well.”

The Ethiopian people have funded the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) themselves. This fulfills a bold vision to develop their nation with the 6,200 megawatts (MW) of electricity that the dam will generate when completed. Ambassador Fitsum Arega aptly expressed the desire of the Ethiopian population, when he tweeted, “we will pull Ethiopia out of the darkness,” which is literally and metaphorically true.

Trump’s Bias

All indications are that President Trump acted on the insistence of Egyptian President el Sissi, who has claimed “historical rights” to the Nile River. In truth he is asserting “colonial rights” to the Nile bestowed on Egypt by the British Crown.

At the end of 2019, at the request of President el Sissi, President Trump instructed U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to act as an independent broker in discussions with Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia. Over four months, several meetings of the three Nile riparian nations were held in Washington DC discussing the “fill rate” of the GERD. There are legitimate concerns about how much water would be withdrawn annually in the next several years to fill the GERD’s reservoir of 74 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water. Technical issues like the rate of which water should be withdrawn from the Nile to fill the reservoir should be resolved by the three nations with the understanding that a functioning GERD will benefit all the people living in the Horn of Africa.

The heavy rains at the beginning of Ethiopia’s rainy season this summer have already filled the GERD with the required 4.5 bcm of water to test two turbines. This was accomplished without any reduction in the flow of the Nile.

As the tripartite discussions, with the US Treasury and World Bank in attendance continued into February 2020, it became clear that the US was “putting its thumb on the scale” for Egypt, in the words of retired US Ambassador David Shinn. By the end of February, Mnuchin secured an “agreement” regarding the Nile with Egypt, without the participation of Ethiopian representatives.  On February 28, 2020, an official statement from the US Treasury Department praised Egypt’s “readiness to sign the agreement,” and instructed Ethiopia that “final testing and filling should not take place without an agreement.” 

Eventually, the unresolved issue of the Nile shifted to the proper venue for African nations to settle disputes, the African Union. The dialogue has continued under the personal supervision of South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, Chairperson of the African Union.

The GERD is built in Ethiopia on the Blue Nile River, which supplies 85% of the Nile when it joins the White Nile north of Khartoum, Sudan

Bringing Africa Out of Darkness

What President Trump does not understand; is that his “pause” in aid is not only harmful to Ethiopia, but it is detrimental to the entire African continent. Whether he is aware of it or not, is establishing a dangerous precedent in foreign policy, and not just for Africa.

Ethiopia, with a population approaching 110 million, has made a commitment to eradicate poverty. To that end, Ethiopia has embarked on erecting significant infrastructure projects in roads, railroads, and hydro-electric dams. The GERD has the potential to generate over 6,000 MW of power, doubling Ethiopia’s present capacity, and placing Ethiopia only second to South Africa in energy production in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Ethiopia would also become an energy exporting nation potentially providing electricity to neighboring South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, and Tanzania.

The root cause of virtually every crisis that African nations are facing today, including ethnic conflicts, can be traced to underdevelopment. This is especially true when one examines the dearth of hard infrastructure in SSA with a population nearing 1.5 billion that is projected to reach 2.5 billion by 2050. Electricity for SSA is estimated between 100,000-130,000 MW. This level of output is criminally deficient for a population over 1 billion, with 600 million Africans having no access to online electricity. The lack of electricity is literally a death sentence for millions of Africans.  

Without abundant and accessible electricity Africa will not progress at the level necessary to provide for its present, much less its expanding population. Energy is the sine qua non for economic growth, and to eradicate poverty. It is required for; agriculture, producing fertilizer, pumping water, cleaning water, transportation, lighting hospitals, vaccine production and storage, shipping food in refrigerated cars, powering industry, constructing and lighting modern homes, schools and libraries. For Africans to enjoy the same access to electricity 24×7, as we experience in modern nations, Africa needs a minimum of 1,000 gigawatts or 1 million megawatts of electricity.

 

 

What Roosevelt Would Do?

Rather than being threatened with cuts in aid, Ethiopia should be supported in its bold efforts to build and operate the GERD. A thoughtful US policy would be assisting all African nations in addressing the enormous multi-trillion dollar infrastructure deficit, with long term-low interest loans to finance massive investments in life saving infrastructure. Instead of President Trump and his advisors hurling geo-political condemnations against China, it would be far better for the US to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is building vitally necessary infrastructure in Africa and around the world.

Both the Democratic and Republican Party, including President Trump himself, from time to time utter fond references of President Franklin Roosevelt. However, I have found that no leader in either party has any comprehension of the genius of President Roosevelt’s economic policies. FDR as he is known, understood the importance of infrastructure. This was abundantly evident in his New Deal, his creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and his Good Neighbor policy.

During the war he sternly reprimanded Winston Churchill for his imperialist policies in Africa. FDR treated the King of Morocco and other African leaders with the respect he would treat any national leader. President Roosevelt intended to end the Europe's political and financial control in the world.  I can assure you, that President Roosevelt would have championed and aided any developing nation that embarked on energy production.

Sadly, in the seventy-five years following the death of President Roosevelt, the only President, who had shown enthusiasm for the economic development of Africa, was John F Kennedy.

Let the Trump administration pause to rethink a policy that not only violates Ethiopia’s sovereignty, but undermines a strong US ally in East Africa. Let us recognize Ethiopia’s endeavors to improve the living conditions of its citizens, and pause again to ask, how would President Franklin Roosevelt respond.  His TVA harnessed the power of the mighty Tennessee River generating electricity to transform the lives of millions of poverty stricken Americans living in seven undeveloped southern States.  Is it not in the strategic interest of the US to support nations working to eliminate poverty in Africa using Rooseveltian methods?

 

Lawrence Freeman is a political-economic analyst for Africa who has been involved in economic development policy for thirty years and a former civilian advisor to U.S. Africa Command. He is the creator of the blog lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. The opinions contained in this article are his own.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced an agreement had been struck with the Commercial Farmers’ Union to compensate farmers whose land had been seized during former president Robert Mugabe’s agriculture reform efforts in the early 2000s. He said Zimbabwe would pay US$3.5 billion in compensation for infrastructure but not for the land itself. He did not give details about the amounts to be paid to individual farmers or their descendants, nor how the country will be able to afford this large sum of money considering its dire socio-economic situation.

The Mugabe regime evicted 4,500 white farmers and redistributed the farms to black families as part of a land reform program to redress colonial imbalances.

 

Authoritarian Rule

Two days after Mnangagwa’s announcement, his administration deployed security forces to close down the capital Harare and arrest several dozen activists in response to mass demonstrations on July 31. The protest action, organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, was planned to coincide with a general strike against the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country. Internationally acclaimed novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga was among the protesters who were arrested.

Resolving the land question was a precondition placed on Mnangagwa by Western powers in 2017 in order to lift crippling sanctions and reintegrate Zimbabwe into the global community. This could explain Mnangagwa prioritizing compensation for expropriated farms while maintaining the same hardline approach against dissent as his predecessor, who also used military force to quell civil disobedience.

 

    

Members of the Africa Diaspora Forum (ADF), civil society organisations, churches, trade unions and other coalitions wear chains and shout slogans during a demonstration against the slave trade and human trafficking in Libya on December 12, 2017 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The UN Security Council on December 7 said reports that migrants detained in Libyan camps were being sold into slavery could amount to "crimes against humanity" in a joint statement of condemnation.
Members of the Africa Diaspora Forum and civil society organizations protest against human trafficking and slavery in Libya in December 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo via AFP)

Ninety-six Ugandan women, mostly children and youth, were stopped at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi in January en route to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for work opportunities. The girls, who lacked proper employment papers, were victims of a well-established human trafficking ring in East Africa, headquartered in Kenya and operating under the guise of employment agencies.

This wasn’t the first such interception. Almost every month, Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations reports at least one interception involving victims not only from Uganda but also from Burundi, Rwanda, and to a lesser extent Tanzania. Most of East Africa’s trafficking takes place in and through Kenya.

 

Human trafficking routes from East Africa to the Middle East

Human trafficking routes from East Africa to the Middle East

 

The Trafficking Value Chain

Traditionally, the value chain of this criminal network has comprised three links. First are regionally based recruitment brokers who ferry people from their respective countries to Kenya. Second are the Kenyan-based links who “receive” the people and act as the country’s employment agencies. They move victims from Kenya to the host country. Third are the counterparts who often pose as foreign employment agencies. They are stationed in the host country and “receive” people sent from Kenya.

Recent cases and new research by the ENACT organized crime project suggest a shift in the workings of the trafficking value chain as far as the third “link” is concerned. There is evidence that the trafficking of women and girls from East Africa to the Middle East is now being carried out entirely by East Africans.

Interviews with victims revealed that they were received in the foreign country by “familiar faces”. In February 2020, fifty Kenyans, each of whom paid about US$2,000 to supposed employment agencies, were trafficked to the UAE and enslaved in a house by a “Mombasa agent” who has operations in Mombasa and Dubai. The victims said there were many such trafficking houses run by Kenyans in Dubai, housing other East African nationals such as Ugandans and Tanzanians. Most of East Africa’s trafficking takes place in and through Kenya.

A specific case revealed to Lucia Bird, senior analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, highlights the multinational and regional interconnections. A Ugandan girl was trafficked to Kenya by a Ugandan family friend. A Kenyan national then flew with her to Oman, where she was collected at the airport by an Ethiopian national before being driven to her Omani employers.

Similarly, Angelo Izama, a human trafficking consultant who volunteers on a project for trafficked victims at a church in the UAE, told ENACT of a Ugandan girl recruited to be a receptionist. She was received by a Ugandan in Dubai and forced into sex work.

 

Regional trafficking networks appear to want to control the entire value chain

 

While the links in a criminal value chain work together, there is also competition, with operators vying for a greater share of the more profitable elements in the chain. Regional trafficking networks appear to want to control the entire value chain, from sourcing to recruiting victims, trafficking them out of East Africa and receiving them in the foreign country. This well-coordinated and continually shifting transnational crime process is difficult to police and prosecute.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a police officer specializing in human trafficking in East Africa told ENACT that the problem has engulfed the region. This affirms a 2018 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) assessment report that shows an increase in human trafficking in East African countries.

The officer also notes that policing the crime is becoming more difficult. As an example, the officer referred to a joint initiative in 2017 between the Kenyan and Ugandan governments that appeared promising in its anti-trafficking measures. It failed, however, due to a lack of proper intelligence on the criminal value chain and inconsistent engagement between the two countries.

 

Better Migration Management

Regulating the labor exporting sector is also complicated. As with Kenya, Uganda imposed a ban on labor emigration to the Middle East in 2016, and then lifted it a year later. Ugandan civil society organizations working to counter human trafficking said the ban and its lifting had little impact on trafficking dynamics. They questioned the benefits of exporting labor and highlighted the failure to safeguard those undertaking labor migration.

Regional bodies such as the International Organization for Migration, UNODC, and the European Union have often called for a stronger regional approach to trafficking. The latest is the Better Migration Management program, which advocates for the prevention, protection, and prosecution of human trafficking in East Africa and the Horn of Africa.

East African countries appear to lack power in negotiations with Middle Eastern countries on trafficking issues. This is because of gaps in their domestic legislation and regional trafficking strategies. Yet other regions that export labor to the Middle East have shown that this can be done.

The Philippines, for example, has twenty-three bilateral agreements with seven countries, most of which are in the Middle East. This allows authorities to oversee the protection and safety of workers and prevent them being exploited by trafficking networks and employers in destination countries. The labor export sector makes up a significant portion of the Philippines’ gross domestic product, yet it also comes with challenges and is not an economic cure-all.

East Africa needs to learn from approaches elsewhere that prevent trafficking and protect workers. Until more robust responses are in place, trafficking and exploitation are likely to grow in the region. This perpetuates the vulnerability of poor women and girls, and undermines the prospects of labor exportation as a livelihoods option.

 

Mohamed Daghar is a researcher with the ENACT project in Nairobi.

This article was first published by the ENACT project. ENACT is funded by the European Union (EU). The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the author and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the EU.

 

 

A man sells camels at El Hirka Dhere livestock market in Mogadishu, Somalia, on July 30, 2020, a day before the Muslim festival Eid Al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice. (STR/AFP)
A man sells camels at a livestock market in Mogadishu, Somalia. (STR/AFP)

Muslims around the world were dismayed to learn that they would be unable to partake in the hajj, a pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca, this year due to Saudi Arabia’s closure of its borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every Muslim is required to make at least on hajj in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able to do so.

For Somali Muslims, the closure of Mecca’s gates is not only a spiritual loss but also a significant economic one.

Crops and livestock make up 75 percent of Somalia’s total GDP and 93 percent of total exports as of 2018, most of which linked directly to livestock sales in the months leading up to the hajj. In normal years, livestock breeders would travel north to port cities in Somaliland or Puntland to sell their animals, which would then be shipped to Saudi Arabia to feed the millions of pilgrims descending on the remote desert town of Mecca. Forced to sell only domestically, many Somalis’ have had to lower their prices drastically.

 

The price of camels has dropped by nearly half

 

The humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger reports that the price for camels has dropped by nearly half, from US$1,000 a head to US$500. The prices of goats, sheep and cattle are similarly affected. All told, Somali livestock traders are likely to lose revenue of about US$500 million this year because of Saudi Arabia’s border closure.

 

Logos

As access to Internet services grows across Africa, the continent is realizing the potential economic benefit from taxing the multinational tech companies that provide digital services. The only problem is that there is very little existing legislative framework to do so.

Although Africa remains a very small slice of the total market that technology-based service providers cater to, companies like Uber, WhatsApp, Spotify, and Facebook are positioning themselves to capitalize on Africa’s expected population boom and rapidly growing youth population. Recognizing this trend, Kenya and Nigeria have begun to take steps to put legislation in place that would allow them to earn tax revenue from digital services.

On June 30, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta enacted the Finance Act 2020, which introduced a tax of 1.5 percent on the gross transactional value of income derived from digital trade and services, set to go into effect in January 2021.

And the Nigerian Finance Act 2019 that passed into law earlier this year makes provision for taxing non-resident companies with a “significant economic presence”, which includes businesses using digital transactions or providing local services without a bricks-and-mortar address in the country.

 

An aggressive tax policy could ultimately prove to be counterproductive

 

A potential downside to these laws is the prohibitive restraints it places on African tech start-ups, as some face the risk of being doubly taxed or unable to compete against Silicon Valley juggernauts that can weather such tax policies. And although Africa is in dire need of increasing its tax collection capabilities, an aggressive tax policy could ultimately prove to be counterproductive. It could be a disincentive to investment by global tech companies, which might prefer to rather invest in countries with much more favorable tax laws or those that lack any such legislation.

 

A fleet of small fishing vessels in Cape Verde in summer 2020. Photo via AFP
Cabo Verde, summer 2020. (Photo via AFP)

Good ocean policies can unlock new sources of wealth and transform Africa’s security, development, and governance prospects. A new study commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy shows that investing in oceans yields benefits five times higher than the initial outlay.

Over the next thirty years, the report says, these actions could provide net global returns of between US$8.2 trillion and US$22.8 trillion – as long as they are underpinned by blue economic principles and values.

The value of the blue economy concept is that it provides a way to sustainably develop ocean resources while ensuring the health of maritime ecosystems. This is why the idea has rapidly found favor in Africa and globally. The blue economy is now an integral part of the sustainable development discourse and has acquired significant political importance.

The African Union (AU) recognizes this vast potential. Since 2015, it has marked the African Day of Seas and Oceans on July 25 each year, promoting the oceans as the next frontier for the African Renaissance. Urgent action is now needed to accelerate economic growth and realize its benefits for the continent.

 

African states struggle to individually secure their seas enough to attract additional investments

 

Blue economic policies are globally recognized as an anchor for resilience and economic transformation. The United Nations Environment Programme recently suggested that including Sustainable Development Goal 14 on ocean resources in recovery policies can help future-proof global recovery from the dire impact of COVID-19.

To reinforce this message, Africa and the AU need to focus in 2020 on moving from plans to action. The continent has many maritime strategies, but implementation is lagging. Capacity constraints are part of the problem, and they could worsen as pressures to address COVID-19 intersect with enduring challenges such as the effects of climate change on the oceans.

This intersection is arguably creating a “perfect storm” for African decision makers. They need to decide how to transition to blue economies while buffeted by unfavorable political, economic, and environmental conditions.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development World Investment Report 2020 shows that the amount of foreign direct investment into Africa has rapidly contracted. There’s an increasing probability that the remaining flows will target established activities that deliver higher returns on investment. This will arguably privilege traditional and lucrative industries over emerging and sustainable ones associated with blue economies.

 

The AU should ensure that member states’ blue economic commitments continue to receive funding

 

Historical examples of post-recovery policies such as those from the 2008–2009 global financial crisis are also cause for concern. For instance, the rapid growth in carbon dioxide emissions tracked in its aftermath is indicative of a systemic preference for traditional industries and energy sources in which costs and harms are externalized and only apparent in the future. Most investments would then flow into shoring up these battered industries and getting them back on an even keel.

The AU aims to support states in their maritime endeavors, and AU reforms include setting up a dedicated blue economy office in 2021. There is no need, however, to wait until then for work to begin. Postponements cannot be afforded, for two reasons.

First, the ocean space available for African blue economy projects is constrained and becoming increasingly insecure. African initiatives not only have to compete spatially with established industries such as offshore oil and gas extraction, but might also suffer the consequences of mismanagement or accidents such as oil spills.

Second, the ocean spaces around Africa are perceived as increasingly insecure as transnational maritime crimes grow more sophisticated. African states are struggling to individually secure or govern their seas to a level sufficient to attract additional investments needed to anchor long-term economic recovery and growth.

 

Maritime collaboration is essential, because African countries’ individual bargaining power is weak

 

What is required is dedicated coordination and encouragement from international partners such as Norway, which hosted the last Our Oceans Conference in 2019. The AU, backed by its member states, should ensure that national commitments made at such events continue to receive funding.

These undertakings were given when there was consensus that the oceans should be prioritized. At the time, states didn’t envisage disruptions like COVID-19 that demand a focus on salvaging established interests. The AU must also help facilitate the enacting of innovative environmental regulations, such as creating marine protected areas, so that implementation remains on target.

The AU Commission could convene a series of virtual coordination meetings between member states, regional economic communities (RECs) and its departments, and specialized agencies. These include the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources—which drafted the African Blue Economy Strategy—and the AU Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development. This can help deal with challenges such as states seeking economic recovery from COVID-19 by over-exploiting their maritime resources.

A division of labor between the RECs, the AU, and its agencies is also required. Regional bodies are key to blue economy strategies, and some, such as the Southern African Development Community, are already taking action. A consultative forum of RECs, member states, and other maritime organizations could boost momentum and share best practices and negotiation tools for collective bargaining about maritime regulations with states, regions, and at the UN.

Maritime collaboration is essential, because African countries’ individual capacity and bargaining power on the global stage is weak. Their leverage rests in numbers, and a common African position and negotiation strategy would increase their collective influence.

Commendable maritime precedents already exist. Between 1973 and 1982, the Organisation of African Unity coordinated state actions during the third UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It’s also taking place at the ongoing UN negotiations on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

With the economic and governance setbacks brought on by COVID-19, the leadership of the AU is key. Prompt, determined action is needed to reap the benefits of the blue economy and stimulate Africa’s renaissance.

 

Timothy Walker is a maritime project leader and senior researcher, and Denys Reva is a research officer, both at the Institute for Security Studies, South Africa

 

South Africa

 

South African energy company Renergen, which currently produces compressed natural gas, has opened bids for a share of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in the Free State province, the first of its kind for South Africa. Bidders must submit their interest in the project by August 27, with a formal auction date to be announced shortly thereafter.

The company’s Virginia Gas Project, which comprises exploration and production rights of 187,000 hectares of gas fields, is expected to start producing LNG in the third quarter of 2021.

The natural gas in these fields contains almost no higher alkanes (such as and butane), so it is relatively easy to liquify. It also contains rich helium concentrations, amounting to roughly half of the United States’ reserves – and the US is the world leader in helium production. Renergen plans to start producing helium in 2023.

 

Renewable Energy

Should the LNG project prove successful, it will make a huge difference in diversifying South Africa’s energy portfolio, which is dominated by coal for domestic use and for export. Renergen will partner with Total South Africa to distribute the LNG through Total’s filling stations, mainly for use by logistics companies’ trucks – the LNG will replace diesel.

The source of the Virginia Gas Project’s natural gas is primarily microbial, so it’s a sustainable resource. Producing a carbon-negative fuel is critical if South Africa is to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

 

Cassava, also called manioc, is one of the DRC’s staple crops. The leaves and the tuberous root are used in a variety of dishes. (Junior D. Kannah/AFP)
Cassava, also called manioc, is one of the DRC’s staple crops. The leaves and the tuberous root are used in a variety of dishes. (Junior D. Kannah/AFP)

Researchers at the University of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have successfully formulated a new type of fertilizer that they claim can enrich soil for 400 years and help to increase agricultural output.

Professor Adrian Mwango, who supervised the research, says the fertilizer contains charcoal and organic matter. The fertilizer was tested in a banana plantation, and the researchers will continue to monitor its efficacy.

 

More than 65 percent of the population are employed in the agricultural sector

 

If this fertilizer were to prove even half as effective as claimed, it would make a significant difference to millions of citizens’ livelihoods. More than 65 percent of the country’s population are employed in the agricultural sector, according to 2019 World Bank data. It would also improve self-sufficiency in the DRC, which has seen sudden spikes in the price of foodstuffs during the COVID-19 pandemic as supply lines have faltered and cross-border trade has been disrupted.

 

President Filipe Nyusi (via AFP)
President Filipe Nyusi (via AFP)

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has finalized a US$400 million bid to assist in the financing of the Mozambique Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Area 1 Project off the coast of Cabo Delgado province in the north of the country. AfDB joins a cohort of international financial backers on the project, estimated to cost US$20 billion. French multinational company Total has secured a senior debt financing facility worth US$14.9 billion, making it the main investor in the project.

 

The successful financing of the project signals trust in the government of Filipe Nyusi

 

The Mozambique LNG Area 1 Project is the single largest foreign direct investment project on the African continent, involving Export Credit Agencies from the United States, South Africa, Italy, Thailand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Japan, according to a statement Total released last week. Set to be operational by 2024, the plant is expected to generate up to 13.1 million tons of liquified natural gas per year. It’s hoped that the wealth generated by the plant will improve economic fortunes for the people of Cabo Delgado, where poverty is severe.

The successful financing of the project signals renewed trust in the government of Filipe Nyusi, whose administration has been embroiled in a major scandal over loans Swiss bank Credit Suisse helped to arrange for development in Mozambique, which involved kickbacks worth millions of dollars. It also indicates that persistent violence committed in the region by Islamist insurgents has not discouraged major international investors.

 

oil in south sudan
Women receive sorghum, beans, salt, and oil for their families at the Bentiu camp for internally displaced people in South Sudan in February 2018. The camps—known as Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites—were set up by the United Nations in 2013, when civilians fled their villages to escape ethnic violence. Given the danger of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the crowded camps, calls have increased for residents to return home.

The spread of COVID-19 in South Sudan continues to have an unprecedented impact on the health, economy, and social lives of citizens. It has placed added pressure on already limited services and exacerbated issues that the young country, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been struggling to address.

This was voiced in community meetings in Melut County organized by the Upper Nile Youth Development Association (UNYDA)—an association of young men and women from Upper Nile State who strive to play a more active role in development—in collaboration with Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).

Melut County, which is located on the eastern bank of the White Nile, incorporates six payams (administrative divisions), including Melut and Palouch, where community meetings were held to promote awareness of COVID-19 prevention and to discuss greater local participation in the management of the state’s natural resources.

 

“The gap between the community and oil companies seems to be widening”

 

“There is minimal contribution from oil companies regarding provision of services aimed at preventing COVID-19,” a local chief said in one of these meeting. “The gap between the community and oil companies seems to be widening.”

He also said there was a lack of cooperation between state authorities and members of parliament, and that this was hindering the implementation of the petroleum laws, which allow for oil revenue to be used for developmental activities. He urged oil companies to support efforts to prevent the spread of the disease and enhance community resilience.

The two main laws governing the oil industry in South Sudan are the Petroleum Act of 2012 and the Petroleum Revenue Management Act (PRMA) of 2013. A revenue-sharing arrangement enshrined in the PRMA states that 2 percent and 3 percent of net petroleum revenue should be allocated to oil-producing states and communities, respectively. It is unclear, however, how these allocations are implemented.

Representatives of women’s groups say that during several rounds of talks they had tried to engage state authorities on the implementation of these allocations, but to no effect. Some in the local communities are optimistic, however, that the national government will act differently. The Ministry of Petroleum and Mining is currently carrying out an environmental audit.

At the meeting in Palouch, a representative of local chiefs noted that some chiefs were not familiar with the petroleum laws, but relied on local members of parliament and the youth to use the right channels of reporting complaints up to the national level in Juba.

A youth representative in Palouch said, “As youth, we are working very hard to voice community demands and concerns to the relevant authorities. We are contemplating having a meeting with state authorities.”

Local leaders urged government to work closely with them to ensure effective implementation of the petroleum legislation, including the activation of a Community Development Committee Coordination Forum. A youth leader in Melut said young people needed to be able to play an active oversight role in monitoring of oil revenue allocated for local development projects, and added that governors, commissioners, and state ministers seemed reluctant to do so.

 

There is also widespread dissatisfaction over the negative impacts of the oil industry

 

South Sudan, which has significant reserves of crude oil, is recovering from a five-year civil war that cut its oil output by about half. In 2011, at the height of its oil production, the country pumped more than 350,000 barrels per day. Plans are under way to rehabilitate damaged oil infrastructure and explore new blocks to boost production.

There is also widespread dissatisfaction over the negative impacts of the oil industry on the environment, society and governance in the oil-producing states, which a member of UNYDA said could be traced back to the pre-independence Khartoum regime. Khartoum’s policies on the sector were opaque and disregarded local involvement in the management of oil revenue, which made it difficult for communities to demand transparency and accountability.

In the meetings, members of UNYDA emphasized they were working hard to increase awareness around COVID-19 preventive measures and to reduce social vulnerability in collaboration with the NPA under the Oil for Development project. They said they hoped to reach the ear of the relevant authorities through local organizations and community leaders. Because UNYDA has limited resources, they called on oil companies to increase their corporate social responsibility efforts and to support UNYDA in mitigating the effects of the pandemic in Upper Nile.

 

Patrick Godi is a writer and magazine editor based in Juba, South Sudan.

 

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