Historic Italian-Chinese Agreement on Lake Chad

 Lawrence Freeman

August 8, 2017

      Backed by their respective governments, the Italian engineering firm Bonifica Spa and the ChinaPower, one of China’s biggest multinationals, signed a letter of intent for cooperation in exploring the feasibility, and eventually implement the construction of the largest infrastructure ever envisioned for Africa, the integrated water-transfer, energy and transportation infrastructure called Transaqua.

     The letter was signed during a meeting between the executive leaders of the two companies in Hangzhou on June 6-8, in the presence of the Italian ambassador to China, but it was made known only at the beginning of August.

 

Fisherman on Lake Chad

 

The author travelling on Lake Chad with Mohammed Billa of the LCBC

          Transaqua is an idea developed by Bonifica in the 1970s, to build a 2,400 km-long canal from the southern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) which would intercept the right bank tributaries of the Congo River through dams and reservoirs, and carry up to 100 billion cubic meters of water per year, by gravity, to Lake Chad, in order to refill the shrinking Lake Chad, and in addition produce electricity and abundant water for irrigation. The canal would be a key transportation infrastructure for central Africa.

          In past decades, the situation around Lake Chad has become more and more explosive and urgent. While the drying out of the lake has forced a mass emigration to Europe, the impoverishment of the region has become a fertile ground for recruiting terrorists to Boko Haram. Although Transaqua offered a solution to all those problems, Western nations and institutions had so far refused to accept it, on financial and ideological pretexts.

          This project can now become reality in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. This author along with other advocates made it possible for Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), under Nigerian leadership, and the Transaqua authors from Bonifica to come together, and agreed that Transaqua is the most comprehensive and realistic solution to preventing Lake Chad from completely disappearing, and reversing the abject poverty in the Lake Chad Basin. In December 2016, the LCBC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with PowerChina, and eventually organized contact between the Italian and the Chinese companies.

          Speaking about the 2016 MOU to the {Nigeria Tribune} July 25, Nigerian Water Minister, Suleiman Adamu, noted that PowerChina is responsible for the inter-basin transfer. “China is doing exactly the same thing, they are transferring water from southern China to northern China. Just like Nigeria, southern China has more water than the north. In the northern part, some areas are semi-arid, so they are transferring water. The total canal that they built is about 2,500 kilometers, and that is Phase 1.”

          The Executive Secretary of the LCBC, Eng. Abdullahi Sanusi, expressed his confidence that the new cooperation will succeed “to be part of good history, to bring hope to the voiceless.”

          Lake Chad, a mega lake in prehistoric times, stabilized at 25,000 square kilometers in 1963. Since then it has contracted to as little as 2,000 square kilometers, and recently may have expanded up to as much as 4,000 square miles. Over 40 million Africans, the plurality Nigerians live in the Lake Chad Basin-(LCB) that has a drainage area of 2,439,000 square kilometers. Poor rainfall is a factor, but the precise cause for its diminished size of Lake Chad is unclear, given that the lake is reported to have almost disappeared in earlier times. With the area of lake having been reduced approximately to 10% of its size from a half century ago, the economy, which depends primarily of fishing and farming has been devastated. While travelling on the lake by motorized canoe in 2014, I witnessed fisherman standing in water barely above their ankles. Military professionals and analysts are now beginning to understand that the extreme poverty of Africans living in the LCB is a crucial factor in the increased recruitment to Boko Haram. These impoverished youths who see no future for themselves and are desperate to make money by joining this extremist movement.

          Minister Adamu displayed his understanding of the relationship between security and economy concerning the LCB when he told the Nigerian Tribune: “It is not a climate issue, it is a security issue-the security issue we are having in the Northeast. I can guarantee you that substantially it has to do with the drying of up of the lake, because youth there have lost all opportunities of hope there.”

          Nigeria is by far the largest economy of the six countries of the LCBC. President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has stated publicly and privately that expanding Lake Chad is a priority of his administration. Eng. Abdullahi is also a strong advocate of restoring the lake to its previous size.  In the recent period, we have witnessed growing support for this project from some elements of the United States military, who realize this project is an essential component of countering violent extremism in the LCB.

          If these efforts successfully lead to the transfer of water to save Lake Chad, it will be celebrated throughout the Africa continent

BRICS, China, and Ethiopia Promote Industrialization

BRICS ministers adopt new industrial action plan

The industry ministers from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) adopted a new action plan to deepen industrial cooperation among the five nations, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said in a statement on Sunday. Davies and his counterparts from the BRICS grouping attended a meeting in Hangzhou, China where industrial and manufacturing matters were discussed and which culminated in the adoption of a seven-point action plan. “The action plan states that the world economy is still in a period of profound adjustment after the international financial crisis,” Davies said.

 “Industrial sectors, the manufacturing sector and the service sectors related to it in particular, have become key factors in sustaining mid- and long-term economic development.” At the meeting, the ministers acknowledged that the new industrial revolution of digitisation among other things will change traditional production flows and business models that will give rise to new industrial forms.

The following seven points have been identified as key in the action plan:

       strengthen industrial capacity cooperation 

       strengthen the coordination and match-making in the field of industrial policies

       promote the cooperation in the development of new industrial infrastructure

       expand cooperation in technological development and innovation

       deepen cooperation in the field of small and medium enterprises (SMMEs)

       strengthen cooperation in standard area

       facilitate all-round cooperation with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

He emphasized that industrial development strategies and investment cooperation have to grapple with the potential threats in particular in the context of high unemployment.  Davies said the industrial development cooperation between the Brics countries can be used as a springboard to foster growth and development and create work opportunities. BRICS countries will focus on using their respective rich natural and human resources and broad domestic markets to broaden industrial capacity and policies, while working together in developing new industrial infrastructure and technology.

Chinese investment leads way as Ethiopia opens to outside

As Ethiopia, the most populous nation in East Africa, is spreading its economic relations across the globe, investment from the world’s most populous nation China is playing a prominent role. Ethiopia, with a population of some 100 million, is a country on the move with rail, air and road infrastructure projects and an ambitious industrialization plan.

Ethiopia keenly needs investment from industrial giants like China to give its burgeoning population, which is estimated to grow by 2 million annually, ample employment opportunities. According to the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC), there have been 279 Chinese companies with more than 571-million-U.S.-dollars worth of investment, creating more than 28,300 jobs in Ethiopia between January 2012 and January 2017.

Huajian Industrial Holding Company Limited, a Chinese company that has a long-term investment plan in Ethiopia, is operating two plants in the country. Yin Xinjun, Vice General Manager at Ethiopia Division of Huajian Industrial Holding Company Limited, says Huajian’s decision to have its first plant in Ethiopia stems from the country’s firm desire for industrialization. In fact, a personal call for more investment by late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during an August 2011 visit to China is what motivated initially Huajian to invest in Ethiopia, says Yin. According to Yin, Huajian’s investment in its first African plant had overcome several challenges, including logistical ones. Huajian initially had to transport its goods through an overcrowded highway from the plant in landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti port. The problem has been partially solved with the construction of the 85-km Addis Ababa-Adama Expressway funded partly by the Export-Import Bank of China (China EXIM bank) and built by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). The 500-million-dollar expressway was inaugurated in May, 2014.

Huajian also had to face intermittent power and water outages. The Ethiopian government later solved this problem through a special water and power line for the Eastern Industry Zone where Huajian’s first plant is located. Overcoming these challenges, Huajian currently employs more than 4,000 Ethiopians with a plan to increase employment to 50,000 people by 2022. Having established a plant in the Dukem industrial zone, 37 km south of Addis Ababa, Huajian is currently building a massive 138-hectare international light industry city in Addis Ababa. With the completion of the light industry city, Huajian foresees increasing its export revenue from 30 million dollars in 2016 to 4 billion dollars by 2022

However Western critics warn Ethiopia of being trapped in a neo-colonial relationship and some Ethiopians wonder if the Ethiopia-China relationship comes at the expense of other countries. Gedion Jalata, Program Manager of Africa China Dialogue Platform at Oxfam International, says both views miss the mutual beneficial and sovereignty respecting aspect of the bilateral relations. Jalata points out that Ethiopia is one of the beneficiaries of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

While Ethiopia is attracting massive Chinese investment in infrastructure projects, the Ethiopian government has set its sight in particular on Chinese involvement in industry parks. Ahmed Shide, Ethiopia’s Minister of Transport, says the country plans to utilize Chinese built infrastructure to boost its industrial exports. Shide is especially keen on the 4.2-billion-dollar Chinese built and financed 756 km Ethiopia-Djibouti electrified rail line to boost its industrial exports.