US and China Must Collaborate to Save Lake Chad

Lawrence Freeman

April 18, 2017

      Over recent weeks, there has been considerable, long-overdue international attention given to the horrific conditions for the people living in the nations of the Lake Chad Basin (LCB). Following last month’s visit by members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), on March 31, they issued a first-ever resolution respecting the state of the crisis of the LCB. Now, the most important challenge to be addressed is what long-term strategic policy will be adopted to transform the LCB region, to reverse its downward spiral of abject poverty, famine, and displaced persons from the conflict with Boko Haram. For those of us who understand the root causes of the crisis, it is clear that without a project design to refurbish the shrinking Lake Chad, all other efforts will be insufficient. Unfortunately, but all too consistently, the lack of strategic visionary thinking by policymakers in Washington DC and other Western capitals has contributed to the failure to address the underlying causes for this ongoing tragedy in the LCB. For the very first time, the proposal to create a canal to transfer water from the Congo River Basin to the LCB is being studied by ChinaPower. Due to the tireless efforts of many of us over decades, and the extension of China’s One Belt-One Road (OBOR) into Africa, the possibility exists to provide tens of millions of Africans living in the LCB with a better future.

Inadequate International Response to Humanitarian Crisis

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reports the following conditions in the LCB nations: 11 million in need of food assistance, among them 6.9 million are severely food insecure, and 2.5 million people are displaced. In northeast Nigeria 5.2 million will be need of food, with 50,000 facing famine.
From March 2-7, the UNSC visited Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. On February 24, a total of $1.458 billion was pledged ($1 billion by Nigeria), at the Oslo Humanitarian Conference for Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region. On March 31, the UNSC unanimously adopted resolution 2349 (2017), with 34 recommendations. These actions express a greater concern for the LCB region than previously, but avoid the supporting the most crucial requirement for long-term stability; replenishing Lake Chad. The resolution focuses primarily on defeating Boko Haram and ISIL, barely mentioning the effects of the shrinking Lake Chad in exacerbating the hardships in the region. It does little more than recognize that “promoting development and economic growth” is part of a comprehensive approach to combating violent extremism, while failing to make any recommendations of how to achieve such growth. Speaking on the resolution, Ambassador Tommo Monthe from the Cameroonian Mission to the UN does make the point that “regional countries understood that the military response, though essential, should be part of a holistic approach.” FAO Director da Silva notes that Lake Chad has lost 90% of its water mass since 1963, and has resulted in “devastating consequences on food security and the livelihoods of people” dependent on fishing and food production. His beggarly proposal is to save water through new irrigation techniques, but what is vitally needed is to create more water by recharging Lake Chad.

The Time for Transaqua has Arrived

  Over 35 years ago, Engineer Dr. Marcello Vichi designed a farsighted, breathtaking proposal to bring water to the arid Sahel; he called it Transaqua. His proposal was to divert 5-8% of the waters from the tributaries to the Congo River, which are presently unused, through a navigable canal reaching the Chari River that empties into Lake Chad. According to his calculations, this inter-basin water transfer project would increase the depth and area of the lake to its proximate 1963 level. As importantly, the canal would also function as an essential feature of an economic corridor between the Congo River Basin and Lake Chad Basin that would include generation of hydroelectric power, an increase in irrigated farmland, and expanded trade. Thus, the full potential of this great water-transfer infrastructure project would affect a significant portion of the entire continent when realized.
It is well understood that poverty, lack of food, high unemployment, and lack of meaningful economic activity are drivers for conflict, yet for over three and half decades the international community has never bothered to make the smallest expenditure for feasibility studies to examine the potential of Transaqua. The international community willingly spent billions of dollars on military counter-terror measures, billions more on humanitarian aid, while millions of lives were lost in unnecessary bloody conflicts, but refused to even consider a revolutionary new concept to develop the nations of the Sahel and Great Lakes.
The flame for this novel idea of Transaqua was kept alive until, finally, in December 2016, when ChinaPower signed an agreement with the Nigerian government and the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) to conduct a $1.8 million feasibility study respecting a segment of the Transaqua design. Despite support by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, and Sansusi Abdullahi, Executive Secretary of the LCBC, to save Lake Chad by transferring billions of cubic meters of water, as opposed to the fallacious concept of simply conserving disappearing water, funding was not available until China’s intervention. ChinaPower’s actions regarding Lake Chad are paradigmatic of China’s approach to erecting infrastructure projects across the continent. Ask yourself: Who is funding and building the great expansion of railroads across Africa today?

The West Lacks Vision for Economic Growth

  Sadly, for the United States and the world, President Franklin Roosevelt was our last great leader who possessed the knowledge to generate new physical wealth by using American System methods of credit creation for funding great infrastructure projects. Perhaps surprisingly, it is Chinese Present Xi Jinping’s global development policy–OBOR or the New Silk Road–that most closely echoes Roosevelt’s commitment to economic growth. Western leaders, along with the citadels of global finance, are suffocating society with ideologically driven, narrow, short-term thinking, restricting their judgment of what is necessary and possible to transform the present into a better future.
The severe limitations of this ideologically attenuated mindset were revealed to this author at a day-long conference in Washington, DC on April 11. Sponsored by the US Institute for Peace (USIP), the Carter Center, and the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), the speakers and specialized audience explored the theme and title of the conference: “Can China and the United States Find Common Ground with Africa.” Ambassador Mohamed Ibn Chambas opened the day-long proceedings, discussing the need to address the root causes of insecurity, the vital importance of Lake Chad, and the need to transfer water via a canal from the Congo River Basin. However, it was in the final panel: “Cooperating to Counter Violent Extremism in the Lake Chad Basin and Beyond” that the sharp difference in outlook between this author and most of those participating became publicly evident.
  Mohamed Yakubu, Nigerian Defense Attaché, made the germane observations regarding the LCB and Nigeria: that Lake Chad is the only body of water in the Sahelian desert; the desert is moving south at the rate .6 kilometers per year; and that in northeast Nigeria, where Boko Haram has been most active, rates of illiteracy and poverty exceed 70%.  Most relevant, were the comments by Yawei Liu, Director of the Carter Center’s China Program, who, in an earlier panel, emphasized that the OBOR was not a just a five- or ten-year program, but a fifty-year program, and that northeast Nigeria could be a place for US-China collaboration. While the representative from the US Department of State acknowledged that US-China relations are unexplored in the LCB, his main focus on collaboration was short-term humanitarian needs and countering Boko Haram. The USIP representative repeated that cooperation must be holistic, long-term, and provide stability, but did not provide an actual long-term strategic policy for such collaboration.
  This author was able to challenge the conference attendees with a concrete proposal to advance China-US relations in Africa, which would alleviate the suffering of Africans in the LCB region. To wit: The US organizations present should support and collaborate with China for the realization of the Trasnaqua water-transfer project. This level of cooperation would solidify a strategic partnership by the two leading world powers to act for the “common aims of mankind” for the benefit of Africans. Since ChinaPower has already initiated the first step with its commitment to a feasibility study of Transaqua, it would be relatively easy for the US to advocate for and assist in bringing this transformative project to fruition, thus implicitly becoming part of China’s OBOR.
Regrettably, the moderator and panelists did not endorse this author’s proposal, or even respond. Their cold reaction displayed precisely the lack of vision that permeates the grossly deficient US policy toward the development of Africa. However, there is still time to seize this opportunity, if US policymakers adopt a new paradigm of thinking; one that is more closely aligned to China’s One Belt-One Road.

The New York Times Is All Wrong About Africa

Lawrence Freeman

August 3, 2017

     The July 30th Sunday edition of the New York Times, published an article by its Africa reporter, Jeffrey Gettleman, entitled, “Loss of Fertile Land Fuels ‘Looming Crisis’ Across Africa.” The analysis, and conclusions of this article are all wrong, because they are based on false and ideologically driven axioms regarding the development of Africa.  Essentially, Gettlemen and the New York Times are steeped in the “Zero Growth” culture which became prevalent in the United States and the West in 1970s.

     In the aftermath of the 1963 assassinations of President John F Kennedy and the ensuing “rock-drug-sex” counterculture, the groundwork was prepared for the onslaught the environmental movement. With its no-growth, anti-science, anti-industrialization outlook that dominated the thinking of the baby-boomer and succeeding generations, cultural pessimism became pervasive. This ideology combined with the looting of Africa’s natural resources by the financial predators of Wall Street and the City of London resulted in a policy of no development for Africa that has continued to the present. 

     Today Africa has the largest deficit of infrastructure per capita and per square kilometer on the planet. The lack of electrical power, railroads, water management, and modern highways is literally responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans each year.  Only since the entrance of China into Africa in the past decade with its commitment to build physical infrastructure, have we witnessed a change in the dynamic on the continent.

Economic Science

     It is no accident that the US and Europe have not contributed to the construction of vital infrastructure projects; it’s their flawed policy. Infrastructure is not just one of several possible good ideas; rather it is an indispensable, irreplaceable ingredient to the success of any agro-industrial economy.  Infrastructure drives an economy forward and upward by incorporating new scientific advances in technology that improve the productive powers of the workforce, yielding increased economic output of wealth for society. The most wicked and pernicious feature of the Zero-Growth ideology is the denial of the unique creativity of Mankind. For thousands and millions of years Mankind has transformed his surrounding environment to make it more propitious for human expansion.  Like the discovery of “fire,” a million years ago, the Neolithic revolution 12,000 years ago was a revolution in Mankind’s knowledge of the universe and led to a population explosion. This non-linear growth pattern has been repeated many times over the last 10,000 years, as a result of the unique power of discovery by the human mind.

     The essential underlying cause of the problems in Africa today is not over population, or loss of arable land, but underdevelopment.   The failure to grasp this elementary concept by the New York Times and others is the reason for the abysmal conditions of life in Africa’s that contributes to the easy recruitment to terrorist movements like Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin region.

False Axioms

     For example, Gettleman cites the:

 “overwhelming degradation of agricultural land throughout Africa, with one recent study showing that more than 40 million Africans are trying to survive off land whose agricultural potential is declining.” He continues, “More than in any other region of the world, people in Africa live off the land. There are relatively few industrial or service jobs here. Seventy percent of Africa’s population makes a living through agriculture, higher than on any other continent, the World Bank says. But as the population rises, with more siblings competing for their share of the family farm, the slices are getting thinner.”

     Why is agricultural potential of the land declining? Why are there relatively few manufacturing jobs? Why are the slices of land getting thinner?

     The answer is not the Malthusian argument that Africans breed too fast and that this huge continent – almost three times the size of the continental US- has too many people trying to exist on a shrinking pie of arable land. The proper question to ask is; why after half century since the “Winds of Change” liberation from the colonial powers, Africans still do not enjoy the fruits of modern industrialized economies with a modern standard of living, instead of large pockets of abject poverty? Any poor-quality farm land, even the Sahara Desert, can be made productive with water. Less than 5% of cultivated land is irrigated In Africa. With manufacturing plants to build the irrigating machinery and sufficient energy to pump the water, millions of hectares of arable land can become fruitful. Nuclear powered desalination could provide fresh water from the Mediterranean and Red seas to the North African deserts. US farmers, among the most productive in the world, experienced huge increase in yields of food production including in the former desert of southern California by utilizing new technologies, fertilizers, irrigation, and abundant energy under President Franklin Roosevelt’s economic recovery.

     Why has the US and the West not assisted African nations in acquiring the necessary infrastructure and new technologies to expand its cultivated land and build a substantial manufacturing sector as part of an integrated modern economy. In his brief Presidency, John F Kennedy collaborated with President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to build the Volta Dam hydro-power and industrial smelting complex. This what we should have continued to do over the last 50 years, and if we had, Africa would look completely different than it does today.

Population Reduction Is Not the Solution

     In the concluding section the article, the New York Times and its reporter reveal the depraved thinking of the Zeitgest of western culture; we have too many people using up the fixed natural resources of our planet.

“Africa’s land pressures may seem overwhelming, maybe even unstoppable. But scientists say there are solutions within reach. For example, the continent has the highest fertility rates in the world, but more African governments are pushing contraceptives, saying the best answer for densely populated countries is smaller families.

‘The problem is too many people, too many cattle and too little planning,’ said Iain Douglas Hamilton, a wildlife activist in northern Kenya.”

   This view echoes Henry Kissinger’s infamous “National Security Study Memorandum 200,” written 1974-1976, which advocated reducing the population for “Third World” nations to guarantee an uninterrupted supply of vital natural resources to the West. For centuries, the British raciest imperialist school has targeted Africa’s population as inferior and as an impediment to their access of Africa’s precious minerals.

     The birth a child can never be a problem for society. Each new human being, by the fact that it is human, intrinsically has the potential to contribute to new discoveries that can change the world, or contribute to the progress of society in more humble manner. Why not take up the challenge of developing the vast continent of Africa with its soon to be multi-billion population, and its rich untapped wealth? Presently we are witnessing the construction of desperately needed infrastructure on the Africa continent, with the assistance of China. Yet, Africa’s requires hundreds of gigawatts of electrical power, East-West and South-North railroads, high speed trains connecting the capital of each nation, and much, much, more. If the US joins the new paradigm of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” and collaborates on eliminating poverty and hunger, and expanding Afrfia’s unrealized agricultural potential, the continent will be able to sustain an expanding population at a standard of living commensurate with that of the advanced sector nations.

     Let us act on the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, when he told his son at the Casablanca Conference during World War II, that if we divert water into the Sahara Desert: “It’d make the Imperial Valley in California look like a cabbage patch.”