Mali’s Future Depends on Development of the Sahel

The northern two-thirds of Mali is in the desert. It is completely underdeveloped, and it is in this desolate region that the violent extremists are based

August 4, 2020

The letter below was sent on September 1, 2020 to the Bureau of African Affairs, Department of State. The letter does not express my full thoughts about what precipitated the coup and the polices necessary to ensure future of Mali. However, as a long standing member of the Mali Affinity Group, and fierce defender of Mali’s sovereignty, I support much of letter’s content.

A Way Forward for Mali

Background

After several months of daily massive anti-government demonstrations in the streets of Mali’s capital city, Bamako, the Malian military intervened during the week of August 17 to remove President Keita and his government. While there appears to be broad and intense popular support for the military’s move, it violates the constitution and international law. In response, the West African community (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the United States, and the European Union condemned the military’s actions and it triggered the suspension of economic and military assistance from donor governments, as well as from the international financial institutions. While in the custody of the military, President Keita tendered his resignation, and has been allowed to return to his personal residence.

The ECOWAS mediator delegation, headed by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, had been working to end Mali’s internal political crisis for several weeks before the military takeover. This delegation is continuing to speak to the leaders of the military takeover, and to the different political factions, with the objective of returning the nation to civilian rule as soon as possible, through a brief transition, and new democratic elections.

The leaders of the military takeover are talking about a three year transition, revealing their total distrust of the Malian political elites. Such a long period of military rule is clearly unacceptable for a number of reasons, including the temptation to institute permanent military rule, as in the corrupt military dictatorship of General Moussa Traore, 1968-1991.

Here is what we recommend for U.S. policy toward the Republic of Mali at this time.

Recommendations

  • Continue to recognize and support the ECOWAS mediating mission as the lead international group to assist the Malians to establish an expeditious return to
    democratic government.
  •  Engage all stakeholders to implement the terms of the Algiers Accords without delay.
  • Through the U.S. Embassy Defense Attaché, encourage the Malian military commanders to immediately bring in civilian political persons to share planning and
    implementation of the transition. (N.B. The head of the military takeover group is Colonel Assimi Goita, who trained in the United States with American Special
    Forces.)
  •  Encourage a mixed civilian and military transition of no more than one year, followed by the organization of elections. The process should include civilian political
    leaders who are domestically or international known and respected for their democratic commitment to good governance, transparency, and free and fair elections
  • Provide assistance to American democracy institutions such as IRI and NDI to immediately send personnel to Mali to assist in the preparation of free and fair elections and reforms, and engage with civil society to address grievances around the political process with a special focus on combating corruption.
  • Inform the Malian takeover military leadership that economic and military assistance will be restored as soon as it is clear that the government is under civilian  control, and that preparations for elections are well advanced.
  • Consult closely with the French Foreign Ministry, and the French military to encourage continued support in the fight against “jihadist” terrorists in the north of Mali.
  • Begin to plan significant economic development projects for the north in order to deal with the socioeconomic causes of the insurgency.

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In my brief interview below with CGTN, I discuss the effects on Mali of the the Western organized regime change against Muammar al Gaddafi in October 2011. The 2012 coup in Mali as well as the recent coup, have as their immediate cause, the destruction of Libya led by President Obama and his immediate circle of advisors. However, it is the failure over decades to develop the Sahel with basic infrastructure in rail, roads, water, and electricity that has systematically affected the Sahel, creating the conditions for the growth of violent extremism. The imposed underdevelopment of the African continent is the underlying cause for the majority of political and economic hardships that plague Africa today. 

Watch my interview below that begins at 11 minutes 40 seconds and ends at 14 minutes.   

 

Is the Trump Administration Violating Ethiopia’s Sovereignty?

(Courtesy Ethiopian Foreign Ministry FACEBOOK)

Is the Trump Administration Violating Ethiopia’s Sovereignty?

Lawrence Freeman

March 10, 2020

In the first week of March, representatives of President Trump’s administration presented conflicting responses on Ethiopia’s right to operate the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) for the production of electrical power for the nations of East Africa. The construction of the GERD is over 70% complete and is expected to commence operation in 2021, with a capacity to generate 6,200 megawatts of electricity.  The GERD built near the border of Sudan, will be filled by water from the Blue Nile, that flows from Lake Tana, located in the mountainous region of Ethiopia. Ethiopia cannot be deprecated for exercising its sovereign right to exploit its most important resource, water, for the benefit of its people, and neighboring African nations.

Ethiopia and the two downstream nations, Sudan and Egypt, have been involved in discussions that now primarily focus on the “fill rate”-how much water is withdrawn each year from the Blue Nile to fill the GERD’s 79 billion cubic meter reservoir. Egypt is justifiably concerned about how the reduced flow of the Blue Nile resulting from filling the reservoir will affect the level of water reaching Egypt’s High Aswan Dam.  The Blue Nile contributes 85% of the Nile’s volume of water when it joins the White Nile just north of Khartoum.

Without harming downstream nations, the GERD requires a minimal fill rate to permit the generation of electricity. Egypt, claiming that filling the GERD reservoir with water from the Blue Nile will cause hardship for its people, has made excessive demands on Ethiopia to guarantee an unreasonable allocation of the Nile’s water. This is principally an issue to be resolved by the engineers in the technical committees of the three nations.

Since December, the Trump administration has hosted, several meetings of the three nations in Washington, under the auspices of the US Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin. Secretary Mnuchin’s involvement was to be as a neutral observer, not a mediator. However, recent written and oral statements from Mnuchin, and the Treasury Department, has called into question the impartiality of the US. Retired Ambassador David Shinn’s blog of February 29, he questioned whether, the United States seems to be “putting its thumb on the scale in favor of Egypt.”

Mnuchin Not Impartial

Following the decision by the Ethiopian delegation not to participate in the February 27-28 meeting with Sudan and Egypt, Mnuchin publicly tipped his hand in favor of Egypt. In a February 28th letter, the U.S. Department of the Treasury wrote that Egypt initialed an agreement on the GERD, and instructed Ethiopia that “final testing and filling should not take place without any agreement.”  Feb 28 letter by Secretary of the Treasury on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.  The truth is, there is no existing document to be initialed or signed, because such an agreement can only come about as the fruitful result of the participation by the representatives of all three nations.  Mnuchin, has no legal or political authority to instruct Ethiopia about the functioning of the GERD.

The next day, on February 29, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rebuffed Mnuchin’s letter: “The ‘text’ reportedly initialed by the Arab Republic of Egypt in Washington D.C. is not the outcome of the negotiation or the technical and legal discussion of the three countries.” The Foreign Ministry wrote: Ethiopia as the owner of the GERD will commence first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the Dam in accordance with the principles of equitable and reasonable utilization and the causing of no significant harm as provided for under the Agreement on the Declaration of Principles (DoP).”

On March 3, testifying before the House Ways and Means committee, Mnuchin was even more blatant in his disregard for Ethiopia’s sovereignty over the GERD. Congressman Steven Horsford (D-Nev) asked Mnuchin to correct the narrative that the US is not trying to impose its will on Ethiopia and requested a balanced approach towards all the core nations involved. Mnuchin brazenly responded, “Ethiopia should not fill the dam until there is an agreement signed.” Presently, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia have not formulated any agreement to be signed. Clearly, Mnuchin has without any mandate, expanded his role as a neutral moderator to an advocate for Egypt’s position.

(Courtesy of Yale Environment 360)

State Department Doesn’t Agree

On the very same day that Mnuchin was infringing on Ethiopia’s sovereignty, another branch of the Trump administration, the U.S. State Department, had a different response to the GERD negotiations. On March 3, the Woodrow Wilson Africa Program sponsored a forum, The Trump Administration and U.S. Africa Policy: What has been accomplished and what lies ahead? The speaker was Tibor P. Nagy, Jr., Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African affairs, an experienced ambassador to Africa. I was able to question him about the US position towards Ethiopia. Specifically, I asked, since President extols national sovereignty for the U.S. and repeatedly exalts “America First,” wasn’t it a double standard to deny Ethiopia the same sovereign rights regarding the GERD? Nagy then flatly contradicted Mnuchin, when he answered, “What I can say is that the U.S. has consistently said we are neutral in that whole business.” Nagy’s boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Addis Ababa on February 18, said “A great deal of work remains, but I’m optimistic that over the coming months we can resolve this.” Clearly Nagy and Pompeo are not operating on the timetable of President Trump and Mnuchin who wanted the deal resolved by the end of February.

Sudan Differs With Egypt and Arab League

Mnuchin’s letter of February 28, implies that Sudan supported the so called agreement written without Ethiopia’s participation. Sudan in fact refused to add its initials to those of Egypt on the agreement. This indicates that it was only Egypt, just one of the three nations involved, who with Mnuchin, took this stance.

According to an article from Middle East News Agency (MENA), Sudan rejected a resolution from the Arab League supporting Egypt’s position regarding the GERD on March 5. MENA reports that Sudan, “asked not to include their name in the decision [resolution], and added that decision is not in Sudan’s interest…”   (emphasis added.) At the Arab League Summit, Sudan formally withdrew its name from the resolution criticizing Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the Arab League resolution in a strongly worded statement on March 6. They wrote, “Ethiopia expresses its profound appreciation to Sudan’s principled position that helps advance win-win solutions for all parties involved through a commitment to open dialogue. Ethiopia reiterated that it “has the right to use its Nile water resource to meet the needs of the present and future generations.” March 6 Statement on Arab League

Africa Needs Energy

Once the GERD is completed, it will have the capacity to produce 6,200 megawatts of electrical power. This will benefit not only the people of Ethiopia, but also those nations of the Horn of Africa and beyond. Sub-Saharan Africa needs energy, and lots of it-minimally 1 million additional megawatts. It is a matter of survival. Without abundant and accessible electricity, African nations will not develop, and thus be subjected to various forms of destabilization due to rising unemployment of its youth and persisting poverty. Ethiopia has taken a bold step in constructing the largest hydro-electric dam in Africa intended to develop the Nile River Basin. All existing difficulties can and must be resolved in a dialogue among the three principal nations, who share this majestic historic waterway, the birthplace of ancient civilizations.

There is no intrinsic conflict between Ethiopia and the down stream nations of Egypt and Sudan, as Sudan has already implicitly recognized.

It is appropriate here to repeat what I wrote last October: “How many years will it take to fill the GERD’s reservoir, and what will be the flow rate of the Nile at the Aswan Dam, are yet to be resolved. These are technical matters that scientists and engineers must continue to examine in an atmosphere of good will and good faith. Such cooperation is essential to promote the common interests of all nations for a prosperous Nile Basin.” Grand Renaissance Dam Essential for Africa’s Economic Growth

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com