China’s experience: Helping transform an African desert into a garden

William Jones

Editor’s noteWilliam Jones is the Washington Bureau Chief for Executive Intelligence Review and a non-resident fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. The article reflects the author’s opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

With the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Italy, there will no doubt be some discussion of cooperation between the two nations on the African continent. For Italy, helping to resolve the dire economic situation in Africa is both a humanitarian and an economic concern. The devastated economy in many African countries is bringing more and more refugees to Italy’s shore, and the burden is taking its toll on the Italian economy. For China, Africa has always been a particular concern having shared in the condition of underdevelopment for so many years. Even when both were clearly developing countries, China offered its assistance to its African brothers.

One of the most significant projects in that regard is the Transaqua project. This project would take some of the water from the Congo River, a river with the greatest flow of water in the world, and through a series of canals to the Chari River which flows into Lake Chad, a lake whose surface has been dramatically reduced from 25,000 km2  in 1960 to 1,500 km2 today.

The water transfer project would help revive the lake, and with the construction of dams and power plants along the canal, would help to bring development to the region, directly affecting the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa and Nigeria, through which it would pass. In addition, it would also bring economic benefits to Niger, Cameron, Chad and Congo Brazzaville as well.

People crowd the oceanfront area along the Galle Face green in Colombo, Sri Lanka, November 20, 2018. /VCG Photo
The Italian engineering company, Bonifica SpA has been instrumental in working out the plans for this project and is fully committed to it. In 2017 Bonifica and Powerchina entered an agreement for the joint development of the project. China, with its own extensive south-to-north water diversion project, possesses a good deal of expertise in dealing with such a project. Such collaboration also fits in nicely with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has received strong support from the Italian government. The Transaqua project developed by Bonifica has in part been developed by PowerChina.

Representatives from both Bonifica and PowerChina were invited in 2018 as speakers at the International Conference on Lake Chad, in Abuja, sponsored by the Government of Nigeria. The final declaration of the conference stated that Lake Chad needs to be saved and that its current situation demands immediate action. The Italian government at the time pledged 1.5 million Euros (1.7 million U.S. dollars) to start the Transaqua feasibility study.

The expansion of the BRI to Africa has kindled new hope in a continent that had virtually been abandoned by the West in terms of large development projects. The Mombasa-Nairobi railway, the Nigerian coastal railway, the Chad-Sudan railway, the Port Sudan-Khartoum railway have already provided the template for industrializing the entire African continent.

President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer attends the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region in Oslo, Norway, February 24, 2017. /VCG Photo
While China has been ground-breaking in returning to the long-awaited – and much-delayed – project of African industrialization, the enormity of the project is of such a magnitude, that China alone cannot do it.  But the BRI opens the possibility of working together with other Western nations in realizing this goal. And the cooperation with Italy on the Lake Chad project can serve as a paradigm for how the BRI must work.

While some Western nations are trying to depict the BRI as a geopolitical “ploy” by China, anyone looking at the effect of the project on the recipient countries will see the falsehood of these claims. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can’t fool all the people all the time.” And to the extent that countries overcome their fears and begin to work with the BRI and contribute their strength to developing other countries, they will better understand the importance of the project and its more profound implications for global development.

China has made great gains in reversing the effects of desertification by means of their water diversion projects, their reforestation efforts and their irrigation projects. If some of this know-how were to be applied in Africa, it would help turn the devastated Sahel region into a veritable garden, which it once was. And the lessons learned can be used on a broader scale to change the nature of life on this planet – for all its people.

*Lawrence Freeman has been an advocate of the Transaqua inter-basin water transfer project for over two decades. I am the Vice Chairman of the International Scientific Advisory Committee to the Lake Chad Basin Commission

Save Lake Chad With Transaqua: Franklin Roosevelt and Kwame Nkrumah Would Concur

In 1943, after having flown over the Sahara Desert on his way to a Casablanca conference with Winston Churchill, President Franklin Roosevelt remarked to his son Elliott, that with the recreation of a lake in the depressed flats in North Africa, “The Sahara would bloom for hundreds of miles.” He also reminded his son of the rivers which arise in Atlas Mountains and disappear under the Desert. “Divert this water flow for irrigation purposes?  It’d make the Imperial Valley in California look like a cabbage patch!”

Later in the trip, FDR made Winston Churchill apoplectic by discussing plans for anti-imperialist development with the Sultan of Morocco, including mooting American aid in providing the resources to train indigenous scientists and engineers to develop the nation.

FDR’s American System vision for African development was not taken up in the post-war era, but his outlook was echoed by at least two prominent statesmen of the next generation from very different backgrounds—Kwame Nkrumah and President John F. Kennedy. It was no mere coincidence that twenty years later, when Ghanaian President Nkrumah addressed the Organization of African Unity, he would also speak about the “possibility for the Sahara to bloom.” Nkrumah’s vision also would be temporarily crushed.

But today, finally, FDR’s and Nkrumah’s dream is beginning to be realized. A giant step toward greening the desert, and defeating the miserable living conditions which go with it, was taken this February, when a meeting of several African heads of state decided to go ahead with a massive project of water engineering called Transaqua. Although proceeding without American government backing, this project is truly in the spirit of American System development, a long-term investment in transforming the physical environment for the benefit of the general welfare.

It is with that in mind that we present this report by an American who does understand the American System, and has worked persistently for several decades to bring its benefits to Africa.—Nancy Spannaus

The Abuja Conference

After two months, the deliberations from the “International Conference on Saving Lake Chad” held in Abuja, Nigeria from February 26-28, 2018 are still reverberating, and will continue to do so. This historic conference, the first of its kind to be convened on the African continent, was initiated and sponsored by the Nigerian government in conjunction with the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), and supported by the United Nations. It has already begun to change the thinking of what is possible for Africa’s future.

From across the globe, hundreds of water experts, hydrologists, scientists, political leaders, advocates for Lake Chad, the African Union, the Africa Development Bank, and the World Bank, joined the heads of state of the Lake Chad Basin nations for three days of deliberation on the best policy to recharge the contracting Lake Chad.

Having served as an advisor to the LCBC and participated in several discussions with the Nigerian government on the necessity for an inter-basin water transfer project to recharge Lake Chad, this author was given a prominent role throughout the entire proceeding, addressing the gathering several times in various capacities. (Written remarks by me were also circulated at the conference and to the press.)

Read entire the article: Save Lake Chad With Transaqua: Presidents Roosevelt and Nkrumah Would Concur

 

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