Monday, October 25, 2021

Botswana’s future takes shape in conflict over Nile River

On the sidelines of last week’s African Union Summit, the leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia met to break a deadlock over a 6000 megawatt hydroelectric dam that the latter is building on the banks of the Nile River.

The dam is Africa’s largest and one of the largest in the world and is being built on the Nile, near the Sudan border. Egypt fears that it will lose 20 to 30 percent of its share of Nile water and nearly a third of the electricity generated by its Aswan High Dam. Some 85 million Egyptians rely on the Nile for almost all of their water needs. A colonial-era treaty gave Egypt 55.5 billion cubic meters of the Nile’s 84 billion cubic metre average annual flow, while Sudan received only 18.5 billion cubic meters. Another 10 billion cubic meters is lost to evaporation in Lake Nasser, which was created by Egypt’s Aswan High Dam in the 1970s. Downstream nations like Ethiopia, which were not catered for by the British-superintended treaty, now want a fair share of the water. However, Egypt wants every country that lays claim to the Nile to defer to the 1959 treaty. Once before, the powerful North African nation, which gets billions of dollars in military aid from the United States, has threatened war if this formula is altered.

It may not appear so but the current conflict between those three countries portends a turbulent future that certainly awaits Botswana. Two years ago, the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, stated that despite a tripartite agreement between Botswana, Namibia and Angola, the latter was possibly undertaking agricultural projects which are diverting the normal flow of water from its highlands into Okavango Delta. The Chobe, a tributary of the Zambezi, has caused tension between Botswana and Zimbabwe. In 2013, Zimbabwe had objected to Botswana’s plans to abstract some 30 cubic metres from the Chobe River for an irrigation scheme to feed the Pandamatenga Farms as well as for domestic water supply.

The analysis of both security experts and economists on this issue is really chilling. It posits that the wars of the 21st century would be fought not over oil or land, but water. As a matter of fact, the Gabane-Mankgodi MP, Major General Pius Mokgware, who is a former of the Botswana Defence Force, states that those living in Southern Africa, which is one of the most severely water-stressed regions in the world, should be particularly worried about the prospect of a water war. In 1995, Ismail Serageldin, an Egyptian who was vice-president of the World Bank, made as chilling an analysis about the SADC water situation and what it means.

“Conflicts are inevitable given that most of the river systems in the region are already utilized and are interconnected ignoring political boundaries. Disputes have already taken place between Botswana and Namibia over abstraction of water from the Etosha or Okavango,” Serageldin said.

With a climate change denialist having assumed the most powerful office in the world, the situation will definitely get worse. By withdrawing from the Paris Accords, US president Donald Trump, is hastening the day when water becomes so scarce that SADC countries have to take up arms against each other. Trump is already implementing policies that will precipitate adverse weather patterns that will lead to water scarcity.

Ironically, there is an Africa Rising dimension to the continent’s water woes. As their economies grow, African countries need more and more of a commodity there is little of and that has to be shared with neighbours. The irony about Botswans’s water situation is that the country doesn’t have a water shortage problem but a water management problem. For too long, over 50 percent of citizens have been sitting on their rights to abstract water from rivers and underground.

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