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Sudanese hope Ethiopian dam ends Blue Nile floods3 minutes read

This year alone, flash flooding has killed more than 60 and injured dozens in Sudan

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The Blue Nile is a renegade river, according to Sudanese farmer Osman Idris, its unpredictable flooding swallows crops and houses as it crashes through Sudan from Ethiopia on its way to Egypt.

“Tonight, the level of water will be low,” said Idris, a resident of Juref Gharb, a small village on the bank of the Blue Nile outside Khartoum.

“Tomorrow, it will swallow all the houses… It’s a renegade river, it rises so fast,” said the 60-year-old, dressed in a traditional Sudanese robe.

For Idris, Ethiopia’s construction of a controversial dam on the Blue Nile is a dream come true, as it promises to regulate the floods that inundate Sudan every rainy season.

This year alone, flash flooding has killed more than 60 and injured dozens in Sudan. 

The Blue Nile joins the White Nile in Khartoum and supplies the overwhelming majority of the Nile’s water, which runs through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.

Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam began in 2012, but since then Egypt has sounded the alarm that the project would severely reduce its water supplies. 

Egypt depends on the Nile for about 90 per cent of its irrigation and drinking water and says it has “historic rights” to the river guaranteed by treaties from 1929 and 1959.

It sees the project as an existential threat, fearing Ethiopia’s rapid construction of the dam might lead to water and food scarcity for millions of Egyptians.

More cash crops 

After several rounds of talks failed to resolve the issue, a new dialogue between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan was mediated by the United States in Washington earlier this month.

The three delegations agreed to resolve the dispute by January 15, with ministerial-level talks being held this week in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia insists the $4 billion hydro-electric barrage is essential for its economic growth given that most of its population still lives without electricity.

And in Sudan, farmers hope the dam will provide predictable flow.

Over the years, farmers like Idris who own farms along the Nile have been forced to change their crops due to flood devastation and tonnes of deposited silt.

Brickmakers fire blocks of mud in riverside kilns, producing smoke harmful to crops.

“I had to shift from cultivating fruits and vegetables to animal feed,” Idris told reporters.

Being reliant on flooding for irrigation means only one harvest per year and limits the kind of crops that can be grown.

If the river’s flow were regulated, more intensive agriculture could be practised, Idris said.

“We can plant crops throughout the year. It will be better for the environment and for marketing our products, which means more income for us,” Idris said.

Ekram Dagash, a professor at Khartoum’s Al-Zaiem Al-Azhari University, agreed that Sudan stands to gain from the dam, which will maintain water levels and block unwanted silt.

“Ethiopia is building the dam for one reason only, to produce electricity and export it, not only to neighbouring countries but to the whole African continent,” she told reporters.

Worried brickmakers 

But one group of Sudanese are concerned about the dam: brickmakers, who depend on the silt for their livelihood.

Dozens of small kilns line the river, providing an income for hundreds of brickmakers like Yakoub Noreen.

“If the dam is built, this won’t arrive,” the 40-year-old said of the silt he was standing in, as he pressed wet clay into a mould. 

Nearby, workers stacked bricks into a kiln belching thick smoke. Later they will be sold for 1,500 Sudanese pounds ($32) per 1,000 bricks, Noreen said.

Professor Dagash said workers can be compensated and provided alternative livelihoods if brickworks close, adding that benefits from the dam outweighed such losses.

Vast areas of land would open up for agriculture as well as industrial projects, she said.

“The dam will provide Sudan with low-cost electricity… and low-cost electricity means more growth,” she said.

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UN condemns use of IEDs against civilians in Libya

“UNSMIL strongly condemns these acts, which serve no military objective, provoke extreme fear among the population, and violate the rights of innocent civilians…,” the UN said.

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A man inspects the wreckage of a car outside the Khadra General Hospital which is dedicated to treating people infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Libyan capital Tripoli on April 8, 2020, after it was targeted by forces loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has condemned the use of improvised explosive devices against civilians in the southern part of Tripoli, as the armed conflict between the east-based army and the UN-backed government continues.

UNSMIL “is extremely concerned about reports that residents of the Ain Zara and Salahuddin areas of Tripoli have been killed or wounded by improvised explosive devices placed in or near their homes,” UNSMIL said in a statement Monday.

“UNSMIL strongly condemns these acts, which serve no military objective, provoke extreme fear among the population, and violate the rights of innocent civilians who must be protected under international humanitarian law,” the statement said.

UNSMIL called on all individuals to “seek information and heed security advice to stay away from areas that have not been declared safe to enter by a competent authority or items of unknown origin which may be explosive devices”.

UNSMIL also commended the search and clearance work by Libyan Police and Military Engineers, reaffirming its continued support to Libyan partners, communities, and stakeholders “who are working tirelessly to rid Libya of the threat of explosive remnant of war (ERW)”.

The UN-backed government’s forces accused the rival east-based army of planting mines before withdrawing from conflict areas in southern Tripoli.

Since April 2019, the east-based army has been leading a military campaign attempting to take over Tripoli and topple the UN-backed government.

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Strike looms as public sector wage dispute enters arbitration in South Africa

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The ongoing face-off between workers in the public sector and the South African government continues. According to the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), disagreement between the trade unions and government has moved the talks to arbitration for further hearing.

PSCBC General Secretary, Frikkie De Bruin explains that the arbitration hearings will begin by mid-June. An arbitrator will issue an award after the hearings are complete, with the matter potentially heading to court or resulting in a strike if the unions aren’t happy.

Ordinarily, public sector workers make up a third of South Africa’s expenditure. But with the coronavirus lockdown and income reduction, Pretoria seems unwilling to incur more debt.

If not handled carefully to appease the workers, the ruling African National Congress, (ANC) could lose its political dominance in the next local elections.

If no resolution is reached and the workers decide to resolve it an industrial action, it could erode all effort made by the government in the fight against the coronavirus.

The dispute started in February when the government affirmed that it could not fulfil its 2018 agreement on a three-year wage agreement.

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Ethiopia to divest 40% of Ethio Telecom

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The Ethiopian government is finalizing plans to sell a 40 percent stake in Ethio Telecom- the country’s sole telecommunication provider . The plan was announced by Ethiopia’s State Minister of Finance, Eyob Tekalign Tolina.

Ethiopia’s telecommunication industry is considered one of the last closed markets. It has been one of the government’s plans to liberalize the country’s economy launched by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethio Telecom has a large market serving a population of around 110 million.

The government will retain ownership of the remaining 60 percent.

Foreign firms in the telecom sector will be invited to bid and a percentage of the minority stake will be sold to Ethiopian citizens. South Africa’s MTN and Kenya’s Safaricom have shown interest in expanding into Ethiopia in the past.

Ethiopia’s communications regulator says the country would proceed with the privatisation of the telecommunications sector despite the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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