Much of the world takes a holiday, today. All of Africa’s largest and most powerful countries are on holiday. May Day carries a morbid tradition of celebrating the horrible mental and physical tolls on workers in the second millennium.
So who isn’t a worker? Is Trump a worker? Is Nigerian Aliko Dangote a worker? Is the poor Joe who was once a miner in Appalachia still a worker? Everyone and no one is a worker, today. This is a false moniker for the modern age and it leads us into a sort of dangerous nostalgia.
The success of childhood education is directly the result of how much tax payers will pay and how good the government is that implements it.
Backpedaling in America and proudful politics in Kenya forecasts doom for those countries. Instability and war not only inhibits but defiles education. Massive government investments have assured Asia will become the political, economic and cultural center of our earth. So says PISA.
Street violence is not new in post-apartheid South Africa. Police have shot protestors (in mining strikes, for example), but this is a first for student demonstrations and the first time that citizen-against-citizen violence has reached this level.
Things are escalating; they’re getting serious. The Rand is falling, tourism is starting to balk and everyday life is changing. The time has come to tell South Africa, “You better get your act together.” And the time has come that the rest of us recognize a very important lesson before what is happening in the streets of South Africa spreads worldwide.
My first job after the anti-war movement was in Paris with UNESCO. Diplomats were aghast back in 1971 that before the end of that year there could be one million refugees under the responsibility of the United Nations.
That is one out of every 113 people who live on planet earth.
Two years later Kathleen and I were working for the Kenyan government on the border with troubled Uganda under the ruthless dictator Idi Amin. We traveled into that dangerous country and saw first-hand the devastation that gives rise to a refugee.
We saw children scraping roadways for food. We saw people dying. We saw educated people hiding for fear they would be killed for no reason other than they were educated.
We saw people who made the incredible decision to leave home.
I don’t think most Americans understand refugee-ism. In our current politicized environment, in fact, it seems to boil down to believing most foreigners are on-the-take, people making somewhat casual decisions to increase their opportunities.
Most refugees have no idea where they’re going once they pack up to leave.
Imagine that. Imagine deciding that your situation is so dire that you have to leave, no matter where you go or what might happen to you. “Chance” which obviously might include something worse is better than sitting still.
I’ve watched Americans mature in my life time as they inch towards the realization that they are not just Americans, but human beings, members of the same race on the same planet, brothers and sisters no matter what.
How can we tolerate such displacement of our fellow human beings?
The Brookings Institute says it’s because Americans have been brainwashed into being afraid of refugees. “Brain-washed” are my words.
The hardness, the callous disregard of our fellow human beings is about the most disgusting, low and immoral position any other human being can take. The “plasticity of public sentiment” – which is how Brookings sugar-coats brain-washing – among Americans is so damn embarrassing. For the first time in my life, when I find myself in a foreign environment unable to fully explain my country, I find myself ashamed of being an American.
We have to look inwards and understand that nobody is trying to minimize our anger – or our fear, for that matter. But directing our worries upon unknown fellow human beings and presuming totally absurd things about them — particularly when those refugees are among the most honest, courageous and loyal of all in our shared species – is nothing short of social and intellectual blasphemy.
It reeks of an egocentrism and selfishness that belongs exclusively to The Dark Side.
I have written about refugees, I have worked with refugees, I have housed refugees in my home, and I have worked for refugees.
Not one of the dozens that come to mind ranks one baby step in moral or intellectual stature below myself, my mayor, my governor or senator or religious guide, my mentors or my favorite people. To a person they have demonstrated the best of a human being.
It’s one thing to sling invective at opponents for ideological reasons. It’s another to condemn your own species.
Why in America do we have national student sports contests, national science fairs, national spelling bees … but no national performance contests?
Africans know why: Because the American entertainment industry is a monopoly of big money and nepotistic connections and the arts are no longer being taught in schools.
“In Kenya,” Dr. Hassan Wario explains, “students become performers because of talent” nurtured in school.
Dr. Wario is the Kenyan Minister for Sports, Culture & the Arts. His portfolio in the cabinet is equal to that of any other cabinet minister.
The devastation Americans have wrecked upon the public school system in my life time is equivalent to the nukes dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In fact, forget about the arts curriculum. America “is $46 billion a year behind what it should spend on building and repairing K-12″ just to have safe school rooms!
This week ended the massive student national drama festival in Kenya. In February my safari was passing through the town of Nyeri north of Nairobi and I wondered if there was a revolution going on.
It turned out it was a regional high school drama festival! It was the middle step in national competition held annually, just like for soccer and science.
Today the President of Kenya greets the national winners at Statehouse to congratulate them. This year’s national contest just ended yesterday.
The final round of plays, films, dance and musical performances drew 50,000 contestants! According to a local paper, it turned the relatively sleepy town of Meru in the Kenyan highlands into a “beehive of activity with hotels being fully booked and businessmen making a kill.”
It was, simply, as important a function of student growth as sports or science.
So, yes, too little money is a part of the problem. Putting it a different way Americans believe that less of their resources should be spent on educating their children than Kenyans do. Finally, arts gets the shaft in America.
As a father and uncle to several successful entertainers I’ve often been grateful to their schools for getting them going. But they were among the privileged. They attended schools that – at least back then – sustained the arts. Even back then, many schools didn’t.
So Americans bifurcated potential entertainers into the haves and have-nots. This created a homogeneous pool of individuals from the privileged classes that now dominate American entertainment. No wonder we blame our media for our politics!
No question that the American performance industry is mammoth compared to Kenya’s, for example. But neither in my mind is there any question that today dramatic arts in Africa are more creative, less prone to formula, capable of greater risks and ergo, greater rewards. Moreover, the average Kenyan consumer nurtures an incredible range of performance, from lining up for Shakespeare festival tickets or improv comedy, or falling in love with vampires and Nobel Prize laureates at the same time!
I’m no entertainment critic, but I’ll tell you, Kenyan TV is much more creative and fun to watch than American TV.
The certification is performed by an elder woman as part of an annual ceremony of homage to the Zulu king. Special intermittent testing would then continue – much like drug testing for sports – and whenever a woman fails the test the “Maiden’s Bursary Award” is terminated.
Even if the recipient has a 4.0?
“Unsurprisingly, this has been met with much controversy,” writes teen reporter Casey Lewis for Conde Nast. Lewis further notes that a college-age virgin is “very, very problematic.”
“Virginity testing is an invasive, flawed, traumatising and sexist practice, that has no bearing on whether or not women should be granted bursaries,” an on-line petition organized by South African university students contends.
The petition points out that the policy doesn’t address the role that young men play in unwanted pregnancies resulting in an “unequal” approach to young women.
With less than a couple thousand signatures so far, the now week-old petition is not doing well by South African standards. Despite the resolute equality provisions of the young South African constitution – which among other progressive components mandates that a certain proportion of publicly elected officials be women – sexism remains strong in the country.
KwaZulu Natal where Mayor Mazibuko’s town is, is a particularly conservative region. In fact towards the end of the anti-apartheid struggle in the late 1980s the region broke away from the growing black power movement to support the white-led apartheid regime.
The fact that the policy was promulgated by an elected woman mayor illustrates a global phenomenon of conservatism beautifully discussed this month in Foreign Affairs’ look into “inequality.”
Michigan professor Ronald Inglehart links the decline of economic equality to “cultural issues [that] pushed many in the working class to the right.”
During a fall meeting with Pullman High Schoolers regarding a proposed bill in the Washington state legislature increasing access to birth control, the very conservative Olympia woman state representative Mary Dye shocked students by insisting the conversation be governed by whether or not they were virgins.
Education and women’s health are global as much as local issues. Economic declines are often surprising, or at least at the start seem uncontrollable at that moment. As Ingelhart implies the anger manifest in those hurt most by an economic decline is often expressed in support for cultural positions and personal values that are clearer to evince than policies for economic recovery.
South Africa has an inequality ratio considerably higher than the U.S.’ already staggering high one. The reasons for this include global factors and are certainly complex.
Mayor Mazibuko’s continued support is not unlike Donald Trump’s.
Government politics clashed explosively today with education in Kenya as a court struck down a teachers’ pay raise that had ended a devastating national strike.
Kenya better take a lesson from the U.S.: compromise education and you’ll empower the ignorant. Soon Donald Trump will be running for President of Kenya.
Teachers in Kenya are employees of the federal government rather than state governments as in the U.S. The 5-week long strike which ended in October was therefore nationwide.
The pain of that strike didn’t end with the misery of teachers forfeiting their livelihoods to promote their rights. Kenyan teachers earn 12 times the average national pay, so a huge buying sector of the economy was shut off just as the overall Kenyan economy began to slump.
Ultimately the government agreed to a more than 50% pay increase. The court decision, today, reverses that on the technical grounds that the agency authorizing the increase did so unconstitutionally.
(It’s actually fascinating: the lower Appeals Court effectively reversed a higher Supreme Court ruling. The teachers union is now appealing this lower court ruling back to the higher court. Can’t help but loving this tinkering with government bureaucracy.)
If the pay increase is sustained Kenyan teachers will earn more than 15 times the national average. (In the U.S. a teacher’s salary is almost identical to the national average.)
Why, then, should anyone be worried if Kenyan teachers aren’t awarded this huge increase in pay? …that will stretch even more the disparity between teachers and the common worker in Kenya?
Well, to begin with take a look at the student/teacher ratio. In Kenyan primary schools it’s around 50:1. It’s 25:1 in all of sub-Saharan Africa; the U.N. benchmark is 17:1 and in the U.S. it’s 14:1.
So Kenyan teachers are taking a heavy lift, and this is precisely because overnight a few years ago the country decided to offer free primary education to everybody. (Everyone should watch the amazing movie about this, “First Grader.”)
But statistics like this used cross culturally lose some validity. About the only empirical conclusion evident from this data is that Kenyan teachers are overpaid for working too hard, and U.S. teachers are underpaid for working too little.
I think there’s something important to extract from this.
U.S. institutions of higher learning may be the best in the world. But our primary and secondary schools are a mess, dragged deeper today into our social dustbin by the outrageous licensing of “home” and “community” schooling.
When public education is ignored, as it has been in the U.S. for the last half century, a massive underclass of ignorant people who still benefit from an expanding economy grow more and more powerful.
This underclass pulls down the education system even further: Teachers get paid less, are given fewer resources, perform worse, get paid less still, etc. It’s a spiral into … well, ignorance.
Ignorant people are impressionable and gullible because they aren’t taxed with thinking hard. They’re more likely to jump to conclusions and embrace emotive reactions than question the world. They shoot before looking, because they can’t analyze what they might see.
As the ignorant gain power complex social institutions and infrastructure collapse. You’ve got to be able to think hard to build a bridge or understand welfare or negotiate a nuclear arms deal. Lacking necessary cognitive and intellectual skills the ignorant don’t consider the future as a component of well-being.
The enormous pay difference between an average Kenyan teacher and an average Kenyan worker is definitely cause for concern, but every time Kenyans compromise public education they concede a bit more control of their society and future to the ignorant.
Using the U.S. as the example, that’s not a good idea:
Imagine if when I was a boy I’d heard my parents debating whether they should elect as President Ed Sullivan or Doctor Spock.
A third of all South Africans are between 10 and 24 years old, born after the end of apartheid and now attending school at some level subsidized by government.
The protests began about a month ago at the country’s most prestigious science university, Witts, over an announced 10% increase in student tuition. In South Africa all higher universities are funded by the federal government, a similar role to the state governments here.
After two weeks of violent protests, #FeesMustFall resulted in South African President Zuma rescinding all fee increases … for this year.
The country’s most prestigious liberal arts university, UCT (University of Cape Town), was one of the few where classes resumed today following a humiliating apology by its chief executive to students, although small protests continued on campus as well as at Parliament. But in most places in the country, higher education is at a dead stop.
After Zuma announced the rescinding of all fee increases, the protest issues spread like wild fire. “Outsourcing” university workers has now been reversed at the UCT and the Witts CEO has agreed “in principle.”
This is a fundamental issue in South Africa. Several years ago universities discovered huge budget savings if employees previously hired for maintenance, food service, transportation – virtually every industry – were outsourced to large companies.
The universities insisted the large companies hire the existing university employees, which they did, but within a few years benefits, wages and contract negotiations were seriously reduced.
Government subsidies for education based on income are equally under fire, not because students disapprove of the principle, but because it has been so unevenly applied.
The government’s protocol for determining income is rife with corruption and nepotism, often unfairly subsidizing those who are quite affluent while ignoring truly poor students. More interestingly, students are also demanding an end to the notion of minimum performance in secondary schools as a metric for determining subsidies.
What I find so interesting about all of this is that it brings back some deep memories of my own college career which for me was dominated by the anti-War protests.
But as I became more and more involved as a student in those protests, I also became involved in the Civil Rights and Womens movements.
The magazine concludes that current protests are congealing into the all-powerful issue of racism, reporting that demonstrators “complain that universities have too few black staff or students. This is true, but largely because, thanks to terrible schools, black South Africans still do much worse in exams than whites, something the ANC has failed to fix.”
Since the end of apartheid the ANC has ruled South Africa, winning election after election, yet it is widely blamed throughout the country for this current and many other predicaments. Zuma’s cavalier flip-flop on fees, which could push the government debt to untenable levels, is typical of the knee-jerking, lack of policy that today characterizes ANC governance.
In the last election the 18-24 year old crowd hardly voted at all.
I don’t think that will be the case the next time around.
Free higher education is becoming an explosive issue in Africa.
Until the turn of the millennium most higher education throughout Africa was completely free, as in much of Europe it still is. The model, in fact, for most African countries was Germany.
But today about a quarter of an African university student’s costs are borne by the student. In South Africa it just became more than a third.
South Africa’s most prominent university remains closed today after protests against fees that began Wednesday.
The University’s CEO, its Vice-Chancellor, raced back to Johannesburg to address today’s massive student demonstration morning and was followed on national TV by the country’s Minister of Education, but the students have not been placated and the protest continues.
The 10.5% increase in fees announced last week will push a university student’s contribution to just over half of all estimated costs.
The arguments on both sides are identical to arguments in the United States, Kenya or virtually anywhere in the world where higher education is not free:
“The government needs to invest significantly more … for public universities. This is the kind of expenditure that will pay for itself… Money given to universities is money that alleviates poverty, creates employment and drives cutting-edge research and innovation,” writes student leader, Saul Musker, in today’s Daily Maverick.
“Indeed, the actual social, political and economic costs of under-investing in higher education are far greater than the additional expenditure…. If the ultimate goal of the government is to create an equal and prosperous society… this is an obvious choice.”
Contractual costs particularly salaries are increasing much faster than government subsidies for them; utilities and other operating costs are unexpectedly high, and unique to South Africa, the Rand has fallen by 22% against the dollar and much of the university’s costs are dollar based.
In fact, government subsidies have actually fallen, as they have throughout much of America.
So as in America we have an extraordinary situation where both the protesters and their targets are in agreement. The problem, of course, is the government that funds them both.
Governments ordinarily reduce their subsidies with additional loan mechanisms and “bursaries” or scholarships. But in many places like Kenya that’s proved self-defeating, because the loans can’t be recovered and the process of awarding scholarships is cumbersome and often corrupt.
The result is a spiraling downwards of government support, as forward budgets are often based on presumptions of recovering loans while funds for bursaries are often underused for getting tangled in confusing regulations.
Opposition politicians often clamor onto the bandwagon that there should be more government support, but once in power, they become hamstrung by budget necessities.
Governments are rarely so forward-thinking as to invest in a student whose productivity is many political cycles in the future. Mature, successful governments like Germany and the Scandinavian countries should be a model for us all, but in the U.S. archaic conservative forces hold us back, and in Africa, the critical capital mass capable of this policy just hasn’t yet been achieved.
So the gap between the haves and have-nots widens even further.
Only this time it’s not just a gap of wealth, it’s a gap of intelligence.
Comedy conveys reality to Americans today better than straight facts, and last Friday’s ‘The Daily Show’ masterfully presented the real Africa.
Jon Stewart introduced his new correspondent from South Africa, Trevor Noah, who conveyed to Americans a lot more successfully than I and dozens of other bloggers have:
(1) Eric Garner and Michael Brown demonstrate more police brutality in America than in South Africa.
Moreover and more importantly, police brutality in South Africa was once much worse and is now much better, and this is not the case in America.
Noah pointed out that police brutality in South Africa was a construct of apartheid, and that when apartheid ended this brutality began to reverse.
In America, where there’s never been apartheid as such, brutality has remained high if not increased.
(2) There is more ebola in America than South Africa.
True and undeniable, but no matter how many times we say this it’s forgotten until carried in a comedy routine!
Noah said his friends warned him against going to America for fear of contracting ebola, and he replied “just because they had a few cases of ebola there [America] doesn’t mean we should cut off travel, there.”
(3) Americans believe they can “save Africa” by small charity donations. Noah remarked, “for just five cents a day.”
This sarcasm is powerful stuff. It reveals the ignominy of American charities and the naivete of American donors in the much fuller arguments that I and many others have made for years about the mistake of so much American charity.
(4) Americans think almost exclusively that Africa is a vacation destination for big game safaris. While Africans absolutely don’t, of course.
Noah then presented a game, “Spot the Africa” which was phenomenal.
A series of two paneled photographs came up multiple times contrasting Africa with America, and as you can imagine, the horrible ones were America.
This wasn’t just nitpicking. It was real.
Stewart then asked Noah, “You aren’t saying that things in America are worse than in Africa?”
And Noah replies, “No, I’m not saying that, you guys are saying that.”
I’m one of those guys.
And Noah ended with a brilliant observation that knits the reality of sarcasm to the troubled conundrum of American life:
“You know what African mothers warn their children, about, Jon? Be grateful for what you’ve got, because there are fat children starving in Mississippi.”
There are just under 7,000 reported deaths from ebola, just under 17,000 reported individual infections, and both numbers are likely low because of the difficulty of accurate reporting in the ebola infected areas.
Foreign help is working. ABC reported yesterday two pages of good headlines about ebola in Liberia, including Obama’s troops and hospitals coming online, Chinese hospitals coming online, and the possibility there will be no new cases at all in Liberia.
With all the accelerated research and development of diagnosing and vaccinating against the disease, I predict ebola in West Africa will be contained in the first quarter of next year.
In a demonstration of similar optimism, the President of France visited a hospital in Conakry, Guinea, on Friday. Conakry is an epicenter of the disease.
With an outbreak of this magnitude it’s difficult to imagine it will ever be completely over, since so much of the area retracted into primitiveness as a result of almost two generations of horrible, scathing war.
But I’m willing to take the risk of being premature for wont of not losing public attention. We have four serious lessons to take from this situation:
Lesson 1. TERROR & RACISM RULES
American culture in recent times craves being terrorized. There could be all sorts of reasons: remnants of 9/11, poor education, the Great Recession … whatever. Whether it’s vampires at the cinema, fear of ISIS or “open borders” or ebola, we crave being threatened.
In all these cases, “The Threatener” is the demon. Imagine, for example, if some horrible virus literally as bad as ebola or worse suddenly broke out in Des Moines. We would not be closing our bridges over the Mississippi or road-blocking I-80.
A virus worse than ebola did break out in America in the 1950s. It was called polio. Some parents did keep their kids out of school, but most didn’t even do that.
Ebola happened in BLACK Africa. All our reactions this time demonstrate racism to the core of our beliefs. Polio in Pittsburgh is god’s will and we will overcome it. Ebola in Africa is the work of the devil.
Lesson 2. KNEE JERKS precipitate KNEE REPLACEMENTS
America today leads the world in short-term thinking, and that short-term thinking is why we have an ebola epidemic to begin with.
America’s political system is the best example. We fund the government almost from month-to-month. We have no long term social plans.
We cherish quick stock trades; we tutor our third grader just enough to get into fourth grade; we hand out just enough food stamps to take us through winter.
We lay globs of asphalt in cracks rather than pieces of new cement and then get furious when the cracks get bigger the next year.
Our hearts may be in the right place, but our minds are in Pluto. We pass referendum to increase the minimum wage for a long-term benefit to everyone including the shop keeper that gets the extra dough, but then elect politicians who vow to reduce the minimum wage to balance next year’s budget.
Tom Sommerville writing today in African Journalism argues so well that the ebola epidemic today is a result of American-dominated short-term thinking manifest by the IMF and World Bank.
He’s right on, and I’m not going to summarize his thinking, just go to his link above.
Basically, you get what you pay for. America has led the world paying discount prices for a modern planet that needs a bit more quality than we’ve been willing to accept.
It’s so counterproductive! We spend literally millions of dollars to intercept ebola (so far, no one) at our airports who has a temperature, but resist funding Obama’s emergency request to build ebola hospitals! Now how ridiculous is that!
We all know where this is going to lead, don’t we? Didn’t your grandpa give you your first piggy bank? If you neglect the oil change, won’t you have to buy a new car sooner? Come on guys, get real!
Lesson 3. EXAGGERATION KILLS
I’m probably the greatest offender, admitted, and I am constantly trying to reform myself, so at least I’m ahead of many.
So I can attest first-hand of this horrible American affliction, exaggeration. Texas has to be the biggest place. My kids are always above average, thank you Garrison. My yard has the greenest grass. My pastor is the kindest man. My dog is the sweetest and … my enemy is always the devil incarnate.
Current ebola infection stats are horrible but nowhere near as catastrophic as earlier predicted. Both the CDC and WHO are now loathe to make future predictions, since their earlier ones were so off base.
Those quantitative assessments that earlier suggested “millions” of possible cases from institutions as respected as WHO and the CDC make me wonder if those organizations suffer from the same scientific deficits as Senator Inhofe.
Opponents of realism, of what is right in the world, of what should be done morally and practically, will now use these exaggerated claims to stop funding Obama’s ebola eradication mission, and this will kill hundreds if not thousands of more people than would otherwise be saved.
Lesson 4. GEOGRAPHY IS DEAD
When I’m working in Nairobi or Johannesburg, I’m just about the same distance from the ebola epicenter as my kids are living in New York.
Every single capitol city in Europe is closer to the ebola center than any city in the U.S.
There are three nonstop flights daily from West Africa to the U.S. (two into JFK and one into Dulles). Daily, there is only one into Johannesburg and no non-stops into East Africa. There are dozens of nonstops daily into European capitols.
It has absolutely astounded me how bad Americans’ knowledge of basic planet geography is. I started work in Africa 40 years ago, and I was astounded then that someone in Chicago thought Dakar was as close to Nairobi as Detroit is to Cleveland.
But that has persisted, and there’s no explanation except poor education.
* * * *
The outbreak of ebola, the messy containment, the lessons that won’t be learned from the situation, are every man’s responsibility, every man on earth.
America cannot yet shed its responsibility as the world’s greatest power, and so it has to assume its greatest responsibility.
Remedies begin at home, of course. They begin with adjusting ourselves to realism and moralism. It’s a very dark time in America right now. Kids, get us out of this!
This ebola epidemic has a surprising effect: Americans are wondering if Africans have it better.
Most Americans’ live styles are much better than their counterparts in Africa, but what about the change from year to year? Americans believe they aren’t getting better. Africans by a wide margin believe they are. Both are right.
It’s only a matter of time before Africans feel they are better off than Americans.
Nigeria and South Africa both had ebola patients come to them from the infected areas. One Nigerian ebola patient infected one of the hospital care givers in Nigeria. Both the patient and the care giver were cured. In South Africa no transmission to health care workers occurred. Both South African and Nigeria are today “ebola-free.”
So why is the American future pessimistic compared to the African future, and why is ebola being better contained – outside the three-country infected area – in Africa than America?
I’ve got one answer: school field trips.
School field trips in Kenya are on a massive increase; trips in the U.S. way down.
For example, the Field Museum in Chicago has lost a third of its annual school visitors, as has the Cincinnati arts organizations.
I’ve got another answer: declining infrastructure.
The title of the Council on Foreign Relation’s new report on American infrastructure, “Road to Nowhere,” says it all.
Infrastructure is booming throughout Africa. I can’t believe my eyes when I’m absent from Nairobi for more than a couple months: another highway, another factory, another rail line…
Here’s another answer: American protection of human rights is on the decline. While human rights is still on the whole better in America than in Africa, America is getting worse while some parts of developed Africa like South Africa are getting better.
The Human Rights Risk Atlas for 2014 lists America at 139 of 197 countries, or a “medium risk” of human rights abuse.
It’s possible to go on and on down the list of what governments are supposed to do: build roads, educate children, protect human rights. By so many metrics, even the simple metric of stopping the spread of ebola in a hospital, America isn’t doing so well.
While much of Africa is getting better.
But this should come as no surprise. Social investment in education, infrastructure, even the money we spend on courts and judges, is shrinking.
I once thought it impossible that in my life time any African country could achieve some kind of significant metric that bettered America.
It was inevitable. Africa is coming to blows over water. It’s no joke that it could mean war.
Nine African countries depend upon The Nile. All of them are water deprived and all of them except Egypt are subject to devastating droughts. Only Egypt – which rarely experiences rain at any time – has matured without climate catastrophes.
But Egypt is the greatest user of the Nile waters, and the last of the nine countries on the chain from Lake Victoria and the headwaters of the Blue Nile. During colonial times Egypt was much more developed than the other nine countries, and Britain was the colonial master of them all.
So Britain produced a mid 1950s treaty that gave Egypt veto power over any of the other nine countries when deciding collectively how to use the Nile water.
Times have changed.
Fresh water is as precious a commodity among these countries as oil. In 1999 the nine countries agreed that parceling out the waters of the Nile was the most important issue among them. They formed the Nile Basin Initiative, and since the formation, nothing at all has happened except bitter name calling.
Meanwhile, parts of the shoreline of Lake Victoria have receded more than 150 feet, and the depth of the lake has dropped by nearly 30 feet.
To manage their increasingly vital resource, more than 25 dams are currently planned for different parts of the Nile. The largest dam in the world is currently being built in Ethiopia, and Egypt is furious with Ethiopia for building it.
Egypt depends upon a strong flow of water along the Nile to irrigate its enormous agricultural industry. There is every indication the Grand Renaissance Dam alone will deplete this flow.
“Egypt sees its Nile water share as a matter of national security,” strategic analyst Ahmed Abdel Halim explained. “To Ethiopia, the new dam is a source of national pride, and essential to its economic future.”
A year ago Egypt’s president Morsi said “all options are on the table” including “military responses to Ethiopia.”
Yesterday Kenya’s Natural Resource Cabinet Secretary ended another failed Nile Basin Initiative meeting. It failed principally because Egypt would not officially attend, although its ambassador to Kenya did show his face.
Nine of the countries less Egypt have agreed on an initiative agreement, but Egypt is balking. According to the 1999 accord, only 6 of the 9 countries need ratify the agreement for it to take effect. But Egypt is considered critical.
“That is the only way we can do this peacefully. Otherwise… we are going to be at war because of water,” Prof Judi Wakhungu, the Environment, Water and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary told Kenya’s main newspaper yesterday after the meeting broke up.
Egypt without enough Nile water would be brought to its knees. It seems to me that much more powerful than the 1950s colonial shelf treaty is the fact that Egypt’s very existence for more than 7,000 years has depended upon The Nile. That’s quite a few grandfathers to be claused in.
I doubt there will actually be war, but not because Egypt doesn’t have the resolve if the waters stop flowing. Rather, I think Ethiopia is sensible enough to realize that turning off the spigot will cause war, so it won’t.
But there are many who disagree. Ethiopia is something of a maverick state, always has been. As the Grand Renaissance Dam starts to rise, the country’s leaders may also start basking in their increasing level of power.