Last week two major peace initiatives gained much needed traction after years of stalemate.
After a week of shuttle diplomacy the two rival parties in South Sudan put pen to paper in signing a new peace deal. The deal which brings back President Salvar Kiir and his rival Riak Machar back in the same government has taken a lot of effort by the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda to broker.
Analysts wonder whether it addresses the fundamental issues of the continent’s newest country, primarily appeasing all the rival factions and laying the groundwork for institution building, but agree that it is better than nothing and as good a start as any.
"The agreement failed to beat a UN imposed deadline of June 30th for a stop to the fighting. The UN had warned that without a cessation of hostilities and a viable political agreement, targeted sanctions, including travel bans and a freezing of the assets of six individuals inside and outside the Juba administration, would be triggered...
Hot on the heels of that event Ethiopian Prime minister Abiy Ahmed made a historic trip to Eritrea to meet Isaias Afwerki. The two countries have been in a state of hostilities for close two decades following a war over disputed border areas in 1998. Eritrea once a province of Ethiopia seceded after a long civil war that led to the ouster of Haile Mengistu Mariam’s government.
Ethiopia currently in the grip of a currency squeeze, has in recent weeks moved to appease Egypt with whom they have disagreements about damming the White Nile.
Ethiopia has over the last decade been on an ambitious infrastructure building spree that has included increasing the stock of their road and rail networks, seeding industrial parks. At the center of it all is the tapping of their vast hydro-power generation capacity.
The Ethiopian Grand Renaissance dam alone will have a capacity to generate 6450 MW or more than seven times Uganda’s current capacity. The filling of the dam’s reservoirs is what Egypt is unhappy about.
When complete the dam will have a volume of 70 km3 with a surface area of 1,874 km2 or assuming a square, would have one side the length from Kampala to Entebbe. Egypt and Sudan fear that filling that reservoir could cause water shortages downstream and the resulting political fallout may be hard to contain.
Ethiopia which currently employs less than half it current generation capacity during peak hours needs market for its power and long standing feuds with its neighbours do not help. So whereas the antagonists in South Sudan may be content to continue in their state of underdevelopment it is in Ethiopia’s and the region’s interest that peace comes to South Sudan so the market there can be developed.
By the time fighting flared up at the end of 2013 South Sudan had become a $200m a year export market for everything from mineral water to eggs.
"The movement towards peace in the region is being driven by more than goodwill...
The huge infrastructure investments in the region can become redundant if the sweetener of growing neighbouring markets are not thrown in for potential investors in the region.
It would not be a stretch to assume that a combination of factors – political and economic, have made the region’s leaders wake up to the fact melding these markets together is the only way to attract more and more investment into the region.
The global financial crisis and the disengagement of the donors as they sorted their own woes back home may have been the latest, meant aid flows have not kept pace with the region’s populations’ growing needs.
Prior to that the end of the cold war, where billions of dollars were sloshing bout the world to by allegiance with little regard to economic feasibility, democracy or human rights records.
The rise of China has served as useful stop gap, as a financer of grand infrastructure projects that have often been breath-taking in their scope and ambition.
The regional economies have designed spare capacity into all the projects in anticipation of future growth. But for the growth to come the infrastructure has to be employed. A chicken and egg situation. This infrastructure is intended to unlock the great abundance of resources and people in the region.
A geosurvey of Uganda done a few years ago showed that were we to maximally exploit the riches under our feet we would have to first relocate all Ugandans.
When, and not if, peace comes to the region it will because of some hardnosed economic and geopolitical considerations and not out of the goodness of the hearts of the region’s leaders. The resolution on intractable conflicts in the region is just the beginning.