Corruption and Predation in Exercising Power: Algeria and Iraq as Case Studies by Nahla Chahal, Professor and researcher of political Sociology, Editor in Chief, Assafir Al Arabi.
All throughout 2020, Assafir al Arabi conducted a study on corruption as one of the pillars of power, just as important as repression, impoverishment, and despair. For such exercise, we chose Algeria and Iraq as case studies, hoping to extend our research to include other countries. This work will appear in the Books of Assafir al Arabi in three languages, Arabic, French, and English, and their online versions.
The following studies seek to examine corruption in Algeria and Iraq. They do not tackle its manifestation as bribes or looted public funds, but rather as a major governance mechanism, an essential part of its structure and operations.
Corruption is no self-treatable symptom; it cannot cure itself nor can its tailored arrangements; rather, it is channelled to empower a ruler(s), to sustain and perpetuate their power and hegemony. It could be more effective than oppression; takes on various shapes and forms; attacks society by taming it into submission, talks people out of pursuing change, and impoverishes them.
Corruption infests everything and partners with many people to various extents. Alternately, it asks for their complicity, or their acceptance thereof, at the very least, to simplify their lives. It remunerates certain social strata in particular, which happen to be fused with the ruling powers, for matching ideological considerations at times, and tribal-sectarian affiliations at others.
Numerous studies tackle corruption as a question indicative of imprudent governance, lack of transparency, collapsed mechanisms of oversight and accountability, or faded rule of law. The question of corruption has been widely contextualised in theory and through international standards outlined by organisations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and Transparency International. Those focused on nepotism, theft, and lining influential people’s pockets; they proposed measures to protect whistle blowers, enhanced access to information, made way for civil society, and instilled social accountability; all of which have contributed to the creation of an extensive useful database.
But to focus on those alone would be limiting, as they capture neither dynamics nor functions of corruption. Certainly, all such aspects of corruption must be interconnected somehow, given meaning and rendered a real “configuration”. The studies presented here precisely seek to examine such hypothesis and identify the circumstances that make corruption flourish.
There is, of course, a direct relationship between rampant corruption and failed national liberation –or its defeat– for getting rid of older colonialism is no complete realisation of that end – liberation. Massive privatisations also accompanied such failure and opened up new doors for corruption. Furthermore, real decision-making mechanisms may be seen hiding behind decision-making formalities, whether in ministerial cabinets or parliamentary buildings. Interchangeably, it hides behind decrees. Namely, corrupt practices take legal cover.
In his paper on Algeria, “Corruption as a Configuration of Power,” Daho Djerbal (1) argues that corruption is deemed institutionalised not only when widespread, but also when organised on the basis of socio-economic clientelist networks entrenched within the State apparatus, then disseminated into society through alternating intermediaries. It emerged fiercest, he says, when the State monopolised economy – in both capitalist and socialist paradigms.
Corruption is a configuration of economic rent which began as a system of economic and political regulation, whereby relations between State and its institutions, enterprises and their partners, civil society and its organisations, are all subject, by hook or crook, to rent-seeking logic instated to allocate all national resources (human, natural, financial, technical, and organisational), develop them, and distribute their generated revenues. Corruption thus became a “rite of passage” to accessing numerous public services.
As for decrees, Djerbal considers them as means for elected assemblies and democratically appointed authorities to avoid discussing major topics at hand. Those are tools invented to ensure wider reproduction of this system of new profits, to render the executive branch as sole party in charge of economic evaluation, and to arbitrage between conflicted interests for the sake of increasing revenues and systematise their redistribution. He also considers corruption and democracy as interlinked. As such, the emergence of “pragmatic practices” assumed by the authorities rely on a system of “remunerations, gift exchange, the fragmentation of spheres, places, and actors who determine what is legal and illegal, moral and immoral, legitimate and illegitimate…”
To illustrate his reflections, he gives a number of real-life examples from Algeria and analyses exposed “scandals”, the logic behind their trials, and the verdicts reached against their protagonists.
In investigating corruption in Algeria, Rachid Sidi Boumedine (2) wonders about what could be defined as corruption. He notes that one culturally distinguishes between corruption and bribes, commonly called “tchippa” or “qahwa,” that is, money ordinary citizens pay to buy access to services (mundane, occasionally) or any other goods, though already granted by virtue of law. One feature of a clientelist system is embodied in excessive authorised violations, starting from the highest ranks of the hierarchy, which simultaneously places the lower ranks at the mercy of executive circles, who could, in turn, punish the former for violation of the written law, if there need be.
Boumedine also notes how rentier networks function “internally”, like a clan (a family, village, affiliated community). As such, familiar arrangements of gift-exchange and mutual donations -characterised by their binding and impactful nature- create a favoured system of rights and obligations in society. Such principles consolidate a clientelist system by creating, nourishing, and sustaining reciprocal obligations among its members. He also claims that the system in Algeria has become neo-patrimonial.
This configuration of looting and corruption thus draws upon social acceptance for sustenance. As such, at least in part, it is not considered as theft carried out at the expense of the larger public. Such ideological design –which legitimises looting, whereby the latter is an act directed against an anonymous, undefined, long-hated state after all– thus becomes a gateway to a new social paradigm. He illustrates the question through describing those recurring handouts to the “poor”, or housing opportunities delivered in accordance with ever-contested lists – fashioned along surreptitious criteria. These operations further plunge their beneficiaries into that recognised mire of a clearly unjust system. It is a system that benefits whoever knows their way around maintaining good relations with network agents, ensuring access to those lists.
In their cowritten article reviewed by writer Omar Aljaffal (3), researchers Mohsin Ahmad Ali (4) and Abdul Rahman Al-Mashhadani (5) consider how the 2003 US occupation of Iraq –which toppled the political regime, dismantled the foundations of the state, reformulating them in accordance with US visions and under the administration of the “American civil governor of Iraq”, Paul Bremer– resulted in the transformation of corruption from a manageable and resistible phenomenon into a system protected by laws and legislations. It was thus turned into a daily practice protected by force of weapons, media, platforms, and religious fatwas.
The writers see the destruction of the public sector in the monopolisation of secure jobs by the ruling power and its parties. Those jobs are thus used as a card to purchase voter power in parliamentarian elections, whereby parties promise their supporters and clans jobs in return for their electoral vote. Subsequently, the number of government employees would reach 4.5 million, as opposed to 880 thousand employees in 2003. The two researchers claim that corruption developed and transformed into an “acceptable” social phenomenon after 2003, accompanied by a political shift towards a market economy led by political parties that landed with the occupier and/or emerged after 2003. Those parties have sectarian and racist agendas. Those parties ratified regulations and laws that furthered their interests, such as the “Jihad military service” – for people who had established organisations of armed resistance against Saddam Hussein’s regime and for “political prisoners”. As such, we do not stand before one type of corruption only (which manifests in bribery, among other illegal activity), but also before corruption protected by a legal framework that includes a larger range of different economic activities, subsequently rendering the country’s riches into material up for grabs to those in power and control, inside and outside Iraq. Between 2003 and 2018, financial crimes hit unprecedented records while financial waste surpassed $350 billion. The two researchers also affirm a close connection between intensified and aggravated corruption and external factors that instigate and encourage it. Many cases of corruption are thus entwined with external objectives abroad. Their article tackles manifestations of corruption throughout Iraq and its sectors, as well as those tools used by the ruling power to perpetuate its rule and those it uses to appease society.
Overall, research on corruption faces various challenges, some of which are obstructive indeed. Those include lack of published data, prohibited access to documents, lack of documentation in the first place, mistrust in researchers, and the potential harm that threatens the latter should their research be published. Additionally, research faces challenges that pertain to researchers themselves, from sticking to one familiar methodology they are prone to reproduce, to the scarcity of institutions capable of embracing and supporting them, or lack thereof, to competing over whatever little is available, all the way to declining intellectual standards and knowledge in general, and so on.
Ultimately, the endeavour we undertake here goes with an unexhausted obsession with searching and trying. It questions the way existing powers rule our countries. Along with the contributing researchers, Assafir Al-Arabi thus hopes to have tackled some of the aspects that could answer such a fundamental question.
1- Daho Djerbal is a historian. He teaches contemporary history at the University of Algiers 2. Besides his extensive research on economic and social history, he studies the relationship between history and memory. He has been the director of Naqd publication, a review of social studies and critique, since 1993. 2- Rachid Sidi Boumediene is both scientist and sociologist. He published a number of books and articles throughout his career as academic and consultant in both Algeria and abroad. 3- Iraqi poet and writer. He recently worked on a project that analysed Basrah’s local government in Iraq, as part of a “conflict resolution studies program” at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He received the Mostafa Husseini Prize for young journalists in 2017. 4- Professor of political economy at the University of Basrah. 5- Senior lecturer at Al Iraqia University, specialised
More than three billion people live in agricultural areas with high levels of water shortages and scarcity, the UN agriculture agency said in a new report launched on Wednesday.
The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) flagship report, noted that available freshwater resources have declined globally by more than 20 per cent per person over the past two decades, underscoring the importance of producing more with less, especially in the agriculture sector – the world’s largest user of water.
“With this report, FAO is sending a strong message: Water shortages and scarcity in agriculture must be addressed immediately and boldly if our pledge to achieve the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] is to be taken seriously”, emphasized FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in the foreword of the report.
Paths for action
From investing in water-harvesting and conservation in rainfed areas to rehabilitating and modernizing sustainable irrigation systems in irrigated areas, actions must be combined with best agronomic practices, the report stressed.
These could involve adopting drought-tolerant crop varieties and improving water management tools – including effective water pricing and allocation, such as water rights and quotas – to ensure equitable and sustainable access.
However, effective management strategy must start with water accounting and auditing.
Mapping the SDG target
Achieving the internationally agreed SDG pledges, including the zero hunger, “is still achievable”, maintains the SOFA report, but only by ensuring more productive and sustainable use of freshwater and rainwater in agriculture, which accounts for more than 70 per cent of global water withdrawals.
Against the backdrop that FAO oversees the SDG indicator that measures human activities on natural freshwater resources, the report offers the first spatially disaggregated representation of how things stand today. Meshed with historical drought frequency data, this provides a more holistic assessment of water constraints in food production.
SOFA reveals that some 11 per cent of the world’s rainfed cropland faces frequent drought, as does about 14 per cent of pastureland.
Meanwhile, more than 60 per cent of irrigated cropland is water-stressed and 11 countries, all in Northern Africa and Asia, need to urgently adopt sound water accounting, clear allocation, modern technologies and to shift to less thirsty crops.
Did you know?
Total water withdrawals per capita are highest in Central Asia.
In least developed countries, 74 per cent of rural people do not have access to safe drinking water.
While 91 countries have national rural drinking water plans, only nine have implementation funds.
Around 41 per cent of global irrigation impacts the environmental flow requirements that are essential for life-supporting ecosystems.
Biofuels require 70 to 400 times more water than do the fossil fuels they replace.
As important sources of water vapor for downwind areas, forests such as in the Amazon, Congo and Yangtze river basins are crucial to rainfed agriculture.
Although “the inherent characteristics of water make it difficult to manage”, the SOFA report upholds that it “be recognized as an economic good that has a value and a price”.
“At the same time, policy and governance support to ensure efficient, equitable and sustainable access for all is essential”.
Noting that the rural poor can benefit substantially from irrigation, the report recommends that water management plans be “problem-focused and dynamic”.
Despite that water markets selling water rights are relatively rare, SOFA says that when water accounting is well performed, rights well established and beneficiaries and managing institutions participating, regulated water markets can provide equitable allotments while promoting conservation.
Nearly 230,000 tonnes of plastic is dumped into the Mediterranean Sea every year, a figure which could more than double by 2040 unless “ambitious” steps are taken, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature said Tuesday.
Egypt, Italy and Turkey are the countries that release the most plastic into the sea, mainly due to large coastal populations and huge amounts of “mismanaged waste,” an IUCN report found.
But on a per capita basis Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia have the highest levels of plastic waste leakage into the Mediterranean.
The report, called “Mare Plasticum: The Mediterranean”, estimates that over one million tonnes of plastic have already accumulated in the Mediterranean Sea.
“An estimated 229,000 tonnes of plastic –- equivalent to over 500 shipping containers –- are leaking into the Mediterranean Sea every year,” said the report, blaming “mismanaged waste” for 94 percent of the total plastic leakage.
Under a “business as usual” scenario, this figure will reach 500,000 tonnes per year by 2040, which is why “ambitious interventions beyond current commitments will be required to reduce the flow of plastic into the sea”.
Minna Epps, the director of the IUCN’s marine programme, warned that “plastic pollution can cause long-term damage to terrestrial and marine ecosystems and biodiversity.”
“Marine animals can get entangled or swallow plastic waste, and ultimately end up dying from exhaustion and starvation,” he added.
Over 50,000 tonnes of plastic leakage into the Mediterranean could be avoided each year if waste management was improved in the top 100 contributing cities alone, the report said.
A ban on plastic bags in the Mediterranean Sea basin region would further reduce plastic leakage into the sea by another 50,000 tonnes per year.
“Governments, private sector, research institutions and other industries and consumers need to work collaboratively to redesign processes and supply chains, invest in innovation and adopt sustainable consumption patterns and improved waste management practices to close the plastic tap,” said Antonio Troya, head of the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation which is based in Malaga, southern Spain.
The Ethiopian-Egyptian Water War Has Begun by Ayenat Mersie | September 22, 2020
It took only a few weeks to plan the cyberattack—and a few more to abandon the world of ethical hacking for the less noble sort. But they would do anything for the Nile, the four young Egyptians agreed.
With that, the group calling themselves the Cyber_Horus Group in late June hacked more than a dozen Ethiopian government sites, replacing each page with their own creation: an image of a skeleton pharaoh, clutching a scythe in one hand and a scimitar in the other. “If the river’s level drops, let all the Pharaoh’s soldiers hurry,” warned a message underneath. “Prepare the Ethiopian people for the wrath of the Pharaohs.
“There is more power than weapons,” one of the hackers, who asked not to be identified by name, told Foreign Policy. Also, it was a pretty easy job, the hacker added.
A few weeks later and thousands of miles away, a 21-year-old Ethiopian named Liz applied red lipstick and donned a black T-shirt and jeans. She positioned her phone on her desk and started her own kind of online influence campaign: a TikTok video. She danced to a popular Egyptian song underneath the message, “Distracting the Egyptians while we fill the dam.”
“There’s no other country that can stop us,” said Liz, who has more than 70,000 followers on the app and whose taunting video was met with praise and threats. “It’s our right.”
Rarely have young people been so passionate about an infrastructure project. But the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will be Africa’s largest, is more than just a piece of infrastructure. It has become a nationalistic rallying cry for both Ethiopia and Egypt—two countries scrambling to define their nationhood after years of domestic upheaval. Many Ethiopians and Egyptians are getting involved in the only way they can—online—and fomenting the first African cyberconflict of its kind, one with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.
Construction of the dam, which was first dreamed up in the 1960s, started in April 2011, weeks after the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Even then, the online tensions between Ethiopians and Egyptians were palpable in the comments sections of seemingly every article about the dam. The discord soon even spilled over into the world of reviews: Today, there are several entries for the GERD on Google Maps, most earning middling 3 to 4 stars ratings, buoyed by five-star ratings with feedback such as, “One of the great architectural dam in the World!” but weighed down by one-star complaints including, “You’re gonna make us die from thirst.
”Many Ethiopians and Egyptians are getting involved in the only way they can—online—and fomenting the first African cyberconflict of its kind.
Tensions escalated this year, as the U.S.-brokered negotiations between Ethiopia and Egypt unraveled and new talks mediated by the African Union began. Two issues are at the core: what will happen during a drought and what will happen during a dispute. In terms of the former, Egypt wants the pace of the reservoir filling to be dependent on rains, to ensure a minimum flow if there’s a drought; Ethiopia says such a guarantee is unacceptable. And in terms of disputes, Egypt and Sudan want a resolution mechanism with binding results, but Ethiopia doesn’t.
Construction of the dam was completed in July, and the filling of its reservoir started soon after amid heavy rains but before an agreement between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan was signed. The U.S. government, a top source of aid for both Ethiopia and Egypt, said in August that it would halt some aid to Ethiopia over what it saw as a unilateral move to progress with the dam.
At the beginning of the year, when Ethiopia’s water minister was asked in a press conference who would control the dam once complete, he looked surprised before responding with a curt, “It’s my dam.” Ethiopians across social media, including Liz, adopted his response as a mantra and hashtag, urging their government to move forward with the project. Some have gone further, saying that the dam should be filled regardless of downstream countries’ positions: One Twitter user wrote, for example, “There is no need of negotiations with crafty Egypt.”
Egyptians online retorted with pleas using the hashtag #Nile4All and threats such as “I proudly volunteer to join my Egyptian army to demolish Ethiopia and its dam,” using hashtags such as #EgyptNileRights.
Social media users from the two countries frequently collide on the Internet, but seem to do so most often on Adel el-Adawy’s Twitter page: As a member of a prominent Egyptian political dynasty, a professor at the American University in Cairo, and the most visible disseminator of the Egyptian perspective on the dam in English, he has amassed a significant following. Adawy, whose pinned tweet is a picture of himself shaking hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, posts frequently about the Nile and Ethiopian affairs, especially when things get sticky.
At the end of June, when Hachalu Hundessa, a popular activist-singer of Ethiopia’s historically marginalized Oromo ethnic group, was killed, the country descended into chaos. Hundreds were killed as protests were either met with state violence or descended into mob violence. Adawy posted frequently, underscoring the fractious situation but also fomenting alarmism, such as when he posted that frustrated Ethiopians were privately asking Egypt to overthrow the Ethiopian government. Soon after one such post, he was bombarded, he said.
“I got around 500 or 600 friend requests on Facebook by Ethiopian accounts. I got messages with insults.… I got people sending me certain links, of course I didn’t open any of them,” he said. Many of the accounts seemed hollow, with little information contained in them. “Getting within an hour or two 600 friend requests is not normal.”
Even on Twitter, some of the engagement on Adawy’s posts comes from suspicious accounts; they lack followers, were recently created, have number-filled usernames, or only post about the dam. But it’s still unclear the extent of coordination or who might be the coordinator.
“It only means one thing. It means we should expect this more and more.”
It’s possible that the engagement is coming from concerned Ethiopians at home and abroad, at the encouragement but not the behest of Ethiopian officials. “I have friends who joined Twitter just for the sake of this. It’s highly emotional and nationalistic,” said Endalkachew Chala, an Ethiopian communications professor at Hamline University in Minnesota.
The Ethiopian government does broadly engage in “computational propaganda,” according to a 2019 report from the Oxford Internet Institute. Agencies there use human-run social media accounts to spread pro-government propaganda, attack the opposition, and troll users. The same goes for the Egyptian government.
Though there is no evidence yet that either government was involved in coordinated social media attacks or in the Cyber_Horus hack, the activity from the past few months still represents a milestone. It has marked the first known time these kinds of digital tools have been used by people from one African country against people from another, said Gilbert Nyandeje, founder and CEO of the Africa Cyber Defense Forum. “It only means one thing. It means we should expect this more and more.”
At their core, all the online attacks, hacks, and discord are driven by the same force: nationalism. For both countries—Egypt since the 2011 fall of Mubarak and Ethiopia since the 2012 death of strongman Prime Minister Meles Zenawi—national identity has been in flux.
Egypt’s Sisi has anchored his legitimacy on a nationalistic platform. At its core has been an emphasis on national security, rounded out by megaprojects such as the Suez Canal expansion and the construction of a new administrative capital city. But at the core of Egyptian identity is the Nile, so bolstering nationalism means defending the Nile, too. And officials have encouraged this outlook: One sleekly produced video shared on Facebook by the Ministry of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs warned, “More than 40 million Egyptians are facing the threat of drought and thirst.… The cause of water shortage is Ethiopia building a dam five times bigger than its needs.
”At their core, all the online attacks, hacks, and discord are driven by the same force: nationalism.
It has been a show of vulnerability rare in Arab power politics. But the strategy has helped garner global sympathy for Egypt, even as its Nile claims are framed by Ethiopia as the result of unjust colonial-era agreements in which Egypt’s interests were represented by British colonizers.
Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been unable to manage competing nationalist sentiments growing among different ethnic groups. Abiy came to power in 2018 thanks to a wave of protests that started among young Oromos. Following decades of authoritarianism and the country’s domination by the Tigrayan minority ethnic group, Abiy promised to build bridges spanning ethnic fault lines, cultivate an inclusive nationwide identity, and open up the political space. But even at the beginning of this year, slow progress on fulfilling these promises was encouraging criticism, including from Oromos who said he was abandoning the cause.
Still, the dam provided a unifying issue around which Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds could rally. “We do have a lot of divisions—ideological, ethnic, tribal, religious,” said Chala, the Ethiopian professor. “But even though we have these bitter divisions, Ethiopians have overwhelmingly supported this Nile dam especially on social media.”
Even some of Abiy’s most outspoken critics, such as prominent Oromo activist and media mogul Jawar Mohammed, posted frequently about Ethiopia’s right to fill the dam. “Egypt & its backers should know Ethiopia will start filling #GERD in July, agreement or no agreement,” Jawar tweeted in June. Everything changed in the following days, however, after the popular singer Hachalu was killed and Jawar was arrested following accusations of inciting ethnic tensions. While other Oromo activists have echoed Jawar’s support of the dam, they have warned against losing sight of the Oromo struggle and what they regard as Abiy’s failures.
The dam provided a unifying issue around which Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds could rally.
Ethiopian officials, meanwhile, continue to encourage Ethiopians to post about the dam online and often use the #ItsMyDam hashtag in their own social media posts. This use of social media to rally around the dam has also meant that Ethiopia’s massive global diaspora can get involved, without having to worry about frequent in-country Internet shutdowns that otherwise curtail online movements there.
But nationalism creates problems. The thousands of Ethiopian refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants living in Egypt are now facing greater pressure and harassment from Egyptian citizens and authorities since the dam tensions started to heat up, said Hamdy al-Azazy, an Egyptian migrant rights activist currently in Germany. And in Ethiopia, it has meant that any domestic criticism of the dam from an environmentalist point of view—namely, that it could disrupt ecosystems and biodiversity, even within Ethiopia—is met with derision.
And for both countries, surging nationalist sentiment means that it’s harder for officials to agree to, and for the public to accept, compromise. Ethiopia, Egypt, and the quieter Sudan have actually already agreed on most items when it comes to the dam; the main sticking points now are related to dispute resolution, drought contingency plans, and future upstream projects. And yet, much of the online rhetoric remains maximalist, even rejecting items that have already been unanimously decided—such as the existence of an Ethiopian Nile dam in any form—raising the possibility that the online tensions and attacks may not subside anytime soon.
As for the hackers at Cyber_Horus, the group is already planning another attack on Ethiopia. When asked if they would reconsider if an agreement between the two countries was reached, one of the hackers said simply, “Maybe.”Ayenat Mersie is a journalist based in Nairobi.
By Clive Lipchin and Hussein Solomon• 21 August 2020
The planet is heating up fast. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East and Africa where the impacts on water security and food security can exacerbate the conflict dynamics already extant in both regions.
Between 80 and 100 million of the MENA’s (Middle East and North Africa) citizens will suffer from water stress by 2025. According to researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute who had assembled data from 1986 to 2005 and compiled over two dozen models, even under the best-case scenarios, temperatures are set to rise by 4°C across the MENA region by 2050. In 2016, the MENA region recorded its highest temperature of 54°C at Mitribah in Kuwait and Basra in Iraq saw temperatures soar to 53.9°C.
As in the Middle East, temperature increases in Africa are expected to far exceed the global norms. Hotter nights and recurrent heatwaves are expected to be the norm for those residing within 15 degrees of the Equator. In West Africa, little precipitation combined with increased evaporation has resulted in lower crop yields. In southern Africa, too, a similar phenomenon is at play with Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa looking into the abyss of an arid future. Drought and desertification in the Sahel has resulted in the United Nations labelling it as one of the most environmentally degraded regions on the planet.
This looming environmental catastrophe is made worse by massive population growth and urbanisation. In the MENA region there was a 400% growth in urbanisation between 1970 and 2010 and the pace of urbanisation between 2010 and 2050 is expected to be 200%. To put it into perspective, while 56% of the total population of 357 million MENA citizens lived in cities in 2010, by 2050, 68% of the region’s 646 million residents will live in cities.
A similar dynamic is occurring on the African continent which is expected to double its 1.1 billion population by 2050. Urbanisation is at play here too. By 2025, there will be 100 African cities with a population of more than one million inhabitants.
Given the myriad failures of governments across Africa and the Middle East to appropriately plan for this new normal, tensions have intensified within states and across regions around access to scarce water resources.
Many analysts have noted how the Syrian civil war has its roots in the environment – specifically the severe 2006-2010 drought. This compelled 1.5 million farmers to leave their land and migrate to the city. In the process, not only was food insecurity increased, but also greater political friction and social instability. In a similar fashion, the various insurgencies and recruitment into terrorist organisations in the Sahel has its roots in access to water resources and arable land.
At a regional level, it is access to water, where one starkly witnesses the political and geo-strategic dimension of environmental challenges. This is specifically true under transboundary conditions where water resources cross political borders. The transboundary nature of water makes its management inherently a political one. As the climate crisis exacerbates both Africa’s and the MENA’s water insecurity political dialogue on water is essential.
Israel and South Africa are both arid countries that are challenged by water scarcity in the face of growing demand. Most of the water for both countries is transboundary as well. South Africa’s water vulnerability is best known internationally during the 2018 water crisis in Cape Town, but the country has always been in one way or another water insecure.
Israel too faces many water challenges, specifically in the transboundary arena in terms of the continuing Israel-Palestinian conflict. The two countries can nevertheless learn from one another to improve their resilience to water vulnerability under climate change and political uncertainty.
Israel can learn from South Africa on how to innovatively solve for what many believe are intractable political complexities and South Africa can gain from Israel’s adoption of non-conventional water supplies such as desalination and wastewater reuse.
Now more than ever, there is a need for far-sighted leadership who could provide the necessary strategic thinking to mitigate the impact of climate change on scarce water resources. Inclusive and effective water governance at a domestic level is imperative while international protocols for shared river basins need to be completed at a regional level. Leveraging technology to ensure maximum use of existing water resources is also imperative.
Water is a fundamental human right and the most basic of natural resources. Through dialogue and creative thinking the myriad challenges brought on by water scarcity can be resolved. DM
Hussein Solomon is a Senior Professor: Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State. Clive Lipchin is the Director, Centre for Transboundary Water at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. On 3 September 2020 they will be hosting a joint webinar on Transboundary Water management in Southern Africa and the Middle East with experts in both regions. To register for the seminar,click here.
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