January 8, 2014

Telecom Deal by China’s ZTE, Huawei in Ethiopia Faces Criticism


Matthew Dalton


Updated Jan. 6, 2014 11:01 p.m. ET

Towers like the one pictured have spread cellphone use across Ethiopia. Matthew Dalton/The Wall Street Journal

LAKE WENCHI, Ethiopia—In the green highlands here southwest of Addis Ababa, farmers like Darara Baysa are proud owners of cellphones that run on a network built by China’s ZTE Corp. 000063.SZ +0.30%

The trouble is, they have to walk several miles to get a good signal. “The network doesn’t work well,” says Mr. Baysa, a former army sergeant, stopping on the unpaved road near his home to show his hot-pink smartphone.

Chinese telecom giant ZTE is expanding cell phone service in Ethiopia, changing how farmers do business. WSJ’s Matthew Dalton reports.

Among other troubles: Ethiopian government officials have in recent years complained to ZTE that the company’s contract for building the network requires Ethiopia to pay too much, say people familiar with the discussions.

The Ethiopian network’s glitches underline the broader troubles that sometimes face poorer nations as they borrow heavily to invest in telecommunications, roads, utilities and other infrastructure to help lift them out of poverty.

China’s financial firepower helps its firms win many of these contracts. But in agreeing to such deals, some governments appear to have flouted rules meant to foster sound public investment. When countries sidestep such rules, say experts at institutions such as the World Bank, big projects often cost more and are more likely to be poorly executed.


China’s impact has been particularly visible in telecom projects. In Ethiopia, ZTE beat out Western competitors in 2006 for a major telecom project by offering $1.5 billion in low-interest financing, funded by Chinese state-run banks.

A World Bank investigation found that the Ethiopian government appeared to ignore its own procurement rules requiring competitive bidding when it awarded the contract, which gave ZTE a monopoly on supplying telecom equipment for several years. The 2013 report also criticized Ethiopia for giving such a big project to one company and called for the country to audit the contract. It didn’t find that ZTE acted improperly.

Ethiopia ended ZTE’s monopoly in July 2013, bringing in its main Chinese rival, Huawei Technologies Co. The two companies split another big contract, for the next phase of the network’s expansion. Again, financing won the day, with the two pledging a total of $1.6 billion, people close to the negotiations say. Western equipment suppliers, such as Ericsson and Alcatel Lucent SA, ALU.FR +1.28% couldn’t match the Chinese offer, these people say.

A ZTE spokesman says it has complied with Ethiopia’s regulations. Ethiopia’s telecommunications minister and a spokesman for the state-owned telecom monopoly, Ethio Telecom, didn’t respond to queries. The World Bank report notes that Ethiopian authorities told its investigators that they invited eight companies to bid for the project.

Tony Duan, chief executive of Huawei’s Ethiopian division, says the company is “fully aware of the issues linked to poor quality telecom services and frequent interruptions of mobile networks in the country.”

Jia Chen, chief executive of ZTE’s Ethiopian business, acknowledges that the network’s service has been uneven. He blames delays in awarding the next phase of expansion, construction projects that cut telecom lines and slack maintenance by Ethio Telecom. “Maintaining the network is not our job,” he says. “We guarantee the quality of the network, but you have to guarantee our base stations get electricity.” He says ZTE must charge more in Ethiopia than elsewhere partly to offset the project loans’ large size and long repayment period of 13 years.

Ericsson and Alcatel decline to comment.

Complaints have surfaced in other developing countries about alleged overbilling, mismanagement and flouted contracting rules in telecom deals financed by Chinese state-run banks.

Kenya’s government late last year canceled a contract for a national police-communication system that was tentatively awarded to ZTE last year, with funding to come from loans pledged by China, according to Kenyan government documents. Anticorruption activists say Kenya violated its constitution by letting only Chinese firms bid on the deal, while a government review of ZTE’s bid claimed the company offered its equipment at double normal market prices.

ZTE appealed the decision to a review board, which sided with the Kenyan government: “It does not require rocket science in view of the evidence before the Board to establish that (ZTE’s) financial proposal was highly exaggerated,” according to the board’s decision, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

ZTE declines to comment. The Kenyan government didn’t respond to queries.

Uganda in 2011 canceled a $74 million contract that the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation signed with Huawei—with Export-Import Bank of China funding—saying procurement rules were flouted. Ugandan government officials didn’t respond to queries. Huawei declines to comment on the Uganda matter. The Export-Import Bank of China declines to comment for this article.

A $330 million Philippines contract with ZTE in 2007 to build a broadband network—using money from the Export-Import Bank of China—negotiated without competitive bidding, rocked the government after lawmakers alleged that ZTE inflated the project’s price to pay kickbacks to government officials.

Anticorruption prosecutors charged then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with accepting bribes to approve the deal; the trial is continuing. Ms. Arroyo canceled the contract when she was president, and her lawyer says she maintains her innocence. ZTE declines to comment, citing the ongoing legal process. In a statement to the Chinese press in 2007, ZTE said it had done nothing wrong.

Governments need competitive bidding and other controls to get the best prices and ensure projects are well-planned, says Neill Stansbury, director of London-based Global Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Centre, who contributed to the World Bank report on Ethiopia’s project.

Large loans can obscure project costs, he says: “You may end up overall, over 20 years, with a much more expensive package than you would have done buying another manufacturer’s equipment at a more expensive financing cost.”

ZTE and Huawei have grown to be two of the world’s largest telecom-equipment makers, aided by access to hefty financing that helps them outbid Western rivals.

Western companies can get loans supported by government export-finance banks. But almost all these banks, unlike China’s, have signed an agreement backed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development limiting such lending, especially to countries with debt-problem histories.

The state-owned Export-Import Bank of China and the China Development Bank finance exports and overseas projects. They provided nearly $50 billion in financing for Africa from 1995 through 2012, mostly export credits, according to estimates by Deborah Brautigam, director of the International Development Program at Johns Hopkins University. Chinese companies also get financing from state-run China Export and Credit Insurance Corp.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank has provided about $12 billion in financing for African buyers during the same period. The U.S., the European Union, China and other nations have been negotiating international guidelines on export financing that Western governments hope will restrain Chinese state-run banks.

China has had a sizable presence in Ethiopia for more than a decade, and ties between the two grew closer after Ethiopia’s disputed elections in 2005. Then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who led Ethiopia for more than 20 years until his death in 2012, began to view the West as less friendly.

He aligned Ethiopia with China, awarding ZTE the 2006 telecom deal, which was funded with loans from the Export-Import Bank and China Development Bank. China Development Bank didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A ZTE spokesman says it has built more than 2,000 cellphone transmission sites in Ethiopia and laid about 5,000 miles of fiber-optic cable in forbidding terrain. ZTE says paying cellphone users in Ethiopia have soared from around one million in 2005 to over 12 million in 2013, a seventh of the population.

The network has vastly improved quality of life for many. Cellphone service now extends across much of Ethiopia, an impoverished country whose 90 million people form one of Africa’s largest, fastest-growing markets.

In rural areas, where most live, the network has ushered in new ways of doing business.

Afework Wondimu uses his cellphone to check the price of teff, a millet-like grain used to make injera, the Ethiopian cuisine’s ubiquitous flat bread. If the price is good, he loads big bundles of teff onto donkeys and heads into town.

“Otherwise we keep it and find another way to sell it another time,” he says, as a team of oxen threshed golden piles of teff on his farm west of the capital.

Two years ago, before he got a cellphone, Mr. Baysa, the farmer with the pink phone, says he sometimes had to travel three days from his home by foot, horse and bus simply to check on friends and family.

Still, he wouldn’t mind a luxury he has heard others enjoy: phoning from bed.

Ethiopians elsewhere also complain about the network’s spottiness. In the capital of Addis Ababa, the phone network appears overburdened and is sometimes inaccessible during the day.

If the network and other infrastructure projects don’t work well, Ethiopia could see economic growth suffer and its foreign-exchange reserves depleted to repay debts, says Benedicte Vibe Christensen, an economist who was an Africa expert at the International Monetary Fund until 2009.

“If the quality of investment projects is not good, at the end of the day the risk is that foreign exchange reserves would be insufficient to repay all loans,” she says.

The Chinese loans for the 2006 project account for about 12% of Ethiopia’s nondomestic public-sector debt, according to government data. Ethio Telecom doesn’t publish financial statements. It started repaying the loan in 2010, and it has repaid around $300 million in principal, according to a person familiar with the repayment.

Financing has a cost: ZTE’s Mr. Jia says ZTE must charge Ethiopia more for its network partly because the loans are large, the repayment period is long—13 years—and ZTE is liable if Ethio Telecom doesn’t repay.

“If you just think about the price compared with the others, you think, ‘Oh, your prices are very high, then you make a lot of money,’ ” Mr. Jia says. “But you have to think: This money, I’m going to get it back in 13 years!”

The network’s uneven performance echoes worries that former Ethiopian telecom managers say they had about ZTE’s gear before it won the 2006 contract. Calls to and from ZTE-covered areas were frequently dropped, and the mobile-phone signal in those areas was so weak that people living in brick or stone houses often had to go outside to use their phones, the former managers say.

A ZTE spokesman says interconnection problems such as those the network experienced in that era are a common result of different suppliers’ equipment using the same frequency.

Some of those managers say they raised concerns about giving contracts to ZTE—and were punished for it.

The former managers say they argued that Ethiopia’s telecom operator hadn’t run a proper competitive bidding process for the 2006 ZTE contract. They say they worried the deal would make Ethiopia completely dependent on ZTE.

“We complained: It will damage the future of the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation,” says a former manager at the ETC, a predecessor to Ethio Telecom. “If we select only one company, we are going to depend on one company.”

The managers who say they raised the concerns were among two dozen employees that the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission of Ethiopia prosecuted in 2008 for violating government contracting rules, mainly for a previous contract that they awarded to Ericsson in 2005.

A court sentenced some to jail, including the former chief executive, Tesfaye Birru, who has denied the charges and remains in jail.

Senior government officials “tried to intimidate others not to speak against the Chinese company,” says the former ETC manager.

Officials at the anticorruption commission deny the prosecutions were an attempt to silence ZTE’s critics. The commission didn’t accuse the managers of personally profiting from the Ericsson deal.

The anticorruption commission says: “What is confirmed is that the defendants abused their power, violated existing rules and regulations, conspired to benefit others and caused the government to incur unnecessary costs.”

A former Ericsson manager in Ethiopia who is no longer in the country, Moncef Mettiji, says there were no improprieties involved in the 2005 contract.

—Olivia Geng contributed to this article.

Write to Matthew Dalton at


November 16, 2013

East African nations sliding back to dictatorships, lawyers warn

By David Ochami

Lawyer organisations in East Africa have warned that East African countries and Ethiopia are descending into dictatorships that seek to curtail basic constitutional freedoms including the right of the media and civil society to operate unhindered.

They cited the recent passing of oppressive laws against the media and attempts to legislate against civil society in Kenya, raids on media in Uganda and shutdown of newspapers in Tanzania to illustrate alleged evidence of receding freedoms.

“We seem to be depleting the democratic gains we have been making,” said Law Society of Kenya chairman Eric Mutua in a key note speech where he also accused East African regimes of targeting the media and embarking on a “conspiracy not to democratise these countries.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta skipped the opening of the 18th annual conference of the East Africa Law Society (EALS) in Mombasa yesterday where he was to be the main speaker.

Investment opportunities

Delegates from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia are attending the conference which among other issues will discuss constitutionalism and democracy in East Africa, lawyers’ ethics, relations among the bar, bar and executive, transparency in business.

The lawyers also intend to discuss investment opportunities in the oil and gas sectors in the region and plot how to benefit from this. The president sent his advisor on constitutional and legal affairs Mohamed Abdikadir to defend his record and tried to portray him as “a foremost believer in the rule of law” and the integration of the East African.

But the Law Society of Kenya and EALS was unrelenting in spite of Uhuru’s absence and insisted that the president and the Kenyan state have joined a trend of dictatorship they alleged has been gathering storm in the region.

New restrictions

The LSK chairman and EALS President James Mwamu said there seems to be a conspiracy by the governments in the region to impose new restrictions using similar repressive laws imposed or passed simultaneously or separately.

Mwamu warned that the regime of laws adopted by Kenya’s Parliament, the Kenyan state and its neighbours imply a reversal of freedoms and constitution that will transform the region into a rogue state like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

May 10, 2012

Ethiopia: Huge Protest planned at Camp David against Meles Zenawi

March 4 Freedom, an advocacy group for human rights and democracy in Ethiopia, said a huge rally against Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is planned during his visit to the G-8 summit in Camp David. The organizers said, the rally will be held on Saturday, May 19 at 9:00 AM.

The group said, the rally is “to further expose the atrocities committed by Mr. Zenawi‘s government on the people of Ethiopia”. It said, Meles Zenawi is among the top ten worst dictators in the world and shouldn’t be invited to attend a G-8 summit. Mr Zenawi continues to be among the top jailers of journalists and the most repressive dictators in the whole of Africa. His regime continues to unleash untold atrocity on diverse communities throughout Ethiopia in regions such as Amhara, Afar, Gambella, Ogaden, Oromiya and Southern Ethiopia, the group said in a press statement.

Earlier this month, the White House said, President Obama has invited Meles Zenawi along with three other African leaders to attend the G-8 summit to discuss about food security in the continent. The meeting of the world’s richest nations was originally scheduled for Obama’s home town of Chicago on 18-19 May, but was changed to Camp David last March. Camp David, formally known as the Naval Support Facility Thurmont, Camp David is the country retreat of the President of the United States and his guests. It is located in low wooded hills about 100 kilometers (62 mi) north-northwest of Washington, D.C in the state of Maryland. The high-security venue is expected to shield G8 delegates from protesters.

Free transportation is provided by the organizers to head to Camp David from DC area. Anyone interested to join the rally is encouraged to visit

May 3, 2012

Ethiopians in Stockholm Protested against Neo-Colonialism

Ethiopians who reside in Sweden protested against land grab, the eviction of natives from their land, the imprisonments of journalists and opposition parties leaders by the ruling TPLF’s regime in Ethiopia. They demand donor EU member countries and others to stop supporting dictatorial regime in Ethiopia. To date, over 200 opposition parties members and journalists including two Swedish journalists were imprisoned and charged since March 2011 under the guise of the sweeping Anti-Terror law. The Ethiopian protesters urged for immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and journalists in Ethiopia.

May 13, 2011

opposition supporters attack African leaders at the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni

Filed under: Africa,Uganda — ethiopiantimes @ 7:36 am
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A government spokesman confirmed at least one death in the capital, Kampala, on Thursday. But local independent TV station WBS reported that five had died when police opened fire on opposition supporters who threw stones at the cars.

The vehicles included a convoy carrying Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president.

“As they came past, protesters threw stones [and] smashed some of the windows,” Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb reported from Kampala on Thursday. “When police moved in to disperse those protesters, somebody was shot.”

Museveni, who has held power for 25 years, was sworn in for a fourth term after winning elections that opposition parties said were rigged.

Since the vote, opposition leaders including Kizza Besigye have led a series of protests against high food and fuel prices.

At the same time as the inauguration, a crowd of thousands supporting Besigye had gathered in the capital to welcome him back to Uganda from Kenya.

The crowd began to flee as police used teargas and water cannons to scatter them. Police said they had to move in after crowds started throwing stones at vehicles carrying guests at the inauguration.

“The crowd was dispersed by police and soldiers. They fired tear gas and water cannons and chased people away with sticks,” Al Jazeera’s Webb said.

Soon after, however, Besigye’s supporters regrouped and continued to march toward the capital.

Leaders of Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, DRC, Somalia and South Sudan were all present for the inauguration.

Elections challenged

Thursday’s ceremony marked Museveni’s fourth swearing in as Uganda’s president, after promising in 2001 to retire from politics.

According to official results from last February’s election, Besigye, 55, won 26 per cent of the vote, while Museveni, 62, took 68 per cent.

But Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) says the results were falsified, and that both candidates received just under 50 per cent of the vote, an outcome that would have required a run-off.

Museveni has accused the opposition of trying to spread chaos in response to its loss in the election, saying on Tuesday that he planned to introduce constitutional amendments that would see bail prohibited for
certain charges, including rioting and economic sabotage.

Besigye and other opposition politicians have been released on bail after recent protest-related arrests.

The opposition figure had been in Kenya seeking treatment for injuries he suffered in a series of demonstrations against rising food and fuel prices.

Besigye was first taken to hospital in Kampala at the end of April after Ugandan police smashed the windows of his car and sprayed him with tear gas in an incident caught on camera. He was then transferred to a Nairobi hospital.

He told Al Jazeera at the time that he remained committed to non-violent protest

Dictators Attend the Dictator’s inauguration

Filed under: Africa,Congo,Eritrea,Ethiopia,Kenya,Uganda — ethiopiantimes @ 6:59 am
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President Goodluck Jonathan was yesterday caught in the web of the political crisis in Uganda.

One person was shot dead as police retaliated after missiles were thrown at the vehicle Jonathan was travelling in, on his way to the airport. He was returning to Abuja from Kampala after attending the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni for a fourth term.

After 25 years in power, Museveni last February won a fourth term of five years amid protest over the outcome of the poll by opposition leader Kizza Besigye.

Besigye’s return home from Kenya where he went for treatment after being attacked by the police coincided with Museveni’s inauguration.

Police fired teargas and live bullets at protesting supporters of Besigye, who thronged the Entebbe Airport. They also used water canon to scatter the protesters.

“As they came past, protesters threw stones (and) smashed some of the windows,” of the cars in Jonathan’s convoy, according to the satellite television station Al Jazeera, which added: “When police moved in to disperse those protesters, somebody was shot.”

Apart from Jonathan, seven other heads of state and government from Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and South Sudan attended Museveni’s inauguration.

“The crowd was dispersed by police and soldiers. They fired tear gas and water canons and chased people away with sticks,” the report added. Soon after, however, Besigye’s supporters regrouped and continued a march toward the capital.

Yesterday’s ceremony marked Museveni’s fourth swearing in as Uganda’s president, after promising in 2001 to retire from politics.

According to official results from February’s election, Besigye, 55, won 26 per cent of the vote. Museveni, 62, took 68 per cent.

But Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) said the results were falsified, and that both candidates received just under 50 per cent of the vote, an outcome that would have required a run-off.

Museveni accused the opposition of trying to spread chaos in response to its loss in the election, saying that he planned to introduce constitutional amendments that would see bail prohibited for certain charges, including rioting and economic sabotage.

Besigye and other opposition politicians had been released on bail after recent protest-related arrests.

Besigye, who was Museveni’s personal physician, went to Kenya to treat the injuries he suffered from a series of demonstrations against rising food and fuel prices, which left at least five people dead.

He was first taken to a hospital in Kampala at the end of April after Ugandan police smashed the windows of his car and sprayed him with tear gas in an incident caught on camera. He was then transferred to a Nairobi hospital.

Besigye’s drive along the 20-mile (35 kilometer) route from the airport into Kampala took several hours along a road line with security forces.

Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said authorities wanted Besigye to use a different route but that he refused.

“They have inconvenienced many people, including those supposed to catch their flights,” she said.

Besigye over the last month has been leading “walk to work” protests over the rising cost of food and fuel and government corruption.

May 12, 2011

Ethiopia and Uganda to build four new dams in 2011

Filed under: Egypt,Ethiopia,Uganda — ethiopiantimes @ 7:18 am
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Ehtiopia and Uganda plan to build a total of four dams during 2011, to be located on both the White Nile and Blue Nile.

Official reports from Ethiopia say the country plans to build two new dams on the Blue Nile this year, in addition to the Renaissance Dam announced previously, which would be built 40 km away from the Sudanese border at an estimated cost of US$4.7 billion. Five companies, including two from Norway, one from England and one from Italy, have submitted bids for the construction of the two dams.

The Ethiopian deputy prime minister has said that the construction of the Renaissance Dam will not be delayed by the postponement of the ratification of the Nile Basin framework agreement, and that the country’s stance on the agreement has not changed.

Meanwhile, the Ugandan ambassador to Addis Ababa said that his country also plans to build a dam on the White Nile to produce electro-hydraulic power. He praised the Renaissance Dam and said that those who oppose its construction are against development.

Translated from the Arabic Edition

May 11, 2011

Besigye stuck at Jomo Kenyatta Airport

Filed under: Uganda — ethiopiantimes @ 8:07 am
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Opposition leader, Dr Kizza Besigye, is stuck at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Kenya after he was stopped from boarding a Kenya Airways flight to Uganda Wednesday morning.

Sources tell Daily Monitor that the airline’s officials approached Dr Besigye and claimed they were informed by Ugandan authorities that if he was on board the morning flight the aircraft would not be allowed to land at Entebbe International Airport, 40 km outside Kampala.

The Ugandan government however denied any such communication. When contacted Internal Affairs Minister Kirunda Kivejinja said the government can’t act crudely “and that Uganda doesn’t have any authority on Kenya Airways flights.”
“If we managed to allow him to leave, how can we stop him from coming back? We had all the powers to stop him from going there after all,” Mr Kivejinja said.

The opposition leader has been receiving treatment at Nairobi Hospital for multiple injuries sustained when security personnel attacked him on April 28 as he tried to drive into Kampala City.

He has now pitched camp in the Kenya government lounge of the JKIA departures lounge and is demanding an official and written explanation from Kenya Airways.

In Parliament, Yatta MP Charles Kilonzo claimed that the Kenyan government was returning a favour to its Ugandan counterpart by preventing Dr Besigye from boarding the flight.

“What has shocked us today is that the Kenyan government has refused to let Dr Besigye fly back to his country. Under what law can the Kenya government detain Dr Besigye?” Mr Kilonozo asked.

He spoke as he contributed to a motion by Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba of ODM seeking to establish a special committee of MPs to investigate the cause of the increase in food and fuel prices.

Mr Kilonzo accused Kenya working to protect President Museveni from planned protests by Dr Besigye and other organisers of the “walk-to-work” campaign he leads.

The latest development is yet another twist to the saga which has characterized the Uganda government’s heavy-handed clamp-down on the walk-to-work protests against high fuel prices and the rising cost of living.

Dr Besigye is one of hundreds of people who have been wounded in confrontations with the police and army that have left at least nine people dead from gunshot wounds.

Police had on Tuesday indicated that they would allow Dr Besigye to enter the country but drive from Entebbe in a convoy of not more than three vehicles escorted by police.

May 7, 2011

If Egypt is gift of the Nile then Nile is gift of Ethiopia

Filed under: Egypt,Ethiopia,Kenya,Uganda — ethiopiantimes @ 7:02 pm
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The giggles started when the seventh journalist in a row said that his question was for Egypt’s water and irrigation minister, Mohamed Nasreddin Allam.

The non-Egyptian media gave him a bit of a hammering at last week’s talks in Addis Ababa for the nine countries that the Nile passes through.

Allam bared his teeth when a Kenyan journalist accused him of hiding behind “colonial-era treaties” giving his country the brunt of the river’s vital waters whether that hurt the poorer upstream countries or not.

“You obviously don’t know enough about this subject to be asking questions about it,” he snapped before later apologising to her with a kiss on the cheek.

Five of the nine Nile countries — Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya — last month signed a deal to share the water that is a crucial resource for all of them. But Egypt and Sudan, who are entitled to most of the water and can veto upstream dams under a 1929 British-brokered agreement, refused.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi have not signed yet either and analysts are divided on whether they will or not. Six Nile countries must sign the agreement for it to have any power but Egypt says even that wouldn’t change its mind. The five signatories — some of the world’s poorest countries — have left the agreement open for debating and possible signing for up to a year.

Tensions were clearly still running high after two days of negotiations in Addis and despite grinning around the table and constantly referring to each other as “my brother”, the ministers always seemed in danger of breaking into bickering.

When the Sudanese water minister said his country was freezing cooperation with the Nile Basin Initiative — the name given to the ten-year effort to agree on how to manage the river — Ethiopia’s water minister loudly protested to the media that his Sudanese colleague had not revealed that during their private meetings.

Highlighting the seriousness of the issue, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Abul Naga, arrived in Addis Ababaon Wednesday to again meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

It’s no surprise that the spat is getting a lot of press in both Ethiopia and Egypt.

“Egypt is a gift of the Nile,” people like to say in a country that worshipped the river as a God in ancient times. “If Egypt is a gift of the Nile, then the Nile is a gift of Ethiopia,” Ethiopians shoot back with growing confidence.

And they have a point. More than 85 percent of the waters originate in Ethiopia, which relies on foreign aid for survival and sees hydropower dams as a potential cash cow and central to its plans to become one of Africa’s only power exporters.

But Egypt is not for turning. Almost totally dependent on the Nile for its agricultural output (a third of its economy) and already worried about climate change, it is determined to hold onto its 55.5 billion cubic metres of water a year, a seemingly unfair share of the Nile’s total flow of 84 billion cubic metres.

The Egyptians point out that they don’t benefit from rains like the upstream countries. Everybody, it seems, has valid points. Nobody is budging. Now some regional analysts are even saying the row could turn into the world’s first major water war and similar thoughts are being expressed in cafes from Cairo all the way upriver to Dar es Salaam.

So what next? The nine countries are due to meet again in Nairobi sometime between September and November. But where is the way forward? Who will blink first? And who really should? Could this bickering turn violent?

May 4, 2011

Uganda: Repression Deepens

Filed under: Uganda — ethiopiantimes @ 10:03 pm
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While most of us have been watching Pakistan, bin Laden and violence in northern Nigeria, popular opposition to the Museveni government in Uganda has been growing, resulting in more official repression. Last week, there were anti-government demonstrations in the economic and commercial capital of Kampala, with the press reporting five dead and well over one hundred injured. At least some of the deaths were the result of police shooting point-blank into the crowds. Today, the Uganda Law Society, a membership organization representing the country’s lawyers, declared a three day sit-in at Kampala’s High Court building to protest the recent police violence.

Meanwhile, the Museveni government has jailed prominent opposition leader Kizza Besigye five times over the last two months. In order to call domestic and international attention to his plight, some thirty of his supporters attempted to take him food last week. (In African jails, families frequently provide food to inmates.) They were stopped by the authorities, leading to a violent confrontation. As nearly always, the police were the winners.

Uganda (or parts of it) appears to be seething. Museveni is a wily politician who in the past was the darling of the West, if no more, as he has become more repressive and his intervention in the eastern Congo more destructive. After some twenty five years in power and displaying the characteristics of a Big Man, it remains to be seen whether repression and his mastery of ethnic divide and conquer tactics will be enough for him to ride out the current storm. Watch this space.
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