Insights Newsletter

Renewed talks on controversial Ethiopian dam

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan renewed talks on the Grand Renaissance Dam being built by the Addis Ababa government on the Nile River. Both downstream countries are concerned they could be deprived of vital water resources.

Egypt’s objection has been particularly vehement but failed to deter Ethiopia from going ahead with the dam project, raising the spectre of a war breaking out between the two countries. Last month, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Egyptian leader, Abdel Fattah el Sisi announced that they hoped to reach a final settlement within four months on how the dam built at $4.6 billion will be operated in the best interest of all the Nile countries.

The Nile River takes its source from Ethiopia as the Blue Nile, meeting the White Nile in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, before heading through Egypt to empty in the Mediterranean Sea via the Nile Delta. Through millennia, the Nile has remained as vital to the three countries as it ever was. More than 80 percent of the Nile’s waters flow out of Ethiopia.

The Renaissance Dam is Abiy Ahmed’s signature project, signifying his intentions to build Ethiopia into a strong economy with an eye on the future. As the dispute with Egypt raged, former President Donald Trump tried to persuade Ethiopia to step down the project, a suggestion that was rejected by Ahmed’s government.

The latest round of talks indicates that the objecting countries appear to have accepted the inevitability of the dam, with negotiations now focussed on ensuring the fair use of water and addressing the concerns of the downstream countries. With a population of about 100 million each, Egypt and Ethiopia are the top two populous countries in Africa after Nigeria.

Even without an agreement, Ethiopia had begun filling the dam. Both Sudan and Egypt are seeking guarantees that the dam won’t threaten their water supply and agriculture. Providing those guarantees may be the only way to head off a potential armed conflict over water.

BRICS meeting in South Africa

The much-anticipated meeting of the BRICS group of countries ended in South Africa with the expected moves toward expansion.

Six countries – Egypt, Argentina. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Iran – were invited to join. The sizes and the varieties of the newcomers point to the future ambitions and direction of the grouping that first brought together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The new members are mostly either medium powers or countries with the potential to become one.  But the significance of the world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic Republic of Iran (a major oil exporter and for of the West) joining, may not be lost on the North Atlantic Treaty alliance as part of continuing efforts to fashion an alternative to the Western world order.

It just adds to the concerns generated by the teaming up of two of the world’s most populous countries with some of the most resource-rich ones to explore economic cooperation from a different perspective.

For Africa, the invitation of Egypt and Ethiopia may represent its early birds, with more countries likely to join in the future.  Many African countries are struggling with the choice of staying with the West, an old exploitative friend and making new friends that might evolve into monsters that will gobble them up.

Airlines reroute flights over Niger airspace closure

Airlines travelling through Africa are having to make detours to avoid Niger’s closed airspace, adding more hours and costs for passengers.

Particularly hit are flights to and from the western, central and southwestern parts of the continent, originating mostly from Europe. Flights by mainly European airlines to these regions are avoiding the shortest distances and making detours to either the west or the east of the continent to avoid Niger, which has one of the largest territories in the African continent, most of it covered by the Sahara Desert.

Flight tracking website, FlightAware, shows Lufthansa flights to Ghana and Nigeria detouring towards the Algeria-Morocco border after crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The path then takes it into part of Mauritania before flying through the border areas abutting Senegal, Mali and Guinea to fly across the north of Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Benin into the Nigerian capital, Abuja. This extended a usual six and a half hours flight to eight-and-a-half hours.

Fares have also shot up, adding anything from $500 to $2,000 more to tickets originating from the affected parts of Africa for trips to other parts of the world.

Which way Niger?

The situation in the West African state of Niger, where a military junta seized power on July 26, remains both critical and delicate, with the rival sides digging deeper into their positions.

The junta led by Abubakar Tchiani put the country’s military on the highest state of alert this week and gave the French ambassador Sylvain Itte until last Sunday to leave the country. French President Emmanuel Macron dismissed the order from “an illegitimate” regime, saying the ambassador would stay put. France has the backing of the U.S., with its new ambassador to Niger, Kathleen Fitzgibbons, refusing to present her credentials to the new regime. 

The longer the Tchiani regime lasts, the more likely it seems the West may be tempted to apply some form of military intervention to restore constitutional rule (and allied, though unpopular regime) given the geopolitical and strategic interests at stake. Such an intervention will need to be swift and successful to avoid descending into a prolonged and intractable war because of the backers of the coup.

The West needs the regional body Ecowas to spearhead such an intervention, as happened in Ivory Coast against Laurent Gbagbo in 2010, to avoid the bad optics of a former colonial ruler trying to impose its will in a country it supposedly set free six decades ago. But with a divided Ecowas and serious resistance against intervention in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, Ecowas and its current chairman, President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria, appear severely hamstrung.

Some 1,500 French troops are currently stationed in the capital Niamey, where France’s ambassador has dug in after refusing the junta’s order to leave. The junta has responded by cutting off utility supplies to the house, putting her more or less under house arrest. This testy situation is a potential trigger for military intervention by France to restore Bazoum, its trusted ally, to power.

Prigozhin, Wagner and Africa

It was a day after Yevgeny Prighozin appeared in a recruitment video asking for fighters to help “liberate Africa” that he died in a fiery plane crash outside Moscow.

Accidents do happen, of course. But there’s a widespread belief that Prighozin paid the price for his attempted march on Moscow and his criticism of Russian defence officials.

So, where does that leave the Wagner Group’s Africa project – which consists primarily of spooking Western alliances in the continent, unwinding them and cutting off what it considers to be the sources of cheap resources that make the NATO alliance strong. That project appears to remain intact and appears more likely to fall into firmer control of the Kremlin than used to be the case under Prighozin.

Following Prighozin’s demise, Putin has assured those countries where the Wagner group is present that the private military company will keep faith with its contracts. This includes Niger.

Coup in Gabon: Will Wagner show up?

The military in the Gulf of Guinea country Gabon announced it had seized power on August 29, four days after controversial elections that returned Ali Bongo as president.

That vote had narrowed the choice of the electorate to only candidates running in the president’s party, leading to opposition protests against a rigged vote. Bongo, was first elected in 2009 as a successor to his father Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for four decades.

The coup, the right in west and central Africa in the past five years, follows one a month ago in Niger as well as previous ones in Mali and Burkina Faso. All three were marked by the support they got from the Russian mercenary company, the Wagner Group, raising concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions for Africa.

The question on many lips across Africa and beyond is whether this is another Wagner coup. Even if not, will Wagner show up, as they have done in several former French colonies in Africa (Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger) to present themselves as liberators of Africa from the French?

Gabon (like most former French colonies in Africa) is one of those countries where the leadership and the elite are very close to Paris, with French companies controlling the commanding heights of the economy. Gabon is rich in hydrocarbons and manganese and Bongo has signed many deals with French companies to exploit these and other resources. All these could be at risk with a government looking askance at France in charge in Libreville, Gabon’s capital. 

And worse might happen if Wagner shows up. That in itself won’t be unexpected given Russia’s apparent strategy of disrupting supplies of cheaper and alternative sources of key resources (energy and raw materials ) for members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization opposing its military intervention in Ukraine.

Zambia’s annual inflation jumped to an 18-year high of 10.8% in August; Kenya’s fell to 6.7%, the lowest in 16 years;  Uganda’s at 3.5% is the lowest since February.

Ghana will swap US$4 billion of local debt in a deal aimed at meeting bailout terms set by the International Monetary Fund.


September 4                             Africa Climate Summit starts in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

September 5                              South Africa, Kenya,  Uganda, Zambia, Ghana and Mozambique to release Purchasing Managers’ Index reports

South Africa to release second-quarter GDP data.

September 6                            Nigeria to release data on second-quarter trade balance.

September 7                       

Mauritius, and South Africa to release financial reserves data.

Seychelles to announce August inflation figures.

September 8                          Tanzania and Mauritius to release August inflation data.

Insights Newsletter is published by Afrika Insights, an Ontario, Canada-based business advisory and publishing firm. Email:

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