16 February 2018

Central Africa: Chad - the Drying Up of the Lake, Seeing Global Warming Up Close

Photo: J. Baker Hill/UNEP
Lake Chad today is a remnant of its former self. When water levels were higher the village of Doro-Lelewa in Niger was on and island. By 2002 these boats were no longer needed to get to the village.
opinion

Travelling to Chad to see the lake and the Lake Chad Basin Commission

A plan to fund, to the tune of over US $14.5 billion, the project of water transfer from the Congo River to Lake Chad as a way of saving the lake and the livelihoods of millions of people living around the lake could have been another reason that the former Libyan leader Gaddafi was assassinated.

Travelling to Chad in January 2018 was one of the most consequential trips of my life. I had left Legon, Ghana for Abuja, Nigeria where I was able to access the visa for Chad.

Chad is nearly a closed society of nearly 14 million Africans of differing ethnicities and histories. Present day Chad is one of the most militarised countries that I have been in since the Uganda years under Idi Amin. Opposition to the regime, which has been in power since 1990, takes the form of rebel formations. These formations are at times labelled as jihadists and the current regime seeks legitimacy among the imperial states with its energetic frontline role as a dependable military ally (in the war on terror).

I spent eight days in Ndjamena. I was at the offices of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC). This is the pan-African organisation that was established in 1964. Its relevance today is that it is the premier body, entrusted with saving the lake.

Saving Lake Chad

Lake Chad has lost 95 percent of its water over the past 50 years. It has shrunk from over 25,000 square kilometres (sq. km.) to less than 2000 sq. km.

It is difficult to fully quantify the incalculable harm that is being unleashed by this drying up of the lake. The livelihood of the people, over 13 million living immediately around the lake (Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger) has been affected negatively; low levels of water, land for grazing cattle shrinking, fishing grounds receding. In essence the new economy that is being put in place is that of financing young jihadists and the counter terror business. I saw this vividly at Guite where a fish processing facility was turned into a military facility.

There is a lot of money spent on the military while in Chad, less than ten per cent of the people have access to electricity. The levels of poverty that I saw, I have not seen, since the Southern Sudan [war].

The consequences of the shrinking have left communities close to desert.

I travelled to Guite, which is on the southern bank of the lake. After crossing the Chari River, I walked two kilometres where there should be water. I saw the trees that are now at a place when people place marks where the water should be for the communities to be viable.

One of the other endangered species is the Kuri cattle, the swimming cow, a species of cattle to be found only in the lake.

In this village on this island, the poverty was loud and striking.

On the way driving to the lake and back from Ndjamena, one could see the landscape, as it is changing.

There we see the nomadic people with their camels who are drifting farther and farther south because of the changing climate.

As a guest of the LCBC, I was fortunate to be able to go to the lake because it has become a closed military area. The drying up of the lake has forced many young persons out of the area. When they go to Maiduguri, in the north-eastern region of Nigeria, they become prey to mischievous political actors who finance this entity called Boko Haram. This part of the lake is where Chad meets Nigeria and the Cameroon.

The Nigerian government is aware enough of this challenge to the point where the Executive Secretary of the LCBC is the same person who heads the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). This is the coordinating body to counter Boko Haram. France is itching to undermine this MNJTF and has been scheming to get the UN Security Council to place the MNJTF under its operational command in the Sahel.

Our project as the Kwame Nkrumah Chair is to understand the task of saving Lake Chad. The LCBC has been making studies about how to save the lake. For over 40 years there has been a project to transfer water from the Congo through the Central African Republic via the Chari River to Lake Chad.

The Nigerian government has financed a major study costing over US $6 million about whether the inter-basin water transfer scheme was feasible.

It was only by going to Chad that I learnt that Gaddafi (the former leader of Libya who was executed) had told the four leaders of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria that if the project of water transfer proved environmentally feasible, then he would underwrite the financing of this project, essentially 2400 km. of canals, bridges and dams costing over US $14.5 billion. There was, included in the plan, the intention to develop a series of irrigated areas for crops, or livestock over an area of 50,000 to 70,000 sq. km. in the Sahel zone in Chad, north-east Nigeria, northern Cameroon and Niger. Gaddafi wanted this water transfer scheme to link up with the Great Man Made River, one of the most ambitious engineering schemes that have ever been undertaken.

Now, we understand one more reason why Gaddafi was taken out. And for good measure, I now know that when the North Atlantic Treat Organisation (NATO) forces intervened in Libya, they bombed the factory at Breda that was making the pipes for this water transfer scheme in Libya.

Last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency did an audit of the amount of water in the aquifers and said that the major water transfer schemes were feasible.

The government of France and the intellectuals of the French research arm of the military and foreign policy establishment have taken a view that the drying up of Lake Chad is a myth. Their state funded intellectuals opposed the major water transfer scheme to buttress the Chari River, the principal source of water for Lake Chad. They have inveigled with the bureaucrats from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to say that water cannot be diverted without major environmental problems. When, the reality is that 100,000 square cubic meters of water flows from the Congo into the Atlantic Ocean every day. The Saving Lake Chad scheme would only use five per cent of the water. Moreover, the canal system tapping the many tributaries of the Congo River below the start of the Ubangi would regulate the flow to the point where the flow of water would enable the Congo River to be navigable all year round.

You may ask me why the French have been opposed, and at the moment, I cannot give a definitive answer, other than they are opposed for the same reason that they assassinated Felix Moumie [Cameroonian nationalist leader], opposed Patrice Lumumba and orchestrated the killing of Gaddafi. It is in Central Africa where there is clarity that the Jacques Foccart system is still at work.

The foothold of France in the region is now challenged by China so they are creating mischief everywhere. It is now obvious why the French embarked on the plan to destabilise the Central African Republic and their hypocrisy in their so-called peace keeping mission. Word in that part of the world is that they actually supply weapons to the elements called Boko Haram.

Power China

Since the passing of Gaddafi, the Chinese took a look at the feasibility study for the water transfer project, prepared by the Canadian consulting Company CIMA International. Power China, the same company that built the Three Gorges Dam has now undertaken another feasibility study. In 2016 the LCBC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Power China. This is now the game changer. The French have dropped their overt opposition and have said openly that they will have to develop a new tactic to oppose. The Italians (through the engineering company Bonfica), who were championing the old project, Transaqua, forty years ago is now seeking to join hands with the Chinese.

Mischief of France

So on one side are the French and the World Bank, opposing this water transfer project and the investment of billions [of dollars] for infrastructural development, bridges, canals, dams and power generating stations. The Germans are equivocating, at one moment with the French and at another moment pretending to take the stand of the environmentalists who argue that the water transfer scheme would impede the path of animals. On the other side are the Italians and the Chinese who have excess engineering capacity after the building of the Three Gorges Dam.

The political leadership of Nigeria under President Buhari is pushing the project of water transfer. They understand that the mobilisation of what is called "violent extremists" is linked to the unemployment and social despair among hundreds of thousands of youths. Inside Nigeria, there is also the migration of pastoralists farther South seeking grazing lands. This has led to violent clashes. In early January [2018], 71 persons were killed in such a clash.

But the entire region of the Central African Republic, the DRC, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria itself suffers from the military destabilisation of the counter terror business.

I have seen up close how the Africans in the LCBC deal diplomatically with the military thrust of the US Africa Command and the French.

Of course, one major hindrance in Nigeria itself is that class that is linked to the international illicit economy and that does not want to see any reconstruction in Nigeria for the public good. Individualism, greed and obscene consumption are the trademarks of this class of Nigerians.

At the end of this of month of February 2018, there will be a major meeting in Abuja, Nigeria where the different positions [of saving Lake Chad] will be tabled and there is the anticipation that Power China will give the first outline of the progress, or lack thereof, of the feasibility study. But the feasibility study itself requires peace. To be able to follow the route of the water and the different tributaries, the hydrologists have to have access to the rural areas. The mischief of France in the Central African Republic (in fighting terrorism) ensures that even this feasibility work cannot be accomplished.

Political will needed

As I told the Executive Secretary of the LCBC, this work can only go forward with political will. Such political will would change the nature of the game in Nigeria itself. The major requirement is also peace in the entire region. Given that the Conservatives are saying that there is no such thing as global warming, the evidence in the Lake Chad Basin is not open to debate. The livelihood of the people, what is happening to the Kuri cattle and the communities are the true evidence. This reality will have political repercussions; in the same way it is having social repercussions now.

For example 20 years ago, Nigerians built a US $600 million irrigation scheme in Nigeria, but by the time the scheme was finished, there was not enough water from the rivers that fed the lake for the irrigation scheme. That scheme now awaits the replenishing of Lake Chad.

I also told them that their frequent meetings with the so-called donors would be their downfall.

Some of the younger scientists who have been working on this project for more than 20 years get it. They understand that this is not a technical project alone, but one that will affect the future of Africa. Every one of the four governments of the LCBC has elements of militarisation and crude accumulation. The worse is Chad, where the oil that is drilled does not produce revenues that are reinvested in the country. This is a government that over the past ten years served as the gendarme of the West in the Sahel. But when they demanded more money from Exxon Mobil, this government was placed on the list of countries where its citizens will not be allowed to visit the USA. They are now seething under the Muslim travel ban of the Trump Administration. They are now feeling the results of a game that they played and now the French and the Americans feel that the leadership is expendable.

The Cameroonian dimensions are even more pressing. The ruling class has been in power there close to 40 years, consolidating power in alliance with France after the killing of Moumie and the liquidation of the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique. Opposition to the regime has been regionalised and takes the form of worker activities, along with teachers, opposing the government. The repression of the government has pushed the forces to take a regional form. The English speaking part of Cameroon is feeling the brunt of the repression. The leaders have been killed, jailed, persecuted and hounded, inside and outside the country. One section of this leadership is calling for secession.

We have not yet had contact with this force, but what is uppermost in our minds is the results of the experience of South Sudan in calling for independence, without engaging the oppressed workers and poor peasants of the Sudan.

The Cameroonian situation deteriorates daily.

Niger is a case where the French have dug in their heels and is using as a base to fight "terrorism" in Africa. When those that are called jihadists are also supported and have links with the French, just as they had mobilised the Libya Islamic Fighting Group to overthrow Gaddafi. From Agadez, the central route on the new slave trade, to the watery grave of the Mediterranean, the USA is spending millions [of dollars] to build a drone base. The conservative factions of the US military and the US Africa Command are providing the material support for the French who cannot afford the deployment. Yet, France has to be in Niger because 80 percent of its energy comes from the vast uranium mines in Niger. The problem for them is that Niger has invited in the Chinese to mine petroleum. So France is creating mischief, to save the Communauté Financière Africaine franc, the currency that ties the (former colonies) French speaking states to France.

The project of the Kwame Nkrumah Chair is to understand the politics of reconstruction and saving Lake Chad. The trip to Ndjamena and to Guite on the lake went a long way towards making me more literate and to grasp first-hand some of what I have been reading.

It was the future of the Kuri species of cattle that brought it all home to me.

* Professor Horace G. Campbell is the Distinguished Kwame Nkrumah Chair of African Studies at the Institute of African Studies in the University of Ghana. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity.

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