Since his appointment as the Russian Presidential Special Representative for Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov has all these several years discussed the prospects for promoting relations with African countries. While this strictly falls within the scope of his official responsibilities, Bogdanov has to equally underline what has been achieved during his period. The changing global geopolitical situation is already known to all African politicians and business elites in Africa. Still Russian politicians spend most of the time drumming home those known facts, and in addition stretch criticisms against other players from the skyline to the earth, instead of translating their passion into practical tangible actions in Africa.
Bogdanov’s late April interview to Interfax correspondent Ksenia Baygarova focused on problems with Russia’s relations including the contradictions, confrontations and complexities with Western and European countries. “Africa has always been an important region for us from the point of view of foreign policy,” he stressed. Further along the line, blamed the United States, Britian and France – the colonizers for Russia’s weak performance in Africa. He offered the accusation thus: “Another issue is that colonial powers, as well as neocolonialists, have never let the Africans take advantage of the treasure which is literally right under their feet.”
Why does Bogdanov have to blame external countries for under-development in Africa? Africa has the capacity to overcome its own social, political and economic problems. The leaders have the power, political mandates and all the resources to address their current socio-economic and political challenges. Critics have often raised institutional and systemic corruption, lack of transparency and poor development strategies among factors adversing affecting development in the continent.
With appropriate strategies they can achieve the seemingly elusive development and add value to living standards of the population. The African Union and, of course, the regional blocs have been guiding 54 countries on the continent under the slogan “Africa We Want” and a designed continental agenda – African Union Agenda 2063.
“Most importantly, given the sanctions imposed on Russia by the collective West, it would be necessary to substantially adapt many mechanisms of our cooperation with African countries to the new realities,” Bogdanov told Interfax news agency. Understanding this position, the best way to support Africa is for Russia to adopt new mechanisms of pursuing its policy goals by implementing those bilateral agreements signed these past several years.
Russia has to get focused, one optional way to support Africans fight existing “neocolonialism” is to admirably invest in the continent. Leading an emerging new world order, not by words and slogans, but by building sustainable relationships with consistency and with concrete and feasible economic projects. At least, it couldd be enough commendable copying a page from China in Africa. Despite criticims, China is constantly commssioning projects in Africa.
Afterall following succesful examples pave way for perfection, Russia has been teaming up with China and India and a few other external countries to establish a new global economic system. China has strategically extended its tentacles across both the Atlantic and the Pacific, conquered Africa, and intensified commercial operations in the Central Asia regions including the former Soviet republics – the backyard of the Russian Federation.
In stark contrast to the global players, Russia has to study its own limitations and standing blocks in Africa. Russia’s external economic footprints are comparatively weak, its foreign policies hardly promote its template of economic models. The geopolitical reordering of the world cannot simply be achieved through highly criticizing the West’s political influence in its various global domains. The economic component is possibly the most significant for Africa.
Russia’s policy full of illuminating rhetoric and sparkling speeches, symbolic bilateral agreements that have not been delivered, while public outreach programmes are largely missing in the foreign policy. Russia’s economic cooperation in Africa remains questionable, from perspectives of growing challenges facing Africa’s development and especially in the context of the emerging new world order.
Moreso, within the context of geopolitical influence, rivalry and competition being discussed by academic researchers, policy experts and analysts, Russia pays little attention to those prerequisites necessary for building relations put forward by the experts. This article also seeks to re-explore and re-highlight expert opinions on some aspects of the current Russia-African relations:
According to our research findings, in stark contrast to key global players for instance the United States, China and the European Union and many others, Russia’s policy has little impact on development paradigms in Africa. It has, most admirably, made broken promises and achieved signing several bilateral agreements. Steps aren’t directed toward development-oriented policies and worse, strategic efforts are highly inconsistent and ineffective with many African countries. This phenomenon is also partly due to poor comprehension of Africa’s roadmap as incorporated in the African Union Agenda 2063.
Of course, Africa’s sustainable development questions have been raised over the past several years, but Russia’s policy seems to ignore them. Public utterances regarding development remain as mere policy slogans. Here some few discussions with top African envoys who served in the Russian Federation. Former Ambassadors who served in the Russian Federation have impressed upon African leaders and entrepreneurs to prioritize their critical sustainable development needs for which they sought Russian investors in economic sectors of interest to them.
Comparative analysis here could help Russians understand the changing realities in Africa. In separate interviews, they have been abundantly it clear how to stimulate African governments to explore best investment opportunities in Russia and lure Russian investors into developing Africa’s SDGs within a framework of bilateral cooperation.
Former South African Ambassador, Mandisi Mpahlwa, said that Sub-Saharan Africa has understandably been low on post-Soviet Russia’s list of priorities, given that Russia is not as dependent on Africa’s natural resources as most other major economies. The reason: Soviet and African relations, anchored as they were on the fight to push back the frontiers of colonialism, did not necessarily translate into trade, investment and economic ties, which would have continued seamlessly with post-Soviet Russia.
“Of course, Russia’s objective of taking the bilateral relationship with Africa to the next level cannot be realized without close partnership with the private sector. Africa and Russia are close politically, but they are geographically distant, and the people-to-people ties are still rather under-developed. This translates into a low level of knowledge on both sides of what the other has to offer. There is perhaps also a measure of fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar in both countries,” according to Mpahlawa.
According to former Ethiopian Ambassador, Professor Dr. Teketel Forssido, one of the biggest problems has been the keen competition from the United States, Europe, China and India, countries with more advanced technological and development oriented solutions. They have become, over the past decades, “investment patrons” in African countries. In fact, this is what Africa needs: policy directed towards the development needs of Africa.
Former Nigerian Ambassador, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, told this correspondent that Africa’s drive for sustainable democratic governance, backed by an enhanced economically viable environment, is of paramount importance. Many African leaders are realising the need to eradicate poverty and give people a sustainable environment.
“It is Africa’s hope that foreign authorities will back us in this direction. It is important to remind foreign investors that investment opportunities for developing large and medium-scale enterprises are abound in Africa. The importance of the informal sector in generating employment and promoting self-reliance through higher productivity. We implore Russian investors to take advantage of these new potentials,” Air Commodore Dan Suleiman stressed in discussions.
Undoubtedly, the Russian government’s stance on supporting an African policy that deploys plausible solutions to resolve the continent’s infinite problems should be extolled, wrote former Tanzanian Ambassador, Dr. Jaka Mgwabi Mwambi. He said: “Tanzania is currently on the verge of a bitter wrangle with iniquitous restraints,” as the country “is proactively moving steadfastly toward a middle-income economy.”
Former Kenyan Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Dr. Paul Kibiwott Kurgat explained in an interview that any platform created for African leaders has to address thoroughly development-oriented questions. Kenya’s diplomacy has mostly focused on strengthening economic cooperation with foreign countries.
“Looking at the global development, Kenya would always like to build on this long history of strong and comprehensive engagement, first and foremost, through developing closer ties with Russia in trade, investment and economic cooperation. So, my advice to African leaders is to think objectively, first about effective ways how to improve the economy,” he said.
The Government of Kenya’s priority sectors range from infrastructure and energy development, industrialization and agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, among others. Development opens a myriad of investment opportunities to all potential foreign investors across the globe including Russia, Paul Kurgat added in his emailed comments from Nairobi, Kenya.
Former Mozambican Ambassador to Russia, Dr. Bernardo Marcelino Cherinda, emphasized that the changes in Russia have provided a greater impetus for forging new diversified relations, especially in the economic sectors, in Africa.
By this measure, African leaders have to work relentlessly for a more effective cooperation and use political dialogue to remove obstacles that might hinder smooth progress and development. Whether they like it or not, African leaders have to make rational decisions to align their efforts and policies with the key goal of developing or building their economies, the Mozambican diplomat said.
He urged both Russia and Africa to facilitate participation in the private sectors, and also get involved in medium-sized economic partnership, joint ventures, agro-processing industries, and health and education. African leaders do not have to, in the least, doubt the enormous potentials that exist, the former envoy added.
“And, I think it’s equally important that Russia and Africa focus seriously on cultural aspects in their activities in order to bridge the widening information gap between the two. Russia has made the mark and it’s respected for its indelible historical achievements, literature and for human values. The use of soft power as an instrument for new image-making initiatives has to be intensified,” Cherinda advised.
Stergomena Lawrence Tax, Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), during the Russia-SADC business forum held in February 2019 in Moscow, stressed in discussions with Russian authorities that strengthening ties in a broad range of economic fields would show that SADC truly remains as one of Russia’s key partners in Africa. SADC is an inter-governmental organization with its primary goal of deepening socio-economic cooperation and integration in the southern region.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to lead the 54-nation African Union Commission (AUC), have also discussed the ways and means of encouraging Russian corporations’ participation in major infrastructure projects on the continent. The current AUC Chairperson, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, has also held discussions on Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution and has been at pains to enlist Russia’s effective support for the bloc’s Agenda 2063.
On his part, Foreign Minister Lavrov for the past one and half decades, since his appointment in 2004, has also been holding in-depth discussions on the situation in Africa, repeatedly pointing to the possibility of continuing to promote effective bilateral cooperation in many spheres and working together towards exploiting the existing potentials. Our monitoring and research interviews show that at this new historical point necessary for strengthening friendship, solidarity and cooperation by honouring some of the issues raised during the first African leaders’ summit in October 2019.
Lavrov has, several times, asserted that cooperation is very multidimensional and further reiterated the assurance that Moscow firmly supports the principle of “African solutions to African problems” within a framework of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as developed by individual African countries, sub-regional organizations and the African Union. In conclusion, Russians have to strongly keep in mind that Africa’s roadmap is the African Union Agenda 2063.
For more information, look for the forthcoming Geopolitical Handbook titled “Putin’s African Dream and The New Dawn: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities” (Part 2) devoted to the second Russia-Africa Summit 2023.
South Sudan: Extended roadmap for lasting peace deal, a ‘way point, not an end point’
Since 2018, the Revitalized Agreement between the key players in South Sudan’s long-running civil war has provided a framework for peace, the Head of the UN mission there, UNMISS, told the Security Council on Friday – “despite continued outbreaks of intercommunal violence”.
UN Special Representative Nicholas Haysom said that although key provisions of the Agreement are set to end by February, the parties agreed in August on a Roadmap that extends the current transitional period by 24 months.
While a welcome development, he reminded that “there is no alternative to the implementation of the peace agreement”.
“Let me underscore that the roadmap is a way point, not an end point”, he said.
Inclusive political process
The UNMISS chief flagged the importance of an inclusive political process and the opening of civic spaces as “essential conditions” for a robust and competitive electoral process.
He then outlined some steps underway – from President Salva Kiir and first Vice-President Riek Machar’s agreement to resolve the parliamentary impasse, to the graduation of the first class of joint armed forces recruits – for which budgetary resources, integration and deployment, are vital to allow a broader security sector transformation.
“Failure to address these critical issues…have the potential to reverse the gains made,” Mr. Haysom warned.
He went on to describe violence on the regional level, marked by cycles of cattle raiding, abduction, and revenge killings along with fighting in Upper Nile state that has displaced thousands of people.
The Special Representative reported that while conflict-related violence is also increasing, UNMISS continues to support prevention through policy frameworks and other areas.
“The Mission is strengthening its support to the justice chain in each state…to address crimes that risk destabilizing the peace, including those involving gender-based violence,” he told the ambassadors.
Mr. Haysom said that UNMISS has managed to accomplish a “double pivot” in its focus and operations, by channeling resources towards the political process; proactive deployment to violent hotspots; and expanding its protection presence for civilians.
He assured that South Sudan’s natural resources have “tremendous potential” for either conflict, or cooperation.
“It is always political that can make the difference”.
Turning to the humanitarian situation, he acknowledged that food security continues to deteriorate, leaving some 8.3 million people in need and outstripping available funding.
Noting that the Humanitarian Response Plan is only 44.6 per cent funded, he urged donors to fulfil their pledges.
He asserted that the next few months would be “a litmus test” for the parties to demonstrate their commitment to the Roadmap, warning against “delays and setbacks”.
In closing, the Special Representative reaffirmed the importance of the international community’s support.
“Our collective task now is to support the parties in fulfilling their obligations to the people of South Sudan as per the timing of the Roadmap,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, Lilian Riziq, President, South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network discussed a broad-based and inclusive process for all key participants, underscoring the need for a new transitional governance process.
She underscored that election timelines are indispensable, noting that four years on, levels of revitalized agreement implementation have not brought security or ended humanitarian misery.
She also highlighted ways that precious oil revenues in South Sudan, have been heavily misused.
Russia-Ukraine Crisis: its Impact and Implications for Southern Africa
This article attempts to contribute to the discussions on the evolutionary political confrontations and contradictions between Russia and Ukraine, its impact on and implications for Africa. Historically, both Russia and Ukraine attained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet era in 1991. It has embarked on territorial expansionism, annexing neighbouring former Soviet republics. Its annexation ambitions started with Georgia, then Crimea and now Ukraine. That, however, Russia considered itself as a superpower and hopes to lead the emerging new world order.
After these several months, the Russia’s “special military operation” approved by the Federation Council and the State Duma (legislative chambers) and that began Feb. 24, has tremendous impact on Africa. As already known, it has pushed the United States, European Union and a few Asia-Pacific states to impose draconian sanctions on Russia. This article helps to understand the impact, some of the implications and future directions by looking specifically at the Southern African region.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a regional political-economic organization made up of 16 member states, with its population approx. 395 million. That compared, Russia is the largest by territory and has approx. 145 million population.
The SADC collectively aims at, among others, promoting sustainable social-economic development that will ensure poverty alleviation and enhancing ultimately the living standards of the people in Southern Africa. Despite differences in approach to politics in individual states, the group cooperates on issues of security in the region.
The Russian Federation maintains friendly bilateral relations practically with all these southern African states: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The diplomatic rhetoric is that it has uniquely supported struggle for political liberation particularly in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. And further to that, Russia claims to have a common understanding, solidarity and trusty position with African friends on important issues at international platforms including at the United Nations.
African representatives and their votes were considered very interesting. Some 17 African countries abstained from the vote at the UN General Assembly to deplore the Russian invasion of Ukraine while some other 28 countries in the continent voted in favour. Among those in the SADC bloc abstaining from vote include South Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Russia-SADC Economic Scenerio
The Southern African countries are struggling to overcome multiple challenges that have originated due to the endless Russia-Ukraine crisis. But a careful study and analysis show that prior to the Feb. 24 crisis which unfolded in Ukraine, Russia indicated strong preparedness and high interests to broaden cooperation in economic sectors in Africa.
In efforts to reposition itself to become a major partner, the following priorities as an economic strategy in the region were jointly put forward during Russia-SADC meeting held back in September 2019:
– Prospecting, mining, oil, construction, mining, purchase of gas, oil, uranium, and bauxite assets (Angola, Namibia and South Africa);
– Construction of power facilities: hydroelectric power plants on the River Congo (Angola, Namibia, and Zambia,) and nuclear power plants (South Africa);
– Creation of a floating nuclear power plant, and South African participation in the international project to build a nuclear enrichment centre in Russia;
– Railway construction (Angola);
– Creation of Russian trade houses for the promotion and maintenance of Russian engineering products (South Africa); and
– Participation of Russian companies in the privatisation of industrial assets, including those created with technical assistance from the former Soviet Union (Angola).
Of course, there are disparities in the level of development and cooperation between Russia and individual states in Southern Africa. At least during the past few years, Russia has notably strengthened relations with most them. For example, it has leveraged unto exploring lucrative platinum project at Darwendale (Zimbabwe).
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov launched this $3 billion project back in 2014, after years of negotiations, with the hope of raising its economic profile in Zimbabwe. Few other anticipated projects have sprung up in Angola, DRC, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
While Covid-19 impacted on development progress, there are currently signs of the disarray caused by restrictive foreign exchange policies and continuing inability to determine funding sources for Africa. Russia has been engulfed with crisis and worse under serious sanctions, bilateral agreements might take years to realize fully in most Southern African countries.
Our research shows that ten SADC member-states have diplomatic offices in the Russian Federation: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Impact of Russia-Ukraine Crisis
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, many African countries rely on Russia and Ukraine for wheat imports. Russia is a major supplier of fertilizers to 15 African countries. Reuters news agency reported that Africa is suffering from disruptions in food supply and soaring prices of basic goods and risks “disastrous consequences” if the situation endures. This position was supported by African Union Chairman Macky Sall during a conversation with philanthropist Mo Ibrahim at the Ibrahim Governance Forum, far ahead before he travelled to Sochi, Russia. That Sochi trip discussed measures which could alleviate the escalating problems related to the food and agricultural inputs, and further reviewed strategic solutions within the context of Russia-African relations.
Despite the assurance of reversing the situation offered at Putin-Sall-Faki meeting, the Russia-Ukraine never-ending crisis still flushing up commodity prices world-wide. Africa’s economy is currently worsening, a direct primary result of rising energy cost. With this economic instability, it further generated social discontent and tension among vulnerable impoverished groups across the population. Some have asked for wage indexations as well as increment in pensions and unemployment payments.
Local South African media have reported, during the previous months, about workers protesting against inflationary prices in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. There has been sharp currency fluctuations throughout the southern African region. Southern Africa depends on some imported goods, such as agricultural produce and fertilizers, from Russia and Ukraine. In terms of negotiations, much has to be done in order to reach comprehensive agreements to free movement of these to the Africa’s market.
Experts suggested in seperate interviews that it was necessary to implement the memorandum between Russia and the UN on exports of Russian agricultural products and fertilizers. Argubaly, there are indications that Washington and Brussels anti-Russian sanctions do not apply to foodstuffs and fertilizers. While some explain further that there are still obstacles to banking settlements, insurance and carriage of cargoes at shipping terminals due ot Western sanctions.
From our analytical position, first as African countries face continued uncertainty, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) interventions be necessarily seen only as short-term solutions. And second, in an article published by the French Press Agency (AFP), it says negotiations between the AU leadership and the Russian president illustrate the importance of enhancing the bilateral relations. While African leaders are attempting to build international solidarity and alliances aims at achieving genuine peace and global security, and for emerging new order, it also important to initiate a new reform drive to transform agricuture and industry throughout Africa. African financial institutions, such as the African Development Bank (AfDB), urgently have to prioritize investing more food production in the continent.
Highly commendaly the initiative, the Feed Africa strategy for Agricultural Transformation in Africa (2016 to 2025), to move the continent to the top of export-orientated global value chains where it has comparative advantage. This aims at making Africa a net-exporter rather than importer of basic agricultural products and contributing to eliminating extreme poverty in Africa and ending hunger and malnutrition in Africa by 2025.
Our research shows the bank’s efforts has brought home $1.5 billion for the African Emergency Food Production Facility. It has been advocating for expanding social protection programmes, strengthening economic resilience and responsiveness to shocks of Russia-Ukraine crisis. The African Development Bank Group is Africa’s premier development finance institution.
Emerging Economic Prospects
Despite the negative impacts and consequences, the Russia-Ukraine crisis has simultaneously open doors (opportunities) for Africa. Europe has seen potential supplies of energy especially gas from the region. As Mozambique is gradually emerging as an exploration hub, its is attracting investors from Europe. Meanwhile, leading energy companies such as TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil, Bristish Petroluem (BP), Shell and Eni are already working in the region, seeking alternative supplies in light of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi and stanch member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), has spearheaded multiple initiatives and partnerships with international partners to boost security and ensure project resumption. As a result, the European Union recently announced a plan to increase financial support for Mozambique while energy majors TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil and Eni are focused on getting projects back on track.
Mozambique is increasingly stepping up efforts in the production of liquefied natural gas and consequently become one of the suitable reliable suppliers to Europe. While it might not replace Russia which cuts its export of gas as a reciprocal action against European Union members, Mozambique seeks ultimately to earn some revenue from its natural resources. Late July, the outgoing European Union (EU) Ambassador to Mozambique, Sánchez-Benedito Gaspar, argued that natural gas from Cabo Delgado was among the alternatives in Europess plan to diversify energy sources in the face of constraints caused by Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
“Mozambique’s gas, with the presence of large European multinational companies, now has an even more important and strategic value,” Sánchez-Benedito Gaspar said in an interview with Lusa, Mozambican News Agency, in Maputo. According to the diplomat, Europe came to the conclusion that “it cannot trust its old partner (Russia, among the world’s biggest gas exporters), which is authoritarian and uses gas as an instrument of war,” and is making efforts to secure alternative sources.
With an approximate population of 30 million, Mozambique is endowed with natural resources. With the untapped huge resources, if it is strategically well-managed and exploited in the southern states – Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and South Africa, it will possibly be making energy poverty history in southern region and possibly entire Africa.
The Puzzling Politics
On the political perspectives, a majority of African leaders have in principle endorsed multilateralism, and also reminded respect for territorial sovereignty, independence and human rights. Reference has been made to non-interference into nations internal affairs that brought to the fore the general priniciples on which the Non-Alignment Movement organization was created.
South African President Ramaphosa called for promoting international peace and security by advocating inclusive dialogue and the peaceful settlement of disputes. “We must safeguard the principle of multilateralism. We need a United Nations that is fit-for-purpose and clear in its benefits to all humanity, especially in times of insecurity and crises,” the President said late June.
Nearly all the experts contacted for this article have the same arguable points, especially safeguarding and walling (fencing) to be used by key powers as “political playing grounds” the Southern African region. Despite the contradictions, the experts acknowledged the fact that western hegemony and “rule-based order” be halted, and make way for the new emerging world order.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, however, informed about broadening African issues in the “new version of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept against the background of the waning of the Western direction” and this will objectively increase the share of the African direction in the work of the Foreign Ministry. It was last updated 2013.
The development of a comprehensive partnership with African countries remains among top priorities of Russia’s foreign policy, Moscow is open to its further build-up, Lavrov said in an Op-Ed article for the African media, and originally published on the ministry’s website late July.
The Future Roadmap
We have seen the extent African leaders express political sympathy for Russia. For Russia to regain part of its Soviet-era influence, it has to address its own policy approach, this time shifting towards new paradigms – implementing some of those bilateral agreements; secondly to promote development-oriented policies and its strategic efforts have to be more practical, more consistent, more effective and result-oriented with African countries.
In the context of building post-Soviet relations, Russia has to attempt creating a new model of template for itself, and for what it often refers to as “non-Western friends” in this crucial geopolitical changes occuring now in order to bring them into its armpit from Asia, Africa and Latin America. For African leaders, under the auspices of the African Union, have to design a broad roadmap. Significantly it is necessary to adopt “a collective voice and approach” for the continent.
On other hand, a major rethink is urgently required in the current evolutionary processes of the new world order. The first drastic step is for Africans to identify their weaknesses, understand the fact that it is endowed with huge natural resources and therefore work together in complete harmony by pulling their own large-scale resources to fund the development agenda.
From our analytical perspectives, it is now time for Africa and its youth to stand up and defend its history and riches. And the significant challenge is the need for adoption of a unified strategy to avoid being used as a pawn in global power games. This should be the continental task for the SADC and the African Union.
Specifically, South African Development Community leaders have to follow the same line of procedures for the region. In the process of seeking additional support and whatever contributions from foreign partners and foreign investors, either government or private, these have to fall within the roadmap as re-emphasized during the 42nd summit of the South African Development Community.
Can this portable dam help Africa counter rising waters?
In the Mpanda Commune in north-western Burundi, a long ribbon of rubber – about a metre high and two metres wide – snakes through a farmer’s field before disappearing into foliage.
A woman is sowing her crops alongside the structure, which is bulging with water and circles much of the commune.
The ribbon of rubber, called Slamdam, is designed to protect Mpanda and its 25,000 people from flooding while also acting as a warehouse for water during times of drought — weather extremes expected to become more common as Burundi’s climate changes.
“The project has been very well received by the local population,” said resident Gerard Bucumi. “The cost of installation was very cheap.”
Slamdam is part of a wave of cutting-edge technologies that experts hope will help the developing world adapt to the fallout from climate change, which includes floods, rising seas, scorching temperatures and more severe storms. Africa is especially vulnerable. It contributes only around 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and yet 6 of the 10 countries most threatened by climate change are located on the continent.
“Today, we are reeling from the impacts of climate change,” said Alvin Chandra, Head of the Global Adaptation Network at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “The reality, therefore, is that even if we suddenly halt all greenhouse gas emissions, there would still be an urgent need for the world to adapt to withstand extreme weather events. Technological innovation for adaptation opens the door to scale-up solutions.”
If humanity does not start reducing greenhouse gas emissions immediately, the need for technological innovation to adapt to climate change will only increase, say experts.
Race to adapt
Through the Adaptation Fund Climate Innovation Accelerator, UNEP, the Climate Technology Centre and Network, and the UN Development Programme are administrating grants to innovative adaptation technologies, such as Slamdam. The hope is that those solutions can be scaled up and help Africa build resilience to flooding and drought. (The fund’s third call for proposals is open for applications until 30 September 2022.)
According to UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2021, there is an urgent need to scale-up climate adaptation measures and finance. Estimated adaptation costs in developing countries are five to 10 times greater than current public adaptation finance flows, and the gap is widening.
UNEP has a mandate to help member states scale up planning and action for adapting to climate change. UNEP has supported around 70 adaptation projects in over 50 countries. By 2020, its adaptation project portfolio had mobilized US$340 million on the strength of funding from the Global Environment Facility, the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund.
Holding back the waters
Slamdam, which is portable, was invented in the Netherlands. Two people can fill a 100-metre-section of the barrier in an hour by pumping water into it from a nearby lake or river, explains Omar Saleh, Managing Director of Zephyr Consulting, which helped deploy the Slamdam in Mpanda. Building a traditional 100-metre flood barrier with sandbags would take 14 people at least 20 hours, he said.
Saleh explained that Mpanda is prone to flooding which destroys crops and this discourages the community from planting. “Slamdam was able to harness the flood water enabling the community to plant and also to use the harnessed water for irrigation during the dry season, thus improving their food security.”
He added that the Mpanda Commune project was a pilot and that there were plans to scale up to include a larger area and a larger population.
“With this technology and these kinds of projects, food production will increase, and the negative impacts of floods and other climate changes will be reduced,” he added.
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