Leaders of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt said they were hopeful that the African Union could help them broker a deal to end a decade-long dispute over water supplies within two or three weeks.
Ethiopia, which is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which worries its downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan, said it would fill the reservoir in a few weeks, as planned, providing enough time for talks to be concluded.
Tortuous negotiations over the years have left the two nations and their neighbour Sudan short of an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will operate the dam and fill its reservoir, while protecting Egypt’s scarce water supplies from the Nile river.
Ethiopia’s water minister, Seleshi Bekele, said that consensus had been reached to finalise a deal within two to three weeks, a day after leaders from the three countries and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, held an online summit.
Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Ethiopia’s prime minister, said that in Friday’s agreement there was “no divergence from Ethiopia’s original position of filling the dam.”
The Egyptian presidency said in a statement after the summit that Ethiopia will not fill the dam unilaterally.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, the source of most of the Nile’s waters.
Ethiopia says the $4 billion hydropower project, which will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts, is essential to its economic development.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister’s Office said that the three countries agreed that the Nile and the Grand Renaissance Dam “are African issues that must be given African solutions.”
Friday’s round of talks brokered by the African Union, is the latest attempt to move forward negotiations which have repeatedly stalled due to technical and political disagreements. They also signal an intention to solve the issue without foreign intervention.
Ethiopia’s statement said the African Union, and not the U.N. Security Council, will assist the countries in the negotiations and provide technical support.
Cairo had appealed to the Council in a last-ditch diplomatic move aimed at stopping Ethiopia from filling the dam. The Council was expected to hold a public meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.
A growing insurgency in the northern parts of Mozambique has caught the attention of conflict analysts and observers worldwide.
There is now even a possibility that the South African National Defence Force might become involved in the most northern Cabo Delgado province, with a view to ending the deadly violence and litany of atrocities, abductions and destruction of infrastructure.
Should the South African government decide to send in its military, the main aim would be to focus on the violent activities of an extremist and militant Islamic group, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jammah. It is also locally known as Al Shabaab, even though it has no connections with the Somali movement of the same name. The group aims to establish its own mosques and madrassas to enhance the spread of its radical dogma.
Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jammah started as a religious sect which turned into a guerrilla group. Initially its goal was to impose Sharia law (Islamic law) in Cabo Delgado. It rejected the state’s schooling, health system and laws, which resulted in much tension in the province. Some analysts argue that the movement is motivated more by greed than by dogma or grievance: that it is making millions of dollars a week through criminal activities relating to mining, logging, poaching and contraband.
Be that as it may, many of its members appear to be socio-economically marginalised young people without a proper education and formal employment. They have been joined by young immigrants in a similar marginalised position. It is estimated that the movement’s members are organised in tens of small cells along the coast of northern Mozambique.
There is rightly widespread concern over these developments. Should South Africa – and specifically its defence force – get involved, it would certainly be venturing into a highly violent and complex landscape, requiring a counter-terrorism type of operations.
Such operations are always highly challenging. Countering terrorist and insurgent forces in Mozambique could be as challenging as the protracted operations against Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, the militant Islamist sects that operate predominantly in Nigeria and Somalia, destabilising large areas with their terror campaigns.
Why should there be serious concern over the situation in Mozambique?
Mozambique borders Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and eSwatini. Four of these six countries are landlocked, and hence depend on Mozambique as a gateway to global markets. Events in Cabo Delgado could thus threaten regional stability.
Even though Mocímboa da Praia, which is regarded as the headquarters of the extremists, is about 2,500km from South Africa, the group nevertheless poses a challenge to the country too. After all, Mozambique has strong economic ties with South Africa as the region’s economic engine. Regional stability is certainly in the interest of South Africa.
From a South African standpoint, four main issues stand out. These are: the danger of the spread of Islamist extremism so close to home; the strategic importance of the area under siege; weakness of Mozambican security forces; and combating organised crime.
This is the first case of violent extremism of this kind in southern Africa. It is also the first manifestation of a militant movement which is associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and the notion of a jihadist insurgency.
Until recently, acts of terror conducted by extremists in southern Africa were confined to Tanzania and Zanzibar.
The death toll and displacements of Mozambican locals in Cabo Delgado are difficult to verify. But reports indicate that more than 1,000 people have died and about two million are affected by the crisis overall.
Secondly, in recent years massive offshore natural gas deposits have been identified, drawing some of the world’s biggest energy players. Offshore exploration in the Cabo Delgado area is among Africa’s three largest liquid natural gas projects.
Investments of billions of dollars have already been made, but an escalation of violence is putting the future of these investments at risk.
These projects could be of major importance to poverty alleviation in the country. Poverty affects most of those in rural areas with low levels of formal education. Economic activity in Mozambique has improved in recent years and has the potential to strengthen in the foreseeable future. But much will depend on the megaprojects in Cabo Delgado, debt restructuring, COVID-19, macroeconomic stability and improved political and economic governance, among other key factors.
For decades, South Africa has experienced an illegal influx of Mozambicans due to development challenges in their country. Thus, economic, political and social development in Mozambique are of the utmost importance to South Africa, which is battling massive poverty and unemployment of its own.
Although exploration in Mozambique is offshore, support facilities are onshore and most vulnerable to attacks. The foreign companies with their massive investments feel threatened, especially now that final investment decisions have to be taken.
South Africa has another interest in these developments. The South African energy and chemical multinational Sasol has invested heavily in gas exploration projects since 2014.
The arrival of foreign companies has led to deep discontent among local people who are deeply aggrieved by their activities. They had to relocate to make way for the infrastructure development, amid complaints about the compensation they received. They’re also aggrieved that they have been resettled inshore, away from the coastal fishing areas.
These factors further complicate security challenges in the very delicate social landscape. Moreover, the insurgents can easily exploit local grievances as matters play into their hands.
The Mozambican military and police have proven to be no match for the militants. They have been unable to prevent them from taking the northern strategic town of Mocímboa de Praia, as well as invading a town near Quissanga.
To counter the growing insurgency, the Mozambican government has contracted the Wagner group, a private Russian military company, to assist government forces. But the situation appears to have gone from bad to worse.
A South African security group, the Dyck Advisory Group, was also allegedly assisting the Mozambican government.
A fourth cause for concern over dynamics in the Cabo Delgado province relates to organised crime. The area is a major conduit for smuggling drugs and other contraband. The volume of heroin produced and shipped from Afghanistan along a network of routes, via East and southern Africa, has increased considerably in recent years.
Cabo Delgado is a key point for smuggling drugs, wildlife, timber, gems and gold. The insurgency makes it more difficult to enforce the law in the province.
Operations aimed at countering Islamist extremists tend to continue for many years. Success at curbing violent terrorist attacks requires careful and long term responses.
Ideally, these should comprise a mixed set of interventions, including social reform, economic development and varying degrees of military force.
South African political involvement is now almost inevitable as the Southern African Development Community has already undertaken to help Mozambique in its fight against the insurgency. This makes it highly likely that South Africa’s military forces will somehow get involved.
Zimbabwe on Friday abruptly suspended all mobile money transactions, the most widely used platform to make and receive payments in the crisis-ridden country, claiming the move would tackle crime and economic sabotage.
The government also suspended all trade on the country's stock exchange, which it accused of being complicit in illicit financial activities.
An information ministry statement said government was suspending with immediate effect "all monetary transactions on phone-based mobile money platforms in order to facilitate intrusive investigations".
"Government is in possession of impeccable intelligence ... whereby mobile-based phone systems ...are conspiring with the help of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange - either deliberately or inadvertently - in illicit activities that are sabotaging the economy," it said.
In 2016, mobile money payments reportedly accounted for more than 80 percent of all electronic payment transactions.
The shock announcement coincided with month-end when people receive and withdraw their salaries via mobile phone banking.
In a country critically short of bank notes, the move will likely shut most general transactions from payment for groceries and services such as electricity.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power in 2017 following a military coup pledging to revive the moribund economy, now blames the economic malaise on unnamed "political detractors".
"We are fully cognisant that this battle is being fuelled by our political detractors, elite opportunists and malcontents who are bent on pushing a nefarious agenda," he said this week.
Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in more than a decade.
The country is short of cash and basics including fuel and the staple cornmeal.
According to new data annual inflation was inching closer to 800 percent in April.