Category Archives: South Sudan

Food Insecurity

This report indicates there are 108 million people facing extreme food insecurity. Famine is possible in North (Muslim) Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. Security issues are driving hunger in Iraq and Syria. Less familiar to me are the troubles in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Somalia’s troubles are due to persistent drought and there is similar news for Malawi. Zimbabwe, the perpetual poster child for poor governance, also has drought driven food troubles. Rapidly developing South Africa declared drought disaster in five of its nine provinces two years ago.

People do things when they don’t get enough to eat, as we saw in the Maghreb in 2010. The link between water, food, and conflict is one that appears here fairly often. We noted that Syrian Wheat Becomes Strategic back in 2013 and Lebanon’s Record Drought appeared in 2014.

The Mideast and North Africa are full of fragile states, places where too many humans have too little water.

The grim (but necessary) calculus of Functional Triage is still a forbidden topic; we can’t admit that boundless growth in our sealed environment of a single planet is a bad idea, and with that fundamental ideological barrier, we are cut off from discussing everything else that flows from that simple, objective fact.

I don’t hate any of the 400 million people in North Africa, nor and of the similar number of folks in the Mideast. But we are at a place where we must stop pretending and start dealing with reality. This is a troubling paragraph to write, because the areas where there will be trouble happen to align with … Trump’s laptop travel ban.



Muslim Ban? Fragile States?


Here’s Trump’s list of banned Muslim countries in red, and the ones where he has business interests are in gold. The unlabeled one at the uper right is Azerbaijan.

Trump's Muslim Ban Countries

Trump’s Muslim Ban Countries

And here’s a fragile states index for the region.

Fragile States Worst

Fragile States Worst

The banned countries are places where the governments have basically collapsed. People are complaining about the relationship between Trump businesses and the presence or absence of a ban. I’m not justifying, nor am I criticizing, I’m just noting that here is some data that hasn’t commonly appeared in conjunction with the coverage of the issue.

This map originally appeared in Fragile States Index 2016.

Fragile States Index 2016

The Fragile States Index 2016 was just mentioned on beBee and I saw a nice dataset to visualize in Tableau. Here is the original high resolution image:


And here is the image that resulted from my very simple import of the data into a Tableau workbook:


The states of the Mideast, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa have been an interest of mine for the past several years. Here’s a nit with Tableau, but it’s probably a deficit on my part – the only way I could make Syria visible would be to suppress the appearance of Lebanon. Tableau also treats Western Sahara as Terra Nullius, when it’s an ongoing problem between Morocco which administers it and Algeria which hosts many refugees.


Here are the grimmest of the grim, seven states with fragility scores in excess of 110. Iraq is one bad summer away from joining them.


I’ve made a copy of the Fragile States 2016 workbook available. I really should start pulling in other data, but what I want here would be food and water security information, and that’s often scattered and dated.

The Simmering Maghreb

Arab Spring

Arab Spring

Starting in Tunisia with the self immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in late December of 2010, Arab Spring spread like wildfire, bowling over four governments and straining all their neighbors. Three years have passed and a wave of weapons from Libya, coupled with fighters from all over, have destabilized the ring of nations adjacent to those which have already revolted.

North Africa Islamist Troubles

North Africa Islamist Troubles

The nations in the next tier to the south are equally disturbed, with Boko Haram in Nigeria to al Shabaab attacks in Kenya, while the Central African Republic is melting down due to internal issues and unfinished business due to the separation of South Sudan threatens to revive their conflict with Sudan.

Central Africa

Central Africa

Imperial implosions are always messy affairs. North Africa bear the marks of lines that have been repeatedly redrawn over the last 1200 years. The continent had hardly finished digesting the 20th century collapse of the English and French imperial efforts before the Soviet Union took a tumble. The U.S. is in a similar position to what the Soviet Union faced in the late 1980s, militarily and financially exhausted, staggering home from long running low intensity conflicts.

I mentioned AFRICOM’s expansion in U.S. Military in Africa and 2014 will bring both a Quadrennial Defense Review as well as the second ever Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review. I am looking forward to comparing the 2010 documents to what will be presented for 2014, seeking clues as to what our stance will be in this region.

Libya Breaking Up Just As Sudan Did?

I saw Battle Of Control For Southern Libya this morning and I went digging. Recall that Sudan: Africa’s Yugoslavia? provided background on the breakup of Sudan, and in Nightwatch: Syria, Jordan & Mali briefly described the north/south split in Mali.

I found a high quality map of African ethnic groups and cropped the area of interest from it.

Africa Ethnic Groups

Libya Toubou Ethnic Group

And then I found a Libya specific map, which disagreed a bit on the extent of inhabited areas in southern Libya. White in the crop from the larger map indicates the area is uninhabited.

Libya Ethnic Groups

Then I found the oil map. This seems to me to be a bright spot – the Toubou were marginalized under the Gadaffi regime so they have neither a geographic claim on Libyan oil nor would it seem they’d have any expectation of benefit from it. The nature of the situation would seem to indicate that oil revenue was used to make their lives harder.

Libya Oil Map

Starting with Nigeria and Mali in the west and ending with Sudan and Somalia in the east, Africa is in chaos as the old dividing line between Arab Muslim Norther Africa and black animist or Christian Southern Africa.

The colonial lines on the map, created only a hundred years ago, are also becoming blurred, as both U.S. military power and European development funds dry up due to a variety of factors. The ethno-linguistic map above may be a better guide to understanding happenings in Africa than the formal lines on the map, which have been shifting and blurring since European colonialism’s peak a century ago.

Africa Partition-1885-1914

Sudan: Africa’s Yugoslavia?


Prompted by frequent references to South Sudan in the reading I did for The Nile’s Annual Flood, I started to look more closely at Sudan itself, and this slowly fragmenting country is a monument to ethnoreligious divides and imperial meddling.

Africa Partition-1885-1914

This fine map of colonial activities in Africa begins in 1885, straddling the Ottoman Empire’s 1878 loss to Russia and 1897 loss to Greece, and it ends in 1914, just before the Armenian Genocide. Their African holdings were carved up by Britain, France, and Italy.

Sudan was Africa’s largest country, but Darfur‘s status wavers as they go in and out of conflict with the government, and South Sudan slipped away completely in the summer of 2011.

Bir Tawil Hala'ib

And these are the two biggest geographic oddities ever. The first, the Hala’ib Triangle is a Massachusetts sized area on the coast of the Red Sea, was left in bureaucratic limbo in 1902 by the British, who once administered a strip of territory that included Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya. The second, Bir Tawil, is a related bit of Terra nullius. This 795 square mile patch is administered by Egypt, appears to be part of Sudan based on most maps, but is claimed by neither nation, as doing so would invalidate their claim on the much larger Hala’ib.


Even with the exit of the south there is more trouble brewing for the government, as one might guess from this map of ethnic groups.


I butchered a much larger map to make this one. The residents of the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states had fought along side the south and troubles have flared in both areas since the independence of South Sudan.

Sudan Population Distribution

Physical territory can be deceptive – the northwest quarter is all Sahara desert and very thinly populated.

Sudan Oil Gas

And here is the big conflict drivers: oil in the Christian/animist south, pipelines in the Muslim Arab north. You can get three AK-47 assault rifles or a single RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade launcher for the price of a barrel of oil.

This recent Reuters article provides some sense of China’s involvement in the region. We’ll be coming back to this topic periodically, exploring the effects of the oil finds on the geopolitics of the region.

The Nile’s Annual Flood

Most Americans know that the Nile river is found in Egypt, but few could name any of the other countries the world’s longest river crosses. They are Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and I had to look at the Nile Wikipedia article to recall Tanzania and the Congo are involved, too.


There are six major dams on the Nile:



The Nile peaks at 700 million cubic meters of water a day during a good monsoon season in the south. It takes 1,233 cubic meters to make an acre-foot, the water volume measurement commonly used in the U.S., so that is 568,000 acre-feet per day. The Colorado river flows 15 million acre-feet a year.


Years of High Nile correspond to a good Ethiopian monsoon, which floods the Blue Nile. This is the famed Blue Nile Falls, both wet and dry.

The Blue Nile Falls


The White Nile, fed by the same monsoon, floods as well. See the pulse of water on the graph, a fraction of the size and slightly delayed compared to the Blue Nile? The White Nile’s waters are doubly buffered – first filling the 26,000+ square mile Lake Victoria, and then the world’s largest freshwater swamp, South Sudan’s Sudd. A strong monsoon will expand the marshes from 12,000 square miles (Maryland) to over 50,000 (Arkansas), covering 20% of South Sudan.


Politically, the ten nations that share this river have been working on the Nile Basin Initiative, a regional effort to improve the lives of those using the river, as well as preserve important natural habitat such as the Sudd. There is a split between Egypt and Sudan, the two wholly dependent desert nations, and the other eight, who contribute much and take little.

Does this add up to Egypt funding trouble in Somalia? Did this happen during the Mubarak regime, or after Arab Spring toppled him? Was it specifically about hydropolitics with Ethiopia?

I think it’s clear Egypt was putting weapons into the hands of Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts, but the water war angle seems to me to be conspiratorial in nature. I’m going to keep looking because it’s an interesting angle, but I have only found that idea on partisan blogs thus far.