Saturday December 17 2011


The first force driving border changes could be water and fuel. Virtually all the countries in the region, except Tanzania, face serious water stress in the next few years. Kenya is the most stressed: each Kenyan only has 636 cubic metres of water a year, compared with 1,270 cubic metres in Uganda and 2,035 in Tanzania. As a rule of thumb, hydrologists consider 2,000 cubic metres per person per year as the point when a country is considered “water-stressed”, and 1,000 cubic metres as when the situation is critical, and a country is “water-scarce”. So Kenya is “finished”. Water scarcity is likely to hit Uganda by 2035, and water stress will hit the country even earlier, by the year 2020.  At the present rate of deforestation, it is predicted that Uganda is likely to be importing fuel wood by 2020. Nairobi water demand stands at 750,000 cubic metres a day against a supply capacity of 530,000 cubic metres. It is projected that the daily demand in 2020 will stand at 1.6 million cubic metres and climb to 2.2 million cubic metres by 2030. So Nairobi City could collapse. In this scenario, the most successful countries will be the water-rich ones or those that have been smart at environmental management: In this scenario, Rwanda and a resurgent DR Congo could eat up Uganda; and Tanzania will become the regional superpower, swallowing most of Kenya. South Sudan will take a chunk of Kenyan and Ethiopian territory.


The future of most East African nations is uncertain, because the political elite have not arrived at a long-term deal on power sharing and enshrined it in a constitution. As a result, the regimes in Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Ethiopia all today still need to call out the army or special forces to beat back the opposition. The only country, paradoxically, that has solved this problem is Kenya. It is the only nation in the sub region where, in the past two years, the power class has worked itself into a position where it can hold power through trickery, patronage, and sweet-talking without bringing out the army.
In July this year, Kenya’s government became the first in Africa — and one of the first in the world — to be completely data open. It has a level of openness on government data that is higher than the US’s. If it can leverage all these into political dividends and the other nations don’t sort themselves out quickly, it is easy to see Kenya becoming a Democracy Top Dog and swallowing half of South Sudan, most of Uganda, and a chunk of Tanzania to become a mind-bogglingly expanded nation.


When it comes to resources, Kenya does badly, as do Rwanda and Burundi, and Somalia. Rwanda’s main resource is natural gas, with 56 billion cubic metres of natural gas reserves. The resource king in the region is DRC. According to a recent report by Africa Business, the country has $24 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits, which is equivalent to the GDP of Europe and the United States combined. The DRC has the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold and copper. This makes the DRC potentially the richest country in the world. Then there is Tanzania. It has gold reserves of 45 million ounces, and is currently the third-largest gold producer in Africa. A recent geological survey revealed 209 million tonnes of nickel reserves, 50.9 million carats of diamond, and 103 million tonnes of iron ore, as well as 6.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas. Uganda is oil rich, with 1.5 billion barrels of oil reserves. South Sudan too has 3.5 billion - 5 billion barrels of oil reserves.

In this scenario, Tanzania will ingest Burundi, Uganda and DRC would eat Rwanda for lunch, and Kenya would all but disappear, being carved up between Uganda, Tanzania, and South Sudan. Ethiopia would, largely, remain intact.


Despite lack of natural resources, a country can rise to power through innovation and becoming a leader in science and industry (as Japan teaches us). In East Africa today, the two nations investing heavily in technology innovation are Kenya and Rwanda. Kenya is now dubbed “the Silicon Savannah”.

Rwanda is also investing in IT education, and public health care like no other East African nation. Kenya’s private sector medical industry is years ahead of its peers. Kenya’s innovative capacity is ranked an impressive 52nd globally [third in Africa after Tunisia at 49th and South Africa at 51st], with high company spending on R&D and good scientific research institutions that collaborate well with the business sector in research activities (Global Competitiveness Report 2011/12, Word Economic Forum). The Global Competitiveness Report also showed Kenya with the second highest number of utility patents (i.e. patents for innovation) granted in sub-Saharan Africa, and fifth in Africa if you include Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria, at 0.02 patents per million of the population, which translates into 800,000 patents.

Kenyan operator Safaricom became the first-ever telecom company to create a mass mobile-banking service, setting industry standards now being copied from California to Kabul. By May of this year, Ushahidi, a crowd-sourcing platform developed in Nairobi in early 2008, which is free to download, had been used 14,000 times in 128 countries to map everything from last year’s earthquake in Haiti to this year’s Japanese tsunami and the Arab Spring.

If technology, innovation and the development of the health industry are the future, then Kenya and Rwanda will chew up Uganda, and Rwanda will gobble up Burundi and a large swathe of eastern DRC. A large part of Tanzania, and South Sudan would become Kenya territory. Interestingly, this is probably the only scenario where Somalia survives. It’s a fairly innovative country in communications, so it will survive. It will be reunited with Somaliland and Puntland, and take in the Somali/Ogaden of Ethiopia.


The next group of winners could be countries that reasonably stabilise their internal politics, grow their economies and build strong militaries, but have no food and energy to run on. These countries will take account of the rich ones that have resources, but are disorganised, have weak militaries, and chaotic politics.

In this scenario, Rwanda will thrive. Uganda might just get by, but not enough to grow out much. Burundi might survive. Kenya, whose real military strength, it emerges, has been grossly underestimated from what we are learning from its Somalia campaign and with an interesting new political order, will thrive as well as Rwanda. Ethiopia too will do quite well. There are questions about Tanzania in this picture, as there are about South Sudan, and Somalia is a write off. So, Rwanda will expand and absorb DR Congo and its resources. Burundi too will expand considerably into the DR Congo and parts of Tanzania. There will be a small portion of DRC left that Uganda will pick up. Uganda will also pick up a little of South Sudan, but most of it will go Ethiopia and Kenya. Kenya and Ethiopia will divvy up Somalia. Kenya might get a little bite of Tanzania. Whatever the case, Tanzania will shrink.