Africa/Middle East - Issue 51 - Magazine | Monocle

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Africa’s Great Green wall


It’s time to learn a new word: “isohyet”. Countries that in the past compared credit agency ratings will soon be taking a closer look at each other’s isohyets – the lines on a map indicating rainfall patterns.

Due to climate change, sub-Saharan African countries have seen the 100mm-400mm isohyet – the rainfall band below which land becomes uninhabitable – move steadily southwards. For part-desert nations such as Niger, this means a reduction in the useful size of the country and its capacity to feed its people.

To confront this, 11 African countries have signed up to the $2bn (€1.5bn) Great Green Wall initiative. The World Bank’s Global Environment Facility is providing grants to plant a 15km-wide green belt running 7,000km from west to east. First proposed in 2005 by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, the Great Green Wall is intended to include vegetation, from trees to grazing land, all sustainably planted and harvested. The most enthusiastic country, Senegal, has already begun planting.

World Bank vice-president for sustainability Rachel Kyte says it’s a “hands-on example of climate-smart agriculture that will increase yield, boost resilience to climate change and mitigate its impact. The impact of a 2c temperature rise in sub-Saharan Africa will be a 4 to 5 per cent loss in growth.”


Under threat


China is booming, its growth driven by African commodities such as copper, iron ore and oil. In return, Chinese companies in Africa are building infrastructure and businesses. But that growth is beginning to have an impact on Africa’s elephants.

Ivory is a symbol of wealth in China, often in the form of trinkets, family seals or chopsticks. The wildlife trade monitory group TRAFFIC described last year as an annus horribilis for Africa’s elephants, who are being slaughtered in ever greater numbers, their tusks smuggled to the Far East. Some conservationists draw comparisons with the 1980s when half of Africa’s elephants were wiped out.

Three African energy projects:

Grand Inga Falls:
The Democratic Republic of Congo is leading an $80bn proposal to build the world’s largest hydro-electric dam.

Lake Turkana wind farm:
Africa’s largest wind farm is in the works – 365 giant wind turbines are to be installed in the desert at the cost of £533m.

Northern Cape solar farm:
South Africa has released plans to build a r200bn (£18.42bn) solar farm in an effort to diversify its energy consumption.

Oil be damned


As if Somalia didn’t have enough problems already, the war-wracked East African nation is now searching for oil. Canadian firm Africa Oil says the two wells in the northeastern province of Puntland are the first to be drilled in 21 years.




Type: Parliamentary
Date: 29 March
Candidates: It can be confidently predicted that the conservatives who dominate the 290-seat parliament will win another majority.
Issues: The very legitimacy of the election. It is widely perceived that this one will be largely an acting out of the power struggle between uncompromising Ayatollah Khamanei and unlovely president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

Monocle comment:Iran’s presidential elections in 2009 sparked widespread unrest that, in hindsight, seems a curtain-raiser for this year’s Middle Eastern revolutions. The Ayatollahs will be deservedly nervous.

The big build

Saudi Arabia — HOUSING

Property markets might be in a slump elsewhere but in Saudi Arabia the demand for housing is acute. The government hopes to dramatically increase the number of houses before its young citizens – almost half of Saudi Arabia’s 26 million strong population is under the age of 20 – require homes of their own.

To tackle the problem, the king last year created a housing ministry, pledging to build more than 1.5 million houses by 2016 and offering generous subsidies to prospective buyers. The kingdom is in the midst of a construction boom, with the current high prices expected to level down as supply finally meets demand.

Frack show

South Africa — GAS

Although dry and desolate South Africa’s central region, the Karoo, has become the epicentre of controversy after energy companies expressed an interest in extracting its estimated 485 trillion cubic feet of shale gas through fracking – the pumping of water, sand and chemicals. There are environmental concerns but proponents argue fracking could ensure energy security for South Africa and enrich the impoverished Karoo people. The national government has responded by placing two six-month moratoriums on exploration and appointing a fracking task team. But as South Africa becomes increasingly reliant on coal and oil, the temptation may become too hard to resist.

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