An affinity with the Nile

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 7 Dec 2021

Hani Raslan (1961-2021)


The Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) bid farewell to one of its most active and dedicated members, Hani Raslan, an expert on Nile Basin affairs, on Saturday.

Raslan passed away after having contracted Covid-19. His death ended a career of political research that has produced significant contributions on the geopolitics of East Africa, Egyptian-Sudanese relations, Egypt’s relations with the countries of the Nile Basin, and Egypt’s strategic interests in the Red Sea-East Africa region.

Over the past decade, Raslan, along with colleagues in the Sudan and Africa units at the ACPSS, dedicated much work to examining the conflict between Ethiopia, an upstream Nile Basin country, and both Sudan and Egypt, two downstream countries, on a mega-dam with a reservoir of over 74 billion cubic metres (bcm) of water on the Blue Nile, which contributes significantly to Egypt’s limited water resources and significantly influences water facilities in the south of Sudan.

From the beginning of the crisis with the announcement of the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Raslan’s research offered firm warnings about what he called “the true intentions of the Ethiopian rulers”. This was his position during the rule of former Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi, and it became even more pronounced under the rule of current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Raslan often advised that no compromises should be made, based on a view that Ethiopia plans to take control of the River Nile as part of an attempt to take control of water resources in the east of the African continent.

Ethiopia’s plans behind the GERD, he often wrote, were not strictly about generating electricity to cover the power deficits that have for decades handicapped development in the populous East African country. Instead, as he said in interviews with Al-Ahram Weekly, “what Ethiopia is really up to is to have the GERD as a water bank as part of plans to become the dominant regional power that sells water to the countries of the region.”

In his recent commentaries, Raslan cautioned that it was unlikely that Ahmed would change course on the radical position he has been taking in the extended negotiations between Ethiopia and Egypt and Sudan. Ahmed, Raslan insisted, cannot compromise on “his one and only” claim to political credibility at a time when the powers of the federal government in Ethiopia are being contested by several ethnic minorities in the country.

Raslan’s understanding of the ethnic map of East Africa was impressive, and he was well versed in the ethnic topography of the countries of the east of the continent and their internal and cross-group dynamics.

With this understanding, he offered a thorough view of political dynamics in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and elsewhere in the east of Africa. He thought that cross-ethnic dynamics are often more consequential for policymaking in the Nile Basin and on the eastern side of the Red Sea than government positions or external relations.

In his work, Raslan was also mindful of two other factors: the rise of political Islam, especially in its militarised version as seen in the case of Al-Shabab in Somalia, and the conflict between the traditional world powers, including the old colonial powers, and the world’s rising economic powers.

During the past decade, Raslan made a point of examining the expansion of the Chinese and Russian presence across East Africa. He also kept a close eye on the growing interest in East Africa by the Arab Gulf countries, especially by Saudi Arabia on the other side of the Red Sea and the UAE with its plans to expand its interest in crucial regional ports.

The growing Israeli presence across the continent and especially in East Africa was also an issue that got a lot of attention from Raslan over the past five years, especially after the launch of the normalisation agreement between Sudan and Israel last year.

In addition to his prolific work for the ACPSS, Raslan was a regular commentator in many Al-Ahram publications, including the Weekly. His commentaries offered insightful analysis that came from a wealth of informed contacts that he cultivated throughout his career, not just in Egypt but also elsewhere across the east of the continent.

Raslan will be much missed for his political analysis. But the volume of work he produced will continue to offer insight to younger researchers with shared interests who often called on his kind and willing help.

He will also be much missed by colleagues and friends at the ACPSS, most Al-Ahram publications, and the research centres with which he kept up cooperative relationships.

The Weekly laments the loss of an insightful researcher and a generous colleague. May his soul rest in peace.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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