How our future wars will look like

Flooded Lake Baringo

A submerged house at Kampi ya Samaki in Baringo County on May 04, 2020 after Lake Baringo burst its banks.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • This year alone, Lake Victoria water levels rose to their highest levels in over 60 years, leaving a trail of destruction in Kenya and Uganda.
  • The rising waters of Lake Baringo have displaced more than 5,000 people and destroyed schools, hospitals, hotels and roads.

As we were focused on the new spike in Covid-19 infections, the titillating news about virus vaccinations, on the Donald Trump post-election horror in America last week, in the UK British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a $21.8 billion increase in defence spending.

It is the UK’s biggest military spending boost since the Cold War, and will entrench it as the biggest European spender in the Nato military alliance. 

Perhaps what was more interesting was what it specifically would spend the new money on.

There were the usual things, war ships, and satellite defences. And, for the internet age, a national cyber force. Intriguing, though, is a new “artificial intelligence agency” that, experts believed, will develop autonomous weapons systems (drones, robot soldiers, and so on).

Even if you are a man or woman of peace, this response today to technology threats that are still ahead, and societies’ increasing aversion to having their soldiers die on the frontlines (though they are still happy to kill others remotely), is striking.

It leads to us asking what are the things that could imperil Africa’s future if we don’t muster innovative security and political responses to them.

They are several of them in East Africa, but the King Kong of them all has to be climate change-related. This year alone, Lake Victoria water levels rose to their highest levels in over 60 years, leaving a trail of destruction in Kenya and Uganda.

The River Nile has been vengeful. In Sudan, following unusually heavy rains, it left as many tears as waters. Around Khartoum alone, the flooding of the Nile River killed almost one hundred people, destroyed more than 1,000 houses, and sent water-borne diseases soaring.

In Nigeria, flooding in the rice-producing Kebbi State destroyed over 25 per cent of the country’s expected eight million tons of rice harvests this year. This week flood waters battered the Somali coastal town of Bosaso, a day after Tropical Cyclone Gati landed with heavy winds, along with record-breaking rains that caused extensive flooding.

Rising waters of Lake Baringo

The cyclone was said to be the strongest ever measured in the Horn of Africa. Northern Somalia usually gets about 4 inches of rain per year; but data shows Gati brought around 8 inches over two days.

In Kenya’s Rift Valley, the lakes are in their worst mood for many decades. The rising waters of Lake Baringo have displaced more than 5,000 people and destroyed schools, hospitals, hotels (and tourism related platforms) and roads.

Lake Turkana has risen several metres higher, as have Lakes Bogoria and Baringo – now there are scary scenarios of a future where the latter two might merge into one lake. 

It has been a story of extremes this year – unusually dry, with wildfires, and scorched earth, or too much water.

At the state level in Africa, one of the first holistic strategic responses we have seen is from Egypt, combining a big solar energy push, and aggressive greening. Egypt is now growing forests in the middle of the desert using treated sewage water, and already has a 494 acres forest that is thriving.

It plans to transform more large areas of desert into arable and economically viable areas. These also provide a firmer and less dusty ground for launching war.

But this diversification from relying on climate-change vulnerable dams for energy, to solar, presents a defence problem.

As all the countries that are going full throttle on solar like Morocco will have discovered, at a certain scale it creates such a large field that can be seen very easily from a high-altitude enemy bomber, or targeted without much fuss by long range missiles from a hostile entity a couple of countries from your border.

Exacerbate inequalities 

However, the greater threat, is internal. Most of the victims of floods are the poorer sections of our societies. Landless, they live in valleys, or have settled in marginal lands, some of which were wetlands.

Additionally, they are new money and latter-day middle classes, settling along banks of rivers and a short distance off the shores of Lake Victoria, because old money long took firmer ground and hilltops in the cities, and more stable plains – or in Kenya, the highlands.

Long term, floods will not just exacerbate inequalities by destroying the livelihoods of the poorer populations and small businesses, but also sharpen a politically explosive class divide. The social bribes, some in the form of infrastructure, to mollify such disaffected groups can no longer be built in the same way. 

There’s one interesting twist in this tale. There is a small, but growing class of people, who are thriving through smart green technologies and practices. Many of them don’t have much money. What they have is superior knowledge, and the ability to act on it.

More than in the past, we are headed into a climate change ravaged future where a knowledge divide, is also the success divide. In future revolutions, the masses could hang the “people of science”. Our police aren’t set up to deal with that level of complexity.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

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