Infrastructure Projects with Major Geopolitical Implications

 Above: Map showing portions of the projects discussed in this article


Energy Triangle                                                                                                                                              Following the discovery of natural gas and oil reserves in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs)  of The Republic of Cyprus and Israel, the two nations created a joint EEZ in 2010. Basically, the agreement allows the two countries to move freely and easily about the two zones and it obliges the two states to cooperate on resource exploitation initiatives that straddle the borders. It is hoped that within the next 3-5 years, some solution will be drafted and under construction, allowing traditionally resource-poor Israel and Cyprus to become oil exporters. Currently, the plans for a joint natural gas and oil project between the two nations are in the most basic of stages, facing some significant practical challenges.

However, the EuroAsia Interconnector Project is looking very feasible and may materialize soon. As shown in the above map, the plan calls for a linking of the electrical grids of Israel, Cyprus, Crete, and mainland Greece. If completed, it would be the longest subsea power cable and, as its name suggests, the first linking Asia and Europe. In the map provided, it should be noted that the cable routes would not follow the straight-line paths that I have marked out, but due to a lack of public information on any such routes, I demarcated straight line paths. The project heads have promised that once the project is begun, completion would occur within 36 months. Currently, it looks as though the proposed project could begin construction in 2016 or 2017.

Why It Matters                                                                                                                                         The project makes economic sense because Israel can supply electricity at cheaper costs to the Cypriots and Greeks and, upon completion of other connector projects, Greece can export electricity to Italy and other Balkan nations. The project makes geopolitical sense for all three nations because it effectively creates an axis of traditionally marginalized nations in the region. By developing their own energy resources, Israel, Cyprus, and Greece can take charge of their energy needs and rely less on their hostile neighbors. Already, Lebanon has issued a dispute over the boundary of Israel’s EEZ. Turkey has made, thus far, empty threats to disrupt Cypriot-Israeli exploration of oil reserves in the joint EEZ.

As far as longer-range security concerns go, if oil and/or natural gas were to come online from this “Energy Triangle,” it would substantially weaken Gazprom’s monopoly over Europe, cutting Putin’s Russia down to size. Greece and Cyprus are fairly desperate for any sort of new industry, be it electricity or hydrocarbons, given the spectacular economic collapse that they have undergone in recent years. Moving forward, this project as well as other potential energy projects promises to further integration of regional markets and unite neighbors in an otherwise hostile environment.

                                        Above: Area affected by LAPPSET Project

LAPSSET                                                                                                                                                          The Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor is, perhaps, Africa’s most ambitious infrastructure project ever. Spearheaded by the Kenyan government, the plan is vast and calls for the construction of several highways, the building of a number of modern rail routes, the creation of new airports, and the construction of a sea port at Lamu. At the cornerstone of the project is the construction of a resort and deepwater port at the ecologically and historically significant site of Lamu (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a proposed crude oil pipeline connecting South Sudan’s oil reserves to the Kenyan port. Thus far, I have only included the proposed oil pipeline, as it is difficult to obtain reliable plans for the totality of the project. You can read more about the project here. For the purposes of this post, the discussion of LAPSSET will focus on the port and pipeline.

Initiated in March 2012, the roughly $25 billion project promises to develop a long-range vision for East Africa. Thus far, the construction of the port is mostly complete and the construction of a series of berths are under way. As far as the highway component of the project, one section is complete and four other segments, connecting Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania are currently under construction. A transmission line connecting Malindi and other coastal locales to Lamu has been completed while other transmission lines are being built from Lamu to Lake Turkana, towards the interior of the country. There are yet more transmission lines being considered and studied for construction as part of the plan.

Why It Matters                                                                                                                                               Aside from the improved standards of living and increased business potential that the project offers Kenya, South Sudan, and Ethiopia, LAPSSET has the potential to transform the way Africans and foreigners view the continent. If the project comes to fruition, or at least mostly, it would be a major victory for self-initiated peace and progress in a region that is better known for its hostility and lack of cooperation. The fact that the project originates from Africa would be a step away from foreign intervention— a welcome and positive change.

More tangible, though, would be the benefits to the fledgling South Sudan. The newly-independent state has suffered from years of exploitation and negligence at the hands of the Omar Al-Bashir government and, as a result, is possibly the world’s least-developed nation. At the heart of the North’s longstanding exploitation was the fact that the majority of Sudanese oil reserves are located in the ethnically-distinct and religiously-diverse South while the ports connecting the oil to international markets are located in the North. As such, the Sudanese government hogged and continues to hog, a disproportionate share of the oil revenues, creating the development disparities visible today.

The LAPSSET project offers the politically-fragile and generally backwards South Sudan an alternative route through which to export their oil. Not only would South Sudan’s participation in this project increase it’s negotiating position with Sudan, but it would engender goodwill among two nations (Ethiopia and Kenya) that supported its hard-fought independence struggle. Not only does LAPSSET have the potential to transform East Africa and set millions on the road to prosperity, but it can weaken aggressive and repressive regimes that oppose American interests.

These projects show much promise both in serving regional economic ends and in promoting democracies and the progress of oppressed peoples in “difficult neighborhoods.”

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