Ethiopian officials tell the world Ethio-Egypt talks were successful: What have they achieved?

19 Jun

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

The Ethiopian media have carried today news report on outcome of the June 16-17, 2013 talks between Ethiopia and Egypt, which was described by Ethiopian officials as “successful.” I had to stop after the lead paragraph to see if I had missed something or find out what it is they called “successful”.

BerhaneTo be onest, I am not sure if I have still found it after some rereading. Further down into the rest of the ten-paragraph report, I could only see a conscious effort by State Minister Berhane Gebrekristos crediting Ethiopia’s good behavior and welcome gesture about promoting mutual benefits, how it handled the dam issue, the situation it has created for the review of GERD’s impacts on the two downstream states and the recognition they said was given to our country by the International panel members.

As a citizen of Ethiopia, I am happy about that. However, that does not answer my question why they thought this meeting was successful. Were they expecting war? Is it because Foreign Minister Kamel Amr was not spitting fire?

I have taken note that in briefing diplomats stationed in Addis Abeba about outcome of the meeting between the two foreign ministers, Berhane presented them with the official assessment that the exchange of views was conducted in “a spirit of mutual understanding and brotherhood, and agreement has been reached to discuss on the panel’s report”, according to ERTA.

The atmospherics cannot be all the grain to the success our officials talk about. They need to tell us something else we do not know, if they have offered something concrete and specific at the meeting that, after the first difficult day, Egypt should choose to seemingly assume pliant posture in Addis Abeba. Moreover, it nearly was humourous that, after what sounded implicit apology for all those angry words against Ethiopia, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Kmael Amr should blame Cairo’s June 3 rowdy behavior on live screen, especially of the Islamic parties, which he attributed to the “heat of the moment.”

Egyptians have the best of the Middle East in them, especially in terms of bargaining capacity and I do not buy the heat of the moment alibi. However, since he has raised it I should hope in earnest that he also had in mind those Ethiopians beaten on Egyptian streets by Egyptians angered by the rhetoric coming out of Cairo. We all need to be aware that Egypt as host country has hardly given them protection.

In fact, the day Foreign Minister Amr arrived in Addis Abeba the foreign ministry in Cairo issued statement that it had received no complaints from Ethiopians in Cairo. Sadly for Ethiopians, their own government was not seen lifting its finger to protect them in fulfilling its obligations under Article 33 of the Ethiopian Constitution. The law of the land they want everyone to abide by, among others, states: “Every Ethiopian national has the right to the enjoyment of all rights, protection and benefits derived from Ethiopian nationality as prescribed by law.”

Regarding the substance of the talks neither Ethiopian officials nor the Egyptian side is telling us whether Ethiopia has in principle agreed to delay the construction work on the dam, until a new study confirms its viability. If on the other hand, there is no concrete offer of any type from the Ethiopian side to appease Egypt, then Egypt must have counted on the coming fresh study to give it the time it needs to revisit the issue all over again.

On his way back to Cairo, in Khartoum the foreign minister brought up to speed Sudanese officials who are now seen to be on the same page. The sense I get from the Egyptian position is that they see the Addis talks as giving them breathing space to come back, past June 30 – depending on developments at that time – with a more robust response. In that regard, Egypt considers the agreement to establish a technical committee another launching pad to re-engage in its opposition to the dam.

This goes beyond the claim that the Morsy regime and Moslem Brotherhood had created the artificial Nile crisis and tried to divert popular attention, which to their dismay, fizzled out – if indeed there was an element of that. It is rather a new calculus, with that now being their reality, Egypt did not want to keep their flanks open on two fronts.

Such is their preoccupation with the June 30 protest against Morsy and the Moslem Brotherhood that Prime Minister Hesham Qandil spent this Wednesday campaigning to impress on Egyptians the fact that “if demonstrators toppled President Mohamed Morsy on 30 June, it could precipitate a political catastrophe in Egypt.”

The possibility that Egypt is bidding for a better time to make its claim at a different time in a different setting cannot be discounted. At least, for now the firework Cairo had created had not gone in its direction. Perhaps it is a good barometer that middle class Egyptian have focussed on their long-term national interests, from which Ethiopians should pick a lesson or two.

I should mention in this connection that the government in Ethiopia needs to show respect for its citizens. One demonstration of it is informing citizens as appropriate all the time and with real substance. Compare this with Egypt, how much the government makes the effort to brief them within the hour when something happens. It is regrettable that, in a country that does not have proper media to inform the nation, Ethiopians are not being provided anything beyond propaganda.

Look at the briefing by the state minister. It is all about atmospherics and nothing substantive! Ethiopia can do better than that once the government stops looking down on the people from an elitist stance.

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*Updated with added materials

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