Under what authority can prime minister invite Egypt and Sudan to become GERD shareholders?

6 Nov

by Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory

The story currently fuming or confusing a good number of Ethiopians in the diaspora is the so-called “October initiative” by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. He is quoted more on the foreign media about having suggested that Egypt and the Sudan could become joint owners of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Some sources suggest that the prime minister uttered this during a press conference last month.

Although I am not challenging veracity of the claims by the media, I regret to say it, I have not heard such suggestion or proposal, although I have followed his press conference.

Media reporting

In Ethiopia, Walta reported:

    “The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has affirmed his country’s commitment to the establishment of Renaissance Dam for the benefit of the River Nile states, including Egypt and Sudan, saying that Ethiopia considers the Renaissance Dam as a joint ownership.”

In Egypt, Ahmed Eleiba in an article titled Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to hold fresh meeting Monday on Nile Dam wrote on Al-Ahram’s October 31, 2013 issue:

    “The Egyptian government has applauded a recent positive stance by Addis Ababa, citing statements by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in which he said the dam would not affect the water interests of the downstream countries and called for turning the project into a partnership rather than a source of conflict or war.”

The Sudan News Agency (SUNA) in its October 7, 2013 report, sourced the prime minister’s proposal from “a press conference [Hailemariam] held in Addis Abeba”. It wrote:

    “The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has affirmed his country’s commitment to the establishment of Renaissance Dam for the benefit of the River Nile states, including Egypt and Sudan, saying that Ethiopia considers the Renaissance Dam as a joint ownership.”

From Egypt, Al-Monitor indicated that Cairo has “viewed his statement as a positive step toward reaching a consensus on the project, despite its earlier sharp criticism of it.”

The paper went further in making reference to its telephone conversation of Oct 17, 2013 with Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdul Muttalib, who had intimated:

    “Egypt doesn’t mind joining the Ethiopian government in building the dam for the service and development of the Ethiopian people. But we must agree on a number of items in a clear way to prevent any damage to Egypt as a result of the dam construction. The Egyptian government always opts for cooperation and participation. … During the coming negotiations with Ethiopia over the dam, we will clarify our position regarding the policy and method of operating the dam, the size of the storage lake attached to it, and how to fill it with water in times of flood and drought.” He stressed, “Egypt will definitely not participate in the construction unless these policies are agreed upon and agreements regarding them are signed.”


The proposal, Egypt’s defensiveness and Ethiopian reactions

Many Ethiopians now accuse Prime Minister Hailemariam of overstepping his authority in inviting Egypt and the Sudan at this stage of the construction work to become full partners – if you will, part owners of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Already nearly 25 percent of the construction of GERD is accomplished with contributions of the Ethiopian people.

Initially, Ethiopians were pleased and volunteered their contributions from their monthly salaries and wages out of patriotic sentiments. However, overtime the regime’s policies, including its resort to force to extort the contributions ended up disappointing sizeable number of Ethiopians at home. Most Ethiopians abroad linked the construction of the dam to realization of democracy and respect for fundamental human rights of Ethiopians.

Today, those patriotic citizens, especially those at home who have made enormous sacrifices, have never been shown acknowledgement of their self-sacrifices from their meagre incomes.

Now the prime minister did not have the courtesy to consult the nation before he went to the media and throw such proposals, which definitely would not bring any returns for Ethiopia. In fact, it initially made Egypt defensive, as its State Information Service (SIS) tried to offer him “plausible deniability” in anticipation of popular anger. Therefore, Egypt gave him the alibi stating that the prime minister meant the “deep deep relations with Egypt and pointed to many things in common, despite whatever government is ruling.”

Then came out conclusion of the discussion in Egypt’s cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy, who also stated that the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam could be a source of prosperity for both Egypt, Ethiopia and the Nile Basin countries.

While in Khartoum last Monday, Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdul Muttalib preached the importance of cooperation and coordination as the best ways for achieving the desired development goals of the Nile Basin Region. In that regard, he expressed the view that it was “time to consider a new strategy for the available investment opportunity,” adding that any matter dealing with the dam must be agreed upon by the governments of the three countries.

I do not think that this came out of the blues!

Recalling past Ethiopia’s early resistance to Egypt’s involvement in the project, it should not come as surprise if Cairo should see this latest proposal as evidence of Ethiopia’s short handedness with financial resources to complete the project. It would be encouraged to look for more concessions from which our country cannot easily wiggle out.

Under normal circumstances, especially where there is give and take between such countries with shared transboundary resources, a cooperation of this nature would have been ideal. There could could have been no better way of dealing with the poverty and underdevelopment in the region than the three countries developing the Nile Basin together. It could have been a sure source of peace and prosperity between Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan, whose histories are replete with intrigues and mistrusts.

Unfortunately, that train left long ago especially, as Ethiopia and Egypt continued to waste a great deal of time – one side playing hide and seek and the other replaying Giuseppe Verdi’s 1871 opera – the story of which is about Egyptians capturing and enslaving Aida, an Ethiopian princess.

Why does Hailemariam think that this would be the appropriate time to engage unstable Egypt with such a proposal? Egypt has its own preoccupations at this time to deal with such huge undertaking it considers its vital national security interest. At least, unlike Ethiopia, we have seen that since the days of Mubarak such an issue requires mobilizing the people and securing their consent.

To start with, Hailemariam’s mentor Meles Zenawi did not want this option explored further. Right from the get go, he felt insecure by the notion of Egypt sharing the historical credit GERD could have brought to its initiators and builders. As everything else, he wanted the whole cake for himself.

Therefore, on April 2, 2011 during the ground laying ceremony of GERD Meles defensively chose to accuse in public speech Egypt and the Sudan of not even contributing 50 percent of the cost.

In looking back at it, I see this new proposal becoming the source of enormous complications between our countries. On the surface, of course, some experts such as Anna Cascao have supported it, including on ETV the idea of shared interests into the building of the dam project. Meles knew that this would be added to his legacy of secrecy, intrigues and cruelty that he had left behind and is now unsettling Ethiopia.

Where on earth did Hailemariam get such authority from to muddy the water in an already complicated situation? This perhaps is one of the evidences that Ethiopians would still pay more price merely because of the arrogance of their leaders against the people.

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