Egypt uncertain which way it should go to find settlement to its problem with Ethiopia’s dam

28 Mar

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory

Wala Hussein of Al-Montior reported Thursday that Egypt’s Specialized National Councils has filed to the Office of the Interim President an “important report“, along with a study and recommendation for Egypt to take the case of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to the International Court of Justice for arbitration (sic). The journalist indicated that the report was prepared by a team of Egyptian experts in law and international arbitration, headed by Mufid Shehab, who was part of the international Taba arbitration tribunal, the reputation of which was built around Egypt’s recovery of Taba town through armistice negotiations and agreement from Israel in 1988.

At this stage, it is understood, the said report is still under examination, including the comprehensive study, which Hussein says is prepared using the Taba case, as model. The contents of the study are enumerations of the damages the Renaissance Dam would inflict on Egypt in violation of international law.

From Walla Hussein’s report, it is clear to see that Egyptian authorities have not decided where they should file the cases they have built against the Ethiopian dam. This may partly be to buy time be due to the absence of an elected government in Egypt or the specialized nature of some of the forums they have in mind, or the requirements under the respective procedures these forums have. It could also be possible that Egypt lacks sufficient evidence against the dam. If this is the case, it may have come to some Egyptian officials as cause for concerns. They may have seen that it would make their presumed problems entirely political, with no evidence of endangerment or escalation into conflict the situation between the two countries to make it cause for concern for the international community.

In the news report, however, references are made to the UN General Assembly as likely choice. Even there, Egypt gives the impression that it wants to utilize it as vehicle for indirect transmission of its case to the UN Security Council. Such precedents are rare in the United Nations, since nations have always shown caution on water issues and disputes to be fast and loose about creating new precedents.

In fact, the precedent at the UN is usually in the reverse direction from the one suggested in the news report by Al-Monitor, i.e., from the Security Council to the General Assembly when political support is sought and the goal is to score moral victory. It does not look like this is what Egypt has in mind, unless the whole purpose of it is to get the GA referring to the Council, explicitly requesting the ICJ to look into the matter. The substance of the dispute would not allow this. This is not the type of matter at this stage any of the two Charter organs would prefer to handle in this manner. At the same time, the news report seems uninformed about the steps required of Cairo if it so chooses to take the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). What it exercises is not its volition, but primarily Ethiopia’s consent to have the case adjudicated there.
 

What is needed is confidence building for more negotiations

The world has not witnessed any Nile conflicts this far, notwithstanding the many war threats have been thrown in Ethiopia’s direction in the past six decades and numerous indirect subversive actions have been deployed to weaken the country. Nonetheless, the fact now seems to be that in threatening to take its complaints to international bodies, Egypt is still in a negotiation mode. This present confusion is clear indication or it realizes that it has not exhausted the values of political-cum-technical engagement with Ethiopia.

In other words, it has not totally given up on the possibilities for negotiated settlement. Moreover, while mercurial its position may be, Cairo has indicated on several occasions, including loading up many other unkind things. This is not to say that Egypt’s volubility has not become increasingly difficult to tell which way it would eventually go.

The question now is, if it goes for negotiation through international intermediaries, how different would that future negotiation Egypt may have in mind be any different from the direct and face-to-face tripartite talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan they had until January 2014.

From a reading of the situation the conclusion that Egypt may be counting on more extra-African nations bringing pressure to bear on Ethiopia cannot be discounted. The basis for this assumption is that for a while now Egypt has been casting its diplomatic nest far and wide. It is possible that this may have influenced its decision to continue the negotiations, possibly with involvement of nations from within and without our region.

This then entails a further question what issues outside intermediaries may address in their approach with Addis Abeba. As an Ethiopian, I happen to be a bit concerned about Ethiopian officials feeling too content with their set and established views and position on the Renaissance Dam’s acceptability to the whole world. Ethiopia’s rationale is premised on nothing could stop it from using its natural resources. I have noticed the caveat, as do Egyptians, which conveys the notion that the dam is being built, without in any way harming the interests of Egypt. However, this has not proved convincing to Cairo.

If the past is any guide, while there cannot and should not be any intention on the part of Ethiopia to harm Egypt in any way, Cairo has managed to impress on the outside world that, while it was seized with its own internal troubles -two revolutions – Addis Abeba has surreptitiously been building its Grand Renaissance Dam.

Recall also that former President Morsi presided meeting with Egyptian political parties, which witnessed the venting of their anger on 29/30 May 2013. Their fury was that Ethiopia had deflected the course of the Nile, without giving prior notice to Egypt, as required by international law.

The point that Ethiopia is building the dam without any transparency has been successfully pushed by some former and current Egyptian officials, totally resolved to their opposition of the GERD, irrespective of its size. This has found some grip in some countries, including amongst Europeans. At the forefront of such efforts stands Mohamed Allam, Mubarak era minister of irrigation and water resources. In a June 19, 2011 article by Katrina Manson, appearing on The Financial Times titled Nile Dam: Water wars averted, he argued, “the dam will create shortages in water, power and farming land and lead to political, economic and social instability.”

Through and through, the article was very sympathetic to Egypt. As an old warrior and US educated engineer from MIT and former minister, he has become a prominent leader of the anti-dam front in Egypt. He is also rumoured to have his hand behind the establishment of a non-governmental organization to be known as the ‘water council’, dedicated to the protection of Egypt’s interests on the Nile.

In that article, FT journalist Manson repeatedly quotes an unidentified “international official”, who like Mohamed Allam stressed “Ethiopia has pushed this [GERD] through in a time of turmoil in Egypt … Egypt has not had the time or breathing room to focus on it – the new leaders [after January 25 Revolution] have not been able to unite the country around a single issue and certainly not around the Nile.”

The view that Egypt’s water interests should not be affected has wider support, even among Ethiopia’s good friends -reasonable as that position is.

Recall that in his last interview with The Reporter, in a parting message US Ambassador Donald Booth reiterated his government’s view that the Nile can and must be developed for the benefit of both the upper and lower riparian states. While events may have overtaken the possibility of US good offices between Addis Abeba and Cairo, which he mentioned at that time because of developments in Egypt, the accent in his message is that Ethiopia must ensure this dam is a win-win undertaking.

Similarly, many other Addis Abeba visiting dignitaries have underlined this view to Ethiopian officials. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia officials are more obsessed with the propaganda mileage they could squeeze from building GERD. This has taken away the necessary caution and the possibility of effectively articulating our national position. This is also being read by other countries, which may have made it easier for them to doubt Ethiopia’s sincerity towards Egypt. When this comes at the level of senior officials, it is extremely troubling – when I see it as an Ethiopian, thus this providing Egypt with lots of mortal ammunitions.

Arrogant as it sounds, Minister Alemayehu Tegenu is only quoted in The Financial Times article stating his famous line: “We have the right to develop our natural resource … We were not benefiting much from the Nile. There is a group of people who are totally against the dam and they are not right.”

It should be noted that, within wider intermediary that Ethiopia may have to face at some point that – assuming Egypt prefers international mediation – it cannot keep on reiterating to the rest of the world about its rights. That conveys the sense of Egypt’s non-rights. To my mind, Ethiopia’s argument needs some fresh thinking and logic, more than the cadre-esque propaganda and the bent on moralization by a government as far from morality as Pluto is in our solar system.

Moreover, I am compelled to come with such a harsh tone not to feed Egypt’s position. It is in addition, after watching on March 28, 2014 ETV production of an interview in English with Ato Fekahmed Negash, who is the Director of the Boundary and Transboundary Rivers at the Ministry of Water and Energy. His refutation of the Egyptian claims, although rife with strands of Egypt’s contradictions, it largely sounds it was intended for domestic consumption – a lá ETV mismatch to converts already within the camp of the Ethiopian cause.

A the same time, I thought, since it is in English, it was also intended for for consumption by Egypt and the rest of the world. I am not sure how much of it has helped the Ethiopian cause. As far as I am concerned, while Ethiopia has good case and cause, the audience was given that Ethiopia has the power and authority to pick and choose what views it could accept and reject in its protagonists case. At the end of it I heard saying to myself this is self-defeating.

Caution is essential, especially given that Egypt finds itself in a difficult situation: internal dissensions characterized by the worst form of societal divisions and bloodletting. While in his pitch for the presidency Field Marshal El Sisi may have played the optimist chord, he has not restrained himself from telling his nation that Egypt on the crossroads in many respects. Those in power have the ease of seeking external diversion, when they cannot withstand the ugliness of their internal conditions.

As a citizen, I see GERD as our country’s title deed on the Nile River. Nonetheless, I cannot hide my strongest displeasure shortly after it arrived. This is because of the internal TPLF politics and how the whole thing has been handled – the lies and the propaganda and conquest of the valley on the moon.

I also very much resent the propaganda that has come the moment the construction work started. It is our misfortune now that we cannot throw the baby with the bathwater. Any reversals or disadvantages at this stage Ethiopia might suffer in this endeavor is trouble for our nation, with which it would have to live through for the long haul.

One more thing. Also I resent the payroll arm-twisting of civil servants, communities and farmers through cadre pitches to get them involuntarily pay their contributions. I do not understand who Ethiopian officials are fooling. Which part of the world does not know that Ethiopians are forced against their will to pay contributions toward the dam on a monthly basis.

As if that were not enough, we hear now a committee comprising Azeb Mesfin, Addisu Legesse, Bereket Simon, Shiferaw Shigute and Kassa Tekleberhan have been calculating how much money they need for the Meles Zenawi Foundation. They decide how much should be allotted for payment for civil servants, members of cooperatives, kebeles, etc.

The point is that, lawless as our country has become, these monies are being forcibly collected. This is extortion mafia-esque! It involves threats, loss of jobs and benefits (if at all any), fear in families, and possibly some imprisonments and denial of rights on those who question propriety of mobilizing money in this criminal manner.

This is cruel, violation of human rights and unacceptable, no matter what the circumstances! After all, Ethiopians have much anger against Meles, if only they are allowed to express them, as do free peoples!
*Updated with added materials.
 

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