Signs of changing postures on the Nile River: Egypt girds itself to defend Ethiopia’s Blue NIle dam

31 Aug

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Certainly, times change. History finds lots of reasons and causes to inaugurate new developments. Egypt’s January 25 Revolution was ecstatic. We witnessed power politics in Cairo in the moments leading to the electoral victory of former President Mohamed Morsy. In only a year, he fell victim of the Muslim Brotherhood’s successes and arrogance that sought to take Egypt back in time. Finally, the army threw its lot in the person of Field Marshal Abdulfatah El-Sisi – turned civilian – as a rescuer, consistent with the history of Egypt since 1954.

While I resent the interpretation that Ethiopia has now become beneficiary of the collapse of Mubarak or the Morsy regimes, we see this development healthier so long as it is honest and transparent. It would correct generations of Egyptian intrigues and mistakes, characterized by hardness of attitude and below the radar actions against Ethiopia.

Now I read this latest story like an unbeliever reads a scripture. It is said that Hossam al-Moghazi, Egypt’s Irrigation Minister, is now the new sheriff in Cairo on the side of Ethiopia’s Great Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The Jordanian paper Albawaba quotes the minister stating the hitherto claims of adverse effects of Ethiopia’s dam on Egypt’s share of the Nile water has been exaggerated – the exact word the paper employed is ‘overrated’.

It is not clear whether this is a reversal, a welcome development though, especially if it is also backed by the many Egyptian experts who vociferously disparaged GERD tooth and nail, or simply the Al-Sisi regime’s fiat and a new position for Egypt. I see no harm in hoping that it would silence hostilities between the two countries and allow Ethiopians to benefit from electricity, as source of light and heat in a country where darkness dominates over 80 percent of the country, i.e, with 20 percent coverage.

What does the minister have in his belt to defend this position? He has two arguments: the first is the new study requested by International Panel of Experts (IPoE), which the tripartite meeting of water ministers of the three countries has now approved. Recalcitrant Ethiopia has accepted the decision at the Khartoum meeting last week. The study is expected to be completed by March 2015.

The second presumed insurance the Egyptian minister is the dam’s water storage capacity of 14 billion cubic meters in the first phase of its construction. Of that, he says it would not cause any harm to Egypt and that, as far as the dam’s construction is concerned, it “does not worry us”, according to the paper.

Recall that a day after the Khartoum meeting on August 27, 2014, Minister Moghazi told the Egyptian media that the latest round of talks have solved 85 percent of Egypt’s outstanding problems caused by Ethiopia’s hydroelectric dam. We are now living under a changed time. And the GERD construction work by mid-August reached 35.8 percent.

I tell everyone in secret that Cairo does not acknowledge the dam’s construction work has been in progress and that, barring any hanky-panky under the table deals, Egypt should credit itself for seeing the light and changing its position in time!

At the same time, it is prudent of the minister to tell the media through a statement from his office that Egypt’s approval of the dam is contingent on the forthcoming study. In that regard, he pointed out: “We haven’t mentioned that Egypt has a final agreement on the dam construction, as all three countries have agreed to wait for the results of the international committee that we agreed upon”, according to Ahram Online.

Interestingly, all of a sudden it has become all sunny between Egypt and the Sudan too. Against the disparagement the Sudan has suffered from from Egyptian officials for allying with the TPLF regime, Ahram Online noted that the Egyptian irrigation minister lauded the work the Sudanese minister had accomplished at the Khartoum meeting in last week’s negotiations.

Nonetheless, it is not because we Ethiopians have suspicious nature. But because of the lessons we have learnt in the past several decades, there are likely to be now some nagging questions in the mind of every Ethiopian whether there is secret deal between Ethiopia and Egypt. For all we know, Ethiopia had been resistant for such a study in the past. What made it change its mind now? Why is Egypt’s change of attitude so abrupt? Please tell us!

It is important for Ethiopian officials to be upfront in assuaging such discomforts in citizens, irrespective of whether one perceives the regime favorably or otherwise. Pro-TPLF or anti-TPLF, all the same Ethiopians have a stake in this matter, all Ethiopian agreeing that Ethiopia’s right to benefit from the Nile River is ensured.

Notwithstanding the uncertainty I harbor about willingness and capacity of the TPLF regime to manage the dam for the benefit all citizens and in the most judicious way, as I discussed in May 20111 in Is Ethiopia’s Rendezvous With History Really Arriving, or Are We in Some Fantasy?, GERD is Ethiopia’s title deed on the Nile, the use of whose water by upper riparian states has been the cause of wars over 14 decades ago in Ethiopia, ever since an agenda for water utility prohibition and the subject of disputes and conflicts since the dawn of the 201th century – thanks to Egypt.

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