GERD: Is Egypt raising the ante to get more water aiming to benefit from limits imposed on Ethiopia by its politics & diplomacy?

19 Mar

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

–I–

President el-Sisi – what and how from Ethiopia now?

News about the planned jetting into Addis Abeba of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi on Monday March 23, 2015 has awakened renewed interests in Ethiopia-Egypt relations. Prominently coming into international gaze more particularly is the long-standing and tortured negotiations between the two countries over the controversial construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile. Underlying this are water use issues, as part of the broader Nile Question that this month foreign ministers from the three countries had presumed to have crossed their Rubicon, when they ecstatically announced about achieving the historic milestone and thus initial settlement.

In reporting the news story, Al-Masry Al-Youm has indicated that the president’s intention is “to resolve the remaining differences over the Renaissance Dam, before the signing of the “Declaration of Principles” framework agreement in Khartoum Monday.”

Interestingly, after the Khartoum tripartite meeting none of the foreign ministers of the three countries has ever mentioned any outstanding issues, or complained about any obstacles. Surely, there are two anticipated expert studies, ie.e., on water resources/hydropower system simulation model and a transboundary environmental and socio-economic impact assessment, recommended by the International Panel of Experts (IPOE). There is expectation that it could possibly recommend minor or big amendments here and there, the principle for whose realization already reached agreed upon by the ministers.

It is now understood that, after the Khartoum agreement of early this month, President Sisi has instructed his cabinet “to review all technical and legal aspects of the proposed agreement”, according to latest information the Sudan Tribune has published. This is quite in order for the president with the spirit of the agreement by the ministers, because of which they too have forwarded it to the respective governments as agreement in principle; that is to show what is left of it is final approval by heads of state or heads of government of the countries concerned.

Thus, this latest action by Cairo has needlessly made many to wonder, whether Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan would be in a position to sign the agreement coming Monday, an agreement already okayed and has made their foreign ministers ecstatic early this month.

President Abdella el-Sisi (Credit: ENA)

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Credit: ENA)

So far, we have not seen anything the president has picked to say he would not sign or agree to. In fact, according to media reports, an Egyptian government committee, presided by the president, had discussed the Khartoum agreement on March 17, 2015 and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Hossam El-Moghazy had given their optimistic support to it.

Participating in that meeting were also Minister of International Cooperation Nagla Al-Ahwani and Intelligence Chief Khaled Fawzy, among others. The only thing the president sought and instructed the committee was “to continue the review of the draft agreement and study of all aspects, as well as the necessary legal action on the subject.”

Although there is no indication that the government committee or the president has found any anomalies, the last minute call necessitating the president’s intervention from Addis Abeba “to resolve the remaining differences over the Renaissance Dam…” before the Khartoum draft agreement is signed Monday have sounded the alarm bells. This possibly is because the message is being read in conjunction with background noises from the three capitals giving it sinister echoes.

From what we understand now, mostly the confusion arose from the manner of speaking by the Ethiopian spokesperson. Minister Redwan Hussein was quoted stating that the president was coming to Ethiopia to finalize the engagement he had started in January on the side of the African Union’s 24th summit. That discussion was interrupted by the president’s abrupt return to Cairo to be in charge of the Sinai situation, wherein 32 Egyptian soldiers were killed that month.

The anomaly still is why come to Addis Abeba to continue that discussion, after the foreign ministers had cleared the hurdles?

Perhaps aware of that confusion, the Ethiopian foreign ministry on Friday March 20, 2015 has added its own. The spokesperson Tewolde Mulugetta seized the opportunity to praise his bosses diplomacy for its present success, for which he produced the president’s visit to Addis Abeba as evidence. He was pointing out that an Egyptian president coming to Ethiopia for a working visit, after such long interval, should be taken as fruit of Ethiopia’s diplomacy. The mistake there is again the hunger in Addis Abeba, across the TPLF regime, for self-congratulations. As a matter of fact, the last working visit by an Egyptian president took place less than four years ago, which cannot be called “long interval”, given Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s visit to Addis Abeba in May 2011 and the troubled relations between the two countries.

On the substance of it, the spokesperson was off the mark again attributing the studies to be unveiled shortly to the three countries as President el-Sisi’s initiatives. That erroneous claim in Fana broadcast has since been excised out from the story.

From what we know, it is the International Panel of Experts (IPOE), established by the three countries, which recommended those studies, not the president of Egypt.

Of interest, nonetheless, is the fact that the adjective before the name of the Ethiopian Blue Nile dam is ‘controversial’; it is this now that is bringing President el-Sisi to Ethiopia to see if he could make any difference on matters he considers of value politically to him and in respect of Egypt’s strategic interests in the Nile Basin. It is at the same time everyone’s hope and fear that his action could make or break an agenda that has witnessed great deal of efforts over the years and has helped improve the abilities of the countries of the region to speak with each other, instead of at each other – as Egypt has been doing for several decades.

Even at the present juncture, for that matter by the admission of Egypt, great deal of progress has been made in talks between Ethiopia – the region’s water tower – and the region’s net water consumer, Egypt, and the Sudanese leader who constantly plays both the role of fireman and arsonist in talks and negotiations on regional matters, more particularly over water.

That said, what does President el-Sisi have up his sleeve now? Or is he coming with charm to seduce TPLF officials? Clearly, he must come with several requests/demands on water matters, whose granting Ethiopians must sternly oppose.

After all, he is coming after the international community was informed on March 6, 2015 that the foreign ministers of Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan had reached an agreement in principle in Khartoum on sharing the Nile water, an essential condition for the smooth continuation and completeion of the construction work on the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The foreign ministers of these three nations were thus upbeat at the end of that meeting early this month, about the miracle they had done in Khartoum. Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom expressed Ethiopia’s “satisfaction over the outcome of Khartoum talks”. He was quoted stating that the latest “agreement represented a new path in the course of the strategic relationship among the three countries.”

For Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry the agreement was “a beginning for further political and technical cooperation.” Speaking in clear terms and on behalf of Egypt and the Sudan, he said, “The agreement addresses the concerns of the two downstream countries.”

Speaking for his country, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti noted, “The agreement among the eastern Nile basin countries made during the ministerial talks on the GERD represents a new page of cooperation among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.”

The question now is what is it that the Egyptian president would resolve that has eluded senior officials or have not managed, or problems they have not identified?

A review of the situation shows that it is neither the case of the ministers having forgotten the standing principle in diplomacy that nothing among protagonists could be agreed to, unless everything is agreed upon fully. That is why they have put forth in the document the caveat as agreement in principle, meaning ready for final approval by higher ups, if they have no disagreement.

On the Ethiopian side, they seem not to be making much of a fuss about the forthcoming visit of the Egyptian president. This possibly could be attributed to Ethiopian officials having convinced themselves in the news claim that the visit is only continuation of the Nile talks, which were started in Ethiopia in January 2015.

Is this real? Is there any need for the president, whose attention is being sought in every corner, to come for continuation of those interrupted talks, after the foreign minister’s have facilitated agreement? He would also be speaking from Ethiopia’s parliament in the course of his three-day visit.

Preceding his travel to Ethiopia, the president would also spend a day in Khartoum, talking to the ICC-indictee Omar al-Bashir, who uncharacteristically this week publicly announced that the country with which he has excellent relations is Eritrea.

Is something cooking up?
 

–II–

Is the Sudan TPLF’s best friend?

Today, if anyone would ask the TPLF who its best friend is, it would certainly point to the Sudan and its ICC-indictee president. Surely, this TPLF judgement would not be shared by el-Bashir who, as mentioned earlier has told the world that his best friend is Isaias Afeworki, President of Eritrea, with whom, he said, the Sudan maintains “excellent relations.”

Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses supporters in Port Sudan, capital of Red Sea State (Reuters)

In his campaign speech directed at the Sudanese people, el-Bashir mentioned Ethiopia once; it was to point out that he had signed agreements with Chad, Ethiopia and others to facilitate trade across Sudanese ports.

I read this the other day on the Sudan Tribune. The ICC-indictee was campaigning in parts of the Sudan on foreign policy themes, especially Sudan’s relations with neighboring states. He was in a pretentious mode about democratic election, after successfully neutering all possible rivals and candidates, as has done the dictatorial TPLF in Ethiopia.

At the moment, as a go-between anywhere – if accepted – the Sudan is willing to do anything to extract some benefits. The Sudanese leader behaves like heat-seeking electronic gadget, consumed with calculating his advantages and benefits, if he could – using his African neighbors or the Gulf nations.

The truth is that Omar el-Bashir sees Ethiopia with utilitarian eyes. This might be because Ethiopia has surrendered to everything to him, including ceding its national sovereignty, agricultural lands, disputed for over 100 years. There is also a precious gift weakening of international justice inciting Africans against the ICC – the last recourse to many victims of genocide. Who would not remember that, according to Bashir himself, Eastern Sudan is receiving free electricity from Ethiopia, when 82 percent of its own population live without power and light.

These have been TPLF’s bribe to the Sudanese president to sway him not to give base of operation in Sudan to the regime’s opponents. Al-Bashir carried out his contract with utmost efficacy, imprisoning and torturing Ethiopian refugees with full knowledge of the UNHCR, which makes the United Nations Sudan’s partner in crime.

Is there anything left Ethiopia could do and give him, save striptise?
 

–III–

Abundant conjectures on Nile water uses

Egypt’s renewed itching started, when for the first time after the Khartoum ‘successful meeting’ Egypt said on March 17 through its Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazi that Cairo would be “highly sensitive” to any project about storing Nile water in upstream countries, “as it might diminish the country’s water supply.”

This makes it clear that the current concern is about the 74 bil cubic meter GERD reservoir capacity to store water. Again on Thursday March 19, March 19, Minister Hossam Moghazy further indicated that the Khartoum agreement binds Ethiopia to agreeing to amend the dam’s specifications “if consultancy studies on the hydroelectric project prove it harmful to downstream countries.”

Why does Egypt raise this now?

This bifurcation of approach in diplomatic negotiations, which can be likened to attacking from two sides, is typical of the Egyptian diplomacy; it is intended to hound a negotiating party – while they focus on one thing their heart is on; they introduce at the same time many other demands as a negotiating technique to get their apple.

That said, it is to be recalled that Ethiopia and Egypt have sparred over this matter time and again on the media and in every closed door encounter they have had. Every time this happened, the TPLF people have consistently given assurances to Egypt that no harm would befall Egypt from GERD. What that pledge was premised on has never been made clear, although its power of persuasion has for a while worked on Egypt and Egypt had seemed to accept it.

As usual in Egypt’s revolving door diplomatic negotiation, it might have now been reacting as a person suddenly waking up to squeeze out last minute concessions.

Now we know from the semi-state owned Egyptian newspaper Ahram, this drum beat is to get seriousness to Egypt’s demand for additional water quota to come through the president. It is not certain whether the TPLF regime would go the road of tying the hands of generations down the road, although no one can rely on their judgement.

What can Ethiopia do for you, Mr. Sisi?

Possibly President el-Sisi’s discussion with Ethiopian officials may be linked to three things. Firstly, the Egyptian president would want Egypt’s current water quota of 55 billion cubic meters from the Nile River not to be affected in any form or shape. It may be futile exercise, but the president may need Ethiopia to give such assurances in writing, as he has signaled not long ago.

This should be a no go zone, since what the experts study must be his assurances.

Secondly, there is likelihood of Egypt requesting Ethiopia to reduce size of its 74 billion cubic meters reservoir to ease Egypt’s water shortage fear. Experts believe filling the reservoir would take a long time, several years to be more precise, which is the future stone in Ethiopia’s shoes. This, Egypt might not leave to good faith agreement with Ethiopia. As President Sisi once indicated, he might want written assurances from Ethiopia on this, possibly an X number of years defined. This also must be left to science, not any written assurances

Nonetheless, bear in mind that experts are of the view that the study that is anticipated to come from the expert group shortly on environmental impact assessment might provide a way out solution in this regard. Ethiopia many not have possibility to backpedal on that, especially if there are clearcut recommendations to that effect.

Thirdly, the president might request additional water quota; Egypt has been propagating its need for an estimated 21 billion cubic meter, the justification being Egypt’s population estimated to reach 150 million by 2050. This is like asking for the entire barn!

The TPLF has no authority or mandate on this. It would be advised to desist from such action. Moreover, it is very important the TPLF people remember that water give away is not the same as the land grab, which they run amok on agricultural lands displacing Ethiopians and doling out to foreign companies. They also used it as means to enrich themselves and kith and kin, as well as playing settler politics emplacing members of their ethnic group, retired ranked TPLF senior officers and etc.,

The result is the latest round of bloodshed in Gambella, after the Mezenger demanded their lands, for which the response was the second round massacre in Gambella, after that of the Anuaks in 1994.

Egypt is a foreign power, Ethiopian citizens must have a say, lest the country go in a bad direction towards untold instability.

On the other hand, there is the little discussed Ethiopian dilemma, which is not getting the attention it deserves. This has to do with inadequacy of the annual flow of the Nile river, which challenges the very rationale of building the dam itself.

This is an issue Prof. Asfaw Beyene of San Diego State University has discussed in his writings, and also made a presentation to the Ethiopian community in Helsinki in May 2014. His view is that the Nile may be the world’s longest river; but it is also its shallowest for most of the year – for nine months.

Even during the three rainy months, the water level is inadequate; and during the remaining nine non-rainy months, it is easy to cross on foot. On top of that, he had raised a technical issue linked to GERD’s height and low water level. His finding is that this would not allow GERD’s full capacity power generation at any time.

This may create problems for Ethiopia, the five billion dollar dam reservoir not ever filling and its 16 turbines not ever running, if at all, at the same time. It means no 6,000KW of electricity generation at any time!

How could this realization, which should not and cannot escape Egypt, is all of a sudden point to its renewed concern and controversy to necessitate presidential visit to Ethiopia?

On the issue of the dam’s reservoir capacity, experts are of the view that the study that is anticipated from the international expert group on environmental impact assessment might provide a way out solution in this regard. If that is the case, what would the president’s visit achieve?

The fact is that, today citizens cannot vouch for the credibility of the TPLF regime, with el-Bashir or el-Sisi. Sufficient lesson has been drawn, after what the Front had done on the Eritrean referendum that rendered the country landlocked nation. That is why Ethiopians cannot think of the same way about the defence of the country, its natural resources as before and respond to the regime’s propaganda of national development.
 

Conclusion

The TPLF people and their minions serve their interests in a lawless environment, blindly and selfishly supported by Western governments, especially the United States and the United Kingdom. Recall that President Obama handed over the people of Ethiopia to the butchers, when in September 2014 he praised the TPLF regime for its purchases of Boeing planes and boosting employment in the United States. Here are his words, according to the White House:

    “We’re strong trading partners. And most recently, Boeing has done a deal with Ethiopia, which will result in jobs here in the United States. And in discussions with Ban Ki-moon yesterday, we discussed how critical it is for us to improve our effectiveness when it comes to peacekeeping and conflict resolution. And it turns out that Ethiopia may be one of the best in the world — one of the largest contributors of peacekeeping; one of the most effective fighting forces when it comes to being placed in some very difficult situations and helping to resolve conflicts.”

As an afterthought, the president addressed himself to the forthcoming election!Here is what he said, according to the White House:

    “And also, the Prime Minister and the government is going to be organizing elections in Ethiopia this year. I know something about that. We’ve got some midterms coming up. And so we’ll have an opportunity to talk about civil society and governance and how we can make sure that Ethiopia’s progress and example can extend to civil society as well, and making sure that throughout the continent of Africa we continue to widen and broaden our efforts at democracy, all of which isn’t just good for politics but ends up being good for economics as well — as we discussed at the Africa Summit.”

I wish I knew what his national security advisors tell him!

That is why Ethiopians have to rely on themselves, not the help of foreign powers; they have to be eyes and ears to watch and listen also what is being done with Egypt!

The cruel and corrupt anti-Ethiopian TPLF, which has reduced our country into ethnic and language-based bantustan territories; it has also turned it into the 18th & 19th centuries Ethiopia’s era of ‘robber barons’ or the Zemene Mesafint era, in Ethiopia where each region, backward as it was kindom unto itself. Today, Ethiopia is in that same mode, the ‘robber barons’ in the regions imitating the TPLF at the center, and assailing helpless citizens with their corruption and human rights violations. Ethiopians today are in a state of slavery and apartheid type violations of their human rights.

What the TPLF has done this far is trading border lands to the Sudan to ensure its security; this is not and would not be lost on Ethiopians.

Since national patriotism within the group is in short supply, possibly the Front might do the same. Like many Ethiopians, I have no confidence in the integrity of the TPLF people, whose dream and goal in power is simply to remain permanently.

This has forced the distancing of Ethiopians from the regime, because of which it is only being fed lip service, but not support and loyalty. Consequently, lost for Ethiopia in this is its major defenses – its citizens; it is doubtful if its children could rally as in the case of the Battle of Adowa, or the latter five-year war with Italy.

With additional water to Egypt, against the interests of present day and coming generations of Ethiopians, or even without it, I do not believe the future would be easy ride any longer to this regime in this highly awakened nation.

The TPLF would do the nation a favor if it learned that a strong nation is not the one that has entrust its security to armed forces only. The best defense a nation should and could have must include all its citizens to stand guard.

Unfortunately, the TPLF has lost this capacity, having turned everyone against itself.
 

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