Tag Archives: Egypt’s rising rancour

Ethiopia and Egypt on collision course over the Nile waters

10 Oct

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Hard times scarcely befriend optimism. Nor do they easily facilitate solutions to hardened problems. This is true for individual circumstances as well as of states.

With the changes of government in Ethiopia and the Sudan, the politics of the Horn of Africa may have changed somewhat, albeit the negatives outweighing the positive in Ethiopia in terms of the human conditions.

Of this, in his July 1, 2019 parliamentary address, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted “internal displacement as one of the challenges his administration has had to contend with” in almost all regions of the country, according to national and international data.

In Ethiopia, these have been exacerbated by a dangerously divisive form of ethnic politics and strifes in the largest of the Horn states. This in turn may have whetted some appetites—both internal and external—encouraging them to satisfy old unyielding ambitions under all sorts of guises.

Therefore, in the three riparian states of the Nile River, i.e., Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, Ethiopia is the most affected and that Egypt has seen a hole to exploit those vulnerabilities. At the official level, there are indications to this effect.

For example, Egypt’s temporary silence after the murder of the chief of Engineer Simegnew Bekele of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and subsequent to Ethiopia’s temporary failure to continue work on the dam project during 2018 and part of 2019, Cairo has felt encouraged, as its pronouncements show,  it is time to attain its long-term dream of controlling the Nile waters. 

Blame the enemy is the game in such situations. Accordingly on Wednesday Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly in what sounded theatrical in his national parliament accused Ethiopia of taking  “a unilateral decision in 2011 to build its Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD).” What I cannot understand is why is Egypt is in denial—by such action—Ethiopia is a sovereign nation. With that denial, Egypt ridiculously  is implying Ethiopia lacks the right to build the dam, even when with every passing day it is becoming the reality it so much hates.

I strongly believe, as could tell you any student of international law, Ethiopia has the sovereign right to build the dam so long as, in keeping with the terms of the May 1997 United  Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, no harm is done to downstream states’ interests. From the Ethiopian Permanent Mission in New York, I was present with my national delegation in the General Assembly Hall all of us guarding our nation’s interests up until this first international water law was adopted. It was both a moment of relief and historic.

We were all tense and still I recall my Egyptian colleague seeking clarifications about trans-navigational issues. I have enormous respect for this first international water law, whose elaboration took about thirty years of experts’ efforts and came into force only on August 14, 2014. Bear in mind, following negotiations since 2012 on this matter with Egypt, Ethiopia has done what any state in the circumstances would do: guard its jewels at all times from those wishing to claim it as theirs!

And yet, the prime minister of Egypt in his national parliament Wednesday did not only see it fit to question the sovereign right of Ethiopia to have a damn.  But by implication, he ignored Egypt negotiating with Ethiopia and Sudan from the moment the dam idea was conceived, made known to the world and project started. At the same time, contradicting an earlier position, the prime minister recalls engaging Ethiopia and the Sudan in the many consultations and negotiations up until the declaration was born. Still referring to GERD as “a unilateral Ethiopian project”. I hope you would agree with me, Sir, the baby could have only one father. That is my response to what you stated in parliament:  

“This unilateral decision was in violation of international agreements, and despite this fact we choose dialogue to reach agreement with Ethiopia…. “Ethiopia’s radical positions represent a violation of the declaration of principles reached by the presidents of Egypt, Sudan and the prime minister of Ethiopia in Khartoum on 23 March 2015.”

Egypt’s is a bit of a stretch. In reading that, I was reminded of Cairo’s strategy to wrestle the waters of the Nile River, by any means, I repeat, by any means, is troubling. This would only make future cooperation between the two countries increasingly difficult. 

Again the question is why does Egypt take this lane and react about this now as something out of the blues. Recall that Egypt has been in negotiations along with  Ethiopia and the Sudan on many aspects of the dam in the trilateral forum. Recall also it is this forum that on March 23, 2015 had given birth to the Khartoum Declaration into which Egypt had put its volition  and commitment with its signature to work toward the future under the terms of the agreement.

At the same time, Ethiopia cannot miss the necessity for Egypt of internal stability, which is a primary consideration in that country especially at present. That in mind, Foreign Minister  Sameh Shoukry went into the duty of assuring Egyptians “Egypt will never allow Ethiopia to impose the status quo and that Egypt has the power not only to protect its rights to the Nile water but also to resort to international law in this respect.”

Excellency, I hope, you are not suggesting violence against Ethiopia, when your country has become the most strident in condemning Turkey’s operation in Syria. You make it public that your are also contemplating military operation against Turkey in Syria, in collaboration with Iraq.

As far as Ethiopian interests are concerned, the strategy of Egyptian leaders at the moment aims to reach everything and touch everyone. We hear of Foreign Minister Shoukry proposing the World Bank to be approached to act as a mediator with Ethiopia. Furthermore, now we see he has also been instructed to raise the GERD question in all concerned international organisations, according to Ahram Online.

Due to this misguided Egyptian strategy, of late we read in the international media that the three Nile riparian states, especially Ethiopia and Egypt, are once again on a collision course over the utilisation of the waters of the Nile River.

Why now is a good question. It is because, while intended to serve the ambition Egypt has long-harboured, it deliberately makes its acts to look like that of a person who has  suddenly woken up from a long slumber. As usual, genuine or false sleep, its first temptation would be to look around and exploit the situation to address new and existing ambitions of Egypt. That knowledge has been with Ethiopia since 1875, and let it be known, Ethiopia would not close its eyes.

As Egypt woke up, it saw a weakened and disorganized Ethiopia, which in those circumstances looked it was to fall apart, among others, a new government in office and the rise of ethnic tensions that has been raging especially since 2018-and continuing.

On signing the Khartoum Declaration on March 23, 2015, while somewhat skeptical, still I was one of the many individuals who entertained some hope about future prospects of the cooperation between the three riparian states. As a matter of fact, despite my deep distrust of the TPLF and its walking into the Egyptian trap that was intended “to limit  Ethiopia’s Nile water uses”, I strongly believe the future between Ethiopia and Egypt would be better off with cooperation, instead of confrontation and sabotages, facilitating the secret flow of weapons into Ethiopia.

I recall the guarded optimism many entertained on March 23, 2015, when the three states signed the Agreement on Declaration on Principles between the three on utilisation of the Nile in post-Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project (GERDP) completion period.

Summing up the day’s discussion in the Egyptian Parliament, Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal, while urging Ethiopia to exercise wisdom and to show respect for Egypt’s rights, he called on parliamentarians “…not to jump to hasty conclusions, we still have a lot of diplomatic and peaceful channels, but in the end, there is a red line that none should cross, and Egypt will never allow the loss of any drop of Nile water.”

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