The recent talks on the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have culminated when the US stood out siding to Egypt and pressure Ethiopia to sign a deal that the authorities have heavily denounce as detrimental to the national interest.
A statement by the State Department of Treasury has infuriated many Ethiopians as well and brought many alike in defense of the government of Ethiopia to express their desire for the project to be pushed to its completion quickly.
Perhaps Egypt and the US had never anticipated Ethiopians would get that upset and get united to turn against both countries. Many Ethiopians in an unprecedented manner have denounced and ridiculed the motives of the Washington outcome. Following four rounds of meetings that Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan had participated in the US-brokered negotiations,the World Bank Group was also involved in the process.
As can be recalled,Steven Mnuchin, the US Secretary of Treasury has made a statement that orders Ethiopia not to proceed to fill and storing the dam. Ethiopian officials immediately have criticized the positions of the secretary and Gedu Andargachew, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was bold to condemn the position of Secretary Mnuchin and said in his statement that the US has infringed the national interests and sovereignty of Ethiopia. In his commands, Mnuchin said “final testing and filling of the dam should not take place without an agreement”, and that was the tipping point for Ethiopians to express their frustrations against the US and Egypt.
One such outspoken personalities joined hands to heavily criticize the US include Alemayehu G. Mariam a.k.a. Al Mariam. He is an ardent writer, blogger, and rights activist. In his recent blog: “bait and switch diplomacy: is the U.S. an ‘observer’, a ‘facilitator’ or a snake oil diplomatic salesman in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance (Hedase) Dam discussions?”, Al Mariam radicles both Secretary Steven Mnuchin and David Robert Malpass, President of the World Bank Group for their “unconstitutionally trespassing on the powers of the State Department and his [Secretary Mnuchin] actions are ultra vires as a matter of federal law”. He went on to say “I believe Mnuchin and his boss [President Trump] and Malpass believe they can pull a ‘Ukraine-style quid pro quo’ on Ethiopia”.
The US inclination towards Egypt and Egyptian bad-mannered approach through the talks of the GERD has angered many Ethiopians living at home and abroad have been infuriated by the actions of both countries. But that didn’t dissuade Egypt from launching an all-out diplomatic pressure on Ethiopia. It has engaged all tactics of political, social and economic sabotages to hinder Ethiopia’s natural rights and its current firm stand to utilize the River Nile.
As soon as the last rounds of the Washington meetings ended in a stalemate, as often it does, the government of Egypt has equipped its propaganda machines and launched a diplomatic charge aimed at pressurizing Ethiopia. The officials fed their local media to spread fabricated and false news and one of the outlets didn’t bother to write a story that narrates Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s alliance to Egypt’s call on forcing Ethiopia to compromise on the dam project.
With that sort of exertion to persuade African leaders and members of the Nile Basin countries, Sami Shakury, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs was busy touring across Africa. He was also traveling across the Middle East to the lobby and buy some supports against Ethiopia’s national power project. Furthermore, early in March, Egyptian Intelligence Chief was in South Sudan to meet President Salva Kierr. The pretext of the meeting was of course on bilateral issues and handing over the wishes of President Abdalfetah el Sisi to South Sudanese peacemaking efforts.
Would such beckoning routine,fear-mongering, the mounting diplomatic confrontations meant anything to Ethiopia and worry about? Well, Seleshi Bekele (PhD), the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy in his exclusive interview with The Reporter Magazine said that Egypt is selling cheap diplomacy against Ethiopia.
“They are trying to sell the statements of the US Secretary of Treasury. Their media fabricates false news and tries to create the fear-mongering campaign. Ethiopia is a solidly principled and truthful country and we don’t get distracted that easy by false diplomacy and lies Egypt is circulating across the world”, Seleshi said.
There is a sense of feeling among many scholars and experts that Ethiopia might have given in too much in the name of transparency and openness to the interests of Egypt in the past. Since its inception, GERD remains a contentious mega project. Once completed, one of Africa’s giant project will provide Ethiopia some 6,000 megawatts of electricity.
One of the areas Ethiopia was blamed for foot-dragging is its diplomatic missions. Hailu Wolde-Georgis, a seasoned diplomat, an author, and a legal expert who has studied the Nile from the historical backgrounds to the legal and all-round aspects, is one of the elites who claim Ethiopia’s diplomatic mission has failed the country’s strong argument over its legitimacy over-utilizing the Nile as a major sourcing and contributing nation. Hailu believes, these days nomination of ambassadors and consulates is not necessarily based on merits and expertise. But rather political orientation plays a vital role and that has contributed to Egypt’s dominance expediting Nile diplomacy.
Seleshi, however, argues that Ethiopia is exerting all necessary diplomatic channels to parallel or somehow beat Egypt on that front. “We are showing the plain truth to the world. Our President was joined by former President and former Prime Minister to explain how we are working on our project. We are trying to create an opportunity where everybody has the chance to listen to the two sides of the story”. Seleshi said.
That being the case, the ongoing Nile talks over the GERD which Ethiopia has expressed to fill the dam between four to seven years with storages of 10 to 13.5 billion cubic meters of water for the first two consecutive years, Egypt reacted and proposed up to 20 years of prolonged water storage and filling procedures. When Egyptians saw their proposition was nothing but a pure display of refusal for cooperation, they have issued statements equivalent to drumming a war against Ethiopia. On February 28, 2020, the Egyptian government announced: “all organs of the Egyptian State will continue to give this subject the great attention it deserves in the exercise of their national responsibilities in defending the interests, potential, and future of the Egyptian people by all means available”, this direct provocation, according to Al Mariam is due to a result of the US empowerment of Egypt against Ethiopia. However, the well-known blogger underscored that it is only Ethiopians who have absolute sovereignty over the GERD and they decide on whatever they assume essential about the project, he argues.
Despite Ethiopia’s explicitly stated interest in having the US or other parties assuming a negotiator or a facilitator role, the Ethiopian negotiating team has let the US, invited by Egypt assuming no harm to see an ally being part of in such an important episode of the GERD talks. Seleshi explains the US side-warding to Egypt was a shockingly startling revelation. “We went to the US in a humble manner and respect. We were expecting at least a fair solution. That didn’t work out and we will continue to pursue our efforts until all parties accept the reality,” he said.
When Egypt stubbornly maintained its uncompromising stance to let Ethiopia utilize its share out of the 77 billion cubic meters of water it generates representing some 85 percent of the Nile waters, Ethiopia has become more infuriated and insisted on Egypt to at least avoid is the irresponsible and illegal use of the Nile waters. Egypt has been involved in mega projects that pump waters of the Nile into the Sanai Desert to Asian countries. One such undertaking involves the massive Toshka Project which Egypt has been constructing a human-made lake occupying close to 250,000 hectares of desert land.
The ambitious Toshka Project which superficially claimed to cost tens of billions of dollars is an enormous undertaking that seeks to divert at least 10 percent of the Nile waters to create an artificial Nile Valley on the expense of the shares of Ethiopia and other Nile Basin countries.
“Ethiopia has expressed its concerns and opposition to such projects. Egypt started to transfer water out of the natural course of the Nile. For instance, in the events of the Toshka Project, Ethiopia has disapproved of it”, Seleshi said. Accordingly, in March 1997, Seleshi recalls that Ethiopia had sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, copied to the UN Secretary-General and then the Organization of African Union (OAU) and the World Bank. “We made it clear the same way as we did now. We don’t recognize the 1959 agreement which has no bearing to Ethiopia’s reserved and natural rights of using the Nile waters. Categorically, we also disapproved of the Toshka Project. It forces the Nile to flow outside its natural boundary. We also refuse to recognize the Peace Canal Project Egypt is working on. That is illegal and very wrong. Egypt has been involved in illegal activities but tries to prevent Ethiopia when we try to utilize our legitimate and natural rights to develop the natural resources we have”, the water minister disputes Egypt.
While Ethiopia argues and decries transferring the Nile waters into the Nubian Desert and the Asian territories is intolerable and obstructs the use of water within the boundaries of downstream countries,Egypt insists that it has a historical right to consume more than 55 billion cubic meters of the Nile waters as per the 1959 accord it had entered with Sudan. It has built Toshka and other mega projects monopolizing the Nile waters while Ethiopia and some ten countries are calling for their shares to be recognized and respected as per the UN’s protocol for the Trans boundary Rivers.
Egypt disregards riparian countries when it developed dangerous projects misusing the Nile waters and when Ethiopia requests such undertakings that need to be evaluated and talked across the table, Egypt had kept reacting in a bullish manner to the extent of drumming war on Ethiopia. Yacob Arsano (Prof), a senior geopolitical expert and a member of Ethiopia’s experts’ team negotiating with Egypt has documented some excerpts of the conceits excreted by Egyptian authorities against Ethiopia.
In his book “Ethiopia and the Nile: dilemmas of national and regional hydro politics”, he presents the quotes leaders of that country had waged war against Ethiopia. For instance, President Anuar Sadat, in 1980 said that following: ‘… once I have decided to divert the Nile waters into Sinai I will not try to get permission from Ethiopia…. If they don’t like our measures, they can go to hell’, The Egyptian Gazette, June 5, 1980, printed the words of Sadat.
To add more of Sadat’s mongers, Yacob excerpts from a press release of Ethiopian ministry of foreign affairs and it goes: ‘any action that would endanger the waters of the Blue Nile will face a firm reaction on the part of Egypt, even if that action should lead to war’ February 17, 1978. Well, the leaders continue to threaten Ethiopia as did Buthros Ghali and Hosni Mubarak. While Ghali echoes the Nile would cause regional wars, Mubarak was with the idea of skirmishing or as he was often quoted saying to “bomb Ethiopia” if it builds any dam on the Nile. That was how Egyptian leaders were in the past.
Egypt’s persistent obduracy with the current US inference has enraged many and Ethiopian journalists and media practitioners were no exceptions. Omer Redi is a senior journalist and Managing Director of Ifriqiyah Media and Communications, Addis Ababa based PR firm. He occasionally comments on international media on Ethiopia, Africa and African Union related topics and in his recent engagements, turns out to be one of the bigwigs in defending the rights of Ethiopia across media debates over Nile issues and GERD discussions. In recent weeks, Omer was appearing in many local and US-based TV channels representing the facts that Ethiopia has every natural and historical or legitimate right over the waters of the Nile. For instance, he appeared on Virginia based Al-Hurra TV which is the Arabic service of VOA, Sky News Arabia, the London based Al-Araby Television Network of Qatar, the Beirut based Pan-Arabist Al-Mayadeen TV, among others.
He told The Reporter Magazine that Egypt is trying hard to take advantage of the situation to reverse the wheels of history back to the time when it enjoyed an unfair and unacceptable veto and exclusive total control on what happens, or doesn’t, along the entire length of the Nile. In other words, he said Egypt is trying to cultivate division and mistrust mainly among upstream countries, and Sudan from downstream, in what looks like an attempt to undo new deals and consensus enshrined in the 2010 Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). The CFA is perhaps the greatest success of the Nile Basin Initiative which entails the official nullification of the colonial era treaty which was biased in favor of Egypt. In effect, Egypt is capitalizing on the recent GERD negotiations twist and the resultant small diplomatic crises to gather support and momentum to bury the CFA and revive the colonial era deal it has always fought to keep.
Omer advises Ethiopian authorities to establish a new autonomous or empower an existing institution that undertakes multifaceted activities focusing on the strategic elements of its foreign relations. He goes with the idea that Ethiopia needs to reorient its diplomatic strategy in general and public diplomacy approaches, in particular, to equip it for an effective short term and long term results in region-specific packages. “I believe Ethiopia’s public diplomacy approach in North Africa and the Middle East needs a complete overhaul in ways that ensure the composition of actors who are efficient in cultivating the cultural, religious, language and collective psyche of the people and governments of the countries in these regions”, he suggests. Omer is with the idea that a national communications strategy needs to be developed on issues of national interest as Nile and GERD targeting certain regions of the world such as the Middle East and major media in the region.