Ethiopia : what is the Nile agreement with Egypt about? fiasco.

December 29,2015

The multi $billion dollar dam project in Ethiopia is described differently by different parties. The governing party in Ethiopia under the leadership of TPLF , the Late Meles Zenawi’s ethnic party, framed the dam project as Grand Renaissance Dam. It is the brain child of the late Meles Zenawi, for them. And it’s not embarrassing not to put where credit is due as far as the inception of the dam project is concerned. It is one of the projects Emperor Haileselassie was toiling to make a reality in his life time.

The media in Egypt and elsewhere tend to frame the dam project as “Ethiopia’s controversial dam over the Nile.”

Reckless rhetoric on the part of the governing party in Ethiopia painted a picture that it is not just the dam that is a miracle but what the dam could achieve economically and the imaginary benefit that Ethiopians would get out of it.

What good did the rhetoric do to the regime in power? It did not turn around political legitimacy crisis at home! Rather, it alarmed Egypt and to some extent Sudan although Sudan seem to find itself on the part of the Ethiopian government.

Sudan’s apparent leniency is not by any means at odds with its national interest. Nor it is likely that it emanated from rationally principled stand vis-a-vis Ethiopia’s right to use its share of the water within the framework of international law. Seemingly it is related to the fact that the dam swelled Sudan’s bargaining power to influence the regime in Ethiopia whom Sudan supported since its guerrilla times militarily and politically. And Sudan has land claim in Ethiopia.

In fact, while rounds after rounds of trilateral talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were underway, Sudan was pushing for a “border demarcation” with Ethiopia. The outcome? The regime in Ethiopia is illegally giving away a huge portion of Ethiopia’s land. Apart from being illegal give away, Ethiopia currently with over 95 million population, and rapidly growing, has chronic land shortage due to population pressure. On the contrary, Sudan with just under 40 million total population and with one of the most extensive land mass in Africa, does not have shortage of land. Besides there is no historical or legal ground to give away much needed land irresponsibly.

In any case, coming back the the dam ,Egypt was more serious on the dam project. It initialed extensively diplomatic campaign with Nile River basin countries in Africa and with other entities outside of Africa as well. One should not forget the rumor that Egypt has traveled to the extent of clandestinely supporting radical forces. In fact, last year Ethiopia claimed to have captured an Egyptian spy who was deployed to operate in the South Western part of Ethiopia.

After months of tricky talks and negotiations, reports emerged today that Ethiopia agreed with Egypt and Sudan over the dam.

What is the agreement about?

Reports are actually conflicting. Egypt was apparently interested in seeing Ethiopia halt construction which didn’t happen.
Today, agreement in Sudan was rather in selecting a firm to undertake technical assessment on potential impacts of thee dam on downstream countries. According to Reuters report,BRL and Artelia, French firms are selected. Initially, a Dutch firm (Deltares) was selected before the firm declined the offer and to work on the project. Why? The firm seemingly does not see meaningful assessment in the time frame given and relevance of the study.

So the French companies are to finalize the study in a matter of fifteen months according to some reports.

Crucial point here is that construction is said to be completed 50 percent. Besides, construction is not to be halted while the firms are undertaking the assessment in nearly a year and half time as indicted above.

Now the question is, if the study by the firms for potential impacts happens to reveal factors that could cause concern, at least, on the part of Egypt (and Sudan too), then those concerns will have to be addressed before completion of the project which obviously has financial , and possibly, political impacts.

Observers say that the Ethiopian side was seen dithered during the talk over the idea of halting construction until completion of the study.

In fact, Egypt Independent quoted a source as saying “Ethiopia’s delegation has expressed concern that any concession would spark tension with the Ethiopian public,…” in its report today.

Indeed, the Nile talk is no longer a bilateral or trilateral matter only. It has a huge implication for domestic politics. The regime in Addis used the dam for extensive propaganda campaign without calculating the possibility that the propaganda could fire back. Enormous amount of fund was raised locally from bond sale through the party structure from members and also from non members alike through virtually compulsory like circumstances.

Egypt apparently understood the uselessness of standing firm on the call to halt construction until the study is finalized.With out a doubt the winner in today’s talk was Egypt. In addition, Egypt is effectively buying time possibly to make its political move through manipulating radical forces which the regime in Ethiopia consolidated through a very unskillful and arbitrary political measures.

In the end, it is only reasonable to question as to what the rational basis is to continue construction at this point before the technical team finalizes assessment? Wouldn’t that be a huge financial loss? Anticipation of political earthquake? No question about that but there are more pressing factors than the dam.

Dimetros Birku
Writer in on twitter : @dimetros

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