Aklog Birara (Dr)
June 19, 2020
The latest Tripartite negotiations among Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan concerning the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) failed for one reason only. It is because of Egypt’s determination and the acquiescence of the current Government of the United States to dictate unacceptable colonial and Imperial terms and conditions on Ethiopia. More specifically, the concert of actors wants Ethiopia and its 115 million citizens to accept “a permanent, minimum volume of water that the GERD should release to downstream nations in the event of severe drought” (according to Bloomberg news of June 17, 2020).
Here is my unequivocal and firm guidance and advice to the Ethiopian people, especially its huge youth, their Government at all levels as well as Ethiopia’s friends across the globe. Ethiopia should never ever abandon its sovereign and absolute legal rights over the Blue Nile (Abbay River) and its tributaries no matter the cost.
Ethiopia’s sovereign and legal rights over its territorial waters are and should be non-negotiable.
In the absence of a Blue Nile (Abbay River) and the entire Nile River Treaty, there is no convention, treaty, agreement and or so-called customary law that prevents Ethiopia from filling the GERD within its own time-table. To defer filling the dam is hugely costly for Ethiopia.
Our ancestors fought and sacrificed their lives and their livelihood and left us with a unique, proud and independent country. Ethiopia served as the pacesetter of African freedom and independence. Today, it is redefining the narrative on the entire Nile River, with special focus on the Blue Nile (Abbay), that supplies 86 percent of Nile waters. Egypt produces none but claims all.
Ethiopia is required to accept an agreement on a condition over which it does not even have control. Ethiopia is required to sign an agreement prepared by the U.S. and the World Bank on behest of Egypt that will guarantee Egypt’s water volume rights over the Blue Nile (Abbay River) during drought years while Ethiopians starve to death; and are condemned to live in a permanent cycle of abject poverty and darkness. This is an unprecedented and punitive punishment. Ethiopia should never accept an agreement that strangulates successive generations; and literally diminishes its sovereignty.
Egypt, the U.S and the World Bank in concert want a Black African nation, namely, Ethiopia, to bear all of the burden of climate change (drought, ecosystem changes, the devastation of hyacinth infestations on Lake Tana, deforestation etc.) while Egypt continues to enjoy higher per capita income, agricultural productivity and exports converting the Sinai desert into green lands, perpetuates wastages of huge quantities of Nile waters, is allowed to under-invest in desalination or in already discovered aquifers estimated to support Egypt for 400 to 500 years. Such asymmetrical mistreatment of Ethiopia by the U.S. is not only patently unfair and unjust; it borders on outright racism. It invites more instability and terrorism that ill affords none.
The demand for so called “drought provisions and or legally binding commitments” being imposed on Ethiopia without any reciprocity from Egypt reinforces my hypothesis of outright partisanship and bias that is as close to discrimination in diplomatic relations as any other. The ensuing “deadlock” is therefore understandable. Ethiopia’s demand for “an absolute right” to build further dams behind the GERD is within the realm of the sovereign rights of any
independent nation on this planet. Ethiopia has total and absolute right of ownership of the Blue Nile (Abbay). As legal owner, it has sovereign rights to construct future irrigation and hydroelectric dams. This is why I reject the so-called Agreement the U.S. and the World Bank prepared on behest of Egypt.
In my assessment, this is the core issue. The GERD is simply a project that does not reduce water flows to Sudan or to Egypt. The contentious issue that Egypt refuses to accept is Ethiopian sovereign and absolute rights over the Blue Nile. More than 86 percent of Nile waters come from Ethiopia. Egypt contributes nothing but benefits the most. Egypt incorrectly asserts that its citizens will “starve to death” while in fact it finds it morally and ethically acceptable if Ethiopians die of starvation; and exist in permanent darkness.
Who suffered from droughts in the past? Ethiopians and not Egyptians.
The U.N. Security Council to which Egypt reverted again must adjudicate the case on merit and the body of conventions, treaties and agreements that govern transboundary rivers. This is not because Ethiopia is an exception or because it involves Egypt, an adversary to Israel and a strategic nation for the Middle East. It is not because the Nile River is in Africa and not in Europe or North America or other. It is not because this case is peripheral to global diplomacy. The U.N Security Council cannot afford to apply two sets of international laws and standards in adjudicating this case: one for the poor and less developed; and another for the rich and more powerful. There must be parity. The U.N Security Council should be weary of relevance.
I should like to draw your attention to the fact that it has become the norm for Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to constantly threaten Ethiopia with extraordinary measures, including war. His latest call for United Nations Security Council intervention to protect “international peace and security” if no agreement was reached (Bloomberg, June 17, 2020) is nothing new.
Ethiopia has a better and more convincing track record in promoting and defending collective security than Egypt. It participated in the Korean War; in the Congo; and over the past three decades in fighting terrorism and in U.N. missions in Africa. Its approach to the settlement of regional conflicts through direct negotiations rather than through wars is demonstrated by numerous other cases including the end of “no war or peace” with Eritrea. So, Egypt’s contention that it stands for “peace and security” is rhetoric and not genuine. If it is genuine, it must go back to the negotiating table and iron out differences. It cannot continue to threaten Ethiopia over waters it does not own. It must accept Ethiopian sovereignty over the Blue Nile.
The alternative is dangerous. For example, Ethiopian can and should construct more irrigation and hydropower dams in its hinterland. Is Egypt capable of forestalling this prospect? I do not believe so. The best option is giving and taking or a reciprocal deal; and not hegemony anymore.
Egypt’s aggressive and dangerous behavior does not surprise me. What I find disturbing and new is the tweet by the U.S. Head of National Security that showed favoritism and bias reinforcing Egypt’s aggressive position. This dangerous position is this. It condones and endorses the outrageous and dangerous principle that Egypt is the sole and only owner of Nile waters. This paradigm of thinking and national policy is totally wrong. It is a threat to peace and stability in the region and the entire Africa. Contrary to assertions, Ethiopia and the rest of Sub-Saharan African riparian nations have rejected Egyptian hegemony over Nile waters. The U.S. damages its international standing by siding with this colonial and imperial position.
I suggest that it is time for Egypt and for the U.S. Government to accept unconditionally accepts that Ethiopia that supplies 86 percent of Nile Waters has absolute sovereign rights to harness waters within its own national boundaries for the welfare of its citizens. It is the sole and rightful owner of the Blue Nile or Abbay and its tributaries.
The U.S. that would never allow any country to dictate terms and conditions on any dam within its own territory. Accordingly, it does not have the moral authority to impose different norms on Ethiopia or other Black African nations. On the contrary, the U.S. in its capacity as a super power with vested interest in the advancement of justice, democracy, peace and stability in Africa should apply its leverage on Egypt to negotiate a fair, just and mutually beneficial agreement rather than imposing an outdated colonial and imperial agreement that Ethiopia cannot accept.
Egypt is well known for falsehoods. Egypt’s animosity towards Ethiopia is astounding. Ethiopia has done nothing to harm Egypt. The opposite is true. I do not ever remember when Egypt wished Ethiopia well or ever stood on Ethiopia’s side. For example, Egypt sponsored each and every liberation front; and succeeded in making Ethiopia landlocked. On the other hand, Ethiopia has reached out to Egypt and tried to settle differences on the Nile and has tried and continues to try arriving at a fair, equitable and mutually beneficial solution.
I can tell the reader that the allegation by Egyptians that Ethiopia wants to “starve Egypt” is untrue. The GERD does not reduce water volumes for Egypt. It actually ensures reliable supply; boosts Sudanese irrigable lands and supplies cheap electricity to Egypt, Sudan and other nations.
Regardless of wealth and status any Egyptian “Calling for war” is irresponsible and dangerous for all stakeholders including Egypt. If Ethiopia wishes to starve Egyptians to death, a false narrative that has no basis, it would use the almost $ 5 billion in GERD investments to construct numerous small irrigation dams in impenetrable hinterlands. This is doable in the future too. It is therefore unwise to push Ethiopia to do this.
Ethiopia does not wish to go to war. It is a country that knows the enormous costs of wars. For this reason, it allowed the involvement of the U.S. and the World Bank as impartial and neutral observers in an attempt to diffuse the issue of the GERD, an investment financed entirely by the Ethiopian people and a project within Ethiopia’s boundary. Turkey, an upper riparian nation, never asked any third party to participate. It has constructed numerous dams on the Euphrates River. These observers defied normal protocol and took sides with Egypt at the expense of Ethiopia.
The saga continued. This time the observers include the U.S., the EU and the Chairman of the AU, namely, the President of South Africa. Yet, Egypt continued its intransigence, participating in the Tripartite negotiations on the one hand and reverting back to the Security Council on the other. Its objective is not to arrive at a reasonable settlement. Rather, it is to assert hegemony over the Blue Nile.
The escalation of conflict is not Ethiopia’s making. Egypt is solely responsible for the escalation.
I find it stunning that the current Government of the U.S. sided with Egypt again. EthiopianAmerican relations span more than 100 years. This historical and strategic link is further buffeted by Ethiopia’s significant role in the war against terrorism, by an estimated one million Americans of Ethiopian origin; and by African Americans who identify directly with Ethiopia and the rest of Black Africa. This relationship between the Ethiopian and American people is a strategic asset for the United States. It serves the long-term interests of the American people.
In the light of the foregoing, Americans and the world community must understand the fact that Egypt does not produce a drop of water. Like a colonial power, it wishes to exercise hegemony over other nations’ waters. Egypt has in fact Arabized Nile waters. The Government of the United States must understand that perpetuating a colonial agreement for short-term strategic gain or other reasons degrades America’s long-term standing in the entire Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Nile originates in Black Africa. It is an African water. Its hub is Ethiopia. The GERD is financed in its entirety by Ethiopians. It belongs to Ethiopia the same way the Aswan Dam belongs to Egypt; the same way the Hoover Dam belongs to the U.S.A. etc. America will never permit Mexico or any other nation to deny it sovereign rights over its dams or rivers. Ethiopia’s demand is the same; namely, the sovereign and legal right to fill the GERD and to operate it independently as its own national asset.
Equally important is to recognize the principle that Ethiopia is the sole, absolute and only owner of the Blue Nile. It has every conceivable right to construct as many dams as its financial capacity allows. It is this principle that Egypt and its allies want to abrogate.
Ethiopians and all Black Africans, peoples of African origin and their allies across the globe must stand up together and defend Ethiopia’s legitimate and sovereign rights over the GERD and Ethiopia’s absolute and irrevocable right over the Blue Nile and its tributaries. Not only is this Ethiopia’s national agenda; it is equally a Pan-Africanist agenda and a Pan-African call.
I urge the reader to imagine the socioeconomic and environmental costs Ethiopia incurred since Muhammad Ali Pasha al-Masu’d Ibn Agha, known as Muhammad Ali of Egypt. He and his successors ruled Egypt until its revolution of 1952. Egyptian successive wars against Ethiopia with the intent of dominating it in order to assert hegemony over Blue Nile waters began during this period. While Egypt failed to conquer Ethiopia, its web of penetrations, destructions and proxy wars have persisted since. Egypt’s colonial master, Great Britain emboldened Egypt further by helping it craft and promulgate water treaties over the Nile that cemented Egypt’s claim of “natural and historical rights” over waters it never produces.
It is this colonial legacy that the current United States Government wishes to grant to Egypt at enormous costs to Ethiopia. I never imagined that the Head of the U.S. National Security Council would issue a tweet ordering a sovereign and independent country, Ethiopia, to sign an unfair, unjust and inequitable agreement crafted by the World Bank and the U.S. Treasury Department on behest of Egypt. This is an outrageous “tweet” that the people of the United States would not support. Ethiopia’s youth must urge America’s youth to reject this imperialist adventure.
To my knowledge, Ethiopia never accepted the draft agreement that literally undermines its national sovereignty and legal rights not only to complete and operate the GERD; but bars it from constructing other dams in the future on the Blue Nile. There is no single country on this planet that will allow its own strangulation by another party. The people of the United States should not be a party or a sponsor of the strangulation of an independent African nation.
The unprecedented precedent-setting imposition over Ethiopia has huge and devastating implications for the rest of Sub-Saharan African riparian nations. Today it is Ethiopia that will be harmed. Tomorrow it will be other Sub-Saharan African nations that will be punished by the colonial treaty and by the perpetuation of a false and misleading narrative by Egypt with the concurrence of the Government of the U.S. and the President of the World Bank. This is why I suggest that the issue of the Nile is Pan-African. Ethiopia’s position is Black Africa’s too. Remember that Ethiopia played a pioneering role in the liberation of African nations and in the formation of the African Union.
In summary, each and every Ethiopia irrespective of where he or she lives as well as their other African and American friends should stand up and defend Ethiopia’s sovereign and absolute legal rights over the Blue Nile (Abbay).
What is at stake is Ethiopia’s survival as an independent and proud nation.
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