By Dula Abdu
October 25, 2020
Ethiopia and Egypt may go to war thanks to Donald Trump. On Friday, October 23, 2020 at news conference, he encouraged and goaded Egypt to bomb the Abay Dam, the largest dam in Africa.
Former Secretary of State Tillerson described Donald Trump as a moron, now I believe he is not just a moron, but a reckless one too, otherwise, he would not be saying something crazy like encouraging Egypt to bomb the Abay Dam. Instead of using the U.S. diplomatic channels to find a peaceful solution, he opted to act as a lackey for his favorite dictator probably as a payback for the illegal $10M donation in 2016.
If Egypt heeds his advice, it is likely Ethiopia will blow up the Aswan Dam, and it will be more costly to Egypt (no electricity and millions will perish). Furthermore, Ethiopia has so many unemployed engineers, they can build so many irrigation dams in all tributaries and along the Abay River, and there will be no or little water flowing to Egypt.
This may also entail a war between Black Africa and the Arabs, and it will be a continental war, U.S. and Egypt versus Black Africa and the rest of the world.
Ethiopia is only asking an equitable share of the Nile, no more or less. Egypt is not losing any water now or in the future except there might be a chance during the filling period. At that time, Egypt has enough reservoir or water stored on the Aswan Dam to compensate during that period. So there is no ground for war unless Donald Trump sparks it to win an election or payback for the loan in such dangerous fashion.
Ethiopia had many wars with Egypt, some of them lead by American generals, but Ethiopia always prevailed. It will prevail again, but Egypt will forever lose it goodwill with Ethiopia and potential any water, as Ethiopia may put many small to medium irrigation dams instead of huge electric dams. If Egypt opts to invade, it will lose and it has to pay to build the dam if they want any water again.
Ethiopia is the origin of humanity, center of great civilization, and one of the longest and independent surviving Black nation, and it will continue despite machination by Egypt, Donald Trump, and others.
At the behest of Egypt, and indirectly Saudi Arabia, the U.S enticed Ethiopia to enter into a discussion on the Great Renaissance Dam that Ethiopia is building on the Abay (Nile) River. Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary, and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law were assigned to engage in foreign policy, an expertise belonging to the State Department. It looked very suspicious and odd for the two gentlemen to engage in water conflicts and African diplomacy.
Why did Trump choose Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner instead of seasoned diplomats from the State Department to solve a diplomatic and water dispute? Both have no qualifications whatsoever in the technology of building dams, colonial history of Africa, or water conflicts.
Kushner, Trump and Mnuchin are allies of Saudi Arabia and friends of President Sisi. Was the verdict written by Egypt before the arbitration started, as it was announced without an agreement and in the absence of Ethiopia? It smells like the old justice system in Dixie where blacks were picked randomly as murder suspects and thrown into a death row cell before trial or a verdict.
Egypt outwitted Ethiopia, especially Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who has just been in power for less than two years to engage the U.S. without fully understanding the influence of Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the Trump administration. Both can get away with murder as long as Donald Trump is in the White House, like Saudi Arabia did with the murder of journalist Jamall Kashoggi and Egypt with thousands of Egyptian lives.
Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner presented an agreement without consulting Ethiopia that stated any infringement on Egypt’s water consumption from the Nile River is unacceptable. The Arab League followed suit and stated that any infringement against Egypt water quota is a declaration of war on the whole Arab world. Now Ethiopia is facing a confrontation with Egypt backed by the United States and the Arab World.
Now embolden by U.S. and the Arab world, Egypt wants to dictate every aspect of the operation of the dam, otherwise threatening to destroy it and even declare war on Ethiopia. Furthermore, instead of creating a diplomatic and an economic solution to the problem, Egypt is going for a diplomatic and military knockout by isolating Ethiopia.
British colonial treaty signed in 1929 excluded Ethiopia and gave virtual control over the river to Egypt, even though Ethiopia is supply 85% of the water. Another British treaty in 1959 between Sudan and Egypt assigned 55.5 billion cubic meters of the river flow to Egypt and 18.5 to Sudan, but none to Ethiopia or other downstream nations.
It is highly disturbing why Steven Mnuchin or Jared Kushner were engaging in water conflicts or diplomatic issues involving Africa. Most of all Steven Mnuchin or Jared Kushner are not a student of history or colonialism that Egypt is relying to preserve its share of the water coming from Ethiopia. Britain set the ground rule on the usage of the Nile River without consulting any of the downstream countries in favor of Egypt, which was a British colony. Egypt is flexing its political and military power to keep a one sided colonial treaty in force.
Unfortunately, Egypt’s arrogant stand emanates because it has the military and diplomatic advantage over Ethiopia and because of a strong relationship between President Sisi, Donald Trump and support from Saudi Arabia.
Donald Trump’s failure to be a neutral arbitrator may end up causing a big war. Egypt may be tempted to strike the dam with American weapons. Egypt is the largest recipient of America’s aid in Africa despite being a dictatorship. On the other hand, Dr. Abiy is a Nobel Laurette that introduced democracy, free press, free market, and made peace with Eritrea.
Now his ambitious plan to transition Ethiopia into a democracy will be short lived if he were to engage in war with Egypt because of Donald Trump’s abdication to serve as a neutral arbitrator instead of a hired gun.
This unprecedented involvement of Donald Trump in diplomatic affairs in Africa may lead to a war between Africa and the Arab World. A war unfortunately none of them can afford.
If the task of arbitration was given to someone versed in diplomacy and history of colonialism in Africa, it could have been avoided. Both Steven Mnuchin and Jared Kushner are real estate gurus not diplomats. Mnuchin got notoriety as “Foreclosure King” during the Great Recession for foreclosing on U.S. homeowners mostly minorities, often profiting on their misfortunes to make millions.
Ethiopia is a very a poor and proud country trying to address urgent economic and energy needs of its growing population, standing around 110 million. It has faced many invasions in the past from Europeans and two major ones from Egypt. If Egypt bombs the dam and make it inoperable, Ethiopia can retaliate. This opens the possibility for Ethiopia to destroy the Aswan dam, as well as divert water using tributaries of the Blue Nile, especially during the summer months. This may force Egypt to invade Ethiopia. As in the past, Egypt will lose the war and the result could be devastating economically to both countries; however, Egypt will lose forever any leverage or ability to dictate to Ethiopia with uncompromising demands.
It will be smart for Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to open their borders and promote economic integration instead of looking to the West and the Middle East for their survival, which has not paid off so far besides making them client and dependent states.
There is no love lost between Egypt and Ethiopia. For years, Egypt has consistently tried to keep Ethiopia in turmoil and underdeveloped by supporting secessionist groups, supplying arms to invaders such as Somalia during 1977-78 war. In 1993, Egypt orchestrated to make Ethiopia landlocked by supporting the secession of Eritrea with the help of then UN Secretary Boutros-Boutros Ghali, an Egyptian in contravention of U.N Chapter 1 and article 2 that demands respect for the territorial integrity of all of its members. Eritrea’s secession was finalized in six month, while Somaliland, Western Sahara and others have been waiting for decades because of Egypt’s and Boutros Ghali’s desire to harm Ethiopia.
On the other hand, the people of Ethiopia and Egypt have many common bonds. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Egyptian Orthodox Church are both Coptic and follow similar rituals. Many Ethiopian Muslims admired Gamal Abdel Nasser as a great leader of Africa and a champion of the Muslim cause.
The State Department or the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Tibor Nagy was not present or invited to the mediation of the three African countries. It was a fait accompli. The cards were stacked against Ethiopia, which has only wanted to build a dam still supplying 85% of the water for Egypt.
The mediation by the U.S. was a charade primarily aimed at pleasing Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This is unfortunately a recent pattern of U.S. diplomacy sacrificing one ally to please another with a stronger influence or deeper pockets. A similar scenario was played in conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Russia and Ukraine and numerous others. Everything is transactional, not grounded on principle or diplomatic norms.
Sadly, Egypt and other Arab governments still maintain a colonial mentality like the Europeans when it comes sub-Sahara Africa. They want to dominate and have a superiority complex. Even now, their pejorative term for all Black people is abd, slave.
Instead of assigning the task to an impartial and honest broker, Donald Trump showed his true transactional spirit and sacrificed Ethiopia to appease friends with deep pockets. This, of course, did not come as a surprise to anyone who had been paying attention to the Trump administration’s policies and alliances in the Middle East. Ethiopia is less valuable in Donald Trump’s transactional world, so it is worthy throwing to the dogs.
According to Tom Campbell, professor of economics at Chapman University, Ethiopia successfully managed to keep outside interference in the negotiation between the parties. It only accepted U.S. mediation thinking that the U.S. was a neutral party and a friend of Ethiopia. What a disappointment?
Approximately 65 percent of Ethiopians do not have reliable electricity. Without electricity, Ethiopia cannot grow its economy and end its recurring famine and abject poverty.
Unless the U.S. changes it blind support for Egypt, this will lead to a war between the Arab world and Sub-Sahara Africa; and Donald Trump will have blood on his hands.
Dula Abdu, former U.S. banker, professor and originally from Ethiopia.
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