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The Arab League’s Statement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is Despicable

The League must grow up and push for an equitable agreement of Nile waters

Aklog Birara (Dr)

At the conclusion of its summit in Doha, Qatar, June 15, the Arab League came out swinging like  colonial masters did not so long ago throughout Africa. An “outgrowth” of intense Arab  nationalism during the Second World War when Arab countries were dominated by colonialists,  the League was founded in Cairo and controlled primarily by Egypt. Its primary role is to  advance Pan-Arabism at the expense of Pan-Africanism. As far as the League is concerned, the  African Union is peripheral.  

This time, the target of this Pan-Arabism phenomenon is Ethiopia. The rationale behind  targeting Ethiopia is the Pan-Arab determination to control the sources of water. They cannot  do it against Turkey that is also another water source. Turkey, they calculate, is militarily more  powerful and is a member of NATO. Turkey, an upper Riparian nation, has constructed  (1980s/1990S) or is slated to construct 22 dams along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers bordering  Iraq and Syria. These riparian countries in the Middle East have refrained from going to war  over water. The record shows that actual war between countries over water occurred more  than 4,500 years ago.  

Riparian nations settle conflicts over water through bilateral and multilateral negotiations and  not through wars. When they are thoughtful and strategic, they arrive at water sharing agreements based on scientific and technical data and not on political dictate. The River Nile is  among the few, if not the only major Transboundary River, that still lacks such a water sharing  agreement.  

The time for a Nile Water sharing Agreement is now! 

It is about time that the 11 Sub-Saharan and Arab countries that depend on the mighty Nile  River focus singularly on an all-inclusive convention and arrive at a rationale and equitable water sharing agreement. This can be facilitated by the AU with technical assistance from UN  specialized agencies and the World Bank.  

An equitable water sharing agreement of the Nile River is the only way out of the current crisis and impasse. The Arab League would have made a significant contribution to peace, stability  and prosperity in Africa had it pushed for cooperation rather than confrontation. Confrontation  has not worked in the Middle East regarding the dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers by  Turkey that neighboring countries share. 

Confrontation has not worked in the final settlement of the Palestinian issue either. The zero sum game that Egypt is pushing and that the Arab League supports blindly and arrogantly is a  confrontational approach. It is also my considered opinion that the Pan-Arabic stand is racist. It  diminishes the role of the African Union, a Pan-African organization. 

There is a plethora of evidence to support this view. Egypt and Sudan frustrated and diminished  the role of the African Union on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the GERD) negotiations  that should have succeeded by now. They prolonged the impasse by reverting this African  matter to the USA and the World Bank. When this failed, they then escalated it to the UN  Security Council that referred the matter back to the AU where it belongs. The Arab League is  now recommending the same path that has failed in the past.  

I contend that the AU is still the legitimate authority that must facilitate negotiations.  Why the gyration?  

The on and off gyration fails to lead to a win-win outcome. This is because Egypt and the ever changing Sudan, a huge beneficiary of the GERD, wish to force Ethiopia to sign a water release  agreement that will foreclose Ethiopia’s’ legitimate and sovereign rights to harness its water  resources in the future. This foreclosure poses an existential threat for Ethiopia. If you foreclose  your sovereign rights to harness your own natural resources for the betterment of your people, it is inevitable that future generations of Ethiopians will pay a huge price. Ethiopian youth  deserve a better life in their own homeland. 

Diminished opportunity means that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Ethiopian youths will be forced to leave their homeland in search of income opportunities abroad. Today,  hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are being treated like  ‘animals’ and told to go home. Thousands suffer in Saudi jails. Others are stranded in war-torn  Yemen, etc.  

The remedy to this cycle of massive human capital flight is to establish favorable governance in  Ethiopia; and to create tens of millions of jobs. This will in turn unleash the productivity of the  entire economy. Completion of the GERD will contribute to this critical path.  

The Arab League fails to understand or literally ignores that Ethiopia’s waters are critical for its  transformation in the same manner that petroleum proved to be the foundation for  development in Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries.  

Why the Arab League is wrong in its prescription? 

At the conclusion of their conference in Doha, Qatar, the 17 Arab foreign ministers representing  the League embraced wholesale Egypt’s misleading narrative that both Egypt and Sudan face  threats from Ethiopia’s GERD. What I find galling is this. The water crisis these Arab countries  face is “an integral part of Arab national security.” Imagine that! Ethiopia against the Arab  world. It means that the international system is failing the entire Black Africa.  

Accordingly, they suggested a “united Arab position” as espoused by Qatar’s Foreign Minister  Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. “We spoke about the  negotiations regarding the Ethiopian dam in order to reach a just settlement for all the concerned parties.” What exactly is a “just settlement” that penalizes Ethiopia and rewards  Egypt and Sudan?  

More than 90 percent of the issues of the GERD have been resolved. The sticking point that  caused the impasse in the AU sponsored negotiations is “determining a mechanism to deal with  future water disputes and how the river’s waters should be allocated during droughts.”  

Which country suffers most during drought years?  

Studies show that Egypt has no shortage of water but a chronic lack of policy and a spirit of sharing and cooperation. Egypt stores 160 billion Cubic Meters (BCM) of surface water from the  Nile water, using the High Aswan Dam (HAD), a multi-year storage scheme. Egypt has more  than 150,000 BCM of reserve for drought and severe drought years.  

The Ethiopian Waters Advisory Council (EWAC) a think-tank of scientists, hydrologists,  economists, and security experts inform us that the High Aswan Dam is full to the brim. Experts  also reveal that Egypt possesses groundwater stored in the Nubian aquifer share of Egypt. This  aquifer is part of the aquifer where Libya created a huge artificial river. One estimate indicates that, if Egypt starts utilizing the first 100-meter thickness, it can produce fresh water in the  order of 5250 BCM, equivalent to augmenting its current water storage at least for 250 years  (assuming 20 BCM rate of extraction per year). In addition, Egypt has a coastline length of  about 1800 miles offering opportunities for desalinization and augmenting future water  availability.  

Over the last decade, the cost of technology of desalination (both seawater and brackish water  in deep undergrounds) has come significantly lower. Studies by Egyptian and foreign experts  confirm that Egypt wastes excessive water through the 40,000 km of extensive open canal  irrigation systems and high-water consuming crops. 

Egypt produces water consuming rice, sugar cane and other products cane. It exports foods. A  recent study from Cairo University indicates that as much as 40 BCM of wasted water can be  saved by improving agricultural practices in Egypt. This is tiny compared to the amount of water  in the second fill of the GERD.  

Ethiopia does not possess similar options. In fact, Egypt supported and continues to support  proxy wars against Ethiopia. One result is that Ethiopia lost its seacoast. Egypt pressured the  World Bank and the African Development Bank not to lend for hydroelectric or irrigation dam  projects in Ethiopia. The cumulative cost to Ethiopia is in the tens of billions of dollars in lost  revenues and incomes. Ethiopia has the right to demand compensation for this massive loss.  

What is the cost implication of delaying completion of the GERD? 

According to a study by the Economic Team of EWAC, the potential contributions of GERD  include raising the coverage of electricity to 80 percent of the population, boosting GDP by 10 

percent, and annual net revenue of $13.4 billion. The implication of delay in the completion of  the dam is therefore stark.  

A five-year delay, for instance, may cost Ethiopia as much as $60 billion. This means Egypt is  liable for its condemnable actions to the tune of at least $13 billion.  

What convention if any supports Egypt’s hegemony over the Nile?  

The Arab League must be wary that its moral standing in support of Egypt is colonial. Below is  the reason why:  

• The Egyptian Government is fond of citing the 1902 colonial border agreement between  Emperor Menelik II and the British Government. This document is, however, a border  delimitation agreement rather than a water allocation and use agreement. It explicitly  forbids “the complete blockage of the water flow from the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, and  Sobat River to the White Nile.” There is no implication in the text of the 1902 agreement  that prohibits Ethiopia from utilizing its waters that honor international principles and  practices. Ethiopia has adhered to the 2015 Declaration of Principles (the DOP) in the  filling and operation of the GERD. Its intent is not to harm Egypt or Sudan. The DOP is  signed by Egypt and Sudan.  

• Egypt and Sudan signed two treaties, one in 1929 while under British colonial rule and  another in 1959 after independence. In both instances, the two countries excluded  Ethiopia, an independent country at the time; and the other Sub-Saharan riparian  countries that were still under colonial control. 

These treaties that anointed Egypt as the dominant power over the Nile River  purportedly gave Egypt veto power. Ethiopia that supplies 86 percent of the waters of the Nile had no say in the matter. This veto power enabled Egypt to punish Ethiopia  concerning access to capital for dam projects. Other Sub-Saharan African riparian  countries were literally ignored. 

• The Arab League must understand that Ethiopia has consistently rejected the above  treaties as illegal and non-binding. They have no relevance whatsoever for water-related  projects in Ethiopia.  

I would like to draw the attention of the Arab League to the core issue Egypt is facing.  

In November 2019, The World Economic Forum wrote an analysis entitled “This is the water crisis that Egypt is facing.” It attributed Egypt’s “creeping water crisis” to two fundamental  factors: “Egypt’s growing population and the impacts of climate change.” I would add to these a  third factor: Egypt’s massive wastage of Nile waters discussed above. 

It goes without saying that Ethiopia does not have control over any of these factors. On the  other hand, Egypt can manage its wasteful use and the size of its population. It can even help  mitigate the ravages of climate change by cooperating with Nile Riparian nations; by investing  in the ecosystem etc. This entails cooperation. Sadly, Egypt does none of these.  

In conclusion, the Arab League must understand that Egypt’s fear of the filling and completion  of the GERD that is being financed entirely by the Ethiopian people is misplaced. Has Egypt ever  contemplated changing its agricultural production and export policy? How reasonable is it for a  country that sits on a massive desert to claim that its agricultural sector will be harmed by a  hydroelectric dam that does not even reduce Nile waters measurably? What about parity and  fair play?  

Egypt’s primary motive is something else: to control Ethiopia’s rains and water sources.  

The Arab League does not possess the moral standing to deny 117 million Ethiopians of the  fundamental human right accepted by the law of nations to harness their own rivers and  improve their wellbeing. 

Ethiopians deserve energy security, water security and food security. I am not aware that UN  conventions on transboundary rivers give the Arab League any authority to dictate terms and  conditions over a river they or Egypt or Sudan do not own. Simply put, the Nile does not belong  to Egypt or Sudan. It belongs to 11 riparian countries, 9 of them Sub-Saharan African.  

The way out of the logger jam is not unity of purpose among Arab countries on the Nile. Rather,  it is to convene an all-inclusive conference of 11 Nile River Riparian countries; and to arrive at a  water agreement that is fair and equitable.  

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4 COMMENTS

  1. No one should expect anything pertinent from a disgruntled and dysfunctional Arab League, they are a mess, they don’t even get along with one another, look at Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Syria, they are wicked and toothless, they are good at running their big mouths, nothing more or less,.

    ኢትዮጵያ: ታበፅሕ: ዕደዊሃ: ሐበ: እግዚአብሔር::

  2. Arab League! What a laughing stock. They serve the interests of neo-colonialists lead by the US yes-man, the Egyptian dictator. They swim in the blood of Palestinians, Yemenis, Libyans Syrian, Iraqis.all over their neighborhoods. What do they say of do about this calamity? Nothing..So shameless. What they say and do is always mediocre, including claiming the NIle is ‘an Arab River’! You won’t help asking which part of their body do they use to think, or do they think at all?

  3. i’ve read & have been following the GERD story since its inception & nowhere have i seen or heard that anyone thinks the water belongs to Ethiopia alone. everyone else, whether they are along the banks of either of the nile rivers or half way around the world (US, EU, ME like the saudis) thinks they have a say in how & whom shall have the rights to the nile.

    the IMF & WB want a say bc they want to lend Ethiopia money with all sorts of conditions on the GERDs operation that will not benefit Ethiopia. the US & EU want a say bc they support egypt who buys their weapons & other crap that only hurts itself & others around egypt. the Ethiopian Govt has made an excellent decision to exclude any foreign entity being involved in its financing so the GERD only belongs to her.

    well i have news for all of these so called actors or experts… the blue nile begins in Ethiopia, ie; the source is Ethiopia, so it’s hers alone.

    if any other bordering country or downstream country wants Ethiopias water, they can pay for it, plain & simple. payment could be trade of resources or just cash. whatever method they choose doesn’t matter as long as they pay for it.

    and another thing, Sudan is the only immediate downstream country to Ethiopia’s water, so Ethiopia should just have a water agreement with Sudan, then Sudan can deal with anyone else that wants Sudan’s water from there.

    the current PM of Ethiopia is a Nobel peace laureate & Ethiopia is the only nation on the whole continent that has never been a colony of a foreign power. egypt expects the only true sovereign nation in all africa to concede to a multi-time colonised heretic like egypt with a leader that came to power by murdering his own people bc he couldn’t get his way with a democratically elected leader, just like mubarek did before him. what a joke el-sisi the murderous dictator has become.

    its ethiopia’s water & she will decide how to use it!

    peace

    bob

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