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Egyptís Desperate Act and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

By Markos Feleke
Tigrai Onlne - February 13, 2014

The ‘new’ Egyptian government which is being runned through the shadow by Field Marshal Al- Sisi; who himself came to this position by overthrowing the publicly elected now former President Mohammed Morsi, has recently come up with an absurd agenda. The Cairo administration (along with its constant nuisance) which has been negotiating with Sudan and Ethiopia in a three round meeting that was held in hopes of utilizing the Nile River on a 21st century principle of mutual benefit.

However, after attempts at the negotiating table  ended in failure, Egypt has come out and said much in the vein of its previous pharaohs’ rhetoric “we are ready to take the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to the United Nation” to the surprise of many.

Khalid Wasif, the official spokesman for the country’s minister of irrigation and water resources comment, “Egypt will not allow the dam to be built and will move to rally international pressure to prevent it from being funded”, puts the motive behind Egypt’s decision to negotiate (in the first place) with Sudan and Ethiopia into question.

It’s however pretty obvious why they did the negotiating. That’s to gain political upper hand by claiming ‘although we tried to negotiate and strike up an agreement with the Ethiopian government, it did not choose to listen to us”. But this is not acceptable. This is because had the Egyptian claim had any truth to it, Sudan which was part of the negotiation process would have at least voiced the same concern. But it didn’t.

So, it’s baffling the fact that it’s claiming to present the issue to the UN much in the spirit of its previous colonial-era-nostalgic administrations.

Here, I think it’s important to raise the question, is it beneficial (in the long run) to Egypt to pine for the colonial-era treaties?” Considering the fact that Egyptian ruling elites had either directly or indirectly tried to impose the (colonial-era) treaties on our country- although their efforts had been to no avail.

Before I give an answer to the above question I raised, it’s appropriate to look into the issues Egypt raised through its government. The official spokesperson Khalid Wasif has commented that Egypt has internationally recognized and respected right on the Nile River, and if any of the River basin countries want to utilize the River for development, they have an obligation to consult and get permission from Egypt. And since Ethiopia “violated” this obligation in starting the dam project, Egypt has withdrawn itself from the negotiation table. However, do these have any kind of truth or fact to them? Let us see…

It’s obvious that when the Egyptian governments talk about ‘I have a right on Nile River recognized by internationally law’, it’s pointing to the 1929 and 1959 (colonial) treaties. But, these treaties are not only obtuse (backward) to this day and civilized age, but Ethiopia haven’t signed the treaties and do not give recognition to them. So, they (the treaties) have no acceptance in any kind of international criteria.

As its known, the issue of the fair utilization of Bile River was hindered by the colonial treaties of 1929 and 1959 Nile Water Agreements which has also been used as a sort of ‘prohibitory card’. And since then the riparian countries have for years Backpedaled from the issue taking into account the trouble they’ll face if they so as much as think about of utilizing the River.

Although the Egyptian believe they have “historical right” and consider the river as their personal property, the issue of equal, fair and rational utilization of the rivers water has inevitably been raised by the rest of the riparian countries- as nothing stays as they were.

Our country rejects the validity of the 1929 treaty of the utilization of the Nile River signed between Britain and Egypt, or the 1959 treaty signed between Egypt and the Sudan. The country not only rejects the treaties, but also it doesn’t recognize it. And Ethiopia has demonstrated its position clearly, along with the fact that the treaties are unfair and unjust.

This national consensus around the utilization of the River Nile of the country has been reflected by all the governments that had administrated the country. All in all, it’s clear and obvious that the treaty that was signed between two countries can not be acceptable as it excludes all the rest of the riparian countries.

This complain of the riparian countries had for long time been ignored. Especially from the side of Egypt, there had been firm stance that “the colonial era treaties” are inviolable which went as far as threatening and warning.

Recently as the world knows, Ethiopia has made this issue (using the Nile) its first priority. Here what the Egyptians should know and understand is that the days when Ethiopia compromised its national interest are long gone; and its firm stance on the fair and rational utilization principle is irreversible.

As the phrase ‘stating the obvious’ entails, I don’t think it’s fruitful here to write about Ethiopia’s position, considering how these few Mubarak possessed Egyptian politicians know all about it.

If it was a up to me, I would stop arguing using the colonial era “historical owner” card (including their recent hoorah to take the issue to the UN) and issue an apology to the riparian countries for excluding them from utilizing the water for all those years, considering the colonialist are issuing apology and paying compensation for all their mischief and misgivings.

Other than this, citing to 19th century antique and unacceptable treaties for argument in the 21st century is not acceptable in any way. This is because for Egypt to argue using colonial era treaties and agreements is the same as reverting back to the days of the British colonial rule. And this is unthinkable in the modern and civilized world of the 21st century, as it will be the same as moving 200 years back.

Dear readers, as you know, despite our country’s potential for generating huge electric power courtesy of its many rivers (so much that its known as ‘water tower’ of East Africa), its right to use its natural water resources has been impeded.

For this to happen, poverty (which used to be very rampant in the country) and the narrow-mindedness of previous regimes have been cited as the reason. Fortunately, these issues don’t exist in the country now.

The FDRE government; who put out a vision to see a middle income Ethiopia where good governance and a democratic order founded on the people’s participation along with social justice reigns supreme by employing policies and strategies that guarantees the public step-by-step benefit from the development, it has able to solve the two hindrance that were mentioned above.

With this and in addition to diplomatic effort put up, we are guaranteeing our right of utilizing our natural water resources, ending years of disappointment in the process.

Of course it’s not surprising to hear Egyptian regions citing the Nile water as their historical right, considering they’ve been jacking up the right of the riparian countries to utilize the water cooperatively for years. Yesterday is not today; as our country has been recording two digit development, it has come to a point where it wouldn’t negotiate on its water resource.

So Cairo should know that Ethiopia doesn’t need any body’s permission on its developmental works, as no international law will be violated by any development and growth that’s done in a fair and just way.

Nowadays the government transformational development projects guarantees sustainable regional benefit. And this act confirms thinking that are outside of the principle of mutual benefit are both antique and obsolete. This is why the government of Ethiopia is continuously saying changing the colonial-era treaties with the ‘Entebbe treaty’ which guarantees all the riparian countries fair utilization of the river, is not for debate or negotiation.  

Here it’s important to note Ethiopia accepted the ‘Entebbe treaty’ seeing it rationally (logically). First of all Ethiopia understands’ the ‘Entebbe treaty’ guarantees the rights and benefit of all the riparian countries, unlike the colonial-era treaty which stands to benefit very few countries. Secondly not only the (Entebbe) treaty is based on basic international criteria’s of water utilization, but Ethiopia vehemently rejects the colonial-era treaties.

So, the country has a huge belief on the necessity of the change of the old treaty by the new (Entebbe) treaty. Thus, the country recognizes the Entebbe treaty where the majority of the riparian countries agreed upon, not the colonial era document continuously used by Egypt.

Nonetheless, everyone should know and understand our country, like every other country of the world, has the right to alleviate its people from poverty using its water resources. As any leader of this article knows, the riparian countries including Ethiopia faces an uphill struggle to alleviate their people out of poverty.

 And in order for them to win this struggle, they are going to have to use all of their natural resources effectively (optimally). Thus using their water resource for their development is not an issue that can be moved back, as it’s an issue of life and death.

The countries are planning to use their water resource to guarantee food security and to generate enough power to create a conducive economic climate for their industries. As a consequence, letting bygones be bygones, they have been negotiating on utilizing the river equally for two decades. Here we can understand one thing.

That is the only thing the riparian countries are concerned about is utilizing the river’s water equally, and the fact that they are not planning to hurt anybody (anyone).

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As we all know both colonial-era treaties (which benefits one and harm others) excluded all the riparian countries except for Egypt; and they were imposed forcefully. With regards to this, the ‘Entebbe treaty’; which is based on the principle of mutual benefit, follows a give and take approach within the upper riparian countries; the sources of the water, and the up to now beneficiary of the River, Egypt.

As its known the 1929 and 1959 treaty which made Egypt the only benefactor, not only prohibits the other riparian countries (except for Egypt) from using a single drop of the River water but it adheres to a self-serving attitude.

Despite the treaties short coming and limitation, Egypt’s governments still persists with its antique stance of ‘we should stick to those treaties’. The thing is, this attitude (of Egypt) is almost thinking like a cave man in the 21st century.

I belief the roots of this thinking lies with the inability of the upper riparian countries’ to utilize the water by themselves, as they were subjected to poverty (as a result of Egypt’s plot) and have not been able to use the River. This is part of the reason why, Egypt started the rumor that the ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’ is having financial problems- having no options to turn to.

All in all, as a result of the riparian countries effort to break free from poverty, they have been discussing for many years and came about to mutual understanding on the necessity of using their water resources.

Consequently, they have came up with a new Nile River agreement that will send the former treaties; that harms the upper riparian countries rights (interests), and the selfish ‘we have been using it alone up to now, and we should still use it alone’ attitude to its grave.

So, they have come across to an agreement which wouldn’t harm other countries’ water security, while guaranteeing equitable and logical utilization of the water in which they’ll be able to resolve electric power deficiencies. Although this reasonable thinking hasn’t met Egypt’s good grace yet.

Here, I believe we have to raise one question. ‘Does the ‘GERD’ project really hurt Egypt’s national interest as the country’s water and irrigation resource Ministry official spokesperson claimed?’ Let us see this in detail – in order to understand the truth.

As it’s known the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Construction was decided to be built 20kms near the Sudanese border. This shows that the dam won’t be used for irrigation. So, the project except for ensuring rapid growth by generating electric power and   supply, its objective is not to “hurt” anyone as they (so) claim. Let me add another example…

As everyone knows that electric power generating dams does not waste a single drop of water except for generating power. For this end, a panel of experts pooled from the countries had put out a report that stated the dam would not harm any of the country’s interest and the fact that its negative impact rate is very small. Instead as the dam stops the high late of evaporation that used to occur in the lower riparian countries, its benefit is huge. These hard facts are enough to debunk Egypt’s ‘the dam will hurt me’ rhetoric.

However, this enthusiasm is not shared by the Egyptian counter parts, and instead they’re exacerbating the situation. It’s obvious why they do this. It’s because their self-centered ‘it doesn’t matter to us if you die of hunger; as long as we feed ourselves’ attitude hasn’t changed.

Although they won’t be able to get rid of this attitude easily (as it has lived with them for years), they should know that our country is not building a dam that didn’t tick the international criteria. And they know this.

Ethiopia is building a dam that’s within the charts of international law, and a dam that benefits all the riparian countries - it’s not self-serving country like them.

Although the spokesperson Mr. Khalid Wasif claimed (in a fashion not to be expected from a government official) that his government will move to rally international pressure to prevent the project from being funded, they should not forget that the ‘GERD’ is built by the public’s all-encompassing participation.

In addition to this, they should know that this is a dam project that shattered previous ‘aid seeking’ mentality, have a huge upside for the success of anti-poverty struggle; it tickled the emotion of all Ethiopians and instilled ‘yes we can’ attitude along with a huge potential to benefit the public in the long run. Generally, it’s a historical undertaking.

They should also understand that it’s not only us, we Ethiopians, which is going to be developing. Living and developing together is part of the identity and psyche of Ethiopians (we had never said only “us” like Egypt).

Thus, everyone should know the objective of the construction of ‘GERD’ is not to hurt anyone. Including the fact that working and growing together is part of Ethiopia’s psyche. And this is part of the reason why Ethiopia is the Flag bearer of the ‘Entebbe treaty’ which is based on international principle of equity and just.

The whole public is involved through financial and labor means for the success of the project because they were aware that the project will guarantee full mutual benefit.

Although we have deep respect, we won’t be asking anybody’s permission to use our own country’s resource to grow and change for the better. And we can’t. We are not willing to entertain or even hear this kind of colonial thinking; we haven’t in the past, and certainly not now.

And Egypt’s administration should know this kind of colonial-era nostalgia won’t get them anywhere. The previous Mubarak’s regime failed effort should be a lesson for them.

Despite Mubarak’s huge efforts to stop the project from launching; one through neo-liberal extremists who operate as a pseudo Aid Organizations and other times through our country’s power-crazed unpatriotic oppositions, he didn’t get any positive results. 

As the essential thing is the truth, their posturing and maneuvering cannot be acceptable. Most importantly, I think it’s better to realize that the GERD project which is being built by the fair and ‘let us grow together’-labeled Ethiopian people will not be stopped by anyone; especially through the colonial-era treaties.

Thus, it would be behoove of the Cairo administration officials to not enter into unnecessary squabble citing antique treaties, and instead open their doors to the benefits of regional developmental integration. It’s by far cost-effective and beneficial.

After all what benefits for Egyptians is to come to the cooperation framework, not to derail the issue to an unnecessary direction- a direction which leads to an antique and obsolete colonial-era-nostalgic treaties and agreements.

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