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Egypt's addiction to deception on Nile waters

By Mearegu Hailu
Tigrai Onlne - January 24, 2014

Self-deception, mass deception and misinformation are certainly bad guides intro handling social affairs. They are more so when they permeate government policy and linger for decades, infiltrating a host of decisions-making processes and stakeholders. Ultimately, they holds hostage the perpetrators themselves who initially hoped to be able to use it solely for the sake of misinforming the mass and foreigners.

Egypt's addiction to deception on Nile waters
The Egyptians should not second-guess Ethiopia's resolve to complete the dam.

That is the unfortunate situation of current day Egyptian elite and officials whose thinking is often clouded by and whose words and actions are observably trapped in decades of mass deception. Just like a drug addict, they are often tempted to return to the vicious circle of misinformation rather than turn the page and carry through the cooperative route Ethiopia repeatedly offered and they hesitantly embarked.

As anyone who followed the Nile river politics knows, Egypt's Nile policy during the former President Hosini Mubarak was primarily based on military chauvinism and proxy war by assisting anti-peace elements.

Indeed, the proxy war tactic appears to have worked for them in the past when Ethiopia's government was weaker and politically divided. At the same time, the boastful claims of some Egyptian officials in the past that they will consider any use of Nile water as an act of war were meant to be a psychological war.

But there is an expiry date to such tactics. Unfortunately Egypt's elite have started to really believe it.

It is to be recalled that it was as far as November 2010 that former PM Meles Zenawi gave them a solemn advice. Speaking to Reuters he indicated that the old tactics are unsustainable.

Meles said: "I am not worried that the Egyptians will suddenly invade Ethiopia. Nobody who has tried that has lived to tell the story. I don't think the Egyptians will be any different and I think they know that."

"If we address the issues around which the rebel groups are mobilized then we can neutralize them and therefore make it impossible for the Egyptians to fish in troubled waters because there won't be any."

"Hopefully that should convince the Egyptians that, as direct conflict will not work, and as the indirect approach is not as effective as it used to be, the only sane option will be civil dialogue."

It took a while for Egyptian to realize the truth of Meles's advise and they continued to refuse the signing of the Nile basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) which was a result of 10 years long consultations of Nile basin countries.

As Meles commented at the time, "the Egyptians have yet to make up their minds as to whether they want to live in the 21st or the 19th century. So the process appears to be stuck."

However, Ethiopia's socio-economic transformation cannot be put on hold until Egyptian make-up their mind. And, Ethiopia has no legal obligation to sit and wait indefinitely praying that Egypt develops a rational policy and approach for cooperation on the use of Nile waters.

It was known that Egypt was resisting to sign the CFA and previously impeded Ethiopia from getting external funds for previous two dams (Tekeze dam & Tana Beles dam). On the other-hand, Ethiopia has become politically stable and regionally powerful to prevent external destabilization efforts and has become economically stronger to build dams without anyone's help.

Therefore, Ethiopia decided to embark on one of the major components of its Growth and Transformation Plan. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam project.

However, Ethiopia didn't abandon its commitment to cooperation and principles of good neighborliness. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam project was planned with such constructive and rational spirit of brotherhood.

Even when the Renaissance dam was launched on April 2, 2011, a historic day for Ethiopia, Meles took time to urge old-fashioned Egyptian politicians to adopt a 21st century rational mind-set.

He explained: “The benefits that will accrue from the Dam will by no means be restricted to Ethiopia. They will clearly extend to all neighboring states, and particularly to the downstream Nile basin countries, to Sudan and Egypt.

The Dam will greatly reduce the problems of silt and sediment that consistently affect dams in Egypt and Sudan.....The Renaissance Dam will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing the wastage from evaporation which has been a serious problem in these countries. It will in fact ensure a steady year-round flow of the Nile. This, in turn, should have the potential to amicably resolve the differences which currently exist among riparian states over the issue of equitable utilization of the resource of the Nile water.”

Ethiopia's move to build the dam apparently helped to wake up Egyptian scholars from their decade's long mass delusion and deception that threats can stop Ethiopia forever.

Indeed, Egyptian scholars and politicians - both in public conferences held in Cairo and on the media.- about military strikes and sabotages.

But they soon realized the old way of doing things is no workable and sent a 48 person delegation named “Egyptian People’s Diplomatic Delegation”.

The delegation was headed by Moustafa El Gendy and comprised three presidential candidates, independent political activists, representatives of different political parties and movements, members of parliament, politicians and other public figures.

The Public Diplomacy Delegation met with the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi and received the following pledge (as reported by Ahram Arabic in May/2011):

The Prime Minister stressed that he had seen several models of dams and that he was keen to choose the model that generates electricity only and does not remember running water in irrigation of agricultural land.

“I say to the Egyptians that this dam is beneficial to Egypt and the Sudan and will not hurt in any way. Yet, in order to reassure the Egyptian people and thereby eliminate all the doubts created by former regime of Egypt, I accept the formation of a committee of experts, consisting Ethiopians, Egyptians, Sudanese and other foreign experts, to examine the dam project and to make sure it will not cause any damage to Egypt and Sudan.“

Ethiopia's proposition for the establishment of an International Panel of Experts (IPoE) and, through it, to consult and share information with the two downstream countries is unprecedented in the Nile basin and, indeed, in other international watercourses, in the absence of a specific agreement to determine the use of international watercourses.

The move was meant to build confidence among the three countries and intended to encourage constructive actors in downstream countries and strengthen a spirit of mutual cooperation. The hope was that Egypt will use the opportunity and time to reconsider the matter and escape the delusional mindset that permeated its public discourse and Nile policy for long.

Therefore, when some Egyptian pundits and media started to claim that the dam project was stopped or will be stopped. Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately made it clear that: by issued a statement stating:

“some[media outlets] tried to read too much into Prime Minister Meles’ assurance that...experts from both countries to come to see just how advantageous the project would be to downstream countries. There were suggestions that Ethiopia had agreed to freeze the project....

This is absolutely erroneous. Ethiopia was making a goodwill gesture, involving no formal overture to the Egyptian government....

It certainly doesn’t mean Ethiopia is giving up on the Dam project. Ethiopia believes that a clear understanding of the benefits of the Dam will further facilitate cooperation between the two countries.”

Similarly, a week later, when the Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Abdel Aziz Sharaf visited Addis Ababa; Meles Zenawi reiterated during a joint press conference that: “the construction of the dam won’t be delayed even for a single minute.”

Unfortunately, Egyptians chose to do little to close the era of delusion. For more than a year, they made little effort to sanitize the old water well of deception from which the public has been drinking for long. Neither do they effort to cleanse the various policy and analysis materials that are far detached from reality.

Therefore, when the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) finally re-affirmed the dam design and, the Egyptians were found still stuck in the old politics. 

They were unable to tell themselves and the public that the report that the Panel of Experts submitted on May 2013 and signed by their own experts, invalidates the decades old delusion that they perpetuated.

Indeed, the Experts final report has reconfirmed Ethiopian assertion that the design and construction of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam is based on international design criteria and standards, codes, guidelines and engineering practices. The IPOE has also shown that the GERDP does not have significant impact on the downstream countries and in fact will provide huge benefits to all the three riparian countries, namely Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

However, some in Cairo found it convenient to hold on to the deception and use more of it rather than make a clean start. In fact, in a blatant and disgraceful attempt to perpetuate the deception some professors in Cairo University made up their own "report" which flies in the face of any acceptable engineering, hydrological, legal and historical facts.

Indeed, it is sad how many Egyptian scholars, pundits and journalists chose to perpetuate the deception rather than lead the way to put an end to it. Especially, at a time when the truth was disclosed by a consensus report signed by a panel of experts drawn from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan as well as four neutral international experts.

While the Egyptian wrestled with the old mentality, Ethiopia continued building the dam and also implementing the works that the Experts Panel's recommended; that is, "to conduct two studies, in the context of the Eastern Nile System, (a) water resource system/hydropower model and (b) transboundary environment and socioeconomic impact studies through appropriate arrangement as agreed by the three countries, by employing renowned international consultants through international bidding process."

Finally, Egypt started talking about setting up a mechanism for following up on the implementation of the recommendations of the Experts' Panel

Therefore, the ministers of the three countries - Ethiopia's Ministry of Water and Energy Alemayehu Tegenu, Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel Moteleb and Sudan’s Minister of Water Resources and Electricity Moataz Moussa - started discussions on the implementation of the recommendations made by the International Panel of Experts.

The first and second meetings took place in Khartoum during November 4 and December 8-9, 2013. The discussions during the first and second tripartite meeting focused mainly on the framework for establishment of a committee of national experts, composition and mandates. During the two meetings the parties have agreed on setting up a national committee of experts, composition and number of delegates from each country including on most of the mandates proposed by the Ethiopian delegation

The 3rd meeting took place once again in Khartoum during January 4-5 2014 and discussed on the remaining pending issues that were not agreed upon in the last two meetings. However, it was concluded without striking a deal on the agenda.

The failure of the third round of talks may not be irreparable. As the second round brought agreement on issues that were disagreed in the first round, the next round of talks might break the deadlocks of the third round talks.

However, some of the talks on Egypt media, especially those b members of the delegation, in the past weeks indicate that the addiction to deception and misinformation still strong and some sections choose to resort to it rather than carry through the path of genuine cooperation.

Let's see two cases as an example:

The state news agency MENA wrote: "Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan failed to reach an agreement in the tripartite negotiations regarding the construction of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance dam.... Ethiopia has refused to discuss the terms of "confidence-building measures", which Egyptian officials say must be changed in order to avoid reduction of Egypt's Nile river water share."

Al-Monitor, on the other hand quoted a document of the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, which claimed:

“Ethiopia refused the participation of international experts in the new mechanism put in place to follow up on Ethiopian studies about the consequences of the Renaissance Dam.....Ethiopia refused to discuss the document on 'principles of confidence-building' between the countries of the eastern Nile basin — namely Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Egypt proposed this document to provide guarantees for the downstream countries against any negative effects that may be generated from the construction of the dam.”

“We do not rule out [the possibility of adopting] any technical, political or security measures to solve this crisis. We are waiting for the referendum on the constitution to be over. After that, we will launch a series of official and nonofficial movements,” the source affirmed. He pointed out the “possibility of referring to international courts and filing a claim with international institutions, such as the UN, to preserve Egypt’s rights.”

As usual, these claims were far from the truth and nothing more than an addiction to deception. The truth - which can be corroborated by all who were present at the meeting - is far from those deceptive remarks.

Here is what really happened:

The third meeting was chaired by Sudan and the main agenda was to discuss on the remaining pending issues that were not agreed upon in the last two meetings.

The matters discussed at the Third Tripartite Meeting focused mainly on two issues tabled by the Egyptian delegation.

The first of the two issues was the setting up of an international panel of experts. Egypt proposed that a new international panel of experts (IE) should be set up in parallel to the establishment of the committee of national experts and that this should start work at the same time with the committee of national experts. In the event that there were differences among members of the committee of national experts, the three Water Ministers should resolve the matter and if they failed, the differences should automatically be referred to the proposed IE, to provide a technical opinion for the ministers. In addition, the IE would also assist the committee of national experts. Egypt’s final point was that this international panel of experts should not be established by consensus.

Ethiopia made it clear it did not see any justification for employing an additional international panel of experts in addition to the international consultants that would carry out the two studies recommended by the IPoE. However, for the sake of compromise and in the interest of promoting cooperation, the Ethiopian delegation agreed to the employment of an international panel of experts under certain conditions. The first was that the committee of national experts should prepare the procedures for the employment of the IE and the rules of procedure for its functioning. Secondly, that the IE should be engaged after the completion of the two studies. It also said that in the event of differences over issues raised in the final report of the two studies, the ministers should resolve them amicably and only if the ministers failed to do this to refer the matters to the IE to provide a technical opinion. The final point was that the IE should be chosen by consensus of the three ministers.

The Egyptian delegation did not provide sufficient explanation or justification why an IE should be engaged in parallel to the establishment of the agreed committee of national experts. It argued that the IE could resolve differences among members of the committee of national experts and even suggested the IE could act as an adjudication body whose decision should be binding on the three countries. These arguments were found illogical and deemed unacceptable by the delegations of both Ethiopia and Sudan. Egypt then withdrew them and put forward the alternative that the role of the IE should be that of technical assistance for the committee of national experts, but the delegation failed to suggest any situation in which the IE could play such a role. Indeed, in a situation where the two studies recommended by the IPoE are going to be undertaken by international consultancy firms and the necessary follow up made by 12 national experts from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, the reason for Egypt’s insistence on employing additional international experts is not clear.

The second issue presented by Egypt concerning “principles for confidence building.” The principles referred to issues that contradict the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) which Ethiopia has recently ratified and which has also been signed by six other upper Nile riparian countries. Ethiopia declined to discuss these so-called “confidence building principles” as they were irrelevant to the agreed agenda of the meeting and to the mandate of the delegations present. The delegations of Ethiopia and Sudan repeatedly explained to the Egyptian delegation that the mandate and the agenda of the Third Tripartite Meeting was to establish appropriate mechanisms to follow-up the implementation of the IPoE report and to resolve issues that had not been agreed at the two earlier meetings. They also made it clear that confidence building measures should be expressed in action and not in meaningless phrases that had nothing to do with the issues at hand.

The Ethiopian delegation underlined the fact that the Ethiopian Government had made an unprecedented move in opening up the GERD project, in providing over 150 study and design documents for the two downstream countries and providing opportunities of project site visits. The Government had also shown its commitment to openness by accepting the report of the IPoE and in implementing the recommendations related to dam engineering and safety in a timely manner as well as agreeing to jointly conduct the two studies recommended by the IPoE. All these are very practical confidence building measures. Anything similar on the part of Egypt has been lacking.

It is crystal clear from that it was the Egyptian delegation who actually was uncompromising and have been blocking progress of consultations by submitting unreasonable proposals. A clear manifestation that they are still stuck in the delusion that Ethiopia's Renaissance dam can be stopped through old fashioned tactics and demands.

Of course, Egypt's position is opposed not only by Ethiopia but also Sudan, who have distanced herself from this delusional mentality for more than a year. Indeed, the Sudanese Agriculture and Irrigation Minister, Dr. Abdulhalim Al-Mutaafi, commented a few months ago about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam calling it "a model of development for the region". He also noted that resistances from Egyptian over the dam are political issue and a technical one, adding that: “Some Egyptian politicians have used the issue as a political instrument to pressurize their opponents.” Otherwise it is known that the building of the dam is beneficiary for downstream countries as it enables them to receive regulated free water".

We cannot predict detoxify their political discourse and Nile policy from the outdated mentality of deception and delusion.

However, they should not second-guess Ethiopia's resolve to complete the dam.

The Ethiopian people have always known the challenges of this historic project. AS former PM Meles put it, there are two options. "Either to abandon the project or do whatever we must to raise the required funds. I have no doubt which of these difficult choices the Ethiopian people will make. No matter how poor we are, in the Ethiopian traditions of resolve, the Ethiopian people will pay any sacrifice. I have no doubt they will, with one voice, say: “Build the Dam!”

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