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New Age Calls For New Thinking

By Zeleke Temam
Tigrai Onlne - June 27, 2014

The past week has brought us the news that Egypt’s former chief of staff of the army, Field Marshal Al-Sisi, has won the country’s election with landslide vote. It wouldn’t be a lie if we are to say that everyone wants for the new president to bring lasting solution for Egypt’s which has been in turmoil for some time now. Especially the people of our country, wishes for the brotherly people of that country to go in a path of peace. For this, we can mention the fact that the FDRE government, with its principle of peace, stating its wishes and hope for the recent election to bring peace to the Egyptian people.

Egypt's armed forces chief General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi

It’s my belief that as the new Egypt President Al-Sisi will put his effort to his country’s peace, it would also be good if he restarts the discussion and negotiation with regards to the GERD project, which was halted by Egypt’s authorities. There is no place for outdated and antique colonial-era treaties in the 21st century. In addition to this, our country not only has the legal right to use its own resources, but it’s also currently winning against its anti-poverty struggle with the commitment of its people. And the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project which is being constructed by the wealth of its citizen is one example of this.

The construction of this dam on the Blue Nile River is a historical undertaking which confirmed Ethiopia’s capability and legal right to use its own natural resources.

I can name two instances which can confirm my statement. The first is Ethiopia’s courageous act of exercising its right to utilize the river, which until now had been regarded as the downstream countries sole property and a bit of a taboo. The Second has to do with what the dam implies. It heralds the era in which Ethiopia; thanks to the last nine years successive economic development, can self-finance a project to utilize/divert Nile River and prove the doubters wrong in the process. Initiating the GERD construction, for one shows our right to use our water resources; and also showed to the rest of the world, our capability of undertaking huge projects.

As it’s well documented, the colonial-era agreements on use of the Nile River waters of 1929 and 1959 had been used as sort of a vanguard to their interests. 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 cannot 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 all along.

If it was a up to me, I would stop arguing using the colonial era “historical owner” card 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. Nowadays the government transformational development projects and the public’s strong commitment for development 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 up for debate or negotiation. 

Here it’s important to note that 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.

Nevertheless, 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 reader 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 suitable 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).

As we all know both colonial-era treaties (which benefits one and harm others) excluded all the riparian countries except for Egypt and Sudan; 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, the downstream countries.

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 shortcomings 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. There were some chatter heard few some corners that this approach is directly linked with arrogance and pity. Even though this is unlikely the case behind for this thinking, there have been some undenying hint of that. Cause in my opinion there have been obvious inclination towards doubting the upstream countries capabilities formented by their poverty, resulting from many years of these forces plot to hinder them from using their water resources.

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 a 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 has met neither Egypt’s nor Sudan’s good grace yet.

Previously stuttering our country’s development aspirations, Electric-power deficit is being addressed by building numerous hydro-power dams. In order for this initiation to gain momentum, Ethiopia is building Africa’s first and largest GERD on the Nile River.

This dam which its cornerstone was laid by our visionary leader Ato Meles Zenawi; will triple the country’s power supply. In addition to this according to recent study, when the project starts generating the expected 6000 mega watt of power, it will gain the country up to two million euro a day for the next hundred years. This ushers the point where this historical phenomenon ignites future development.

Here it needs to be pointed out that the GERD is being built through the Public’s full-out participation. Due to the dams role in changing previous shackled mentality and in inversely planting ‘ It’s doable’ mentality on the public, while serving as a major imputes for the anti-poverty fight, in addition to its ability to pay back the public’s investment with future spoils, makes this huge undertaking historical. But, we are not benefiting alone. We Ethiopians give value to cooperatively subsist and develop, which is also part of our identity. We do not gun for selfish ends like others. So, everybody should know the purpose of the GERD construction is not to harm anyone; considering cooperation and mutual development had been part and value of Ethiopian for a long time.

Ethiopia’s unwavering support for the Entebbe’s agreement; which is based on International watercourses law and provision of equitable and reasonable utilization, stems from this inherent value; whilst the public’s financial and labor support for the projects emanates from the guarantee of ‘mutual benefit’ the dam provides. It also showed the public’s strong character in the face of some water-war-crazed Egyptian government officials’ threats and rhetoric thrown back shortly after the diversion phase was launched successfully. It has ignited the publics’ disappointment of not being able to use the River.

As the saying, “If you really want to do something, you'll find a way” goes, neighboring countries government’s who understood the benefit of the dam not only fully supported and endorsed it , but also fired back at Egypt’s unjust stance ( with regard to the river) . The riparian countries did not only stop with these. They further stressed on their equal & just right to use their own water resources by announcing future projects waiting in the pipe line. This reiterates the humungous benefit the dam project has on national & regional level, and also Ethiopia’s unwavering ‘mutual benefit’ position on the matter.

In light with all these, I think one question should be raised. That is “Does the building of the GERD really hurt Egyptian interest just as their government officials claim?” Let’s take a closer look …

As it’s known, the dam’s construction takes place is constructed 20 Km from the border of the neighboring Sudan. This Shows (illustrates) that the dam cannot be used for irrigation purpose. So, the project purpose is to generate electrical power in order to boost economic development, not to kill anyone with thirst, as they claimed to be the case.

Let me add another point … It’s a known fact that hydro-electric dams are designed in a way to generate power without compromising (wasting) a single drop of water and to top it all, the expert team comprised out of these countries had concluded the dam would not compromise any one’s interest and does not have an overall significant impact instead the expert claim that the dam will have a positive impact on the downstream countries by reducing the wastage from evaporation which has been a serious problem for these countries.  This testimony debunks Egypt’s ‘the dam will hurt me’ stance. This begs the question, ‘if the Egyptian are not willing to listen to their own experts, who else are they going to believe?

It’s my view that the Egyptian government officials should start to understand that the dam do not pose any problem on the downstream countries as they claim to be the case, but instead it guarantees their respective share. Since the dam is constructed at a valley landscape, it will have the ability to contain large quantity of water which in turn would lessen the amount of water lost to evaporation. It will also greatly reduce the silt and sediment load that used to affect the downstream countries, especially their dams. In addition to this, the 6000 mega watt electric power the dam generates (upon completion) will not only help Ethiopia but also Sudan, Egypt, Kenya and South-Sudan, while opening an opportunity for further regional economic integration.

Being versed with these realities, the Egyptian authorities are starting to understand that the old argument is not feasible anymore. So, they’re out with a new arguing point (paradigm) in the shape of - “our water security must be protected”. The good thing is the GERD will strengthen the security of Egypt’s share, not weaken it. It can be challenged that this new is thrown out there for argument sake. All in all, can this new approach pay its dividends? - Let’s take a closer look…

I don’t think the Egyptian government would forget (disregard) the 4 billion cubic meter (BCM) it wastes to the desert as a result of the overflow of the River during summer time. This clearly shows Egypt’s yearly water stock not only guarantees their water security, but the fact that they have spare water they waste on the desert.

Thus, I don’t think a country living in this condition should be in a position to demand ‘our water guarantee must be confirmed’. Any way it should also be noted Ethiopia’s right to use her (it’s water resource; ‘mine is mine, yours is abomne’ kind of mentality has passé with the colonial epoch.

What baffles the writer of this article is the fact that Egypt is insisting on its failed plot to sabotage and weaken Ethiopia in order to impose its greedy outlook with regards to sharing the Nile River. As its known, previous Egypt governments have all tried to subvert Ethiopia’s aspiration of utilizing the river, and upset its peace and stability by supporting some sellout local opposition - all with no avail. This approach which rolled down from government to government, has now rekindled. One of the local sellouts chosen to carry out this bankrupt thinking is the terrorist outfit ‘Ginbot7’, which is led by Dr. Berhanu Nega and claims to stand for the benefit of the Ethiopian people.

The man, after receiving half a million dollar from Egyptian government’s lackey Shabiya, has vowed that he would accomplish his missions within short time - although his blabber won’t be more than ‘showboating’.

It’s not only the self-proclaimed ‘Ginbot 7’ terrorist outfit, who presented themselves for this unworthy action in a silver platter. The other terrorist ragtag ‘OLF’ has also been publicity seen promoting it’s pro-Egyptian stance with regards to GERD construction. Nevertheless, other than renewing their servitude in court of public opinion, both the peoples and they know they are not in the position to derail the GERD construction.

Anyways, whatever anyone says the erection of the dam herald two things. The first is the start of an era where Ethiopia, after years of blockage, started to exercise its right on its water resources. Secondly, Ethiopia confirmed her ability to self-finance her own grand projects. Thus, the new Egyptian President by understanding these terms must come to and be open for dialogue and discussion on the issue. In addition to this, the fact that the 19th century thinking is not working; the dam does not harm any of the riparian countries; the past sinister methods taken by previous Egypt leaders has failed, and the fact that ‘it’s not negotiable’ stance (adhered by the Egyptian) is not supported by the international law, should be taken into consideration. And I hope the country’s new government understands negotiation in a civilized manner is the solution that’s advantageous to Egypt.

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