I highly commend Egypt’s political leadership and President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi for the manner in which they have handled the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) during the last five years, all developments and repercussions included. All through, the Egyptian leadership has committed to outstanding wisdom, prudence and self-restraint, never allowing itself to be dragged into futile arguments or verbal battles in response to Ethiopian antagonistic declarations obviously designed to draw Egypt into frenzied response that would be taken against it in international circles.
The GERD has been under construction on the Blue Nile since 2011; when completed, it is expected to be the largest hydroelectric power generator in Africa. Egypt did not contest Ethiopia’s right to generate power through the dam, but sought to ensure its quota of Nile water that comes mainly from the Blue Nile on the Ethiopian Plateau. This quota represents the lifeblood of Egypt’s 100 million population, since it is almost the single source of water in the country; without it Egypt would practically be an arid desert. The water quota has been ensured by international treaties and agreements signed between Egypt and Ethiopia, the last being the 2015 Khartoum Declaration of Principles which was signed by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, and which set ten principles to be adhered to regarding the GERD. These include not causing significant damage to any of the three riparian States and cooperating to reach a timetable for filling the dam reservoir.
President Sisi always insisted that the GERD should neither harm Egypt’s water quota nor compromise Ethiopian interests. This could only be achieved by reaching an agreement over filling the dam. Egypt never attempted to impose custody over Ethiopia’s wish to generate power, and realised that the objective of the project was not about providing Ethiopia with more water. In fact, Ethiopia has been blessed with abundant rainfall which runs into rivers that riddle its land. The most substantial of these rivers is the Blue Nile which floods annually during the summer rainy season. The flood waters flow downstream into the River Nile in Egypt, inundating its land, fertilising its valley, bringing life to its inhabitants and, centuries ago, giving birth to the time honoured Egyptian civilisation. It was not for nothing that the Greek historian Herodotus said his famous: “Egypt is the gift of the Nile”.
While Egypt realised and acknowledged Ethiopia’s need to fill the dam reservoir, it had a reasonable and legitimate request to negotiate the schedule of filling the reservoir, in order to reach a balance between the amounts of water withheld by the dam and the amounts flowing downstream to Sudan and Egypt. Any unbiased observer would acknowledge Egypt’s demand as a reasonable request that should have never given rise to stubborn resentment or conflict in the first place. Yet curiously, and as if there was a premeditated intention to drag Egypt into a hateful conflict, Ethiopia met Egypt’s request with argumentation and rejection, opening the door for five years of procrastination and bargaining on Ethiopia’s part. During painstaking negotiation rounds, Ethiopia manipulated facts and questioned and disowned all treaties, goading Egypt and attempting to turn the matter into an open conflict. The last of these Ethiopian manipulations took place last March when it failed to show up in Washington DC as previously agreed to sign a US sponsored pact with Egypt and Sudan, which would have finally put the case to rest.
Sadly, Ethiopia’s hidden intentions were all too obvious to all; all through, there was flagrant contradiction between the honeyed rhetoric employed by Ethiopian leaders during meetings with Egyptian officials and President Sisi, and the hostile attitude and declarations made in Ethiopia following these meetings. It looked as if there was an intention to corrupt the negotiations and pull Egypt into verbal and political conflict. Once again I applaud the Egyptian leadership which stood its ground, holding on to negotiations and never drifting into a quagmire of recriminations and rhetoric.
I was not at all optimistic about the African virtual mini-summit that was held last month upon invitation of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, current African Union Chief. The summit was attended by President Sisi and presidents of Kenya, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo, also Prime Ministers of Sudan and Ethiopia. President Sisi again proved he always responds positively to all attempts to mend fences; he stressed during the summit that Egypt’s true will was to reach a just, balanced agreement that would enable Ethiopia to achieve economic development while taking into account the water rights of Egypt and Sudan. The summit ended by forming a higher committee that includes legal and technical experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, also represented is the African Union committee and international supervisory authorities to monitor the negotiations. The summit has bound Ethiopia not to take any unilateral measures regarding the filling of the reservoir, until an agreement is reached between the three parties involved. While I sincerely hope that this initiative would put an end to this thorny impasse, the history makes me worried.
Egypt’s stance has never wavered. However, with no progress whatsoever on any talks and time getting tight, it had to resort to referring the issue to the UN Security Council. Even this move was not spared hostile, resentful Ethiopian declarations.
To Ethiopia, I find nothing better to say than the Egyptian folk saying: “I listen to what you say and believe you, but I see how you act, and am amazed.”
2 July 2020