The United States Must Rescind Its Partisan Position Favoring Egypt on Nile Waters 


Aklog Birara (Dr) 

If nothing else convinces the global community that Ethiopian women deserve to live a life with human worth and dignity, the burden this girl is carrying should.  Ethiopia is constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the GERD) to provide her with the alternative of access to electricity for the first time. I can no longer accept the notion that Ethiopian females must serve as “beasts of burden” while their country supplies Egypt 86 percent of Nile Waters.

The debate on the GERD is a debate of human dignity and human worth.

Compare the situation of the Ethiopian women above and the horrific impoverished conditions of roughly 65 million Ethiopians who lack electricity and are in dire need to the 100 percent of Egyptians who enjoy electricity, with more than 98 percent having access to water; and then judge.

It is this dimension that the Government of the United States either ignored or set aside intentionally in pressuring Ethiopia to accept an Agreement that degrades Ethiopia’s sovereign rights and its chances of improving the lives of females.  We need to focus on this flawed and dangerous policy and demand that the Government of the United States rescind this policy now.

U.S.-Ethiopian relations span more than 100 years. The U.S. funded studies on the Blue Nile River and identified several potential hydroelectric and irrigation dams during the Soviet era. None of the dams were constructed for reasons I have identified in previous commentaries.

U.S.-Ethiopian relations go beyond the geopolitics in the region. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian live, work and vote in the United States. African-Americans have shown their strong affinity to Ethiopia and to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Congressional Black Caucus, a powerful voice within the U.S. Congress and the country, has issued a strong and powerful press release urging the Government of the United States to be impartial and fair with regard to the GERD. More importantly, it has urged the global community to let Africans resolve African problems. The African Union leadership has begun to do just that.

However, Egypt is still emboldened by the U.S. Government’s flawed and unfortunate position. The origin of this hard-Egyptian position started in earnest at the end of 2019. In his riveting book, “The Room Where It Happened,” John Bolton, former Security Advisor, confirms this. “Maduro’s autocratic regime was a threat due to its Cuba connection and openings it afforded Russia, China, and Iran. Moscow’s threat was undeniable, both military and financial, having expended substantial resources to buttress Maduro, dominate Venezuela’s oil and gas industry, and impose costs on the U.S. Beijing was not far behind. Trump saw this, telling me after a New Year’s Day 2019 call with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that he worried about Russia and China”.

The key point I wish to flag is not Venezuela or the “Moscow menace.” The reason Trump had a call from al-Sisi was not to covey a New Year message. It was to urge Trump to defend and give unconditional support to Egypt in the negotiations with Ethiopia the GERD. The genesis of the Agreement crafted by the US. Department of the Treasury with technical assistance from the World Bank and imposed on Ethiopia is rooted in this conversation, I believe.

No wonder then that Egyptians, including academics who know better and should base their arguments on facts rather than on fiction, continue to assert that their county faces an existential threat. Their misleading and false narratives are supported by the U.S position. It is this one-sided position that ordinary Americans and Ethiopians should be weary about and demand retraction.   

Egyptians who tell me that their country faces “an existential threat” are engaging in outright deception. They tell me that Ethiopian females are condemned to live in abject poverty; while Egypt diverts Nile waters to the Sinai, produces foods, including potatoes, for export; while Egypt squanders huge quantities of water; and while Egypt enjoys a per capita income almost five time that of Ethiopia. In fact, it is Ethiopia that faces multidimensional threats–denial of Ethiopia’s sovereign and absolute rights to improve the lives of tens of millions by harnessing their own waters; halt the degradation of the ecosystem and the diminution of peace, stability, national security and sovereignty in the country and the region.

It is my considered opinion that by siding with a militaristic Egypt and by giving it unparalleled approval for hegemony, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the World Bank have emboldened Egypt’s position. In turn this flawed and dangerous stance threatens peace and security in the region. It undermines the African Union.

Further, the Trump Administration gave Egypt’s strong man, President al-Sisi, a powerful diplomatic tool to escalate tensions to the UN Security Council not once but twice. The Arab League dominated by Egypt took an aggressive and lop-sided stand reinforcing the same incredible, non-technical and non-scientific narrative. Simply put, the contention on the GERD is political and not technical.

In examining Egypt’s argument closely, I find no compelling case to revert the situation to the Security Council at all. In the absence of pressure behind the scene, the UN Security Council convenes an emergency meeting to avert a threat to international security. Ethiopia has not threatened Egypt or the

Sudan; and has no intention to do so. On the contrary, Ethiopia has a steadfast and unshakable position:

  1. to defend its national sovereignty and absolute rights over its territorial waters;
  2. to arrive at a fair, equitable and mutually beneficial agreement in line with the 2015 Declaration of Principles (DOP) that govern the filling and operations of the GERD

It is vital to remember this cardinal point that Egypt pushed in the past and continues to do so today. Egypt expects Ethiopia to invest in and to preserve the waters of the Blue Nile (Abbay) and its tributaries at a huge cost to Ethiopians.

In my estimation, it is high time that Ethiopia begins an aggressive and sustainable campaign demanding that Egypt pays annual rents for all of the waters that Ethiopia supplies to Egypt freely. This will happen. It is only a matter of when and how.  Surveys and studies should begin to make this happen.

The U.S. Treasury and the World Bank fed into the stalled negotiations; they should rescind them now.

I remind the reader that Egypt and its ally the Sudan refused to finalize the tripartite negotiations in order to prevent Ethiopia from initiating the filling of the dam that has so far cost $4.6 billion in July this year. Both nations have known that the dam that was started in 2011 will be completed at one time in the future.

Equally, the Government of the U.S knows very well that Egypt had threatened military action against Ethiopia if it continues with the dam construction. It should have urged restraint on the part of Egypt instead of pressuring Ethiopia to sign an Agreement that abrogates its sovereign rights.

I find it hard to understand why the Government of the U.S. that is a friend of both Ethiopia and Egypt would want to embolden a militaristic dictator, namely, General al-Sisi, to go to war with a poor African Black nation that is trying to develop its national economy by harnessing waters within its national boundaries. Why?

Ethiopia has a sovereign right to fill the GERD within its own time frame. I urge the people of the United States to put pressure on the Government of the U.S. to rescind the so-called Agreement brokered by the U.S Treasury with technical support from the World Bank.

I strongly urge the Executive Board of Directors of the World Bank to continue to support the Ethiopian people of whom tens of millions require the provision of basic services such as food and nutrition, safe drinking water, basic health services and access to electricity.  These dire needs are compounded by the current pandemic that Ethiopia is trying to meet.

I also urge the UN Security Council to leave the matter of mediation and negotiated settlement to the African Union.

The GERD is an African policy and regional matter. African leaders are capable of resolving the matter.  June 30, 2020



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