The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

8 March 2014

Ethiopia: Is Egypt Securing Diplomatic Success Over Ethiopia?

Photo: Bujagali Energy Limited
Bujagali dam.

The Blue Nile accounts for 85 percent of the Nile's water flow. It joins the White Nile, whose headwaters lie in the East African highlands of Burundi.

Ethiopians consider the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the other dams the government of Ethiopia plans to build a symbol of national pride as they will produce electricity that will transform the economic prospects not only for their country but for much of seriously under-developed East Africa.

In talks last January between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, negotiations hit a dead-end, with MENA reporting that Ethiopia 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.

Egypt, with its 84 million people totally dependent on the Nile for water, cites British colonial agreements in 1929 and 1959 that guarantee it the lion's share of the water and a veto over upstream dam construction. But Ethiopia, along with Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and five other African states with growing populations and mounting demands on agriculture dismiss these accords as colonial relics.

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan formed a tripartite technical committee to study the possible effects of the dam and try to generate consensus. Ethiopia maintains that Egypt's water share will not be negatively affected by the successful completion of the project.

Ethiopia has called for Cairo's collaboration in negotiations and claims that the dam will have no adverse effect on Egypt. It would, in fact, decrease evaporation and improve water flow. Ethiopia hopes that the ambitious hydroelectric project, scheduled to be completed in 2017, will throw the country out of poverty. Eighty five percent of the Nile's source is in Ethiopia and the country feels it also has the right to use the water for its economic needs. Facing water shortages amid a growing population, Egypt has actually been asking to increase its share of the Nile waters to 95 percent.

Ethiopia went ahead and put the Entebbe Agreement into effect unilaterally by commencing the construction of a series of dams on the Blue Nile. Unfortunately, Egypt did not raise any objections at the time, which gave Ethiopia tacit encouragement to proceed with the construction of the mega dam on the Blue Nile. It is noteworthy that Ethiopia laid the cornerstone for this project, which has a reservoir capacity of 11 billion cubic meters a year, on April 2nd, 2011, which is to say around two months after Egypt's January 25th Revolution. After the inauguration of the project, the government of Egypt has strived to halt the project or at least to decrease its size and the amount it carries. In this effect, Egypt has started a new diplomatic campaign across the globe and is trying to hinder the project.

Apart from this attempt and international diplomatic campaign, the senior officials of Egypt recently are claiming that they are securing diplomatic success over Ethiopia in relation to the dam, by conducting discussions with leaders of various African and European countries. In that regard they proclaim that they are recording victory over Ethiopia in the area of diplomacy concerning the dam.

Eventually, many started to question what diplomatic success is. How it can be measured, whether it is successful or not, what the government of Ethiopia has done so far to avert the Egyptian claim of diplomatic success over the dam and so on. Is Egypt Securing Diplomatic Success over Ethiopia?

The Egyptian government is campaigning to educate other governments concerning the harm that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will inflict on Egypt. Egypt may be in the middle of a political turmoil but the government has begun a diplomatic offensive aimed at stopping Ethiopia from building a huge hydroelectric dam on the Nile River that Cairo says will be a disaster for the nation.

Egypt's Irrigation Minister Mahmoud Abdel-Muttalib denounced what he described as Ethiopia's inflexibility towards building its dam, MENA reported. Abdel-Muttalib said Egypt's Nile water share is a "red line" that Egypt won't allow to be crossed.

The Egyptian government has begun to take serious, overt measures toward internationalizing the Renaissance Dam. It is doing so through protracted negotiations taking place behind closed doors among the Supreme Committee for the Nile Waters, which includes representatives from all parties affected by issues of concern to the Nile River Basin. It is composed of staff from the Foreign Ministry as well as the Ministries of Water Resources and Irrigation, International Assistance, Defense and Electricity, and the Egyptian intelligence services.

The military-backed administration began its efforts to internationalize the thorny issue in hopes of gathering support for its case against Ethiopia, where the Blue Nile rises in the northwestern highlands, after bilateral negotiations deadlocked in January.

"The campaign initiated by Egypt aims to persuade the international community to reject the dam's construction because it may lead to further conflict and instability in the region of the Nile Basin," an Egyptian diplomatic source in Cairo told the Middle East's al-Monitor website on February19.

"More negotiations with Ethiopia only waste time and directly threaten Egypt's water security," said the source who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

"We realized that Ethiopia doesn't want genuine solutions to end the crisis but is only trying to portray Egypt as approving of the dam's construction to facilitate access to the funding.

Gamal Bayouni, Secretary-General of the Egyptian-European partnership at the Ministry of International Cooperation in Cairo, said Egypt now seeks to "target all countries that provide technical assistance for designing and building the dam through private contractors and also the states likely to fund to construction of the dam." These Egyptian moves toward international escalation are proceeding on two levels, in keeping with an agreement concluded by the Supreme Committee for the Nile Waters, according to a government source who spoke to Al-Monitor.

The source stressed that, in fact, first-level steps began with the visit of Muttalib, along with Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy, to Italy, which is believed to be Ethiopia's principal technical supporter in building the dam. The Italian contracting company Salini Costruttori has already conducted several studies and begun construction at the dam site. All of these visits seek to clarify the harm that Egypt will incur if the dam is completed according to its current specifications, aiming to win support from these countries for Egypt's position as well as bringing pressure to bear on the Ethiopian side. The Egyptian government has already begun to internationalize the issue through a campaign to define the dangers of the Ethiopian dam in the international community, and to work to halt its foreign financing. Italy

On February. 6, Egypt's minister of water resources and irrigation, Mohamed Abdul Muttalib, visited Italy, considered to be Ethiopia's main technical supporter in building the dam.

Italy's Salini is building the 6,000-megawatt facility on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile that flows northward through nine African states to the Mediterranean. Muttalib, who was accompanied by Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, said after a series of meetings that "the visit has achieved its goal. Italy has understood Egyptian concerns."

However the outgoing Italian ambassador to Ethiopia told The Reporter that the recent visit of Egyptian senior delegation is not only about the Nile, he said it covers many bilateral issues he also pointed out that the Egyptian minister's concerns concerning the dam as they are doing not only in Italy, but also in other countries perhaps in the European Union. Muttalib stressed that his visit to Italy had achieved its goals and will be repeated in many other countries and places.

The mission of this and subsequent trips is to provide greater clarity on Egypt's water position, the challenges that Egypt is confronting with regard to the scarcity of water resources and the efforts that the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation is making in this area. Muttalib noted that during the visit, he had explained the water resources situation and the reality of water scarcity in Egypt to Italian experts and officials. Those present expressed a keen interest in information concerning water resources and stressed that they were hearing it for the first time. Though Muttalib heralded about diplomatic successes over the dam Lapo Pistelli, Italian deputy minister of foreign affairs in an interview with The Reporter before a month ago said "We hope that hydro-power energy should be the future source of shared benefits in this region".

Tanzania:

It was reported in different Cairo-based media outlets that Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said the Nile Basin countries should consult and decide on a mutual agreeable arrangement prior to the construction of any dams that impact several countries, stated Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.

Fahmy met Kikwete to address several important issues; among them was the crisis over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that Ethiopia is building.

Interim President Adly Mansour sent a written message with Fahmy to the Tanzanian president focused on strengthening bilateral ties between Egypt and Tanzania in different fields.

According to Tadesse Kassa (Ph.D.) Dean of College of Law and Governance Studies of Addis Ababa University, the statement that the Egyptian media and the minister made are only presented on Egyptian media and there was no other proof that Kikwete said there should be prior notification. However, Tadesse said though the issue of prior notification is one of the principles of international law its practicality is not clear, and has so many loopholes like why, how and so on.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Badr Abdel Ati told Ahram online that the reaction of the Tanzanian president on the issue of the Renaissance Dam was "positive." Though the Egyptian media and officials claimed the diplomatic success over Ethiopia over the issue of the dam, according to Dereje Zeleke (Ph.D.) a lecturer at Addis Ababa University, diplomatic success is not measured by tour and table discussion. Such a claim might come from not understanding the ABCs of diplomatic relations.

What is Ethiopia Doing?

In relation to the issue of Egypt's new diplomatic activity, Ambassador Dina Mufti spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Reporter that "the Ethiopian government is doing its job, our embassies all over the world are working in explaining that the dam did not cause any harm over lower riparian states, but it is not appropriate to do things as the Egyptian are doing."

According to the ambassador, Ethiopia pursues according to her own principles and beliefs not measured by the Egypt's activity he also said that the Egyptian government's statement is a day dream that doesn't hold a water. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said on Feb. 13 that Addis Ababa would not back down on the USD 4.8 billion GERD, which will be the largest in Africa.

On January 8, Ethiopia turned down Egypt's demand to suspend construction of its mega-dam on the Nile, further escalating tensions between the two states. According to Dina, the Ethiopian side believes that the Egyptian bid to internationalize the issue of the GERD will not bring about any result so long as there is no serious intention to submit the matter to the International Criminal Court. The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry's website reported that the prime minister remarked, "There is no international court responsible for investigation or arbitrating in issues of water... and that is why the Egyptian move to internationalize won't have any effect." Generally, Ethiopia claims the project is on course and dismisses facing any technical hurdles.

What should be Ethiopia's next step?

According to Tadesse, to overcome Egypt's claim of diplomatic successes, the government should do two major things, aggressively take a counter measure for Egypt's propaganda and equal diplomatic campaign to counter their propaganda.

He also stressed that the Ethiopian way of diplomacy is different in practical terms, factual acts on the ground, particularly the issue of development should be given priority over oral diplomatic campaign. Amid all these ups and downs it is not clear at this stage whether Egypt's diplomatic offensive will be able to secure enough international support to influence Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is bolstered by the 2010 Entebbe Agreement and the "majority" of six countries that signed it. The decade-long negotiations resulted in the 2010 Cooperative Framework Agreement, known as the Entebbe Agreement. The landmark accord, signed by the six upstream countries, was rejected outright by both Egypt and Sudan. Touted as "an African solution for an African problem," the agreement calls for the creation of a commission to oversee development projects on the Nile. It needed ratification by the legislatures of each of the signatory countries. But its implementation is in limbo until another Nile Basin countries for example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is now sitting on the fence, join.

Ethiopia summoned the sufficient determination to shed all these tiresome historical obligations. Ethiopia was spearheading the Nile Basin countries initiative and lobbying other countries to back a new legal framework that would put paid to the principles of all previous Nile water agreements. The product was the Entebbe Agreement, which was signed by most upper riparian countries in 2010, but which Egypt strenuously opposed. Many scholars of the area believe the major thing that Ethiopia should do is strengthen its internal solidarity because according to Yacob Arsano (Ph.D.) it is good to be prudent about the issue and there should also be strengthening if there is a frail place.

According to Tadesse, to counter the Egyptians' activity the national political system should be more accommodating, all embracing development and a national consensus should also be there.

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