13 April 2018

Ethiopia: Behind Egypt's Intention of Giving Political Fig Leaf to GERD's Technical Issue

opinion

The construction of Ethiopia's flagship project, Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is almost inches away from completion while the trilateral negotiations among Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt on technical issues once again failed to lead to agreement as Egypt continuously tried to politicize it.

Why is then Egypt trying to slow down the negotiation pace and what political gains is Cairo seeking to achieve are relevant questions to pose.

Also, Ethiopia and Sudan are positioning themselves into fair utilization of the river of Nile. Why is that Cairo backtracking from facing the undeniable reality and Ethiopia's irreversible commitment to utilize its resource after its years of monopoly over a common resource?

In fact, it was not new for Egypt to display problems on the issue of the Nile. It wants political dialogue on purely technical issues such as the dam filling. This is continuation of Cairo's futile attempt to put hurdle on Ethiopia's effort to tap its resource, says Fekahmed Negash, Executive Director of Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office (ENTRO).

Contrary to the terms of the Principle of Declaration, Egypt is engaged in injecting political interest over technical issues with which it may run against the interest of Ethiopia and Sudan and deemed to end up a wishful thinking. "It is completely inappropriate and unnecessary. It may result in procrastination of a genuine negotiation."

He also underscores that in the face of the disagreements, it has become clear that it is only the Ethiopian people that have a say on the GERD. "It would be good for the three countries to reach in consensus diplomatically; otherwise it is an issue of sovereignty that should be left to the Ethiopian people."

It is to be recalled that a meeting between the three countries' Heads of State urged their experts, intelligence and foreign ministers to resolve differences with regard to the dam's filling. But the Egyptian side that participated in the recent discussion held in Khartoum that failed to produce agreement, ruled out the direction though the Ethiopian representatives complied with it.

It is not clear what Egyptian representatives are seeking to achieve by going against the direction given by the Heads of State including their President, Fekahmed questions.

Egypt tried to give political impression to the discussion with the presence of more political appointees in the meeting, yet the dam filling is purely technical matter.

According to Fekahmed, it is self evident that Egypt came to learn that Ethiopia cannot halt the construction of the dam. That is why Egypt needs the 1959 water agreement to serve as a basis of technical study on GERD. So that the Egyptian side could use this as if Ethiopia accepts the motion of the colonial era agreement.

Because they know that their concerns on the dam could be addressed through technical discussion, Egyptian sides try to use other mechanisms particularly politicizing technical issues. On the other hand, Cairo also wants to give the dam filling and other aspects GERD political impression. This may compromise technical aspect, lead to political negotiation and make something out of it. Political negotiation is complex and requires compromises. That is exactly what Egypt is looking for.

Similarly, Cairo wants to slowdown the pace of the discussion if not to procrastinate it so that it would be able to invite a third party to intervene and to shift the pendulum towards its advantage.

Regardless of Egypt's intention, the construction is nearing completion and the dam filling would begin soon. The discussion is more beneficial for Cairo than the rest of the two countries. Misguided by the wrong interpretation of the Declaration of Principles, Egypt thinks that Ethiopia cannot unilaterally decide the dam filling.

"But as far as I know this is wrong. There is no an agreement that prevent Ethiopia from filling the dam. It would have diplomatic benefits for the three countries to agree on the issue. Otherwise, it is only the Ethiopian government and its people that decide on the fate of their iconic project."

But Fekhamed is confident that the countries will gradually come to terms. However, for this to happen, Egypt must find a gray line among the very diametrical differences view entertained by its different interest groups.

It has been quite a while since the construction of the dam reached a point of no return. It is always perplexing that Egypt is only coming to the table after it is too late. Cairo still sticks to the lopsided colonial era agreement. This contradicts to the principle of fair utilization of a common resources and modern era thoughts, states Birhanu Belachew, lecturer at Kotebe University College.

It is not clear why Egypt is hindering the discussion while at the same understanding the fact that the construction will not come to halt. As far as it does not harm Egypt's interest significantly, Ethiopia will go ahead with constant and consistent timetable to finalize the dam's construction.

Egypt will achieve nothing with its obsolete fashion of referring to monopoly use of the river. In fact, this sounds banal and falls of nothing other than buying time, Birhanu adds.

Dam filling is entirely a technical matter. But on the contrary, the Egyptians are trying their best to give it political impression so that they want a third party intervention in the discussion. This is absurd; no third party is required for a scientific explanation says to Birhanu seconding Fekhamed view.

Ethiopia is conscious that Egypt is taking the matter in to delay for a UN organ to intervene which was previously and formally requested but rejected by Ethiopia.

Egypt still refers back to the agreement which in practical is old fashioned. Cairo is not ready and well prepared when it comes to the trilateral negotiations. Creating inconveniences on negotiations is Egypt's widely demonstrated habit. It is trying to hold the talks back, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Meles Alem.

However, Meles says sitting for discussion by itself is a good achievement as there were no such commitments previously. Egypt is not yet ready to put an end into the matter but discussions will continue and Ethiopia remains committed to it.

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