Today's exclusive guest is Ambassador Dina Mufti who is currently serving as the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.
Ambassador Dina has ample experience as a seasoned diplomat in different countries. He served as the third Secretary and Council of Ethiopia Embassies in Canada and Washington. He also served as Ambassador to Zimbabwe with accreditations to Angola, Mozambique, Mauritius and Zambia. He was an Ambassador to Sweden with accreditation to Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway. He also served as Ambassador to Kenya with accreditations to Mauritius, Malawi and Tanzania. And prior to his current position, he served as an Ambassador to Egypt.
Ambassador Dina received a Master's Degree and a Bachelor's Degree in political science and international relations from Carleton University, Canada and Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia respectively.
The Ethiopian Herald invited Ambassador Dina so that he would share about the current negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) among the riparian countries for its readers.
The multibillion-dollar GERD has been a source of dispute on the use of water in the Nile River since Ethiopia began its construction in 2011. Ethiopia has been constructing the largest dam in Africa to use the Nile water believing that it will have great significance in fostering its national development. It also believes that all the riparian countries will benefit from the dam and the construction does not cause any significant harm. Nevertheless, Egypt and Sudan consider the dam as a threat to their water security. As a result, a series of negotiations have been going on to solve the recurrent dispute. Ambassador Dina discusses the negotiation. Excerpts:
Herald: Ethiopia and the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, have been negotiating on the utilization of the Nile River since the inception of the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Would you tell us the current status of the ongoing negotiation?
Ambassador Dina: Before answering your question, I would like to highlight Ethiopia's commitment to addressing the concerns of the downstream countries. That commitment served as the background to the current negotiations. From day one, Ethiopia had been out to tell the riparian countries and the rest of the world that its aim is to pursue a win-win approach. It wanted to cooperate with them and make the river the source of cooperation instead of conflict.
Thus, Ethiopia, just at the beginning, initiated and proposed the formation of the International Panel of Experts to study the possible economic and social impacts of the GERD.
The purpose of the panel of experts is to address some of the concerns of the two downstream countries. It was an extraordinary initiative by Ethiopia aimed at encouraging cooperation and building confidence among the Nile Basin Countries. Since then Ethiopia has been encouraging peaceful diplomatic negotiation.
Currently, peaceful negotiation is still going on. Lately, the heads of states of the riparian countries met with the African Union Chairman. It was a platform on which the three countries made major progress to reduce the dispute in talks mediated by the African Union; and they agreed to pursue the negotiation to arrive at a comprehensive solution.
Last June, the technical and the legal experts met and discussed the procedure of the meeting and agenda. And Ethiopia presented the proposal of the filling of the Dam. After this proposal, both Egypt and Sudan asked for extended time to review the proposal.
Herald: You have said that Ethiopia took an extraordinary step just from the outset to address the concerns of the riparian countries. How about its approach since then? Has it been consistent to the concern of these countries?
Ambassador Dina: Ethiopia has been consistent in its approach since the beginning of the negotiation. Ethiopia is committed to a situation in which everyone comes out to be happy as it does not have any intention to hurt the downstream countries. That is why it has been determined to propose negotiations that would create confidence in the downstream countries. And even now Ethiopia is still consistent with the situation in which everybody would benefit.
Herald: How do you see the on-ongoing negotiation? Has it been fruitful and been fostering cooperation among the parties?
Ambassador Dina: We believe there have been promising signs of progress. I think sustainable solutions could be obtained when all parties are committed to working together.
Herald: Some months ago, the parties invited the United States to mediate the negotiation. This decision was criticized by some people as they said that it was unsuccessful. What is your view here? Was taking the negotiation to the United States appropriate?
Ambassador Dina: We basically appreciate our colleagues and friends including the United States for they are trying to bring us together to overcome our problems. And we appreciate these good offices. We do not have any problem with these friends of ours because they are our colleagues with whom we have longstanding relations. Hence, there is no problem with inviting the United States to lead the negotiation even though we could not succeed in that track.
Then we came back to the African track, the new track. This is the nature of a negotiation. If you do not succeed in one avenue, you go to another avenue. That why we've come back to Africa and doing it here.
Herald: Lately, there have been some rumors stating that America is acting in favor of Egypt in the course of the negotiation. Is that true? What would be Ethiopia's response here?
Ambassador Dina: You know that there is some confusion as some media outlets are reporting about the partisan of the United States to either side. We cannot confirm this. This is what we know: Ethiopia has a long-standing historic relationship with the United States. We are friendly nations. The United States is the strategic partner of Ethiopia. We have been doing a lot of constructive things across the Horn. For instance, we created an alliance in fighting terrorism in the region and beyond. And we scored significant achievements in this regard. Thus, the United States has been our partner; we respect and value the strategic partnership we have been cultivating and enjoying with the United States. We want to nurture and upgrade it for the benefits of the people of both nations and beyond.
Since we will have growing strategic relations, we do not allow the tendency of these rumors to impede the relations. I do not subscribe to any of these rumors about the United States putting pressure on Ethiopia or Egypt or favoring this side or the other. We believe the United States would remain to be a friendly nation to us.
Herald: The phrase "African solutions tob African problems" that was embedded in African policy circles has been common in the recent GERD negotiation led by the African Union. What does it mean? How does it specifically address the situation of this negotiation?
Ambassador Dina: This is actually the signal of confidence for strengthening African leadership. Africa has its own wisdom, culture and knowledge that can help to exploit African solutions for African problems. The continent has its own inherited African wisdom and heritage. That is to overcome our problems with our wisdom.
These three countries are African countries and the Nile River is also an African river. Hence, the dispute among these nations on the river ought to be treated and solved by Africans. We are very happy that we are handling it. This is an African framework and needs an African process. Hopefully, this approach will help us to overcome any problem.
Herald: As you have just said Ethiopia showed commitment to addressing the concerns of Sudan and Egypt; nevertheless, Egypt has not been grateful to this commitment. Rather it has a stance to stand against Ethiopia's right to use the water of the Nile. How do you view Ethiopia's right to use and Egypt's controversial claim on this water resource?
Ambassador Dina: Well. Ethiopia is the source of the Nile River. More than 86 percent of the water of the Nile River emanates from Ethiopia. This is Ethiopia's natural endowment. This logically approves Ethiopia's full right to use its water resources. And this river is the transboundary river; it flows to Sudan as well as Egypt. We respect the rules and laws that govern transboundary water resources. And these rules and principles are consistent in the sense that they advocate the fair utilization of the resources. And in this case, we believe as much as Egypt is entitled to use the Nile River, Ethiopia is also entitled. As you know, Ethiopia has not used the river while Egypt has effectively been using the water for several years.
We do not have a problem for Egypt is utilizing it. The problem arises when Egypt tries to claim a monopoly on the Nile River which is impossible. All riparian countries are entitled to use this God-given nature. Hence, a claim of monopoly is not right. What the other is claiming historic right which was allotted it by the colonial agreement is also does not work because that is not ibid with the sense of equity and rationality. Thus, we never entertain the idea of a monopoly. We rather advocate the rationality and equity when it comes to using the Nile River.
The river flows from Ethiopia to Egypt as well as Sudan. As long as it is a transboundary resource, others have the right to use it. We are not against Egyptian or Suddenness's rights to utilizing the river. We are out for using the resource fairly. We are bitter when Egypt comes out and claim its monopoly.
Herald: There are recent rumors stating that Egypt is currently initiating new projects that enable it to extend its inappropriate claim on the utilization of the Nile River. What would be your view here?
Ambassador Dina: Well. Basically, what we are saying is this: Egypt can use the river for any purpose or project as long as it does not come against the interests/rights of others. We always advocate the win-win approach when it does not reject the legitimate right of the other side. It doesn't matter Egypt can develop any project on the Nile river for any purpose. But the problem may arise when it comes to Ethiopia's utility. Otherwise, we do not have any problem with Egypt as long it respects the rights of others.
Herald: In their works published in some international journals, some Egyptian scholars seem to deny the legitimate and historic right of Ethiopia on the river. What would your opinion here?
Ambassador Dina: That is wrong. That is what we fight bitterly. What we are against. As long as from Ethiopia, it is silly for one to state Ethiopia does not have the full right to use the river. More than 86 percent of the river flows out of the Ethiopian territory. So, Ethiopia has the right to use its natural resources. This is a natural endowment. You cannot prevent Ethiopia from using it. What is politically gone wrong does not mean naturally wrong.
Herald: Some months ago, Egypt was seen to prefer military approach over the diplomatic negotiation to ensure its claim on the Nile River. However, Ethiopia seems to be consistent to pursue peaceful diplomatic approach. Which way (approach) would be helpful? How do you see your nation's stance here?
Ambassador Dina: Always, the diplomatic approach is a constructive approach. This is the approach that prevails. It is the approach in the interest of humanity in all countries. War is a counterproductive way. It's rather destructive; it destroys human and material resources. We have witnessed so many wars in world history. Nobody benefited from wars. They destroyed properties and humanity. They left hurting scars that pass from generation to generation. A conscious mind cannot subscribe to wars. That is why Ethiopia is always advocating peace, pursuing a constructive and diplomatic approach.
Herald: Would you believe that Egypt would remain consistent with peaceful negotiations and appreciate Ethiopia's win-win approach?
Ambassador Dina: I hope it will soon realize the importance of pursuing peaceful diplomatic negotiations. I believe Egyptians will appreciate Ethiopia's stand that makes all parties beneficiaries.