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Ethiopia Continues to Move Unperturbed

Ethiopia Continues to Move Unperturbed

                                                                                                                                                       Amen Teferi  01-06-17

A couple of week ago, Ethiopia had received two high level delegations from the Saudi. The first delegation was followed by another in less than a week time. A run of bad luck has irritated Egypt and it had unfittingly reacted to these visits. As we have learnt from the reportages and opinion Egyptian media run, the visit has infuriated some Egyptian media personalities and academics who had immediately launched verbal attack on Riyadh.  In fact, Saudi’s visit seem to be an action of a hit back of ball that Egypt has drove earlier. And the diplomatic relation of the two countries has run down. The prelude to this strained diplomatic relation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia was resolution of the UN Security Council on Syria for Egypt has supported a UN resolution that Russia favored while Saudi disdained.  Hence, relation between Cairo and Riyadh had soured.

 Egypt took an opposing position to the Saudi Arabia for it has voted in favor of the UN Security Council resolution on the Syrian civil war that Russia proposed and the diplomatic hassles ensued. Egypt’s decision would present her as an ally to the Russia, which has been supporting the Syrian government and army and that would put her to stand against the rebel fighter reportedly supported by the Saudi.

Saudi’s envoy to the UN described Egypt’s vote as “painful.” Immediately the state owned oil company, Aramco, has suspended its oil aid to Egypt. As Egypt’s relation with the Saudi become strained the Qatari-Egyptian relation also entered into a difficult situation. Qatari officials were annoyed by Egypt’s unexpected decision to stand with Russia. Qatar made it clear that it “…has been extremely patient with regard to Egypt’s ‘dirty’ policies and now is a time for payback.”

Saudi’s agricultural minister has recently visited Ethiopia specifically to discuss livestock investment and senior adviser at the royal court and board chairman of the Saudi Fund for development (SFD) Ahmed al-Khateeb, had reportedly visited the GERD and that was good reason for some Egyptians to get exasperated and lash out the Saudi officials. The visit to the site of the construction was simply conceived as an act of “revenge” and Egyptian soon began to admonish Saudi Arabia 

Egypt’s media has alleged that Ahmed al-Khateeb had met with Hailemariam Desalegn and other officials to discuss on issues pertaining to the construction of GERD. Hence, Egyptian media personalities were joined up by several academics to voice strong criticisms against Saudi officials who visit Ethiopia. High-level Saudi delegation’s visit to the GERD was interpreted as an act of revenge on Egypt and that has deepened the growing tension between the two countries.

According to Egyptian political science professor, Hassan Nafaa, “the visit is an indirect message from Saudi Arabia that it could align with anyone if Egypt does not comply with Saudi foreign policy.” He says Cairo would not be tolerating Saudi’s implicit support for the GERD. Egyptians also called on “Riyadh to review its policies before it can only blame itself for what ensues.”

I think “give me a break” would be the proper reaction for the Saudi to this intimidation. At any rate, Egyptian media said “any reference to the GERD project implies a direct threat to Egypt’s national security.” Therefore, a visit to the GERD was construed as a move to break down the bilateral relations of the two countries. One Egyptian journalist has even threatened Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that “if they were to invest in Ethiopia, their investment would be lost in the Nile” and further added “The GERD will not last forever; a volcano might erupt at any moment. So those of you, who look to invest billions of dollars in this project, be aware, your money might as well go to waste.”

We know that Ethiopia’s mega-dam project has put some Egyptians high and dry. Some are still propagating “if Ethiopia constructs the GERD, our children will die of thirst.” That is a wrong perception. On the other hand, until recently, there has been unfair assumption that the purpose of the Nile is only to feed two countries with water –Sudan and Egypt. This is clearly reflected in the focus to measure the flow of the Nile based on how much water reaches Sudan or Egypt. Moreover, there is something infinitely misleading about the measuring of the annual flow of the Nile at Khartoum or Cairo.

The average annual flow of the Nile, as measured at Aswan, is 84 billions of cubic meters, of this total 84/85 percent originates from Ethiopian highland and 16% from the Lake plateau of central Africa. However, it is important that the statistics of the flow of the Nile are a complex matter, which the above estimates tend to over-simplify. For one thing, estimating the flow of the Nile based on how much water reaches Sudan or Egypt is wrong. This is because the purpose of the Nile is not to feed only these two countries with water. If we measure based on such an assumption, we are assuming that it is only the water that reach its destination is worth accounting for.

On the contrary, the waters of the Nile are important and useful for the entire basin. It is equally useful for the entire people living from Kagera to the Mediterranean. Therefore, what should be measured is the amount of water leaving the lake plateau of East Africa and the Ethiopian Highlands rather than what passes through Khartoum or what water reaches Egypt.

This would give us an estimate or a more realistic of the water contributions the three main tributaries of River Nile, namely the White Nile, Blue Nile, and Atbara. Hence, measuring the flow of the Nile at Khartoum is not only misleading, but also meant to encourage the unfair claims of Egypt. 

We remember that Egyptians were at sixes and sevens following the announcement of the rerouting of the Blue Nile River. Gone deep in the sea of fear and confusion, they were easily taken by the old “saber-rattling behavior.” Nevertheless, gradually and painstakingly they have tried to accept the project as fact of their life and understood that a good bet for an Egyptian is to join wholeheartedly the group that had vowed to work in cooperative spirit by accommodating every party’s rightful interest based on the cooperative framework that would ensure the equitable utilization of the Nile water. This is the wise choice, that would unlikely be proved wrong “until the kingdom comes.”

As betting up on the age-old machination of closing the doors of international financial institutions does not work anymore, it is wise to comply with the veritable terms and conditions of the 21 century. Now Egyptians media personalities and academics must change the competitive spirit that has dictated their actions in the past.

In fact, Egyptians had effectively employed this old art for centuries in gaining diplomatic and psychological advantage over other riparian countries including Ethiopia. However, the tactics that have efficiently been working in winning games over Nile has now become obsolete and vanished. Therefore, the armor that has so far been protecting Egypt has now proved to be a shield that would not last for perpetuity. Egypt can never benefit by creating hysteria in a manner that would greatly increase the probability of problem.

Water, which thus far happened to be one of the contentious and volatile elements in the Northeastern African region, must now be a potentially key factor that furnished a room for regional peace and cooperation.

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