Makonnen Tesfaye; March 4, 2020
The Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)“The one and only solution to the equitable and reasonable utilisation of the shared water of Abay is through a Win-Win approach and meaningful political consultations of all Ethiopian stake holders”
1. The Tragic Political Drama Over the Blue Nile
1.1 The fundamental weakness of PM Abiy Ahmed’s negotiation strategy over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the underlying and larger issue of the equitable and reasonable allocation of the shared water of the Blue Nile has been vividly exposed by the current negotiation impasse, which is characterised bythe PM’s request to postpone the negotiation process at the 11 th hour; the unveiled threats against Ethiopia by the US and Egypt; and the absence of an overarching strategic direction of Ethiopia’s national interests over Abay. The Government’s request to postpone the negotiation for the purpose consultation (what consultation at the last minute after 5 years of negotiation!) is a sham as it is dramatic and tragic to put it bluntly. The truth is that this is akin to withdrawing from an ongoing boxing match(a rigged boxing match characterised by a biased referee and judges) at the concluding rounds, pleading for more practising time after sustaining several roundsof pounding and to avoid an inevitable TKO.The postponement should be supported since it is better late than never, but will the Government return to the rigged negotiations? Has the Government an alternative overarching strategy?
1.2 The pertinent questions in the Country are how did we reach at this position of impasse and how do we come out of it and move forward. Furthermore, the crucial questions are whether the postponement is ashort-term political expediency for electoral purposes and is not a strategic response, or whether we need a different, viable strategic framework of negotiation that safeguards Ethiopia’s national interest over the Blue Nile.
2. “Internationalisation” of the GERD Project is the Problem, Stupid!
2.1 Internationalising of the GERD Project has been the principal strategy of Egypt over the last decade and thisis for the purpose ofundermining Ethiopia’s sovereign right to control and manage its own national projects. In terms of a negotiation strategy, this is to fundamentally nullify Ethiopia’s advantage and ability to dictate the terms of the negotiation. Hitherto, the only onus on Ethiopia is to address Egypt’s legitimate concerns by providing appropriate mechanisms where these concerns could be transparently addressed. The establishment of an International Panel of Experts (IPOE) agreed by all parties to advise on technical issues; the disclosure and provision of pertinent technical and operational documents on the GERD to Egypt by Ethiopiaand the provision of negotiation based on good will principle will more than meet the requirements for addressing Egyptian concerns.
2.2 Furthermore and crucially important, the “Declaration of Principles (DOP)” signed by Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan in March 2015 does not commit or legally require any of the parties to bring in third-party mediators. Article 10 of the DOP stipulates that:
“The three countries commit to settle any dispute resulting from the interpretation or application of the declaration of principles through talks or negotiations based on the good will principle. If the parties involved do not succeed in solving the dispute through talks or negotiations, they can ask for mediation or refer the matter to their heads of states or prime ministers”. (Underlinedby author)
(Article 10 of the Declaration of Principles Signed by Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan in March 2015)The Meles Zenawi and Haile-Mariam Desalegn Governments’ refusal in the past to internationalise the GERD Project was correct since it successfully countered Egypt’s repeated attempts to involve third parties’ in the GERD negotiations. However, former PM Haile-Mariam’s recent interview with Ethio360 where he expressed the need and inevitability of involving the US and the World Bank (because the US and the World Bank pressures are too strong to resist!) is not only contrary to the past EPRDF’s firm position not to internationalise the GERD Project but is also fatalist, defeatist and comprador in its political and ideologicalessence. Suffice to say that this only demonstrates the extent of the EPRDF Leadership’s political and ideological “degeneration” to the point of becoming cronies and dependent of external forces in the latter years of the Front’s existence, which paved the way for the emergence of a completely comprador party in the form of the Prosperity Party.
2.4 Although many have correctly figured out that involving the US and the World Bank was the most disadvantageous and stupidest scenario for Ethiopia (due to the obvious imperatives of US’s and World Bank’s strategic and geo-political interests to advance Egyptian position at the expense of Ethiopia), a number of commentators seem to miss out the kernel issue, which is the internationalisation of the GERD project. Some have argued the need to involve the EU, UN etc. which will still internationalise the issue. Furthermore, it is innocence of the highest order, if not stupid, to assume that the EU or the UN would act impartially, given the entrenched position of Egyptian interests in international institutions. Similarly, involving South Africa or the AU will still internationalise the issue (which is the point) although one can possibly assume they could be neutral on the matter. Although a second best scenario, Egypt would still accept South African or AU mediation since it will serve Egyptian principal negotiation strategy, which is to internationalise the GERD project at any opportunity.
3. Postponementis a Short-term Political Expediency not a Strategic Response
3.1 It is now clear (as can be discerned from leaked information) some members of the Ethiopian Technical Team threatened to resign and expose US’s and World Bank’s undue pressure on Ethiopia and the weak response and disposition of the political-wing of the Negotiating Team and the PM to sign-off the Tentative Agreement following the 15 th January 2020 meeting. That the Abiy Government was ready to sign the Tentative Agreement can be discerned by the Joint Statement by Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, the US and the World Bank on 15 January 2020 and the upbeat and “optimism” expressed at the Press Briefing given at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC by Gedu Andargachew, Foreign Minister, and Seleshi Bekele (PhD), Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister, on 17 January 2020 (Source: Ethio360 17.01.2020).The essential take aways of the Briefing (given to a selected audience, lacking transparency, inclusiveness and accountability as usual!) was that the Tentative Agreement safeguards Ethiopia’s interests and that subject to tying the loose ends of some minor technical issues pertaining to the filling of the Dam, the document was essentially ready to be put into a legal document for signing-off at the end of February 2020. Crucially, the delegation confirmed at the Press Briefing that the Ethiopian Government was ready to cede 37 bcm of water, on average, annually out of the average annual total water flow of 49-50 bcm of the Blue Nile, conferring a minimum 75% share of the Blue Nile water to Egypt and Sudan (refer to Aigaform article on 17 January 2020: http://aigaforum.com/article2020/Ethiopia-to-Cede-Right-Blue-Nile-Water-to-Egypt-Sudan.htm ). This is against Egypt’s request of 40 bcm water share (i.e.80% share!), which is not different from its “historical claim” since colonial times. There lies the true magnitude and significance of Egyptian victory at the expense of Ethiopia according to the Tentative Agreement that was scheduled to be signed-off at the end of February 2020. This is not a Win-Win settlement by any measure of equity when viewed by current and future generations of Ethiopians.