THE STORIES BEHIND THE HEADLINES

Abu Dhabi

London

New York

Tue, 21 Jan 2020 14:11 GMT

The Standoff on GERD Between Ethiopia and Egypt

Politics

Fitsum Getachew

Tue, 14 Jan 2020 12:33 GMT

Ever since Ethiopia committed to build a huge hydropower dam on the Nile the downstream countries have been expressing their concern on the reduction of their share of the waters. Ethiopia conveyed it has a right to use its natural resources without going against international law and practice. Egypt on the other hand is adamant in asserting its ‘exclusive historical rights’ on the waters of the Nile and claim that Ethiopia should do everything it can to refrain from its use. Some voices in Egypt have even gone to the extent of threatening that if Ethiopia continues to encroach on Egypt’s sovereignty they will be forced to use every means available to stop it! Many people sympathise with the concerns of Egyptians; after all they rely heavily on the waters of the mighty river for their survival. And it has been so since time immemorial. For this reason the issue is of life or death.   

Be that as it may, Ethiopia believes that it has no choice but to reject all forms of monopoly on the waters of a river which happens to originate from its highlands. And its nationals are struggling to survive due to shortage of power and even agricultural products to feed its people. While the phenomenon of climate change is making a huge impact on practically every country of the world, the extent of such damage for nations such as Ethiopia and other African countries has been substantial.  

Ethiopia is currently among the countries that are deeply affected by cyclical drought or flooding which causes significant losses in agricultural products. Given the low level of development or growth in the country the challenges of drought and possibly food insecurity are more than tangible. They threaten the very stability of more than a hundred and ten million people. This is why Ethiopia needed to look around all its natural resources to address issues of livelihood and survival. More than a 100 million people seventy per cent of whom are young people under the age of 30, do need some form of livelihood or would be an ‘uncontrollable’ body of force.  

Ethiopia’s economy has been growing at a fast pace during the past decade or so and remarkable changes can be observed. There’ve also been changes in the political system with a reformative movement led by the newly elected Nobel Laureate Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.  

The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi saw a huge potential in the launch of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, GERD, on the Nile and it is expected to generate about six thousand megawatts of electricity. Ethiopia does avail other sources of power but for a number of reasons has not been using this major resource. 

The GERD is an old project in fact but could never see the light of day due to a number of factors, not least its financial constraints. The late prime minister said that Ethiopia was in a position to embark on this project on its own even if it could take some time to complete it. He launched the project in April 2011 just a few months before his death. It was planned to take up to seven years to complete. And yet there are still lots of things to do even if it has reached seventy per cent of completion. Billions of dollars have been raised from Ethiopian nationals and invested in it and the Ethiopian government says the work is well in progress.  

Practically every Ethiopian has been invited to contribute for the construction of the project. People now liken it to one of their children seeing it grow continuously and make progress towards maturity.  

In the meantime, the suspicion of Egypt and Sudan that the dam may negatively affect their livelihood has been disseminated particularly by some extremist elements in the rank and file of Egyptian society. This has been adding more fuel to already existing suspicion and it has not helped calm emotions.  

Some Egyptian academics and politicians still try to hang on to the old colonial pacts that have divided the waters of the Nile between the two downstream countries unjustly. None of them contribute a drop to the waters. For Ethiopians it has always constituted an embarrassment looking like ‘might was right!’  

One of the major arguments of Ethiopian authorities is that Egypt should forget that it has an undisputed right or monopoly on the waters of the Nile. If it had been benefiting from unjust colonial treaties that never acknowledged even the existence of a certain country called Ethiopia that contributes 80 % of the Nile waters, it does imply that things should continue in the same way eternally. Today we are in the 21st century and Ethiopia is a sovereign country with all the rights of the world on their national resources just as others have. It is now time to sit down and negotiate.  

Ethiopia says GERD is a win-win project because the dam presents several advantages to all nations involved. Egypt is advised to abandon its absolutist stance on the river which is under the full sovereignty of Ethiopia. Ethiopia will be advised not to encroach on the right benefits of the water when it comes to downstream countries. But there will be no way of submitting to all of Egypt’s demands regarding the flow of the water and its filling to the dam.  

The latest talks regarding the filling of the dam have stalled because Egypt has suggested that Ethiopia take 12 to 21 years to fill the dam. This looks like Ethiopia will never be able to use the dam when it actually needs it! In contrast, the stance of Ethiopia is to fill the dam in three to seven years.  

The Addis Ababa meetings on January 9th and 10th ended in disagreement. The last alternative could be the one taking place in Washington D.C. in mid-January. But what many observers note is that the frame of mind of Egyptians still lags a lot having come from an entrenched position that the Nile is exclusively their property.  

Ethiopia wants to settle the injustice once and for all; and it appears that it has the support of international law and practice and an entire population. Egypt should be better advised to re-plan its expansion schemes based on the assumption that it has the total monopoly of the waters of the Nile. It is just a matter of attitude and of course principles. Ethiopia insists it cannot afford to watch its natural resource go to waste or without making any reasonable use of the waters. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.

Middle East Africa