AFRICANGLOBE – Five years ago, Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi laid down the cornerstone of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), with the objective of elevating the energy sector and meet the demands of the rapidly growing economy. Ever since, some groups in Egypt, who claims to have a birth right over the Blue Nile River, have been trying to undermine Ethiopia’s vision of realizing this lofty development objective.
Thanks to Ethiopia’s weak economy under the past regimes and Egypt’s long influence and superiority over Ethiopia when it comes to the international community, Egypt has managed to be successful in blocking all global funding opportunities – be it grant or loan – to undertake development projects on the Blue Nile. Hence, the construction of GERD gave Ethiopians at home and abroad the opportunity to stand up together to raise funds and mobilize resources of all kind to ensure their right to utilize their natural resources freely and fully. That is why GERD has become a flagship project within the psyche of Ethiopians.
The historical claim by Egypt over the Nile River, which is associated with the primitive adage ‘Egypt is the gift of Nile’, had given it sweeping benefits as a sole beneficiary of the river. Besides, the colonial treaties of 1929 and 1959 gave Egypt the lion’s share of the water resources and small share to the Sudan, the other signatory. Ironically, both treaties totally excluded Ethiopia, which contributes 86 per cent of water to the river Nile. This has found to be unreasonable in this modern day where the world is awash with international water laws.
Many political analysts argue that Egypt, much like the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have a hidden agenda to destabilizing Ethiopia (the biggest power in the Horn), Islamize, then take control of the geopolitical and economic advantages of regional ports, as the region is strategically located close to three major continents (Middle East, Europe and Northern America). However, the emergence of a stronger Ethiopia in the Horn region has put a dent in that aspiration. After all, if the objective is to conquer the region, then the most important power of that region must be weakened and destabilized.
And as many argue, the fact that Ethiopia is a hyper-eclectic country with a wide array of identities within its federal structure, and given that in such situation, it’s always difficult for any governing authority to strike the perfect balance between each to leave everyone satisfied, it creates a gap to be exploited, where entities would wait on high alert ready to pounce on.
Meanwhile, the acceptance of Ethiopia in the region, the continent and the globe has been flourishing. Being a seat to the AU, UNECA and several diplomatic and international organizations, it is now an important country in the decision-making process of various regional and international agendas. This in return has raised the political influence and diplomatic muscle of Ethiopia.
To better dissect this geopolitical issue, The Ethiopian Herald recently caught up with Mehari Yohannes, Political analyst at Makalle University, Department of Political Science and Strategic Studies, to reflect on the current Ethio-Egyptian diplomatic relations.
Mehari started his reflection from the very recent past, the late 1950s, where Egypt was captious or wary towards Ethiopia not to lose its overwhelming use of ‘Tikur Abay’ River (Blue Nile). Since those days, Mehari said, Egypt has sheltered, organized, financed and armed anti-Ethiopian forces such as the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) to destabilize the country. “In particular, institutions such as Al-Azar University and Radio Cairo were backing and preaching extreme Islamist ideology aimed at weakening Ethiopia. This has continued during the present time, changing its nature to adapt with the dynamics of the time.”
Egypt had also provided all kinds of supports to any external and domestic forces targeting to destabilize the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia in particular, he added.
And during the Derg regime, Mehari says Egypt had been supporting Somali militants, insurgent groups in Bennshangul and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
“The same policy was employed during the incumbent Ethiopian regime as well. Egypt used a tactic of creating an overt fear and a covert one, when the situation demands, up until Ethiopia bagged a diplomatic success in bringing the upper riparian states and Sudan to a principle of reasonable and equitable utilization of water bodies that would also not cause a significant harm to the lower riparian states.”
In any case, notwithstanding the forces that were fuelling the recent violence in some parts of Ethiopia, the coming of President El-Sisi to power can be described as the turning point for the present diplomatic cooperation between the two countries. However, Mehari boldly underlined that the intelligence service of Egypt has definitely backed the anti-peace elements as an extension of its past interest.
Mehari suggests two mechanisms to the Ethiopian government in dealing with the recent situation. “Firstly, the government should effectively address the legitimate public grievances which were used as an opportunity by the anti-peace elements to intervene. Secondly, there should be a diplomatic repercussion on Egypt through the drafting of a strong foreign policy towards all riparian countries in a way that can ensure common victory.” Willingly or unwillingly, Egypt could not go far out of such principles, he added.
Kahsay Gebrehiwot, who is conducting his thesis on the Hydro politics of the GERD, also builds on the above opinion. He said that the previous will of Egypt was to use the Nile basin in a monopoly by referring to its natural and historical rights. “However, this has come to end following the major international water law (Helsinki Rule, UN Water Convention and Berlin Rule), the most acceptable despite its less likely binding nature, it introduced the most acceptable, reasonable and equitable utilization of transboundary water bodies and the growing capability of utilizing water resources in the upper riparian countries like Ethiopia.”
He said: “The rivalry had begun from the ideal agreements of 1891 signed between the colonial masters of Britain and Italy and continued in the 1929 and 1959 agreements but become an outdated for their isolation of the major contributor of the river basin, Ethiopia.”
Nevertheless, he underlined that presently Egypt has begun to use a diplomacy-led-subversive strategy, which was manifested in the recent violence in Ethiopian.
Another critical reason that could expose the hidden interest of Egypt was witnessed during the recent Ethiopian candidacy to become non-permanent member of UNSC. Some five countries, of which Egypt is among them, refused to vote for Ethiopia. However, the country was the first one to relay its congratulations following the news of Ethiopia’s success in getting the membership. From this, one can conclude that something is not right behind the diplomatic negotiations of Egypt and Ethiopia, which seems excellent than any time in the past.
Ethiopia’s private news network, Awramba Times and an Iranian TV Chanel, Press TV, have narrated the situation quoting the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, who reaffirmed Egypt’s absolute respect for Ethiopia’s sovereignty, and non-intervention in its internal affairs.
However, former Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda said, “We have to be very careful not to unnecessarily blame one government or another. There are all kinds of elements in the Egyptian political establishment which may or may not necessarily be directly linked with the Egyptian government.” Egypt has dismissed previous accusations of meddling in Ethiopian affairs.
In his interview, Getachew told BBC World News that groups in Eritrea and Egypt are contributing to the unrest, which has led to a six-month State of Emergency. The foreign elements are arming and financing opposition groups, but not necessarily with the formal backing of their governments.
Also, consider this discourse. On May 7, 2014, an Egyptian news network Ahram Online published a report on a protest organized in front of the Arab League in Cairo’s Tahrir Square by Ethnic Oromos in protest over the violence carried out on the Oromo community in Ethiopia. “Ethnic Oromo students have been protesting since April against the Ethiopian government, who they accuse of intending to displace farmers from their territories in the capital of Addis Ababa through plans to develop and urbanize the city.”
In this discourse, few Oromos fuelled by extremist Diaspora and political asylums have organized demonstrations against the government in Nairobi, Kenya, but were dispersed by the Kenyan security forces and detained. In contrast, while the story appeared by Ahram Online is the same with that of Kenya’s, the former incident has been accompanied with Egyptian citizens, media outlets and political establishments, unlike the one in Kenya. This may indicate Egypt is interested in backing anti-government forces even inside its territorial borders.
By: Haftu Gebrezgabiher