AFRICANGLOBE – Having spent the past couple of months on diplomatic efforts against the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and failing, Egyptian authorities are now pointing accusatory finger(s) at Ethiopia for not responding to their calls for new negotiations.
It would have been a most enlightened act on their part to refrain from besmirching Ethiopia’s good name all along, and rejoining the tripartite forum with Sudan and Ethiopia. Instead, they trotted the globe spreading falsehoods about the GERD, and knocking the life out of that conversation in what would amount to a diplomatic equivalent of an over chewed stick of gum. If only there were takers! Alas, the world, save a few entities, is not interested in the GERD and Egypt’s whining about it.
A woman of questionable reputation asks a journalist who was wearing a top hat and a cape, “Why do you wear that funny cloth”? He replied, “Precisely for the same reason as you: to draw attention away from my face”!
Whatever the motives, it would have been neighborly if Egypt had spent a little more time understanding what is motivating Ethiopians of this and other generations. From their visits to Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania have come some of their calls for re-engagement. Unfortunately, nothing that has been uttered so far gives rise to a belief that Egypt really understands that the sand has shifted from under her feet. Like the proverbial shifty fox, they keep repeating that they “will have the water and Ethiopia can have electricity”.
In their minds, this cocoons the issue within the safe paradigm of just a lack of electricity for the Ethiopian side, and shifts it away from the central issue of equitable use of the waters of the Blue Nile– a feeble attempt at altering the debate and sanitizing the issue for them.
It might be worth repeating what I had written before under a different title: the disagreement between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the GERD is purely on technical matters. These matters have been taken up in the Tripartite forum, and all Egypt has to do is rejoin Ethiopia and Sudan in that forum.
There was a time in the not too distant past, when whatever Egypt stood for was drenched with celebrity, and I might even add, with euphoria out here in the West. And within Egypt itself, the idealized vision of an earlier age when other countries’ cultures and aspirations were static and subordinated can no longer be the choice of an enlightened society. Those days have come and gone because Africa is rising, and its youth are no longer content waiting for dispensations from outside. They hope for and expect well-paying jobs with realistic hopes of advancement.
The motivation of Africa’s youth today is economic growth and development using available resources while at the same time, striving to balance the harmony between nature, interdependence and self-determination. The African heritage of the future is going to be one that is more compelling than the traditionally understood and devalued role of underdevelopment. Many in the continent are attempting to create IT jobs; blue-collar, pink-collar and green- collar jobs for their citizens. To this end, African’s are striving to create regional economic integration to complement the regional political integration efforts. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a crowning example of perseverance, grit, leadership and common interest among the countries that are signatories to it.
What is undeniable is that Egypt considers its African neighbors as junior partners (if partners at all)—a blunder of the highest order, in my opinion. To be sure, as the most aid dependent country in the African continent, Egypt has to maintain exceptionally good relationships with the Arab countries that provide the tens of billions of dollars to it. Yet, Egypt’s lifeline is connected to its African roots—roots that it had failed to pay attention to, and in the Ethiopian case, roots and connections that it had destabilized for decades.
It is impossible to judge whether Egypt would negate that which is particular about her and form a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with Ethiopia. Its track record is extremely disappointing and even shameful. Yet, and in my opinion, it is absolutely essential that Ethiopia and Egypt handle whatever technical issues there are regarding the GERD within the framework of the Tripartite forum and in accordance with the framework of the NBI. This has been the desire of the Ethiopian government from the beginning.
One of the lasting legacies of Ethiopian foreign policy is that it has always been moderate and predictable. Ethiopia has led during the fight for African independence; it has demonstrated its commitment to African causes time and again; and, it has now committed itself to lead by erecting a needed dam on the Blue Nile. To an extent, Egypt’s displeasure might just be this particular leadership role of Ethiopia, and the signaling effect it has on other NBI countries with respect to their own future initiatives.
Ethiopia and Egypt share similar problems in other areas that may provide an avenue for future cooperation and partnerships. Both have problems of urbanization and land development; both face problems related to climate change; both have problems of growing populations; and both have problems of poverty and potential social fragmentation. The cooperative efforts that could be created in these arenas are likely to provide immense and strategic benefits that could serve the citizens of both countries. To accomplish these and other challenges requires leaders who accept the notion that wise societies surely know how to share. The eternal quest for self-preservation demands it!
By: Dr. Teshome Abebe