AFRICANGLOBE – What is new in resuming tripartite talks on Ethiopia’s multi-billion dollar hydroelectric dam on the Nile after eight months of disruption? Indeed the three countries, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have conducted talks from August 25-26 in Khartoum.
The negotiation however, was suspended in January 2014 amid mounting tension between Cairo and Addis Ababa.
The new development in the negotiation has picked up where it left off at the time of its interruption, which is the formation of a committee for implementing the agreed proposal involves a hydrology simulation model and a trans-boundary social, economic and environmental impact assessment.
The negotiations resumed after Prime Minister Haile Mariam Dessalegn and Egyptian President Al-Sissi’s meeting during the 23rd African Union (AU) summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
As it is well known, it is not something new for Ethiopia and Egypt to undertake negotiations. What is new is that Egypt, which has been less than forthcoming in previous negotiations, has expressed willingness to return to the negotiation table under the new Al- Sissi government.
Before Egypt came to the negotiation table it had been engaged in the two-track diplomacy aim to persuade the the international community to reject the dam’s construction, assuming it may lead to further conflict and instability in the Nile Basin region.
In spite of all the campaigns, Ethiopia’s position remained unwavering. Since its very beginning Ethiopia has not changed its position. Not only Ethiopia, Sudan too has not changed its position. Hence, because it was on the Egyptian side that the problem persisted, what is occurring now is clearing roadblocks on the way to an agreement. In other words, what is heard is a willingness to continue the negotiation.
One can assume that the Al-Sissi government, in contrast to the Mursi “Muslim Brotherhood” government, has shown significant changes in its Nile policy. This inquiry reminds us of the developments that happened soon after the fall of the Mubarak government; the Egyptian public diplomacy group came to Ethiopia. This public diplomacy group carried out discussions with Ethiopian government officials and announced: “In every issue we will follow a political process that is premised on mutual benefit with our Ethiopian brothers.” They added, “as we have not now established a government, we request that you give us time to establish a government.” The government of Ethiopia, accepting this Egyptian public diplomacy group request, delayed further considerations. After a while Mursi’s government was established. However, the then established government was not able to honor the request made by the public diplomacy group. However, the Ethiopian government presented its legal development right to utilize the Nile waters to the Ethiopian parliament, which approved it. Notwithstanding, the Ethiopian government did not close the doors on negotiations. This is because the two countries had to honor the Entebbe accord.
As the Entebbe accord or CFA Stipulates all riparian countries have the right to utilize the Nile waters in a just & rational manner. That is the major reason that forced first Ethiopia and then Rwanda to approve the agreement in their respective parliaments. And served as a catalyst to the Nile Basin countries to secure legal approval of the agreement. In this regard, all the Basin countries are in the same situation. The holdout Egyptians will be watched after the negotiations.
The other major development in relation to the Ethiopia Grand Renaissance Dam is the vision of sharing development with the neighboring countries, which is against Egypt’s rhetorical claim of not willing to share the benefits of development. In this regard the CFA nullifies Egypt’s claims. Ethiopia’s unwavering position of mutual development perfectly fits into the Entebbe accord.
Ethiopia’s strategic position to share the development with neighboring countries applied by the land grant to Djibouti for water development. The parliament has approved the law. The approval of the law was first initiated in 2012 as a strategic union between the two countries granting the water development as part of that strategic union consideration. Therefore, the issue is related to the two countries’ agreement for a mutually advantageous economic and social relationship. The offer, which is free of charge, is to develop an underground potable water for Djibouti that could be regarded as Ethiopia’s strategy for regional peace and to ensure water security for Djibouti.
This offer also can be seen from another dimension. Djibouti’s geographic position is such that it suffers from water shortages, but Ethiopia has abundant underground water resources. Hence sharing this underground water resource with the brotherly Djiboutian people is an idea that is politically appropriate and timely. As Ethiopia has abundant water resources that have not been utilized so far, it is a moral responsibility to help brothers nearby who have a water shortage problem or indecently.
Historically the residents living in two countries have many commonalities such as culture, language, religion and many others. Ethiopians also have a culture and tradition of sharing things with others. This willingness is also expressed in the foreign policy guideline, which underlines the promises of the country. With that promise, the land grant for water development was made to Djibouti. Moreover, over 50 Megawatt electric powers are being provided to Djibouti. Permitting potable water development is recognized as part of the two countries’ strategic union.
There is an argument going that says that Ethiopian Strategy favors Djibouti. This argument needs to be seen from a different perspective. Even when there is money, a port may be unavailable. For example, although Eritrea has two ports, it has not been able to profit from them; that is, it has no market opportunity. Even though Ethiopia currently uses Djibouti’s port with service charges, both countries have many things in common. Secondly, as viewed from Ethiopia’s foreign policy, the import from Djibouti is not much. In contrast, Ethiopia exports a larger amount of many kinds of products to Djibouti. Therefore, the water and electric power the country provides, in addition to the economic advantage, should be seen in light of creating stable political conditions. This strategy goes with implementing the IGAD and AU strategy of regional integration.
The water offer to Djibouti can also be seen as Ethiopia’s effort to resolve conflicts arising from scarce natural resources. Ethiopia’s commitment to share scarce resources fits with the country’s role on the world stage as rapporteur on Africa’s climate variability challenges. In general, the principle is good neighborliness based on mutual concern for one another.
It also could be part of protecting regional stability. This is because often, terrorist groups exploit internal vulnerability. Terrorist acts have remained a serious security challenge in the region. As terrorism is a worldwide concern, Ethiopia as an emerging giant, cannot with folded hands say that it does not affect Ethiopia. A terrorist act that is perpetrated in a neighboring country will not fail to affect Ethiopia. In this regard, to defend the country from security threats one strategy could be developed, economic cooperation with all neighboring countries. This strategy can include sharing in development.
Ethiopia’s engagement in fighting against Al-Shabaab is related to terrorism & protecting regional peace & security. In the first place Al-Shabaab has declared a religious war against Ethiopian. If its power was not limited, its religious war declaration would have involved other African countries besides Ethiopia. Seen of the group’s characteristic, it has been asserted that Al-Shabaab has a worldwide terrorist mission beyond Somalia. At any rate, the demand to defend against the group originated from the government of Somalia.
Secondly, IGAD too decided that Ethiopia should enter Somalia. The African Union and the United Nations also have made clear they have similar positions. Other international organizations have agreed to Ethiopia’s entry into Somalia on the basis that it will have a significant effect in strengthening the peace in the region. Hence, the security building effort has resulted in relative peace in Somalia. If Ethiopia had not been engaged in fighting Al-Shabaab the current trade relationship would not be started.
In general Ethiopia’s motive was to contribute its part to promote the prevalence of peace in the region, and not just focusing on Al-Shabaab. One must not forget that not Ethiopia but Kenya, Uganda and other IGAD member countries have armed forces to defend against Al-Shabaab. This indicates that sharing mutual benefit not of development, but also of peace in the region is becoming a common agenda.
By: Abebe Aynete
Struggle Over The Nile: Masters No More