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Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Worlds apart: Egypt's credibility and Ethiopia's lies

Abdel-Mohsen Salama , Tuesday 13 Apr 2021
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Ethiopia is accustomed to lying, lying is as easy as breathing to them.

The same is true about its domestic issues, as seen in the Tigray region, as well as its foreign policy, as we can see in the Renaissance Dam crisis which Ethiopia began constructing ten years ago in 2011.

At the time, Egypt was in a crisis internally after the 25 January 2011 revolution, which at the time obscured the priorities of national action.

Amid this dense fog that overshadowed public affairs in Egypt, Ethiopia took advantage of the situation and began laying the foundation for the dam. Over the next ten years, Ethiopia continued to lie, delude and show the opposite of its intentions without a clear vision of how to end this crisis.

The only document that Ethiopia signed during those ten years -- and has since violated -- is the Declaration of Principles (DoP) in Khartoum signed by the leaders of all three countries on 23 March 2015, outlining the negotiation track.

It established a mechanism to reach an acceptable solution that guarantees the rights of the downstream countries and their quotas of Nile water which for them is tantamount to the "right to life". At the same time, it met Ethiopia's needs for development and electricity generation.

Since before the DoP and up till this day, Ethiopia continues to convey to the world that it is not encroaching on the quotas of Egypt and Sudan, but rather the Dam is a tool for cooperation between the three countries.

In a move of goodwill, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi went to the Ethiopian parliament to address the people of Ethiopia soon after the DoP was signed, to assure them that the Egyptian people are conveying a message of love and affection, as well as extending their hand in goodwill to the Ethiopian people.

"Just as your country [Ethiopia] has the right to development and utilising its resources to raise the standard of living for its people, your Egyptian brothers also have a right not just to development, but to life itself and do live safely on the banks of the River Nile on which they founded a civilisation that spanned thousands of years uninterrupted," said El-Sisi.

"Since ancient times, this civilisation that Egyptians built understood the value of the Great River and celebrated it with a feast. Egyptians have written poems and songs as if the Nile could hear them and understands their strong bond together," he added.

"These exaltations are a mere simple expression of how vital the Nile's role is, since it was and still is the only source of water, even of life, for Egyptians who live on its banks and are bound to it. Their lives are built in the narrow valley which the Nile winds through amid an arid desert that covers 95 per cent of Egypt's lands," said El-Sisi.

El-Sisi called on Ethiopian MPs to "work with the Egyptian people and other Nile basin countries to overcome disputes and unresolved issues." He cited the words of then Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi during his visit to Cairo, who said that "the River Nile is the umbilical cord that connects Egypt and Ethiopia. This confirms that the flow of the river from the source to the mouth is nothing but divine designation that God gave us all."

This was a clear and specific message that Egypt never swayed away from all this time. For Egypt, water is the right to life and at the same time, the Egyptian people are supportive of Ethiopia's right to development. There shouldn't be any conflict between Ethiopia's right to development and the right of the Egyptian people to life.

After Zenawi, came incumbent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Ethiopia's approach of evasiveness and lies continued.

Ahmed came to Egypt on an official visit in June 2018 to reassure Egyptians, asserting in his address that Ethiopia "has no desire or notion to harm the Egyptian people. We believe we should benefit from this river, but when we benefit and develop this river, we should not do anything that harms the Egyptians. We want trust to prevail between us on this issue."

Ahmed also said "we want to use our share, ensure that your quota reaches you and that there is no mistrust between us. We will take care and preserve your share as well as work on increasing your quota, my brother President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and I."

The Ethiopian prime minister told the press, media and those gathered: "There will not be hostility or disagreement between us because this does not benefit either people. My people and government have no desire to harm Egypt and we want to cooperate in all fields. We can cooperate, not only on the River Nile, but in all areas. The Egyptian people must understand that we have respect and affection for them, without any harm."

By taking a closer look at the speeches of both leaders, we will find the words are very similar, but there is a big and substantial difference in the credibility and actions on the ground. Egypt affirmed and continues to affirm Ethiopia's right to development, but at the same time asserts that Nile water is a matter of life or death for Egyptians.

El-Sisi's words did not contradict his actions and he still strives to reach a just and binding legal agreement for all three parties (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia) that guarantees the rights of Egypt and Sudan to their water quotas. Along with also accommodating Ethiopia's right to development and the investing of its share of water for a better future for its people.

A fair and binding agreement is the true translation of good intentions, which is what Egypt and Sudan are currently seeking, whether there are direct negotiations between the three countries or whether it is under the auspices of the African Union (AU) or UN; the important thing is to reach a fair and binding agreement for all three parties.

No one is hindering reaching an agreement except Ethiopia. It is contradicting its words and assurances by Zenawi and Ahmed. The latter stated more than once in Cairo, Khartoum and even in Addis Ababa, that his country does not want to harm the Egyptian and Sudanese people and that he will work on increasing Egypt's quota, as stated during his address in Cairo in front of the media and press. However, the actions on the ground are an entirely different story, for several reasons.

First, Ethiopia is the one who has violated and continues to violate the DoP since it rejected the reports of the expert committee and international consultants. These reports condemned Ethiopia's actions and exposed its ill intentions, as well as lack of necessary technical studies that guarantee the safety of the dam and that it will not collapse and threaten total destruction of our neighbour Sudan.

If Ethiopia was honest in its words and intentions, it would have taken the initiative to cooperate with international consultants and adopt the reports of the technical committee of experts.

Secondly, Ethiopia avoided signing a final agreement sponsored by the US and the World Bank in Washington, even though it participated in every step of the process.

When it was time to put pen to paper, it obnoxiously "ran away". This confirms its position of evading and lying, as well as its unwillingness to reach a binding legal agreement that is fair to everyone.

Thirdly, Ethiopia's elusiveness and lies undermined the last two rounds of AU negotiations. South Africa failed to make Ethiopia commit to reaching an agreement and the same happened with Congo, which currently heads the AU and hosted the last round of talks in the capital Kinshasa. Ethiopia refused all proposed ideas and alternatives by the two downstream countries, which were aimed at relaunching the negotiating process once again and reaching a binding legal agreement.

Ethiopia also refused the Sudanese proposal to expand sponsorship of talks to make it a quartet (AU, UN, European Union and US) to ensure a quick solution before the crisis worsens. Ethiopia's malignant intentions were revealed when it rejected Sudan's idea, which would have solved the problem by involving influential global actors. This finally exposed who has actually been hindering talks for all this time.

If Ethiopia is serious and honest, it would have immediately agreed to Sudan's proposal, as Egypt did, because it guarantees the rights of all three countries without encroaching on those of others. However, Ethiopia insists on procrastination and evasion, while unilaterally proceeding to fill the dam's reservoir. Like the first phase of filling, it wants the second phase to proceed without recognising the threat that this poses to the two downstream countries.

Today, all options are on the table, as El-Sisi said last Wednesday, the ball is in Ethiopia's court. It must honour its commitments in the DoP towards the two downstream countries, which are the same as the ones that Ethiopia's leaders, including the incumbent, have pledged.

The credibility and seriousness of Ethiopian officials remain at stake, and whether they will in fact transform their statements and promises into a legal and binding agreement that achieves Ethiopia's interests in the river, without harming the two downstream countries, or not. 

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