I remember taking a course called “Business 101” in my first year of college. I recall the instructor telling the class that negotiation is a process by which two or more people settle their differences amicably. Negotiation is a method by which compromise or agreement is reached between two or more parties based on give and take. Never go to a negotiation table empty handed and don’t make unreasonable demands. Having said that, the most obvious question one is forced to ask is, what is Egypt is offering and Ethiopia is refusing to accept or vis-versa? I leave this question for the readers to answer.
In my opinion, during the entire Renaissance Dam negotiation, Egypt is saying to Ethiopia, what is mine is mine, and what is yours is negotiable. Egyptian approach to Renaissance Dam negotiation reminds me of “gunboat diplomacy” of late 19th century imperial politics. In the days of imperial power politics, gunboat diplomacy refers to the pursuit of policy aimed in securing ones stated objectives by displaying naval power, implying that one of party to the negotiation is willing to go to war should terms arrived at is not agreeable. Today, countries with superior military power known to display their ground, air and naval power loaded with known weapons of mass destruction to accomplish their stated objectives.
To accomplish her ill-conceived objectives, Egypt, in addition to displaying her ground, air and naval power, went to Arab League, to the United States, as well as to other European countries, including the United Nations Security Council seeking support for her claims based on illegal, unjust and outdated treaties between her and Britain –treaties that gave Egypt 75 percent of the Nile water and 25 percent to Sudan, leaving Ethiopia with nothing. It should be noted that both Egypt and Sudan were British colonies. Figuratively speaking, Egypt seem to expect Ethiopia to feed and care for the cow, indefinitely, so that Egyptians may drink the milk to their heart’s content. By the way who decided that Ethiopians do not need milk? The analogy of feeding and caring for the cow only for Egyptians to drink the milk, is reflective of the Blue Nile River used by Egyptians for thousands of years. Ethiopia, the source of Blue Nile, was never participated nor was asked to participate in any Nile River treaties prior to 2015. Yet, Egypt insist that Ethiopia must comply with treaties entered prior to 2015 in which Ethiopia had no part to begin with.
Egypt, having left no stone unturned in her search for support of her claims of hegemony over the use and control of Blue Nile River based on series of treaties entered between her and her colonial master, finally is told by everyone to take up the case with the African Union—African Union which Egypt avoided to begin with. If Egypt can’t succeed in having hegemony over the flow of the River, she wants Ethiopia to agree not to use any of her national water resource to generate hydroelectric power. How arrogant and disrespectful can you get? Egypt must be told to get-off, once and for all, from her high horse and face the reality—that reality is that the Abbay/Blue Nile River starts in and flows from Ethiopia and Ethiopia need no permission from Egypt to use her national resources. It should be noted that Egypt did not consult with or seek the permission of Ethiopia when she built the Aswan and other dams which depends on the Nile River.
I can’t help but ask, why Egypt avoided the African Union to deal with Renaissance Dam issues in the first place? The next question I found myself asking is, what is Egypt to Africa compared to Ethiopia? In my opinion, Egypt with her body in Africa, her heart and mind in the Middle East, never concerned with what happens to Africa or to the Africans. In fact, Egyptians I met professionally, attended class with, and Egyptian students who attended my class, never openly admitted that they are part of Africa or identify themselves with African people. Everyone knows the fact that Ethiopia stood with Africa and fought hard alone on the floor of the United Nations calling for African independence from colonial rule. Ethiopia supported financially and trained African freedom fighters in their struggle to be free from colonial rule. If men like Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela were alive today, they will testify to the invaluable contributions Ethiopia made in defense of African freedom.
For the last 70 or more years, Egypt flooded the world with false information about the source and the ownership of Blue Nile or Abbay River. Quoiting the Bible and the Holly Koran, to convince the Egyptians and people of other nations that “Nile is a gift from God to Egypt.” For decades, Egypt tried and continues to convince Egyptians generation after generation that without Nile River there will be no Egypt and no Egyptian. Moreover, Egypt continue to campaign around the world telling that Ethiopians are trying to take away our river and starve us to death by building the Renaissance Dam. Such lies are carried by written and electronic media on daily basis, and Egyptian children are led to believe that the Nile River belongs to Egypt. The truth is that the Blue Nile River is not God’s gift to Egypt only, if God or Allah meant for Egyptians only, he would have made Egypt the source of the Nile but not the recipient of water from the said river. The truth is, that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is been built by the collective desire of Ethiopian people not to deny Egypt the supply of water but to harness the river’s potential hydroelectric power to lift Ethiopians out of poverty. Reverend Jesse Jackson in his letter to US Congress remarked that “every soul including shoe shiners and poor farmers bought government bonds to help finance the project. They saw the hydroelectric generating juggernaut as a source of indomitable Ethiopian independence and pride. Above all, they saw it as the centerpiece of their bid in their fight against poverty.” Let us examine briefly the Ethio-Egyptian relationship both before and after the colonialists set their foot in the African Continent.
Ancient Ethiopia and Egypt
The Kingdom of Aksum also known as the Aksumite Empire, was an ancient kingdom with its capital located in what is now Eritrea and the Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia. The Empire existed from approximately 80 BC to AD 825 achieving prominence around the 4th century BC. “By the 1st century AD Aksum was recognized as a major player on the commercial route between the Roman Empire and Ancient India.” It has been noted that the “Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own currency, establishing their hegemony over the Kingdom of Kush.” Politically speaking, they entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian Peninsula and eventually extended their rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom. “The Manichaei prophet Mani, who died 274 AD, regarded Axum as one of the four great powers of his time, the others being Persia, Rome, and China.”
The Aksumites erected monumental stelae, which served a religious purpose in pre-Christian times. Moreover, Emperor Ezana is credited not only for adopting Christianity but also sheltering Muslims from Mecca seeking refuge from Quraysh persecution by travelling to the kingdom of Aksum. According to various historians, Ethiopia is alleged resting place of the Ark of Covenant and the home of the Queen of Sheba.
No one knows for sure the exact line of ancient Ethiopia’s boundaries. It may stretch from Khartoum in the west to Lake Victoria in the south. We know that Ethiopia is the successor of Axumite Kingdom, which is generally recognized as one of the largest states of antiquity. “It is known that in 350 AD. the Axumite King Ezana, conquered the Meroe kingdom which lay in the valley of the Nile on what is today known as the Republic of the Sudan. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC. an Ethiopian dynasty ruled Egypt (the XXV dynasty).” As one historian noted: “The 25th Dynasty refers to the kings of Kush, which included Nubia, who ruled all or part of Egypt from around 746 to 653 BC.”
Ethiopia and Egypt during and after the Scramble for Africa
In 1891, Britain and Italy signed a protocol demarcating their spheres of influence in East Africa. Under it, the line of “demarcation ran from the Indian Ocean along the Juba River to the point of intersection with latitude 6 degree North then on along this parallel to longitude 35 degree East and farther on along the meridian to the Blue Nile.” This line splits the territory inhabited by the Somalis, with Britain getting that part which later became the Northern Province of the British colony of Kenya, and which remains “a bone of contention between the government of Kenya and Somalia.” Moreover, this line of demarcation ran along the territory which now is part of Ethiopia.
By the time of the Anglo-Italian Protocol, Ethiopia, was surrounded by colonial plunderers on every side. Ethiopia find herself to be an Island in the colonial sea which threatened her very existence as independent nation. To protect herself from colonialism, “Ethiopia had to take up arms to drive back Britain and Italy.” Following the signing of the 1891 Protocol, concerned with his people’s freedom and well-being, “Menelik sent a letter to the heads of a number of European states Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, in which he defined his country’s frontiers, and announced his intention to restore Ethiopia within her ancient frontiers.” Had he not define and told the European powers the extent of his country’s boundaries, the country would have been sliced and diced-up to become British, Italian and or French colonies like the rest of African continent. It is safe to say, had it not been for Menelik’s unshakable patriotism, there would be no free and independent Ethiopia as we know it today.
Poverty and economic dependence tends to restrict a country’s freedom in choosing its path of further development. Which is just another way of saying that political independence cannot be complete while the country remains economically dependent, whether on one country or many countries. The fact that 95 percent of 102 million Egyptians have accesses to electricity with all benefits it provides while only 27 percent of 114 million Ethiopians have accesses to electricity. It is common knowledge today, that more than 70 million Ethiopians have no accesses to electricity and live in total darkness after the sundown. Yes, nearly 70 million Ethiopians collect woods to cook their food and heat their homes, carry water on their backs for miles and miles to wash and to drink. This fact does not bother Egyptians because Ethiopian poverty remains to be the base of the Egyptian wealth. Therefore Egyptians don’t want to see Ethiopia lift herself out of poverty. In my opinion, Egypt remains to be an invisible cancer in social, economic and political life of the Ethiopian people and to think otherwise is like hosting, not only an incurable cancer but also courting inevitable disaster forever. May God bless Ethiopia and Ethiopians and protect their Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Ed.’s Note: Alem Asres (PhD), (former Alemayehu Wondemagegnehu) earned his Doctor of Philosophy in Social Foundations of Education with emphasis on Comparative and Multicultural Education from the University of Maryland, College Park. He received his MA degree in Urban Sociology and Urban Planning from Howard University, Washington DC, and his BA in Political Science with emphasis in International Relations, from the University of Maryland, College Park. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]
Contributed by Alem Asres