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Egypt should stop beating war drums

For the record, the Blue Nile River starts in and flows from the highlands of Ethiopia not from Egypt. Therefore, Ethiopia needs no permission from Egypt or any other nation to use her national resources. No fair minded person or nation, would ask Ethiopia to surrender her sovereign right to a belligerent nation such as Egypt. As tax paying American citizen, I am shocked and disappointed to learn that the Trump administration decided to side with Egypt and order Ethiopia not proceed with the Renaissance Dam project.

Moreover, in violation of common sense and international law, Donald J. Trump decided to sentence more than 70 percent of Ethiopians to live in perpetual poverty and total darkness, while 100 percent of Egyptian people have access to electricity and enjoy the convenience hydroelectric provides.

Having said that, let me appeal to “the Egyptian people” to free themselves, once and for all, from the victims’ mentality and to walkup from their nightmarish sleep.  From the days of Pharaohs to days of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egyptians have been told and seem to believe that they are the “gift of Nile” and that without Nile River “they will vanish.” This is far from the truth.

By continuing this victims’ mentality, Egyptian political leaders have made their people slaves of the Nile River. In my opinion, Nile will not stop flowing and the Egyptians will not vanish from the face of the earth. As stated over and over again by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia has no intention of stopping the flow of Nile River nor entertain ill intentions towards the Egyptian people whatsoever.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is being constructed by internationally recognized experts to make sure that the Nile water is distributed fairly among the people who have been using it for centuries. No objective and fair-minded observer will find any ill intentions or plans on the part of Ethiopia to see Egyptians or any other people to vanish.

Moreover, there are sufficient scientific evidences suggesting that, “Egyptians have a vast sea of underground fresh water (aquifer) reserve mainly from the ice age that can last them for more than 500 years.”  In the opinion of some objective observers, “Egypt’s claims over the waters of the Blue Nile is arrogant, aggressive, grossly unfair and unethical.” Let us examine critically other sources for the continued conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia.

The source of the continued conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt over the use of Nile water may be placed at the door steps of the British Empire.  It should be noted that to safeguard her commercial line to India and the rest of the world, England set out to establish friendly relations with states bordering the Red Sea and the newly opened Suez Canal. Red Sea boarding states included Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, just to name few.

Britain succeeded in establishing the desired relationship with all but Ethiopia. In the following few years, crises of diplomatic nature between Emperor Tewodros of Ethiopia and Queen Victoria of England, began to escalate at an increasing rate resulting in the taking of few British citizens as hostage by Emperor Tewodros.  Taking British citizens as hostage did not go well with an arrogant and most vindictive Queen of England.

Using the hostage issues as an excuse, Queen Victoria dispatched an expeditionary forces made up of 32,000 men; hundreds of ships including more than forty elephants carrying war materials headed by Field Marshal Robert Napier to punish Ethiopia and to bring Emperor Tewodros down to his knees.

To further punish Ethiopia on the one hand and reward Egypt on the other, Britain entered into series of Nile River related treaties all favorable to Egypt and Sudan without the participation or the consent of Ethiopia. It is those treaties that Egypt claims to have given her the right to use and even to control the Nile Basin including the veto power over any Nile related projects initiated by Ethiopia.

Egypt has no legal right, whatsoever, over the Nile River as long as it starts in and flows within Ethiopia, no matter what her reasons may be. Egyptians seem to believe that Egypt is the gift of Nile and there will be no Egypt without Nile.  I would say, Nile is nature’s gift to all humanity, which include Ethiopians, Sudanese and Egyptians, not to mention others who depend on the continuation of Nile River.  

Nevertheless, it is true that all the treaties entered between Egypt and Britain gave Egypt not only the right to use but also to control over the Nile River. The question left for any reasonable person to ask is who gave British the right to give Egypt the power to use and the control of the Nile River – a river that starts in and flows from Ethiopia a sovereign nation?

I am compelled to say to Egypt, please stop beating your war drums and stop interfering in the internal affairs of Ethiopia.  Don’t be too greedy. Greed and expansionist dreams are the root causes of war and war is the enemy of all living things. It is time for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to stop following Khedive Ismail Pasha’s expansionist dream of creating the “Great Egyptian Empire” which meant annexing Ethiopia and controlling the Nile basin. 

The good news is that the days of empire building are long gone.  As a nation that has invaded Ethiopia so many times, Egyptians should know that warfare and military artistry have been dominant elements in Ethiopia's cultural history for thousands of years.

To Egyptians, please note that the Ethiopian soldiers you see today are not toy soldiers carrying toy guns. The fighter jets you see flown by Ethiopian pilots are not paper jets loaded with overripe bananas.  The soldiers carrying guns and the pilots flying those jets fighters are the proud sons and daughters of Ethiopia capable of and willing to give their life in defense of their motherland.

Ethiopians are not in the habit of provoking any country nor are they in habit of bragging about their battlefield skills. They are not known to display their armaments either.

As one observer noted: “The Egyptians are found of implying that they have enough bombs and powerful bombers to demolish the Renaissance Dam. To hammer home their point, very recently they openly and widely announced that they are adding formidable American armaments and repairs to their already powerful arsenal.”

Ethiopians are fully aware that Egypt has a collection of military hardware with all sorts of tanks and fighter jets loaded with destructive power. As an old soldier and a veteran of Korean War, I am compelled to tell the Egyptian people and their supporters that it is not the assortment of military weapons, tanks, plains that win a war, but the men and women behind those weapons that will ensure victory.

As one European war correspondent wrote: “The Ethiopian fighters are profoundly disciplined, though in their own unique way, showed endurance and are capable of action in conditions which are difficult even to imagine.”  Throughout her long history, Ethiopia is never known to provoke any country, but when provoked she stood her grounds and fought back quite admirably.

For example, Ethiopians fought the British under the leadership of Emperors Tewodros II, the Mahdist army of Sudan under the leadership of Emperor Yohannes IV, fought the Roman Empire at the Battle of Adwa under the leadership Emperor Menilek II, and at Maychew against the fascist army of Italy. 

When Khedive Ismail Pasha of Egypt, who was bent on bringing the entire Nile River basin under Egyptian control, sent the Egyptian army twice to realize his expansionist dream, Ethiopians stood their ground and fought a well-trained and well-armed Egyptian army. The Egyptian invasion forces of September 1875 and of November 1875 which were led by “officers of European and North American background” were defeated by ill-armed and ill-trained Ethiopians at the battle of Gundat and Gura.

Ethiopians virtually wiped out the “entire Egyptian force, along with their many officers of European and North American background”.  The battle of Gundat and Gura resulted in thousands of Egyptian and Ethiopian deaths, not to mention the number of the wounded on both sides.  The outstanding performance of Kagnew Battalions during the Korean War is recognized worldwide.  

Because of her people’s unyielding resistance against colonialism, including repeated Egyptian invention, Ethiopia remained “the proud symbol of Africa’s independence” to this day.  I say this not to brag about the bravery of Ethiopians, but to help the Egyptian leaders not to underestimate both the commitment and the fighting ability of Ethiopians as did their predecessors.

To repeat, Blue Nile is nature’s gift to Ethiopia and Ethiopians have every right to use their national resources. Ethiopia’s sovereign rights over her resources is protected by international laws. Therefore, Ethiopia will defend her sovereign right by any means at her disposal.  All Nile River treaties entered between Egypt and Britain during the colonial era have no legal relevance today, and that the Egyptian claim over the use of Nile water has no legal ground to stand on.

As far as Ethiopia is concerned, the Nile River treaties entered between Egypt and Britain is dead just as colonialism in Africa is dead and gone.  By now, it is well known fact that Egypt has taken her claims to the Arab League, the United States, to United Nations Security Council, and have sent her diplomates to the capitals of the world presenting Egypt as victim and Ethiopia as victimizer.  

Egypt has been and continues to be engaged in asking all donor nations in the world not to provide Ethiopia with any financial support to enhance her development projects, especially, to help Ethiopia with the Renaissance Dam project. Egypt continued threating Ethiopia with military action if she continues to complete the Dam as planned.

Ethiopia and Egypt have been fighting both military and diplomatic war over the use of the Nile River for years.  Today, with the tension is reaching the boiling point over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, new war between the two countries seem inevitable.  However, resolving the disputes peacefully is not out of reach.

The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia may end peacefully, if Egypt recognizes and accepts: (1) Ethiopia’s sovereign right over the Nile River; (2) stop demanding that Ethiopia comply with treaties which were entered between Egypt and Britain; (3) stop recruiting and financing anti-government elements in Ethiopia; and (4) stop beating war drum to prevent Ethiopia from completing the Renaissance Dam and any other dams she so desire to build.

War is easy to start but very difficult to stop.  When war stops, it leaves behind people with broken hearts, broken families and with lasting scares on the hearts of many generation. I pray for peace between Egypt and Ethiopia. “Mankind must put an end to war,” wrote John F. Kennedy, “before war puts an end to mankind.”

Ed.’s Note: Alem Asres (PhD), (formerly Alemayehu Wondemagegnehu), earned his Doctorate of Philosophy in Social Foundations of Education with emphasis on Comparative and Multicultural Education 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