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No fence-sitting in face of onslaught of attacks!

No fence-sitting in face of onslaught of attacks!

As Ethiopia endeavors to overcome the raft of problems which have been besetting it for eons it is battling strong headwinds in the form of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the deepening rift between it and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Immediately after Egypt embarked on another round of political and diplomatic arm-twisting following the collapse of talks over the dam, conflicts threatening Ethiopia’s stability have increased in frequency. Ethiopia has had to endure a relentless onslaught at the hand of Egypt for the past nine years ever since it began to assert its right to the equitable and reasonable use of the waters of the Nile. As Ethiopia broke off the biased U.S.-led mediations and reaffirmed that the filling of the reservoir behind the dam will begin this summer, Egypt has cried foul yet again and taken the matter to the United Nations Security Council. Ethiopians should not just express dissatisfaction over the multi-pronged attack Egypt has launched over GERD. Unless they put aside their differences and show a united front during this difficult period, their country may be forced into a trap from which it’s hard to get out. As Egypt continues to invoke colonial-era treaties which entitle it to the lion’s share of the Nile waters and warns that it will consider all options, including military action, to stop a reduction of “even one drop of water”, Ethiopia, which contributes about 86 percent of the total runoff in the river, is undergoing an internal strife. Ethiopians better understand that failure to overcome this challenge will have disastrous consequences.

Any keen observer of current political developments in Ethiopia is bound to reach the inescapable conclusion that the country is in the throes of a rancorous discord from within. While some espouse the importance to tolerate differences and come together for a shared cause, others have no desire to budge an inch from their ideological stand no matter what. Bent on using each and every issue, regardless of how trivial it is, to demonstrate that their viewpoint is superior to everyone else’s, these forces are fanning the seeds of irreconcilable differences. The polarized views on how to find a solution for the constitutional conundrum that arose following the postponement of the August general elections due to the coronavirus outbreak have the potential to spark a crisis. In particular, calls for the establishment of a transitional or caretaker government on the ground that Ethiopia will not have a legitimate government after the current administration’s term expires this October are indicative of the unhealthy state of the country’s politics.

The government recently announced that it has made adequate preparations to counter Egypt’s coordinated propaganda campaign to turn international opinion against Ethiopia. As Egypt attempts to mislead the world about the impacts of the GERD on its receipt of water flows from the Nile, there ought to be a robust national conversation regarding the responsibility of not only the government but also of the general public in safeguarding Ethiopia’s interest. Instead of responding furiously whenever Egypt kicks up dust, the government would do better to act proactively in enlisting the support of the other Nile basin countries before Egypt’s attempt to lure them to its side succeeds and leaves Ethiopia high and dry. Needless to say the government cannot hope to accomplish anything if Ethiopians from all walks of life do not contribute their share. At the same time though politicans of all stripes must refrain from peddling divisive rhetoric and play an active role in fostering unity against a common adversary. Politics can wait until the nation and its people are safe.

It’s not lost on anybody that the continuing standoff between the federal and the Tigrai regional governments, the rise in the incidence of crimes all over the country, the hostility between political actors as well as the absence of a meaningful effort to nurture intercommunal harmony all renders Ethiopia vulnerable to all kinds of attacks. Moreover, no one is naïve to believe that agents of foreign enemies engaged in selling any piece of information ranging from the mundane to state secrets have not infiltrated various institutions. None of us must forget for a moment that giving a free rein to these traitors and pursuing a scorched-earth politics is certain to give Egypt the opening it craves to achieve its end game—to destabilize Ethiopia so it cannot undertake any project on the Nile that “jeopardizes” its water rights. That is why it’s of the essence to act in unison to defend the country from any and all assaults on its sovereignty.

The principles and procedures guiding the government’s actions in regards to major projects having national significance need to be transparent. Many are questioning why following the stalling of the tripartite negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over the GERD Ethiopia agreed to take part in negotiations initiated by the United States and the World Bank instead of attempting to break the impasse through discussions between the leaders of the countries. They argue that it should have turned to the other Nile riparian countries and the African Union in the first place as the U.S. is not an honest broker owing to the greater geopolitical value it attaches to Egypt than Ethiopia. The fact that the Treasury Department took it upon itself to warn Ethiopia that the final testing and filling of the GERD should not take place without signing the draft agreement it prepared shows that it had walked right into a corner. Fortunately, it pulled out of the talks before it put itself in an inextricable hole. All this underscores the imperative to ramp up preparations for the inevitable battle ahead through the strengthening of the pertinent institutions as well as the formulation of an effective strategy drawn up with the participation of knowledgeable and seasoned professionals in the areas of hydrology, international law, geopolitics and diplomacy. Adopting a consultative approach to charting the way forward helps is vital to ensuring transparency and accountability. It also helps nurture political stability.

Ethiopia finds itself at a critical moment in its history which requires each and every citizen, regardless of their station in life, to put the national interest front and center. Diversity of views and value systems is only natural in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation like Ethiopia. This diversity should be embraced and managed in a constructive manner. As such it’s incumbent on the citizenry to revive their culture of standing shoulder to shoulder on issues of common interest while respecting differences. The inability to break the traumatizing cycle of intolerance and politically motivated internecine skirmishes will continue to be a weakness the country’s enemies exploit to its detriment. The time has come for Ethiopians to realize that they have no choice but to leave this sad chapter behind us and join hands in defense of our beloved nation. The Great Adwa Victory and other heroic feats of our forefathers serve as object lessons in this regard. No fence-sitting in the face of the onslaught of attacks on Ethiopia!