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Trump decides to hold aid Ethiopia

President Donald Trump’s administration has decided to withh0ld aid to Ethiopia with an intention of pressing Ethiopia to submit to the demands of the US in the ongoing negotiations regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with downstream countries Sudan and Egypt. The US has been expressing disappointment with Ethiopia’s move to avoid the US-led negotiations on the filling and operation of the GERD.

The Trump administration decided to hold development aid in amount of USD 130 million, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Since leaving the US-led negotiations in February 2020 because “the US overstepped its role as an observer/facilitator” Ethiopia has been insisting on the tripartite negotiation with the two downstream countries on an African platform. Hence, it has been pushing for an African Union-led negotiation rather than continuing the US-led negotiation or engaging the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) into the matter. Egypt preferred other platforms than an African-led effort to bring the three countries into agreement. Later on, African Union current chairperson, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South African, took over the role of facilitating the negotiations which helped the countries come into terms with the main issue of contention like water filling schedule.

But, despite the progress in the negotiations, the US has been considering punishing Ethiopia for avoiding the US-led negotiation that it said sided with Egypt rather than become an independent role player for the countries to reach an agreement.

An administration official told Foreign Policy that “There’s still progress being made; we still see a viable path forward here. The U.S. role is to do everything it can to help facilitate an agreement between the three countries that balance their interests. At the end of the day, it has to be an agreement that works for these three countries.”

According to the magazine, the cuts could affect sectors like security assistance, counterterrorism and military education and training, anti-human trafficking programs, and broader development assistance funding.

While the administration’s move is not a surprise to many observers, experts on the other hand say that the US withholding aid to Ethiopia will have insignificant effect on Ethiopia as there are other reliable partners like the EU and China. And they say that the odds of these partners especially the EU partnering with the US are almost null given the current trade and other partnership challenges the two are facing.

Although it is the US Department of State that deals with such issues of foreign affairs, concerns have been raised since day one when the US Treasury Department along with the World Bank were tasked with helping the three countries in the negotiations. Many Ethiopian members of the academia and diplomacy have expressed their concerns regarding this at the time asking ‘why the Treasury and the WB?’

This decision came a day after PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) travelled to Sudan and discussed outstanding issues regarding the GERD with Sudan’s PM Abdalla Hamdok and Chairman of the Transitional Military Council Abdul Fattah Al-Burhan. Despite talks that Abiy would meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Khartoum where the later flew directly from Israel, the two did not manage to meet.

In a manner that reflects international influences in this regard, PM Abiy a week ago said that the only way the country’s prosperity is achieved is through local resources and efforts and any external partnership plays a supportive role. He said this during a progress report presented to him by the GERD project head Kifle Horro (Eng.).

The civil work on the GERD has reached 89 percent and the electromechanical works have reached 47 percent according to a report by Kifle last week. The project has so far consumed 121.5 billion birr as of August 2020 and additional 36.5 billion birr is required to complete it. With the Dam’s first filling placing 4.9 billion cubic meters of water in the reservoir, the second filling is planned for July 2021 and the last unit is scheduled to be completed in 2023.