Aklog Birara (Dr)
Part II of IV
In Part I, I urged the Governments of Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan not to ignore the ecosystem
of the Nile River. I also recommended that Nile River riparian nations begin the hard but
essential task of arriving at a fair, equitable and mutually beneficial Nile River Treaty. It is a
gaping hole whose time has come.
I should like to start with the encouraging news that the stalled Tripartite technical negotiation
has resumed. Sudan’s Foreign Minister and the Minister of Irrigation both expressed Ethiopia’s
sovereign and legal rights to harness its waters and improve the lives of its people. Of special
significance is the Foreign Minister’s reference to the UN Watercourses Convention of 1997 that
defines the rights and obligations of countries sharing international watercourses. This
Convention and other clarifications since provide a menu of legal instruments and tools in the
use and management of trans-boundary waters. Ethiopia is entitled to equitable use of its waters
for the improvement of the livelihoods of its people. Hydroelectric power generation is governed
by the same Convention.
An area of contention by Egypt in the filling and operational management of the Grand
Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the GERD) is quality. The Sudanese Minister of Irrigation Dr.
Yasir Mohamed gave resounding testimony that the quality of Ethiopia’s Dam construction is far
superior to that of the Aswan Dam (Egypt) and Rosario Dam (Sudan).
Both Ministers confirmed that the Sudan and Egypt would benefit from the completion of the
GERD. Sudan and Ethiopia share a border that spans 1,600 kilometres. Supply of cheap
electricity, reliable water flow to the Sudan and the expansion of its irrigable land will be a boon
for the two economies. This large border and the communities around them can serve as
economic and trade arteries; and both societies will prosper. In short, the benefits from the
GERD outweigh the costs.
In the background of Egypt’s intransigence that the world community ought to be aware of is the
huge investment in mega-size Egyptian and Sudanese irrigation farms catering to the Saudi and
Gulf country food markets. For decades, Egypt has been constructing mega projects diverting
Nile waters through a massive auxiliary channel via the Suez Canal and establishing has a new
central hub port and industrial zone, known as the East Port-Said Project.
In the South is what is known as the Al-Salam (El Salam or “Peace”) Canal; and in the North is
the Sinai Agricultural Development Program. Aerial photographs show that the desert has been
converted into green irrigated agriculture zone. NASA Earth Observatory states that “Egypt’s
North Sinai Agricultural Development” is real and operational. It notes further that “The AlSalam Canal brings water from the Damietta Branch of the Nile, under the Suez Canal to the
Sinai Peninsula. First, the project provided irrigation waters to the area west of the Suez Canal.
In October 1997, the culvert under the Suez was completed and water became available for
irrigation in Block 1, the Tina Plain Zone (50,000 acres). Fields soon began to appear.”
This expansion of irrigable land that produces the world’s most expensive agricultural products
for export to Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries as well as to Europe and other locations continues
unabetted. “The most recent photo, taken by the STS-100 crew in April 2001, shows a new
extension of canals into the desert to the east. These canals will eventually feed irrigation in
Block 3, the Raba’a Zone. Development of more fields can also be seen south of the Tina Plain
Zone in an area called Block 2, the Southeastern Qantara Zone. Plans call for extending the canal
by mid-2002 and irrigating a total of 620,000 acres. The cost of the project is estimated to
exceed 7.5 billion Egyptian pounds (about $2 billion). Given the scarcity of water resources in
the region and the costs involved, it is not surprising that the project is controversial within and
The Government of the United States and the World Bank that were pushing Ethiopia to sign an
agreement abandoning its legitimate and sovereign rights to utilize its waters and alleviate
poverty know this scandalous and irresponsible use of Nile Waters by Egypt. Egypt is literally
exporting Nile waters and earning foreign exchange. This is unjust, unfair and unacceptable.
I ask a simple question. Who is being harmed by this travesty? It is 115 million Ethiopians.
Millions do not have adequate foods; access to safe drinking water; access to electricity and so
on. I do not know of a U.N. Convention that grants Egypt the right to squander waters and export
what it does not even produce. Nor is there any law that denies Ethiopia the right to utilize its
Ethiopians must defend their legitimate rights to live a better life by using their waters no matter
the cost. Here I embrace General Birhanu Jula’s (Military Operations Chief, Ethiopian National
Defense) penetrating and patriotic guide to Egypt. Briefly put, he cautioned General Sisi’s
leaderships alarming and destabilizing vitriolic that the massive weaponry Egypt has “amassed
over the past 30-40 years is inconsequential against the well-tested and patriotic Ethiopian
people.” I recall a similar utterance by the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi who advised
Egyptian aggressors that “He knows of no Egyptian invader of Ethiopia who survived to tell the
story.” This is simply to reinforce my hypothesis that the best option to the impasse is negotiated
On June 10 and 11, 2020, the Ethiopian Ministry of Water and Energy released press statements
concerning the “The tripartite negotiation between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt” chaired by
Ethiopia and with a focus on “the Guidelines and Rules for the first filling and annual operation
for the GERD.” I welcome this development that involved independent observers. Sudan’s
proposal was also discussed.
Ethiopia’s position remains the same. It “reiterated the need for the three countries to focus on
and approach the negotiation with good faith and commitment to achieve a win-win outcome.”
In my view, “a win-win outcome” is one that ensures that Ethiopia has a legitimate and
sovereign right to harness its waters; begin filling the dam; and operate it interdentally and
without a third party overseeing its operation and management. Sudan’s confirmation of the
technical quality and integrity of the dam supports this preposition. Its statement that all three
countries would benefit from the completion of the dam buttresses Ethiopia’s position. The UN
Convention cited earlier and other Agreements and treaties on trans-boundary rivers confirm
Ethiopia’s position as well. The next round of negotiations including the one to be chaired by the
Sudan on June 13, 2020, should firm up the fundamentals that govern any agreement.
Against this healthy development, I find it troublesome that Egypt continues to create obstacles
with a deliberate intent to delay the filling of the dam. Postponement entails a huge financial cost
for Ethiopia estimated at one billion dollars in foreign exchange earnings each year. Is Egypt or
the World Bank prepared to compensate Ethiopia for this loss?
Under what Convention or treaty are the Ethiopian people obligated to defer or delay their
rightful development utilizing their own waters? Is it not about time for the world community to
demand that Egypt begins to behave like an adult rather than a spoiled child? Is it not about time
to demand for the sake of the planet that Egypt stops exporting water that it does not produce?
Reverting back to the U.N. Security Council while negotiations are taking place is another
deliberate Egyptian strategic move. Its constant posturing undermines in-good faith negotiations
and further pressures the Sudan to take sides again. Ethiopia and the Sudan should stand firm
together with regard to fundamental principles; while ironing out technical differences.
Egypt must be guided by and respect the entirety of the 2015 Agreement on the Declaration of
Principles (DoP) that governs the filling, operation and management of on the GERD. It must not
be allowed to cherry-pick provisions that it chooses and stretch them in order to continue its
hegemony over Ethiopia’s waters. What comes in mind is “no significant harm.” Egypt tries to
stretch this to mean no reduction of the volume of water it granted to itself regardless of weather
conditions. Is there something called burden and benefit sharing in Egyptian vocabulary?
Egypt has enormous reservoir of waters at the Aswan Dam that will mitigate risks. Ethiopia does
not. Ethiopia cannot control the weather, including drought years. Yet, Egypt wants to impose
conditions that entail “significant harm” to the Ethiopian people. This is a punishment that no
Ethiopian Government should ever consider.
Further, Egypt wishes to make sure that Ethiopia is barred from building other irrigation and
hydroelectric dams in the hinterland. Accepting this Egyptian demand will make Ethiopia an
Egyptian colony, a prospect that no Ethiopian would ever accept.
Observers are invited guests. The role of independent and impartial observers is not to impose
their will on behalf of Egypt or the Sudan or Ethiopia. It is to be share best practices drawing
from a rich menu of Conventions, Agreements and Treaties on trans-boundary rivers. Their
involvement and participation are in the public interest and should be recorded and made public.
Transparency is crucial in building and nurturing mutual trust as well as confidence. For
example, disclosure of the names of observers; disclosure of core working documents of the
legal and technical teams; and the differing and generic positions of the three parties. Citizens of
the three nations are anxious and deserve to know the general picture and direction. They have a
vested interest in the matter. Equally, the world community that is afflicted by the Pandemic
wishes to see a peaceful outcome
Both Ethiopia and the Sudan have been forthcoming; but not Egypt. Many of us who follow the
issue closely were pleased to learn that Egypt decided to join the Tripartite negotiations. We
soon learned that it reverted to the U.N Security Council that had expressed a well-reasoned
opinion that the matter should be settled by the primary stakeholders.
This gyration in diplomacy is not only bizarre; but extremely dangerous. The ultimate objective
of the U.N. Security Council is to prevent the prospect of war. Its members understand that the
GERD is governed by a set of Conventions, Treaties and Agreements that nations use in settling
Egypt’s sneaky and underhanded exertion of pressure on individual members of the Security
Council to intervene and take sides undermines a body of international laws, treaties, norms as
well as international and regional institutions such as the African Union and the Arab League
that members cannot afford to subvert. A growing Africa should not be sidelined for short-term
benefits. A second attempt by Egypt does not change the previous guidance and advice.
In the light of the foregoing, I urge Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan to continue with the noble and
principled task of dialogue, honest conversation and negotiation that will go in the history books
as pioneering. It will bring about a fair, equitable and mutually beneficial agreement.
In the meantime, I urge each and every Ethiopia to serve as Ethiopia’s Ambassador in defense of
the country’s sovereign and legitimate rights to utilize its waters; to fill the GERD; operate and
manage it without undue interference; and advance sustainable and equitable development for all
Ethiopians must speak with one voice and dispel Egyptian propaganda that Ethiopian operation
and management of the GERD “could unleash highly destructive floods or, conversely,
disastrous droughts on the downstream nations of Sudan and Egypt.” Anyone who has flown
Ethiopian Airlines would attest to the well-established track records and abilities of Ethiopian
technical and professional personnel to operate and manage complex projects.
I remember when I was a young college student in the United States the accolades Ethiopian
Airforce personnel received from American trainers. If Sudanese technical experts attest to the
technical quality of the GERD, who anointed Egyptians to dispute Ethiopian quality and the
capacity to apply due diligence and safeguard their investment? No one did. It is self-appointment and self-aggrandizement to fulfill a hidden agenda: delay and delay and make it too
costly for Ethiopia to complete the dam.
Egypt can longer act as the self-appointed judge and jury. It is time for Egypt to accept Sub-Saharan African nations as equals. Egypt should never forget the historical fact that Ethiopia is
one of the few internationally recognized independent nations on the planet. It is also the origin
of human kind.
Part III will follow soon.
June 12, 2020