Ethiopia: Uncovering the true image of an “extremist diaspora”
This piece is my reflection on Prof. Alemayehu G/Mariam`s (Al Mariam) recent article on the Nile, posted in his blog and shared on Facebook.
I am writing this piece not because the article is that much worthy to be responded to but because the big title of the man as Professor and Lecturer of Political Science is misleading to readers, as if the piece was forwarded from an expert’s point of view. Thus the nudity of his piece should be uncovered. In my view, from the very beginning the article lacks integrity and the writer has written it with a framed mindset that misses its point and rests on the personification of the Grand Renaissance Dam (GRD) rather than assessing it from the perspective of its relevance at the national and regional levels as well as the challenges it faced on the ground. Most of the time, when we narrow things down to personal levels we miss many important issues and our message goes astray. This is what happened to Al Mariam in his piece entitled “Ethiopia: Rumors of Water War on the Nile?” One can identify three general points in his not less than five-page article. Firstly, for Al Mariam the Grand Renaissance Dam (GRD) is built to glorify a person i.e. the late PM Meles Zenawi. Secondly, the whole article talks and defends unfairly claimed Egypt`s interest on the Nile arguing that the construction of the dam will be catastrophic for them and Sudan as well. Thirdly, he prophesized that war is inevitable on the Nile where Egypt is declared a winner and he gave the impression that he is happy about that. His piece in my view is flawed as most of the arguments are not backed by balanced data and his gloomy picture of the dam and its drastic impact is made in Egypt.
Al Mariam`s conclusion rests on personalizing the dam and he left out the place of the historical trajectories that Ethiopia came through in relation to Abay-the Nile and the consequences of the unutilized river which endangers the national security of Ethiopia for at least the last 200 hundred years. And through the lines of his article I discover that Al Mariam is not updated with the Nile hydropolitics and the ongoing cooperative efforts on the mighty river. I need to make clear that though it does not mean that Al Mariam`s piece has no relevance. Firstly, the single reflective concern of Al Mariam`s piece would be his concern on how to finance the dam but because he is absorbed by personalizing the dam he missed his target. Secondly, Al Mariam`s piece mirrored the nudity of some extremist Diaspora who have failed to have a boundary between the ruling elite in Ethiopia and Ethiopia. The problem is his piece orbits around Meles and Meles only. For him the dam is by Meles and for Meles and so is a damned dam of illusion. My focus here is then to pick out Al Mariam`s own arguments and challenge him by acquainting the fact and showing how his arguments are flawed.
One of the interesting quotes of Al Mariam is the 2010 interview of the late PM Meles Zenawi with Reuters. The general message of this interview was a call to Egyptians to come to the 21st century and to leave their old aged position on war and sabotage. The late PM stressed that the only solution to the Nile problem is not of war but peace, which must be achieved through negotiation and cooperation. For Al Mariam the late PM’s remark was an insult. Let me quote both Meles and Al Mariam.
“I am not worried that the Egyptians will suddenly invade Ethiopia. Nobody who has tried that has lived to tell the story. I don’t think the Egyptians will be any different and I think they know that…The Egyptians have yet to make up their minds as to whether they want to live in the 21st or the 19th century.” (Meles Zenawi)
“With taunting, dismissive and contemptuous arrogance, Meles not only insulted the Egyptian people as hopelessly backward but bragged that he will swiftly vanquish any invading Egyptian army.” (Al Mariam).
Here is the point Al Mariam missed. Meles made that remark not with arrogance and insult to the Egyptian people. I am so amazed that Al Mariam did not even try to criticize the war drums of Egypt from Anwar Sadat to Hosni Mubarak. He mentioned the ‘arrogance’ of Anwar Sadat as a declaration to defend national interest where as Meles Zenawi’s remark was an arrogant speech of insult. Let me be clear here. Meles was reminding the Egyptians of their defeat in Gundet and Gura in the 19th century and that war is not always a solution on the Nile. That is true. The PM also called the Egyptians “to make up their minds as to whether they want to live in the 21st or the 19th century” is not as a people but as a government in their foreign policy orientation to Ethiopia in particular and to the Nile Basin in general. To remind readers a little about Egypt`s foreign policy on the Nile, allow me to mention a few lines of the origin of the current Nile policy of Egypt. Egypt’s foreign policy on the Nile is remarked in the 19th century by Werner Munzinger, who was a Swiss adventurer and mercenary who died in Afar in his attempt to invade Ethiopia as a mercenary of Khediv Ismail of Egypt during the reign of Yohaness IV of Ethiopia. According to Munzinger, “Ethiopia with a disciplined administration and army, and a friend of the European powers, is a danger for Egypt. Egypt must either take over Ethiopia and Islamize it, or retain it in anarchy and misery.” This has been what the Egyptians have been doing since the 19th century.
If Al Mariam has the evidence that Egypt never tried to conquer Ethiopia and defeated from the 1832 Battle of Gedarif to the 1876 Battle of Gundet, let us see. Between this period 16 big battles were taken between Ethiopia and Egypt where the former defeated the aggressor. The last direct confrontation between Egypt and Ethiopia was in 1876 at Gundet where Ras Alula Abba Nega’s sword, Emperor Yohaness’s leadership and the blood and bone of Ethiopian patriots sealed the victory and gave a lesson to Egypt. For the details I invite readers to read a book by Sven Rubenson entitled “The Survival of Ethiopian Independence.” If Al Mariam can furnish us with evidences that Egypt has not been doing anything bad to retain Ethiopia in misery by aiding anti-Ethiopia forces from Sha’abia to the militias in today’s Somalia, let us be proved wrong. Al Mariam appeared to collide with history and its facts by trying to cover up the intrigues, conspiracies and plots to destabilize Ethiopia. So Meles’s call was direct and clear. Rather I would say Al Mariam uses what Meles spoke to accuse the later as arrogant and whatever which emanates from personal animosity than the message it carries in maintaining national interest, which is true. Thus, it would be nice if Al Mariam would set the boundary between Ethiopia and Meles Zenawi. Both are two different things. Emperor Hailesellassie I, Menegistu Hailemariam, Meles Zenawi all have gone but Ethiopia remains here with us. I am not writing this for the sake of defending Meles or the EPRDF, it is just the truth and the national interest of my beloved Ethiopia and my dream of seeing the Nile quenching the thirst of millions like me!!
What is astonishing in Al Mariam`s mumbo-jumbo is that there is a lot of yelling and call for water war-a war that, according to Al Mariam, Egypt is determined to win and declared a winner. Here is what he said. “What will Egypt do if Meles’ “Grand Renaissance Dam” is in fact built? “Simple.” They will use dam busters to smash and trash it.” It would be unsurprising for readers to assume that this piece was written by an Egyptian but it is written by a person who claimed he is Ethiopian and his name sounds so-Alemayehu Gebremariam. Let us not forget that what Al Mariam wrote as a personal view is the mirror of the message we have read from the leaks from Stratfor that Egypt was planning to demolish the dam. Two faults here. Firstly, Al Mariam, who has lived outside his country for long and who does not know what is going on here; the capacity of Ethiopia and so on has believed that his country is deemed to defeat in a battle with Egypt. It sounds like he is a prophet of war and an all-knowing man to the extent of knowing who will win. What an absurd remark! Secondly, for Al Mariam, war is a simple and ordinary thing, which countries can wage whenever they need to do so. Let alone developing countries with tremendous socio-political and economic challenges, even superpowers go to war after assessing and reassessing the profits from the war and how much danger they could face. I think this is not hidden for a political scientist who is teaching Political Science his whole life in the most powerful country in the world-the US. Let me remind the reader of one incidence regarding the war rhetoric on the Nile. In the mid 1980s when the Sudan was planning to build a dam on the Nile there was uproar in Egypt. Later in the 1990s considering the assassination attempt on the then president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa which is believed to be orchestrated by the Sudan there was a greater chance for war. Then Hosni Mubarak came out and declared that if Sudan is to build the dam, that he would ambush it by jet. But he did not. The dam was completed. In general, such war drums in the Nile so far are not far from bluffing in recent years, except for the indirect attack through aiding militias and bandit regimes. The support of Egypt to Islamic courts in Somalia and to Eritrea during the Ethio-Eritrean war is a palpable illustration of such proxy-war.
With an attempt to discuss the overall impact of the dam on Egypt and Sudan, Al Mariam ran to quote an Egyptian ex-minister of Water, Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam as a reference to back his claim. Here is what he wrote;
“There is little doubt that IF the “Grand Renaissance Dam” is completed, it will have a significant long term impact on water supply and availability to the Sudan and Egypt. The general view among the experts is that if the dam is constructed as specified by the regime in Ethiopia, it could result in significant reduction in cultivable agricultural lands and water shortages throughout Egypt. According to Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam, the former Egyptian minster of water and irrigation, if the dam is built “Millions of people would go hungry. There would be water shortages everywhere. It’s huge.”
For Al Mariam the Egyptian official is an expert and is quoted from that point. This has no problem as far as it would be stated after a thorough investigation and study. What Al Mariam quoted was, however, the official position of Egypt, which epitomizes its national interest. Al Mariam’s double peccadillo lies here, by failing to state the counter argument of the Ethiopian side as if the country has no water experts on the area, he referred to the official position of Egypt as an expert view. Here I am forced to quote William Shakespeare, O Shame! Where is thy blush? I, as a researcher on the Nile, believe in assessing how much the dam is environmentally damaging. It is after the environmental risk assessment that the government ran to this project because it found out that the benefits outweigh the costs. What Al Mariam did was preposterous as he exaggeratedly portrayed the gloomy pictures of the dam alone, which shows the deviousness of his piece and enunciates that it is made in Egypt for Egypt.
Al Mariam in his piece attempted to be fair when he ‘discussed’ the legal dispute on the Nile for the reason that there is no way out and no one person to blame. In fact, the so-called “old agreements” (both the 1929 Agreement between Egypt and Britain and the 1959 Agreement between the Sudan and Egypt) have been contested by Ethiopia and other upstream countries. As a professional lawyer and Professor of Political Science, however, he did not give us his views except for quoting Gebretasadik Degefu’s book and stating unnamed pundits again and again. Analyzing and assessing the overall political and economic environment, it can be argued that all the so-called “old agreements” were signed between Egypt and Egypt. Because, the 1929 Agreement was between Egypt and Britain where the latter was still occupying the former with its hunger for cotton for its textile industries. The 1959 Agreement was also concluded between independent Egypt and Sudan. But the irony was because the new government in post-independent Sudan asked for fair share on the Nile it was toppled by a coup d’état and a new pro-Egypt president came to power to sign the agreement in Egypt’s favor. Nonetheless, for years Egypt and the Sudan have been trying hard to make these “agreements” binding on non-signatory and non-party states to the treaty claiming that water treaties are territorial treaties like boundary treaties, which should be inherited from colonialism. But the response from upstream states is clear. Through time they have been allying and showing their brotherhood and common interest on the Nile and their determination to change the unfair and colonially inherited pseudo-agreements. That is why the 10 year negotiation yielded the Cooperative Framework Agreement of the Nile (CFA) or the Entebbe Agreement-which nullifies so called “previous/old agreements” and declares that the Nile belongs to all the Basin countries and their peoples. This agreement is signed by all upstream countries except DR Congo, which is believed will join the club for sure. South Sudan hopefully will apply for accession to the treaty. But Egypt and Sudan have stated they will not sign the CFA due to their rigidity to control each and every drop of the Nile waters through the old bilateral and colonial “agreements.” What makes Al Mariam’s piece more Egyptian again is his comment on the new agreement-the CFA. It reads;
“This agreement allows construction of projects that do not “significantly” affect the Nile water flow. Egypt has rejected the Agreement because it necessitates renegotiation of its share of the Nile water and surrender of its veto power guaranteed under the old agreements.”
In the mentioned commentary, Al Mariam knowingly or unknowingly failed to mention the cornerstone of the CFA and focused on one principle called the no significant harm. The CFA is an agreement that rest upon the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization. Yes, for obvious reasons any water project on any of the states in the Basin should not affect the interest of the other basin states “significantly.” But whether it is international water law or politically charged negotiations, what constitutes “significant harm” is not yet clear as compared to what constitutes equitable and reasonable utilization. So the agreement gives the primacy to the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization. In fact, the evolution of international water law does indeed show that precedence is given to the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization. Nevertheless, downstream countries, mainly Egypt propagate for the “no significant harm principle” to have the upper hand in any negotiations on the Nile and they infinitely endorse it in their discussions and writings by leaving aside the most just and fair principle-the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization. That is what Al Mariam in fact did. This makes him firstly, a propagator of the national interest of a country that stands against a country where he is born and where he, in most of his writings, aspires for change and democracy. In this piece, indeed he does stand against the national interest of Ethiopia. Secondly, as professor of political science and law, he dismissed the relevance of the use of such a meaningful principle (equitable and reasonable utilization) by endorsing the no-significant harm principle. I am saying this because we must be aware of the message as discourse is constructed in such a way. For sure some Egyptian online news sources such as Bikya Masr will quote him as a professor of Ethiopia saying this and that.
From the above statement of Al Mariam there is an endorsement and recognition that he made for Egypt. For him Egypt has a share in the Nile waters, which it does not want to renegotiate. From the Ethiopian perspective there is no share of water allocated to the basin states. But Al Mariam phrases of “its [Egypt’s] share” is a tale from Egypt and by Egyptians. But his statement does not reflect a third party. He states it as if he is Egyptian and for Egypt.
“To add insult to injury, the Meles regime has the gall to say that it intends to sell the power from the “Grand Renaissance Dam” to the Sudan, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula once construction is complete. That is not only nonsensical but downright insane! Why would Egypt or the Sudan buy power from a dam that damns them by effectively reducing their water supply for agriculture and their own production of power?”
The above belittling of Al Mariam uncovers that he has no information on contemporary developments on the Nile since the establishment of the Nile Basin Initiative, or his piece is something collected from hearsay. For obvious reasons at this point I thought it would be nice for him if he did visit the cyber world to have information about some projects of the Nile Basin Initiative, at least from their website before posting this piece. The power to be produced from the Grand Renaissance Dam is for both internal consumption and for export. That is true. But the question is, however, where is the insult and where is the nonsensicality of this plan because it is stated by the government of Ethiopia that Egypt and the Sudan will buy the power generated? There is a very general plan and project to build power interconnections across the whole Nile Basin even to South Africa, which is supported by the International Financial Institutions. One of the projects of the Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program of the Nile Basin Initiative is for instance Ethiopia-Sudan Transmission Interconnection, which is a plan to provide low cost electricity to the countries. In addition to this there is a mega project on the Shared Vision Program of the Nile Basin Initiative on Regional Power Trade. Here the following is taken from the Initiatives website about this program: The Development objective of the Regional Power Trade Project (RPT) is “to facilitate the development of regional power markets among the Nile Basin countries” with the long term goal of “contributing to poverty reduction in the region by assisting the NBI countries in developing the tools for improving access to reliable, low cost, sustainably generated power”.
If riparian countries of the Nile open their eyes and develop the trust and confidence between them, the construction of the dam is a blessing for all. What is lacking in the Nile Basin today is trust as the history of the Basin is characterized by civil wars, water war bluffing, mutual intervention and mutual suspicion. These all are results of historical and political constructions since the time of the Ottoman Turks through the British then in post-colonial eras. But these constructions are to be vanquished as time goes by and what we are observing is that. Countries are negotiating on a round table and obstacle regimes like Hosni Mubarak are gone. There is opportunity to establish, enhance and cement the emerging trust between the Basin states.
Now let us be focused and see what fruits the GRD furnish Ethiopia and the downstream states that Al Mariam appeared to stand to fight for. The construction of the GRD has many benefits to downstream countries. Firstly, it will regulate water downstream and avoid catastrophic floods, especially in the Sudan. Secondly, one of the serious problems in downstream Egypt and Sudan is sedimentation and siltation in their huge dams such as the Rosaries Dam in the Sudan and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. This sedimentation is destroying their water reservoirs and water canals; as a result, the life of these infrastructures is at risk. The downstream countries need some sort of measure in upstream to mitigate the headache they have been expensively fighting by their own but which they failed to solve. The construction of the GRD then will halt the problem. Not that it will be used as a sediment warehouse but because environmental rehabilitation programs are being undertaken in upstream Ethiopia, which will significantly reduce soil erosion and sedimentation in the highlands of Ethiopia. This is a mutual benefit for all riparians of the Eastern Nile Basin directly and to Equatorial Lakes Countries indirectly. Thirdly, an outcome of the environmental protection projects to avoid sedimentation is increasing water availability. Water availability is dwindling in the Nile Basin but through cooperative environmental rehabilitation programs it can be increased through afforestation and water resource conservation. In line with this, the construction of the dam will increase water supply by eliminating the huge evaporation loss in downstream dams in an open desert in the Sahara. In other words, the dam can be served as a water tanker for Egypt and Sudan. Again what is needed is trust. During the last 14 years, the Nile Basin riparian states have come a long way in building relative confidence and trust as compared to the last century. There are positive outcomes and signals of green light to further cement the trust. This is in fact one of the achievements of the Nile Basin Initiative. Downstream states will have access to cheap energy from Ethiopia. No doubt, as compared to Egypt and Sudan, geography blessed Ethiopia with the potential of producing thousands of megawatts of electricity. The GRD is one such blessing. The World Bank through the NBI is financing some of the projects in the region knowing it benefits the whole region and the oil dependent Arabian Peninsula in the long run. Here again the benefit is mutual because Ethiopia will increase its revenue by exporting power and the buying countries will have cheap power. So where is the insult?
The Ethiopian, Al Mariam’s fear as he loudly spoke is that the GRD will significantly reduce the water reaching downstream countries Egypt and the Sudan. For sure there will be some impact until the dam is filled. There will be mechanism for that. Merowe Dam is a huge dam in the Sudan. Its construction has taken years and ithad little impact until it was filled. Furthermore, this baseless fear of Egyptians and the ‘Ethiopian’ Al Mariam is reflected by covering up the irrigation system and tradition that Egypt has kept since the Pharaohs. Egyptians practice an irrigation system that is based on flood in the dessert where precious and scarce water is extravagantly used for the production of rice and sugarcane in the desert. In my view, the construction of the dam will boost the relation of the Nile riparians, if trust and confidence is enhanced it will help the riparian states to share the benefits of the GRD in particular and the Nile waters in general. Furthermore, it should be clear that unlike Al Mariam, Egypt’s fear is not because Ethiopia is building the dam for hydroelectric power generation. In one interview Isham Qandil, Prime Minister of Egypt while he was minister of Water and Irrigation, stated that his country recognizes the energy need of the upstream countries and the construction of dams upstream. Indirectly he was mentioning that the problem is when large-scale irrigation is introduced and the waters are diverted from the natural course, which will be catastrophic. Again it is lack of trust, nothing more nothing less. But I retreat to ask Al Mariam, where is the insult and the nonsensicality?
In general terms, the rigidity of Egypt orbits around its aged stance on the so-called “old agreements” where there is no agreement with upstream countries. If the upstream countries are meant to accept these “pseudo-agreements” they have nothing left as every drop of water is shared between Egypt, Sudan and evaporation in the Sahara. What Al Mariam indirectly calling us is, to accept these “agreements” without creating facts on the ground such as water infrastructures for future unavoidable water allocation negotiations because sooner or later these “agreements” are to be replaced by the CFA. Egypt and Sudan have developed a lot and have facts on the ground to argue for in negotiations, which will weigh in negotiations.
To sum up, what Al Mariam is trying to do is to tow readers to accept that because the dam is being built during the reign of the EPRDF and the cornerstone is laid by a person he is opposed; to it is a curse and failure. As he said it is a dam of the damned. Al Mariam’s hogwash however, serves one purpose. It once again brought the true image of an ‘extremist diaspora’ and its perception of Ethiopia. For Al Mariam and the ‘extremist Diaspora’ Meles is Ethiopia and Ethiopia is Meles, EPRDF is Ethiopia and Ethiopia is EPRDF. For Al Mariam and his comrades the dam is a dam of illusion. For Al Mariam the dam is for Meles and it is for war with Egypt and total destruction. The language he used to persuade his readers is targeting Ethiopians with terrorizing effect to stop them from supporting the construction of the dam due to fear of war and destruction by a country called Egypt which Al Mariam declared the winner. This is absurd. In fact, for Al Mariam he thought he was declaring war against the late PM of Ethiopia and his mates in the EPRDF. But his spears are thrown against the dreams of poor Ethiopians. His sling is targeting those who chant and sing and pass their messages through music, tales, stories, poetry and books aspiring the damming of the Nile to quench the multitude thirsty and to feed millions who are hungry. Al Mariam`s sword is out of its scabbard targeting thousands of Ethiopians working sleeplessly in the heart of Guba shouldering the rime of the night and the humidity of the day. There are thousands who educate themselves about Abay and who dedicated their whole life to see this day come true. There are many also from the diaspora who left the fat dollars from Western universities, serving their motherland in any possible way they can. They are doing this because they have a boundary between the ruling elite in Ethiopia and their country Ethiopia. Because these people know the difference between an individual and more than 80 million people who want to see their country return to its glory. Long live Ethiopia!!
Ed’s Note: Zerihun Abebe Yigzaw is a researcher on transboundary watercourses, specially the Nile. He is currently a scholar at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. He can be reached at email@example.com.