By Wondimu Mekonnen, England UK,
Ethiopia Could become 21st Century Colony of Egypt” Rev. Jessy Jackson1
Introduction: The Blue Nile
The Blue Nile is a cause of disagreement among Egypt, The Sudan and Ethiopia. Since Egypt was the major benefactor of the Nile so far, she acts if she had a sole proprietorship over the entire River Nile. In fact, eleven countries have rights over the Nile. They are Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and Kenya.
The River Nile is made up of two rivers: The White Nile and The Blue Nile. The White Nile Starts its journey from Lake Victoria, in Tanzania, joins the Blue in Khartoum, Sudan, and travels 2,300 miles to water Egypt. The Blue Nile (Abay – ዓባይ in Amharic) starts its journey from the highland of Ethiopia, Gojjam, from a spring called Gish Abay2 (translated the Baby Blue Nile), the voluminous among sixty revers flowing into Lake Tana and flows, about 901 miles before it joins the White Nile, to form The Nile. The irony is, the Blue Nile contributes 85%3 of the water that flows into the Nile Delta, in Egypt. The Nile is really the Blue Nile.
Although there are 11 Nile Basin countries, the dispute is among the three countries: Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. History tells us that Egypt deployed her army and fought against Ethiopia from 1874 to 1876 to control the source of the Blue Nile, but was devastatingly defeated (Czeslaw, 1959) by Ethiopia. Can you believe Americans fought against Ethiopia alongside the Egyptians (ibid)? During the scramble for Africa, British colonialists’ ambition was also the capturing of the source of the Nile. They partly succeeded in subjugating four of the Nile Basin territories ruled nothing to construct on the Nile without obtaining permission from their Headquarters in Cairo. When it came to Ethiopia, however, they used their diplomatic skills to tie her down with treaties. One such treaty is the 1902 Anglo-Ethiopian treaty, whose main objectives was the demarcation of border between Ethiopia and their colony, the Sudan. However, outside the objective of the treaty, they maliciously inserted an annex which forbids Ethiopia constructing, any work across the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, or the Sobat (Baro), without the knowledge of His Britannic Majesty’s Government of the Sudan (Marcus, 1963). This has been taken as a bible verse for the Egyptians, 65 years after the last British soldier left the territory in 1956.
In 1929, Anglo-Egyptian treaty signed between Egypt and Britain on behalf of her colonies, i.e., Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Tanganika, Britain made another favour to Egypt She recognised Egypt’s historical and natural rights over the entire water of the Nile (Kimenyi and Mbaku 2015). In 1959, Egypt made a benevolent gesture to the Sudan. She allowed the Sudanese to use 18.5 billion cubic meters of 84 billion cubic meter, while it would use 55.5 billion cubic meters, accounting the rest for evaporation. The share of Ethiopia and the rest of the Nile Basin countries were totally ignored as non-existent because their god, the British said so.
However, Ethiopia never accepted any colonial treaties. As far as she is concerned the 1902 treaty was about border demarcation although Britain had maliciously inserted something unrelated to the boarder as an annex. Egypt should have learned from another similar colonial treaty of 1989 at Wuchale called Ethio-Italian Treaty. Ethiopian sooner discovered there was variations between the Italian and Amharic Translation of Article 17 which led to the Battle of Adwa. Italy lost that war.
The Egyptians knew very well that Ethiopia would not honour any colonial treaties signed behind her back but still chose to cling to it. Egypt used various tactics to prevent Ethiopia from using the water of the Blue Nile. She lobbied funders never to give any money to Ethiopia that would allow her to build any dam over the Nile. That was a successful tried and tested strategy by Egypt still working to this day. If Ethiopia gets her own capacity to build the dam with her own internal resources, Egypt threatened to take military action. At one point, President Gamal Abel Nasser of Egypt was quoted for responding to a journalist who asked him what he would do if Ethiopia built a dam over the Nile, “I will have my breakfast in Cairo and lunch in Addis Ababa.”
His Imperial Majesty Haileselassie I of Ethiopia commissioned German experts to carry out a plan and feasibility study of a great dam over the Blue Nile. He approached friendly countries for help with the plan. He could not find any one to help him fearing Egypt. Therefore, he wrote the following statement and filed it and filed together with the copy the feasibility study. “If we try to build a dam over the Blue Nile, we do not have the capacity (resources). When we asked friendly foreign countries to help us to build the dam, they were not willing to help not to offend Egypt. However, the next generation will build it with its own resources (money). Until such time, the study will be kept in safe place.” He then ordered to place an artist impression of the future dam on the currency of the country, which depicted his dream one day to become true.
Sometime in early 2011, Meles Zenawi, the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia came over the study and the words of his Imperial Majesty. Next morning, he announced his intensions on the Parliament. On 02 April 2011, Ethiopia started the construction of Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Let us look at the following facts4:
Renewable Water Resources, billion m3 /year
Water Resources per capita, billion m3 /person/year
Water Dependency, water coming from outside the country, %
The above table clearly shows nothing flows from another country into Ethiopia, while 96% of Sudanese water and 98% of the Egyptian the water, the Nile, flowed from the outside.
Let us look at another fact which may clearer the air:
Two Ethiopian adages explain this unfairness. One of them goes like: “I am denied the soft part of my own bread (በገዛ ዳቦዬን፣ ልብ ልቡን አጣሁት)” and the other goes like: “The mother of Abay (the Blue Nile) goes thirsty (የዓባይን እናት ውሀ ጠማት”). While Egypt and Sudan swim in Ethiopian waters, year in year out Ethiopia faces draught and famine. Why is that? The reason is that Egypt and Sudan had a pact that cuts out Ethiopia out of using her own rivers. Now all that is coming to end and they nervous.
At first, Egypt was not bothered too much about the construction of the GERD, because she had made sure no international funders would assist Ethiopia. She also believed Ethiopia did not have the capacity to finance such a grand dam by her own. She thought Ethiopia’s ambitious foolish dreams would never material. However, once started, Ethiopians started pulling her resources internally and from the Diaspora.
The initial plan was to complete the construction of the GERD in five years. One year later, on 20 August 2012, PM Meles Zenawi was officially declared dead. Egypt thought the dream would die with him. However, Ethiopians did not stop constructing it, though at a terribly slow pace. The corrupt officials of the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF), Meles’s own party dragged it far too long. The construction seemed to go nowhere as Egyptians predicted.
In 2018, TPLF corrupt officials lost their grip to power, following Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn resignation. Dr Abiy Ahmed the new Prime Minister became the Prime Minister. Things started moving. The new Prime Minister began stamping on the corrupt officials. TPLF officials withdraw to their ethnic enclave, to Tigray and holed there. Investigation was launched into why the construction of the dam did not go as planned. The chief engineer was mysteriously killed alleged to have committed suicide. Some corrupt high-ranking officials, including a top general were arrested while attempting to leave the country. A new project management team was brought in to run GERD construction. It progressed with a new vigour driving Egyptians crazy.
As the new reformist government started taking the GERD seriously, Egypt woke up from her hypnotic stupor superiority complex. She became extremely agitated and started running up and down like a headless chicken looking for a new weapon that would stop Ethiopia. Military threats did not work. She started diplomatic onslaught. That too did not carry her far because no one had the leash to pull Ethiopia back. She was forced to the three party the negotiation table to end her monopoly over the Nile River. She wanted to dictate her terms referring to those dead colonial treaties that Ethiopia did not care about even when they were alive and kicking. The Sudan, Egypt’s junior partner, was negotiating half-heartedly, because she knew she would benefit from the construction of the dam, in many ways. However, she did not want to offend Egypt. She knew first, the dam would save her from the annual flood that killed people and animals and destroyed crops. Secondly, she would get cheap supply of electricity. At the First Arab League on issue, Sudan stunned them taking an opposite and refused to condemn Ethiopia.
Ethiopia kept on reassuring Egypt and Sudan that the construction of the dam would not affect their water supply. However, Egypt could not just the idea of sharing the Nile with the mother of the Blue Nile. She wanted 100% of it. What an irony. A sovereign country has right to use its own natural resources without asking anyone. Water is a natural resource of the country of its origin, as much as oil is the natural resource of the country where it is found. Normally, the downstream countries pay for the usage of the water5. However, Egypt had been using this water for free for centuries. Just as much as Egypt and Sudan are not sharing their oil for free with Ethiopia, Ethiopia would have had the right to make them pay for it too. However, that was not the case. Ethiopia just wanted to have the dam, generate electricity, and bring 60% of her people out of darkness and poverty. Egypt would still get the water she needed, but greed did not let Egypt swallow these facts.
Whether Egypt likes it or not, Ethiopia was going to finish building the dam. The only way out from this quagmire for Egypt and Sudan is negotiation on the equitable use of the Blue Nile River. Not military action, no orders from USA no threats from European powers would stop Ethiopia from using her God-given water in any way she likes. No one has leash to stop the constructions the dam because Ethiopia is building it with its own children’s sweat and blood.
Egypt found sympathy in the USA who offered to mediate. Ethiopia rejected any external mediation, but the three should sit together agree on how to share the water. Somehow, when PM Abiy Ahmed went to the USA to take part on UN meeting, President Trump met him and proposed to facilitate negotiations. His country was supposed to be an observer. Well, Ethiopia agreed to that, but then Egypt wanted the lion’s share of the water as the prescribed of her former colonial masters. Ethiopia rejected that outright. The meeting ended without any solution. The USA dropped her observatory role and came up with a proposal calling back all the three to come and sign it. After all these 100 years of working with the Ethiopians, the USA did not know Ethiopia at all. Ethiopia categorically rejected the mediation of the USA. If any mediator was needed, then it had to be the African Union. That infuriated the USA. Trump with withheld some of the aid money to Ethiopia. That did not break Ethiopia either. He suggested Egypt bombed the Dam. That cost him election6.
Fast forward! A milestone on the project was achieved. Ethiopia went on to announce the first filling would take place during June/July heavy rainy season of 2020. On 26 June 2020, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia agreed to delay filling the dam for a few weeks. Nature took her own course of action before anyone could say anything. Heaven opened her gates and poured the rain over Ethiopia. On 21 July 2020, Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, announced that the first filling of the dam has been completed. The early filling of the dam was attributed to the heavy rains which had nothing to do with the Ethiopian Authorities. Egypt did not lose a drop of water she needed as result of that. Neither the Sudan lost any. To the contrary, the rain fall in Ethiopia was so heavy that Cairo was flooded. So much for the cry of lack of water in Egypt. “Mach ado about nothing”!
And yet, Egypt had been going mad for last year one year. She had enlisted the Arab league, who had no leash over Ethiopia. She had appealed several times to the Security Council but achieved nothing. She did not want the mediation of the African Union in contempt of the organisation. No power on earth would stop Ethiopia from finishing the dam and using her God given water to generate electricity power.
The second filling of the dam was fast approaching. Egypt has been crying for help. Tunisia came to her rescue7, using her position as rotating presidency of the Security Council as a non-permanent member. She unilaterally drafted a resolution to be discussed and passed at UN Security Council meeting, on 08 June 2021, supposed to prevent the second filling of the GERD. Well, even had the Security Council would have unanimously passed that resolution, it had no power prevent the filling of the dam. Nature once more pre-empted them. Once more, one day before the UN Security Council came to sit to discuss Tunisian resolution, on 07 July, heaven opened her gets again and started filling of the dam without asking anyone’s permission. It is a rainy season. Rain is falling everywhere in Ethiopia. It continues at the rate is raining now the second filling would soon be over.
However, these days there is a military action talk on the corridors of Egyptian authorities, after failing to gain Security Council Resolution and ordered the parties to the negotiant table at the mediation of African Union. Bad idea.
Egypt should realise that Ethiopia has no control over the nature. All she had done was constructing the dam, waiting for the rain. Here we go again. Sudan was flooded the other day. Egypt is getting its water. “Much ado about nothing!”
Conclusion and Recommendation to Egypt and Sudan.
Egypt needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Ethiopia does not mean to harm her neighbours. Therefore, cooperation and not confrontation solves her problem. All Egypt and Sudan need to do is to sit together with Ethiopia and discuss about it.
There is a more pressing issue that is threatening to dry up the Nile. Unless Egypt and Sudan and all friendly international nations cooperate with Ethiopia, there will be no Blue Nile water or the Nile Perch soon. Lake Tana, from where the Blue Nile gets its largest proportion of the water has been invaded by an alien weed, God knows where it came from! It is called water Hyacinth (እምቦጭ), an invasive weed posing a grave threat to Lake Tana. While Egypt and the Sudan are running on the corridors of USA, UK, European Union, Arab League and United Nations, to stop the construction of the GERD, Ethiopians have been fighting alone to combat the weed for the last four years. Where are those who care about the Nile? Just like our government is trying to construct the dam alone, the nation is battling alone against the weed that is threatening to dry up Lake Tana. No lake Tana means no Blue Nile. No Blue Nile means no Nile at all. If we fail defeating the weed, it is not the dam that is going to deny water to Egypt, but it would be the invasive alien weed.
If Ethiopia loses the battle, against the weed, at least she has other rivers to live on. Egyptians and the Sudanese are the big-time losers. Therefore, attention should be diverted from fighting against the construction of the dam, to battle against the weed.
This dam is meant beneficial not just for Ethiopia alone, but also for Sudan, Egypt, and neighbouring countries as it is going to regulate the environment and the flow of the unruly Blue Nile water. Experts and scientists8 predict that if the dam is completed with the help and cooperation of countries, it would be capable of handling a flood of 19,370 cubic metres per second, would also reduce alluvium in Sudan by 100 million cubic metres facilitating irrigation of around 500,000 hectors of new agricultural lands. It is also expected to reduce 40km of flooding in Sudan, upon its completion. So, while the benefits outweigh the cost, why not join it, rather crying wolf! “If you don’t beat them, join them”.
- Jesman, Czeslaw (January 1959). “Egyptian Invasion of Ethiopia”. African Affairs. Oxford University Press. 58 (230): 75–81. JSTOR 718057
- Marcus, Harold G: (1963) “A Background to Direct British Diplomatic involvement in Ethiopia 1894 – 1896”, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Volume 1, No 2, pp 121-132.
- Kimenyi, Mwangi S and John Mukum Mbaku. (2015) The Limits of the New Nile Agreement. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2015/04/28/the-limits-of-the-new-nile-agreement/ (Accessed: 11 July 2021)