—Why Egypt must not underestimate Ethiopia—
Aklog Birara (Dr)
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” – Maya Angelou
Part IV of IV
In Part III, I discussed the counterproductive statement by the U.S. Department of State. I urged the Biden Administration to continue, in fact to strengthen its strategic relationship with Ethiopia. I shall cite six primary reasons to underpin Ethiopia’s importance for the international community:
First and foremost, for decades Ethiopia was identified by American policy and decision-makers as a pillar of stability. It is among the most significant contributors to UN and African peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Somalia, and South Sudan. Ethiopians fought side by side with Americans in the Korean Peninsula. Ethiopia is a strategic partner of the United States in the war against terrorism. Ethiopia’s huge Diaspora in the United States contributes to the American economy; and serves as a bridge to Africa.
Ethiopia does not deserve “prejudicial” treatment because it defends its national honor, dignity, sovereignty, and national security interests. A weak, polarized, fragmented, poor, and technologically backward Ethiopia is not in the interest of Western democracies. On the contrary, a unified, pluralistic, and self-reliant and resilient Ethiopia will prove to be a strategic asset.
For this reason, diplomatic relations among nations must be based on mutual respect, equitable treatment, parity, and the recognition of non-interference in the internal affairs of countries always. This is the basis for the formation of the United Nations, and the foundational principle of the Charter of the African Union.
Second, Ethiopia hosts the African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa, numerous international and regional organizations. It is a hub for all of Africa.
Third, Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa. Close to 98 percent of the Ethiopian population is under the age of 65; and the vast the majority is defined as youth. Forty percent of Ethiopians are under the age of 15. This immense human capital offers substantial investment opportunities for the United States.
Fourth, Ethiopia is among the origins of humankind. It is home to the three major faiths of this planet–Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It is endowed with a diverse population that gives Ethiopia enormous potential for creativity and innovation as well as mutual coexistence. Ethnic elites and Ethiopia’s adversaries must not use the country’s diversity to divide or to promote proxy wars by any power.
Fifth, although now stalled by the Pandemic, the war in Tigray and targeted ethnic killings in Beni-Shangul Gumuz and Oromia, Ethiopia’s development trajectory is nevertheless promising. Chinese, Turkish, Pakistani, GCC, European, American, and other investment and manufacturing firms compete in the Ethiopian market. The domestic private sector is growing faster than anyone recognizes. Private commercial banks have begun to recognize the massive unmet domestic demand for banking services in the rural sector. Telecommunication, electrification, road and rail transport, housing, urbanization, irrigated farming, etc. etc. are poised to become pillars of investment and growth.
Sixth, with peace, stability and personal security in Ethiopia—essential factors for development– the opportunities for manufacturing, agricultural intensification, modernization, diversification, and employment generation for Ethiopia’s youth are substantial. Some had opined just two years ago that Ethiopia will be the “next manufacturing hub or the next China in Africa.” This may be hyperbole, but the potential is out there.
This window of opportunity for trade and investment avails American investors options to compete and influence policy directions not only in Ethiopia, but in the entire Africa.
This March, the population of the African continent surpassed 1.3 billion. This is not just a number. I read into this number the enticing terms of African producers and consumers. Africa has huge potential. The competition for this market in the next decade will be intense. It is therefore in America’s interest to engage constructively the same way that China and others are doing.
This leads me to the second most worrisome geopolitical development in the Horn, North Africa, and the rest. I refer to the recent military or defense pact between Egypt and Sudan.
Egypt has always adhered to a militaristic posture towards Ethiopia. So, the pact is really nothing new. The timing is and the reason behind the pact informs the problem.
- a) On November 6, 2020, barely two days after the TPLF initiated selective murders of non-Tigrean-Ethiopians affiliated with Ethiopia’s Northern Command that triggered the war, Sudan took advantage of the opportunity, carried-out an unprovoked invasion in the Gondar area of Ethiopia; annexed large tracts of fertile lands; and confiscated billions of Birr of private property.
- b) According to Foreign Policy Magazine, the Sudanese military no doubt supported by Egypt and other powers inimical to Ethiopia, granted haven to the TPLF that had historically encouraged Sudanese wrongful claims that Ethiopian nationals had crossed the Sudanese border, took over Sudanese lands and violated Sudan’s sovereignty. This claim is untrue.
- c) Successive Ethiopian Governments including the current Government have never acknowledged Sudan’s unfounded claims that now encompasses what Sudan and the Arab media call “Al-Fashqa”, a land mass that is more than 100 square miles. This Arabized name does not diminish the historical fact that these annexed lands consist of indigenous names such as Bereket Legudi in Humera proper, Senar, Bahire-Selam, Abotir and Koredem Hor in Western Humera, land that is designated as One to Five in Metema as well as Quara Nefse Gebeya, all in Gondar, Ethiopia. Sudan Arabized the name to give it legitimacy and to regionalize and Arabize the matter. The bottom line is this. These are farmlands where thousands of Ethiopian farmers have lived and supported their livelihood for generations.
In my assessment, Sudan has an expansive goal. It may appear bizarre and unreal to Ethiopians. But Sudan erroneously opines that it is also entitled to the entire Beni-Shangul Gumuz region. This land mass on the Blue Nile River is where the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is located. Ethiopia, the victim of Sudanese aggression has, on the other hand, opted for a diplomatic and peaceful resolution of the border issue that has been festering for more than 100 years. Ethiopia had an obligation to at least lodge a formal complaint to the UN Security Council.
I flag these linkages so that the reader appreciates the bigger unfolding picture aimed at Ethiopia.
- d) For months, Egypt and Sudan conducted joint military exercises near Khartoum. The United States and Russia moved their war ships to the Sudan.
The target is the GERD
In my assessment, Sudanese aggression against Ethiopia in violation of the UN and AU Charters and its annexation of Ethiopian lands is causally linked to the diplomatic impasse in the tripartite negotiation concerning the GERD. Supported and encouraged by Egypt and other members of the Arab League, Sudan is implementing Egypt’s policy against Ethiopia before the second filling of the dam takes place in a few months.
- e) The Arab media wrongly claims that Sudan is the victim emanating from aggressive intrusions by Amhara Special Defense Forces, militia, bandits, and other Amhara units. Whether coincidental or not, the specific reference to Amhara Special Forces by Sudan is the same narrative as the one uttered by Secretary of State Blinken.
Both are mirror images of the TPLF narrative and its coordinated global defamation campaign against Ethiopia. To buttress and legitimize their hardline national position, Sudanese officials quoted former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who had reinforced unfounded Sudanese claims when he led Ethiopia. Hailemariam had the obligation to dismiss Sudanese propaganda by expressing a bold Ethiopian position that annexation of Ethiopian territory is not a regional or Amhara matter. It is a violation of Ethiopia’s sovereignty that affects all Ethiopians.
- f) On March 2nd, 2021, Egypt and Sudan signed a defense co-operation pact.
Why and which country is their target?
The gridlock on GERD negotiation is one of the most intractable diplomatic situations of the 21st century. Egypt and Sudan have reverted the matter to different bodies: the UN Security Council, the US Department of the Treasury and the World Bank and the African Union. Egypt now insists that the European Union, the United States, and the World Bank must be involved in GERD negotiation.
This call diminishes the status of the African Union. It says that Africans cannot resolve an African matter on their own. This is patently prejudicial and must be rejected by Black Africa.
The Nile is the only transboundary river without an Agreement among 11 riparian nations. Egypt insists on a bilateral or trilateral agreement (Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan) that still gives Egypt the lion’s share of Nile Waters, 86 percent of which is supplied by Ethiopia. Egypt insists on foreclosing Ethiopia’s sovereign rights to build more power and irrigation dams on the Blue Nile and major tributaries. It tries to impose its will on Ethiopia by insisting that it must have the right in the management and operation of the GERD. It also insists that Ethiopia must release waters to Egypt during drought and severe drought years.
These are draconian policy measures that infringe on Ethiopia’s sovereign and legitimate rights to harness its river (s) for the benefit of its 116 million citizens. Ethiopia deserves to enjoy water security, energy security, food security as much as Egypt. More than 65 million Ethiopians lack access to electricity; 100 percent of Egyptians enjoy access to electricity. Further, the GERD does not reduce the volume of water to the Nile. The bottom line is equitable use of the Nile without causing significant harm to downstream nations. This principle is a corner stone of UN transboundary water conventions, treaties, and practices that govern all other major rivers
Over the past several months, Egyptian and Sudanese Security and military chiefs have strengthened their intelligence and military preparations and agendas conducting joint war games. Their vitriols against Ethiopia are massive.
Egyptian military, intelligence and diplomatic leaders have been provocative and warmongering. This has bolstered Sudanese intrusions and incursions into Ethiopia. At the signing ceremony of the defense pact, Sudanese General Mohamed Othman Al-Hussein, Chief of staff said, “We thank our brothers from the Egyptian armed forces for their good intentions, generous assistance and their strong support to overcome the present difficulties.” It is abundantly clear that Egypt and Sudan are operating in concert.
His Egyptian counterpart, General Mohammed Farid Hegazy discussed at “length about military and security co-operation between the two countries, including intelligence gathering and of the overlap of their national security.” This means, Egypt and Sudan share identical security concerns regarding the GERD and Sudan’s invasion and land annexation.
The Egyptian General also emphasized the following point that Ethiopians and the global community must recognize as a direct threat aimed at Ethiopia. “The resources, strong will and resolve are there to implement what we have agreed on to counter any emergency situations. Egypt is ready to meet Sudan’s requests in all fields, including armament, joint training, technical support and securing joint borders.”
This is not just rhetoric. It is real. The defense pact between Egypt and Sudan signals an imminent danger for Ethiopia.
What Should Ethiopia do?
- Ethiopia must continue to adhere to its current policy stand of equitable use of the Nile.
- Ethiopians must show solidarity on the GERD as they have done; mobilize and channel funds.
- The Federal Government of Ethiopia must provide clear data and compelling information to the public as well as to the international community on all contentious geopolitical matters.
- In the end, Egypt will lose. Here is why? In the event Egypt attacks Ethiopia militarily, Ethiopia must be prepared to build numerous irrigation and power dams throughout the country. It also must make it clear to Egypt that aggression will foreclose peaceful negotiations for good.
- The Federal Government of Ethiopia has so far failed in the diplomatic and public relations front. This is the reason why the TPLF, Egypt and Sudan dominate the narrative; and why the international community follows a misguided and misinformed narrative concerning Ethiopia.
- My recommendation (if anyone is listening in Ethiopia’s Federal leadership), is for the Ethiopian Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister to reach out to and meet with movers and shakers in Washington D.C., Brussels, and other capitals soonest; and for Ethiopia’s diplomats to be proactive.
- For example, Ethiopia’s diplomats in every major capital of key countries must be much more forthcoming and engaging with major media such as CNN, Al-Jazeera, Sputnik, and others.
What Should the International Community do?
- The UN and the African Union both must diffuse the explosive situation and demand that Sudan withdraw its military forces from Ethiopia.
- Ethiopia and Sudan must set a specific timetable and demarcate their 1,000-mile border.
- The UN and the AU must urge Egypt and Sudan to stop warmongering and proxy wars against Ethiopia.
- The UN, the U.S. and the EU must cease meddling in the domestic affairs of African nations; they must always support the African Union to mediate conflicts in Africa.
- The AU must exercise leadership, elevate the debate on the GERD and convene an All-Nile Riparian nations conference with the ultimate goals of arriving at an equitable Nile River Water Sharing Agreement.
- The UN, the U.S. and the EU must demand that Egypt cease sponsoring proxy wars against Ethiopia.
- The U.S. and EU have an obligation to support the African Union in its role to resuscitate the stalled negotiations on the GERD under its current chairman, the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) and, if necessary, provide only technical assistance.
- The U.S., the EU and the UN Security Council must refrain from pressuring Ethiopia to sign a GERD agreement that undermines Ethiopia’s sovereignty and forecloses its equitable use of its rivers for the betterment of its population.
Finally, I believe given the two sets of hurdles (pressure from Western democracies and the Egypt-Sudan military pact) that I analyzed in two interrelated parts, Ethiopia’s best option is to rely heavily on the national resolve and the unity of purpose of its diverse population. This is the reason why I continue to urge all Ethiopian stakeholders to address the ethnicity and language-based constitution. It is a major source of conflict, and a hurdle to rapid, sustainable, and equitable development in Ethiopia.
Long Live Ethiopia and Long Live the Unity of the Ethiopian people.
March 13, 2021.