By Aklog Birara. Dr.
[ Part 3 of 8}
The Horn of Africa is one of the most coveted geopolitical spaces on earth. Today, the Horn that con- sists of Ethiopia as its primary hub, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia is the epicenter of the “new Cold War.” Egypt exploits this “war” to maintain its hegemony over the Nile in general and the Abbay River (the Blue Nile) in particular. Ethiopia challenges Egypt’s outdated and colonial orthodoxy. The two countries have been competitors since time immemorial.
Egypt intends to continue its hegemony over the Nile River through alliances and proxy wars. On July 25, 2022, Egypt Daily News reported that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and newly elected Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud “discussed GERD dispute and the Red Sea security.” At about the same time and for the first time in years, the terrorist group Al-Shabab attacked Ethiopia.
It is critical to remember as a background that Somalia is a worn-torn, broken, and fractured country that still suffers from constant atrocities by Al-Shaba. So, the question I pose is “How in the world does the President of Somalia justify siding with Egypt at a time when his own country faces constant terrorist threats from Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda and other extremist forces?”
The club of deaths and mayhem
Terrorists TPLF in the North, Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in the South and northern Shoa, the Gambella Liberation Front and the Benishangul Peoples Liberation Movement in the North-west of Ethiopia, newly minted ethnic movements like Kimant and Agew groups in the Amhara region–all in concert and separately continue — to inflict pain and suffering on innocent Ethiopian civilians, especially babies, the unborn, girls, women, and the elderly.
Egypt’s ultimate strategic objective is to keep Ethiopia lawless, insecure, fractured, and poor. The need for water is not the sole objective. Egypt has numerous alternatives such as desalination, recycling, water conservation and exploitation of its immense and untapped aquifers. Keeping Ethiopia poor and conflict-ridden assures Egypt “hegemon” over the region.
Why is Benishangul-Gumuz a focal
Wikipedia describes the strategic importance of this regional state. “It shares a border with Sudan. It was previously known as region six.” The TPLF and its allies determined that it was imperative to alienate the huge and lucrative land mass called Metekel from the Amhara region and incorporate it into the newly formed Benishangul-Gumuz regional state. The TPLF regime left Amhara Indigenous people who constitute most residents exposed and vulnerable.
“Following the adoption of the 1995 constitution, the region was created from the westernmost portion of the Gojjam province (the part north of the Abay River), and the northwestern portion of the Wellega Province (the part south of the Abay). The name of the region comes from two peoples – Berta (also called Benishangul) and Gumuz.”
Metekel is strategic in two ways a) it sits on the most fertile land masses in Ethiopia and b) it is the heart of the Blue Nile River (Abbay). “The region is home to Africa’s largest hydroelectric power project (GERD). The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) started generating electricity last month. It is situated in Metekel zone of the regional state.” The district called Dangur envelopes the former Metekel district. The TPLF, OLF and other ethnic parties alienated it from Gojjam/Amhara with the intent of a) depriving Amhara of fertile and irrigable lands and b) incapacitating Amhara from controlling the Abbay River (Blue Nile) that has enormous potential for hydroelectric generation and irrigation dams.
Intolerable killing fields and proxy
The killing fields of Ethiopia do not just happen because Ethiopians hate one another. Domestically ethnic elites and their foreign allies trigger, encourage and support these killings and displacements to
2 | THE ART OF DOMINANCE: CONSPIRACIES AND PLOTS AGAINST ETHIOPIA redress the past and re-write history. Externally, Egypt, the European Union and the United States operate with domestic operatives to exercise dominance over Ethiopia; and shape its political future. The killing fields in Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromia, northern Shoa, the Amhara region and around Addis Ababa are normalized and given legitimacy for a reason. The implicit moral arguments and justifications are that “revengeful acts” of Amhara and their likes are justified because they are intended to redress past oppression, subjugation, exploitation and “colonialism.” The most recent atrocities in Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia attest to this.
More than a hundred people have been killed by terrorists in Benishangul Gumuz. In June alone, more than 1,500 innocent civilians, most of them Amhara were slaughtered like chickens in Oromia. More than one hundred young people, most of them Amhara students were abducted by the OLA.
Behind recurrent killings and massive displacements of innocent civilians, most of them Amhara in Benishangul-Gumuz is also the intense contest for the Abbay River (the Blue Nile). Egypt contends wrongly that the GERD will deprive Egyptians and Sudanese (downstream peoples) of “Nile waters upon which they depend,” argues.” Andrew Korybko in an OPED posted on August 1, 2022. Like me, he opines that Egypt wishes to influence international public policy and pressure the UN Security Council again to justify military intervention by “weaponizing water” as a national security threat.
The late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi initiated the dam in 2011. It is important to go back and trace the genesis of the dam though. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s (GERD’s) conceptual roots and preliminary designs are traceable to Emperor Haile Selassie’s valiant efforts in the 1950s and 1960s. The US Bureau of Reclamation was instrumental in surveying the Abbay River and offering a blueprint for future development. It took several decades for Ethiopia to initiate a mammoth project that is now near completion. Although not officially confirmed, Ethiopian sources report that the third filling of the GERD has occurred. Ethiopia notified Egypt and Sudan that the third filling in process.
3 | THE ART OF DOMINANCE: CONSPIRACIES AND PLOTS AGAINST ETHIOPIA I showed in Parts one and two of this commentary that Egypt leaves no stone unturned to abort the completion of the GERD on time and to prevent Ethiopia from harnessing and utilizing its transboundary rivers and improve the livelihoods of its increasing population and accelerate the modernization of its national economy.
Therefore, President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud’s visit to Egypt is deliberate and well planned. He is part and parcel of Egypt’s proxy war, albeit on the diplomatic front. Al- Sisi’s target is to entice Mahmoud and show the international community that a key Horn of African state that is not even a member of the Nile Basin supports Egypt’s case for “a binding agreement.”
Egypt’s Daily News said “During their meeting, Presidents Al-Sisi and Mahmoud affirmed their mutual interest in advancing bilateral cooperation and working together to consolidate security and stability in the Horn of Africa. During a joint press conference, Al-Sisi said that the discussions also touched on the developments of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue, and the two sides agreed on the danger of unilateral policies when undertaking projects on transboundary rivers.”
Egypt’s misrepresentation of the facts in the DOP
The reference “on the danger of unilateral policies when undertaking projects on transboundary rivers” is laughable and indefensible. Ethiopia has consistently adhered to the principles contained in the 2015 Declaration of Principles (DOP) that Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed. Article III of the DOP: Principle Not to Cause Significant Harm requires that “The Three Countries shall take all appropriate measures to prevent the causing of significant harm in utilizing the Blue/Main Nile. Where significant harm nevertheless is caused to one of the countries, the state whose use causes such harm shall, in the absence of an agreement to such use, take all appropriate measures in consultations with the affected state to eliminate or mitigate such harm and, where appropriate, to discuss the question of compensation.”
I do not find an iota of evidence that Egypt and Sudan are “harmed or will be harmed” by the filling, operation, or management of the GERD. Independent experts, including high Sudanese officials, offer technical, scientific, and hydrological evidence that the filling and operation of the GERD will “not cause significant harm to Egypt or Sudan.” For example, former Sudanese Minister of Irrigation Osman Atum confirmed in 2021 that the second filling of the GERD “will have no adverse impact on Sudan and Egypt.” The same is true for the third filling in 2022.
Article IX of the DOP : Principle of Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity” stipulates that “The three countries shall cooperate on the basis of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, mutual benefit and good faith in order to attain optimal utilization and adequate protection of the river.”
Egypt has not even once adhered to this principle. It has failed to negotiate in good faith. In December 2020, Egypt’s strategic ally Sudan took advantage of Ethiopia’s preoccupation with the civil war
4 | THE ART OF DOMINANCE: CONSPIRACIES AND PLOTS AGAINST ETHIOPIA triggered by the TPLF and attacked Ethiopia unprovoked. It annexed Ethiopian territory that it still occupies. In my view, this unprovoked attack nullified the principle of “territorial integrity” equally supported by the Charters, covenants and agreements of the UN and African Union.
Egypt constructed the mammoth Aswan High Dam located at the northern border between Egypt and Sudan. The river Nile feeds this dam. More than 86 percent of the waters of the Nile come from Ethiopia. The Abbay River (Blue Nile) is the primary source. The construction of this massive dam that accelerated Egypt’s modernization and improved the lives of Egyptians began in 1960. It was completed in 1968.
Egypt’s strategic partner, Sudan constructed the Sennar Dam on the Blue Nile about 320 kilometers southeast of Khartoum and 270 kilometers downstream of the Roseries Dam. In contrast to Egypt, the British, colonial power at the time started construction of the Sennar Dam in 1922 and completed it in 1935. Sennar was built with two objectives in mind a) to irrigate the land area called Gezira and b) to provide electricity to Khartoum.
In terms of objective a) irrigated lands boosted the production and productivity of cash crops such as cotton, beans, and wheat. Irrigated farming improved and transformed the livelihoods of the region’s population.
In 1952, Sudan constructed the Rosieres dam named after the town with the same name located on the Blue Nile in Blue Nile State, 550 kilometers from the capital Khartoum. The intent of this dam was to store water from the Blue Nile River to use for agricultural irrigation. This dam boosted Sennar Dam’s capacity and expanded winter cash crops for the Sudanese.
Neither Egypt nor Sudan sought advice from or consulted with Ethiopia or other Black African Nile River riparian states when they constructed their dams. This is the reason Egypt’s accusation of Ethiopia that its “unilateral policies when undertaking projects on transboundary rivers” is dangerous and poses a national security threat for Egypt and Sudan is self-serving, unfair, and unjust. Ethiopia has in fact done the exact opposite. It has adhered to the spirit and essence of the DOP. It has supplied more information on the GERD than asked. It has been transparent. It has committed itself not to “cause significant harm” to Egypt and Sudan.
The joint press statement by Presidents Al-Sisi and Mahmoud “stressing the imperative of adhering to the principle of cooperation and prior consultation with the riparian countries, to ensure no harm to any of the parties involved, in line with the relevant rules of international law, and then the need to reach without delay — a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD based on the statement issued by the UN Security Council in September 2021 in order to preserve regional security and stability” is patently opportunistic. It demands that Ethiopia abandons its sovereign rights.
5 | THE ART OF DOMINANCE: CONSPIRACIES AND PLOTS AGAINST ETHIOPIA
Egypt has never ever supported “regional security and stability” about the Horn of Africa for the past one hundred years. On the contrary, it supported Somali aggression against Ethiopia during the Dergue regime. It supported and still supports liberation fronts against Ethiopia. I feel strongly that it may have emboldened Al-Shabab to attack Ethiopia. It encouraged the military government of Sudan to attack Ethiopia unprovoked. There is an allegation that it granted $28 million to President Museveni and his team for “the training of TPLF combatants against Ethiopia.”
If Egypt is committed to anti-terrorism; then it must stop its proxy wars against Ethiopia by financing, equipping, and encouraging terrorist operatives. The government of Somalia must not be charmed by Egypt in its proxy wars against Ethiopia. This will not serve Somalia’s national security interests.
Ethiopia and Somalia share common borders, trade, and security. Ethiopia and not Egypt is home for millions of Somali Ethiopians. The Somali regional state and its people are part of Ethiopia’s rich mosaic of peoples and cultures.
The menu of tools that Egypt deploys
Egypt identifies and deploys all instruments bar none to undermine peace, stability, national unity, territorial integrity, human security, sustainable and equitable development in Ethiopia.
What does Ethiopia possess that makes it a prime target for continuous and debilitating proxy wars?
For this analysis, the answer is the Blue Nile. It is Egypt’s unreasonable demand that it must exercise hegemony over the Nile River in the 21st century. It opts to do this through proxy wars.
Wikipedia defines “A proxy war to be a war fought between groups of smaller countries that each represent the interests of other larger powers and may have help and support from them. In this instance, Egypt and its numerous Ethiopia-based recruits (TPLF, OLA. Al-Shabab), regional strategic or at minimum, close friends such as NBI countries with which Egypt has signed military agreements (Uganda, Rwanda), as well as Western strategic partners (the USA and EU) operate in concert to destabilize Ethiopia through proxy wars.
Why does Egypt revert to proxy wars rather than direct attacks?
Egypt has tried to invade and control Ethiopia in the past. Its efforts failed. Public record on Wikipedia informs us that “Whilst nominally a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt had acted as a virtually independent state since Muhammad Ali’s seizure of power in 1805, eventually establishing an empire to its south in Sudan. Muhammad Ali’s grandson, Ismail Pasha, became Khedive in 1863, and sought to expand this burgeoning empire further southwards” into Sudan and sill further into Ethiopia.
6 | THE ART OF DOMINANCE: CONSPIRACIES AND PLOTS AGAINST ETHIOPIA
“After annexing Darfur in 1875, he turned his attention to Ethiopia. It was Ismail’s intention that Egypt forges a contiguous African empire that would both rival the empires of Europe and allow Egypt to escape the territorial ambitions of those same European great powers. In addition to expanding into modern-day Chad, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Uganda, he wished to absorb within his empire the entirety of the Nile Valley, including Ethiopia, the source of the Blue Nile. Whilst Ethiopia’s history mirrored that of Egypt in many respects, with both having ancient, continuous civilizations home to both Muslims and Orthodox Christians, the rapid modernization of Egypt under Muhammad Ali, and Ismail’s own enormous modernizing projects, convinced the Khedive that war with Ethiopia would result in certain Egyptian victory. Amongst Egypt’s army were many European, and American officers, whose training and experience further strengthened Ismail’s confidence.
Meanwhile, King Yohannes IV became the King of Tigray in 1872 after defeating Tekle Giyorgis II in batt- le. He worked on modernizing his army, some of whom were trained by the British adventurer John Kirkham.”
In the 19th century, Egypt fought Ethiopia 16 times and lost.
Here I would like to underscore the coalition of “European and American military officers” that Khedive Ismail assembled against Emperor Yohannes’ Ethiopian army. This army routed Egypt’s contingent supported by Europeans and Americans.”
I recall that the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi had said in response to Egyptian threats over the GERD that in the battle for the control of the Blue Nile that led to Egyptian aggression and defeat “No single Egyptian returned alive to tell the story of what happened.” It is virtually impossible for Egypt to invade and occupy Ethiopia.
This historical fact has relevance to the current proxy war. In the past as well as present Egypt conspires, plots, and executes aggression against Ethiopia in partnership with others. I underscore the fact that Egypt has never been a solo player. The two major battles Egypt and its partners fought and lost against Ethiopia illustrate this point.
- The Battle of Gundet and Ethiopian
“The Egyptians under Arakil Bey and Danish Colonel Adolph Ahrendrup invaded from their coastal possessions in Massawa, in what is now Eritrea. Following some skirmishes, the armies of Yohannes and Ismail met at Gundet on the morning of 16 November 1875. Not only were the Egyptians vastly outnumbered, but they were also taken completely by surprise as they were marching through a narrow mountain pass. The mass of Ethiopian warriors sallied forth from their hiding places up the slope and swiftly charged down upon the shocked Egyptian columns, nullifying the latter’s advantage in firepower and causing many of the unenthusiastic fellahin soldiers to rout. This encounter ended in the
7 | THE ART OF DOMINANCE: CONSPIRACIES AND PLOTS AGAINST ETHIOPIA complete annihilation of the Egyptian expeditionary force led by Colonel Arrendrup and in the death of its commander.
Arrendrup’s expedition was hopelessly inadequate for the tasks he set out to do. It amounted to scarcely more than some 4,000 troops and had no cavalry. Its leaders were, apart from the already mentioned Danish artilleryman and Major Dennison, an American, Major Durholtz, a Swiss, late of the Papal army, and Major Rushdi Bey, a Turk. Arakal Bey, the young nephew of Nubar Pasha (the Christian Armenian Premier of the Khedive) joined the expedition and was killed in battle. About two thousand Egyptians perished with him and his two six-gun batteries and six rocket stands fell into the hands of the enemy.”
Despite defeat at Gundet, Egypt did not want to abandon its aggression. “The Egyptians withdrew to Massawa on the coast and then to Keren, garrisoned since 1872 by some 1,200 Egyptians. But Ismail Pasha could not leave the matter there, it was essential to regain the lost prestige. At all costs, his European creditors had to be impressed, and he set out on mobilizing a larger force for a second expedition that would make amends for the devastating and humiliating loss he had suffered at the hands of the Ethiopians at Gundet.”
- The Battle of Gura and Ethiopian
“Following the botched invasion, the Egyptians again attempted conquest of Ethiopia, this time with an army of about 13,000 men. The forces of Ismail Pasha, now under Ratib Pasha, arrived at Massawa on 14 December 1875. By March, they had reached the plain of Gura and set up two forts, one in the Plains of Gura and the other at the Khaya Khor Mountain pass a few kilometers away. The Ethiopians, with a force of some 50,000 (of whom only about 15,000 could fight at one time due to battlefield layout engaged them on the 7 March 1875, and Ratib ordered just over 5,000 out of 7,700 men stationed at Fort Gura to leave the fort and engage the Ethiopians. This force was quickly surrounded by the Ethiopian advance guard, commanded by Ras Alula, and quickly broke. The Ethiopians then fell back, and, on the 10th of March, mounted a secondary attack on Fort Gura, which was repelled. The Ethiopian force dissolved the next day, and the devastated Egyptians soon withdrew.”
Egypt has since then ceased invading Ethiopia directly. However, it has never stopped conspiring, plotting and inciting proxy wars against Ethiopia. It gave substantial support to the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, the Oromo Liberation Front, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and numerous others. It encouraged and supported the government of Somalia to invade Ethiopia. It invited the newly elected President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a person who favors the TPLF and Egypt over Ethiopia to Cairo.
Former US Ambassador to Ethiopia Tibor Nagy is right. “Militarily, I do not think the Egyptians would be capable of going up into the Ethiopian highlands. Cairo can try! But this will be the end of negotiations
8 | THE ART OF DOMINANCE: CONSPIRACIES AND PLOTS AGAINST ETHIOPIA on the GERD forever.” They have tried and failed. Proxy war will equally prove to be a policy of another Egyptian bravado that will fail. For this, Ethiopians must overcome their ethnic divisions and stand up together as Ethiopians.
It is not hard for me to imagine who will come out victorious if the option of peaceful negotiation among the three Nile riparian nations—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan end forever. In the long term, it is Ethiopia. It is this lack of foresight and insight for a peaceful resolution of the impasse that Presidents El-Sisi and Mohamud ignored completely in their joint press statement.
On July 25, 2022, Egyptian media reported that “Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi agreed with his Somali counterpart, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the need to reach a binding deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) without delay.” They agreed that the “binding deal” on the GERD “should be based on the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) presidential statement in September last year to preserve regional security and stability.”
My take of a “binding agreement” is that Ethiopia would have to abandon its sovereign rights over Blue Nile waters and seek permission from Egypt to construct new hydropower and irrigation dams. Such an agreement will undermine Ethiopia’s national independence, sovereignty, and national security.
An ally of Egypt’s proxy war against Ethiopia, the newly elected President of Somalia, Mohamud, affirmed General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s obsessive and dangerous argument that Ethiopia’s “unilateral policies” undermine UN and international covenants and agreements on transboundary rivers. There was no reference to the Declaration of Principles (DOP) that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed in 2015 or to the impasse Egypt caused to frustrate peaceful negotiations under the auspices of the African Union or any attribution to Ethiopia’s principled and measured policy stance and or to expert opinions that there will not be “significant harm” to Egypt or Sudan or acknowledgement by the President of Somalia that the Blue Nile and the GERD are domestic and sovereign rights matters for Ethiopia.
Measured against the facts on the ground, Egypt’s bellicose attitude and militaristic approach, it is clear to me that, contrary to his predecessor, the new President of Somalia favors Egypt over Ethiopia. In fact, he favors the Arab world that supports Egypt about the GERD rather than Nile River riparian Sub-Saharan African nations that embrace the Nyerere doctrine.
Egypt’s divide and entice Black African state (s) policy and the covert actions it promotes in Africa in connection with the Nile is alive and kicking.
The third filling does not mean the end of the story.
9 | THE ART OF DOMINANCE: CONSPIRACIES AND PLOTS AGAINST ETHIOPIA
This is the reason for my argument that, despite dramatic changes in Africa and the global community (multipolar world), Egypt is still and will continue to be a mortal enemy of Ethiopia.
In summary, Egypt has a vast array of new tools. For sure Egyptian state tools and instruments of attack of Ethiopia have changed dramatically.
Egypt believes that it can weaken and fragment Ethiopia from within. This Egyptian policy entails the following and more:
- Deploy cyber-attacks on Ethiopian institutions and infrastructure.
- Spread fake news., for example, the GERD will collapse or flood Sudan.
- Entice religious frictions between and among Ethiopian Christians and Muslims.
- Flood the Ethiopian underground economy with foreign currencies in collaboration with domestic agents, profiteers, the TPLF, OLA and others, and fuel inflationary pressure.
- Identify, recruit, finance and send a broad spectrum of foreigners as tourists.
- Assign agents and hired hands specific tasks to spy or sabotage targets, monitor public sentiment, identify weaknesses, spread fake news, or recruit dependable allies.
- Elevate the narrative of irreconcilable differences among Ethiopia’s nations, nationalities, and peoples; fund, arm, finance and create national liberation fronts.
These and other Egyptian public policy instruments operate optimally when leveraged by Egypt through military agreements with the Horn of Africa and NBI countries such as Uganda and Sudan.
Part 4 of 8 will analyze the plausibility of the alleged training of thousands of TPLF combattants by Uganda.
With Justice for All and National Unity, Ethiopia Shall
August 5, 2022
110 | THE ART OF DOMINANCE: CONSPIRACIES AND PLOTS AGAINST ETHIOPIA