Op-ed: Hail Egypt! As she bids farewell to the GERD negotiations, Hail Egypt

The GERD upon completion of the fourth round filling in September 2023 (Photo: PM Office/Screenshot)

By Dejen Yemane Messele
Lecturer and PhD Candidate in Law

“For you have remained silent for long-time, relief and deliverance for Ethiopian Sovereignty has arisen from another place, Egypt.”

Addis Abeba19th December 2023, as Egypt bids farewell to the GERD negotiations, is a historic day for Ethiopia. At last, Addis Ababa seems to have beheld a decision that matches and honors Ethiopian sovereignty. In an unprecedented turn of events and to some extent in a loaded breakthrough, this momentous decision comes from Cairo. Egypt breaks the GERD standoff that has been holding the three brethren African nations back for more than a decade now. Nay, as she leaves and says goodbye to the GERD Negotiation, Egypt deserves acclamation.  People (from Ethiopia, Egypt, the Sudan) we shall praise Egypt, as she bids farewell to the GERD negotiations that should have never been started from the outset.  Hail Egypt!

Dear Ethiopia, please change a course and drop your usual mantra of ‘confidence building’ over the GERD as it does not bode well to the relationships you have with your counterparts. Hence, instead of promising Egypt and Sudan a future round(s) of negotiation(s), Ethiopia (and Sudan) should join hands with Egypt and say goodbye to the GERD negotiations. For Ethiopia, ‘looking forward to the resumption of the negotiation’ is nothing but a serious mistake that must be withdrawn sooner than later.  No, Egypt should not be accused of ‘erecting roadblocks against efforts towards convergence’, and thereby, leaving the GERD alone (but to Ethiopia). Egypt, though it comes to its senses after years of unnecessary diplomatic backtrackings and sabre-rattling, has wrinkled the roadblock and changed it to a bridge for a peaceful co-existence. Leaving the GERD to Ethiopia was the only way that could get rid of the stumbling block that stood in the inter-riparian states’ peaceful lives.   Hoping that she may not have an interest to come back to the GERD, Egypt shall be praised for choosing a rightful path by taking the GERD negotiations backward.  Only halting (further) GERD negotiations and undoing the results (including the DOP) ensued in the process can save the reproduction of unjust, inequitable, and detrimental (ab)uses of the Abay waters to Ethiopia. In this endeavor, Egypt’s recent decision to vacate the negotiation is bold as it can stop the negotiating states from marching forward but in harm’s way.

Nonetheless, while making a safe exit from the GERD negotiations, Egypt has told us that she ‘reserves [her] guaranteed right under international charters and accords to defend her water and national security if it comes under threat.’ If this alleged (internationally guaranteed) right is extant, for real, and could allow Egypt ‘defending [her] water and national security’ against Ethiopia and its sovereign right to use the Abay waters by constructing, re (filling), and administering a dam project on its territory, nobody would oppose. The truth that sets the bottom line, however, is that there is no such guaranteed right in international charters of any sort that establish and protect Egypt’s water right over a certain River. Nor does there be an internationally recognized water right that can constitute Egypt’s national security.  Needless to mention, the Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt is not an international law to support any of Egypt’s claims.

While making arguments on the existence of rights from a source of nowhere or everywhere is something that could be possible, making a statement “that [Egypt] will now closely monitor the filling and operation of the [Ethiopia’s GERD],”, however, is illegal, at worst, and self-defeating to Egypt’s safe exit of the GERD negotiation, and mars her international image, at best.

The Egyptian negotiators during the recent third round talks in Cairo (Photo: Sileshi Bekele/X)

In spite of these Egyptian caveats, Ethiopia should have started her response with thanking, if not hailing, her counterpart for the brave decision that Egypt has made on leaving the GERD alone but with Ethiopia.  This, in addition to her decrying of the ‘close monitoring’ part of the Egyptian statement, that breaks the very good news, could have closed the ill-fated GERD negotiations unequivocally but belatedly.   

Without repeating the notoriously known colonial mindset that instructs Egyptian position and objectives in the GERD negotiations, Ethiopia should have welcomed Egypt’s decision to leave the negotiations and made a positive rejoinder on the coming to an end of the GERD negotiations after ‘a million years of’ unnecessary backtracking that consumes much of the negotiating states’ energy.  Without making such a rejoinder Ethiopia cannot disassociate herself from the colonial mindset that subjected the GERD for a ludicrous and undesired international dealing that has lasted for over a decade.  It is to say bluntly that by negotiating her sovereign dam project, Ethiopia is no less colonial than Egypt. Hence, before pointing a finger to the other party that made colonial control and exploitation, the modus operandi, more than a mindset, evaluating the contribution that the victim, Ethiopia, made in the reproduction of colonial norms of control and exploitation in her disadvantage is needed. In this regard, (present day) Ethiopia becomes colonial, though against her sovereign interest, as she proffered Egypt and Sudan with venues that welcomed and empowered them to table, negotiate and continue their colonial based (ab)use of the Nile waters in the ‘post-colonial’ era.  Hence, Ethiopia, unless she now calls an end to the GERD negotiation, is no more blameless.

Now, Egypt announces its departure from the GERD negotiations, bidding farewell to Ethiopia and Sudan, who are grappling with internal civil wars. While we can only speculate about Egypt’s reasons for leaving the negotiation table, we can celebrate their decision. Egypt may believe it has achieved what it wanted from the negotiations and finds no further reward in continuing the process unless Ethiopia signs the agreement that, God forbid, would cede the Abay River to Egypt, once and for all.  Egypt, as she follows the internal dynamics unfolding in Ethiopia very attentively, may also have a plan to observe the outcomes and adjust its strategies accordingly.  Egypt might also be expecting an impromptu consent from Ethiopia’s Prime Minister to sign the deal, out of desperation.  Whatever reasons and expectations Egypt have held in mind on her decision to have left the GERD alone, Ethiopians should praise Egypt for bidding farewell to the GERD and to leave it to where it belongs.   

If a just solution for the GERD mystery is really needed by the negotiating parties, and even by the international community, there must not be another round(s) of negotiation(s). It must be told again and again that negotiation on the GERD is as fatal as any worst war could be.

What would make these pragmatic solutions that this think piece aimed to augment nothing more than a mere chimeras of an aspirant but a powerless Ethiopian soul is the bitter-truth that the ‘powerful guys’ (who are entrusted with the power to (re)direct the flows of the Abay River to any direction they pleases) have no a good track record that could hint their uses of these solutions. Hence, expecting these guys to hail and say ‘Goodbye Egypt’ is barking on the wrong tree.  Dear gentlemen, for you have remained silent for long-time, relief and deliverance for Ethiopian Sovereignty has arisen from another place, Egypt.

Whatever path the gentlemen would choose, FELLOW ETHIOPIANS, let us HAIL EGYPT.  Dear Egypt, ‘do not come again to the GERD’, even the powerful guys beg you to do so. We, powerless Ethiopians, respect your wise decision of leaving the GERD alone. In so doing, Queen of Sheba and Queen Cleopatra, as they look down on us from the gardens of heaven, may be pleased for our solidarity.  Let us not, however, forget that, as is said in Isaiah 20:5, those of us who would put much expectation on (Ethiopia) of our time to set the (colonized) Nile free from the original sin of (Egyptian) hegemonic exploitation ‘shall be afraid and ashamed’.  AS

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are that of the author only and do not reflect Addis Standard’s editorial stand on the topic.

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