United States President Donald Trump’s ‘invitation’ to Egypt to “blow up” the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is both reckless and provocative, and merits the strongest possible condemnation on two grounds. It is ethically reprehensible and against international law for a sitting American president to incite a country to attack another. Secondly, the selfish use of a pseudo-peace agreement between Israel and Sudan to shore up Trump’s re-election chances is not only despicable but also mean-spirited. It will backfire. It is delusional in the extreme to purport to make any kind of peace in the Middle East that excludes the true victims of Middle East politics, the Palestinians. Mr. Trump may humour himself all he wants but the world knows a true peace when it sees one, and what he has been peddling in recent weeks is a counterfeit.
It needs to be stated at the outset that at the instance of Egypt, the United States, along with the World Bank, was the first mediator in the dispute arising from the GERD. Ethiopia had misgivings about that choice, but went along, hoping for the best since it has had excellent relations with the US. Ethiopia developed cold feet only when the US changed from its mediation role to dictating terms. Trump’s admiration for despots and dictators are well known and clearly, he seems to have chosen to side with the Egyptian military dictator, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, a like-mind, a direct opposite of AbiyAhmed, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. And many Africans still cannot square Trump’s description of African nations as “shithole countries” with a positive attitude towards Africa. It is barely a surprise, therefore, that Trump is inciting Egypt to demolish the dam without counting the frightening costs and danger of such action.
The GERD is a hydro-electric project that consumes no water, thus it would have very little or no impact on the quantity of water available to Egypt. Even now that the first part of the reservoir has been filled by rain water in July, indeed, the Nile has had more water than usual this rainy season, so much so that thousands of square kilometres of Sudanese territory had been drowned by the overflow of the Blue Nile since August. Given Trump’s tendency not to study issues before he claims to know them better than the experts, it is likely that he does not know that the GERD will not significantly reduce the flow of the Nile waters and so would not deprive Egypt of water.
The anxiety of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan is what happens when there is a drought, which is a regular visitation in that region. The pressure on Ethiopia to commit to release a certain percentage of water from the dam during a drought is akin to asking a farmer to predict the next harvest. A dam may be able to control floods but it does not exert control over rainfall, and it appears unreasonable to insist that Ethiopia gives an undertaking about something as fickle, unpredictable and uncertain as future rainfall and the effect of a drought on the flow of the Nile.
African Union (AU) mediation panel which presently is saddled with the resolution of this issue regards the GERD as a project beneficial to the East African sub-region and the continent in general. We have no doubt that the AU under its current leader, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, is open to the contributions of all the riparian states on the management of the GERD. Countries looking up to benefiting from the 6,000 MW of electricity the dam is bound to generate include South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Tanzania, Burundi, and others. Thus, no one who thinks of Africa’s progress can ever contemplate the blowing up of the GERD.
We urge the AU tripartite negotiating panel to hasten its work and get the parties to sign an agreement and once and for all end all the dangerous speculations and death wishes of Africa’s enemies. We have faith in the fairness of African solutions to Africa’s problems. We are aware of Egypt’s misgivings about the GERD but we also know its fears would be allayed as Ethiopia is sworn to a win-win agreement. That is the only condition by which the GERD would rise as a project Africa would be proud of. A Nile Basin Development Authority should be constituted comprising all the 11 riparian states which would meet regularly to discuss issues arising from the Nile.