•Cairo behind violent protests, says Addis Ababa
By Emma Emeozor
Overwhelmed by waves of bloody anti-government protests across the country, the government of Ethiopia on Sunday, October 9, 2016, declared a state of emergency for six months. The state of emergency, the first time in 25 years, is to enable government to “deal with anti-peace elements that have allied with foreign forces and are jeopardising the peace and security of the country,” the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said on the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation station.
For 11 months now, the Oromo ethnic group which is also the largest ethnic group by population and land mass, has taken to street protests to force government to listen to their grievances, and seek international sympathy and support against a government they have accused of brutality and insensitivity.
In justifying the declaration of a state of emergency, the Ethiopian government said foreign forces are behind the protests. Egypt and Eritrea were specifically mentioned as culpable countries. The allegation is also coming at a time when Egypt and Ethiopia are locked in conflict over the Nile River while, on the one hand, the relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea remain frosty. Certainly, the relative peace in the Horn of Africa is under threat and the African Union must act now. There is the likelihood that with time, the aggrieved ethnic groups may align forces against government the way Ethiopian rebels aligned with Eritrean separatists against the Marxist Derg government of Mengistu Haile Mariam. But can the Horn of Africa and the African Union afford another civil war in Ethiopia? Now is the time to call all actors, local and foreign interests, to order before Ethiopia heads for another era of insurgency and the region thrown into chaos.Certainly, the twist in the crisis (the alleged involvement of Egypt and Eritrea) raises serious concerns not only for the Horn of Africa but the African Union and the international community at large.
Mixed reactions overs the declaration
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Desalegn said the state of emergency was declared because there has been “enormous” damage to property. “We put our citizens’ safety first. Besides, we want to put an end to the damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, education institutions, health centres, administration and justice buildings,” said Desalegn on the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.
He added that, “The recent developments in Ethiopia have put the integrity of the nation at risk. The state of emergency will not breach basic human rights enshrined under the Ethiopian constitution and won’t also affect diplomatic rights listed under the Vienna Convention.”
But mixed reactions immediately trailed the declaration. While government apologists justified the action, critics, particularly the Oromo, opposed it. The Washington Post quoted Abiy Chelkeba, assistant professor of law at Mekelle University, as saying, “There are sufficient grounds to declare a state of emergency in Ethiopia.” Chelkeba further buttresses his position: “The situation in many areas across the Oromia region has become so severe that law enforcement agencies themselves have become targets and were attacked with a high intensity. Moreover, the constitutional order of the country has been endangered. All in all, the value systems of the constitution, like a respect for the national flag and adherence to the governance system, are in danger.”
But the Oromo strongly disagreed. Editor of Opride, an online publication for the Oromo people, Mohammed Ademo, expressed their position. Washington-based CBC Radio quoted him as saying “this latest state of emergency declaration gives security forces leeway without incrimination.” Ademo spoke with The Current programme guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.
“Security forces now have the right to arrest anyone without warrant,” Ademo lamented. “They can shut down media. They have already cut the Internet for the past 10 days. It just means that they can kill without any question, and any accountability.” He said in the past 10 days, the situation has been “truly appalling.”
“I’ve heard from a mother who couldn’t take her sick child to a hospital and her baby died. And she couldn’t even go rally the neighbours to help her bury the body. She had to bury her dead baby alone.” According to Ademo, people even fear venturing outside after dark because they could be killed. “People are terrified.”
Major demands of the Oromos
The Oromo people’s protest is a result of 25 years of accumulated grievances. The protest started in April 2014. But the recent demonstrations witnessed the coming together of all Oromo groups after elementary and secondary school students in the small town of Ginchi (about 80 kilometres from the capital, Addis Ababa) began protesting the privatisation and confiscation of a small soccer field and the selling of a nearby forest known as Chilimoo. Meanwhile, the Oromo have been demanding a stop to a master plan that aims to expand Addis Ababa by 1.5 million hectares onto surrounding Oromo land and, therefore, the eviction of Oromo farmers, a halt to land-grabbing, corruption and violation of human rights. The Oromo also seek to achieve self-determination and sovereignty by replacing the government, dominated by the Tigrayan ethnic group, with a multi-ethnic national government.
Ethiopia, Egypt fight over Nile River
The relations between Ethiopia and Egypt became frosty after Addis Ababa planned to execute a $4.2 billion dam, 40 kilometres east of the border with Sudan. The project, known as the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam, is billed to be completed in 2017. However, Egypt has strongly opposed the project as it will divert the Blue Nile waters. Records show that 86 per cent of Egypt’s water originates in Ethiopia. Egypt says the dam project would reduce its water drastically and paralyse socio-economic activities, an argument that Addis Ababa has dismissed. Writing in the Japanese Times, Daniel Pipes, while supporting the fears of Egypt, said, “Egypt stands out as having the largest population at risk and being the country, other than Iraq and Yemen, with the most existential hydrologic problem.” This is even as Ethiopia insists that it has taken into consideration the interest of Cairo. Addis Ababa said, “The river will be slightly diverted but will then be able to follow its natural course.”
But even before Ethiopian thought of constructing the dam, there had been long-standing disagreement over who controls the Nile River. The river passes through 11 countries, with 90 per cent of its volume coming from the highlands of Ethiopia. Colonial-era treaties negotiated by the British gave Egypt and Sudan a majority share of the river. However, seven other countries through which the river flows have said the agreements were unjust and need to be torn up. Precisely, 1929 and 1959 treaties gave Egypt the power to veto projects on the Nile River. Going further, the treaties entitle Egypt to 55.5 billion cubic metres of water per year. Most of the Nile’s total flow is about 84 billion cubic metres. Ethiopia insists Egypt must the relinquish power conferred on it by the treaties. A new deal signed in 2010 by the Nile Basin countries allows them to work on river projects without the prior agreement of Cairo. Expectedly, Egypt did not sign the agreement. And here lies the dilemma.
Egypt’s clandestine plan to attack Ethiopia exposed?
Over time, diplomatic efforts to resolve the disagreement between the two countries have ended up in hiccups. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have intervened. A tripartite technical dialogue between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia has, also, been held. Yet the problem has remained unsolved due to mutual distrust as both parties are unable to walk a ‘win-win’ path. Egypt’s former President Mohammed Morsi was blunt when he commented on the Nile River crisis. Indeed, he spoke the minds of Egyptians. His words: “Egypt’s water security cannot be violated in anyway . . . we are not calling for war, but we will never permit our water security to be threatened.
“We have no objections to the development projects in the Nile Basin states, but on condition that those projects do not affect our legal and historical rights. If Egypt is the Nile’s gift, then the Nile is gift to Egypt, the lives of Egyptians are connected around it . . . as one great people. If it diminishes by one drop then our blood is the alternative.”
The war songs of Egypt over Ethiopia’s project became an open matter when in June 2013 Egyptian officials and politicians “were caught unawares on state television suggesting military action or supporting Ethiopian rebels to destabilise Ethiopia in an attempt to disrupt the building of the dam,” a report said.
Ethiopian Embassy in Nigeria comments
Is Egypt behind violent protests in Ethiopia and what prospects are there for amicable resolution of the Nile River crisis?, Daily Sun asked the Ethiopian and Egyptian embassies in Nigeria respectively to answer. Egypt Embassy did not respond. However, the Ethiopian Embassy, through its Minister Councellor, Alemu Ayele, insisted that Eritrea and Egypt were sponsoring the Oromo protesters.
Ayele gave reasons for the actions of Cairo and Asmara. According to him, Eritrea habours the fear that landlocked Ethiopia may one day invade its territory because of its (Eritrea) port. He also believes Eritrea is not comfortable with the economic progress his country has achieved. He said, for these and other reasons, Asmara is supporting armed groups in Ethiopia. He cites the example of Ginbot 7, which is operating from Eritrea. According to him, Asmara is funding and arming the group.
On Egypt’s involvement, he said “A video released showed some Egyptians in solidarity with the Oromo protesters.” He was quick to describe the protesters in the video as “terrorists.” According to him, Egypt’s state media aired a broadcast saying “the effort to support anti-peace elements in Ethiopia is becoming fruitful.” But why? Ayele said, this is because Egypt wants to secure its interest on the Blue Nile: “If there is a weak government in Ethiopia, the question of securing the Blue Nile would not be a headache for them. If the attention of the Ethiopian government is distracted from focusing on building the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam, it would give better chance for Egypt, but this is a wrong calculation for them to be supporting these groups. It is not a win-win approach at all,” he said.