Ethio-Egypt: Beyond the Nile File
By Molla Mitiku Ayenew April 2015
The bilateral relations between Ethiopia
and Egypt should never be confined
only to the Nile file for they have
possibility to explore a huge potential for cooperation. Apart from their Nile
bond, there a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historical interconnection, this
could be a sole reason for both countries to refrain from executing any project
that could inflict any harm upon one another. In this regard, the people to
people interconnection would also play a significant role.
However, past experiences witnessed a number of ups and downs in building
a common understanding on the use of Nile Waters. Both countries failed to
build confidence on one another. There was lack of confidence and trust and suspicion
between the two countries was rife. The
problem was aggravated by the wrong path both international and national media were
following in connection to the Nile
The aforementioned problems coupled with lack of political
commitments of leadership on both sides exacerbated the misunderstanding among
the people. This led the Ethiopia people to judge Egyptians as if they
stand against development in Ethiopia.
In the same token, Egyptians to consider Ethiopians as if they have been attempting
to block the entire Nile Water and leave Egyptians in draught.
However, both reflections are erroneous resulted from lack of proper
understanding of the reality, which remained being one of the challenges for
the two countries to reach consensus.
Despite challenges like irresponsible role of media, lack of
political commitment and misapprehension to one another hindering the thriving
of good will and cooperation, the people to people relations have remained
Aregash, 29, is an Ethiopian lady living in Cairo since 2003. I talked to her on
telephone while I was in Cairo
as the schedule was a bit tight to meet her and have a face to face talk. She
said, “Here in Cairo,
I usually feel at home. I go to the church or any other place any time I want without
any fear. I along other Ethiopians living in Egypt haven’t faced any problem
even amid the cold relations between the two countries during the time of
Moursi. The Egyptian people are so kind and considerate to Ethiopians. I had
never sought that I live abroad; away from motherland for such a long period”.
As properly described by H.E. Late PM Meles Zenawi, The relation
between Egypt and Ethiopia is
like a very old marriage with no possibility of divorce. It has ups and downs
but it is very solid. There is no possibility of divorce between Egypt and Ethiopia.
Hitherto, the central
topic between Ethiopia and Egypt was the Nile. However, there are various areas that the two countries could
cooperate apart from the Nile File. However, these areas have never been
exploited so far in a way that could meaningfully help the people. One among
many others is their religious background. Ambassador
Salah Abdel Sadek, Chairman of
State Information Service of Egypt, agreed with this idea. He emphasized the
fact that Islam, the religion of the majority of Egyptians was saved by Ethiopia.
Hadn’t it been for the Ethiopian people, Islam may not survive up to these
days. On the other hand Christianity, the religion of the majority of Ethiopians,
survived due to the people of Egypt.
Both countries contributed for Islam and Christianity to exist up to date,
which really indicates how these two people have long been religiously
interconnected. This is one ground for the two countries to restrain from inflicting
any harm upon one other.
The Chairman told me
in our previous engagement that public media in Egypt
should work hard to ease conflicts and strengthen mutuality between the people
of the two countries. The media should play their proper role in creating
awareness among the two people that water is life to Egypt
as the same time electricity is life to Ethiopia.
President Abdul Fettah El-sisi while briefing Nile Basin Senior
Journalists in his office also said that nowadays there is a genuine discussion
and talks between the two countries. “We have to build the confidence on one
another. Both countries have reiterated on having continuous genuine dialogues,
which could help to strengthen the bilateral relations particularly in
connection to the Nile Water”.
However, political analysts argue that the misunderstanding on the
use of the Nile Water between the two countries hasn’t come to an end. The
people heard good news about the relations of the two countries at a time and
bad news at another time. There are
still ups and downs in ensuring genuine partnership, confidence and
This is because of the fact that Ethiopians and Egyptians
inherited from the past wrong trends. Previous Egyptian governments are used to
misleading the people that the entire Nile Water belongs to Egypt and Sudan that no other country has the
right to use the water. They propagated that
no country has the right to develop any project on the Nile
River including Ethiopia which contributes more than 85 per cent
of the Nile waters.
In the same token, previous Ethiopian governments were propagating
as if Egyptians don’t want to see the prosperity and development of Ethiopia. Moreover,
they failed to consider the case diplomatically rather they had been propagating
as if Egypt has been attempting
to jeopardize efforts to develop any project on the Nile River.
These two extremes not only impacted development in the region but
also developed abhorrence among the people. Besides, relations between the two
countries in other areas apart from the Nile Water remained handicapped in the
past. There were even no official visits between the two countries almost for
about three decades.
Thirty years later, President Abdul Fettah El sisi visited Ethiopia. Of course, this is a new beginning, a new
phase, a ray of hope for the peace loving people of Ethiopia
The visit is also believed to help diversifying
the areas of relations and integrating all sorts of potentials for mutual
Documents indicate that relations in health, education, trade and
investment, though improving from time to time, need to be strengthened. It is
time for both countries to explore all possible areas of cooperation for maximum
For instance, Ethiopia’s
trade and investment relations with other countries exceed the relation it had with
despite the huge opportunity for the two countries to intertwine in trade and
investment. Egypt’s import from Ethiopia is
minimal compared to its import from other countries.
available documents, the major import partners of Egypt
include Germany, Italy, China,
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Lebanon, United States and India. Of its national import, agricultural
produces covers 24 per cent, which mainly incorporate wheat, maize and oil
seeds. Besides, Egypt
imports 40 per cent of its beef needs to bridge the gap between domestic
production and consumption.
On the other hand, Ethiopia
has the potential to supply Egypt’s
demand in this regard as it has a huge beef resource. It is simple to integrate
this market. Egypt also imported coffee from
other countries. It is possible to strongly integrate this market as well. Egypt and Ethiopia could be economically
integrated in this regard.
Egypt produces more than
600,000 barrels of oil and exports more than 150,000 barrels per day. Ethiopia, on
the other hand, imports a large amount of oil. This market can also be
integrated for mutual benefit.
Egypt also imports
oil seed, sugar and cereal which Ethiopia
produces in a large amount so that Egypt
could import them from Ethiopia.
These are simple examples. There are lots of economic areas in which the two
countries could incorporate their markets for mutual benefit.
Egypt has well developed medical expertise and various technologies. Ethiopia
could also buy and benefit from these technologies. The two countries could, therefore, cooperate
in health and education. Egyptian Universities are internationally well known Universities.
Ethiopian students could get train in Egypt. The visit of the Egyptian president Abdul
Fettah El sisi will contribute a significant role in strengthening all these bilateral
relations apart from the Nile File.
Even in using their water resources, the two countries will develop
together if there is political commitment and goodwill. Egyptian officials
emphasized that Egypt has no
option for water; Nile is not a matter of option for Egypt. Of course, the entire life
of Egyptians depends on the Nile Waters.
On the other hand, Ethiopians should get a daily bread. The have
to use their natural resource including the Nile River
to pull their country out of the quagmire of poverty. If there are other economic integrations it is
possible for Ethiopia
to use the Nile Water only for generating hydropower using its other water
resources for its irrigation.
Ethiopia accepts that Egypt has the legitimate interests in the use of
the Nile River. It believes that any controversy
over a common resource can be settled through dialogue and equitable
utilization; restraining from causing a significant harm to one other.
It stated that the country won’t use the Grand Renaissance Dam for
irrigation rather it will use only to generate electric power. In this regard,
the two countries along with Sudan
could work in unison for mutual development. As the Ethiopian mega hydropower project
will provide electricity to Sudan
as well, they can easily expand their industries.
Late PM Melse Zenawi also said, “The utilization of the Nile Water
is not a zero sum game. It doesn’t mean if the upper riparian countries benefit,
the Sudan and Egypt
lose. It doesn’t mean if Egypt
benefit, the upper riparian countries lose. There is a win-win alternative and
the only solution to the Nile is a
win-win solution and it is not
difficult to find a win-win solution.”
Nowadays, the previous attitudes have been changing step by step.
There is a betterment of mutual understanding. Besides,
there is understanding of the impact of strengthening various areas of
cooperation apart from the Nile file. Of
course, it is now the right time for the two countries to asses various areas
of cooperation beyond the Nile file that could
help in integrating their economy. They should also work hard to strength the
people to people relations via consolidating the public diplomacy. Last but not
leas, the media in both countries should play crucial role in realizing this
new phase of relation in which the two people observe a hope of ray and
relations beyond the Nile File could be enhanced.