Back to Front Page

Share This Article!
Danger at the Corner

Danger at the Corner

Orion 01-10-18


The Ethiopian media outlet aired two news pieces towards the end of December last year.  First it was about the visit of the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry.  The other news piece was about President Trump’s plan to declare the origin of the coffee on the basis of coffee roasters and not the producers.  Since both have significant negative implications to Ethiopia, I will put my opinion on each of them in the following.

Foreign Minister Shoukry’s Visit

The uninvited visit of the Foreign Minister has surprised Ethiopians, friends of Ethiopia including our brothers, the Sudanese.  More so, when the time was carefully chosen to precede Prime Minister Hailemariam’s forth coming visit to Cairo where he would eventually deliver a speech to the Egyptian Parliament.  Historically, Ethiopia has an open-door policy and its people are known to be one of the very few friendly and hospitable countries in the world, as such, he is most welcome often times.  My problem here is the arrogance, contempt and threat he showed to Ethiopia and the government of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s hope that Egyptian leaders would come to their senses and accept the reality on the equitable use of the Nile water is futile.  It seems to me the Greek philosopher, Herodotus’, “Egypt is the gift of the Nile”,statement has gone to their mind to the extent that it became a licenceto make them believe that the Nile is theirs and theirs only.  But Herodotus’ statement meantto describe the grandeur of the river and nothing more.  As I understand it,Herodotus only wanted to show that the Nile, so majestic, did not need to flow unused until Egypt finally used it in big time.  In reality though, the author’s quotation should have read “the Nile River is Ethiopia’s gracious gift to Egypt” so long as the water flows from Ethiopia.

When we speak of the three countries *Egypt, Ethiopia Sudan) discussions on issues around the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt sticks out as the bellicose party that makes imagined problems just to undermine the construction. It even discussed live on tele over the choices of means they had in hand to destroy the dam sometimes during the administration of its previous government.  On this issue, the population seems to be divided into three. 

1.      The first group comprises the politicians and their media spins who are die hard deniers of the reality on the ground.  It well knows that about 90% (Egypt says it is only 86%) of the volume of water that reaches Egypt originates from Ethiopia and as such, Ethiopia has, in principle, the ownership of the water irrespective of whether it put it into use in the past or not.  This group (I will use Egypt instead of group hereinafter) forwards abarrage of arguments to justify against the use of the Nile water by the upper riparian countries the main ones of which I will mention in the following.  


The 1929 and 1959 Treaties:  Egypt keeps on repeating itself empty rhetoric that Ethiopia should be governed by the Treaties of 1929 and 1959.  I for one don’t blame Egypt for the former treaty because it was not the architect of the treaty.  It was ratherits colonial power to blame.  The 1929 treaty was British’s design to extricate and siphon every drop of water from the rest of the Nile riparian countries so as to benefit itslarge-scale cotton plantation schemes in its colonial countries Egypt and Sudan that provided input to its large textile industry in the United Kingdom.  Ethiopia, at the time, was neither a colony nor a coloniser and was neither invited to the treaty nor a signatory to it. As a sovereign state, Ethiopia couldn’t have been represented by the British colonial government as the later chose to do so for its other colonies in the basin.  From Ethiopia’s point of view, therefore, the 1929 Treaty is null and void and not a concern for Ethiopia.  Ethiopia does not know or recognise this treaty that it did not agree to and sign.


The 1959 Treaty was a bilateral treaty concluded between Egypt and Sudan.  This treaty was designed by Egypt with a possible advice from Britain (because Egypt had a limited independence in 1922 but the process of this treaty started in 1954/56), its colonial master.  Ethiopia, at the time, offered its participation to the treaty but was disregarded and denied by Egypt.  Sudan at the time was the underdog and its voice of concern over the exclusion of Ethiopia from participation could not be heard.  Similar to the 1929 treaty, Ethiopia does not know or recognise the 1959 treaty as well, as such, Egypt has no right to force Ethiopia to honour something that it did not agree to, recognise or sign.  Again, from Ethiopia’s point of view, the Treaty of 1959 is null and void and not a concern for Ethiopia.  So, I say to this group in the Egyptian polity, please don’t shout and make big noise over treaties that can’t be related to Ethiopia in any form.  Those treaties are redundant, virtually useless and have no bearing for any meaningful outcome.  Save yourselves from enormous embarrassment.  The world is laughing at you and your ignorance on foreign relations, international law and international treaties.  I know Egyptians are smart people but miserably failed by revealing their stupidity with respect to their attempt to use these treaties to arm-twist and subdue Ethiopia. 


The historical use argument:  Egypt keeps lecturing Ethiopia about its unabated right to use the Nile water on the basis of historical use.  What is that supposed to mean?  Doesn't history give equal right to all parties concerned whether in the upper or lower riparian countries?Of course, it does.  Trying to understand Egypt's argument, itmeans to say that it has extensively used the Nile water to develop its agriculture for several millennia while Ethiopia did not.  Egypt prides itself of its long history going back 7000 years.  Same is true with Ethiopia's remarkable history of over 7000 years.  If Ethiopia did not exist, the Nile would not have been there.  Would it?  Similar to Egypt, Ethiopia has also historical right to use the Abay River (Abay changes its name to Blue Nile when it enters Sudan) in a manner that it chooses without requiring permission from anybody albeit without significantly harming the lower riparian countries, Egypt and Sudan.  Egypt's claim for exclusive use of the water, veto right against any and all projects on the Nile and its tributaries by upper riparian countries, and other gibberish mambo-jumbo statements, seems to me, arise from the fact that Ethiopia, for one reason or another, did not use the water in the past.  As such Egypt wants to force Ethiopia to cave in to its demands to stick to the status-quo, thereby, the latter forfeiting its historical and legal rights, as well as the right to use its God-given resources that is million times more valuable than oil.  The Gulf countries are awash with oil money only to use part of it on evil thoughts including spreading Wahabisim and financing religious terrorism.  But oil is not existential necessity.  Any country including the Gulf States can be without oil and live without wealth from it like Ethiopia is doing just now.  But nobody can live without water for more than five days.  One needs to drink water before it continues to use oil for its convenience.  That is how water is so much valuable that the Egyptians think understandit's worthbetter and the Ethiopians don't.  So,this group's argument for the status-quo to be maintained on grounds of historical rights is wrong, totally wrong.  As long as history (historical rights) treats both countries equally, then this line of argument to support Egypt's cause and selfish desire does not hold water.


Safety Concerns:  The Egyptian politicians very well know that the GERD is being built with the latest state of the art technology.   The contractor, Salini Impregilo has over 110 years of experience in the business of building infrastructures including dams all over the world.  Besides Salini, there are other international experts from about 30 countries that are involved in the construction at various professional levels.  The work is meticulously checked at all levels for its quality assurance and for adhering to the strictest international best practice standards.  Egypt has a habit of claiming that the construction is not up to the standard, that it is weak and, therefore, it has safety concerns as a result, etc.  It tries to tell Ethiopia that it knows better than the rest of the world when it comes to constructing dams.  In truth and if my information is correct, Egypt has built two hydroelectric dams only, the Aswan Low Dam and the Aswan High Dam.  Ethiopia has on the other hand constructed 13 hydroelectric dams.  By the way, these numbers don't include the other 16 dams that Ethiopia built to be used for irrigation and drinking water reservoirs.  It is self evident, therefore, that Ethiopia's experience is much wider and deeper in aspects of hydroelectric power dams than Egypt.  Therefore, if need be, it should be Ethiopia that has the moral authority to give advice to Egypt on safety matters around hydro dams and not the other way around.  Ethiopia confident as it is, has brought the technical specification of the dam to the open.  On the basis of this specification the commission of experts to which Egypt is a party has acknowledged Ethiopia's firm stance that the dam does not cause any significant harm to Egypt and the Sudan but would instead provide them with significant benefits.  The commission has also acknowledged that all the technical specifications adhere to international standards.  It further ascertained that work accomplished on the GERD so far was done accordingly. Egypt rejected it though.  It is, therefore, silly for Egypt to appoint a commission to investigate its grievances and not honour its own commission’s findings.


The population equation:  Another minor issue that Egypt advances time and again in itsbellicose attitude is its worries over food security for its sizable population.  Give me a break.  Ethiopia has also a young sizable population to worry about. Ethiopia's population is currently bigger than that of Egypt.  Given the annual rate of population growth of 2.9%, Ethiopia will have more mouth to feed than Egypt.  So, Egypt's argument using the population explosion to justify for more water is unjustified.  If itis telling us that its population is worth more than its Ethiopian peers, that is a different matter.


2.      The academics and intellectuals that are objective thinkersare in the second group.  This group knows the reality on the ground perfectly well.  It also understandsthe explanations and arguments provided by Ethiopia perfectly well.  Itis the silent supporter of Ethiopia not that it wanted to side Ethiopia or even go against its own government but only on the basis of convincing weight of Ethiopia's arguments.  Simply because itknows Ethiopia has the truth on its side.  The disconcerting truth is however, this group is not vocal and has ratherkept silent from voicing its opinion in public.


For instance, I had the opportunity of casually meeting an Egyptian professional in the area of hydrologist/water engineer at a friend's office outside Egypt back in 2000.  From what I gathered then, the young engineer seemed to be an authority in his own right when it comes to dams.  Customarily whenever I met Egyptians, what came to my mind has always been the Nile River and Egypt's sinister ploy and policy towards Ethiopia.  I should not be misunderstood though as if I hate Egyptians.  On the contrary, I love them, they are great people to be with.  I know them very well because they have been my school mates, my friends, my colleagues, my doctors, my bossesand more.  Having said that, I wouldn't trust them even for a second because experience taught me that no Egyptian mean what he/she says.  I am not alone to have this opinion.  There is even a saying that goes like "when an Egyptian speaks, don't trust what he/she says but analyse what he/she says".  Exceptions could exist though.So, my opening discussion when I encountered a male Egyptian would be like "our water has given you big asses (sorry if inappropriate) and big bellies while we, the owners, are left with skinny legs because of your governments that deny us the right to use our share of the water". 


So also, we started discussion on the Nile water issue with the Egyptian engineer who sincerely stressed on the need for cooperation of the Nile basin countries.  He blatantly said that the three countries, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan should agree to build all dams in Ethiopia instead of attempting to build in the desert countries that would only result in more waste.  By doing that and with efficient water management, they can achieve efficient use of the water resulting in more electricity, more water for irrigation and more water for drinking.  His concern was the about 10 - 12 billion m3 water lost through evaporation at the Aswan Dam that was almost equivalent to the volume Sudan used annually at the time.  Note also Sudan was not divided between South and North in 2000.  The GERD was not even conceivedin that year.  For the Egyptian polity to think like that would have been suicidal and still is.  So, there are plenty of Egyptians like him with the right mind both in Egypt and elsewhere in the world that are passively following events.  I wish their voices come out in droves and influence their government to abandon its attitude of imagining problems and bellicose policy towards Ethiopia that has but good intentions to both Egypt and the Sudan.


3.      The third group comprises the rest of society including civic societies, religious groups, tribal leaders, elderly with influence and the population at large.  The politicians in the first group target this group directly using media outlets in order to garner political and financial support.  As the great majority of the public has no correct information at all the Nile water, it tends to listen and internalise to whatever misinformation their government feeds it in that respect.  Government uses the public to rally in support of its water policies including on security issues.  The only hope for the Egyptian public awareness should come from the civic societies, religious groups and liberal media groups.  If these group could bring all facts around the treaties, the historical rights issue, the nature and purpose of the GERD as well as the good intention of Ethiopia and not nonexistent fantasy intentionsonly perceived in the minds of Egyptian politicians, it may help to influence the bellicose Egyptian politicians and media outlets to restore confidence and chose a path for cooperation and development rather than a confrontational approach.


What was the reason for the urgency for Shoukry to come when he knewthe Ethiopian Prime Minister, possibly accompanied by his Foreign Minister, would soon be in Cairo?   In the first place, Shoukry did not need to come an invited and unscheduledand offer Ethiopia a carrot and a stick.  The carrot is his government's desire to participate in investment in Ethiopia's economic development program that he talked about.  Well, it is a solemn idea, very kind of him.  Ethiopia would certainly appreciate his gesture on this issue and would reply on the affirmative.  But how much investment can Egypt provide considering the fact that itself is a poor country that can't sustain its economy without the massive financial aid from the rich Gulf States and the United States annually?The investment issue he mentioned is only a softener intended to divert the attention of Ethiopia from the big picture.  He meant, as I understood it, to invest in Ethiopia in exchange for Ethiopia to abandon the GERD project.   Even if Egypt invests billions and billions, once it sees its strategy worked, it will be at liberty to pack its investment and take it to anywhere it prefers.  But he needed to know that no amount of investment would make Ethiopia change course with respect to the GERD. The GERD and investment are two separate issues, they are mutually exclusive.  The stick is the threats, warnings and unfriendly words he uttered. “If Ethiopia does not consider Egypt's demands, it would lead both countries to a dangerous situation" is what he said (my own formulation as I understood it).  Does that danger mean war?  I don't think so!   In any case Shoukry follows the ranting of Al Sissi in spite of signing the Khartoum Cooperation Agreement and pledging at the Ethiopian parliamentary session that he understood Ethiopia’s needs and that it has no intention of harming Sudan and Egypt.

If Shoukry's trip was to talk about the GERD, certainly it was untimely and inappropriate.  There was no agenda to talk about the GERD bilaterally from the Ethiopian side.  Any discussion big or small in connection to the GERD is and will be a trilateral and should be unthinkable to talk without the participation of Sudan.  It seems to me his main aim was to split Ethiopia and Sudan on the matter.  Divide and rule, that iswhat Egypt is good at - a skill it inherited from its colonial master.  Well, I don't think FM Shoukry succeeded at that.  FM Workneh is much smarter, hard to crack and, certainly, would be able to see what is in the distance.

The other new trick the Egyptian FM brought with him was to involve the World Bank (WB) as a mediator.  It sounds funny.  Since when does the WB has a mediation function in matters of dams?  The only scenario I can think of WB taking a mediation role is if it had financed the GERD.  In spite of Ethiopia being the founding member, its repeated request at the bank for financing of development projects on the Abay River and its tributaries have all been denied and rejected in favour of the late comer, Egypt.  WB has always blindly and unconditionally sided on Egypt and refused to understand or know the reality on the ground behind each project that Ethiopia applied for financing.  The Bank simply listened to Egypt as the trusted partner of the two.  Now that Shoukry brought WB from nowhere, he must have done his homework very well.  In other words, he must have done the groundwork in hooking the WB to his side.  Unless he got assurances behind closed doors, he would not risk bring the good name of this international financial institute to the picture.  Besides, both the WB and the (International Monetary Fund (IMF) are heavily infested by a sizable number of Egyptians holding various positions and won't be difficult to imagine what they can do to help Shoukry and Sissi with respect to the GERD.

Shoukry's attempt to bring WB as a mediator should be taken as the latest of Egypt's trap, conspiracy and ploy directed at derailing the GERD.  WB refused to fiancé the project, has no say on the project and should not be allowed to finance it either no matter what.  On these grounds, mediation is neither the function of the bank nor thatthe Bank is an independent and neutral party to mediate the GERD. It seems to me that if the WB mediation Egypt proposed fails, it sees the current unrest in Ethiopia (that it has fuelled) as a golden opportunity to fulfil its grand design.  It has procured plenty of American F16s, French Dassault Rafales, Russian Sukhois, two French made Mistral helicopter carriers, two German made submarines, plenty of Russian Helicopter fighters, Russian S-300 defence systems and plenty of other modern military equipment to realise it'scrazy ambition.  It is also in the news that they have either acquired or in the process of acquiring military bases in Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan.  Its strategy seems to choke Ethiopia from all sides and thereby unleashassault on the Ethiopian air defence system and take out the air force similar to what Israel did to it in the Arab-Israel War.  In 1967, Israel totally took out the air forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria simultaneously in just one day.  It also believes that Ethiopia has either an outdated military air defence systemsor a civilian air defence air defence system that is not a match to its advance air force.  It can, of course dream, so long as dreams remain dreams.  So,the idea of WB’s involvement is unhealthy and dangerous andshould be rejected right away.  Ethiopia should stay on course and remain vigilant more than any time in its history.


Origin of Coffee

The second bomb shell that originated from the United States is the attempt to give the origin of coffee to the coffee roasters,thereby, robbing the legitimate rights of its producers.  The world knows that the United States does not produce coffee beans.  But the country has many companies that are pre-occupiedwith coffee roasting.  Let us not forget Mr Trump’s campaign pledge.  "America first"was his slogan and still is.  He pledged to his voters while campaigning that he wouldbring all companies back to the US, make it wealthier and more powerful ever using all means (emphasis mine).  Further, he pledged to the nation that he would cancel all previous trade agreements that he thinks are biased against the economic interests of the US. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that encompasses Canada, Mexico and the US is the oldest and has been working well according to Canada and Mexico.  The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that is between the US and members of the European Union countries was proposed by President Barack Obama and is a work in progress that President Trump wants to withdraw from.Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP) is also President Obama's proposed strategic economic agreement by 12 countries the United States included.  Again, President Trump has decided to withdraw US's membership while the other 11 countries have committed themselves to proceed with the pact without the US.The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  It deals with greenhouse gas emission, mitigation, adaptation and finance that would start in 2020.  It was ratified by 172 countries out of 197 thatUS wants to withdraw from. The Iran Nuclear Deal is another agreement he wanted to leave as well.  It seems to me President Trump believes that trade agreements signed by previous presidents were flawed and did not benefit the US.  So, he is determined either to rewrite the agreements in such a way that they benefit his country or to withdraw out of those agreements altogether.  Since business man Trump sees everything in terms of financial gains and profits, he wants to reset all measure international agreements (mentioned above and possibly others) in a way that would enormously benefit the US even at the cost of others.  Remember, America First is still his catch phrase. 

The reason I mention the above is to find parallel to the coffee origin directives they are talking about.  We are given to understand that the origin of coffee would be given to those who roast it and not those who produce it.  He now wants to make coffee a product of America. The coffee roasters would eventually have patent rights over something that is not theirs but because they roasted the coffee in the US.  This means that the millions of hardworking farmers in the world including in Ethiopia will have to surrender the right to roast in their countries for which they will be subject to the US Patent Law.  A coffee farmer in Harrar can’t roast his coffee and market it as "Harrar Coffee" patented product because Starbucks will have already imported Harrar coffee beans, roasted it and obtained patent of origin for it. Same with the Yirgachefie farmer, farmers in Kenya, Brazil, etc.  I am not a lawyer but this is what I understood out of all this.  This is a cleaver design by Trump, or somebody in his administration that originated the idea, to control and own the coffee producers and production in the world if the proposal is implemented.  This move is even worse than what the European colonisers did to the poor coffee producing nations of the world.  At least they had the decency not to go that far and rob the producer rights of the coffee farmers. 

Ethiopia has wide varieties and plenty of speciality coffee that would enrich her enormously.  The problem is, it has not and still is not able to capitalise its wealth through upholding strict quality control, branding and modern marketing techniques.  For instance, Jamaica produces coffee that it has branded it as "Jamaican Blue".  There is nothing special with either the taste or the colour (it is black coffee like all other coffee) compared to that of the Harrar coffee but it sells several folds higher than Harrar coffee.  It is probably the most expensive coffee beans ever.  What is worse, Ethiopia can't even control the production.  We often hear news that certain quantity of coffee disappeared from the farms, disappeared from the warehouses, etc.  Even at a time when there were relatively orderly trading patterns in the country, the late Prime Minister Meles had a go on this.  Since coffee is a national treasure, coffee farmers shouldn't be left to chance.  They ought to report about their estimated quality and quantity before harvest and actual quantity after harvest.  They should also report to whom they sold their produce so as the chain remains traceable at all times.  Responsible representatives (from the Coffee Authorities and/or Coffee Associations) should frequently visit the farms before and after harvest as well to validate the outcome.

The other measure problem is that the government often tends to believe to the farmers’ words.  It is good to trust when the farmers are trustworthy but there are some that under report their production.  For example, one farmer may have produced 100 quintals this season and would report 10 quintals only.  He/she would sell the other 90 quintalsto the smugglers who offer him higher price.  At times, he/she himself/herself would smuggle it to the neighbouring countries and get the financial reward.  It is sad that all Ethiopian export products including coffee, gold, sesame, live animals, etc. are illegally smuggled out.  The borders seem to be wide open or no borders at all.  If the Federal Government has no power over the Killils or if Human Rights mambo-jumbo is above the law, that is what will happen.  So, I am of the opinion that Ethiopia should not surrender its right over its coffee and, therefore, use its influence to convince other coffee producing countries to stop the proposed daylight robbery of the rights of producer countries as originators.


Back to Front Page