17th of May 2020
H.E. Sven Jurgenson
President of the Security Council
I address Your Excellency and through you the Security Council and its members with genuine respect and cordial greetings.
I read the letter to the Security Council written by Egypt’s Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Samih Shoukry on the 1st of May 2020 regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). I am addressing this letter to Your Excellency and through you to the members of the Security Council as a concerned Ethiopian.
The Egyptian letter came as little surprise to me and to most of my compatriots. But it truly is a considerable disappointment. It is not a surprise because water is life for every nation regardless of economic or geographic differences. Therefore, I fully understand Egypt’s water needs. What is disappointing, however, is to see that Egypt has not moved an inch from its colonial mentality of imposing terms on the fellow African States.
The peoples of Ethiopia and Egypt are on a similar trajectory on population growth. Ethiopia has recently overtaken Egypt by population size but has always been behind in terms of water security. Ethiopia is a water tower of Africa with immense potential for hydroelectric generation and irrigation. But in contradiction, Ethiopia is also one of the least developed in terms of water per capita. As is well represented in Egypt’s letter and attached Memorandum to Your Excellency, 86% of the Nile waters come from Ethiopia. What is ignored in the letter is the fact that this volume amounts to more than 65% of the total groundwater of Ethiopia.
For centuries, Ethiopia has not utilized its water resource for lack of capacity and complete absence of external support; resulting in abject poverty, malnutrition, lack of energy, and potable water. This gave Egypt the illusion that the waters flowing out of Ethiopia belongs to Egypt and Ethiopia has no right to even temporarily halt let alone consume this very valuable resource. Despite the calls from Ethiopia for a negotiated and win-win agreement on communal conservation and utilization of the Nile waters, Egypt unilaterally and in utter disregard to international law, good neighborliness and mutual benefit embarked on the construction of megaprojects without consulting upstream countries least of all Ethiopia. Such projects as the Aswan High Dam, the Al Salam, and Toshka projects are built and operate on Egypt’s unilateral decision and in contravention to existing international law and practice.
It is with this background that Ethiopia, when it decided to construct the GERD, invited lower riparian states of Sudan and Egypt to the negotiating table as part of the process of correcting historical blunders committed by Egypt. The progress of the negotiations, however, has been slow and testing, not only due to the complexity of the issue but mainly due to Egypt’s “downstream exclusive rights and upstream obligations” posture. Despite the countless efforts and compromises made by Ethiopia to cajole Egypt into the truck of a win-win agreement, Egypt remains staunchly in defense of its “historic right and existing use” zero-sum game to date.
Egypt’s formula is a combination of an unjust water share deal reached with Sudan in 1959 that divided the totality of the Nile waters between the two countries, coupled with existing user rights perpetuating the injustice of robbing the nine other riparian states of their natural right to utilize these shared resources. By this so-called “historical right and existing use”, Egypt hopes that Ethiopia continues to be deprived of any consumptive use of 65% of its total freshwater. Naturally, the proposition is illegal, morally poignant, and unacceptable.
Ethiopia is aware of its obligations and very much aware of its rights under existing international legal arrangements. Ethiopia strongly believes that the future of the Nile waters and that of the region can only be ascertained through cooperative basin-wide arrangements. We see a bright future for cooperation, development, and conservation through the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) for the millions of people who call the Nile Basin home. Egypt has adamantly rejected the CFA in favor of unilateralism and violent hydro hegemony.
In its most recent attempt to continue to cling on this monopoly of the waters of the Nile, requested the Security Council to force the sovereign State of Ethiopia to sign a draft agreement that is not in the best interest of Ethiopia. Egypt also proposes that the Security Council should force Ethiopia to halt the filling of its hydroelectric dam until it signs this agreement as drafted by the United States of America. In similar logic, I am confident that the Security Council will ask why Egypt doesn’t halt all its megaprojects on the Nile until a negotiated water share deal is reached with all riparian states. All states poor or rich, small or big, weak or powerful are all equal members of the United Nations with shared obligations and rights. Egypt cannot be an exception to this rule.
Ethiopia, as the owner of the dam, has proposed an agreement to be reached on its first two years filling plan of the GERD since the more comprehensive agreement on the GERD filling and operation during the first filling agreement is reached. The international community fully understands the critical importance of the GERD to Ethiopia’s current and future development and the importance of the project for an integrated and peaceful region. Depriving the 105 million people of Ethiopia the fruit of their labor and the possibility of generating clean and affordable energy to the region would be a historic and unacceptable miscalculation.
Excellency, I urge the Security Council not to be alarmed or surprised by Egypt’s threat and blackmail on the safety and security of the people in the region until its demand is satisfied. Ethiopia has lived with worst threats, obstruction to its development, and a risk to its stability for centuries. We continue to wholeheartedly believe peace and security can be assured through dialogue, negotiations, and cooperation for mutual benefit and not through the perpetuation of ill will. I am also confident that the esteemed Security Council will recognize that the real threat to peace and security is the perpetuation of injustice and not the threat to perpetuate it.
Hoping and wishing that the wisdom of the Security Council will prevail and encourage all parties to negotiate in good faith, with the spirit African fraternity, good neighborliness, mutual benefit, and win-win cooperation I remain.