The Nile Runs Through It
Entehabu Berhe, July 2013
The Nile Basin continues to evolve with a
surging population and a myriad of rapidly changing ecological, climatic, economic,
social and political issues. Some believe the origins of the Arab spring may
have a lot to do with the effects of global climate change and related economic
stressors than with the police abuse and mistreatment of a street vendor in
Tunisia and how he chose to become the flame that ignited the Tunisian street
action, social unrest and eventually the Arab spring.
Experts and keen observers claim the
broader range of issues vis-à-vis both the use and the management of the Nile waters
and other shared resources of the region and the potential climate change
impacts on these resources can only be tackled within a common, comprehensive
and cooperative basin wide management framework. It is apparent that if Basin
wide needs are not clearly defined, understood and addressed within a regional
framework the existing issues can only be further exacerbated.
Many intelligent and strategic thinkers
people have provided compelling arguments that there is more to benefit from
peace, cooperation and mutual understanding. Others also concur that all
concerned should act to ensure a mutually beneficial and sustainable basin wide
Nile use arrangement in order to secure a fairer and more inclusive development
initiatives. A common strategic vision and well crafted regional long-term policy
measures can resolve existing misunderstandings and conflicts thereby
facilitating sustainable ventures, stewardship and responsible sense of
ownership, and mutually beneficial regional and continental enterprises.
The challenge before the stakeholders of
the Nile basin rests in correctly diagnosing, understanding and holistically
handling the complexities with in the Nile basin as a system and being able to
manage for a variety of concerns, needs, interests and values. In this regard the
Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) needs to be ratified by all riparian
states and supported and augmented by bringing together all stakeholders
including various levels of governments, regulators, industry and development
partners, academic and research institutions, affected communities and the rest
of the inhabitants in order to address the existing challenges and other issues
as they arise and before they become unsolvable and irreversible.
As the Egyptian spring keeps recoiling and springing
up the Nile keeps running as if it has already seen it all; had been there done
that. To the rest of the mortals in the region however the recent Egyptian developments
add an extra degree of complexity to an already complex country and its
regional and continental relationships.
So as "Tahrir 2.0" gives way to 'transition
2.0' regional stakeholders remain sympathetic but concerned. They are concerned
because of the extralegal dimensions of the change and its regional and
continental implications. Many however remain sympathetic as long as Egyptians
figure out a way of creating a pluralistic, more inclusive and responsible
democratic system of governance for their ancient nation.
Egyptians Recalculating Their Square Roots
Over the last year many Egyptians have been
disillusioned about the Morsi government’s inability to move Egypt closer to a more
inclusive democratic system of governance in accordance to the spirit and
promise of “Tahrir 1.0.” As we speak “Tahrir 2.0” has resulted in transition
2.0 throwing Egyptian republic’s much anticipated political transformation into
an elevated level of uncertainty and the country’s democratic future into
In 2011 a majority of the political players
in Egypt had agreed to establish a democratic republic but to date the task of
anchoring Egypt on a firm democratic pathway still remains uncertain. Recent
developments of “Tahrir squared” illustrate that holding or winning elections
by itself isn’t sufficient in securing and sustaining power, ushering freedom or
guaranteeing a democratic system.
Late last year many thought the abysmal
turnout, 32 % of the electorate, in the constitutional referendum was an
indication that Egyptians were resigned to an all familiar pre Morsi era
default position of the silent majority – reduced expectations. In the
referendum those who championed the new constitution, mainly the Islamist
parties, won with more than sixty percent approval.
Since then the coalition of opposition
parties continued to accuse the Morsi administration and the Moslem Brotherhood
of authoritarian tendencies, deliberate obstruction of Egypt’s democratization
and failing to resolve the dire economic conditions that continue to
disproportionately affect the poor - who constitute about half of the population
- and the lower middle class.
The administration on the other hand had
attempted to consolidate its power by imposing the views and ideologies of the
then ruling party and other Islamic parties on the political transformation of
the new republic which has exacerbated the pressure points in the system to a
breaking point and necessitated the current summer of discontent.
The people’s open and forceful challenge to
the Morsi administration has resulted in the dissolution of the new
constitution and the fall of the Morsi government. Now that the government has
been forced out of office, a year into its term in office, Mr. Morsi’s
supporters are vowing to continue to protest the Military’s intervention and
the “illegal” change of regime. They believe Mr. Morsi was democratically elected
by 51.7% of the voters and should have kept his position until the end of his
The culmination of Tahrir 2.0, assisted by
the Egyptian Armed Forces, and the removal of an elected government by a mix of
legal and extralegal means is an indication that the culture of settling
political disputes by means of the ballot and democratic mechanisms has yet to
flourish; which is increasingly becoming disconcerting and a concern to the
stability of Egypt and the wider region.
“Transition 2.0” continues to unfold but
the situation remains far from simple. Many fear the continued destabilization
and violence may send the country off the edge or significantly alter the
quality of Egypt’s political transition and final outcome.
At this point it is difficult to predict
the outcome of the spring up in the Egyptian spring with considerable degree of
certainty. The many moving parts and uncontrolled parameters that now make up
an important dimension of this transition have made it difficult for Egypt to
enhance the new image it wanted to project to the world. One thing however is clear;
the Egyptian spring has not lost its ability to recoil and rebound.
Major political changes including the
suspension of the new constitution and the installation of a care taker
government, are unfolding as part of transition 2.0 in an attempt to usher a
newer phase of social and political dynamics for the republic and its democratic
future. Over the short term the Egyptian midwife, the armed forces, has helped
deliver a clean change, the long term prospects of sustaining such a clean
transition remains to be of significant concern to close observers and many in
Many acute observers, however are convinced
that this time around Egypt’s prospects for democratic transition have
significantly been enhanced. Some are confident though the much-anticipated
political changes didn’t materialize during former President Morsi’s abridged term;
the recent developments are consistent with the demands of the majority of the
Egyptian people for a representative and democratic government. Mr. Morsi's
supporters continue to think otherwise.
Egyptians are optimistic that a return to an
authoritarian past is highly unlikely though they recognize the pitfalls
inherent in the post revolution phase, which has proven to be more challenging
The new transition road map is anticipated
to provide clearer directions for a democratic multiparty system though the
road ahead could turn out to be increasingly bumpy.
Tahrir Squared With Respect to Nile Politics
The people and government of Ethiopia are
keenly following the emergent political landscape. The people of the region are
aware that the current developments, if not handled and resolved with care, can
have major consequences for Egypt’s future political development and for peace
and democratic progress in the wider region.
The week before the removal of the Morsi
administration, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn had repeated his government’s
position that Ethiopia will continue to pursue diplomatic options to resolve
issues related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). He also indicated
that the Morsi administration had confirmed its intention to negotiate
Now that the Morsi administration is no
more the much needed sober engagement and negotiation had to be differed. Yet
opportunities are still there for the new administration of Egypt and Ethiopia
to hit the reset button on recent misunderstandings and their overall
relationship. It is high time that Egyptians start to engage all Nile
stakeholders in good faith.
So as Egypt embarks on transition 2.0 in
order to realize the objectives of “Tahrir 2.0”, by establishing a new care
taker administration that is already promising to facilitate a peaceful transition
and a path to a credible democratic system, the brotherly peoples of the Nile
Basin especially Ethiopia only wish their Egyptian neighbours success. Many Ethiopians
are looking forward to a fresh start for a respectful and mutually beneficial
Some close observers however, do not have any
illusions for the policy of subsequent Egyptian regimes with regards to the Nile
has often remained wanting. Hegemonic claims and tendencies for an exaggerated sense
of entitlement are obsolete. They stress, with respect to Abay (the Blue Nile)
the sovereign right of Ethiopia is sacrosanct; so are the rights of the rest of
the riparian states with respect to the Nile and other shred resources.
Water under the Abay Bridge
The historical tapestry of the Nile basin
countries is deep and intricately intertwined. However, the arrogance and
hubris of some Egyptian elites towards their neighbours has left a bad taste.
Such type of attitude and callous disregard if left uncontrolled and unchecked
can result in unanticipated consequences and can prove to be deeply regrettable.
Egypt can’t continue to preach and lecture
to the rest of the Nile Basin stakeholders. Usually, many in the intelligentsia
and the inhabitants of the region considered the Egyptian approach either
ill-advised, insulting or paternalistic but in the end they believed Egyptians
would come to appreciate the win-win approaches adopted by the rest of the Nile
Basin countries. However, to the dismay of the brotherly peoples of the Nile
Basin and the Horn of Africa region some in Cairo seem to be allergic to such a
Ethiopia is committed to a win-win
solution; it is time for Egypt to wake up into a new dawn and join the rest of
the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) countries for a freshly brewed premium Nile
Basin coffee as they embark on a peaceful and prosperous future for all. The
era of zero sum games and politicking must cease for the sake of all the people
of the Nile basin and the sustainability of the headwaters of the Nile and
related basin wide resources. After all there is sufficient indication that the
effects of climate change may outstrip and negatively influence the effects of
the climate of change that abounds throughout the region if not sustained by a
climate of peace, stewardship and good neighborliness.
It is time for sober reflections and
strategically considered local, regional and global win-win solutions; lest all
lose. When all is said and done, no single party can come out the “winner.”
Therefore, unless all the citizens of the Nile Basin countries are assured and
feel they have a vested interest and a responsibility in the stewardship of
their shared resources, are able to benefit from such resources fairly and
equitably and are able to earn each other’s trust, the existing problems will
only be exacerbated and cost all stakeholders of the Nile dearly. The
repercussions of all other ill-considered alternatives must be thoroughly and
soberly revaluated at each decision point.
It is often said that Egyptians sleep with
one eye open. Ethiopian’s are asking when Egyptians will start to trust their
neighbours and allow themselves to a good night’s sleep.
It seems to me it will be when Cairo stops
making mountains out of the proverbial molehills and making enemies out of
friendly neighbours and those who are aspiring for a better future for all. Pre
Transition 2.0 developments from Cairo had indicated that some elite brains may
have checked out exposing some ignorance, lack of respect and common decency
towards their “African” neighbours.
Trying to address an imaginary problem will
only make the actual problem much worse. The remedy lies in ensuring that all
concerned actually see the problem for what it really is: ignorance and its
by-products malice and greed. It is sheer ignorance to put Ethiopia as an enemy
of the brotherly people of Egypt.
Let’s break bread together not waste
precious resources and time trying to break one or the other!
Zenawi’s Concept of an Inseparable Union Still Holds
Many Ethiopians sympathize with the
concerns of downstream countries including Egypt. Any legitimate grievances can
be addressed through mature people-to-people relationships and an enlightened
diplomatic engagement. Some nationalist pundits sympathetic to Ethiopia’s
rights are calling the perceived fears of Egyptians a reflection of shameless
greed while some Egyptian zealots are gambling on the future of their
countrymen and the inhabitants of the wider Nile Basin by raising the stakes to
an “all or nothing” proposition.
The late Meles Zenawi often emphasized the
regional dimensions of the GERD and elaborated in depth on how it will benefit
and help transform the entire region by paving a way for regional
infrastructural and economic integration and a promising future and a shared
prosperity for all stakeholders. He often described the relationship between
Ethiopia and Egypt as an imperfect but inseparable union. It is imperfect
because like all close relationships it has had its challenges and continues to
suffer from time to time from issues related to mutual suspicion, lack of trust
and confidence in each partner’s commitment to the common enterprise. It is
inseparable because it cannot be wantonly dissolved; not only do the two
countries share a rich and deep history but also they remain tied by a river
that nourished human civilization and continues to sustain the people of the lower
Nile valley and the delta.
The Nile is a divine blessing to all the
inhabitants of the lands that it traverses through and can’t be exclusive to
any parcel of land or territorial construct by virtue of historical
circumstances, greed or exceptionality.
Many Ethiopians are wondering; is asking for
mutual benefit and reciprocity too much. How can a win-win solution be
considered bad ; especially considering the alternatives. Ethiopians are
convinced the only viable solutions are negotiated and mutually satisfactory
win-win solutions. Other short sighted and ill considered options will only
lead to tit-for-tat type chain reactions that would result in terrible outcomes
and repercussions for the whole region and beyond.
In Pursuit of Enlightened Self Interest
Ethiopian culture and tradition strongly
discourages public expressions of discontent in favour of mature engagement and
a "quiet diplomacy." So when some in Cairo’s corridors of power
rudely introduced themselves to the Ethiopian public by way of anger and
outrage, a showboating extravaganza and a highly disrespectful and regrettable
reality in early June many Ethiopians were rightfully offended giving rise to
serious concern of escalation in light of the uncalled for attacks on the
people and their country despite Ethiopia’s goodwill gestures and collaborative
For years some in Cairo have been
imprudently promoting military solutions to resolve ecological and economic
problems. It is high time that those who now hold the reins of power started
grasping the basic fact that they won’t be able to put a military stamp on
diplomatic impasses and everything that doesn’t pan out as per their desired
dictates or unrealistic expectations. It will only make an ecological and
economic problem into a political one.
Why are some of the leaders antagonizing
their neighbours and erstwhile benefactors from far and near?
If push comes to shove, Ethiopia is no
shrinking violet; it has already contemplated where to draw the line. However,
the people of Ethiopia and their leaders have made a strategically conscious
decision that the country would prefer to concentrate on constructive rather
than destructive relationships and engage all on common ground. This decision
is both morally and ethically justified as much as it is necessitated by more
pressing priorities such as the country’s urgent need to mitigate poverty, the
effects of underdevelopment and all their accompanying social and economic
If Egypt wants to be favourably considered
it must not be perceived as part of the problem and join the category of the
gate keepers of poverty and other less sanguine categories, in the eyes of many
Ethiopians and the larger Nile Basin community.
Egypt’s leaders need to think across the
spectrum and must not sacrifice their country’s long term interest on the
political altar. The new leaders of Egypt should be wise enough to avoid the
possibility of creating unnecessary conflict and war.
Ethiopia on the other hand had repeatedly
stated the only fight on its immediate card is the fight against poverty and
its gate keepers. If Egypt wants to assume the mantle of the leadership for
the gate keepers, then Ethiopia must face Egypt on its own terms as an enemy
state which threatens the very aspirations, sovereignty, security and
prosperity of its people and the Ethiopian state. The late Prime Minister,
Meles Zenawi, has clearly and in no uncertain terms made the point that if push
comes to shove Ethiopia will prevail not only because of the just cause it will
be fighting for but also because history witnesses that none of those who
favoured the disastrous pugilistic alternative against the people of Ethiopia
“has lived to tell the tale.”
The late Prime Minister’s warning was meant
to invoke sanity in those who maintain a constant war footing against Ethiopia,
even though Ethiopia as a responsible nation has diligently maintained a
cooperative posture and goodwill to all stakeholders including Egypt.
In light of Ethiopia's rational and
principled stance all concerned need to take some time to talk, negotiate and
negotiate again in good faith with a mutually satisfactory outcome in mind.
Putting more obstacles in the way of genuine solutions and making repeated attempts
to buy time by dragging your feet and actively manipulating the brake pedals to
stall and frustrate the process can only drain the well of the existing incredibly
limited trust and aggravate the security of the region and the already shaky
relationship between Cairo and Addis.
The recent pre transition 2.0 events from
Cairo have highlighted the contrast in approaches between Ethiopia and Egypt.
It looks like the former governments of Egypt including that of ex-President Morsi’s
had decided to carry forward all the inherited Nile Files and their mess and
decided to repackage them without any change in substance or approach.
Ethiopia on the other hand had explicitly
set out the parameters of its foreign policy on the basis of enlightened
self-interest. The policy direction is on the record and has been made clear
for all: only peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect can benefit all
mutually. The Nile issues as typified by the GERD are no different. Ethiopia
wants to benefit from its sovereign and shared resources in a responsible and
sustainable way. Ethiopia's aspirations do not in any way contravene any
riparian state's needs and development aspirations. Ethiopia continues to work
for equitable and sustainable solutions that will benefit all.
Ethiopia is also increasingly prepared to
fulfil both its continental responsibilities and its role in world affairs as a
responsible modern state, through bi lateral and multilateral relationships, the
African Union and the United Nations. So the brotherly people of Egypt and
other peoples of the lower Nile basin needn't entertain undue concern and
should restart their age old relationships.
There is a lot to be desired about the
current state of affairs. All stakeholders need to maintain an open, honest and
direct channel of communication. Many conflicts are traceable back to a lack
of communication. Communication breakdown between conflicting parties can lead
to disagreements and strong feelings such as those expressed in Cairo and elsewhere.
These breakdowns should be remedied; and many apparently insurmountable
problems can be solved with open lines of communication and goodwill from all the
inhabitants of the Nile basin and other concerned parties.