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 question.

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 term.

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 the region.  

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 than anticipated.

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 peacefully.

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 cooperative relationship.

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 sensible approach.

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 initiatives.

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 ills.

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.


Opinions and Views published on this site are those of the authors only! Aigaforum does not necessarily endorse them. � 2002-2019 All rights reserved.