The hand of history is upon Meles as he talks to Egyptians
7th September 2011
When Meles the lionheart sits down for talks on the Nile with Tantawi the Sphinx later this month, he will be doing so from a position of strength and not weakness. A number of internal and external factors are believed to be responsible for Ethiopia’s foreign policy triumph towards solving the bone of contention between Addis Ababa and Cairo.
We are where we are vis a vis the Nile because we are on a stronger position, both internally and externally. The facts of today’s Ethiopia are at variance with the memory we have of our recent past. We all know, do we not, that we are now basking in a revamped union of Ethiopia, precisely because we were able to free ourselves from interminable internecine wars until we brought them to an abrupt in 1991. This emancipation, in turn, allowed us to refocus our attention to the battle against extreme poverty by making use of all our available resources. The result is there for everyone to see: an Ethiopia not only at peace with itself, but a nation on course to join the league of middle-income countries at the targeted time frame. In matters of foreign policy, too, we are at a stronger footing than where we were two decades ago. A lot of work had been carried out not only to restore Ethiopia to her pristine position in continental and international affairs but she is today the regional no-nonsense power whose views and opinions are respected by the US and Europe.
No one must be in doubt that in the long and chequered history of bilateral relations between Ethiopia and Egypt, the year 2011 constitutes an annus mirabilis – a year notable for wonders. Whoever thought, this time last year, Ethio-Egyptian relations would undergo such a volte-face that we are today talking about talks on the Nile taking place between Ethiopia and Egypt in Cairo? Or who imagined that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s speech on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone for the Grand Renaissance Dam would be such an aha moment to 84 million Ethiopians so much so that it spurred a patriotic frenzy in the public the likes of which has never been witnessed in Ethiopia since the Battle of Adwa in 1986?
Although Ethiopia, under its last Emperor and its last Comrade Chairman, had made various attempts to strike a deal with both the Upper Riparian Countries of the Nile and Egypt, a break-through became as elusive as quicksilver particularly with the then adamantine Egyptian Governments of Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. EPRDF, under Meles Zenawi, therefore, is right to bask in the good fortune which was delivered by Meles Zenawi’s latest hat trick.
It would, nonetheless, be naive to assume that the imminent talks between an Ethiopian high-powered delegation headed by Premier Meles Zenawi and an equally high-powered Egyptian delegation under Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi will be a walk through a rose garden for either side. The onus of convincing a highly skeptical Egyptian public and its tendentious media will, however, fall on Meles Zenawi. Our nation, therefore, waits with a sense of excitement, to witness Prime Minister showcasing his gift of the gab to Egyptians like never before. His sermon should be strong enough to remove the apple of discord that remains between the two otherwise fraternal peoples. The trick of the game would, therefore, be to be firm but friendly.
Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, on the other hand, must exhibit to Ethiopians Revolutionary Egypt’s willingness to listen to our concerns and to acknowledge our resolve to see to the end work on the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam over the River Nile, come hell or high-water.
Ethiopians expect from a “changed Egypt” more than the conventional welcome accorded to visiting heads of government to greet their high-powered delegation. They expect to sense that Egypt’s perceived or actual antagonism directed towards Ethiopia has gone away with Hosni Mubarak. But above all, what Tantawi cannot afford to ignore is the fact Meles Zenawi jets in to Cairo – like no other past Ethiopian leader - blessed by an overflowing mandate to deliver on his promise never to give in on our right to the water of the Nile.
The message from the people of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the brotherly people of the Arab Republic of Egypt could, therefore, not be clearer: “Let bygones be bygones and let’s all benefit from the Nile.” It’s high time, too, that hardliners within Egypt’s establishment get rid of their haughty and greedy obsession with the 1959 colonial Agreement on the River Nile. The fact that both sides have so far refrained from manifesting a “like it or lump it” attitude is a good omen for the successful completion of what in essence is talks about talks between Ethiopia and Egypt.
It is no wonder, then, that the hand of history are upon Meles as he readies himself to take part in the mother of all talks with Egyptians. Good luck Mr. Prime Minister!