Is the Trump Administration Violating Ethiopia’s Sovereignty?

(Courtesy Ethiopian Foreign Ministry FACEBOOK)

Is the Trump Administration Violating Ethiopia’s Sovereignty?

Lawrence Freeman

March 10, 2020

In the first week of March, representatives of President Trump’s administration presented conflicting responses on Ethiopia’s right to operate the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) for the production of electrical power for the nations of East Africa. The construction of the GERD is over 70% complete and is expected to commence operation in 2021, with a capacity to generate 6,200 megawatts of electricity.  The GERD built near the border of Sudan, will be filled by water from the Blue Nile, that flows from Lake Tana, located in the mountainous region of Ethiopia. Ethiopia cannot be deprecated for exercising its sovereign right to exploit its most important resource, water, for the benefit of its people, and neighboring African nations.

Ethiopia and the two downstream nations, Sudan and Egypt, have been involved in discussions that now primarily focus on the “fill rate”-how much water is withdrawn each year from the Blue Nile to fill the GERD’s 79 billion cubic meter reservoir. Egypt is justifiably concerned about how the reduced flow of the Blue Nile resulting from filling the reservoir will affect the level of water reaching Egypt’s High Aswan Dam.  The Blue Nile contributes 85% of the Nile’s volume of water when it joins the White Nile just north of Khartoum.

Without harming downstream nations, the GERD requires a minimal fill rate to permit the generation of electricity. Egypt, claiming that filling the GERD reservoir with water from the Blue Nile will cause hardship for its people, has made excessive demands on Ethiopia to guarantee an unreasonable allocation of the Nile’s water. This is principally an issue to be resolved by the engineers in the technical committees of the three nations.

Since December, the Trump administration has hosted, several meetings of the three nations in Washington, under the auspices of the US Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin. Secretary Mnuchin’s involvement was to be as a neutral observer, not a mediator. However, recent written and oral statements from Mnuchin, and the Treasury Department, has called into question the impartiality of the US. Retired Ambassador David Shinn’s blog of February 29, he questioned whether, the United States seems to be “putting its thumb on the scale in favor of Egypt.”

Mnuchin Not Impartial

Following the decision by the Ethiopian delegation not to participate in the February 27-28 meeting with Sudan and Egypt, Mnuchin publicly tipped his hand in favor of Egypt. In a February 28th letter, the U.S. Department of the Treasury wrote that Egypt initialed an agreement on the GERD, and instructed Ethiopia that “final testing and filling should not take place without any agreement.”  Feb 28 letter by Secretary of the Treasury on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.  The truth is, there is no existing document to be initialed or signed, because such an agreement can only come about as the fruitful result of the participation by the representatives of all three nations.  Mnuchin, has no legal or political authority to instruct Ethiopia about the functioning of the GERD.

The next day, on February 29, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rebuffed Mnuchin’s letter: “The ‘text’ reportedly initialed by the Arab Republic of Egypt in Washington D.C. is not the outcome of the negotiation or the technical and legal discussion of the three countries.” The Foreign Ministry wrote: Ethiopia as the owner of the GERD will commence first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the Dam in accordance with the principles of equitable and reasonable utilization and the causing of no significant harm as provided for under the Agreement on the Declaration of Principles (DoP).”

On March 3, testifying before the House Ways and Means committee, Mnuchin was even more blatant in his disregard for Ethiopia’s sovereignty over the GERD. Congressman Steven Horsford (D-Nev) asked Mnuchin to correct the narrative that the US is not trying to impose its will on Ethiopia and requested a balanced approach towards all the core nations involved. Mnuchin brazenly responded, “Ethiopia should not fill the dam until there is an agreement signed.” Presently, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia have not formulated any agreement to be signed. Clearly, Mnuchin has without any mandate, expanded his role as a neutral moderator to an advocate for Egypt’s position.

(Courtesy of Yale Environment 360)

State Department Doesn’t Agree

On the very same day that Mnuchin was infringing on Ethiopia’s sovereignty, another branch of the Trump administration, the U.S. State Department, had a different response to the GERD negotiations. On March 3, the Woodrow Wilson Africa Program sponsored a forum, The Trump Administration and U.S. Africa Policy: What has been accomplished and what lies ahead? The speaker was Tibor P. Nagy, Jr., Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African affairs, an experienced ambassador to Africa. I was able to question him about the US position towards Ethiopia. Specifically, I asked, since President extols national sovereignty for the U.S. and repeatedly exalts “America First,” wasn’t it a double standard to deny Ethiopia the same sovereign rights regarding the GERD? Nagy then flatly contradicted Mnuchin, when he answered, “What I can say is that the U.S. has consistently said we are neutral in that whole business.” Nagy’s boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Addis Ababa on February 18, said “A great deal of work remains, but I’m optimistic that over the coming months we can resolve this.” Clearly Nagy and Pompeo are not operating on the timetable of President Trump and Mnuchin who wanted the deal resolved by the end of February.

Sudan Differs With Egypt and Arab League

Mnuchin’s letter of February 28, implies that Sudan supported the so called agreement written without Ethiopia’s participation. Sudan in fact refused to add its initials to those of Egypt on the agreement. This indicates that it was only Egypt, just one of the three nations involved, who with Mnuchin, took this stance.

According to an article from Middle East News Agency (MENA), Sudan rejected a resolution from the Arab League supporting Egypt’s position regarding the GERD on March 5. MENA reports that Sudan, “asked not to include their name in the decision [resolution], and added that decision is not in Sudan’s interest…”   (emphasis added.) At the Arab League Summit, Sudan formally withdrew its name from the resolution criticizing Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the Arab League resolution in a strongly worded statement on March 6. They wrote, “Ethiopia expresses its profound appreciation to Sudan’s principled position that helps advance win-win solutions for all parties involved through a commitment to open dialogue. Ethiopia reiterated that it “has the right to use its Nile water resource to meet the needs of the present and future generations.” March 6 Statement on Arab League

Africa Needs Energy

Once the GERD is completed, it will have the capacity to produce 6,200 megawatts of electrical power. This will benefit not only the people of Ethiopia, but also those nations of the Horn of Africa and beyond. Sub-Saharan Africa needs energy, and lots of it-minimally 1 million additional megawatts. It is a matter of survival. Without abundant and accessible electricity, African nations will not develop, and thus be subjected to various forms of destabilization due to rising unemployment of its youth and persisting poverty. Ethiopia has taken a bold step in constructing the largest hydro-electric dam in Africa intended to develop the Nile River Basin. All existing difficulties can and must be resolved in a dialogue among the three principal nations, who share this majestic historic waterway, the birthplace of ancient civilizations.

There is no intrinsic conflict between Ethiopia and the down stream nations of Egypt and Sudan, as Sudan has already implicitly recognized.

It is appropriate here to repeat what I wrote last October: “How many years will it take to fill the GERD’s reservoir, and what will be the flow rate of the Nile at the Aswan Dam, are yet to be resolved. These are technical matters that scientists and engineers must continue to examine in an atmosphere of good will and good faith. Such cooperation is essential to promote the common interests of all nations for a prosperous Nile Basin.” Grand Renaissance Dam Essential for Africa’s Economic Growth

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

Are the US and Egypt Violating Ethiopia’s Sovereignty Over The Blue Nile?

March 2, 2020

Below Ambassador David Shinn raises the concern that the US is supporting Egypt in limiting Ethiopia’s sovereign right to to use the Grand Renaissance Dam to provide desperately needed hydro-electric power for the Horn of Africa.

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: What Role is the U.S. Playing?

Posted: 29 Feb 2020 The U.S. Department of the Treasury posted on 28 February 2020 a “Statement by the Secretary of the Treasury on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the request of President Trump has been meeting since early this year with representatives of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia in an effort to reach an agreement on the fill rate of the reservoir behind Ethiopia’s large hydropower dam on the Blue Nile River known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The dam is about 70 percent complete. The Blue Nile provides more than 50 percent of the water that eventually reaches Egypt via the Nile River. While the reservoir behind the dam is being filled, it will hold back water that would normally flow to Sudan and then Egypt. It is essential that the fill rate not harm Sudan and Egypt. But it is also essential to fill the reservoir in a manner that will allow Ethiopia to produce hydropower without unreasonable delays.

The statement by the Treasury secretary is strange in that it appreciates the readiness of Egypt to sign the U.S.-brokered agreement, which is not part of the public record, but warns Ethiopia that “final testing and filling should not take place without an agreement.” Ethiopia has not yet signaled that it is prepared to accept the agreement and, apparently, neither has Sudan. The United States seems to be putting its thumb on the scale in favor of Egypt. Perhaps it is time to make the agreement public so that everyone can see what the United States is proposing.

The fact that the U.S. Treasury Department is in charge of this effort is surprising. In any other administration, the State Department, which actually has expertise on this issue, would broker the agreement. So I wonder. What is the United States up to?

China Investing in Africa’s Future, Why Isn’t the US?

January 5, 2019

In the article below you can read about China’s strategic investment in making Djibouti’s port a major port in Africa and the Middle East. The West can criticize as much as it likes, but China, not the US and Europe, is building vitally needed infrastructure in Africa. Without infrastructure Africa will not develop and progress. U.S policy known as  “Prosper Africa” is cynical joke.

NEWS

In strategic Djibouti, a microcosm of China’s growing foothold in Africa

By Max Bearak
December 30, 2019

Excerpts:

DJIBOUTI — Above ground in this tiny but strategically located country, signs of China’s presence are everywhere.

Chinese entities have financed and built Africa’s biggest port, a railway to Ethiopia and the country’s first overseas naval base here. Under the sea, they are building a cable that will transmit data across a region that spans from Kenya to Yemen. The cable will connect to an Internet hub housing servers mostly run by China’s state-owned telecom companies.

Beijing’s extensive investments in Djibouti are a microcosm of how China has rapidly gained a strategic foothold across the continent. Western countries, including Africa’s former colonizers, for decades have used hefty aid packages to leverage trade and security deals, but Chinese-financed projects have brought huge infrastructural development in less than a generation.

The construction is fueled mostly by lending from China’s state-run banks. Spindles of Chinese-paved roads have unfurled across the continent, along with huge bridges, new airports, dams and power plants as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 152-country Belt and Road Initiative.

Overall, Chinese companies have invested twice as much money between 2014 and 2018 in African countries as American companies, spending $72.2 billion, according to an analysis by Ernst & Young.

“The Chinese are thinking far into the long-term in Djibouti and Africa in general,” said David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia who was also the State Department’s desk officer for Djibouti as far back as the late 1960s. “Djibouti is one node in an economic chain that stretches across the northern rim of the Indian Ocean, from ports in Cambodia to Sri Lanka to Pakistan. They have a grand, strategic plan. We don’t.”

In Djibouti, that strategic plan is all the more evident because of the country’s location at the entrance to the Red Sea, where about 10 percent of oil exports and 20 percent of commercial goods pass through the narrow strait right off Djibouti’s coast on their way to and from the Suez Canal.

That location has made it a crucial way-point for undersea cables, which transmit data between continents. China’s investment in Internet infrastructure here comes as the region surrounding Djibouti is just starting to come online, including some places that are entirely reliant on Djibouti as a transit point for data transmission…

“Yes, our debt to China is 71% of our GDP, but we needed that infrastructure,” Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, Djibouti’s foreign affairs minister, said in a phone interview on the sidelines of a meeting in New York earlier this month, where Djibouti was pushing to gain a non permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

“It was quite natural that we raise our partnership with China. Neither Europe nor America were ready to build the infrastructure we needed. We’re projecting our country into the future and looking after the well-being of our people. Even the United States has trillions of dollars in debt to China, you know,” Youssouf said.

The most significant investment China has made in Djibouti is Doraleh Port, Africa’s biggest and deepest. As with Internet through the data center, a full 90 percent of landlocked Ethiopia’s imports now transit Djibouti, giving the minuscule country, with a population of less than a million, leverage over its gigantic, 100-million-strong neighbor.

Read the full article