If you notice, most fires of war are fueled by those who would not be burned by it. To them, it is just like a movie, you cheer one side against the other and no matter who wins, you forget about it the moment you see another movie. The violence in movies is make-believe, the people who die actually never do, therefore, producers include gruesome violence to satisfy the viewers. However, in actual wars people die, properties are destroyed and families fall apart. It is unlike the fake wars of pyrotechnics that actors fight, earn millions, and laugh about it.
Most Eritreans and Ethiopians would remember the time between 1998-2000 when a few pretend knights sat around a table in a coffee shops, analyzing battles on tissue papers. They were busy drawing attack lines and cordons around dots representing enemy forces, that they would finally decimate by drawing arrows and star-burst signs. At the end, the tissue-and-pen generals who led armies sitting at a coffee shop declared victories, while at the battlefront, people were being killed and mutilated. Thus the agitators planned and waged wars from safe places, thousands of miles away.
I came to America in the middle of that despicable border war and I was shocked by what I found–many people getting a kick out of the gruesome war. Where are they now? Did they lose anything at all? Nothing. Those who were young now probably have children going to schools; those who already had children, probably danced at their children’s weddings, and the children are most probably working and earning–the agitators of yesteryears are peacefully retired in the West. Mind you, those were the warmongers who made me enemy number one for opposing the war.
The casualties of the war are remembered by their families, while the pen-and-tissue generals never remember the unlucky who lost their lives in that ugly war. At the end, all the blood was shed to satiate the egos of monsters. Worse, some are still at it, cheering the PFDJ government to continue tormenting Eritreans. And we know most of them in the Diaspora. Unfortunately, over ten-years later, Eritrea is suffering from the repercussions of that war that is still damaging our region.
The Nile Card
To the hyper-nationalists, both Ethiopians and Egyptians (and some Eritreans included), the political squabble over the Nile is another opportunity for a pastime, for an ego-massaging, when they should know better.
Though there were occasional outbursts and bravado, so far the Ethiopian government has generally been cautious in making official statements; the attitude of the Egyptian professional politicians is disappointing except for some level-headed people.
It is important to remember that the Nile is not a local stream; there are laws that govern the use of international rivers. Ethiopia has the right to use the river to develop its territories just like any other Nile Basin country. If successfully completed, the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is an ambitious project that would contribute to developing Ethiopia. The right of Ethiopians to benefit from the Nile is natural and it should be supported.
On the other hand, no one should question Egypt’s right to use the resources of the river, and it does; it has been using it extensively since creation. And in modern times, since 1964 when it built the Aswan dam which irrigates millions of hectares of farmlands and produces over 2 Gigawatts of electricity. No doubt the Nile is the lifeline of Egypt. If Ethiopia would unilaterally block the river (which it can’t do legally and technically), or drastically decrease its flow in a way that would have adverse effects on Egypt, I will support Egyptians in their outrage. But that is not the case here. Actually the Nile water is not the case, because properly managed, it is enough to contribute towards the development of the entire region and would alleviate food-shortage in the famine-prone Horn of Africa.
Egyptian chauvinism worsened after Sadat came to power and since then, Egyptians act as if they are the sole holders of the title to the Nile River. They forget there are immediate stakeholders to it: Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda–with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea as observers. Ethiopian chauvinists also act as if they are the sole owners of the river, and as if the river has a tap they can shut at will. Chauvinists and bigots from both countries (and others) should be shamed and challenged.
In my opinion though, Eritrea and Congo have nothing to do with the issue. They can go ahead and use all the water that is produced in their territories before it reaches the Nile–I don’t think it would make that much of a difference to the volume of the Nile. That would help, particularly Eritrea, to use the water more productively. We are now left with the real stakeholders of the Nile: Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt.
In a brief interview with an Egyptian journalist, president Museveni of Uganda stated:[i] After he took power in 1952, Gemal AbdulNasser started to support all the liberation struggles in Africa, and they all established offices in Egypt, therefore, the National Ugandan council was among those who had an office in Cairo. He said, “There were other offices, from Zambia and South Africa, all of them were there.” Then commenting on Egyptian relations with the rest of Africa, Museveni said, “I told the current president [Mursi], there was no Pharaoh, Turks, or the family of Mohammed Ali [Egyptian rulers] who ever visited the source of the Nile.”
President Museveni mentioned how the ex UN Secretary General, Butros Ghali, wasted his time when Uganda wanted to build power generating capacities on the White Nile. Butros Ghali said that “Egypt will be affected.” But Museveni had an environmental argument: if Ugandans (and others) do not find energy in the form of electricity, they will cut the trees to use as fuel and that would interfere with rain in the region and the Nile would be affected. Therefore, it is in the interest of Egypt to have power generating capacities in the upper Nile region.
Uganda needs to be helped to build dams to generate power.
When I interviewed the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (April 13, 2011) this is what he said:[ii] …debate on distribution of The Nile issue, was really a bogus issue… because if you were to treat the Nile basin–and the most sensitive part of the Nile basin is the so-called eastern Nile, the Nile that goes from Ethiopia to Sudan and Egypt–because 85% of the water that goes to Aswan comes from Ethiopia. This part of the water, Nile, which is supposed to have shortage of water, doesn’t have shortage of water; it only has shortage of money. Ethiopia is structured to be the power generating center of the Nile, geographically. Sudan is, geographically, created to be the main agricultural producer of this region. Only the delta part of Egypt is supposed to produce goods, agricultural goods. And so if you use the Nile water in a rational manner, there would not be any shortage of water… if you build dams in Ethiopia and removed Jebel Awliya from Sudan, it is useless; it generates 17 mega watts of electricity but exposes Nile water to evaporation in unheard of proportion. So you don’t need the regulation of Jebel Awliaya because the water would have been regulated [in Ethiopia]. And reduce the operating level of Aswan Dam, you would have enough water to irrigate more than a million hectares in Ethiopia; and 4 to 5 billion cubic meters of additional water for the Sudan, and Sudan can use the water better than anybody else. The Egyptians themselves have a water conservation project which will end in 2017. And their plan is to save 8 billion cubic meters of additional water. Now, unless they want to take this water and let it evaporate in the desert, they don’t have land that requires 8 billion cubic meter of water. So it is not really about water, it is about politics and power.“
Meles’ economic vision makes sense: Ethiopia produces electricity, Sudan food, and Egypt becomes an industrial hub. Everyone benefits.
So far, the best articulation of the Egyptian position (the sane Egyptian side) was made by Abba Daniel of the Egyptian Coptic Church: “There is an effect that no one talked about: the psychological effect on Egyptians. Historically it is known that the Nile River gives stability, and security, and the people enjoy peace because the water is guaranteed. I think the water problem is the fundamental problem and this will cause psychological instability to the people, because if the water [flow] is affected, the people [would be] agitated: would the water come? Would we drink, would we [be able to irrigate] our farms? This is a psychological point. I think one of the important solutions is dialogue with international guarantees–containing the crisis through international organizations that [should] participate with us in the dialogue to convince all parties. It is important for the common interest of all the states.“[iii]
I think Egypt suffers only of artificial hysteria created by partisans for political benefit; the hyped noise should not be taken seriously.
Until recently, Sudan’s position has been, let Egypt and Ethiopia fight it out and tell us the result. Now it seems it has become proactive. “Sudan’s information minister and government spokesperson Ahmed Bilal Osman insisted … that Sudan would benefit from the controversial Ethiopian renaissance dam and stressed that Ethiopia has engaged Sudan in all operations associated with the dam building.“[iv]
In what seems to be a regret, the Sudanese minister said, “… Sudan sacrificed 22 villages and a million palm trees and an entire civilization in the far north in order to allow the Egyptians build the Aswan dam in 1964.“[v] That social and environmental disaster has been forgotten except by the inhabitants of Halfa whose region was buried under the Aswan dam reservoir. They moved them to Halfa AlJedida.
The recent Sudanese statements (and the gossip of Egyptians politicians behind closed doors that were not closed) testify that the Sudanese subscribe to Meles’ vision.
5. South Sudan
South Sudan has not made any noise so far, but if it did, I suspect it would be related to the Sudd swamps covering an area between 30,000 to 130,000[vi] square kilometers, depending on the season. The Jonglei canal project that was supposed to bypass the swamps to control water flow and use the swamps efficiently, was stopped during the Sudanese civil war decades ago. Given the tension between the two Sudans, I do not think its construction would restart anytime soon. If it did, the canal might have adverse effects on the pastoralists of the region but the water in the Sudd (and the land) would be efficiently managed. It would be an ideal solution provided the interest of the pastoralists is put into consideration. Until then, the South Sudan is not even successful in exploiting it oil fields, the only meaningful source of income it has. The Nile doesn’t seem to be their priority at this moment.
South Sudanese leaders are busy consolidating their grip on power and practicing the recipe that worked for the tyrants in the region: controlling the economy of the country
Facts : Volume of Nile water
Ethiopia will fill the dam, but once the dam is filled, it cannot keep filling it indefinitely. For the turbines to run, the water must flow. Otherwise there is no point in building a hydro-electric dam. There might be a shortage of water, about 55 billion cubic meter (BCM) spread over the period it takes to fill the dam.
The Aswan Dam, with a capacity of 132 BCM, is twice the size of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and it took 13 years to be filled to capacity. Thus, the Ethiopian dam might take 5-6 years to fill depending on the filling plans and amount of rainfall. But water shortage would be offset by the evaporation it would save; Ethiopia says its dam will conserve 6 BCM while the Egyptians plan to conserve 8 BCM by 2017. If that turn out to be true, the volume needed to fill the dam would be offset in less than a decade.
In the late seventies and eighties, Sadat of Egypt was even entertaining the idea of selling Nile water to Israel through pipes that would run under the Suez Canal. He reportedly told the Israelis, “Why not send you some of this sweet water to the Negev Desert as good neighbors?“[vii] Sadat considered himself a Pharaoh who can dictate his terms on the use of the Nile. For example, the Toshka agricultural irrigation scheme of upper Egypt was initiated because there was excess water in the Aswan Dam reservoir. Go to Google Earth and search for, <Toshka lakes, Egypt> and you will see the excess (wasted) water that created the useless lakes. Egypt has excess water and it misuses it; the evidence is the creation of the Toshka lakes. Mubarek didn’t fare any better, maybe worse than Sadat.
The insane Egyptian version
Historically, there were always forces that worked hard to control Egypt through the Nile; always busy conspiring to choke Egypt by using Ethiopia as a proxy to control the flow of the river. For years that had been the cause for tension between the two countries; the bigoted entities are still working to escalate the war of words, or to make it continue. One such entity is MemriTv (and several like it) that is run by a group whose sole mission seems to be tarnishing Muslims at any opportunity.
Politically, after the fall of Mubarek, Egypt is still unstable. There are gangs who still wield influence, those are people who enriched themselves during the reign of the last Pharaoh of Egypt, Mubarek. They are using the Nile politics as a rallying cause to agitate the people against the ruling Islamist government. That is why in the last demonstration those who harassed the respectable Ethiopian Ambassador Mahmoud Derir and his embassy staff, are actually an alliance led by an Egyptian Coptic political action group.
There is an ancient spiritual connections between the Egyptian Coptic Church and the Ethiopian Tewahdo Church. Until recent history, the Ethiopian Church was under the Egyptian Church to the extent that it had influence in internal Ethiopian affairs. That shows the noise is targeting the elected Egyptian government, and the elected president. At the end, it is all politics.
On the other hand, there is nothing that arouses many hyper-nationalist Ethiopians as the cry of the “Arabs/Muslims Are coming.” This prejudice has been entrenched in the Ethiopian (Abyssinian) psyche for over a century, since the days of Yohannes and Menelik, and because of it, the region had been paying dearly. When there is difference with any Muslim or Arab country, all the ugly Ethiopian racism pops up. The good thing is they are in the minority, though they keep agitating for a confrontation with Egypt and proposing foolish ideas that are un-doable, but can spread to the common person, and create havoc.
In such a situation, what we have to wish for is that cool headed Egyptians and Ethiopians do not be swayed by the noises of political agitation, instead they should think in terms of development. After all, no dam, however large and impressive, can develop a country marred in wars. Dams are supposed to function, and produce results, in an atmosphere of peace, not war.
Egypt, after it was the torch of freedom that sponsored almost all of Africa’s anti-colonial organizations–from South Africa to Libya, from Somalia to Congo–Egypt, that was focused on Africa under Gemal AbdelNasser, was defaced by Anwar Sadat who severed all its ties with Africa and the Arab world. His economic policies were a disaster that made Egypt a basket case after it was developing fast in the sixties. Sadat’s successor, Mubarek, had no policy, he just followed on the footsteps of Sadat and destroyed what was left of the Egyptian persona.
When Sadat came to power, emboldened by the victory of the 73 war (which was planned under Nasser), he immediately spread arrogance in Egypt, looking down on Africa. The entire political atmosphere of Egypt towards Africans was poisoned… that is why you hear Egyptian politicians saying “I talked to the Africans” in a belittling tone.
Back to my main issues, just like Sadat introduced bad politics to Egypt, Isaias has done the same in Eritrea by introducing vulgarity and arrogance in our politics. That is how Eritrea is being damaged under Isaias; our political discourse is now based on derision and belittling of others.
At this moment, some Egyptian are contemplating emboldening Isaias, to use him as a proxy to get at Ethiopia. The way they want to play Eritreans as foot-soldiers for their own agenda is not what many Eritreans would appreciate. Why would they?
Sadly, I am personally enraged by the practices of some Ethiopian officials who think of the Eritrean opposition the same way the Egyptian politicians think about it–for example, the way Dr. Mohammed and Dr. Tariq Nur do. I am wondering: if someone would smuggle out a recording of a closed meeting of Ethiopian officials discussing issues in relation to Eritrea, would it be any different from that of the Egyptians?
In conclusion, we Eritreans have become pawns because we failed to remove a brutal regime at home that keeps endangering the people and exposing them to such cheap blackmail. I urge level-headed Egyptians and Ethiopians, not to be guided by the emotions and egos.
[vii] Washington Post, 7 Sept. 1979.
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