Before probing the recent Mubarak-Zenawi war rhetoric over the Nile waters, lets briefly look at the three major drainage systems in Ethiopia:
- The western drainage system, which is the largest and includes the watersheds of the Blue Nile (known as the Abbay in Ethiopia), the Tekeze, and the Baro Rivers in Gambella. All three rivers flow west to meet the White Nile in The Sudan.
- The Rift Valley internal drainage system, which is composed of the Awash River, the Lakes Region, and the Omo River. The Awash flows northeast to the Danakil Plain before it dissipates into a series of swamps and Lake Abe at the border with Djibouti. The Lakes Region is a self-contained drainage.
The Shebelle River begins in the highlands of Ethiopia and then flows southeast (traversing a distance of 1000 kilometers inside Ethiopia) and cross into Somalia towards Mogadishu.
The rulers of Egypt expect Ethiopians to sit by and watch 85% of their waters flow to Egypt while Ethiopians continue to bear the brunt of a recurring drought, hunger and famine. The irony of life rooted in abject poverty and related beggary amid plenty of natural resources must end.
In all fairness Ethiopia deserves veto power over waters originating within her territory and crossing her boundaries - and exercise that power responsibly in accordance with international law. Compassion, morality, natural law and virtues of respect for life should transcend any politically-motivated shortsighted benefit in resolving the centuries-old thorny issues between Ethiopia and Egypt. In this age of information and phenomenal advances in science and technology, equitable solution on the share of the waters of the Nile must be found in order to put to rest once and for all the longstanding acrimony between the two countries.
Unfortunately, the TPLF regime and the Egyptian government are hindrances to fostering the requisite political environment conducive to rational solution. Mubarak and Zenawi are both determined to fish in troubled waters in a bid to stay in power. Both are responsible for the deterioration of regional stability, as detailed in the following paragraphs.
Mubarak set aside historical facts
President Mubarak deliberately set aside the following historical facts and lied in an attempt to get diplomatic exit from the boiling issue of the Nile waters. Below are cardinal examples of the past bloody and the present sour relations between Ethiopia and Egypt.
The Ethiopian Emperor Dawit I (David I) early during His reign (1382 – 1413) was arguably beset by recurring interference of Egypt with the internal affairs of Ethiopia. Consequently, the Monarch led a military expedition under His command and invaded Egypt reaching as far north as Aswan. In response, the Emir of Egypt forced the Patriarch of Alexandria, Mathew I, to send a delegation to persuade the Monarch to retire back to His Kingdom, according to Tadesse Tamrat. I recall the same being thought in our history class when I was a boy. Our history teacher taught us that the Emperor Dawit also threatened to cut off the flow of the Blue Nile waters to Egypt. He wanted to cause havoc among radicals under the influence of Egypt beyond the northern frontiers of His kingdom. (Source: Tadesse Tamrat, Professor of History, Addis Ababa University).
- Ethiopia retaliated against Egyptian forces attempting to colonize the Red Sea coast during 1875 – 1877 Egyptian – Ethiopian War. Egypt gave up its attempt to colonize that area and left with humiliating defeat.
- The active role that Egypt played in supporting Eritrean separatist dissidents is a recent memory. Egyptian support for secessionist rebels is well-documented in books written by distinguished authors. Recent articles on the websites both in the English and Amharic languages clearly tell the bitter experiences that Ethiopians of my generation and the generation in the aftermath of the breakout of the 1974 Revolution have lived through. Millions of lives have been lost and billions of dollars have been expended in fighting rebels supported by Egypt right from the days the traitor Woldeab Woldemariam took refuge in Egypt to spread vicious propaganda against Ethiopia which he served in key positions as a favored son of the Imperial regime. So, with all due respect, His Excellency President Mubarak, did not tell the truth when on 25 November 2010 he said: "This is the first time we hear that we support any group in any country. This is not something we do with any nation and this is not our form of conduct," in response to Zenawi who accused Egypt of impending war against Ethiopia.
- The President went on to mislead the world that: "We have very amicable relations with Ethiopia," adding: "I was surprised by these comments because this is something we cannot do with any Arab or African country." But the fact of the matter is that Egypt keeps a watchful eye of an eagle over projects to do with the river Nile by riparian states; its diplomats do everything in their power including corrupt African officials to subvert any attempt to harness the Nile waters by such states. The recently revealed lobbying by Egypt to delay the South Sudan Referendum is a typical example of interference in the internal affairs of African countries.
Why Zenawi hyped the Nile issue now
Zenawi told Reuters that “Egypt could not win a war with Ethiopia over the Nile and that Cairo was supporting rebel groups in an attempt to destabilize his nation”. This is a very serious accusation and people ask whether Zenawi’s is just being provocative or has grand strategy; it is argued that his hyped stance over the issue of the river Nile is not going to help in negotiations and that he does not have to worry about popular support for another five years.
The motive for the hype depends on a set of complex and interrelated factors, inter alia: Zenawi’s reportedly deteriorating health; continuity in power of the TPLF/EPRDF party after the expiry of his present five-year term; extent of Communist China’s financial and political support to the one-party bad governance in Ethiopia; regional stability; extent of continuance of immoral flow of funds to the coffers of the brutal regime despite its grave human rights violations and robbery of votes; importance attached by the Western powers to the strategic location of Ethiopia; conflicting competition for the usurpation of Ethiopia’s fertile land resource among India, China, Saudi Arabia et al; resolve of Ethiopians at home and in the Diaspora to expose in unison the well-documented abuses of the regime and bring it to justice, tenability of double digit economic growth, ability of the regime to support its bloated government, fulfilling the pledge to provide three meals a day for each and every citizen.
Zenawi had in effect endorsed Egypt’s power of veto over the Nile waters in the agreement that he and Mubarak signed in 1993. By doing so he had foreclosed any chance of negotiation with Egypt. His blunder done in secret is now in the public domain and this betrayal is making him nervous. He had relied on the power of the gun to misrule Ethiopia for the last two decades. To remain in power during his present 5-year term and ensure monopoly of power for his TPLF party, he will still absolutely rely on his security forces despite his effort to endear himself to the Ethiopian people by his rhetoric over the Nile. Ethiopians will never forgive him in the face of his massacring of democracy and atrocious human rights records; for the same reason, he is not so sure about continuity of generous direct donor support to his regime.
So, confounded by complex situations mentioned in the two paragraphs above, one would conclude that, Zenawi has chosen forming alliance with China as his grand strategy while preaching democracy. This strategy will help him crush or muzzle protestors against unmet promises in the fait accompli one-party state, Ethiopia.
Zenawi cannot be trusted as a leader that will promote the wellness of the Ethiopian people; he has to be forced to relinquish power and be brought to justice for his betrayal in the secret Nile Accord 1993 and heinous crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
One of the foremost challenges for true Ethiopians is to demand and enforce payback for exploited children of the Blue Nile by compelling dictators in Cairo and Khartoum to oblige.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com