Opinion by: Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak
This past Tuesday, March 2, 2021, Egypt and Sudan signed a defense co-operation pact aiming to send a strong warning to Ethiopia over what the new allies termed as Ethiopia intransigence on a border dispute with Khartoum and stalled talks between Ethiopia and Egypt
Cairo vowed to move rapidly to aid Khartoum in any emergency and called for an international quartet to oversee Nile dam talks.
Initially, the issue of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam was exaggerated on Social media last May 2020 that Egypt was establishing military bases in South Sudan.
The dispute was also hyperbole by the former United States’ President Donald J. Trump when he had a tripartite conversation with the Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The three leaders’ conversation was based on diplomatic relations between Sudan and Israel. However, in the middle of that diplomatic dialogue, the subject of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam was brought up.
At first, all three leaders expressed hopes for a peaceful resolution to this long-standing dispute. Instead of concentrating their wishes to the positive aspect of the matter on the top of their main agenda, Donald Trump blew a negative phrase that, ” (Egypt) will end up blowing up the dam, and they have to do something.”
Nevertheless, Ethiopia did not receive Trump’s statement amicably, on the same Saturday, October 24, 2020, Ethiopia denounced this misguided phrase and the country’s Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed summoned the U.S. ambassador to seek clarification, saying “the incitement of war between Ethiopia and Egypt from a sitting U.S. president neither reflects the longstanding partnership and strategic alliance between Ethiopia and the United States nor is acceptable in international law governing interstate relations,” Besides Dr. Abiy’s denouement to Mr. Trump’s remarks, former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn had tweeted that, “The man doesn’t have a clue on what he is talking about.” He called Trump’s remark irresponsible.
During last year’s dispute, Sudan distanced itself, acting as a neutral body that champions diplomatic dialogue between Cairo and Addis Ababa. However, this time around is totally different. The Sudanese-Ethiopian border dispute where the two countries engage in several deadly clashes after the Sudanese military moved late last year to wrest back control of farmlands settled by members of Ethiopia’s Amhara ethnic group since the 1950s has caused the fallout.
The two countries have since engaged in saber-rattling, accusing each other of border incursions, targeting civilians, and massing up troops on the border.
Ethiopia has also claimed the Sudanese military was stoking the dispute for the benefit of Egypt, also at sharp odds with Addis Ababa over the likelihood that the GERD would deeply cut its vital share of the Nile waters.
Sudan has maintained that Ethiopia’s failure to share data on the operation of the dam, located less than 20 kilometers from the border, puts at risk the lives of 20 million Sudanese. It worries about deadly flooding and the possibility the dam could disrupt the work of its smaller power-generating dams on the Blue Nile.
Egypt has said the dam presents an existential issue and it would not stand idly by if Ethiopia tries to impose a de facto situation.
Ethiopia was expected to make good on its often-repeated threat to go ahead with a second filling of the dam in July, regardless of whether an agreement was reached with downstream Egypt and Sudan on the operation of the GERD.
The filling, involving about 13 billion cubic meters of water, could significantly set back efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the GERD dispute, handing Addis Ababa an unassailably strong position in future negotiations and again raising the prospect of a war that could destabilize the entire region.
While Sudan shares a border with Ethiopia, Egypt does not, a fact that would dictate the nature of any military involvement by the Egyptians in a future conflict.
But President El Sisi has been procuring billions of dollars’ worth of cutting-edge weapons over the past six years, some of which give his military the capability of operating beyond its borders.
A general-turned-president, Mr. El Sisi has said that negotiations were the preferred method of resolving the dispute over the dam, but he never categorically ruled out military use of force.
In sum, before it too late, the international community needs to step up in preventing military confrontation between now new allies Egypt and Sudan against Ethiopia. All countries that enjoy the gift of the Nile water need to sit in solidarity to find out the way forward to share the Nile water. Military confrontation should not be the best option. Let learn how to calm, reason, and discuss prominent issues constructively rather than exaggerating issues unconstructively,
Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak
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