Fana: At a Speed of Life!

Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam shares his concern on the U.S. role in “Washington GERD talks

June 15, 2020

Secretary Steven Mnuchin
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20220

Re: Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam “Washington Talks”

Dear Secretary Mnuchin:

I am writing to share with you my concerns, views and ideas on the U.S. role, and specifically your personal role, in the “Washington GERD talks” and make specific recommendations consistent with principles of American law and standards of fairness. In my letter address the following eight points:

I. The U.S. must be aware Ethiopia has always sought peace with Egypt in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) discussions and negotiations and pursued cordial relations in all aspects of its bilateral relations with Egypt. Conversely, Egypt has historically waged war on Ethiopia to exercise hegemony over Nile River waters and even today threatens to wage war unless Ethiopia submits to its demands.

II. The Treasury Department’s diplomatic engagement in the GERD talks is an egregious usurpation of the statutory duties of the State Department.

III. Ethiopia has the sovereign right to use its river waters equitably and reasonably and consistent with international law.

  1. The Treasury Department must make public the “agreement” Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan allegedly agreed to sign on February 28, 2020.
  2. Before there can be any continued GERD discussions under U.S. sponsorship, the so-called February 28, 2020 “agreement” must be formally countermanded.
  3. The GERD disputes could be advanced by extracting practical lessons and insights from U.S-Mexico water sharing agreements.

VII. The specter of US of aid cutoff, obstruction of access to multilateral loans to Ethiopia and deferment from participation in bilateral trade and investment opportunities which, according to some observers, hangs over Ethiopia if she refuses to sign the so-called February 28 agreement is counterproductive and will exacerbate the existing situation and must not be contemplated.

VIII. The GERD dispute is between African countries. The U.S. must accede to the principle, “African solutions must be developed for African problems.”

  1. Ethiopia has always sought peace with Egypt, but Egypt has waged or threatened to wage war on Ethiopia.

For the past decade, and especially over the past year, Egypt’s media, U.S. lobbyist and public relations firms have sought to depict Ethiopia as scheming and rapacious country intent on monopolizing Nile river waters and plunging Egypt into economic privation and chaos by building the GERD.

History tells a different story, and regrettably, the U.S. over the past several months has sought to put its thumb on the scale unfairly in favor of Egypt in the GERD talks[1].

 Mr. Secretary: When America declared independence in 1776, Edward Gibbon[2], the prodigious historian of Western civilization, wrote of the need to defend the Ethiopians, then called “Abyssinians, an unwarlike people from the Barbarians who ravaged the inland country and the Turks and Arabs who advanced from the sea-coast in more formidable array.”

Gibbon wrote, the Abyssinians were interested in a “rational project of importing the arts and ingenuity of Europe; and their ambassadors at Rome and Lisbon were instructed to solicit a colony of smiths, carpenters, tilers, masons, printers, surgeons, and physicians, for the use of their country.”

The GERD is Ethiopia’s 21st century national “rational project”. Ethiopia only wants to import the ingenuity of America, Europe and others by independently generating hydroelectric power.

Egypt is hell-bent on preventing Ethiopia from using its Nile waters as part of any “national or rational project” of development and self-improvement.

Mr. Secretary: For over two centuries, Ottoman Egypt and Egypt today have waged or threatened to wage war on Ethiopia principally driven by the desire to totally control the Nile waters.

Egypt’s imperial designs on Ethiopia can be traced back to at least to the 1820s when Mohammad Ali Pasha[3], obsessed by a desire to dominate access to Nile waters, launched a military attack on the Sudan and subsequently controlled the port city of Massawa which was part of Ethiopia. Pasha failed in his objective of controlling the Nile.

In 1875-76, Egypt tried to implement Pasha’s plan to militarily subjugate Ethiopia and control the Blue Nile once and for all. Egypt deployed a large well-equipped army trained army led by European and American officers. In the Battle of Gundet (1875) and Battle of Gura (1876), the Ethiopians forces “completely annihilated an Egyptian expeditionary force” [4] and any practical opportunity for Egypt to gain control over Ethiopia was lost forever [5].

For decades now, Egypt has threatened to wage war on Ethiopia over the Nile.

In 1979, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat threatened to go to war [6] with Ethiopia dramatically declaring, “We are not going to wait to die of thirst in Egypt, we’ll go to Ethiopia and die there.”

In 2013, Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi declared[7] “if the Nile is diminished by one drop, then our blood is the alternative.”

In September 2019, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi told [8] the U.N. General Assembly, “The Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt.”

In May 2020, El-Sisi directed [9] Egyptian armed forces to be on the “highest state of alert” in anticipation of Ethiopia’s announcement to begin initial filling of the GERD in July 2020.

On February 28, 2020, the Egyptian Government took to its social media pages saber-rattling and beating the psychological drums of war[10] against Ethiopia proclaiming, “Egypt will defend its potential and future interests by all means available.”

On June 12, 2020, Egyptian billionaire Naguid Sawiris tweeted[11], “If Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war.”

Ethiopia follows the wisdom of an old African saying, “If you can’t resolve your problems in peace, you can’t solve them in war.”

Mr. Secretary: What Egypt is doing with the U.S. today to prevent Ethiopia from using its Nile waters is something it has done for over a century with Britain by undertaking a relentless, aggressive and collusive diplomatic offensive.

In the Anglo-Italian Protocol of 1891, Britain guaranteed to Egypt “undisturbed flow of the Nile by restricting Italy’s endeavour to control a water project over the Atbara River”, one of the tributaries of the Nile.[12]

In the Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1902[13], the British tried to bamboozle Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II by claiming the English version of that treaty prohibited Ethiopia from initiating any projects on the Nile River without the permission of Britain and Sudan.

In the 1906 Tripartite Agreement Between Britain, France and Italy, an agreement was reached to “protect the interests of Great Britain and Egypt in the Nile Basin, more especially as regards the regulation of the waters of that river and tributaries.”[14]

In the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1929[15], super-special rights were granted to Egypt including guarantees of 48 billion cubic meters of water flow per year, the right to undertake any project on the Nile in its territory, the right to monitor the Nile flow in the upstream countries and the right to veto any construction projects that would affect her interests adversely, among other things[16].

In the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement[17] between Egypt and the Sudan, Egypt was  guaranteed 84 billion cubic meters of water measured at Aswan High Dam and  granted Egypt the right to construct the Aswan High Dam that can store the entire annual Nile River flow of a year.

In 1983, Egypt formed the Ndugu Group[18] including several sub-Saharan countries excluding Ethiopia) with the aim of “creating a multi-good socio-economic solutions beyond consumptive water uses.” The idea was to buy off African countries into supporting Egypt’s claim of birthright to exclusive use of the Nile. It failed[19].

In 2020, Egypt has “snookered” the U.S. into backing its centuries-long military and diplomatic hegemony on the Nile and is now saber-rattling to invade the “land of the unwarlike people” described by Gibbon when America won its independence in 1776.

History provides incontrovertible proof that Egypt has victimized Ethiopia for over a century and sought to deprive Ethiopia its sovereign right to use the Nile waters, eighty-five percent of which originate in Ethiopia.

The U.S. should not be an accomplice in this wicked, relentless and endless military and diplomatic campaign against Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has NEVER threatened war against Egypt or invaded Egyptian soil.

Ethiopians do not want war with Egypt or anyone else. But if war is imposed upon them, they will fight shoulder to shoulder until hell freezes over and the devil goes ice skating.

Ethiopians have a long history of successfully defending themselves and keeping themselves free of European colonialism and no doubt in overthrowing Egypt’s “hydrological colonialism”[20]. They prevailed in the Battles of Gura and Gundet in 1875-6, the Battle of Adwa against the Italians in 1896 and in 1941 once again against the Italians.

Mr. Secretary: Dr Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Those who stand up for justice will always be on the right side of history.”

Let America be on the right side of history in the GERD talks!

  1. The Treasury Department’s diplomatic engagement in the GERD talks is an egregious usurpation of the statutory duties of the State Department.

Mr. Secretary: As you know, the Treasury Department was created by the Act of Congress of September 2, 1789[21]. Under the Act, the “duty of the Secretary of the Treasury is to digest and prepare plans for the improvement and management of the revenue, and for the support of public credit”.

On your website is the following statement[22]:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s mission is to maintain a strong economy and create economic and job opportunities by promoting the conditions that enable economic growth and stability at home and abroad, strengthen national security by combating threats and protecting the integrity of the financial system, and manage the U.S. Government’s finances and resources effectively.

Of the eight basic functions identified in the Treasury Department, none include execution of U.S. foreign policy, negotiations or mediation with foreign ministers on matters involving riparian disputes.

The duty “to negotiate with public ministers or other foreigners, or to such other matters respecting foreign affairs, as the President of the United States shall assign” is delegated to the State Department in the Act of Congress[23] of July 20, 1789.  The Department of State is specifically authorized, among other things, to “conduct negotiations relating to U.S. foreign affairs and negotiate, interpret, and terminate treaties and agreements.”[24]

In this regard, it is instructive to note that the 1944 Water Treaty Between the U.S. and Mexico on the Colorado, Rio Grande and Tijuana Rivers were negotiated and signed by the U.S. State Department.[25]  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo[26] (1848) which recognized the Rio Grande River (Article 5) was also negotiated and signed by the U.S. Department of State.

With all due respect, the Treasury Department, and specifically the two individuals who have taken primary responsibility in the preparation of the GERD “agreement”, namely Adam Lerrick, Counselor to the Secretary and David Sullivan, Assistant General Counsel for International Affairs, could not be reasonably described as riparian experts or technical specialists in the construction of hydroelectric dams. I dare say that they neither have the technical expertise, historical understanding of the relations of the three parties or depth of foreign policy and legal experience to be able to draft a complex, intricate and durable riparian agreement.

Mr. Secretary: Your personal involvement in the GERD as “observer” qua “facilitator”, qua “mediator” is manifestly inconsistent with your statutory obligations and our scheme of constitutional governance based on respect for the jurisdictions of coordinate executive departments. U.S. federal officials must act within the boundaries of their statutory and constitutional authority and jurisdiction. I believe by your involvement in the GERD “talks” and preparation of an “agreement” flagrantly exceeds your congressionally delegated powers and therefore your actions in the GERD talks are ultra vires.

I respectfully urge you to transfer the role and responsibilities you have undertaken thus far and handover work product to the Office of the Secretary of State.

III. Behold the facts: Ethiopia has the sovereign right to use its river waters equitably and reasonably

Mr. Secretary: Egypt continues to spuriously claim that Ethiopia by building the GERD is depriving of its “historic and natural right” to use the Nile waters and consequently inflict  major disruptions in agriculture, power supply and availability of potable water to its citizens.

Four incontrovertible facts tell a very different story.

First, Egypt aims to prevent Ethiopia from using its Nile waters upstream while it totally and exclusively enjoys the bounties of the Nile.

According to the World Bank, in 2018, “100 percent of the urban and rural population in Egypt has electricity.[27] Egypt’s Aswan Dam alone can generate 10 billion kilowatt-hours annually.[28]

In contrast, the World Bank in 2018 reported, “About 70 percent of the population in Ethiopia live without electricity[29].  The lack of power also impacts basic services – only 24 percent of primary schools and 30 percent of health clinics have access to electricity.”

Ethiopia has yet to produce one joule of electricity from the GERD.

The World Bank[30] reported GDP per capita for Ethiopia in 2018 at USD772. For Egypt, it was USD2,550, a more than threefold increase.

Ethiopia’s current populations is 115 million people[31].

Egypt’s current population is 102 million[32].

Ethiopia has the sovereign right to use its Nile waters to supply electricity to 70 percent of the population (or 80.5 million) now living without electricity.

There is ample scientific evidence establishing “electricity use and access are strongly correlated with economic development.”[33] Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and expects to achieve lower-middle-income status by 2025[34].

Electricity is the backbone of any nation’s progress. Industries need electricity to operate and businesses will not flourish without it.

It is a self-evident truth that economic growth and energy demand are inseparable. Ethiopia has every right to use Nile waters without causing significant harm to any downstream countries. There is not a shred of evidence to show Ethiopia will do otherwise with its GERD.

Second, as Egypt complains and tells tales of water woes from construction of the GERD, it is sitting on a massive underground water supply. Egypt has ready access and supply of water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System[35] which “in relation to the current extraction rates, is estimated to be approximately one thousand years.”[36] As Egypt paints Ethiopia as victimizer in its international campaign of vilification, it has kept completely silent about its 1,000-year water reserve sloshing under its desert floor.

Third, “On a flat stretch of desert between the Nile River and the Suez Canal, a new city is being built that will one day replace ancient Cairo as Egypt’s capital.”[37] Egypt wants to use Nile waters to build a brand new city yet prevent Ethiopia from using the GERD to provide basic electricity to its population.

Fourth, Egypt could significantly improve its water situation by reducing wastage, investing in desalination technologies and water efficient and modernized agricultural techniques[38].

  1. Make public the “agreement” Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan were expected to sign on February 28, 2020.

Mr. Secretary: In a letter dated March 5, 2020, your Counselor Adam Lerrick wrote[39], “the sole objective of the U.S. government has been, and continues to be, to assist the three nations that share the waters of the Blue Nile in reaching a fair agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.” He further stated,

The foundation of the agreement must be based upon the principles agreed between the three nations in the 2015 Agreement of Principles, in particular the principles of equitable and reasonable utilization, of not causing significant harm, and of cooperation. The agreement must respect the sovereign right of Ethiopia to develop its water resources… [and ensure] the safety of the dam.

We hope the Ethiopian national consultation process on the GERD agreement will be concluded quickly so that the agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD can be signed at the earliest possible date.

Your Department’s official announcement of February 28, 2020 stated, “The United States facilitated the preparation of an agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) based on provisions proposed by the legal and technical teams of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and with the technical input of the World Bank.”[40] (Italics added.)

On January 15, 2020, six weeks before the so-called final agreement of February 28, a formal joint statement was issued by the parties stating the following[41]:

The filling of the GERD will be executed in stages and will be undertaken in an adaptive and cooperative manner that takes into consideration the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and the potential impact of the filling on downstream reservoirs.

Filling will take place during the wet season, generally from July to August, and will continue in September subject to certain conditions.

The initial filling stage of the GERD will provide for the rapid achievement of a level of 595 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.) and the early generation of electricity, while providing appropriate mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan in case of severe droughts during this stage.

The subsequent stages of filling will be done according to a mechanism to be agreed that determines release based upon the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and the level of the GERD that addresses the filling goals of Ethiopia and provides electricity generation and appropriate mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan during prolonged periods of dry years, drought and prolonged drought.

During long term operation, the GERD will operate according to a mechanism that determines release based upon the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and the level of the GERD that provides electricity generation and appropriate mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan during prolonged periods of dry years, drought and prolonged drought.

An effective coordination mechanism and provisions for the settlement of disputes will be established.

Mr. Secretary: As you are aware, Ethiopia has unambiguously and categorically denied the existence of any agreement ready for signature between the three parties in Washington[42].

Ethiopia does not accept the characterization that the negotiation on the Guidelines and Rules on the First Filling and Annual Operation of the GERD (Guidelines and Rules) is completed. 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. Ethiopia made it clear that the Guidelines and Rules must be prepared by the three countries. The Countries are yet to address outstanding issues pertaining to the finalization of the Guidelines and Rules.

In a twitter message, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew castigated the Treasury Department’s announcement[43]:

The statement issued by US Treasury on GERD is unacceptable & highly partisan, Ethiopia believes in continued engagement with Egypt & Sudan to address the outstanding issues and finalize the Guidelines and Rules on a win-win basis for all.

Mr. Secretary: I and hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian-Americans are confused about the so-called agreement the three parties were expected to sign on February 28, 2020.

What is in that agreement? Why is not made public? Is it a secret agreement?

I respectfully request that you make public the February 28, 2020 agreement prepared by your office and the World Bank for signature by the minsters of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan public forthwith.

  1. Before any GERD discussions can continue under U.S. sponsorship, the so-called February 28, 2020 agreement must be formally countermanded.

Mr. Secretary: With all due respect, I and hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian-Americans believe the so-called “Washington Talks” on the GERD were merely “bait and switch diplomacy”. Most of us believe the U.S. sought the participation of Ethiopia in the “GERD Washington talks” in bad faith and with the ulterior motive of arm twisting it into signing an agreement already contrived by Egypt and the U.S.

On November 6, 2019, the Treasury Department announced [44], “The ministers agreed that the World Bank and the United States would support and attend the meetings as observers. It added, “the “foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and their delegations met with the Secretary of the Treasury and the President of the World Bank and reaffirmed their joint commitment to reach a comprehensive, cooperative, adaptive, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and to establish a clear process for fulfilling that commitment in accordance with the 2015 Declaration of Principles.”

That announcement specifically stated, “The ministers agreed that the World Bank and the United States would support and attend the meetings as observers… If an agreement is not reached by January 15, 2020, the foreign ministers agree that Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles[45] will be invoked.” (Italics added.)

On January 15, 2020, the ministers of the three countries had not come to an agreement. The Treasury Department on that date issued an announcement[46] enumerating six reasons why the ministers could not come to an agreement. Manifestly, as per the November 6 announcement, the matter should have been referred for further deliberation and action under Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles. However, your office continued the matter for further discussions on January 28-29, 2020.

On January 31, 2020, the Treasury Department issued an announcement[47] stating, “The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Water Resources of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and their delegations met with the Secretary of the Treasury and the President of the World Bank, participating as observers in negotiations on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)…” (Italics added.)

While the negotiations were proceeding at Treasury, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference on February 18, 2020 made a surprising statement on the GERD.[48] Secretary Pompeo said, “A great deal of work remains, but I am optimistic that over the coming months we can resolve this…”

Ten days later, on February 28, 2020, the Treasury Department issued an announcement[49] stating, “The United States facilitated the preparation of an agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) based on provisions proposed by the legal and technical teams of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and with the technical input of the World Bank.” That announcement imperiously commanded, “Final testing and filling should not take place without an agreement.”

I and most Ethiopian-Americans were completely perplexed how Secretary Pompeo could tell the world he is “optimistic that over the coming months we can resolve” the GERD issue yet you authorized an announcement that the parties have consented to sign the “agreement” ten days later.

Truth be told, the Ethiopian American community believes the Ethiopian government was baited to the Washington talks by the innocent-sounding U.S. “observer” role and once they showed up the switch was made, and the fix was in. In the blink of an eye, the U.S. transformed itself into a “facilitator”, arm twister and choke holder. The World Bank watched as Ethiopia was skewered on the coals. The U.S. never intended to be a neutral observer in the GERD talks but an enforcer for Egypt.  

We doubt the Ethiopian government would have participated in the Washington talks if they knew the “observer” status was bait to reel and trap them in the iron claws of an unconscionable adhesion agreement.

The fact of the matter is that there was either a serious problem of communication or intentional misrepresentation in the so-called agreement. On February 28, the day of the Treasury Department’s announcement, the Ethiopian Government flatly and unequivocally rejected[50] any agreement had been reached [51].

It is the belief of most Ethiopian-Americans that the U.S. never intended to be a neutral observer in the GERD talks but an enforcer for Egypt.  

 Before any GERD discussions can continue under U.S. sponsorship, the so-called February 28, 2020 agreement must be formally countermanded.

  1. U.S-Mexico water sharing agreements provide valuable insights into GERD disputes

Mr. Secretary: I believe the historic U.S.-Mexico water sharing agreements on the Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers offer valuable insights into the GERD disputes between Ethiopia and Egypt. I invoke the old proverb, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

The Colorado River originates in the Rocky Mountains and traverses seven states before it reaches Mexico. Water sharing between the two countries is regulated under the 1944 Water Treaty.[52]

Article 10 of the 1944 Treaty requires the United States to provide Mexico with 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water annually, or only 10% of the river’s average flow. Article 10 (b) specifically provides, “Mexico shall acquire no right beyond that provided by this subparagraph by the use of the waters of the Colorado River system, for any purpose whatsoever, in excess of 1,5000,000 acre-feet (1,850,234,000 cubic meters) annually.” (Italics added.)

The binational International Boundary and Water Commission[53] addresses issues arising under the Treaty and operates under foreign policy guidance from the U.S. Department of State.

The Rio Grande begins in south-central Colorado in the United States and flows to the Gulf of Mexico and is governed by two separate agreements including the 1906 Convention[54] and 1944 Water Treaty. Under Article I of the 1906 Convention, the “United States shall deliver to Mexico a total of 60,000 acre-feet of water annually in the bed of the Rio Grande.” Under Article II, “the amount delivered to the Mexican Canal shall be diminished in the same proportion as the water delivered to lands under said irrigation system in the United States.”

Under Article IV, “The delivery of water as herein provided is not to be construed as a recognition by the United States of any claim on the part of Mexico to the said waters; and it is agreed that in consideration of such delivery of water, Mexico waives any and all claims to the waters of the Rio Grande for any purpose whatever between the head of the present Mexican Canal and Fort Quitman, Texas.”

In concluding the foregoing treaties, agreements and conventions, the U.S. and Mexico required no outside mediation, arbitration or foreign government intervention. Indeed, for the past 76 years, the two countries have managed to resolve their water disputes on their own without the intervention or assistance of other parties or entities.[55]

Mr. Secretary: In the current GERD dispute, unlike the U.S. in the 1944 Treaty, Ethiopia has not asserted Egypt shall acquire no right beyond 10 percent of the Nile waters. Neither has Ethiopia insisted on delivering to Egypt a total of 60,000 acre-feet of water annually.

As per your announcement of November 6, 2019[56], “If an agreement is not reached by January 15, 2020, the foreign ministers agree that Article X (“Principle of Peaceful Settlement of Disputes”) of the 2015 Declaration of Principles[57] signed by Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan, “The Three Countries will settle disputes, arising out of the interpretation or implementation of this agreement, amicably through consultation or negotiation in accordance with the principle of good faith. If the Parties are unable to resolve their dispute in an amicable manner, they may jointly request for conciliation, mediation or refer the matter for the consideration of the Heads of State/Heads of Government.”

Mr. Secretary: Let Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan resolve their disputes as they have agreed under their Declaration of Principles in much the same way as the U.S. and Mexico have managed their disputes using their International Boundary and Water Commission for three-quarters of a century.

VII. The specter of US of aid cutoff and obstruction of access to multilateral loans

Mr. Secretary: There are many in the Ethiopian American community who express concern that the U.S. will cut off development and humanitarian aid, obstruct Ethiopia’s access to multilateral loans with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and prevent Ethiopia from participation in Prosper Africa investment and trade initiatives unless Ethiopia signs the agreement prepared under your auspices in later February 2020.

I do not give credence to such speculation as I have seen no evidence to support it.

However, many in our community say there is a pattern and practice in the current U.S. Administration to cut off aid to countries that refuse to accede to demands by the Administration. They say the U.S. has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras because they allegedly failed to comply with the Administration’s demand to halt immigration to the U.S. from their countries. The U.S. has punished Pakistan by cutting off aid for its alleged failure to take action against terrorists at the behest of the U.S. There are even those who say the Administration may present a Ukraine-style “quid pro quo” situation in which the U.S. will resume aid only if Ethiopia signs the aforementioned agreement. It is also said the U.S. will freeze Ethiopia out of Prosper Africa, the current Administration’s initiative to boost trade and investment between Africa and the United States.

As you may be aware, “Ethiopia is among the most effective U.S. development partners, particularly in the areas of health care, education, and food security.”[58]

Truth be told, I do not believe in foreign aid and have long opposed it as a “moral hazard.”[59] If Ethiopia could develop its natural resources, especially the GERD, it will have little need for foreign aid. Indeed, U.S. taxpayer dollars directed to Ethiopia could be redirected for other purposes.

I do acknowledge and appreciate the very generous support of the American people to the development and humanitarian need of Ethiopians for decades.[60]

In May 2020, the U.S. “United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Federal Ministry of Finance signed a new development partnership agreement this week worth more than $230 million.[61]. That agreement underscores the American people’s continued commitment to investing in improving health, education, agriculture, economic growth, good governance, and strengthened resilience of Ethiopians. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the United States Government has committed over $37 million to Ethiopia to help mitigate the spread of the virus[62].

Unquestionably, the U.S. has made vital and long-term contributions to Ethiopia’s needs in food security, essential health services, basic education, democracy and governance, economic growth and counterterrorism cooperation, among others.

Under Prosper Africa, the U.S. aims to be Africa’s foremost trade and investment partner[63]. The goal for USAID/Ethiopia’s 2019-2024 Country Development Cooperation Strategy[64] is to “transition Ethiopia to a more democratic, prosperous, and resilient society, with accountable institutions and private-sector led growth.”

I have long supported increased U.S. investments and bilateral trade relations between the Ethiopia.[65] I would like to see a deepening of the commercial between the U.S. and Ethiopia and a substantial increase in bilateral trade and investment.

Indeed, once the GERD fully comes online, I have little doubt that Ethiopia will be among the foremost trade and investment partners of the U.S. and the current U.S.  exports to Ethiopia[66] of $1.3 billion,  up 49.1% ($431 million) from  2017 and up 333.8% from 2008” will quadruple in the foreseeable future.

I trust and am confident the U.S. is not contemplating retaliatory measures along the lines outlined above against Ethiopia for acts or omissions related to the GERD talks.

VIII. African solutions for African problems

Mr. Secretary: Egypt has sought the intervention of the Arab League, the European Union and the U.N., various African countries and the U.N. Security Council to arm twist Ethiopia to submit to its demands at one time or another. Egypt has not sought the aid or intervention of the African Union in the GERD disputes.

I would urge you to direct Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan to consult with the African Union as a natural and appropriate institution to address their disputes. When Egypt sought the intervention of the U.N. Secretary General’s office, Antonio Guterres[67] urged the three countries to work out their disputes peacefully within the framework and spirit of their 2015 DoP in good faith and good will.

There is a maxim which postulates, “African solutions to African problems.” The basic idea is that African countries should first and foremost seek to resolve their problems by utilizing resources, institutions and organizations within the continent before seeking intervention from non-African actors.

It is not clear to me why Egypt failed to formally bring the matter before the African Union (AU) before it sought help from the United States.

In 2017, a Nile Basin States summit[68] was held in Uganda to address lingering issues in the use of Nile River waters, without results. Indeed, the AU has been conspicuously absent and silent in the GERD dispute.

I believe the Peace and Security Council[69] (PSC) of the AU, which is specifically established to prevent, manage and resolve conflict on the continent, should be given an opportunity to address the issues of the parties. The PSC could call a summit of the heads of states of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan and help them work out their disagreements using the 2015 DoP. Where the U.S. has failed, the PSC may succeed. But there are hopeful signs. On May 21, 2020, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed to resume their technical discussions[70].

Mr. Secretary: Fairness is expected of the United States as an “observer”, “mediator”, “facilitator” or intermediary. David Shinn, who served for 37 years in the United States Foreign Service and U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) noted[71], “Ethiopia has not yet signaled that it is prepared to accept the [GERD] 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.” (Italics added.)

Mr. Secretary: Let me conclude by reminding you of the words of George Washington in his 1796 Farewell Address[72]

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.” (Italics added.)

Mr. Secretary: Please stop here. Exercise good faith and let Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan resolve their disputes by themselves using their DoP or through the African Union. If the U.S. must, for some extraordinary reason, be involved in the GERD dispute, let the U.S. State Department deal with it as it is the duly authorized body to deal with such matters.


Alemayehu G. Mariam, M.A., Ph.D., J.D.
Professor Emeritus and Attorney at Law

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