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By: Mostafa Ahmady
The writer is a former press and information officer in Ethiopia and an expert on African affairs.
The 28 May 1991 is a day Ethiopia recalls very well and has adopted as its National Day.
On that day, the forces of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) surrounded and shelled the presidential palace and took control of the capital city of Addis Ababa, formally declaring the demise of the communist Derg regime that had ruled since the coup d’état against the last emperor of Ethiopia in 1975.
The ensuing incidents were never easy for the man who initiated the military struggle against the Mengistu-led communist regime, namely Ethiopia’s strongman Legesse Zenawi, aka Meles, the name of his classmate who the Derg had brutally executed in 1975.
After the secession of Eritrea in 1993, Ethiopia was feared to be a failed state because Eritrea’s independence had turned Ethiopia into a landlocked country. Eritrea’s secession was a blessing in disguise, however.
The fear of a failed state made the other ethnicities rally behind Meles Zenawi’s recipe of governance: an ethno-federal system in which each of the nine regions (the 10th region is in the pipeline as Sidama votes this November for statehood) of Ethiopia has its own government. Moreover, the 1994 constitution introduced the most controversial article so far —Article 39 that grants each region the right to secession under certain conditions.
In 2012, modern Ethiopia’s godfather Meles Zenawi died, but the monster he unleashed, the ethno-federal system, did not. Fueled by their grudge against the small minority that controlled almost everything under Zenawi, namely the powerful Tigray, other ethnicities banded together for the first time in almost two decades and challenged the Woyana, or the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) monopoly over Ethiopia’s political sphere.
Unable to contain the growing dissidence, particularly coming from the Oromo, the largest ethnicity and the historically most marginalised one in the country, Zenawi’s hand-picked and well-educated professional Hailemariam Desalegn, who hails from the southern nationalities, courageously submitted his resignation in 2018, a rare occurrence in Africa, hoping that this would be part of the political compromise in the Horn of Africa nation.
To quench the Oromo rebellion, it was time to pick an Oromo politician to head the EPRDF, something that had never previously happened in Ethiopia’s modern history. Hence, came the rise of the American-educated, young and charismatic Abiy Ahmed.
The man, whose first name is a shortened form of the Amharic word Abiyot, which means “revolution”, really did revolutionise Ethiopian politics. He released all political prisoners, shut down the infamous Maekelawi jail where opponents were harshly tortured and killed, lifted the ban on Oromo movements, once formally labelled terrorist organisations, and allowed the return of opposition figures and all the armed militias back home, perhaps the last being his tragic flaw.
Since their return back home, the armed militias have been stashing weaponry and getting more recruits every day. The government seems helpless in trying to control the day-to-day influx of arms into the nation. Such an accumulation of arms is the harbinger of a sad ending, however.
In the past months, armed militias have burned houses, looted shops, and seized control over territory annexed to some regions under the previous governments, forcing some two million people out of their homes and causing one of the worst humanitarian crises Ethiopia has known since the famine that hit the nation in the 1980s.
The reformist leader, who recently received a significant accolade in the Nobel Peace Prize, the first ever in Ethiopia, has reshuffled the country’s political system. He introduced Medemer, a term floated when the prime minister was delivering his inauguration speech upon taking the oath of office in April 2018 and accidently on purpose the same day on which the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was launched.
Medemer, seemingly the peak of Abiymania, the growing sense of a personality cult of the young prime minister, is a book in which he presents his political ideology and a reminder of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s Green Book.
The new ideology implies the national merging of all the country’s ethnicities under a powerful centralised system in which ethnicity is abandoned for the sake of “Ethiopianness”, a term that has recently surfaced as a nationalist sensation in the second-most populous nation in Africa.
By all appearances, the would-be system looks good, as it would join all the ethnicities under the banner of one united Ethiopia, except that it does not appeal even to a big portion of Ahmed’s fellow Oromo, who burnt the book carrying his image in apparent defiance of the young leader’s perceived notion of tomorrow’s Ethiopia.
Moreover, Ahmed was received with “Down with Abiy” chants by angry Oromo in the city of Ambo, the cradle of anti-government protests that brought to an end the Tigrayan hegemony over Ethiopia’s polity.
But this is not all the prime minister has to care about. Ahmed has to run the gauntlet of the opposition because lurking behind it are the Tigrayans, the once-powerful elite that swept Ethiopia’s politics and economy under late prime minister Zenawi. They have their own woes because they feel marginalised.
In June 2019, Debretsion Gebremichael, being groomed for the post of prime minister after the sudden resignation of Desalegn, uttered his ethnicity’s outcry. Gebremichael, once infamously described as the “Joseph Goebbels of Ethiopia” due to his tight grip on all branches of the security apparatus, explicitly spoke of secession. He said there was a growing feeling in Tigray to secede from the rest of the country.
In reality, Mekele, the capital city of Tigray, has turned into a hub for former intelligence and security chiefs, ministers, and media personnel who were removed from office either because of the atrocities they committed while in power or as a means to make it up to other furious ethnicities. Concurrently, fierce media campaigns have been directed against the Tigrayans, demonising the small minority and putting the blame on them for Ethiopia’s current plight.
As a response, outrage against Ahmed is rife in the region, something he has watered down by saying that democracy comes at a cost.
Banking on the support of the Ethiopian people, Ahmed has distanced himself from the ill-famed EPRDF and sought its transformation into one single party, the Ethiopian Prosperity Party (EPP). This potential party would include all affiliated parties, with representation based on an ethnicity’s size and population. No wonder the Tigrayans gnashed their teeth over the idea instantly.
The whole idea hinges on a presupposition that Ahmed will get the so-called popular mandate he seeks when Ethiopians go to the polls in May 2020. Here, there are two divergent paths. Some active political forces, including the prime minister himself, are in favour of the idea of holding elections no matter what. This camp thinks that the newly elected MPs would be empowered enough to trigger the needed changes, both political and economic.
The other camp wants a transitional period until constitutional and political reforms are introduced. Advocates here believe that the rush for elections, amid growing tensions and multi-ethnic rifts, would dearly cost the nation. They are also afraid that the nation itself may be at stake as everybody recalls the sad memories of the 2005 elections, held under Zenawi.
That time round things almost got out of control as violence erupted in Oromia and Addis Ababa itself over claims of vote-rigging. The 2005 elections ended in hundreds dead, thousands arrested, many prominent political figures forced into exile, including the famed judge Birtukan Mideksa, who now serves as the chairwoman of Ethiopia’s National Electoral Board.
Like the godfather Zenawi whose ethno-federalism, seen as the cause of each and every plight in a highly-polarised Ethiopia, helped him to tighten his grip on power, Ahmed seemingly wants to attain the same goal, unleashing what others think of as another monster, the single party system.
Zenawi’s so-called notion of “Unity in Diversity”, which the country’s ethnicities once celebrated, will be sent into oblivion given the new prime minister’s philosophy of rule. The gains of the ethnicities, most importantly their sense, to say the least, of semi-autonomous rule, may vanish into thin air.
Like turkeys voting for Christmas, to which camp will the Ethiopians align themselves: the hated EPRDF or Ahmed’s EPP? Stay within the EPRDF and ethnic rifts could overwhelm Ethiopian politics for decades to come. Accept Ahmed’s new recipe of rule, and then being Oromo, Tigrayan, Amhara will not matter, because what would matter the most would be that you are Ethiopianist.
The New Times – Rwanda
By: Joseph Rwagatare
The headlines have not stopped or changed in the last several days. They have all been a variation on this: Rwanda launches electric car in partnership with Volkswagen, the German car maker – the first of its kind in Africa.
This has been in reference to the unveiling on October 30 of the e-Golf model that will be running on Rwanda’s roads.
It follows the introduction of electric motor cycles on Rwanda’s roads a little earlier.
In between the two events, there was another first: the inauguration of a smart phone – the Mara – made in Rwanda.
All these are examples of this country’s readiness to innovate, venture into new areas, and find fresh things that will transform the country. That is also the meaning of innovation: to provide solutions to current challenges, but more importantly look to the future. This also happens to be the focus of Rwanda’s leadership.
These firsts of the last few days are part of a pattern that goes back more than two decades. One would be forgiven to think that scoring firsts has become a habit in Rwanda. It seems to be a habit of bold initiatives and approach to issues born of the determination to transform the country.
First in this apparent pattern was the pioneering gender policies which have defined the country’s approach to social and development issues. For well over a decade, Rwanda has been the world’s number one country in women in parliament. The representation of women in public life actually goes beyond the legislature. Their number in cabinet, as CEOs of corporations, and in other top decision making positions is also among the highest in the world.
Then the economy began to claim top spot in global rankings across different sectors. This happened in doing business, competitiveness, government effectiveness, safety, the fight against corruption and many more. GDP continued to grow at an average rate of eight percent per annum for well over ten years. Poverty reduced significantly.
The same was evident in social affairs that saw the expansion of education and healthcare, drastic reduction in mortality due to disease or absence of medical care, and a corresponding rise in life expectancy.
Less spoken about but equally remarkable has been the country’s leading position in environmental protection and wildlife conservation. The ban of plastics bags, which was also a first, and conservation of the famous gorillas are perhaps the exception.
But there is more. For instance, it was reported this week that the country had reached the 30% forest cover of its total land area one year ahead of the date it had set itself.
Reforestation, together with the restoration of wetlands across the country, the management of the steep hillsides, better land use and planned, modern village settlements have been key to national environmental protection.
In the last few years Rwanda has embraced and become champion of the concept of smart cities and green architecture. This, in addition to being a leading supporter of the Montreal Accord and the Paris Climate Agreement, show Rwanda’s commitment to protect the earth we share.
Again, this concern for the environment is not because it is a fashionable campaign, but rather because it and climate change are grave existential matters that this country takes very seriously. And as in many other instances, the practice here is to think ahead, anticipate challenges and prepare for them instead of waiting for them to become emergencies and then act.
Along the way innovation of all kind, especially in terms of technology and policy as well as actual practice, has taken centre stage. Young people are constantly coming up with various applications as solutions to the challenges we face and so make our lives better.
The latest innovation, at least in policy terms, also a first, has been the introduction of the VW electric car and the electric motor cycle. Both are, of course, a solution to mobility. But more than that, they are an answer to concerns of rising carbon emissions. With their introduction, environmental issues are being taken to another level.
The significance of this development in national and global terms cannot be gainsaid. It shows that you can grow the economy and protect the environment at the same time; that you can combine technological innovation with environmental conservation, and in fact use one to serve the other.
For many years, Rwanda was known for its steady and high rate of economic growth, and gender policies. It has now become a country of innovation as well and will be defined by that for the next few decades. It will also be seen as a country where innovation and environmental protection meet and propel development.
Last year the World Travel Guide ranked Rwanda the 17th greenest place in the world. With these new developments we should not be surprised if the next ranking is way near the top.
By: Attia Essawi
The attention of many observers was riveted on Washington this week, where the foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met to iron out their differences surrounding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project.
The meeting, sponsored by the US, was also attended by World Bank representatives, marking a precedent in the protracted negotiating process over the GERD.
The meeting appears to be an implicit response to a request by Cairo, as Addis Ababa has long resisted including a fourth party to help overcome the impasse in the negotiations between them. World Bank experts have considerable experience in resolving conflicts between countries that share transboundary rivers, and they work by a set of rules devised by the World Bank regarding the use of such international watercourses.
The primary principle is that no country on such a watercourse should engage in any hydraulic activity such as building dams, electricity generating facilities or irrigation canals, that might harm other countries on that river course without obtaining their prior agreement.
Egypt, which could be severely jeopardised by the GERD unless certain conditions are met, welcomed Washington’s invitation to the talks in the hope that the US, by dint of its close relations with both Ethiopia and Egypt, will be able to bridge the long-standing differences between them.
These differences cntre around the schedule for the first filling of the GERD reservoir and the creation of a mechanism for coordinating the dam’s operations with those of downstream dams in Sudan and Egypt, so as to ensure that the water needs of these two countries are preserved in a sustainable way.
Egypt believes that an equitable balance must be struck to enable Ethiopia to achieve its electricity production needs for development while safeguarding Egypt’s water rights. Egypt’s water needs have climbed exponentially in tandem with its population growth and the consequent mounting demands on domestic agricultural production.
Egypt cannot sustain a sharp reduction in its historic quota of Nile water of 55.5 billion m3 a year, which is already short of its water needs. It is because of its current water deficiency that Egypt insists on an agreement over the number of years needed to fill the GERD reservoir, the maximum annual reductions in the flow of water, and measures to compensate for low flooding seasons.
These are all matters with which World Bank experts are familiar, which is why their opinions are so valuable. They can be expected to offer frank assessments of the problems, the legal situation, and possible remedies. This should strengthen Egypt’s position.
Ethiopia has the right to reject the proposals of the mediator or even the mediation itself; however, the World Bank’s participation in the talks could offer it an honourable way out if it accepts the World Bank recommendations without having to appear as if it had bowed to Egypt’s demands for a mediator that it had previously rejected.
Egypt entered the meeting in Washington armed with an arsenal of agreements that support its historic rights to the Nile and bolster its case. Among these are the 1929 Agreement between Egypt and Britain on behalf of its then colonies of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan granting Egypt the right to veto any upstream project that could threaten to reduce or delay the arrival of its share of Nile water.
Two other agreements precede this. The first is the 1902 Agreement between Ethiopia and Britain, as the then occupying power of Egypt and Sudan, prohibiting the construction of dams on the Blue Nile, Lake Tana (the source of the Blue Nile), or the Sobat River (its southern tributary in Ethiopia) without Cairo’s approval.
The second is the 1891 Agreement between Britain and Italy, which occupied Ethiopia at the time, prohibiting any hydraulic project or facility on the Atbara River (the northern tributary of the Blue Nile) that could reduce the flow. A century later came the 1992 Agreement between Egypt and Ethiopia to organise cooperation on the use of Nile water in accordance with international law and the principle of the avoidance of harm to the other party.
More recently, in 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed the Declaration of Principles Agreement that states that the filling of the GERD reservoir should not begin before a tripartite agreement over the rules for the first filling and a mechanism to coordinate operations between the GERD and downstream dams in Sudan and Egypt, so as to ensure that the levels of water in the downstream reservoirs do not fall to levels that could impair their electricity production capacities.
The agreement also calls for the implementation of the recommendations of the committee of international experts on how to avert or remedy any potential detrimental effects the GERD might have on the environment or on the flow of the Blue Nile to Egypt and Sudan.
Another point is that the three countries should cooperate in the utilisation of Nile water in the framework of the principles of international law, on the basis of a mutual understanding of the water needs of all the parties to the agreement, and in accordance with the principle of the mutual avoidance of harm.
Under the agreement, the three parties are committed not just to averting harm, but also to taking all necessary measures to alleviate any damages that have occurred, including possible compensation to the damaged party. With this agreement, Cairo obtained a firm written pledge from Addis Ababa that it would not inflict tangible harm on Egypt’s acquired historical rights to the Nile water.
It is anticipated that the Washington meeting will result in an agreement to activate the 2015 Declaration of Principles Agreement and to resume talks between the six-member committee consisting of the three countries’ foreign ministers and irrigation ministers and attended by World Bank experts.
Alternatively, it might be agreed to hold a second foreign ministers meeting in Washington or to defer the resumption of trilateral talks in the above-mentioned committee until after consultations are held in the three capitals in order to deliberate possible concessions or other stances in advance of further meetings.
In the event of an agreement, a tripartite summit will be held to formalise it. At the very least, the tripartite committee of independent experts will resume its work, as Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed agreed on the side lines of the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi last month, but with a more open-minded and constructive attitude and with a firmer resolve to produce a final concept for the rules governing the filling of the GERD reservoir and the dam’s operations.
Whatever the case may be, the Washington meeting should shift the GERD negotiations out of their current standstill.
By: Ahmed Morsy
The foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are set to meet in Washington on Wednesday 6 November with the aim of reaching an agreement on the operation and filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in a way that does not affect Egypt’s quota of Nile water.
Ethiopia and Egypt accepted a US invitation to put their heads together to attempt to reach a breakthrough in negotiations over GERD which came to a standstill last month.
The talks were set to be attended by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, no further details on the meeting were available.
On Monday, following a phone call with US President Donald Trump, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi tweeted: “I express my personal gratitude and Egypt’s appreciation to Trump on the efforts exerted to sponsor tripartite talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in Washington.” He said he was confident the US meeting would break the stalemate in GERD negotiations.
According to a statement by the Egyptian presidency, Trump stressed his keenness on the success of the negotiations. He was scheduled to receive the foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in the Oval Office at the beginning of the talks.
For the first time since the beginning of the four-year negotiations over GERD, an outside party — the United States — has become involved.
Throughout the talks, the tripartite negotiations did not lead to any tangible progress. Early last month Egypt officially declared that negotiations with Ethiopia over the conditions for operating the dam and filling its reservoir had reached a dead end due to the “intransigency” of the Ethiopian side and that the need to involve an effective international mediator had become indispensable.
David Malpass, president of the World Bank, was also scheduled to attend the meeting. The World Bank has considerable experience in resolving conflicts between countries that share transboundary rivers. Before heading to the US, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said that Egypt hoped that the Washington meeting will result in “signing a binding legal tripartite agreement that preserves the water rights of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan”.
According to former irrigation minister Mohamed Nasr Allam, holding the meeting in the US capital was considered a success; Washington’s invitation to host the meeting encouraged Ethiopia to attend.
“Whether or not the meeting in Washington results in a mutual understanding, even if preliminary, it will be in Egypt’s interests. If no understanding is reached, at least the meeting will be an opportunity for Egypt to present its just cause to the world,” Hani Raslan, a well-versed Nile Basin expert at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said.
Allam echoed the same position. “This is the first step for Egypt to internationalise the GERD issue in search of a peaceful solution to the conflict in accordance with the UN charter and to clarify the causes and consequences of the crisis,” he said on his Facebook page.
Nevertheless, Raslan believes that the bar of ambitions and hopes should not be raised based on the outcome of the Washington meeting, but should be seen as “a step forward in a struggle believed not to be short-termed”.
As a result of the deadlock in negotiations, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said in October that Egypt called for the implementation of Article 10 of the Declaration of Principles, signed between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in March 2015, to involve an international mediator in the GERD negotiations to help reach a fair and balanced agreement without prejudice against any party.
The Ethiopian position has constantly rejected external mediation. In 2017, Egypt suggested that the World Bank be brought in to resolve tensions with Ethiopia over the dam, but Ethiopia rejected the idea. Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to mediate between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed while both were attending the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi. The Russian offer, however, did not materialise into actual mediation.
“The US offer [to sponsor discussion] was the most appropriate because it is the main sponsor of the Ethiopian state and the so-called Ethiopian model of development and stability in the Horn of Africa,” explained Raslan.
For Ethiopia, the $4.8 billion GERD, announced in 2011, paves the way for its development because it is designed to be the centrepiece of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter. When completed in 2022 it will be the largest hydropower project in Africa, generating more than 6,000 megawatts.
Egypt has repeatedly expressed its openness to reaching an agreement with Ethiopia over GERD, saying that reaching a deal would help safeguard the interests of all parties involved and achieve Ethiopia’s development goals.
The Washington meeting was an opportunity for Egypt to show its flexibility vis-à-vis Ethiopian “intransigence” in the dam negotiations over the years. Now the dam is nearing completion despite the lack of adequate studies in terms of construction and hydrological, environmental, economic and social impact, Allam said.
The GERD, which is nearly 70 per cent complete, is being built on the Blue Nile, which accounts for 85 per cent of the Nile waters that reach Egypt. Among the major disagreements is that Egypt wants the filling of the reservoir to take place over seven years instead of three and has requested Addis Ababa to release 40 billion m3 of water per annum. Ethiopia has summarily rejected Egypt’s proposals, seeing them as a violation of its sovereignty.
The spokesperson of the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said that the Egyptian offer, rejected by Ethiopia, presented an integrated proposal for the rules of filling and operating the dam that was fair and balanced and took into account the interests of the three countries involved.
In response, Ethiopia presented a new proposal during the Khartoum meetings in early October which was, according to the spokesperson, “a setback for all the principles previously agreed upon for the filling and operation of the dam”. The Ethiopian proposal did not specify a minimum amount of water to be released annually once the dam was complete. Nor did it include ways to deal with prolonged drought that might occur in the future, the spokesperson said, adding that Ethiopia refused to discuss the rules of operating the dam, and instead limited the negotiations on the filling phase and the rules of operation during the same stage.
This, the spokesperson said, violated Article 5 of the Declaration of Principles, and was not in line with international norms of cooperation in the construction and management of dams on shared rivers.
“The failure to reach an agreement on the filling terms of the GERD reservoir and operation would lead to a significant decline in the annual revenue of the Nile water reaching Egypt. This will render larger areas of fertile land uncultivable. Moreover, it would affect the level of underground water. And it would induce a rise in the salinity of the land in the Delta region as well as cause problems with river navigation because of lower water levels. And it will threaten fisheries in the river,” Allam said.
The former minister also believes that the presence of the World Bank in the meeting is positive because it includes experts who can later play a role as technical intermediaries, and also has the ability to fund and compensate for negative impacts, although he added that some effects cannot be compensated.
Raslan, meanwhile, believes that there is another significant dimension to the Washington meeting: a reference for dealing with any future dams, whether by Ethiopia or any other Nile Basin country.