Trump’s Stand on GERD

Taye Berhanu (PhD)December 16, 202016710

The presidential election of the United States has attracted the attention of the international community and governments of nations world-wide. This is not without reason. The US, as a superpower nation, has tremendous roles in world order. And, as always, the all-round quality of a leader of this superpower nation is of deep concern to all.President Trump, who is to be called former president after less than a month, is different from all his predecessors in various ways. With his mottos of ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘America First,’ he had created a bizarre situation in the international political arena. He had waged a trade war with China, the emerging superpower after the downfall and disintegration of the former USSR. He had ostensibly forsaken US leading roles in Global Environment, UNESCO and WHO. His construction of a wall alongside the border of Mexico after the downfall of the Berlin Wall and his position on immigrants and COVID-19 had worried global leaders of both developed and developing countries. His re-election for a second term of four years had posed a grave threat to the international community.

It is, therefore, no wonder if Ethiopians sink into bewilderment in view of his unexpected position on the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). It was, alas! a mystery beyond one’s comprehension why President Trump brought the agenda of GERD amidst his busy schedule during an election campaign and at a time when the agenda was already, and is being, entertained by the African Union (AU). The logic in terms of timing and substance remains puzzling.

I could not but assert that President Trump’s statements on GRED are factually erroneous, an unfair biased position and a violation of international norms which all add up to an affront to the international community, the sovereign state of Ethiopia, the AU and last but not least to the people of the USA.

Possible reasons
My instant allusion is that Ethiopia’s refusal to sign the colonial legacy agreement is considered as a show of disrespect to President Trump. If this is the case, he had literally confused sovereignty with leadership of a superpower.

Secondly, maybe President Trump did not like Ethiopia’s growing relations with the People’s Republic of China. It is said that Ethiopia is the largest recipient of Chinese assistance in Africa. China’s influence in Africa and elsewhere could be a threat to the USA, reviving the struggle for the sphere of influence of the Cold War, which is, unfortunately, the unnecessary character of superpowers. No form or amount of assistance will adversely affect Ethiopia’s sovereign right.

Whether the assumptions hold some grain of truth or not, it is the ardent belief of Ethiopia that the wrong message and unexpected position of President Trump could not, hopefully, move forward to mar the close and longstanding relations between the two countries. And, it could not be taken by the administration of the 46th president of the United States of America, President-elect Joe Biden.

Preoccupation or intentional: a great folly
Presumably, the basis of Trump’s position emanates from erroneous information—be it misinformation or otherwise. He asserted that the Dam had stopped the water flow of the Nile, affecting the livelihood of Egypt. This is a most deplorable statement that cannot and never be aired by the president of the United States. I sometimes feel that the mistake was made either due to preoccupation of the campaign or could be intentional. If intentional, then it remains to be untrue and a great folly.

The United States has, without much exaggeration, the monopoly of world information and up-to-date data. Then, how could President Donald Trump wrongly state that the dam had stopped the flow of water to the Nile? As a president who had prepared a deal for the three countries could not miss this minor piece of information. President Trump should have been aware of the fact that the flooding damage of the Nile incurred on The Sudan occurred after the first phase of the dam was completed. One can imagine what the proportion of the damage could have been if the dam was not built. The fact is that the dam has never and will never arrest the flow of the water to the Nile.

Though GERD was realized this year after almost five to seven years start-up, the dream of having a modern dam to help Ethiopia develop was initiated more than half a century ago with the help of US experts. The United States of America has made immense contributions in developing dam projects in Ethiopia that long ago. Then, why this time has the president of the USA not liked the development of Ethiopia through, inter alia, electrification and irrigation works, which was fully supported by his predecessors?

The observer taking sides!
President Trump’s statements were not merely queer and strange. Rather, very cumbersome to fathom. The message underscores President Trump’s direct support and solidarity with Egypt. On the other hand, it is a clarion call for Ethiopia to reconsider its position contrary to its national interests. As an observer or facilitator, taking sides is unwelcome. Apparently, Ethiopia and Egypt are both friendly countries to the United States.

Prior to and since Ethiopia and the United States of America established their diplomatic relations in 1903, they have had longstanding friendly relations, despite some discomforts and zig-zags during the Cold War for around a decade and a half only. Ethiopia has been considered as a strong strategic partner of the US in the global war on terrorism and in peace keeping missions in different countries. Ethiopia’s active role in the United Nations and the African Union; the common stands and cooperation in international affairs the two countries have pursued for years have signified and witnessed the strong relations the two countries have enjoyed. In light of this, what makes President Trump uncomfortable on Ethiopia’s national interest is incomprehensible and a source of bewilderment.

Trump’s position was a flagrant violation of the right of every nation without internal interference.

Inciting friction between two countries
It is utterly wrong to attempt to bring the two brotherly countries to loggerheads. The governments of Ethiopia and Egypt might have made political blunders at various historical periods. But, the bondage that has been cemented for centuries between the peoples of the two brotherly countries cannot fall apart by propaganda warfare. The Nile, since its creation has been shared by the peoples of the surrounding countries.

The water shared has deep psychological and physical glues. The peoples of the area have shared and shined in common biblical and ancient history.

Willy-nilly, the peoples of Ethiopia and Egypt have strong religious and historical relations solidified in the bedrocks of the Nile River, originating from the land of God, the Ghion or Abaye River. History attests that Ethiopia has its own share in the civilization of Egypt, including in the construction of the famous temples. Likewise, Egypt has its roots in Ethiopia’s civilization through the commonly shared belief in Christianity and the Orthodox Church.

There were, indeed, good and bad reflections stirred by various internal and external factors. But, the indelible relationship that cannot be taken away is the water they share through the Blue Nile feeding the Nile.

Grateful for disclosure
We never knew that President Trump was given the mandate to make a deal on GERD and make the parties sign as per his instructions.

We never knew that the Government of Egypt has the ill intention to blow up the dam. Unless he had that clue, he would have never uttered the provocative words officially.

By doing so, he has favoured Ethiopia by depicting the ill-intentions of the government of Egypt to blow the dam; Ethiopia could not think or dream of such things. There is nothing Egypt gains by blowing up the dam. In anyway, President Trump, in his capacity as mediator or observer, had learnt of the intentions of Egypt’s government. Otherwise, it is hard to believe it came out from the mouth of the President out of nothing.

Lessons for Ethiopia
Currently, Ethiopia is in a state of instability, lack of peace, or state of civil war. The ethnic federal system has reached boiling point. The hatred and enmity seeds hatched within the ethnic federal system among the people has consequently bore poisonous fruits of killings, displacement, discrimination, insecurity and fratricidal war. This is a manifestation of a country’s weakness, instability and insecurity. Had Ethiopia been strong and united, sovereignty is secured.

Ethiopians within and outside must be alert and stand in unity with strong conviction and commitment to protect and defend the country and put the home in order. The only remedy or prevention of provocations to its sovereignty is to stand strong and united. This is the right way to secure peace and tranquility, develop and maintain old friends and create new friends.

For Ethiopia, there is no ground to have negotiations on its own resources with any foreign body. True, for a river that crosses a border there could be dialogue and understanding not to affect the interests of the other.

Moreover, Ethiopia should be cautious when a leader of any country shows an interest in being an observer, facilitator or mediator on certain foreign related issues. Personalities should not dictate national, regional and international implications.


9th Year • Dec 16 2020 – Jan 15 2021 • No. 93

Taye Berhanu (PhD)

is an Economist and former diplomat at the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affair. He currently teaches postgraduate classes in various colleges. He can be reached at tayeberhanu27@gmail.com


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