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Ethiopia's national idea threatens a new war in Africa

Ethiopia's national idea threatens a new war in Africa

Tags: Ethiopia, Egypt, Water, War, Africa, Politics, International relations, Analytics, Dyke

Egypt is on the verge of a war with Ethiopia, the cause of which is the construction by Ethiopians of a large-scale dam and hydroelectric power station on the Nile River. For Egypt, the implementation of this project without exaggeration is a matter of life and death, for Ethiopia - a new national idea. What are the chances that a new hot spot will appear on the world map?

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri has already left for Addis Ababa, but the situation is at an impasse. In Egypt, some political forces openly call for the beginning of military operations against a neighboring country. The matter is that in case of realization of the hydrotechnical project on the Nile the country can remain without water resources and power, having got in dependence (both economic, and political) from the Christian Ethiopia, applying for a role of the new regional leader.

Ethiopia is building a hydroelectric power station so monstrous that it would attract international attention regardless of political resonance and conflict with Egypt. Including, and therefore the Ethiopians have long tried to keep the details of the project in the strictest secrecy - and not unsuccessfully.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (in Ethiopia it is shortly called "Hidase" - in Amharic "Renaissance", and in international journalism for increased injection - "Project X") will be bigger and more powerful than the Sayano-Shushenskaya HPP in Russia, which in itself characterizes the scale of the construction and ambitions of the builders. Total estimated cost is already selected to 5 billion dollars, or 10 billion Ethiopian birrs - it's almost 10% of the country's GDP.

Back in 1929, Great Britain, Egypt and Ethiopia signed an agreement according to which Cairo has the right to veto any projects of neighboring countries on the Nile. Then the Negus Negro (king of kings) of Ethiopia Menelik III undertook "for all eternity" not to conduct any work on the Blue Nile, Lake Tana and the Sobat River, capable of stopping the flow of water into the great sacred river called the Arabs of An-Nil. In 1959, this contract was somewhat modernized, but its essence persisted until very recently. That is, the regime of treaties of the colonial era is practically unchanged in the 21st century. And one of the sides - Egypt - it is profitable, and the other - Ethiopia - is unprofitable (thus the British favored their semicolony at the expense of an independent and obscure Ethiopia), and now Addis Ababa is trying with all his might to withdraw from this regime.

Along the map of the world there were two more states (one - literally before our eyes), vitally interested in Nile water - Sudan and Southern Sudan.

Ethiopia decided to get rid of colonial restrictions unilaterally immediately after the appearance of the Hidase project. In 2013, the country's parliament ratified a controversial law calling for the replacement of colonial treaties with new ones that would open for the country a legitimate opportunity to dispose of the waters of the Nile and Lake Tana. The then head of Egypt, Muhammad Mursi, was busy with very different problems and stated that he would not get involved in the war with Ethiopia, but he would not allow to question the water supplies to Egypt. This was not very convincing, and in the country, for 95% of whose population the Nile is literally everything, they started talking about the betrayal of national interests by the "Muslim Brotherhood" for the sake of the mythical caliphate and personally Mursi. It can not be said that this was a decisive factor in the overthrow of the Mursi regime, but public opinion influenced.

In this case, many Egyptian politicians already in 2013 openly and publicly called for the immediate declaration of the war of Ethiopia.

The current President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has embarked on a major modernization of all aspects of the Egyptian life: from birth control to economic diversification. It can be understood and supported - the country is extremely neglected, and the short rule of the "Muslim Brotherhood" has nearly finished it off. In such an environment, to face a shortage of water and, as a result, energy (Egypt lives, including at the expense of the Aswan dam built by the USSR, but the growing economy is sorely lacking in electricity) - this is the last thing the Egyptian leader would like to face.

Al-Sisi developed violent diplomatic activity, and in the spring of 2015 he managed to conclude a new tripartite agreement on the Nile with Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariyam Desalen and Sudanese President Omar Bashir. But his text was vague and did not impose any direct obligations on Addis Ababa. The Ethiopians even considered this treaty their own diplomatic victory, because in fact they had the long-awaited right to implement infrastructure projects on the sacred river without regard to Cairo's position. They were only required to "observe the interests of Egypt," and they do not care about such commitments in Africa. Moreover, all the "black" African countries have stepped in for the Ethiopians to the south of it, because they also expect to receive cheap electricity from Project X - Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Subsequently, South Sudan and Djibouti, formally not part of the Nile basin, but also counting on cheap electricity, also joined this coalition.

Egypt was isolated. Even the Sudan began to turn away from him, on the border with which the Ethiopians and erect a monster dam. Khartoum unilaterally abolished the "Strategic Pact" with Cairo, which largely duplicated the colonial agreements, for which Addis Ababa promised to erect a "counterplot" in the Sudan and share the profits.

In the end, even friendly Israel was included for the friendly Ethiopia, which, in general, does not care, but why not once again do harm to the Arabs.

For Ethiopia, Hidase turned into something like a national idea. "The dam we are building by joint efforts is one of the megaprojects not only of Africa, but of the whole world, becoming a source of our national pride" - such words were commented on by Prime Minister Heilemariam Desalen.

From a poor state, such a large-scale infrastructure project required a tremendous effort. About two billion dollars invested by Chinese banks, and the rest of the Ethiopians, tightening their belts, somehow managed to recruit themselves with some participation of the African Development Bank. Exploration and design work was carried out by the Americans in 2010 in the year of the strictest secrecy (hence the "Project X"), and the tender for construction was won by the Italian firm Salini Costruttori. However, all the costs promise to pay off a hundredfold, which will make Ethiopia the second largest producer of electricity in the continent after South Africa and bring it to regional leaders, including politically, by throwing back the former absolute leader - that same Egypt.

In Cairo, they believe that the Mursi regime, the chaos of the "Arab Spring" period and other troubles of the troubled times are to blame. It was during these years that Ethiopia, as it were, was quietly, without encountering resistance from the north, and turned the whole story from the hydroelectric station. The active phase of construction began two months after the overthrow of the government of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and this is not a coincidence. Now that the reservoir is already ready for 50%, it's too late to recall the agreements of colonial times and to exert diplomatic pressure on Addis Ababa, which will never give up the project that has become a national idea.

The fear and panic in Cairo are growing exponentially. First, the Egyptians are afraid of a sharp decrease in the Nile flow after filling the reservoir reservoir. Secondly, the concentration of water in the reservoir will cause its reduction due to fumes.

Thirdly, the dam turns for Egypt into the "star of death" - a single discharge by Ethiopians of water from the reservoir can kill two-thirds of the Egyptians by the river tsunami.

At the same time, Addis Ababa ignores international conventions and resolutions of the UN General Assembly on the use of water resources.

Cairo is not yet inclined to a military solution of the situation, the more its not the result is not obvious. Yes, the army and the capabilities of the two countries are even funny to compare, but what exactly is being proposed? Occupy the Ethiopian province of Benishangul-Gumuz? Put a puppet government in Addis Ababa? Both options are a headache, not to mention the fact that Ethiopia in its mass is a Christian country, and such a conflict would quickly grow for Egypt into another serious problem.

However, a series of small border conflicts is quite possible. They can destabilize the situation in the region where construction is conducted, which can affect the project participants, including the Chinese. The prospect of a protracted confrontation "on a water basis" with shooting is now, unfortunately, quite real.

Another thing is that Egypt is obviously not ready for such a development of events, and Ethiopia is a tough nut to crack. The only ally of Cairo in this sense was and remains the poorest country in the region - Eritrea, the historically irreconcilable enemy of Ethiopia. And Addis Ababa, by the way, could easily swallow it, not taking into account the Chinese interests in the Red Sea.

While various diplomatic missions remain hopeful of continuing the dialogue between Cairo and Addis Ababa. The World Bank seems to have decided to act as mediator, but its services often look dubious. The mission of Minister Shukri is not finished yet and will certainly be postponed to the next year.

Eugene Kroutikov
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