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Further political unrest in Ethiopia affects dam talks with Egypt

By Mahmoud Fouly CAIRO  Egypt (Xinhua) -- The ongoing political unrest in Ethiopia is likely to affect the pace of its negotiations with Egypt on the technical studies related to Ethiopia’s under-construction giant dam on their shared Nile River and its post-construction filling process.

While Ethiopia and Sudan eye massive benefits from the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt is concerned it might affect its 55.5-billion-cubic-meter annual share of the Nile River water.

“Flexibility of Ethiopia’s dam talks with Egypt depends on the degree of political instability there,” said Amany al-Taweel, director of the African Unit at Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

She explained that the situation regarding the dam issue will remain the same as long as the Ethiopian government is able to handle the unrest and restrict it to the level of ineffective protests, even if they continue for a long time.

“If protests escalate to a point of overwhelming the state institutions, this will surely affect the dam talks and the GERD construction rate might slow down due to possible disorder and confusion,” the expert told Xinhua.

Egypt’s ties with Ethiopia have seen ups and downs since the latter started the dam project in April 2011 while Egypt was suffering turmoil following an uprising that toppled veteran President Hosni Mubarak.

When Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi took office in 2014, he showed understanding of Ethiopia’s aspiration for development through the GERD that would produce around 6,000 megawatts of electricity to the country.

In March 2015, the leaders of upstream Nile Basin country Ethiopia and the two downstream partners Egypt and Sudan signed an initial cooperation deal on the principles of sharing the Nile River water and the construction of the GERD, which will be Africa’s largest dam upon completion.

“Since Sisi came to office, he has adopted a cooperative, win-win approach of handling the GERD issue,” said Taweel, citing the positive results of the latest visit of Ethiopia’s outgoing Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn to Cairo and the convention of the Ethiopian-Egyptian joint cooperation committee.

“So, we cannot describe the bilateral relations between Egypt and Ethiopia as tense in general, but they are just at odds when it comes to the dam issue,” she added, describing the Ethiopian position regarding the dam negotiations as “ambiguous and evasive.”

Ethiopia’s current protests have been triggered by the country’s two biggest ethnic groups Oromia and Amhara who say that they have for years been marginalized by the government.

The presidents of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have recently met in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on the sidelines of the 30th African Union summit and agreed to avoid misunderstandings by joint cooperation on common interests.

The meetings of a tripartite technical committee on the GERD have been fruitless over the past sessions and a new ministerial meeting scheduled for Feb. 24-25 in the Sudanese capital Khartoum has been delayed upon Ethiopia’s request due to its current political instability.

Egypt expressed understanding of Ethiopia’s request to delay the upcoming tripartite negotiations, yet the Egyptian Foreign Ministry urged for immediate address of the GERD issue “to reach solutions that maintain the interests of all.”

“The Ministry looks forward to the adherence of the timeframe determined by the three leaders to settle the existing technical disputes; especially as the Renaissance Dam issue affects the interests of the peoples of the three nations,” said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid in a statement Sunday.

Egyptian veteran diplomat Ahmed Haggag, former assistant secretary-general of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), explained that Ethiopia hosts several ethnic groups with different languages, which makes it difficult to run the country’s affairs from the center in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia has been facing incessant protests since 2016, especially in the three most populous regional states of Oromia, Amhara and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP).

“Oromia constitutes to about 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population and Amhara to some 25 percent and they feel marginalization by Dessalegn’s government,” Haggag, also Egypt’s former ambassador to Kenya, explained.

Haggag believes that the ongoing political instability in Ethiopia is likely to delay the pace of negotiations regarding the dam.

“Dessalegn’s resignation may lead to delaying the GERD negotiations, as upcoming tripartite ministerial and technical meetings to be held in Khartoum have already been delayed as per Ethiopia’s request.” the ex-diplomat told Xinhua.



EU calls for inclusive dialogue to solve Ethiopian political crisis

ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia (Xinhua) -- The European Union (EU) mission to Ethiopia on Monday called for the Ethiopian government to conduct dialogue among all stakeholders to resolve the political crisis.

The EU, in a statement that did not explicitly oppose the martial law imposed on Friday, urged the Ethiopian government to limit its scope and respect human rights.

The Ethiopian government imposed the state of emergency on Friday, saying it was to protect the constitution, citizens and their property from the ongoing violent protests in some parts of the country.

“Only a constructive dialogue among all stakeholders—authorities, opposition, media, civil society—will allow for a peaceful and durable resolution of the crisis,” said the EU statement.

On Saturday, the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia urged Addis Ababa to reconsider its decision to institute martial law, saying they “strongly disagree” with the move.

Both the EU and the United States are key development partners to Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has been facing incessant protests since 2016, especially in its three most populous Oromia, Amhara and Southern regional states.

The political crisis led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn last week. The last time Ethiopia witnessed a resignation of a prime minister was 44 years ago.


Ethiopian Martyrs Day: youth urged to fight poverty, uphold stability

ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia (Xinhua) -- Ethiopian youth were called on to eradicate poverty and uphold the long-standing peace and stability values during the Martyrs Day celebration.

Ethiopian patriots and elders made the calls while commemorating the 81st Martyrs Day on Monday, which marked the massacre and imprisonment of Ethiopians by the Italian occupying forces 81 years ago.

Laying wreath at the Martyrs’ Monument in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, Lij Daniel Jote Mesfin, President of Ethiopian Patriots Association, stressed that the fight against poverty and hatred ideology are the current generations’ task.

Estimates suggest that as many as 30,000 Ethiopians were killed by the Italian forces in 1937, mainly through indiscriminate killings in Addis Ababa.

The incident is considered as one of the worst atrocities committed by the Italian occupation forces and has been described as the worst massacre in Ethiopian history.

The commemorative day in Addis Ababa was attended by officials from the federal government, Addis Ababa City Administration and representatives of civil societies and the general public.

Ethiopia, among sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest independent countries, has not been colonized apart from a five-year occupation by Italy forces under the leadership of Benito Mussolini.


Ethiopia and Russia commend 120 years of diplomatic relations

ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia (Xinhua) -- Foreign Ministers of Ethiopia and Russia on Monday commended the two countries’ 120 years of diplomatic relations, with particular praise to relations in the economic, political and international matters.

Workneh Gebeyehu and Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Ministers of Ethiopia and Russia respectively, on Monday exchanged telegram that touched on the two countries’ century-old ties and future partnership implications, according to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

According to Gebeyehu, the past 120 years of diplomatic relations among the two countries “have been a period of consistent friendship and fruitful partnership, particularly in upholding and defending the cardinal principles of state sovereignty and independence.”

Gebeyehu further noted that the celebrations of 120 years of diplomatic relations would serve as an impetus to recommit the two countries to work towards a much more dynamic and encompassing partnership.

Lavrov on his part also commended the achievements made during the historic relations, particularly noting the “high level mutual understanding in the international arena and unchanged commitment towards each others’ interest.”

The Russian foreign minister further expressed his expectations that the “time-proved partnership among the two countries will continue to strengthen in order to ensure peace and stability on the African continent.”

The Ethiopian government has recently indicated its ambition to strengthen economic and investment relations with Russia to cut its trade deficit with Moscow.

According to Meles Alem, Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, the current trade relations between the two “historically connected countries” stood in favor of Russia.

Ethiopian export to Russia last year totaled about 24.8 million U.S. dollars, while its import from Russia was 52.4 million dollars, according to figures from the ministry.



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