The squabbling within the negotiating team comes primarily from lack of clarity on who is in charge in providing leadership, claims gossip...

Feb 15 , 2020

There has hardly been any issue that has galvanized Ethiopians - despite their many differences and sources of polarisation - as much as the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) does. For many, the Dam is not a mere public project. It is a symbol of pride; and, a monument under construction invoking hope in a country that has gone through collective despair in the centuries.

It is an icon for many that shows to the world that Ethiopians can muster unity in the face of historical and formidable adversity. It is a living statue to demonstrate their resolve to lift themselves off of the image of their country as a poster child of poverty and misery, a collective shame and shared pain that is too much to bear.

It is upon the shoulders of Ethiopia's current leaders to ensure that the epic political and diplomatic battles to see through the Dam's completion and operation are not to be lost. Close to 11 of them were in Washington, D.C. last week, inching closer to sign a series of agreements with their Egyptian and Sudanese counterparts. Despite the pressure from the Americans and senior officials of the World Bank, the agreements were not signed as had been hoped.

A widely held public mistrust on the part of Ethiopia could be attributed to why its negotiators did not dare to ink the documents with their signature, says gossip. Nonetheless, sharp differences have emerged among members of the negotiating team that is also a major factor that held back the ministers from going ahead with finishing the deal, gossip disclosed.

The squabbling within the negotiating team comes primarily from lack of clarity on who is in charge in providing leadership, claims gossip. Dealing with Egypt and Sudan over the GERD or the broader issue of sharing the Nile waters involves political, economic and security affairs. However, there is a growing feeling that it is essentially a diplomatic battle waged against the interests of other countries, thus it falls within the domain of the foreign service, under the stewardship of Gedu Andargachew, minister of Foreign Affairs, claims gossip.

The soft-spoken Gedu is known to be a keen listener, says gossip. His limitation though is that he is not articulate in languages other than his native Amharic and is new to the job that requires communication with and outspokenness to foreign powers, gossip claims. He is not the lead man on the GERD talks, gossip claims.

The Minister of Water, Irrigation & Energy, Seleshi Bekele (PhD), has a mastery of the subject matter; after all, he is a doctoral graduate of hydraulic engineering from Germany and did his postgraduate studies in the same field in the United States. Prime Minister Abiy has made him the de facto leader of the negotiating team, claims gossip.

Despite his competence with the technicalities of the Dam and its engineering marvels, some of the members in the negotiating team see him as a self-willed technocrat with little desire to listen to the views of others on the team, claims gossip. Some of them privately concede that Ethiopia has already given in - under duress - to the demands of Egypt, which Seleshi was prepared to admit during his recent public address in Addis Abeba, gossip disclosed.

One is the distance Ethiopia traveled to accept the threshold of water release from the Dam to be 39 billion cubic metres (bcm), a position that changed from the original plan of 31 bcm, as opposed to Egypt's 40 billion bcm demand at the beginning, gossip disclosed.

Unhappy with the way Seleshi has been accommodating Egyptian demands, or his perceived reluctance to remain steadfast in the defense of Ethiopia's interests, no less than three members of the negotiating team have submitted letters of complaint to the Prime Minister, gossip disclosed. They warn of talks that are not following the best interests of Ethiopia and tendered their resignations, disclosed gossip.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 15,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1033]

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