America’s Department of State recently suspended $130 million (about R2.2 billion) in aid to Ethiopia because of “a lack of progress” on negotiations pertaining to the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the River Nile.
State department officials says the decision came as a result of “guidance” from President Donald Trump.
Almost half of Ethiopia’s budget is linked to foreign aid. The country depends on economic assistance to support its infrastructure projects, health care and education expansion efforts, and security sector reforms.
The US has reopened the debate on whether developing countries should depend on foreign aid to realise their economic goals.
The decision to suspend aid to Ethiopia comes after almost 10 years of regional and international efforts to mediate the dam dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia.
Almost 60% of Ethiopians do not have access to electricity. The renaissance dam is critical to expand energy sources across the country. The country will also export hydroelectric power to its neighbours.
Since the construction of the dam began in 2011, Egypt has exerted international pressure to manage and slow down the process. The US has sided with Egypt over Ethiopia.
The US has pressured Ethiopia to accept some of the Egyptian demands, including extending the time frame to fill the dam. Such demands are unacceptable to Ethiopiams scientists who advise the government that the time to fill the dam is now.
Trump’s foreign policy strategy towards the dam and Ethiopia has been biased. More than 85% of the Blue Nile waters flow from Ethiopia into Sudan and Egypt.
Thanks to Egypt’s successful lobbying, Ethiopia has never received international financing for the construction of the dam. Ethiopian taxpayers are footing the bill.
Besides financial contributions, Ethiopians are invested emotionally. Ethiopia’s national pride has generated countrywide support for the dam.
It serves America’s interests in the Middle East to side with Egypt’s concerns. Unfortunately, Trump’s decision to stand against Ethiopia has two broad implications at state and continental level. Ethiopia has a huge unemployment problem that mainly affects the youth. The country also experiences recurrent drought.
A large part of its economy relies on international financial support. Additionally, Ethiopia is home to Africa’s second highest population after Nigeria. The country is struggling to cope with an expanding demography.
Thus, Ethiopia needs foreign aid to support its developmental aspirations. This remains the case even as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stewards the country towards financial independence and middle-income status.
The US has traditionally been an ally. For example, the two countries have worked together to find solutions for the crisis in Somalia, Ethiopia’s south-eastern neighbour. The decision to withhold aid could hence be viewed as a betrayal.
Ethiopia has been active in conflict resolution, economic co-operation, economic integration, and the promotion of African causes. This implies that America’s decision to cut aid will not be appreciated by many in sub-Saharan Africa. The AU continues to insist that an African solution can be achieved for an African problem.
Since it started the project, Ethiopia has shown an open and direct approach to involving the downstream states of Sudan and Egypt. It has committed to pursuing diplomatic discussions towards solving key issues. This includes mitigating drought through the long-term operation of the dam.
Ethiopia’s leadership has also continued to insist that scientific facts and objective realities should take precedence over political considerations and nationalistic rhetoric across the three stakeholder countries, especially Egypt.
According to a report in the New York Times, America’s engagement… was an unusual example of Trump’s intervention on an issue in Africa, a continent he hasn’t visited as president and rarely mentions publicly.
Africa has not been a priority in Trump’s foreign policy agenda. His disparaging comments on Africa and people of African descent have angered Africans and black people across the world.
It is not surprising that the US is favouring Egypt over Ethiopia. America needs Egypt as an ally as it navigates the politics in the Middle East. But the fact remains that America enjoys strategic benefits from Egypt and Ethiopia.
By accepting US support, Egypt has shown it would rather ally with the US than depend on the dispute-resolution mechanisms within the continent. Moreover, its use of the Arab League to make statements that portray the dam stand-off as a challenge to Arab states undermines African calls for discussions.
Sudan and Ethiopia are suffering from historic flooding. Sudan has received the brunt of it. Even Egypt is preparing for floods. Ethiopia’s dam did not cause the flooding in Sudan. Nevertheless, once operational, Ethiopia’s dam could avert disasters like flooding in the Nile’s riparian states.
New reports show if it were not for the first filling of the dam, the floods ravaging Sudan would have been worse.
Climatic forecasts indicate that water levels are optimal for filling the dam. It’s critical the three countries expedite the negotiation process.
The renaissance dam will promote regional economic co-operation, expand job opportunities within Ethiopia, and support the manufacturing industry to continue producing goods uninterrupted by power shortages.
Hence, it is incumbent upon Ethiopia, Egpyt and Sudan to keep their eyes on the prize, which is lasting peace and future regional success. The Conversation
* Yohannes Gedamu is a lecturer of political science at the Georgia Gwinnett College
** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.