MEKONNEN: Trump Needs Both a Lesson in History and Diplomacy 101

Recently, I watched the disturbing video that showed President Trump’s phone conversation with the prime minister of Sudan discussing Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam project. President Trump describes himself as the deal-maker between Egypt and Ethiopia on this project, set to become the largest hydropower plant in Africa. He states Ethiopia broke the deal that he prescribed and, as a consequence, his administration has cut funds to Ethiopia. He described the dam as one that will stop the Nile’s flow. Egypt, he asserts, cannot live with that consequence and will “blow up” the dam. As the U.S president, Trump’s words will reverberate loudly on this project.

President Trump clearly lacks basic knowledge of water flow dynamics and diplomacy. Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have been connected umbilically from the time of Genesis and will continue to do so. Past colonial rules have denied Ethiopia and its people the right to use the Nile by appropriating the total share of the Nile to Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia’s past efforts to utilize the water for its basic needs have been blocked by Egypt’s international lobbying efforts. This has denied Ethiopia capital access for its project.

Dr. Asefa J. Mekonnen
Dr. Asefa J. Mekonnen

Ethiopia is the source of Abay. Abay, as it is called in its motherland Ethiopia, originated in the Northern Highlands of Ethiopia near the Lake Tana base. Abay contributes to more than 80% of the Nile water share. Abay has been flowing for centuries, carrying tons of fertile soils from Ethiopia to Sudan, eroding the Ethiopian highlands. Ethiopia has a population of over 100 million. It is landlocked with a severe shortage of energy and electric power. Less than 20 % of Ethiopians have access to electric light. Its economy is emerging to transform its potential from an agricultural to agro-industrial stage. In order to supply its people with electric power, Ethiopia has initiated the Grand Renaissance Dam project. The project is supported by all Ethiopians and is financed by every Ethiopian. Its technical specifications and its downstream effect have been analyzed by experts showing no reduction in downstream water flow.

Egypt, on the other hand, has an abundance of electric power. Egypt can do better on water resource utilization applying new technologies and desalination. Egypt should focus its attention on partnering with Ethiopia on afforestation projects. This will have the long term effect of improving rainfall in Ethiopian highlands that will ultimately lead to better water flow downstream.

Ethiopia, a God-fearing ancient nation, has never sided on the side of injustice. Ethiopia has never invaded other nations in the past. President Trump needs to acquaint himself with Ethiopia’s historic stand for freedom and justice. Ethiopians have fallen in battle with Americans in the Korean War. In the fight against terrorism, Ethiopia has been a key ally to the United States and the global peace-loving community, fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia. Any power that has tried to undermine Ethiopia and waged aggression and war has been defeated. Neither the United States nor its president has the right to prescribe a deal to Ethiopia. Egypt will not follow this rhetoric and detonate the dam. Egypt and Sudan will continue their peaceful negotiations under the auspice of the Africa Union. The union is impartial and African with sound geopolitical and diplomatic knowledge. I hope Mr. Trump will do his research and restrain his tone on this subject. True leadership needs sound knowledge and civility.

Mekonnen is a Rockville, Maryland-based Ethiopian-American physician.

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