How Trump 'betrayed' Ethiopia over Nile dam - Beaking Kenya News

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Tuesday, 27 October 2020

How Trump 'betrayed' Ethiopia over Nile dam


For critics of US President Donald Trump, escalating tensions between two long-standing American allies, Egypt and Ethiopia, over a mega-dam on a tributary of the River Nile marks the biggest diplomatic failure of his administration in Africa.

Mr Trump said last week that Egypt might "blow up" the Ethiopian-built dam, despite boasting in January that he deserved a Nobel Peace Prize because he had "made a deal".

"I saved a big war. I've saved a couple of them," he said, shortly after Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abi Ahmed was awarded the prize.

Mr Trump's comments were vague, but seemed to be a reference to his intervention - at the request of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whom he once reportedly called his "favourite dictator" - to resolve the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd).

Egypt sees the dam as an "existential threat" to its survival, a concern shared, albeit to a lesser extent, by Sudan. Ethiopia, on the other hand, regards the dam as vital for its energy needs.

Trump a 'hate figure for Ethiopians'

Kenya-based Horn of Africa security analyst Rashid Abdi said US mediation over the dam had worsened tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia.

"Ethiopia is stepping up security around the dam," Mr Abdi said.

"Its defensive measures include declaring the Benishangul-Gumuz region, where the dam is located, a restricted airspace, and there are also reports that Ethiopia is putting up anti-aircraft batteries around the dam. It probably fears reconnaissance flights by Egypt."

He said this showed Mr Trump's failure to understand how global diplomacy worked.

"He has this misconceived notion that you can cut a deal like in business. So he left the US Treasury to play the lead role in negotiations, when foreign policy is supposed to be conducted by the State Department. The consequences have been to aggravate an already bad situation," Mr Abdi added.

Accusing Ethiopia of negotiating in bad faith following its decision to press ahead with filling the dam before addressing Egypt's and Sudan's concerns about the flow of water to their countries, the US has decided to cut a reported $100m ($$77m) in aid to Ethiopia - Africa's second most-populous state, and a key US ally in the fight against militant Islamists in the volatile Horn of Africa.

"Ethiopia feels betrayed by America, and Trump is now a hate-figure for many Ethiopians," Mr Abdi said, adding that they would be hoping for a Joe Biden victory in the 3 November presidential election.

Trump's diplomatic coup

As Egypt had long-standing diplomatic relations with Israel, the Trump administration was not going to antagonise it at a time when it needed Mr Sisi's help to lobby other Arab states to recognise Israel, Mr Moore said.

"So, the administration became a party in the dispute over the dam, on the side of Egypt," he added.

Its focus on achieving Arab-Israeli rapprochement also shaped its policy towards Sudan, which gave Mr Trump a major diplomatic coup by agreeing, less than two weeks before the US election, to the normalisation of relations with Israel.

Although Sudan's acting foreign minister later said that the decision was subject to ratification by a still-to-be-formed legislative body, the announcement was particularly significant as the East African state had hosted an Arab League meeting in 1967 which famously declared that there will be "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it".

In exchange, Mr Trump, if he wins a second term, is expected to keep pushing Ethiopia to address Egypt's and Sudan's concerns over the dam, while also ensuring that Sudan is removed from the US list of "sponsors of terrorism", opening the way for the country to get badly needed economic aid.

Mr Moore said that while the Trump administration would deserve credit if the US Congress removed Sudan from the terror list, its decision to link this to the recognition of Israel was risky for Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok's government, which took power last year following the overthrow of long-serving ruler Omar al-Bashir.

"The issue of regularising relations with Israel has deeply divided Sudanese society. It could be a destabilising factor at a time when the government already has its own security challenges, and the peace is fragile," Mr Moore added.

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