Ethiopia rejects Trump’s ‘belligerent threats’ over Nile dam

“They (Egypt) will end up blowing up the dam,” the US president said. “And I said it and I say it loud and clear … they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something.”
Saturday 24/10/2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center right, meets with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed  in Addis Ababa, last September. ( AP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center right, meets with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, last September. ( AP)

ADDIS ABABA –Ethiopia on Saturday denounced “belligerent threats” over the huge dam it has nearly completed on the Blue Nile River, a day after US President Donald Trump said downstream Egypt will “blow up” the project it has called an existential threat.

Without naming Trump or the US, the statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office came amid an outcry in Ethiopia over Trump’s latest threat over the dam.

The statement warned that threats of any kind towards resolving the dam dispute were “misguided, unproductive and clear violations of international law.”

“Occasional statements of belligerent threats to have Ethiopia succumb to unfair terms still abound,” Ethiopia’s statement said Saturday.

It added, “Ethiopia will not cave in to aggressions of any kind.”

A separate version of the statement issued in Amharic featured more muscular language.

“There are two facts that the world has certified. The first is that there has been no one who has lived in peace after provoking Ethiopia. The second is if Ethiopians stand united for one purpose, it’s inevitable, they will triumph,” it said.

Trump made the comment while announcing that Sudan would start to normalise ties with Israel. Downstream Sudan is a party to the talks with Ethiopia and Egypt over the disputed dam.

“They (Egypt) will end up blowing up the dam,” Trump said. “And I said it and I say it loud and clear … they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something.”

Apparently responding to Trump’s comments, former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn tweeted, “the man doesn’t have a clue on what he is talking about,” calling the recent remarks “reckless and irresponsible.”

The US president earlier this year told the State Department to suspend millions of dollars in aid to Ethiopia because of the dam dispute, angering Ethiopians who had accused the US of being biased during its earlier efforts to broker a deal on the project among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. Ethiopia walked away from those talks.

“They will never see that money unless they adhere to that agreement,” Trump said Friday.

Ethiopia celebrated the first filling of the dam in August, citing heavy rains, to the dismay of Egypt. Ethiopia later banned flights over the dam amid concerns over possible military action by Egypt.

Now, with Trump’s new remarks, some Ethiopians are urging Ethiopian Americans to help vote him out of office in next month’s election.

The statement by Abiy’s office said the talks with Egypt and Sudan have shown significant progress since the African Union has stepped in to oversee them.

An aerial view of water levels at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Guba, Ethiopia. (AFP)
An aerial view of water levels at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Guba, Ethiopia. (AFP)

Trump’s statement could undermine that process, said Abel Abate Demissie, an associate fellow at Chatham House, adding that it proves the US wasn’t an honest broker from the start.

Ethiopia says the colossal dam could help it become a major power exporter. Egypt depends on the Nile to supply its farmers and a booming population of 100 million with fresh water.

Negotiators have said key questions remain about how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the countries will resolve any future disputes. Ethiopia rejects binding arbitration at the final stage.

A military strike on the dam would be disastrous, one water expert warned.

The dam already has more than 4.9 billion cubic meters of water in its reservoir,” Abebe Yirga said.

“It will affect thousands of people along the way if this huge amount of water gushes out of the dam.”

The Blue Nile joins the White Nile in Sudan to become the Nile, and about 85% of the river’s flow originates from Ethiopia.

Officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023.