Opinion| Ethiopia’s war on social media

Hatem Sadek
6 Min Read

The last opportunity in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations has ended.

This was in Uganda, when the Ethiopian side insisted on thwarting any hope for a solution that meets the demands of the three parties [Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia] without harming the interests of any of them.

The loss of the last opportunity does not necessarily mean launching a war or using military force against a country like Ethiopia. But it does mean approaching the Egyptian red lines and violating its share in River Nile waters, and thus reduces the diplomatic options on the Egyptian side that adheres to peaceful and negotiating solutions. 

Dr. Hatem Sadiq

This may also lead to the internationalisation of the crisis and the intervention of the United Nations (UN), the UN Security Council, and perhaps the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The Egyptian constants are well known, and they can be summarised as the following. Firstly, not to bring Ethiopia into a state of chaos, because of its dangerous repercussions on Egyptian national security. Secondly, to create a legal form that is regionally and internationally recognised to manage the Nile River away from political conflicts or crises in Ethiopia. 

Finally, to reach a binding and legal agreement under the auspices of regional and international organisations that takes into account the historical rights of downstream countries from exploitation or manipulation by internal or external parties.

Everyone realises that Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, is repeating heroic statements related to this file that have no basis in reality, to titillate the feelings of Ethiopians ahead of the country’s elections this May. 

This is because Ahmed realises that his tough stance on the issue of the GERD crisis, and his rivalry with a country of the size of Egypt, is a guarantor that gives him preference. It also improves his image in front of the Ethiopian voter who suffers from the deteriorating security and internal living conditions.

Ahmed has also succeeded in turning the dam issue into an ambitious national project around which all spectrums of the Ethiopian people, with all their backgrounds, are united. 

It is sufficient to realise that Addis Ababa is paying huge sums on social networks to play on national feelings, and present the dam as if it is the weapon that will restore the country’s glory in the face of the colonialists, and as a tool for national liberation.

According to what was published by Western press sources, the Ethiopian Government has allocated more than $3m (a donation from an Arab country) to launch a strong campaign on social media sites. This is aimed at spreading false facts about River Nile waters and rumours about Egypt as a country seeking to sabotage the Ethiopian economy and spread chaos by supporting the minorities. 

Anyone can notice the huge number of Ethiopian pages that spread overnight, with no goal other than to criticise Egypt, its policy, and its government, insulting its rulers, and questioning all the achievements Egypt is witnessing.

It is also worth noting that the same Arab country that helps Ethiopia in tarnishing Egypt’s reputation is also the one who pumped investments estimated at $18m to cultivate more than one million acres in the dam area. This amount was used to accelerate the construction process of the dam’s structure.

The real crisis is that the problem of the GERD is being dealt with in Ethiopia because it is the winning card in the upcoming elections to keep Ahmed in power after the economic deterioration and tribal and ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia and even with its neighbours.

To reach this dubious goal, many historical and geographical constants are neglected, especially because the environment of Ethiopia’s geographical neighbourhood, represented in the Horn of Africa, includes many interests and issues of common interest. 

As a result, Ethiopian events cannot be isolated from their regional surroundings, which could harm the stability of that vital region and threaten the interests of the countries of the region. For this reason, we find that there is an accelerating trend towards African mediation to solve this conflict.

Perhaps these endeavours stemmed from the fears of some African countries that what is happening in Ethiopia will eventually lead to the outbreak of a civil war that the country or the Horn of Africa cannot bear. This is because that would fuel internal conflicts in Sudan and Eritrea, especially if the crisis is prolonged. 

These conflicts are largely subject to military calculations and external interference. And this is what Egypt fears, that the Horn of Africa will fall into chaos and it is a risk that no one knows its extent.

Dr Hatem Sadek, Professor at Helwan University

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