Ethiopian armed conflict could affect Nile dam dispute

The armed conflict in Ethiopia between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has recently climbed. Tensions began to rise after the Tigray region rejected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to postpone legislative elections due to the coronavirus pandemic and unilaterally decided to hold their own polls in September. November 5, Ahmed declared a full-scale war on the TPLF, after the latter attacked a federal military base in Tigray.

The TPLF had dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition before Ahmed took power in 2018, but she refused to join Ahmed’s administration, accusing it of targeting and marginalizing its leaders.

The TPLF, which brings together approximately one quarter million armed fighters, was also involved in a war with Eritrea over disputed border territory between 1998 and 2000, which ended with the signing of a peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Recent fighting in Ethiopia coincides with the stalled negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which stopped on October 22 at the request of Sudan.

Observers believe that the resumption of negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in the coming days will be difficult due to the armed conflict in the Tigray region.

The bloody incidents in Ethiopia unfold near the GERD construction site, where more recently 34 people were killed in an attack on a bus in Benishangul-Gumuz, western Ethiopia.

The Egyptian media have been Turn on the light on the incidents in Ethiopia and their impact on the GERD crisis. During his “Al Hekaya” TV show on November 16, Amr Adib, an Egyptian pro-government media figure, criticized Turkey’s intervention in the Ethiopian armed conflict and accused Turkey of exploiting the incidents to get closer to Ethiopia.

On November 16, Ethiopian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speak on the phone to discuss the latest developments in the Tigray region.

In this context, Hani Raslan, head of the Sudan and Nile Basin studies department at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor: “Ethiopia is experiencing a fierce civil war which will affect GERD crisis.

“Ethiopia’s resources are scarce. Therefore, when the Ethiopian government engages in a large-scale military operation against Tigray, it will definitely affect the funding allocated for the construction of the GERD, as the country’s resources will be channeled to finance the war,” he said. he explains.

Raslan added, “The civil war in Ethiopia will be protracted due to its ferocity, and therefore, after the end of the war, Ethiopia will find it difficult to finance the construction of the GERD.

He thinks that “the Ethiopian Prime Minister made a big mistake which will certainly affect his position in the GERD negotiations after the Ethiopian army bombed the Tekeze dam in Tigray”.

On November 13, a local official from the Tigray region, Debretsion G. Michael, accused the Ethiopian army to target the Tekeze dam with air raids, cutting off electricity to the entire region.

Although the Ethiopian government responsibility denied for targeting the dam, Raslan said, “Targeting vital facilities such as the Tekeze dam puts Ethiopia in an embarrassing position and proves that the GERD can be targeted should violence flare up in the country. Egypt could exploit this point of the negotiations by confirming its mistrust in Ethiopia’s ability to protect the GERD. If the dam is compromised or collapses, it could drown Sudan and harm Egypt.

Raslan added: “The civil war in Ethiopia has destroyed the political future of Ahmed, whom the world now sees as a warlord rather than a leader who won a Nobel Prize of Peace. The United Nations and rights organizations accused him of civilian genocides, weakening his standing on the GERD case before the world.

November 12, Amnesty International condemned the killing of dozens of civilians in the Tigray region, and the UN warned on 13 November of war crimes in the Tigray region.

Raslan said, “Egypt remains silent and has not commented on the incidents in Ethiopia so that the conflicting political parties in Ethiopia do not take advantage of the Egyptian position.”

Egypt has not yet issued an official statement or comment on the armed conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

As for Sudan, Raslan said: “Sudan has been negatively affected by the conflict in Ethiopia since [thousands] Ethiopian refugees flock there. Sudan wants this crisis to be resolved as soon as possible, even if it would have been in its interest in the GERD negotiations.

On November 16, the UN declared more than 25,000 Ethiopians fled the war and headed for Sudan.

Abbas Sharaky, professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, specializing in the Nile Basin countries, told Al-Monitor: “The construction of the GERD did not stop because of the armed conflict , but the pace of construction has largely slowed. down.”

He said: “The Ethiopian government has its hands full with the armed conflict with the [TPLF], and he will not give importance to GERD developments. This gives Egypt a chance to reshuffle its negotiating cards and gain international and African support.

He added: “The civil war in Ethiopia will be prolonged due to the military might of the [TPLF] and the Ethiopian government’s insistence on destroying the front for fear of division and disintegration of the country, which would weaken the Ethiopian economy and negatively affect funding for the construction of the GERD.

He stressed that “Egypt must [take advantage] and call for a total halt to the construction of the GERD and the storage of water within it since negotiations have been suspended.