Foreign Minister of Eritrea Osman Saleh arrived in Cairo on Sunday morning on a two-day visit.
In the morning hours today (Monday), Foreign Minister, Osman met with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and hand delivered a message from President Isaias Afwerki.
President Isaias’ message focuses on strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries and on regional issues of mutual interest.
During the meeting that was held at the presidential palace in Cairo, President Al-Sisi expressed his appreciation for the message of President Isaias and reiterated Egypt’s readiness to further deepen existing ties of cooperation with Eritrea.
Eritrea’s ambassador in Cairo and Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry were also present in the meeting to discuss the importance of strengthening consultation and coordination between Egypt and Eritrea on regional and international issues of mutual interest.
Egypt’s Spokesman for the presidency, Alaa Youssef, revealed that Eritrea regards Egypt as one of the most important pillars of stability in Africa, especially in light of the challenges and conflicts which face the continent.
President Al-Sisi also asked FM Osman to convey his greetings to President Afwerki, stressing Egypt’s keenness on continuing consultation and coordination with Eritrea on various issues, in light of the distinguished bilateral relations between the two countries in various fields.
President Isaias Afwerki gave a live Radio and TV interview to national media outlets on the 22nd and 23rd of January 2016 on a wide range of domestic and regional issues.
On the question about the Millennium Dam that is being built by Ethiopia on the Nile river and its ramifications to regional stability, President Isaias replied by saying the following:
PRESIDENT ISAIAS: “This is one of our neighborhoods that I described earlier in discussing our regional policy. In this case, it is unfortunate that there are tendencies to overlook the main issues and dwell on peripheral matters instead. These may have been conveniently couched in technical terms. But those are not the real problems. Historically, various Ethiopian regimes have used the Nile as a political instrument. Generally, the geopolitical issues associated with the Nile River are controversial. The geopolitics of the Nile has remained controversial for a long time. Mengistu’s regime portrayed Eritrea as “an appendage and instrument of the Arabs” and was brandishing the Nile River as a countervailing force to the “oil of the Arabs”.
Shortly after independence, Prime Minister Melles raised the issue of the Nile River with senior Egyptian authorities on the margins of the OAU Summit in Cairo that Eritrea also attended for the first time. We had misgivings about the purpose and timing of raising the matter when the Prime Minister consulted us in advance since we were working and cooperating closely on a variety of regional issues. At the time, there were widespread rumours that Egypt was diverting the Nile River to sell water to Israel; that a new canal was being built through Suez Canal and the Sinai to Israel…”.
Melles was furious after his meeting with Omar Suleiman, whose response was apparently “condescending”, and vowed that he will “make them buckle under one day”. So the Millenium Dam under construction has historical baggage that goes back to those days and perhaps earlier times.
We can also relate our own experience. We initiated a project for the mutual use of the Setiti River. A feasibility study was subsequently conducted. Later they abandoned the project and went their own way. That choice was not made on the basis of sound project appraisal but for ulterior reasons.
To come back to the Nile issue, our views are not influenced by the current conflict or severed ties we have with the TPLF regime. We also recognize that both the Sudan and Egypt may adopt their respective sovereign positions on the matter. We can never say that the people of Ethiopia should not benefit from the Nile River. The point is the objectives of such a project should take into account, first and foremost, the interests of the Ethiopian people. This boils down to the benefits and dividends that accrue to the Ethiopian people in various parts from this project in terms of expanded electricity supply, agriculture, manufacturing, as well as the industrial and services sectors.
And from what we know, we cannot say that the project was driven by these primary factors. I am not saying that the expected output of 6000 Megawatts is huge for Ethiopia’s needs. But there are so many associated technical issues that have not been disclosed – even if one advances the argument the information is an internal matter and not in the public domain – and that corroborate that domestic use was not the primary consideration.
One can also discuss the ramifications of mega or white elephant projects elsewhere that have mostly ended up in failure. Power plants that are primarily geared towards export to neighbouring countries have to grapple with a host of technical and commercial hurdles. If the primary target is for national or domestic use, the ground work has to be laid down properly. In view of all these factors, I do not think that the conditions for an exhaustive and sober discussion on the rationale and potential consequences of the project have been reached yet.”