By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
We now strive to live with our neighbors in peace and harmony. The Horn of Africa today is a region of strategic significance. The global military superpowers are expanding their military presence in the area. Terrorist and extremist groups also seek to establish a foothold.
We do not want the Horn to be a battleground for superpowers nor a hideout for the merchants of terror and brokers of despair and misery. We want the Horn of Africa to become a treasury of peace and progress. Indeed, we want the Horn of Africa to become the Horn of Plenty for the rest of the continent. –– H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 2019.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” Dr. Martin Luther King —Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 1964.
I have no problems with the U.S. playing the role of “meeting observer”, “discussion facilitator”, “meeting coordinator” or what have you in the GERD discussions and negotiations. But my abiding credo remains: AFRICAN SOLUTIONS FOR AFRICAN PROBLEMS. — Alemayehu G. Mariam
Author’s Note: In Part I of my commentary, I wrote about the sleazy global propaganda campaign being waged by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, World Bank Group President David Malpass and the Egyptian government (“Axis of Lies, Fake News and Disinformation”) to demonize and scandalize Ethiopia and mischaracterize its position in the so-called Washington GERD talks. In Part II, I examine the role of two key individuals in the so-called Washington talks who spearheaded the preparation of the “agreement” and offer my prescriptions on how to fight back the Axis Forces.
Ethiopia is under a propaganda attack!
A multi-pronged propaganda war supported by officials in the Trump Administration, the World Bank, the Egyptian government, Egyptian-government hired international public relations firms and an assortment of sympatico Middle Eastern media networks, hired-hand academic types and pundits is being waged on Ethiopia today.
What are we Ethiopians – scholars, journalists, professionals in medicine, law, engineering and technology, activists, advocates, diasporans, citizens – doing to defend Ethiopia from the blitzkrieg of lies, fake news and disinformation?
What are we doing to defend Ethiopia from the barrage of misrepresentations in the U.S. Congress and in the Trump administration?
What are we doing to defend Ethiopia from the campaign of disinformation and fabrication in the halls of European governments and in the European Union and in the Middle East?
What are we doing to defend Ethiopia from the daily shelling and bombardment of disinformation on Ethiopia by Al-Ahram Online and Egypttoday Online?
Interestingly, Al-Ahram Online is the principal propaganda channel for the Egyptian government. Al-Ahram Online always concludes its articles by declaring use of the Nile is a luxury for Ethiopia but an existential life and death situation for Egypt.
Egypttoday is a fake news factory. A few days ago, Egypttoday put out a story about a handful of Egyptians rallying in front of the White House and posted a picture of certain Ethiopian human rights advocates in the Washington, D.C. area as supporting Egypt’s position and implying they were against Ethiopia. That was a patent lie! But that’s how Egypt’s disinformation machine works.
Fighting the Trump Administration’s “Consigliere” on the so-called “GERD Agreement”
In a letter dated March 5, 2020 to Deacon Yoseph R. Tafari, a distinguished Ethiopian human rights advocate, Adam Lerrick, Counselor to Secretary Treasury Steven Mnuchin offered patently false explnations.
Lerrick is Mnuchin’s “Counsellor” with the official duty of “advising the Secretary on policy initiatives, including international economic and financial stability issues.”
In 2018, Lerrick’s name was withdrawn as President Donald Trump’s nominee for assistant Treasury secretary for international finance because of “concerns about his ties to the Argentine Bond Restructuring Agency, the largest group of foreign investors in Argentina’s debt when the country defaulted.”
There is nothing in Lerrick’s official description that authorizes him to draft international treaties or prepare riparian (river water use) agreements of any type.
In his letter, Lerrick explained, “the sole objective of the U.S. government has been, and continues to be, to assist the three nations that share the waters of the Blue Nile in reaching a fair agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.”
I have serious doubts whether Lerrick is the “Counselor” or “The Consigliere” in the so-called “Washington GERD talks”.
Lerrick and David Sullivan, Assistant General Counsel for International Affairs, U.S. Department of the Treasury, secretly and in cahoots with Egypt prepared the so-called agreement.
It is a case of life imitating art.
Lerrick’s assurances about the “GERD agreement” remind me of Mafia Don Vito Corleone’s retort in The Godfather, “I am going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Don Corleone was responding to his godson’s complaint that he was having difficulty getting a job with a film studio. The studio head later found the severed head of his expensive racehorse in his bed. And the godson promptly got the job.
The way I see it, that is precisely Don Mnuchin and Consigliere Lerrick are saying to Ethiopia: “We have made you an offer you can’t refuse.”
But if you do, well…
Quid pro quo, as they say. No sign agreement, no aid, no loan.
“Ethiopia, do you wanna be the Ukraine of Africa? Go ahead, make our day!” That is the real message in the so-called agreement.
Consigliere Lerrick talks with forked tongue as he tries to lullaby Deacon Yoseph in his letter with sweet-sounding words that are full of legal shrapnel.
The foundation of the agreement must be based upon the principles agreed between the three nations in the 2015 Agreement of Principles, in particular the principles of equitable and reasonable utilization, of not causing significant harm, and of cooperation. The agreement must respect the sovereign right of Ethiopia to develop its water resources… [and ensure] the safety of the dam.
We hope the Ethiopian national consultation process on the GERD agreement will be concluded quickly so that the agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD can be signed at the earliest possible date.
Lerrick lies through his teeth when he claims there is an “agreement” to which Ethiopia is party
First, a simple question to Consigliere Lerrick: What agreement?
The Ethiopian government has declared publicly they have seen no agreement which they agreed to sign.
So, why are Mnuchin, Lerrick and Malpass keeping the so-called GERD agreement SECRET?
Why aren’t they making their agreement public for all to see?
Have they hidden something in their “agreement” they do not want anybody to know?
In proving beyond a shadow of doubt that Lerrick and his boss Mnuchin are lying through their teeth about the so-called agreement and their exclusive role in its preparation, I ask them ONE and ONLY ONE question:
WHY DON’T YOU MAKE PUBLIC THE AGREEMENT YOU CLAIM RESPECTS THE SOVEREIGN RIGHT OF ETHIOPIA TO DEVELOP ITS WATER RESOURCES AND ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THE DAM?
Let us all see how it protects Ethiopia’s sovereign right and ensures dam safety.
The fact of the matter is that six weeks before the Mnuchin-Malpass agreement, a formal joint statement was issued by the parties stating the following:
The filling of the GERD will be executed in stages and will be undertaken in an adaptive and cooperative manner that takes into consideration the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and the potential impact of the filling on downstream reservoirs.
Filling will take place during the wet season, generally from July to August, and will continue in September subject to certain conditions.
The initial filling stage of the GERD will provide for the rapid achievement of a level of 595 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.) and the early generation of electricity, while providing appropriate mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan in case of severe droughts during this stage.
The subsequent stages of filling will be done according to a mechanism to be agreed that determines release based upon the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and the level of the GERD that addresses the filling goals of Ethiopia and provides electricity generation and appropriate mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan during prolonged periods of dry years, drought and prolonged drought.
During long term operation, the GERD will operate according to a mechanism that determines release based upon the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and the level of the GERD that provides electricity generation and appropriate mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan during prolonged periods of dry years, drought and prolonged drought.
An effective coordination mechanism and provisions for the settlement of disputes will be established.
Are these the elements in the heart of the “agreement” Mnuchin, Malpass and Lerrick say Ethiopia has refused to sign?
Then, why hide the “final agreement” which presumably incorporates what has already been made public? MAKE IT PUBLIC!
Ethiopia tells the truth when it says no agreement was reached
Ethiopia unambiguously and categorically denied there is any agreement ready for signature between the three parties in Washington.
Ethiopia does not accept the characterization that the negotiation on the Guidelines and Rules on the First Filling and Annual Operation of the GERD (Guidelines and Rules) is completed. The “text” reportedly initialed by the Arab Republic of Egypt in Washington D.C. is not the outcome of the negotiation or the technical and legal discussion of the three countries. Ethiopia made it clear that the Guidelines and Rules must be prepared by the three countries. The Countries are yet to address outstanding issues pertaining to the finalization of the Guidelines and Rules.
In a twitter message, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew condemned the Treasury Department’s announcement:
The statement issued by US Treasury on GERD is unacceptable & highly partisan, Ethiopia believes in continued engagement with Egypt & Sudan to address the outstanding issues and finalize the Guidelines and Rules on a win-win basis for all.
In a recent interview (see video below, author’s condensed translation) with Al Jazeera, Ethiopian Foreign Minister stated:
Egypt should stop its disinformation campaign and come to the negotiating table are resolve issues based on the 2015 Declaration of Principles. The Dam aims to uplift Ethiopians suffering from famine and privation. It will provide them electric power for their development. Pressure, intimidation and threats against Ethiopia will not work. If the U.S. does not want to maintain its declared “observer” role and tread on Ethiopia’s sovereignty, that will not be allowed. The U.S. can help us come together to discuss issue, but cannot command us to do something that is against our sovereign interest.
It is interesting to note that Egypt had already signed the “agreement” before the Ethiopia and Sudan had even a chance to read it!
What I want to know in the agreement are details framed in the following two questions:
Exactly what does the agreement say about “respecting the sovereign right of Ethiopia to develop its water resources”?
Exactly what does the agreement say about “ensuring the safety of the dam.”
Until we know the answer to these two critical questions, in my opinion, Mnuchin, Lerrick and Malpass can take their agreement and shove it!
The so-called agreement Lerrick talks about, if it exists, is in violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution
I cannot overemphasize the fact that Mnuchin, Malpass and Lerrick are in violation of law and the U.S. Constitution when they drafted an “agreement” and tried to arm twist Ethiopia into signing it.
Lerrick, Mnuchin and Malpass know full well that they have no legal authority to conduct U.S. foreign policy, which is what they are doing by drafting an international treaty.
The subject matter of diplomacy with foreign countries is squarely in the domain of the State Department. All three know they have no authority to engage in foreign policy. That is because of the Act of Congress of July 20, 1789 which grants exclusive jurisdiction to the State Department on “communications with the ministers, consuls and agents of the United States, in foreign countries, and with the ministers and other officers of foreign powers…”
Simply stated, “discussions”, “negotiations” and “agreements” between the U.S and “officers of foreign powers” and “negotiations with public ministers or other foreigners, or to such other matters respecting foreign affairs,” are within the statutory jurisdiction of the State Department, not the Treasury department.
The Treasury Department was created By an Act of Congress of September 2, 1789, the “duty of the Secretary of the Treasury to digest and prepare plans for the improvement and management of the revenue, and for the support of public credit; to prepare and report estimates of the public revenue, and the public expenditures; to superintend the collection of revenue; to decide on the forms of keeping and stating accounts and making returns…”
To put it bluntly, Mnuchin, Lerrick and the entire Treasury Department are nothing more than bean counters for the U.S. government!
By no stretch of the imagination can they play the role of diplomats in foreign policy.
Most certainly, Lerrick has no authority to engage in treaty drafting. His official duty is described as “Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury”. In that role,
he advises the Secretary on policy initiatives, including international economic and financial stability issues. His experience is in “designing and executing pioneering instruments to meet the large-scale financing needs of governments and financial institutions.
When bean counters become diplomats and experts on water law
The sad and truly tragic fact about the so-called agreement is that it written by Adam Lerrick and David Sullivan, Assistant General Counsel for International Affairs, U.S. Department of the Treasury in collusion with Egypt.
Sullivan “provides legal advice in connection with a broad range of international economic and financial matters, including issues involving the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other multilateral development banks, international trade and trade finance issues, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) which the Secretary of the Treasury chairs, climate investment, and international banking and securities issues.”
If Lerrick is the “Consigliere” in the GERD agreement, Sullivan is definitely the “Hit Man” because he was the one who relentlessly defended the interests of Egypt better and more aggressively than the Egyptian negotiators themselves!
How could these individuals possibly draft an agreement in four months that has eluded water law experts, seasoned and skilled diplomats and political leaders for nearly a decade?
How could two “trade and financial advisors” possibly think they call pull out an agreement from their back pockets and expect to arm twist Ethiopia to sign?
The fact of the matter is that the U.S. has the leading experts in the fields of water rights, dam construction and safety, inspection and evaluation program and administers a massive scheme of water quality and environmental regulation.
Minimally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which arguably has the very best dam safety program in the world and manages a portfolio of 694 dams, with public safety the number one priority, should have been at the table advising. The Corps has a proven and unsurpassed record of dam safety assessment preventing unacceptable risks to people, property or the environment.
Yet, Lerrick and Sullivan huddled with their Egyptian partners and cranked out an agreement which they tried to shove down Ethiopia’s throat.
Who is going to count on an agreement on dam safety drafted by bean counters?
Fighting liars, disinformationists and fake news propagators
All Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia can and must play a role in fighting against the demonizing propaganda directed at Ethiopia in the media, in the U.S. Congress, in the Trump administration, diverse policy forums and mobilize opinion and community leaders in telling Ethiopia’s side of the story.
Self-educate on GERD issues so you can be a more effective advocate for Ethiopia
Many people who have read my recent commentaries continue to ask me elementary questions about the legal and technical issues involved in the so-called Washington GERD talks and agreement. There are many well-reasoned commentaries and analysis that address the issue. It is important to familiarize oneself with the basic documents including the 2015 Declaration of Principles, United Kingdom-Egyptian Government Agreement on the Use of Waters of the Nile, Nile River Basin Cooperative Agreement, the 1959 Egypt-Sudan Nile Agreement and other thoroughly documented scholarly analysis of Nile water use.
Educate your family members, friends and colleagues on GERD and energize them to join in the fight
We often underestimate the collective power of small groups. When we led the fight for passage of H.R. 2003 (“Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act”), we gained the most effective advocacy when we mobilized the people in our immediate network. It is much easier to mobilize people with whom we have close relations than to reach out to others in cyberspace.
I am encouraged by the Ethiopian social media warriors who have taken up Ethiopia’s cause and defending its rights to use the Nile River. This has proven to me that social media can be used as a powerful tool for public education and information.
Those who are circulating online petitions spread the word and engage those who may not want to take a direct advocacy role.
Engage the American national policy communities by educating them on Ethiopia’s position and to get their support
I see a special role for the academic, professional, business, faith and advocacy communities in grassroots outreach activities to the American policy communities. I am encouraged to see many Ethiopians in the U.S. taking an aggressive approach to grassroots mobilization and advocacy.
I want to commend Deacon Yoseph Tafari of Colorado for taking the initiative to write a letter to Lerrick and demand an explanation. Deacon Yoseph has been a tireless advocate of human rights and justice for many years. All of us can follow in his footsteps and exercise our constitutional right to petition government and register our grievances with the Treasury officials in the so-called GERD agreement.
Several members of Congress have written firm letters to Secretary Mnuchin demanding fair treatment for Ethiopia including John Garamendi of California and Jason Crow of Colorado. Congressman Steve Horsford of Nevada stung Mnuchin by telling him to be evenhanded if he wants the Ethiopians to return to the discussion table.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn straight out said the U.S. was “putting its thumb on the scale in favor of Egypt.”
Even the Rev. Jesse Jackson condemned the “agreement” as a possible trap” to make Ethiopia a colony of Egypt.”
Other commentators like Laurence Freeman have pointedly asked, “Is the Trump Administration Violating Ethiopia’s Sovereignty?”
All Ethiopians in the 50 states should contact their members of Congress and ask for similar letters to be sent to Secretary Mnuchin and engage friends of Ethiopia to stand up with the righteous cause.
I believe we can bring the people of the United States to our cause if we can educate them on the truth and facts. Americans fundamentally believe in fair play and equal opportunity. As President Jimmy Carter once noted, “America did not invent human rights, but in a very real sense human rights invented America.” If we, as Ethiopian Americans, share the moral righteousness of our cause to the American people in our town and cities, places of worship and workplaces, schools and universities, we can definitely enlist them in the cause of Ethiopia and its sovereign right to use its own Nile River.
Reach out into your local community and engage leaders and create allies
I have observed that many Ethiopians engaged in human rights advocacy often undervalue the potential power of local community and civic leaders as valuable allies in their causes. Business and civic leaders have close ties to members of Congress and the administration. When we championed H.R. 2003, it was prominent local leaders who got us meetings with members of Congress when they returned to their districts.
Engage the American media and policy forums at the national, state and local levels
I am encouraged to see Ethiopians in the U.S. taking steps to engage the media and policy forums. I have read various thoughtful op ed pieces in national online magazines explain the GERD issues and sharing personal opinions. I have also seen some Ethiopians participating in policy forums organized by American think tanks and other similar outfits. The more the American people know the truth about the ignoble treatment of Ethiopia in the so-called GERD agreement, the more they will be willing to become our allies.
The fact of the matter is that all Ethiopians in America can play their part in defending and promoting Ethiopia’s righteous cause to use the waters of the Nile in a fair, equitable and reasonable way.
Silence at this critical time is not an option. Scholars, professionals, faith leaders, activists, students and all others must step forward and play their part. They must put their political differences aside, join hand and stand together for Ethiopia’s right to use her Nile and repel anyone who is determined to deny her that right.
The judgement of history awaits those who sit on the sidelines. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
In the End, history will remember the silence of Ethiopians who could have been the voice of Ethiopia to the world, not the lies, fake news and disinformation of Ethiopia’s enemies!
I have no problems with the U.S. playing the role of “meeting observer”, “discussion facilitator”, “meeting coordinator” or what have you in the GERD discussions and negotiations.
Ethiopia will never accept a one-sided, unfair, unjust and partisan proposal or agreement written by the U.S. for the exclusive benefit of Egypt!
But my abiding credo remains:
AFRICAN SOLUTIONS FOR AFRICAN PROBLEMS.
ETHIOPIA WILL NEVER SIGN AN AGREEMENT THAT WILL MORTGAGE AND BANKRUPT THE EXISTENTIAL INTERESTS OF GENERATIONS TO COME.