March 1, 2020
Former United States Ambassador David H. Shinn accused the Trump administration of “putting its thumb on the scale in favor of Egypt,” in the dispute with Ethiopia and Sudan over a new hydro-dam.
The latest crisis began after the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent a letter warning Ethiopia not to operate its hydropower dam, using inflammatory rhetoric similar to the former Egyptian government of Morsi that threatened military action.
US Ambassador David Shinn said he is “surprised” by Mnuchin’s role; adding that the US State Department, not the US Treasury Department, has the expertise to deal with such a sensitive matter. Analysts believe the reckless statements by Mnuchin might encourage Egypt to take a more hardline position on the Nile River against African nations. In the worst case scenario, the Trump administration‘s role might embolden Egypt to start war against Ethiopia.
According to a source familiar with the new arrangement promoted by the Trump administration, the new terms and requirements are so “bizarre and lopsided” in favor of Egypt that even Cairo’s ally Sudan is hesitant to sign the agreement. On Sunday, Sudan’s ambassador Mukhtar Bilal Abdelsalam said the Ethiopian dam will not harm Sudan and he accused Egyptian media of misinformation.
Last week, hundreds of Ethiopian-Americans protested in Washington DC opposing the one-sided role of the Trump administration in favor of Egypt. Ethiopian-Americans say the Trump administration can not be an independent mediator and arbitrator because most of its Middle East policy, particularly its latest Israel-Palestine engagements, are all reliant on Egyptian support or Cairo’s role in the Arab League.
It is unknown if these Middle Eastern policies of the Trump administration were in fact the reason behind its pro-Egypt stance on the Ethiopian Nile dam. However, Mnuchin has been recently outspoken in favor of the recent two-state solution for Israel and Palestine by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. In his online statement, the former US ambassador Shinn wrote: “I wonder. What is the United States up to?”
Critics of the Ethiopian government accuse Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of a self-inflicted diplomatic disaster for accepting an Egyptian lobbied US mediation, and abandoning the original Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) where several African countries support Ethiopia over Egypt’s colonial era monopoly.
Military analysts now believe Egypt will either attempt a direct air strike or continue financing rebel groups in Ethiopia so that an indirect strike on the Ethiopian dam will be blamed on domestic politics, instead of a transnational war.
If tensions escalate further, US President Trump, who wished to win the Nobel Peace Prize, might unintentionally spark a major war in Northeastern Africa.
After the impoverished Ethiopia self-funded the construction of the costly massive dam, due to an IMF financial boycott lobbied by Egypt, the new Trump-Cairo agreement will likely put the hydro-dam out of commission for another decade, just to fill up the reservoir. On Saturday, the Ethiopian government said the statement by US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is “unacceptable and highly partisan.”