By Nurye Yassin
The road to success in the realm of foreign relations depends on a country’s sober assessment of the methods, including the use of soft power and hard power, used to pursue its national interests.
In the 21st century, soft power, which is the ability to shape what others want and project a positive image, stands tall as a method to help achieve foreign policy goals. Indeed, public diplomacy through the deployment of soft power is now supportive of countries to communicate values and achieve foreign policy objectives.
In relation to this, Ethiopia’s experience in the sphere of public diplomacy has so far projected a detailed portrait of a close interplay of national and regional development pathways. It has also displayed the sine qua non of a cooperative, collective and sustainable peace and security architecture rooted from the philosophy of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance: “African solution to African problems.” It has shown that the necessity for capitalizing on comparative advantages, multilateralism and win-win approach and outcomes. These ingredients mediated by independent development thought and action have been the hallmark of the guiding principles of Ethiopia’s regional vision as well as its hydro-agricultural development agenda over the last 20 and plus years.
From being hostage to water war to peace discourse
In this sense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently re-organized a public diplomacy team of Ethiopia, which visited Egypt last year, to visit Khartoum on May 8-13 to sustain the existing cooperation and partnership of the two countries on the basis of close people-to-people relations. The team, comprising academia, business people, artists, and renowned personalities, farmers, among others, is set to hold people-to-people consultations in Khartoum for five days.
Looking at Ethiopia’s cooperative hydro-diplomacy over the Nile, observers simplistically sketched a future of apocalypse as the region was entering into a news era of harrowing water scarcity, global warming, and demographic change. These analysts, premising their conclusion on those challenges coupled with Egyptian time-honored hydro-political hegemony over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), presaged the fate of Africa, most importantly, the region, as a “Hostage to Conflict.” This prophecy draws its analytical and interpretive arsenal from Malthusian apocalypse. The reality on the ground testifies the intellectual bankruptcy and lesser comprehension of the medley of multiple issues accompanying the region’s hydro politics.
Surprisingly enough, Ethiopia’s regional hydro-agricultural development vision, going beyond words, has emerged to reconfigure and rebalance the actual use of African natural resources, including the Nile River. The country, swallowing the harrowing images of destitution, has charted this developmental march on the existing potentials of the Ethiopian people and sent louder calls to the African politico-economic order to turn natural resources into a blessing than a curse and a force for good as well as for the self-creation of the peoples of the Nile Basin region and indeed Africa free from hunger and misery.
The making of the GERD project, which has now become an emblem of regional economic integration, is testimony to this concrete and visionary move. Happily, Ethiopia’s cause for equitable and fair use of the waters of the Nile heralded on March 2015 an encouraging leap from stalemate over the GERD into the signing of a Declaration of Principles on the GERD project in Khartoum by the leaders of the Eastern Nile Basin countries. The prospect of conflict decimated while the prospect of cooperation was resurrected. This entails that Ethiopia’s strategy has won the narrative of a century-old discord. It has ushered in the region cooperation closing the chapter of proxy conflicts and direct confrontation. By encouraging Egypt and Sudan, GERD has begun to inspire the continent and region to become partners and friends in Ethiopia’s uphill battle against poverty.
The public diplomacy team is visiting Khartoum where the Declaration of Principles silenced the unwarranted war of words over the Nile River. It is also a place where the three countries agreed to mould and orient their future in a friendly and amicable manner. What is important about the visit of this public diplomacy delegation is that Sudan, capturing the importance of the Dam through institutional cooperation, the engagement of scholars and researchers, early subscribed to Ethiopia’s construction of the GERD and is supportive of the project, so as to jointly embody regional integration through the development of green, renewable hydropower trade. Sudan’s support to the construction of the dam has been borne of practical discussion, trust, evidence and tangible benefits from the recently completed Tekeze Hydropower project. It is worth mentioning that Ethiopia’s water development policy is in harmony as Sudan has outlined its development roadmap focusing on hydro-agricultural schemes.
Ethiopia’s public diplomacy: going beyond the Nile
The objective of Ethiopia’s public diplomacy team is not only confined to communicate the benefits of the GERD or the fair and equitable utilization of the waters of the Nile to the Sudanese people. It goes yonder to look back to the past and look into the future of the people of the two countries. The Ethiopian public diplomacy’s engagement with the people and officials of Sudan will allow the two peoples to recollect on their past and dream of their shared future in all spheres of common interest. In this regard, Marcus Garvey, a Pan Africanist, posited that “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” A critical reflection on the history of the two peoples will have a sway to go on a right direction in the future development of their countries.
In the history of Africa, Ethiopia and Sudan, stood high, an American scholar, William Leo Hansberry stated, as the major “seat of a great succession of cultures and civilizations which were comparable in most respects and superior in some aspects to the cultures and civilizations in other parts of the world during the same period.” But the Arab and European expansionism gave way for the decline of African civilizations. The public diplomacy team is therefore very important for both peoples, to use the words of the British poet William Wordsworth, to “learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future.” The team’s main responsibility is to deliver Ethiopian people’s commitment to reflect on their collective memory so as to identify the drivers of the decline of their civilizations and share ideas on ways to map out a unity and renaissance project.
The team is also entrusted to communicate Ethiopia’s keen interest to work in concert with a view to prevent challenges. These challenges pose risks in terms of making the economies of the two countries unsustainable. To stave of this challenge, Ethiopia has an innovative road map of an economic model of development that reverses the conventional development track. The country has developed and begun implementing Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) Strategy with the objective of enhancing adaptive capability to the adversities of the climate change. It has also started the long walk to become a “green economy front runner” with the following key steps to make the economic growth sustainable. These include: improving crop and livestock production practices; protecting forests for their economic and ecosystem value; expanding electricity generation from renewable sources of energy for domestic and regional markets; and leapfrogging to modern and energy-efficient technologies in the transport, industrial and construction sectors. Ethiopia’s public diplomacy places cardinal importance to make Sudanese people partners in Ethiopia’s green growth agenda.
The team’s visit has come at a critical moment when, as experts on hydrology argue, global warming poses the following effects on the Nile Basin: “high temperatures, increasing uncertainty over the Nile hydrology and sea level rise.” These hydrologists suggest that multilateral cooperation among the there countries is the only way forward to build a better tomorrow as unilateral response to these challenges is risky in terms of economics and politics. The visit provides a platform to create enabling trust, understanding and dialogue, with a view to tapping the opportunities and overcoming challenges within this common river system. It would also serve the importance of pushing forward the green growth strategy so as to make the economic models of the two countries sustainable. Quite importantly, turning the storage capacity upstream on the Nile River’s system will have a positive impact to make Sudan’s “Economic Salvation” a reality. The engagement of citizens through a window of public diplomacy informs the decision makers of the two countries to solve the parables of water-food-energy nexus.
Going beyond from the political machinations and intrigues of the 19th and 20th centuries, both countries have entered a new period of cooperative partnership and regional integration within the framework of IGAD and the African Union. The partnership at the political leadership has enabled the two countries to commit to the Preferential Trade Agreement signed between them in 2005, the enhancement of close cooperation in various fields including trade, tourism, investment, intellectual property rights, energy and infrastructure, mining, water, agriculture, the environment and forestry as well as the need to respond to the infrastructural deficit and promote infrastructural integration through such areas as energy, roads and railways, to encourage regional integration. In this respect, last year, over 700 Sudanese investors and business persons had been licensed to operate in various sectors across Ethiopia. Again, both countries committed last year to jointly work to increase their annual economic cooperation to more than USD 1.5 billion from the current USD 600 million. This entails that Ethiopia’s public diplomacy has a historic responsibility to build on the positive momentum created by political leaders and business persons of the two countries.
Ethiopia’s public diplomacy has played tremendous role in clarifying the misconceptions in relation to the ongoing construction of the GERD project. It has informed the policy makers of Sudan to cherish the GERD as a source of regional sustenance on the basis of scientific evidences and real results. Ethiopia’s public diplomacy team’s visit will herald a closer partnership between the two countries to take advantage of the possibilities created at the current fast changing international political market place. As Ethiopia’s principles on resources of the Nile River, including the construction of the GERD, speak of sustainable, inclusive, comprehensive and far-sighted development policies, the country needs to expand the deployment of the public diplomacy with other basin countries in addition to Sudan and Egypt to elevate the people-centered integration agenda and create a community of shared African destiny. The public diplomacy team ought to engage Ethiopian Diasporas residing in all corners of the world to make bridges for the nation to access know-how, resources, expertise and markets.
Ed.’s Note: Nurye Yassin is a commentator on African Affairs. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.