black agenda report

US Out of Haiti!
Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report, Jul 15 2021

The recent assassination of Haiti’s president Jovenel Moise has created a great deal of confusion, not only about the crime itself but about the role that the US might play in that nation. Scant and contradictory information make it difficult to discern who benefits from his killing. Moise was the US puppet president who refused to step down in February as Haiti’s constitution required, and despite massive protests across the country opposing the continuation of his administration. Questions about the assassination are relevant but they are not particularly helpful in analyzing the situation. Details about the plot are important but so is understanding the history of Haiti’s relationship with the US and other countries. That history makes a mockery of any claim that the US could be helpful at this moment. Haiti was met with animosity from the beginning. Black people successfully leading a revolt made its former enslavers very angry. In 1825 and again in 1838 the French sent warships threatening to conquer Haiti and re-enslave its population unless they were paid millions of francs. So great was the debt that it was not paid off until 1947 and is estimated to total $25b. The narrative that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere should always be followed by an explanation of how the French grand theft left a nation in financial ruin.

The US has already directly intervened in Haiti. In 1915 Woodrow Wilson sent marines to occupy that country and they remained for another 19 years. That occupation was followed by US puppet governments including the notorious Duvalier family. Every effort that Haitians have made to win sovereignty for themselves has been met with attack. Bill Clinton sent troops again in 1994 and his successor Bush 43 followed by kidnapping president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Nature added to Haiti’s woes with a catastrophic earthquake in 2010 and UN so-called peacekeeping forces brought cholera which killed 10k people. Democrats and Republican presidents alike have done great damage to Haiti with election interference. In 2009 Sec State Hillary Clinton pressured the government to prevent the minimum wage from increasing from a paltry $0.24/hr to $0.61/hr. Shortly after the 2010 earthquake she forced puppet president Michel Martelly to undo election results and stay in office against the will of Haitian voters. This is the history that must be remembered when we are told that Haitian officials are requesting the presence of US troops in the wake of assassination. Even if true, the US can never play a positive role there.

Foreign interventions are at the root of Haiti’s problems. Even philanthropy is suspect. The millions of dollars raised after the 2010 earthquake ended up in the hands of the oligarch class. Venezuela’s Petrocaribe project was intended to provide oil to Haiti and other nations at steeply discounted prices. Instead, it was undermined by theft on a massive scale. None of the funds reached the people who desperately needed them. Haitians are perfectly capable of handling their own affairs. Whenever they take a step toward independence they are quickly subverted. It is bad enough that the UN refused to compensate Haiti for the cholera epidemic that it caused, but now they declare who will be the next president, without any input from the Haitian people. The US playing any role in Haiti’s future is akin to the fox being left in charge of the henhouse. The assumption that the exploiters can suddenly become helpful is a racist one. Haitians have been punished ever since 1804 because they dared to resist oppression from white led nations. Every step they take towards true independence has been systematically subverted. If outsiders do nothing else, they must call attention to Haiti’s history and speak the truth about two hundred years of oppression at the hands of more powerful countries. The narrative of incompetent Black people must be denounced whenever it appears. It is the US and its allies who must be exposed as the creators of a failed state. The Haitian people have suffered at their hands long enough. Anyone claiming to be concerned about their fate should speak in their defense and that means opposing any US intervention.

The Assassination of Jovenel Moise: What Next for Haiti?
Seth Donnelly, Black Agenda Report, Jul 15 2021

Today, the people of Haiti are facing down the US-backed dictatorship of the ruling Haitian Tet Kale Party (PHTK) that came to power through the fraudulent election of Michel Martelly in 2010 and maintained its grip on power through the fraudulent election of Jovenel Moise in 2016, what Haitian activists refer to as electoral coup d’etats. Both elections were held under UN occupation and sponsored by the US government. As Sec State, Hillary Clinton detoured from her trip to the Middle East at the height of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt and personally intervened to put Martelly into power. Similarly, the US State Dept immediately heralded the 2016 elections as legitimate and subsequent US administrations, first Trump then Biden, continued to prop up the Moise regime diplomatically and financially. The Jul 7 assassination of Jovenel Moise by a professional kill squad does not alter US support for the PHTK regime. Unless there is massive opposition by the US public and members of Congress, expect the Biden Administration to continue to support the current PHTK regime led by Prime Minister Claude Joseph or whoever else emerges within this regime to assume power during this transition. Expect the Biden Administration to provide ongoing funding for its brutal security forces. These central points should not be obscured by escalating media speculation regarding “who did it”, particularly in the aftermath of arrests of ex-Colombian soldiers and several Haitians with US ties such as Christian Emmanuel Sanon.

What Are the Characteristics that Define the PHTK Regime Under Both Martelly And Moise?

The PHTK regime is a puppet dictatorship installed and maintained by the US government and UN occupation forces, in coordination with members of the Haitian upper class, operating against the interests of the impoverished majority of the Haitian people. The following are central characteristics of the regime:

  1. Engaging in pervasive corruption and the massive looting of public funds.
  2. Facilitating land grabs and the dispossession of Haitian farmers, including by Moise himself to enlarge his personal banana republic, as well as the plunder of Haiti’s vast natural resources (gold, petroleum, bauxite and more) by domestic oligarchs and foreign corporations. The “open” investment climate supported by the PHTK regime is noted in this 2018 US State Dept Report on “doing business in Haiti”.
  3. Waging a war on the poor majority and the popular, grassroots Lavalas movement through horrific massacres in poor neighborhoods such as Lasalin and Bel Air, violent gentrification, and targeted assassinations and rapes of human rights activists. These gross human rights violations perpetrated by the regime are also documented by the International Human Rights Clinic of the Harvard Law School in its Apr 2021 report Killing with Impunity: State-Sanctioned Massacres in Haiti.

What Were the Limits of Moise’s Effectiveness as a Puppet Ruler?

  1. Moise proved incapable of containing the massive, grassroots uprising to establish a truly popular, democratic government. Since Moise took power, the Haitian people have taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, again and again, facing live ammunition, tear gas, arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, and extra-judicial killings by the Haitian National Police, trained by UN occupation officials in Haiti and by the US police, including the NYPD. The HNP have likewise been funded by the US government to the tune of millions of dollars per year, with US funding increasing under the Trump Administration, a move correlating with increasing human rights violations by the HNP. The Biden Administration has likewise continued this support for the police force clearly implicated in massacres and gross human rights violations. Despite such US training and funding of the HNP, Moise has been unable to keep “law and order.” Huge protests continue to erupt. At the same time, regime-backed paramilitaries (“gangs”) like the G9 death squad, led by former policeman Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, continue to terrorize the poor people of all ages in Port-au-Prince through a reign of kidnappings, torture, rape, and killings. G9 and paramilitary violence have displaced thousands of people who have been forced from their neighborhoods after their homes have been burned down and their relatives and neighbors have been massacred.
  2. Moise recently clashed with members of the small, powerful Haitian upper class, such as Reginald Boulos and other oligarchs. This clash reflected intra-elite squabbles, as Moise was using his political power to consolidate his hold in ways reminiscent of the Duvalier dictatorships.
  3. There was growing opposition inside of the US Congress to the Biden Administration’s ongoing support of the Moise regime, as reflected by this Apr 26 letter from 68 members of the US House of Representatives to the Biden Administration, noting that the Moise regime “lacks the credibility and legitimacy to oversee a constitutional referendum… or to administer elections that are free and fair.” In the aftermath of this letter, Sec State Blinken announced, as reported on Jun 9, that the US would no longer support the plan by the Moise regime to augment its power through holding a bogus “referendum” this summer to weaken the Haitian Constitution. Despite this policy reversal, the Biden Administration nonetheless continued to support the regime to illegally stay in power and manipulate elections scheduled for this next September. The US has allocated extensive funding for these sham elections which will include the referendum, in violation of the wishes of the Haitian majority. Moreover, the Biden Administration called for more US funding for the Haitian police, despite the clear record of gross human rights violations linked to the police. Yet this support by the Biden Administration for Moise was facing mounting political opposition in Congress.

What Drives US Foreign Policy Towards Haiti?

In his speech “Beyond Vietnam: a Time to Break the Silence” given in the Riverside Church on Apr 4 1967, Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr stated:

All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before.

He protested the fact that the US government stood on the wrong side of this revolution, in Vietnam and elsewhere. Nowhere is this more graphically illustrated than in Haiti. US policy towards Haiti, as elsewhere through the “Third World,” has been remarkably consistent over the 19th, 20th, now 21st centuries, based on three pillars:

  1. a white supremacist opposition to genuine decolonization and national liberation by Black and colonized peoples;
  2. the Monroe-doctrine mindset of the US as the police officer of the western hemisphere in particular and the world in general; and
  3. the elevation of US business and local upper class interests above the basic human rights of the poor majority, along with the elevation of capitalist exploitation over popular democracy.

In 1804, Haitians waged a successful revolution against one of the most powerful European empires of the time, emancipating themselves from slavery and colonialism, becoming the world’s first Black republic and the first nation to permanently ban slavery. It can be said that the Haitian Revolution was the most radical assertion of the right to have rights in human history. Fueling hope, resistance and rebellion among enslaved people throughout the Caribbean and the US, the newly independent Haitian government offered asylum and citizenship to any African who escaped slavery. The independent Haitian government invited people of African and Indigenous origins who were fleeing oppression to come and live in Haiti. Freedom fighters such as Simon Bolívar and liberation movements throughout the Americas were given material support by the Haitian government on the condition that they abolish slavery if they came to power. Haiti stands at the very center of the world struggle to end slavery. Haiti’s freedom posed a great threat to the system of slavery in the US and the Americas. The white supremacist leaders of the US attempted to strangle the new nation at its birth by instituting a worldwide boycott against Haiti. France took similar action, forcing Haiti to pay reparations to French slave owners for the property they lost when slavery ended. This “property” was the human beings who had been enslaved. The debt was not paid off until the 1940s, by which time banks in the US had taken over the collection process. Over time Haiti paid France $21.7b, an extortion that has been aptly called the greatest heist in history.

In the 20th century, Haiti became a virtual colony of the US, beginning in 1915, when the US Marines were sent by President Woodrow Wilson to occupy the country. More than 20k people were killed by the marines. During 19 years of occupation Haitians put up fierce and protracted resistance, and Black activists in the United States were in the forefront of solidarity with the Haitian struggle. The NAACP denounced the invasion, as did the Garvey Movement. NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson detailed the crimes committed by US occupying forces in “The Truth About Haiti: An NAACP Report” (1920) published in The Crisis. The marines finally left Haiti in 1934, leaving in their place the notorious Haitian Armed Forces to violently protect foreign corporations and the Haitian elite by smashing all opposition. From the 1950s through the 1980s, the US government supported the brutal dictatorships of “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who tortured and killed thousands of Haitians. The popular mass movement that came to be known as Lavalas (The “flash flood” of the people), succeeded in toppling the Duvalier dictatorship and electing Jean-Bertrand Aristide as President of Haiti. Twice, the US supported coups to overthrow the elected government, in 1991 and 2004. Ever since this last coup, Haiti has been occupied by the United Nations, as authorized by the UNSC, at the behest primarily of the US, France, and Canada. Under this occupation, the people of Haiti have been engaged in a fierce struggle against a series of puppet dictatorships installed by the US. What is important to recognize now is that the current PHTK regime is the institutional manifestation of the 2004 coup, an attempt to make the coup permanent, with or without Jovenel Moise.

Solidarity Is Needed Now More Than Ever

Today, the people of Haiti are struggling courageously to establish their own transition government of Sali Piblik (public safety) drawing on dedicated professionals and activists from all sectors of Haitian society, a government capable of stabilizing society and attending to people’s most pressing needs, while organizing truly fair and free elections. In this struggle, Fanmi Lavalas, the party of the Lavalas movement, remains a vital force, based on speaking to the needs of the poor majority. The Haitian people have not forgotten what Lavalas could accomplish during the brief period of real democracy before the US coup of 2004 hurled the country back into misery. During this brief period of real democracy, more schools were built than in the previous 150 years of Haitian history, healthcare was expanded, affordable housing was constructed, cooperatives were formed, the dreaded army was disbanded, women’s rights were expanded, along with so many more achievements. And all of this was done with a tiny national budget while the US attempted to economically strangle Haiti by cutting off aid and loans. In contrast, the PHTK regime has been fully backed by the US and had a budget 14 times greater, yet it can only show deepening poverty and misery for the masses of people, including a doubling of acute severe childhood malnutrition, along with widespread massacres and gross human rights violations, all made possible by the USA. As Fanmi Lavalas put it in a statement on Mar 2 2021:

Indeed, today’s reality clearly lays bare the truth. If there had not been a Feb 29 2004 kidnapping coup d’etat, today we would not have a government of kidnappers that causes each and every Haitian citizen to go about with his or her own coffin. Yes, ever since the 2004 coup d’etat, the masses have never ceased to experience more and more suffering. Massacres, repression, misery, starvation, unemployment, bullets, tear gas, kidnapping … and more. The criminals have not stopped stealing the lands of the peasants. If we can’t go to school, can’t eat, can’t have decent housing, if we don’t have potable water to drink, if we don’t have security, if they are kidnapping us, it is a direct consequence of the 2004 kidnapping coup d’etat.

All progressive-minded people in the US need to make the struggle of the Haitian people central to our own struggles. We need to organize solidarity protests everywhere we can and pressure our members of Congress to do the following:

  1. Cut off all US aid for the Haitian police once and for all.
  2. Stop the Biden Administration’s support for the PHTK regime regardless of who the new figurehead becomes.
  3. End US support for sham elections and the Constitutional referendum organized by the PHTK regime.
  4. Support the right of the Haitian people to form, through their own popular movement, their own transition government free from US interference. No US military intervention in Haiti.

For more information, go to Seth Donnelly is a member of the Haiti Action Committee and the author of The Lie of Global Prosperity: How Neoliberals Distort Data to Mask Poverty and Exploitation (MR Press 2019).

What Did We Learn from the CPC’s 100th Anniversary? Leadership Matters
Danny Haiphong, Black Agenda Report, Jul 15 2021

There is a lesson to be learned from the differences in recent US and Chinese historical celebrations. Popular enthusiasm was evident across China for more than a month leading up to President Xi Jinping’s speech at a gathering marking the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Americans gathered three days later to celebrate the founding of the United States over two centuries ago. To build excitement for the holiday, the White House published on social media that the cost of a cookout had fallen $0.16 in 2021. The announcement predictably failed to garner a rousing applause on social media as Xi Jinping’s speech received from the Chinese people. As the US continues to assume a dangerously aggressive posture towards China, there is a lesson to be learned from the differences in the two celebrations: leadership matters.

The US is currently experiencing a crisis of leadership. Historic inequalities and the empowerment of corporate shareholders have led to stagnation in all facets of the society. Racism continues to expose Black Americans to disproportionate rates of poverty, police violence, incarceration as well poor outcomes across all social indicators after centuries of enslavement and Jim Crow terror. Native Americans remain dispossessed of their lands and have yet to receive justice for the myriad of disasters caused by settler colonialism. The majority of workers in the US across all racial groups cannot afford a $400 emergency. US political leadership has doubled down on the status quo rather than adapt to the needs of the people. Instead of following through on widely supported policies such as universal healthcare, student debt relief and a living wage, the Biden administration has increased the military budget. Instead of reducing the prison population, the Biden administration has increased weapons transfers from the Pentagon to local police departments. It should come as no surprise that US presidents struggle to maintain favorability ratings above 45% while Congress generally hovers at around half of such support. Change is hard to come by, even when such change is desired by most of the population and is required to preserve human life itself in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. China does not have such a problem. The CPC maintains popular support because adaptation is a key pillar of its governance model. Many in the US and the West have been taught that the CPC does not allow criticism, both inside and outside of the organization. This is categorically false.

The CPC started with just about 50 members in 1921. CPC leaders such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai engaged in countless debates as the Party navigated often deadly encounters with warlords and aggressive foreign forces. This led the CPC to adapt from an urban-based organizing model to one focused on the more populous countryside, a change that was crucial in ending China’s “century of humiliation” once and for all. Adaptation continued to be a theme following the CPC-led revolution that founded the PRC in 1949. Over the course of the last 72 years, the CPC has continuously implemented reforms and acknowledged mistakes in the process of socialist construction. Early successes in socialist development failed to shake off absolute poverty. The CPC responded by introducing reforms to rapidly develop and open the economy. Rapid market-oriented growth produced new challenges such as political corruption and uneven development. The CPC has addressed these challenges by renewing its focus on party discipline and strengthening its leadership over the nation’s poverty alleviation campaign.

The achievements gained from the CPC’s ability to adapt cannot be understated. China has become a world leader in renewable energy and advanced technology. Extreme poverty has been eliminated and living standards continue to improve for every sector of the society. The CPC has demonstrated the capacity to both successfully preserve human life in the fight against COVID-19 and extend solidarity to countless nations in their own fight against the virus. It is for these reasons and more that the CPC enjoys a growing membership of 95 million and an approval rating well above 90%. Political leadership reflects the legitimacy of a given society’s model of development. US officials claim to represent “democracy” even though elections are largely dictated by a wealthy minority. The US model of neoliberal capitalism, characterized by racial antagonism and military aggression, is losing legitimacy with large segments of the population. More than 60% of people support a third-party alternative to the two major parties and large numbers of young adults want a more egalitarian society. By contrast, young adults make up one-third of the CPC, a number that continues to grow. It is clear that the people of China have chosen their preferred leadership. The same cannot be said in the US.

Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan Clash as River Waters Fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Ann Garrison, Black Agenda Report, Jul 15 2021

Three nations share the same water, but not the same foreign connections, which makes for a dangerous mix.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is the largest hydroelectric power project in Africa, and the seventh largest in the world. Despite internal conflict in its Tigray state, external threat, and long-running international disputes about sharing Nile waters, the dam is expected to begin producing power later this year. It promises to lift Ethiopia’s subsistence farming majority from poverty, generate electricity for sale to neighboring nations, and make Ethiopia a regional powerhouse. However, the dam is under heavy military guard due to a 10-year dispute with Sudan and Egypt over rights to the Blue Nile River, which flows downstream from Ethiopia’s Lake Tana to Sudan, Egypt and the Mediterranean. 75% of the Nile that flows into Egypt comes from the Blue Nile, and only 25% from the White Nile, which flows from headwaters in the African Great Lakes Region of East and Central Africa. The US and the EU have most often taken Egypt’s side against Ethiopia in disputes over the GERD, and in one of President Trump’s last reckless moments in office, he said that Egypt wouldn’t be able to live with the dam, so they’ll blow it up, but it’s hard to imagine that Egypt would attempt such an attack without a green light from the US. At the time, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying:

The incitement of war between Ethiopia and Egypt from a sitting US president neither reflects the long-standing partnership and strategic alliance between Ethiopia and the US nor is acceptable in international law governing interstate relations.

Russia and China have most often sided with Ethiopia about the GERD, and China is heavily invested in its electricity delivery infrastructure. The $4.6b dam itself has been financed by taxes and bonds issued to Ethiopians and the Ethiopian diaspora. Russia is rumored to be helping Ethiopia guard the dam, and on Jul 7 2021, Russia and Ethiopia inked a new military cooperation agreement . On Mar 28 2021, China and Ethiopia signed “an agreement to protect investment projects.” China has significant investments in all three nations involved in this particular dispute over Nile waters. Russia and France have been claiming a share of the Egyptian weapons market previously held by the US since 2015, a development that National Defense News recently identified as a national security issue. Last week, the UNSC met to consider a draft UNSCR put forth by Egypt and Sudan that would call on Ethiopia to halt the second seasonal filling of the dam. Everyone who spoke during the meeting called for a return to African Union negotiations despite a 10-year impasse, but the Western ambassadors were more sympathetic to Egypt and Sudan, the Russian ambassador was more sympathetic to Ethiopia, and the Chinese ambassador appeared to be attempting to remain neutral. Egypt and Sudan both emphasized the importance of the issue to them by sending their foreign ministers to speak instead of leaving that to their ambassadors, while Ethiopia sent their Minister of Water and Irrigation. Here are a few of their remarks:

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry: All that Egypt has called for and sought is a binding agreement that includes an insurance policy against the harmful impacts of the GERD on Egypt’s water security, by designing a mechanism through which our three countries could cooperate to collectively bear the burden of addressing future periods of droughts. Unfortunately, however, Ethiopia remains steadfast in its rejection of any form of agreement that provides any meaningful measure of protection to the interests of downstream states. For us, the harm that the GERD might inflict will affect every aspect of the lives of the Egyptian people like a malignant plague. In the absence of an agreement that regulates its filling and operation, the GERD can cause cumulative water shortages in Egypt amounting to 120 bcm. It will diminish access to clean drinking water. It could deprive millions of farmers of the water they used to irrigate their fields. It will rob countless families of their income and livelihood. It will destroy thousands of acres of arable land. It will increase desertification and degrade the riparian ecosystem, and it will increase vulnerability to the effects of climate change. This is a situation that Egypt cannot and will not tolerate.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi: We dearly hope that the Council will assume its responsibilities in maintaining regional peace and security in a preventative way by strengthening stepping up negotiations under the auspices of the African Union. I should like to say, unequivocally, that this issue is a just cause. You are called, ladies and gentlemen, to promote a process which continues to meet obstacles, and you can help this process easily, freely, by freeing the courageous people of Sudan from their current suffering by ensuring that the filling and functioning of the Renaissance Dam happens pursuant to a legally binding agreement. However, silence from the Council would send out the wrong message and would signify a tacit approval of the fact that this unilateral filling was acceptable.

Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation, and Energy Dr Sileshi Bekele: Mr President, colonialism and colonial treaties thwarted Africa’s ability to utilize its natural resources for the benefit of its people. The Nile Basin countries have recognized this problem and worked towards addressing it. In 1999, we established the Nile Basin Initiative, and in 2010, we adopted the Cooperative Framework Agreement, or CFA, on the Nile after 13 years of negotiations. The insatiable demands of Egypt and most recently Sudan are not mostly about the issue of the GERD but about the future development projects in Ethiopia and the other riparian countries. Without an effective CFA and regional mechanism, similar application will inevitably come to this Council. Today it is Ethiopia’s dam; tomorrow it will be any one of the Nile Basin countries. The Nile belongs to all the people of the Basin countries, all the half a billion of us in the 11 riparian countries, and the water is enough for all of us. In this regard, we urge our Egyptian and Sudanese brothers and sisters to understand that a resolution to the Nile issue will not come from the Security Council. It can only come from good-faith negotiations, with due care for the well-being and development of each other. As Ethiopia looks forward to continuing the AU-led, trilateral negotiations on the GERD, we have the solution at hand, and we can herald the good news to the world led by concluding a mutually acceptable outcome. Finally, Mr President, allow me to respectfully request the Council to return this matter to the ability and the legitimate leadership of the African Union and encourage Egypt and Sudan to seriously and faithfully negotiate towards a negotiated settlement on the first filling, and on all operations of the GERD. We also request the council to make this meeting the last of its deliberations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. There is no subject matter as far from the mandate of the Council as this one. I thank you.

(End of UNSC statements.)

The UNSC may vote on the resolution this week, despite Ethiopia’s request that the matter be sent straight back to the African Union. However, should there be a vote, deadlock between the five permanent members with veto power is all but certain. I spoke with Mohammed Bashir, a civil engineering researcher at the University of Manchester about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Ann Garrison: First, I believe your training is civil engineering and you teach that subject there at the University of Manchester, is that correct?

Mohammed Bashir: My training is in civil engineering, but I specialize in water resources management. So we look at how water resources can be used in the best way possible. And part of that is building dams and operating dams. But my focus is on research. I only do research.

AG: Okay, and what’s the name of the school there where you teach?

MB: The Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering Department of the University of Manchester.

AG: And are you or your family originally from Ethiopia or elsewhere in the Horn or the region?

MB: Yes. I’m originally from Sudan.

AG: Okay, I want to make it clear, I didn’t ask that question with any mistrust about how scientifically you’re approaching this. I just thought we should be upfront about it, given all the international tensions over the dam.

MB: Yeah, there’s no problem here. Yeah, that’s fine.

AG: Okay. I contacted you after reading a BBC article on the dam titled “River Nile dam: Why Ethiopia can’t stop it being filled,” which quoted you. It said that Egypt and Sudan’s accusations against Ethiopia give the false impression that filling up the dam is like filling up a bath and that Ethiopia can turn a tap on and off at will. They quote you saying, for one, “Given the stage that the construction is at engineering wise, physics-wise, there is no way to stop the filling now until the water level reaches the top of the dam wall.” Is that an accurate quote?

MB: Yes, yes. That’s an accurate quote. Yes.

AG: So does that mean that once the rainy season begins, the dam starts filling?

MB: Yes. So the way the dam has been designed is to fill up as it’s being constructed. So what happened in the past few years is that Ethiopia has been building the two sides of the dam, the left and right sides, on either side of the river, and leaving the middle part open. That means that now they’re building up the middle part of the dam during the dry season. That’s when the flow of water is low. That’s normally between November and June. So during that time, the river flow can be passed through the outlets of the dam. But once flood season starts from July to September, that’s the peak of the fall season, then the outlets will not have the capacity to pause the high flows of the flood season. That means automatically the reservoir will start filling up until the water level of the reservoir is the height of the middle wall, and then water will start flowing over the wall. So that means, because the outlets of the dam are too small to pass the entire flood wave, the reservoir will be filling up. In other words, because the wall is now constructed, there’s no way to stop the filling from happening. So the reservoir will start filling at least then, fill up to the level of the middle wall, and then water will start flowing over the wall.

AG: Does that mean over the wall into Sudan?

MB: Yes, that means to Sudan, downstream to Sudan and then to Egypt.

AG: Egypt and Sudan have a resolution under consideration at the UNSC which demands that Ethiopia stop the second filling of the dam. Does that make any sense in the circumstance?

MB: Physically, it’s not possible to solve the filling as I just explained, now. The decision to continue filling, in this second year of the filling, was already taken a long time ago by Ethiopia when that middle wall was being raised.

AG: So it’s not really possible to stop the second filling of the dam now, but it is possible to negotiate agreements about management of the dam here and going forward.

MB: We’re talking about only the second year of the filling. The filling goal is to continue in the next few years. So I think what Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt need to work on is an agreement for the subsequent years. And then also for the long-term operation.

AG: The dam is already producing some electricity, isn’t it?

MB: No, not yet. There needs to be a certain amount of water behind the reservoir for it to start generating electricity. But this is expected to happen this year.

AG: Sudan and Egypt are saying that they want to stop the second filling of the dam. Do you think that’s a misunderstanding of the engineering?

MB: No, I think they both know that the filling cannot be stopped now. In fact, in a press conferences in the past week that the Sudanese Water Ministers gave, he stated that the filling cannot be stopped now and the decision to fill the dam had already been made when Ethiopia started the building of that middle wall. So they know the engineering of the dam, they know that the filling cannot be stopped. I think what they are trying to do here is to make a statement that the filling shouldn’t have been carried out according to a unilateral Ethiopian decision made back in in April/May, when that middle wall was being built.

AG: Some say that Egypt and, in turn, Sudan are not really concerned about their share of the Nile waters, but about the possibility that Ethiopia will rise to become a regional power rivaling Egypt. Does that make any sense to you as a civil engineer?

MB: No, it actually does not. I think both Egypt and Sudan would benefit from a stronger Ethiopia, a more stable Ethiopia, a more economically strong Ethiopia, because the ties between these three countries are quite strong. And both Sudan and Egypt expressed their support for Ethiopia’s development and Ethiopia’s use of the Nile water resources. I think the issue of Sudan and Egypt with the dam is they want to have certain assurances about their water security. The problem with the dam is different for Egypt and for Sudan. For Sudan, what they want to know is how the dam will be operated, because the dam is very, very close to Sudan. So they want to have a mechanism for exchanging data and making sure that there are certain rules to govern changes and flows from one day to the next and etcetera. A lot of technical details. I think that, for Sudan, there have also been concerns because Sudan hasn’t received any final documents on the dam safety. There are also some missing studies on the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of the dam for Egypt. What they worry about the most is how the dam would be operated during times of droughts. So that means that, if a drought happens, like the one that happened in the 1980s, when we had multiple years with very low flows, then how much water is going to be released from the GERD? Because that will impact the agricultural sector in Egypt. It will impact employment and the economy of Egypt as well. Another concern is, following a drought, how will the reservoirs be recovered? Because, typically, after a drought, the reservoirs will be at a very low level. How fast will the GERD be filled up following a drought? Is the GERD going to be filled faster compared to the Aswan High Dam, which is also a very large dam located in Egypt? So these are completely different issues, I think, for the two countries. And I think these are the concerns of the countries, but I believe that both Sudan and Egypt are not against the development of Ethiopia.

AG: That’s good to hear. We constantly hear the word famine associated with Ethiopia. The two words are almost irrevocably identified because of the great famines of previous decades and the massive charitable efforts to respond to them. Would the GERD be one of the best ways of protecting Ethiopia against famine in the future?

MB: So the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, it’s a hydropower dam, and it’s located next to the border with Sudan. That means it is used for hydropower generation only. Of course, it will provide hydropower for Ethiopia’s different sectors and would enable the development of the economy. But again, it doesn’t provide water for irrigation or for other purposes. So it wouldn’t protect from famine in that sense, because the GERD does not provide water for agriculture.

AG: But possibly the electricity could be used to power irrigation systems. Does that make sense?

MB: That could be one way to look at it. So yeah, because electricity is an input to many, many activities in the economy, it can be used as well to pump water from groundwater to power food production and so on. But the impact is indirect. It’s not directly from the GERD but through the hydro power that the GERD generates.

AG: Last year, according to the BBC, Sudan was taken by surprise when Ethiopia shut three of the four diversion outlets for the water. This led to lower levels downstream, which disrupted Sudan’s pumping stations for irrigation and municipal water supply. If that’s true, then it does seem that Sudan and Egypt have legitimate concerns about their share of the Blue Nile waters.

MB: Yes. Last year, Egypt didn’t have any problems because the flow was very high. And Egypt has the Aswan High Dam which has a huge water wall, and that can be used to mitigate any reductions in the Nile flow from Ethiopia as a result of GERD filling, at least in the short term. For Sudan, the situation is different because the GERD is located very, very close to Sudan, and there is no large reservoir in Sudan that is capable of storing a lot of water. So what happened last year was that, when the filling started, three of the gates were closed and only one was open, which resulted in a sharp drop in the river flow. And that resulted also in a sharp drop in river water levels. And that left a lot of the inlets of pumping stations along the Blue Nile out of the river. And that resulted in drinking water supply stations going out of service. That could have been avoided. If there was clear communication with Ethiopia about the filling process, how much water would be released and when the filling was going to be started, Sudan could have taken some measures to mitigate that. But because there was no exchange of information, and because that process was unilateral, Sudan wasn’t aware of it. That caused the damage. So one of the lowest levels of coordination is trans-boundary river exchanges of information. If that was available, Sudan wouldn’t have suffered from the first year filling.

AG: The UNSC is considering this as a matter of war and peace. And in one BBC report, they said there’s really nothing Egypt can do about this now, unless it wants to go to war with Ethiopia, a horrible prospect, or do you think that can be avoided?

MB: Definitely war is the worst solution. And in fact, it’s not a solution, because it creates more problems than it solves. Anything that war can provide can instead be gained from talks and negotiations. So I think there is absolutely no need to go into war for negotiations over this dam on the Nile waters. Talks and negotiations can resolve this issue. And I don’t think Egypt would turn to that solution.

AG: The other day, you told me that the US and Mexico had renegotiated the treaty regarding the Colorado River Basin 300 times and that something like that kind of cooperation is needed here. Could you say a little more about that?

MB: Yes. So one of the concerns of Ethiopia is that if they enter into a binding agreement, it might constrain their use of the river in the future. And indeed if, for example, they committed to releasing certain water volumes in the drought to the downstream, then they will have to continue doing that. And that will impact the way water is used in the upstream. Now, there are solutions that have been done elsewhere in other places in the world. And there is an example from the Colorado River Basin. There was a treaty between the US and Mexico about the management of the river, and they actually introduced changes to this treaty in minutes. So they made the changes in the regular meeting minutes, and then they added them to the agreement. And that has been done quite a lot. That is an example that Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt could follow in addressing Ethiopia’s concern about the GERD now, but they could also be open to meeting again in the future when Ethiopia decides to go on with their further plans, and then come up with new minutes and add them to the agreement. The idea is to have flexibility, legal flexibility, to accommodate future uncertainties.

AG: Human and climatic situations are both fluid, right?

MB: Yeah, that’s right. We still don’t know how climate change is going to impact the Nile flow. So some studies show that climate change will increase the Nile flows; some studies show that it will decrease the flows. So all these factors will need to be taken into account as they unfold.  And there are also uncertainties around population growth and about the paths that countries will take to economic development. All these are going to impact the demand for water resources in the region. And these would have to be taken into account, or at least we should have the flexibility to accommodate these changes in any agreement about water management.

AG: So the three countries have to negotiate and continue negotiating well into the future?

MB: Yes, definitely. I think what they need to do is try to think a little bit creatively. So instead of trying to figure out ways to share the water resources, I think they should start thinking about sharing the benefits that the water resources would generate. And this is a very well known concept now in very basic management. It’s called sharing benefits. Because each of the countries has different potentials and different resources. Ethiopia has high hydropower potential. Sudan has great agricultural potential. Egypt has expertise and a long history in agriculture and agriculture-related industries. So if all these aspects were brought together in a collaborative framework, then the Nile water would be enough for everyone to obtain the benefits that they want.

AG: Okay, I’ve done my best trying to make sense of this, not being an engineer. Is there anything else you think we should understand that I haven’t touched on?

MB: No, no, I think I think we covered pretty much all the points. But again, I mean, the last thing maybe I want to finish with is negotiations is the way to solve this, but the three countries need to figure out different ways to negotiate because the negotiations have been going on for over 10 years now, and there’s still no solution. That means the negotiations need to be set up differently to reach a solution as soon as possible.

AG: Mohammed Bashir, thanks for speaking to Black Agenda Report.

MB: Thank you very much for having me.

Mohammed Bashir does research and teaches at the Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering Department of the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. He is originally from Sudan.

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