Ethiopia's national interests have been completely redefined and re-evaluated since 1991, providing a new focus on the countrys internal vulnerabilities and problems, political and economic. The Foreign Policy and National Security Strategy identifies the major threats to Ethiopia and indeed to its survival: economic backwardness and the desperate poverty affecting a large majority of the population. The strategy also emphasizes the need for democracy and good governance and for the establishment of a democratic structure and government at all levels throughout the country. It underscores that without these Ethiopia would be unable to survive as a country and its very existence would be in doubt. Considerable progress has been made in the last six years, but more remains to be done.
With regard to bilateral relations, the policy clearly stipulates that Ethiopia will pursue engagement with all other countries on the basis of the principle of mutual interest and respect. Relations with all neighbors over the last two decades have been a testament to the seriousness with which the country has adhered to these principles. Ethiopia believes that whatever differences countries may have, issues of common concern can only be addressed on the basis of constructive engagement, of dialogue and in a manner that allows for a win-win outcome for all.
Ethiopia relationship with Egypt is one of the many bilateral relations that the government of Ethiopia has been working hard to develop along these principles. Ethiopia and Egypt, of course, have a long relationship, dating back several thousand years. Apart from the cultural and historical ties that have bound them together for centuries, both countries have been closely involved in the cause of African unity over the last five decades. Central to any relationship however has been the River Nile which has been the strong bond tying the two countries and their peoples together for millennia. The Nile can and indeed should be a source of cooperation and mutually beneficial relations between Ethiopia and Egypt in a whole number of ways. This has not, however, always been the case. Indeed, the issue of the use of the Nile water has often been a major sticking point in the relationship, a major stumbling block to any sort of robust bilateral link that might have enhanced the interests of both countries.
Robust ties are, of course, exactly what both countries need to deal with another major interest of concern to both – the issue of security and a response to extremism and terrorism, something which has equally affected both. Surprisingly, perhaps, it is also something that neither Ethiopia nor Egypt have properly explored. Yet security, internally, as well as regionally in both the Horn of Africa and North Africa, is vital to both states. Ethiopia and Egypt have some of the largest populations in Africa; both have been affected by substantial terrorist atrocities. Producing an adequate response to terrorism is not just in their own interests. Both states have responsibilities to their regions and to Africa and the Africa Union in this regard. Equally, both have a heavy responsibility to avoid exacerbating, even inadvertently, the dangers posed by terrorist activity.
There are a number of causes why such co-operation has not been developed, and the major reasons revolve around the issue of the Nile. Indeed, all Egypts relations with Ethiopia over the last century or so have largely revolved around this more than anything else. Successive Egyptian governments have sought to ensure their continued control of the Nile water, and because of this it has not been possible to establish a regime for the river based on mutual agreement. Certainly, upper riparian countries, including Ethiopia, for a long time suffered from a lack of sufficient resources to develop their legitimate claims to usage of the Nile water. The policies pursued by Egypt on this did not help the confidence of the upper riparian countries towards this issue. There is a strong conviction in Ethiopia, which has been well-founded, that efforts have been made to prevent Ethiopia from accessing support for the purpose of obtaining the necessary financial support for hydro-electric projects, even where these projects would pose no harm whatsoever to Egypt.
Ethiopia attaches great importance to its relations with Egypt, over the Nile as in the area of security. It accepts that Egypt has legitimate interests in the use of the Nile River. Equally, it sincerely believes that the only way any controversy over the use of such a common resource can be settled is through dialogue and the principle of equitable utilization of the water, without causing significant harm to others. This is why Ethiopia has so strongly supported the Nile Basin Initiative and now the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement, negotiated among the Nile riparian countries over the last ten years. The upper riparian countries have time and again reassured the lower riparian countries, Egypt and Sudan, that they have not any interest in harming them or indeed any other country. Ethiopia strongly believes the Cooperative Framework Agreement is a formula for a win-win outcome for all.
Unfortunately, despite changing political and economic dynamics in the region, there are still those who want to set the clock back. It seems that concepts such as cooperation, dialogue and equitable utilization are anathema to such people. It appears some still believe in saber-rattling and diplomatic maneuverings to promote their own interests at the expense of all others. It should be noted however, the realities that held Ethiopia back in the past from utilizing the Nile water have changed and changed forever. Ethiopia is not only stable; it is no longer completely dependent upon third parties to make some use of its resources, including the Nile. Everybody will now be better served by constructive discussions and dialogue so that all potential in the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt can be put to good use.
In fact, today the challenge that Ethiopia faces in its bilateral relations with Egypt is no longer as problematic as it has been. There are signs that attitudes are changing. There appears to be a growing realization that neither threats nor covert efforts against this or that riparian country can be successful. For example, bilateral economic relations between Ethiopia and Egypt are growing steadily, and can be expected to increase sharply in the future. Dialogue between the two governments is becoming more regular and more frequent. Both continue to face enormous challenges over the need to deal with extremism and terrorism. There can be no doubt of the value that a common approach would have. There are real possibilities for both parties to develop a sense of mutual trust that would further enhance understanding and cooperation. It is of course only such approaches that can bring the required and desired results and contribute to the enhancement of mutually beneficial relations between the two countries.