Assuming ownership: A psychological look into Ethiopia's stand on Renaissance Dam



Thu, 25 Jun 2020 - 07:19 GMT


Thu, 25 Jun 2020 - 07:19 GMT

Ethiopia's statements and stances are required to be physiologically analyzed, especially that they do not emanate based on any rational or logical thinking - says political psychologist Azza Hashem. Photo: Illustrated by Mohamed Zain / Egypt Today

Ethiopia's statements and stances are required to be physiologically analyzed, especially that they do not emanate based on any rational or logical thinking - says political psychologist Azza Hashem. Photo: Illustrated by Mohamed Zain / Egypt Today

CAIRO – 25 June 2020: Do Ethiopian negotiators really seek a solution to the Renaissance Dam issue? What is the return from insisting on antagonizing Egypt? Why do conversations with the Ethiopian side always reach a dead end? Why does the Ethiopian negotiator adopt the language of grants and prevention during talks about the dam? And why do talks about waging a war appear at the time of negotiation?

All these questions are revolving around the stance adopted by Ethiopia, reportedly to find a solution, as well as a set of statements that only seek to escalate the situation.


These statements and stances are required to be physiologically analyzed, especially that they do not emanate based on any rational or logical thinking.

Dr. Azza Hashem, a Political Psychologist, says The issue here goes beyond the negotiating process, and extends to the minds that manage the process, its goals, directions, perceptions, how they balance things, and address attitudes of gain and loss, the rights of the other party and the limits of harm and indifference.

Dr. Azza Hashem, a Political Psychologist

Negotiations reach dead end due to certain psychological dimensions governing the behavior of negotiators.

"Perhaps the gap between the perceptive and reality represents an important psychological dimension that can help in understanding what is ambiguous in the Ethiopian side's attitudes towards the issue,” Dr. Hashem wrote in an article published by The Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies.

Partnership, Not Ownership!

It is clear that Egypt is dealing with the situation as a partner who seeks to find a common ground and resolve any dispute to preserve the interests of all parties, while Ethiopia on the other hand is dealing with the situation as the “owner” of the whole river.

The Egyptian negotiator, as a partner, speaks standing on solid laws, legal rights, and the history of a great ancient civilization built with the Nile as a loyal companion that is shared with all.

Sameh Shoukry
Egyptian Foriegn Minister H.E. Sameh Shoukry

The Ethiopian negotiator on the other hand consider himself doing Egypt and Sudan a favor by just agreeing to sitting at the table. Hence, the wrong perception of positions, and sitting on the wrong seats, necessarily leads to failure.

Egypt seeks governing laws based on the legal, historical and human right to the Nile, which Egypt and the world see as an international river, and Ethiopia sees it as an Ethiopian river that blesses downstream countries with its water course.

Drenched In Irresponsibility

Ethiopia is dealing with negotiations regarding the dam as if it is not committed to do so, wrongly realizing that there is nothing that obliges it to commit to legal documents and agreements with Egypt.

If we analyzed statements by the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, we would find the phrase "Ethiopia is not obligated to reach an agreement before filling the Renaissance Dam" over and over again.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Al Dardeery Mohamed Ahmed and his delegation leave the U.S. Treasury Department after negotiations on the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, situated on the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, in Washington, US, November 6, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

This conviction of noncompliance is undoubtedly bound to derail the course of any negotiations and turn them into a non-binding formality.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew on Friday declared that his country will go ahead and start filling the dam next month, even without an agreement.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew

“For us it is not mandatory to reach an agreement before starting filling the dam, hence we will commence the filling process in the coming rainy season," he said.

This statement showed how Ethiopia could not care less about the interests and positions of the affected parties.

Ethiopian negotiators have said following the filing and operation of the dam, Egypt and Sudan will have to deal with droughts as a “natural phenomenon.”

Reaching Common Ground Is Not Winning

A perception that one party must lose during negotiations can be catastrophic, as negotiation is mainly based on the idea of offering compromises and concession to find a common ground.

The Ethiopian side, however, views any gain that Egypt could achieve from the negotiating process as a loss to it, a vision that leads in any negotiations to a dead end.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Zerihoun Abe, a member of the Ethiopian negotiating team, has said “Ethiopia will not suffer alone for the sake of Egypt’s prosperity.”

But the real question is, why would any party suffer? And why cannot all parties survive? The truth is that logic may fail to explain this psychological dimension, which is based on the pursuit of a sense of power and verification through “winning” in the negotiations.

Therefore, if we say Egypt came with a fair settlement for the GERD crisis, Ethiopia will assume that it has “lost” and keep on escalating, continuing its hatred injection through media outlets and portraying negotiations as a battle against Egypt.

Waging War… During Negotiations?!

Even with a quick skim through the course of negotiations and official statements between Egypt and Ethiopia, anyone could notice a tone full of escalation and aggression from the Ethiopian side, although logic might suggest the opposite, since Egypt and Sudan are the aggrieved parties in this dilemma.

This raises a very serious question, why do Ethiopian officials insist on escalating and even speaking of war.

The Irrigation Ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan take part in a meeting to resume negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Khartoum, Sudan, Dec. 21, 2019. Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images.

One cannot simply pretend it is not funny to find a “Nobel peace laureate” threatening to “mobilize millions for war against another country!”; Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last October warned that his country is “ready mobilize millions if it comes to war over the construction of the dam.”

The fact that the noise raised by the Ethiopian side obscures deep anxiety, not reassurance as some propagate, and repeated talk about war and its preparation, means that this dimension is the main concern of Ethiopia.

“If there is a need to go to war, we could get millions readied. If some could fire a missile, others could use bombs. But that’s not in the best interest of all of us,” AP quoted Ahmed as saying.

It is noteworthy that the Ethiopian Prime Minister made this statement while the negotiations track was still standing.

Can’t Do It? Blame It On Egypt!

Ethiopia is on a relentless pursuit to label Egypt as an “enemy state,” with an aim to create a hotbed for hate that could vent out growing internal challenges and anger towards the current government.

There is an apparent attempt to falsely reflect Egypt as an aggressor who seeks to hinder Ethiopia’s development plans rather than an aggrieved party that tries – through negotiations – to prevent the negative outcomes of the project and reach satisfactory and guaranteed results for all parties.


Not only that, but the language that is used depicts Egypt as a colonial state, seeking to impose its will and control over the perceived Ethiopian “ownership” of the Nile.

With the help of paid web trolls, fake news and falsified reports, the Ethiopian government has tricked its own people into thinking that the problem lies within Egypt, and not its inability to solve its own issues and challenges without harming the interests, security, and stability of other countries.



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