U.S. Halts Some Foreign Assistance Funding to Ethiopia Over Dam Dispute with Egypt, Sudan

BY ROBBIE GRAMER/FP
AUGUST 27, 2020

Some U.S. officials fear the move will harm Washington’s relationship with Addis Ababa.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has approved a plan to halt U.S. foreign assistance to Ethiopia as the Trump administration attempts to mediate a dispute with Egypt and Sudan over the East African country’s construction of a massive dam on the Nile River.

The decision, made this week, could affect up to nearly $130 million in U.S. foreign assistance to Ethiopia and fuel new tensions in the relationship between Washington and Addis Ababa as it carries out plans to fill the dam, according to U.S. officials and congressional aides familiar with the matter. Officials cautioned that the details of the cuts are not yet set in stone and the finalized number could amount to less than $130 million.

Programs that are on the chopping block include security assistance, counterterrorism and military education and training, anti-human trafficking programs, and broader development assistance funding, officials and congressional aides said. The cuts would not impact U.S. funding for emergency humanitarian relief, food assistance, or health programs aimed at addressing COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS, officials said.

The move is meant to address the standoff between Ethiopia and other countries that rely on the Nile River downstream that have opposed the construction of the massive dam project, called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Egypt sees the dam’s construction as a core security issue given the country’s heavy reliance on the river for fresh water and agriculture, and in the past Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has hinted his country could use military force to halt the dam’s construction.

Some Ethiopian officials have said they believe the Trump administration is taking Egypt’s side in the dispute. President Donald Trump has shown a fondness for Sisi, reportedly calling him his “favorite dictator” during a G-7 summit last year. Officials familiar with negotiations said the Trump administration has not approved parallel cuts in foreign assistance to Egypt.

Administration officials have repeatedly assured all sides that Washington is an impartial mediator in the negotiations, which mark one of the few diplomatic initiatives in Africa that the president has played a personal and active role in. These officials pointed out that Egypt has accused the United States of taking Ethiopia’s side in the dispute as well.

“There’s still progress being made, we still see a viable path forward here,” said one U.S. official. “The U.S. role is to do everything it can to help facilitate an agreement between the three countries that balance their interests. At the end of the day it has to be an agreement that works for these three countries.”

But the move is likely to face sharp pushback on Capitol Hill, according to Congressional aides familiar with the matter. State Department officials briefed Congressional staff on the decision on Thursday, the aides said, and during the briefing insisted that the U.S.-Ethiopia relationship would remain strong despite a cutback in aid because the United States can have tough conversations “with friends.”

“This is a really fucking illogical way to show a ‘friend’ you really care,” one Congressional aide told Foreign Policy in response.

The administration’s mediation efforts started last year, when Sisi asked Trump for assistance during a visit to the United States. While the State Department handles diplomatic issues, Trump asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to lead the mediation. That arrangement has caused friction within the administration, with some State Department officials privately venting that the administration is mishandling its role in the negotiations by putting Treasury in the lead.

The State Department and Treasury Department did not respond to requests for comment.

On Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Khartoum to discuss the dam issue with his Sudanese counterparts. Pompeo was in Khartoum on the same day to meet with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, but the two leaders notably did not cross paths. “The Secretary and Prime Minister agreed that achieving mutually beneficial agreement among Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is crucial to regional stability,” the State Department said in a statement issued after Pompeo’s meeting with Hamdok.

Following Abiy’s visit, the Ethiopian and Sudanese governments issued a joint statement saying that two sides “would make every possible effort to reach a successful conclusion to the current tripartite negotiations.”

The concept for the massive dam project was first conceived of by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in the 1960s, though the country did not break ground until 2011. Ethiopian citizens have helped bankroll the $4.6 billion dam project with small individual donations, making it an important point of national pride in addition to being a massive infrastructure project.

Some U.S. officials have raised doubts about whether U.S. funding cuts to Ethiopia could alter the country’s negotiating position, given the dam’s political and cultural significance. The Trump administration first began considering withholding foreign assistance to Ethiopia over the dam discussions in July. In fiscal year 2019, the United States provided a total of $824.3 million in assistance to Ethiopia, of which $497.3 million was humanitarian aid, according to State Department data.

Egypt and Sudan demanded that Ethiopia not begin filling the dam until the countries reached a legally binding deal that would address how to manage water flows during droughts or dryer rainy seasons, and established a mechanism to resolve disputes regarding the dam.

But in July, following an unusually wet rainy season, Ethiopia announced it finalized the first phase of filling the 74 billion-cubic-meter dam, sparking a backlash from Cairo and Khartoum.

16 Comments

  1. It’s beyond words how disrespectful the Trump administration has been towards Ethiopia unlike any of the previous U.S. leaders of both parties from Teddy Roosevelt in 1907 to Truman in the 1950’s and from Kennedy in the 1960’s to (who memorably accorded Emperor Haile Selassie the first state visit ever given to an African leader) to Nixon in the 1970’s and to Reagan’s principled stand against the communist junta in the 1980s to Ethiopia’s close partnership with the Bush and Clinton Administration in the 1990’s to Bush and Obama (who became the first U.S. leader to visit Ethiopia) in more recent years, all with the exception of Trump ( who falsely claimed the he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country from a big war, a possible reference to his failed work on GERD) all U.S presidents respected Ethiopia’s as a regional and continental leader in Africa more than capable of resolving it’s own neighborly disputes as time will show. Who should have known for he is not only unfit leader for supper power like the United states but all also philosophically and in world outlook unabashed ግልገሉ Mussolini white supremacists. It’s a shame America.

  2. Beggars have no choice but take whatever is thrown at them. America has every right to cut the aid that it gives to the aid dependent nations like Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s problem isn’t so much as lack of aid but managing its own resources and developing the country’s potential. TPLF has swindled more than $30 billion USD in the last three decades alone.

    There is no genuine benefit to be gained from aid dependency. The cut could only hurt the pockets of those who use governmental power for their personal gains and those tribal lords who shuttle their family between Addis and Foreign Cities when they sneeze due to seasonal cold.

    On another note, the Ethiopian Government could mobilize huge amount of resources from its diaspora if it was able to put its house inorder and steer clear off tribal politics.

    Ethiopia should only continue completing the dam on schedule regardless of whoever takes back the alms they are throwing at us. It is time to stand up to bullies!

  3. It’s beyond words how disrespectful the Trump administration has been towards Ethiopia unlike any of the previous U.S. leaders of both parties from Teddy Roosevelt in 1907 to Truman in the 1950’s and from Kennedy in the 1960’s to (who memorably accorded Emperor Haile Selassie the first state visit ever given to an African leader) to Nixon in the 1970’s and to Reagan’s principled stand against the communist junta in the 1980s to Ethiopia’s close partnership with the Bush and Clinton administrations in the 1990’s to Bush and Obama (who became the first U.S. leader to visit Ethiopia) in more recent years, all with the exception of Trump ( who falsely claimed the he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country from a big war, a possible reference to his failed work on GERD) all previous U.S presidents respected Ethiopia’s as a regional and continental leader in Africa more than capable of resolving it’s own neighborly disputes as time will show. We should have known for he is not only an unfit leader for superpower like the United States, but also philosophically and in world outlook unabashed ግልገሉ Mussolini white supremacist. It’s a shame America.

  4. rezen,

    What does it mean “It will not last beyond 14 Dec 2020” Do you mean November 3rd, 2020? (Election)??? Or is there something else happening on 14 Dec 2020 that we don’t know anything about?

  5. US will not send aid to a government which cannot secure it’s citizens and it’s cities. No reason to waste money on such corrupt and unsafe country such as Ethiopia.

    US can send the money to a government which keeps the cities safe. Even in Somalia where Al Shabab is active you don’t see a whole city getting burnt down to the ground as we seen it happen in Shashamane. Not only the cities are burnt down but the victims did not receive aid from the Ethiopian government or from the Oromia government , no reason why US should send aid money to such failed administration in Ethiopia. Plus Ethiopia is under China’s grip, even the ex-Ethiopian health minister Amir Aman resigned from his post as the Minister of health in December of last year months before China announced to warn the world publicly about the CoronaVirus outbreak. If China told the covid-19 outbreak to the whole world openly earlier in 2019 around the time when Amir Aman who is suspected to have clues about the outbreak resigned , the more than 180,000 American lives including the thousands of Ethiopian-Americans lives would not have been lost to Covid-19.

  6. AleJandro፣

    እውንትክን ነው፣ እስከ 3 Nov. 2020 ጊዜ ድረስ ብቻ ነው መታገስ ያለብን!
    ማለትም አሜሪካ ከብሮንክስ ሰዋስው እስክትገላገል ጊዜ ድረስ! አደራ ግን አንድም ኢትዮጵያዊም ሆነ የኢትዮጵያ ወዳጅ ይሄንን “unabashed ግልገሉ Mussolini white supremacist.” (DC Ethio -እንደገለፀው) እንዳይመርጠው!

  7. ….there was no need for Ethiopia to accept and sit on the negotiation brokered by the US .It was a big mistake. …

  8. Emebet,

    The only reason more than 180,000 American lives have been lost to date owing to COVID is because Trump has no idea what he’s doing. Look how well they handled it in New York because they have the best governor. If the NY governor Cuomo was the president instead of this moron so much lives could have been saved. Now the U.S. will pass 200,000 deaths by next month, which is more than any other country in the world. Trump has turned America into a Banana Republic in front of our eyes. And the only reason he was elected is because Black people did not vote. But this time around the Blacks are ready to kick his ass together with latinos, immigrants and young whites the coalition that help elect Obama twice.

    November 3rd is coming soon
    Bad, Tump, Bad Trump
    what you’re going to do when they come for you?

    Bad, Tump, Bad Trump
    what you’re going to do when they come for you?

  9. It’s a shame that some people, the Jack of all trades or nincompoops (depending on your vantage point), in the Diaspora were desecrating themselves before this super predator racist  as the savior of Ethiopia and Africa inspired by their misplaced and awkward hate for Obama mostly copying and adopting the right-wing talking points. Here we are today in 2020  before Trump himself exposed them for who they truly are through his actions. In fact, somewhere publicly fantasizing that Trump  will personally inaugurate Ethiopia’s dam in a triumphant victory so they could say “I told you so” I was correct in hating Obama.” Now that Trump, a fake Christian whom they thought identifies with them religiously (Obama is a Christian too),  has proved them wrong beyond any reasonable doubt. What would they say now? They are too  conniving  to admit fault, but is it predictable enough that they might falsely sermonize (or prophesize. 😉 that hey’ve hated on Trump’s hair all along? Or despite plenty of publicly available evidence to the contrary, they might deny that they’ve ever supported him? Hell, this is the Trump era, shame knows no shame. We’ll see. 

  10. If Trump is re-elected Ethiopia is fucked and may not recover for decades to come. Our only hope is a Biden victory in November, where as Egypt fears the Obama people the Ethiopian Americans (who actually know what’s going on) will put their feet down: “Shut up, sit-down and listen Sisi, the party is over.” Until then, only God knows what will happen. These are strange times and Ethiopians (mislead by talking heads who have no clue what’s going on) are not prepared for it. May GOD protect Ethiopia.

  11. Hi Meronicho,

    Thank you for bringing some reality to this shit show. In case there are any doubts I am one of the Obama people. More is to come next week, but here are additional henchman quotes:

    “Trump has done more meaningful, practical things in Africa  than Obama ! I believe Trump has done a hellva a job in U.S. Africa policy.”  (YEAH, LIKE  Halting Foreign Assistance Funding to Ethiopia Over Dam Dispute with Egypt, good job Trump) –  — Alemayehu G. Mariam, January 5, 2018

    “President Trump has delivered well beyond my expectations. Of course, I do not claim in any way, shape or form, is a response to my letter requesting targeted sanctions. But I have good reason to believe that I was heard in the Administration. That is all I ever wanted. An opportunity to be heard.  An opportunity to speak truth to power and be heard. President Trump’s Executive Order personally signifies to me that I have been heard. —  — Alemayehu G. Mariam, January 5, 2018

    “Do I regret calling Trump an Obama clone on Africa? Well, let me answer it this way. I can’t eat my words. So, I have to eat vegan-style crow and humble pie. Let me tell ya, they don’t taste so good either! — Alemayehu G. Mariam, January 5, 2018

    “Should the U.S. give into the threat that if the U.S. stops giving money to Africa, Africans will get their aid from China giving China controlling influence? This is the biggest lie perpetrated on American taxpayers. The fact of the matter is that “The bulk of Chinese financing in Africa falls under the category of development finance, but not aid. The billions of dollars that China commits to Africa are repayable, long-term loans.” Why should American taxpayers continue to bankroll Africans who do not have the simple decency to say, “Thank You”? — Alemayehu G. Mariam, May 7, 2017

    “It is ironic that those who are criticizing Trump on Africa today seemed to have taken a vow of silence when Barack Obama befriended and wined and dined the most ruthless African dictators and overlooked their deplorable human rights and corruption records in the name of counter-terrorism cooperation.”  — Alemayehu G. Mariam, January 5, 2018

    President Trump deserves full credit for promoting human rights and aid accountability in Ethiopia and Africa in general.  — Alemayehu G. Mariam, January 5, 2018

    “To Trump’s detractors on human rights in Africa, all I have to say is this: Obama talked a good talk on being on the right side of history on human rights for eight long years. Trump walked on the right side of history in less than twelve months. Action speaks louder than words. Trump’s one executive order on human rights is worth tens of thousands of pontificating words from Obama jabbering about the “right side of history. Could the Trump administration have done more to improve human rights in Africa in its first year? — Alemayehu G. Mariam, January 5, 2018

    “I believe in fundamental fairness.  “I calls ’em like I sees ’em.” And I likes what I sees in what the Trump administration has done promoting human rights, aid and corruption accountability and good governance in Africa.” — Alemayehu G. Mariam, January 5, 2018

    “To those who do not like the facts, they have the option of pounding the table and screaming at the top of their lungs that Trump is the “most anti-human rights president ever” for Africa and invent their own fake facts. Or they can deal with the facts as they are! — Alemayehu G. Mariam, May 7, 2017

    Peace out everybody till next time!

  12. አያስገባ ኮሶ የታባቱ ደርሶ

    አየሁ ያለ ጣጣ ያመጣል አላየሁም ያለ ከጣጣ ያመልጣል

    አያ ጅቦ ሳታመካኝ ብላኝ አለች አህያ

    አዝኜ ባቅፋት እንቅልፍ ወሰዳት

  13. For the uninitiated, the definition henchman such as the “the dictator’s henchman” is a faithful political supporter prepared to engage in dishonest practices by way of service.

  14. @AleJandro you said it all and you said it well. Still, you were saying: “It is time to stand up to bullies.” Which bullies you referring to? The bullies outside the country or those inside the country?

    As you were saying, TPLF looted the country and did so much damage to the country. We have now Abiy Ahmed’s government leading the country that is even more tribalist, in your face arrogant and and even more destructive than TPLF – something that none of us never, ever thought was remotely possible.

    The Abiy Ahmed government overtly and covertly encouraged, empowered these radical tribal extremists – some of whom he has now jailed only because they threatened his power. There was absolutely no recriminations, accountability for inciting and instigating ethnic cleansing and genocide and more only threatening Abiy Ahmed’s government. . .

    Anyway, the problem right now is not so much that some alms will not be coming to the country, it is rather the continued unholy alliance of the the Abiy Ahmed’s government and tribal extremists including the TPLF – as destructive as ever – all working together to destroy the country.

    Still, sometimes it hard to tell who is the more radical tribalist, Jawar and Co or the Abiy Ahmed government – one would think that people have stopped being fooled by his language, the recitation of Ethiopia, Ethiopia and some similar inanities. Well, these things are only cover for Abiy Ahmed;s agenda which is the same as Shimeles Abdissa’s agenda, Tackle Uma’s agenda and so on.

  15. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Egypt’s Sisi was also once our henchmen’s favorite African dictator too. He once called him “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Sure he can’t be surprised that Donald Trump has shown a fondness for Sisi, reportedly calling him his “favorite dictator.” Then this clueless idiot wrote a public letter to Treasury as always to promote his ego falsely claiming he speaks for Ethiopia. Then this happened in response. Did they listen? Not really as he claimed before, however of “an abundance of caution it catches their attention because it’s on the internet and google sends them an alert whenever an official’s name is mentioned to make sure what’s in it and from whom. After all it’s the government so everting is checked out and filed away. I know this because it was my previous job. Their next plan is to bomb GERD as an October surprise. Read my lips and God forbid unless Abiy does something smart like he always does. BTW how is EDTF doing? Can it mobilize the 3 million diasporas to give $1 a day to help pay for the dam? Thus far it’s been all talking the talk, but walking the walk has been a total disastrous failure. It’s run like a typical African dictator’s shop with utter incompetence. Abiy needs to make a surprise visit to EDTF’s home office before the IRS under the U.S. treasury does.

    ታሞ ከመማቀቅ አስቀዽሞ መጠንቀቅ

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