Ethiopia has decided to close its embassies in Egypt and Ireland due to what it calls financial constraints, which it says have been worsened by the prolonged conflict in its Tigray region. Ethiopian Ambassador to Egypt, Markos Tekle, announced that the embassy in Cairo will be closed temporarily as of October.
“The embassy will be closed for the next three to six months to reduce costs…” he said
Ethiopia late July this year said the controversial mega dam, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) it is building over the Blue Nile will start generating electricity soon. The announcement by the country’s water ministry came as two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, continue to raise concerns that the dam will impact their essential water supplies. Despite calls to halt the dam operations, Ethiopia still went ahead to fill the dam for the second time despite Egypt’s and Sudan’s warnings against this before the three countries had reached a final deal.
Even with the tensed relationship Ethiopia currently has with Egypt owing to the dam dispute, ambassador Tekle asserts that the decision to temporarily close its embassy in Egypt has nothing to do with the longstanding matter over the dam.
The tension the dam project continues to create between Ethiopia and its neighbors, such as Egypt and Sudan who have long opposed the project, is growing, with the two countries saying they are worried about droughts and water securities that will likely result from it. Both countries have made constant calls for a binding legal arrangement before dam operations begin, but attempts at mediation have failed. Egypt sees the GERD as having the potential to threaten its very existence, because of its near-total reliance on the Nile; as a result it wants a guarantee of a certain volume of water; an arid nation of nearly 100 million people, depends on the Blue Nile River for most of its water needs, including for agriculture.
Earlier in the year in July, in a bid to address the tension, the United Nations Security Council backed an African Union bid to mediate the dispute and called for all parties to resume talks. However the UN Security Council intervention over the project was considered as an “unhelpful” distraction by Ethiopia. The United States had also previously warned that Ethiopia’s filling of the dam had the potential to raise tensions, while urging all parties to refrain from any unilateral actions.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is a huge project on the Blue Nile in Benishangul-Gumuz region, northwestern Ethiopia, and about 32 km east of the border of Sudan. Ethiopia in 2011 launched construction of the dam, which once completed, is expected to produce more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity, making it Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam and doubling Ethiopia’s electricity output. Roughly over 60 million Ethiopians are reportedly not connected to the power grid. The dam is considered to be the largest hydropower project in Africa and 8th-largest in the world, and can hold more than 70 billion cubic metres of water which is nearly equal to the flow of the Nile in one year.
The case of Ireland
Ethiopia has also said it is closing its embassy in Dublin, Ireland’s capital, for similar reasons with Egypt, related to financial complaint, with its responsibilities transferred to the country’s mission in London. Relations between Ethiopia and Ireland have not been stable in recent months; this is blamed on the Irish government being at the forefront in pushing the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Ethiopia with regard to the Tigray region conflict. Ethiopian Prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has in the recent past also criticized what it has called international “interference” by Ireland in its internal affairs. The Irish government has since responded to Ethiopia’s move to close its embassy by saying:
“The government regrets the decision of the Ethiopian authorities to close their embassy in Ireland… The ongoing conflict in Tigray is of significant concern, and Ireland has been at the fore in raising the crisis at the UN Security Council, within the European Union, and with other partners…” Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
It added: “We have also conveyed our concerns directly to the Ethiopian authorities. In all cases, we have stressed the need for unimpeded humanitarian access, a ceasefire and dialogue leading to a political resolution of the conflict.”
Since the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region broke out in November last year, almost 2 million people have been displaced with more than five million in need of emergency food aid as the current famine begins to take hold. The conflict has spread to neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, raising fears that Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation with about 120 million people, might eventually fall apart.
Other Embassies to be closed
Ethiopia also recently announced that it would close over 30 of its embassies in many countries due to the economic crisis it is facing. Its resources have reportedly continued to get stretched as the war in the northern region persists. Last July, Addis Ababa admitted it had lost some 2.3 billion in infrastructure damage in Tigray where Ethiopian forces had been pursuing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), once a ruling party but now considered a terror group.
The latest decision to temporarily close its embassies in Egypt and Ireland brings the number of embassies due for closure in September alone to three. Earlier this month, Addis Ababa announced that it had closed its embassy in Algiers, Algeria, as it began to cut costs on its foreign policy obligations. Early July, the country also changed the accreditation arrangements for dozens of its diplomatic missions across the globe and then announced plans to cut the number of embassies it has overseas by at least half in a bid to save costs.
“Ethiopia should not have 60 or so embassies and consulates in the present moment. Instead of throwing US dollars everywhere … at least 30 of the embassies should be closed. The ambassadors should instead be here,” Abiy said in a July media briefing.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently called on civilians to join the army in its fight against rebels in the Tigray region. Abiy asked “all capable Ethiopians” to “show their patriotism” by joining the war as it rages. Fighting has escalated since June when the rebels, led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), recaptured much of Tigray in an offensive; this came after the federal army had withdrawn and declared a ceasefire.