Ethiopia is set to hold general elections for members of the federal parliament and regional councils on June 5, 2021. It will be the sixth such elections, and another chance for Ethiopia to transit to democracy.
For many centuries, Ethiopia was ruled by a long line of absolute monarchs . The last emperor was overthrown by a popular revolution in 1974. However, the revolution was hijacked by a military junta that ruled the country until its overthrow in 1991.
There was hope that Ethiopia would embrace democracy for the first time when the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, a coalition of four ethnic political parties, took power in 1991 and introduced multiparty elections. This was not to be. The front conducted five sham general elections and ruled the country with an iron fist for 28 years.
From 2016 up to 2018, the coalition faced a popular uprising against increased human rights violations and massive corruption. It also faced an internal power struggle between reformists who sought the opening of the political space and those who wanted to maintain the status quo.
The political crisis climaxed in the exit of prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and entry of prime minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018.
The new optimism of a democratic transition springs from several important developments. In the last two years, the government has taken political and legislative reforms that may contribute to a more competitive election. For example, the electoral board which oversees the polling has been re-established as an independent institution.
Despite the upbeat expectations, the June elections face serious challenges. Ethiopia’s party system is extremely volatile. Political parties are weak and fragmented. And the elections will take place amid the upheaval in Tigray, one of the country’s 10 federal regions.
There are many reasons for the optimism.
Firstly, several exiled opposition politicians and political parties are allowed to operate inside the country.
Secondly, a new electoral law has set out new rules for political party registration. These have had the effect of pushing out a large number of weak and fragmented political parties from the party system. Previously, there were more than 130 political parties many of which were weak and volatile. The majority were not active in elections or any political movement. The new law requires re-registration on the basis of standards such as proof of endorsement from voters and constituencies.
Alongside this, political parties that have previously been marginalised in the regional states of Afar, Benishangul Gumuz, Harari, Gambela, and Somali are now part of the national political discourse.
Thirdly, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia is now accountable to the House of Peoples’ Representatives, the federal legislative house. And, in a significant compromise between the ruling and opposition political parties, a prominent former opposition politician and political prisoner, was appointed by the House of Peoples’ Representatives in late 2018 to lead the board.
Fourth, the Federal Supreme Court and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission are now led by prominent professionals. Both worked for the advancement of human rights and social justice for many years.
And a new law on civil society has made it possible for nongovernmental organisations, professional associations, and consortiums to engage in the advancement of human rights and democracy. These include civic and voter education, capacity building for political parties, human rights institutions, and courts.
Nevertheless there are still serious challenges.
Parties continue to exist that don’t have strong links with voters and constituencies. In addition, most of the political parties that make up the party system are regional and continue to be focused on ethnicity to mobilise supporters.
The problem with this is that ethnic political parties use extreme ethnic propaganda to win the support of the ethnic groups they claim to represent. They are also unlikely to seek political compromises.
Another challenge is the first-past-the-post election rule. The rule makes representation of diverse interests and views in the federal and regional legislative organs difficult. Likewise, some leaders of opposition parties are in prison, limiting the diversity of views and interests that should be represented in the general elections.
The lack of security in some constituencies poses an additional challenge to the general elections. In the regional state of Tigray, the election for the regional council has been postponed by the National Electoral Board until security is improved, and election polls are established by the provisional regional government.
Also, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat against several aspects of the election process. This includes voter and candidate registration, voter education, organisation of polling stations and constituencies, election campaigns and voting.
Postponed ballot and fallout
The 2021 elections were originally set to be carried out on 29 August, 2020. But they were pushed back by the House of Peoples’ Representatives because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to an extension of the mandate of the federal government that run out on 5 October, 2020.
Both processes faced criticism from opposition politicians and political parties. The Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front, the political party which governed the regional state of Tigray for 30 years, opposed the extension. Moreover, the front refused to recognise the federal government beyond 5 October, 2020.
The front conducted its own regional election on 20 September, 2020 and declared itself the winner. This was in violation of the Federal Constitution and against the mandate of the National Electoral Board. This action led to the escalation of political differences between the front and the federal government.
The Tigray Peoples’ Libration Front had been on a collision path with the federal government from the first day of its fall from a federal to regional power in 2018.
In addition, the fact that the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front is an armed ethnic political group arguably made it inherently susceptible to resort to violence as a way of resolving political differences.
The upcoming 6th general elections are yet another historic chance for Ethiopia to hold free and fair elections. Through democratic competition, Ethiopia can avert conflict, strengthen its democratic institutions, and begin the transition to democracy. The elections are a matter of survival.
In Ethiopia, the national army claims to have taken “complete control” of Mekelle, the capital of the dissident region of Tigray. But since the fighting started in November, there have been concerns for civilians in the region who may have been injured or displaced due to the conflict.
What is known is that providers of humanitarian aid haven’t been able to reach civilians. There are also reports that hundreds of civilians have been killed. However, because parts of the region have been cut off from mobile phone and internet network, it’s hard to ascertain the exact situation on the ground.
As well as governing relationships between countries, international law applies to the conduct of hostilities within a country.
At the core of international humanitarian law are the Geneva Conventions. These were a series of meetings that produced rules for times of armed conflict. They seek to protect people who are not taking part in hostilities. The agreements originated in 1864 and were significantly updated in 1949 after World War II.
I argue that there are several instances in which Ethiopia could have already violated these conventions. For instance in the denial of humanitarian aid and if civilians were attacked.
Serious violations of these laws can be considered war crimes and can be prosecuted in national or international courts, such as the tribunals established to investigate violations of the law in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the International Criminal Court. Victims of humanitarian blockade could also sue the government in Ethiopian courts.
Under international law, the Ethiopian federal government has the right to suppress rebellion, riot or mutiny by parts of the population against the established government. But it must respect the rules of international humanitarian laws. For instance, it must ensure the protection of all civilians.
The conflict was triggered when forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – the region’s ruling party – attacked a federal military base, killing federal soldiers. This act constitutes an insurgency and the government has legal grounds to suppress it.
The Tigrayan government also refused federal government orders to postpone the organisation of regional elections because of COVID-19. This constitutes a rebellion, which again gives the government legal grounds for military action.
But the Ethiopian government must respect the rules of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva conventions. They cover legitimate violence, proportionality, respect for human rights and the prohibition of the use of torture.
These laws also include the protection of civilians. It appears – though the government denies it – that civilians have been bombed. If this is true, this is in violation of international humanitarian law: it’s not lawful to attack civilians in a conflict.
It’s difficult to verify the extent to which civilians have been affected, because of a media blackout. But some rare reports show that many people have been injured.
The government is also legally bound to protect its people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This is known as the “principle of the responsibility to protect”. States must ensure that their armed forces respect this.
It is not enough for the Ethiopian army to tell people living in Mekelle to “save themselves from any artillery attack”. Not protecting them is a violation of international law.
In addition to this, any denial by the Ethiopian government of humanitarian assistance to people in Tigray is a violation of international humanitarian law.
Under various conventions, it’s the responsibility of the warring parties that control the territory to ensure that the needs of the civilian population are met. This includes their access to humanitarian assistance, such as food, water, clothing and medicines.
In Tigray, nearly one month after the conflict had started humanitarian organisations were still not able to access civilian populations trapped in Tigray. This was because the Ethiopian government refused to grant access to humanitarian organisations.
Minorities and displacement
There’s one more area of concern regarding international human rights law: the question of displacement due to the conflict.
Tens of thousands of people have already been displaced by the violence. The African Union’s “Kampala Convention”, to which Ethiopia is party, obliges the state to allow the relevant agencies to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons.
If the situation gets much worse, the African Union can intervene militarily and hold the government to count.
The Ethiopian government has emphasised its commitment to restoring order in the Tigray region. But some of its actions violate international humanitarian law. The government must respect international law. And the UN and other institutions must remind Ethiopia of its obligations.
Forces of Ethiopia’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have destroyed an airport in the town of Axum, state-affiliated Fana broadcaster said on Monday, after federal troops gave them a three-day deadline to surrender.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters the ultimatum was a cover for the government forces to regroup after what he described as defeats on three fronts.
There was no immediate response from either side to the other’s comments, and Reuters could not confirm the latest statements. Claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication has been down.
At the core of the current war between the Ethiopian central government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front is the realignment of politics and the contest for political hegemony.
In my view, it is about Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed allying with the Amhara to destroy Tigrayan power. This is an attempt to consolidate his position and that of his Amhara supporters.
Abiy declared war on the Regional Government of Tigray in early November 2020. The region is led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. He accused the regional government of attacking and looting the armaments of the Northern Ethiopian Military Camp.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front controlled and dominated Ethiopian politics for 27 years through the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition. The coalition included the Amhara National Democratic Movement, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation, and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement. The Tigrayans were the dominant force in the coalition.
The Tigrayan elites squandered their political opportunities by attacking the Oromo Liberation Front. They violated the human rights of the Oromo and others. This is what gradually led to the demise of their power in Addis Ababa (Finfinnee).
Ethiopia has about 80 ethno-national groups. The major ones are the Oromo (the largest), the Amhara and the Tigrayans. Emperor Menelik, the architect of the Ethiopian Empire, was from the Amhara. His rule resulted in the Amhara elites and Amhara culture and language dominating the empire for more than a century. These elites now claim that they are the rightful group to shape Ethiopia today in their own image.
The other most powerful groups are the Oromo and Tigrayans who have been fighting their own corners, often through liberation armies. Abiy, a political chameleon, has been manipulating ethnic divisions among the Amhara, the Oromo, and the Tigrayans.
Tigray’s dominance of Ethiopian politics
For nearly three decades – from 1991 to 2018 – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front dominated the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. The democratic front controlled Ethiopian politics and economics.
Throughout this period, the Tigray front and its collaborators were accused of gross human rights violations against Ethiopians of different ethnicities. In Oromia, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation was a partner in the looting of Oromo resources such as land and in committing heinous crimes.
Meles Zenawi , a Tigrayan by birth, was the master of coalition politics. His deputy, His Haile Mariam Desalegn, became prime minister when Zenawi died in 2012.
In response to pressures for reform, and to placate the Oromo Youth Movement, the then-coalition replaced Desalegn with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Abiy used his affiliation with the Oromo people to come to power. He promised to address issues such as the right to self-determination, political and cultural freedoms, sovereignty (Abbaa Biyyummaa), democracy, making the Oromo language a federal language, and enabling the Oromo to repossess their lands. After coming to power, Abiy ignored all these Oromo demands.
Abiy’s father is Oromo. But he was raised by his Amhara mother, a fact that he has used extensively. Considering his cruelty against the Oromo who embraced him at the beginning, most Oromos now think that his close affinity with his mother shaped his values, philosophy, ideology, and culture.
Abiy’s leadership triggered a realignment within the coalition. One of the consequences was the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation becoming an ally of the Amhara party. For its part, the Tigrayan front retreated to its home state to reorganise.
Reform agenda gone wrong
On coming to power Abiy launched a reform agenda. It included releasing political prisoners and allowing exiled and banned political leaders to return to Ethiopia.
He also promised to expand the political space, respect human rights, build independent institutions such as an elections board and independent judiciary, and to institute economic reforms.
Based on these promises – and because he initiated peace with Eritrea – he was awarded the 2019 Noble Peace Prize.
But since then, things have gone downhill. Abiy started to implement his political objectives by using the empire’s economic resources and the army. He ignored most stakeholders demanding the collective formulation of a political road-map for the transition to democracy. He began to attack and delegitimise the Oromo movement that had propelled him to power.
He even went as far as deploying the military in the Oromia regions of Wallaga, Guji, and Borana. Civilians have been killed extra-judicially. There has also been widespread killing and imprisonment of Oromo political opposition activists, sympathisers, and journalists. And elections have been postponed.
Abiy claims that it it is necessary to establish command posts in many Oromia regions to fight and defeat the Oromo Liberation Army.
Abiy also spearheaded the disbanding of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. He replaced it with the new Prosperity Party. Since the launching of the party on 1 December 2019, Abiy has dramatically shifted his focus from a democratic transition to consolidating power through violence and terror.
Abiy has introduced four interrelated political initiatives that consolidate his personal and party power. A combination of these factors has led to the current crisis and war in Tigray.
His first approach was the medemer philosopy. Medemer means “coming together” in Amharic. Abiy has co-opted political organisations, activists and politicians by appointing them to state positions. He has also tried to bring ethno-national groups together but without addressing historical and existing collective grievances and contradictions. These include unequal access to political power and economic resources as well as the denial of the right to self-determination and democracy.
Secondly, his use of the Prosperity Party to centralise political power under his leadership has led to Abiy’s critics characterising his government as a modern version of the authoritarian and colonial models of previous Ethiopian leaders, namely Menelik II and Haile Selassie.
His third initiative was to gradually diminish the power of the Tigray ruling elites. He removed them from the central government and important political positions.
The fourth initiative has been to suppress and dismantle the Oromo Liberation Front and the Oromo Federalist Congress, the most popular and influential parties in Oromia.
Some scholars argue that the central government is uneasy with the autonomy of Ethiopia’s federal units. Others say the conflict is about unresolved ethnic tensions and the underlying battle for control of the state.
Either way, the Abiy government and its supporters are keen to dismantle the Tigray region’s autonomy. It’s a paradox of history that Tigrayan elites used their control over central government to suppress and exploit other ethno-nations, only to lose control of central government and return home.
Abiy’s main aim is to replace Tigray’s leadership with a government that is subordinate to the central state. Abiy’s position as premier would be stronger without pressure from the Tigrayans and the Oromo. These two groups have been most aggrieved by his reforms.
To his advantage, the war is fully supported by key federal allies. These include the Amhara regional state, former Oromo Democratic Party members, and political parties such as the Amhara National Movement, the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice, and the Baldars party. All are dominated by the Amhara elites.
Using the Abiy government and the Ethiopian army, the Amhara elites want to recover from Tigray the land they claim belongs to them and to demolish Tigrayan power in order to dominate the empire.
But I believe that Abiy and the Amhara are naive in their belief that they can subjugate ethno-nations such as that of Tigray and Oromo by war.
An immediate ceasefire is needed. And an independent, neutral, and internationally endorsed body should be established to investigate major crimes committed over the last three decades to facilitate a national reconciliation. Also, the transition that has been derailed must be resuscitated and negotiations must begin on how to establish a transitional government that will prepare Ethiopia to become a true democracy. Otherwise, Abiy and his supporters are leading the empire in the wrong direction, one that may result in the collapse of the state, more humanitarian disasters, and the end of the empire as we know it.
Ethiopian Airlines Group has successfully completed a new passenger terminal at its hub Addis Ababa Bole International Airport with emphasis on Bio Security and Bio Safety measures.
The new terminal has a capacity to accommodate 22 million passengers annually, the spacious terminal is designed to offer contactless and a convenient experience with the help of digitally equipped amenities. Besides the spacious check-in hall with sixty check-in counters, new immigration, security screening, boarding gates, travellator and panoramic lifts, the new terminal also features shopping malls, restaurants, entertainment areas, fully air-conditioned and features a ultra-luxurious new 5000 square metre lounge, plenty of relaxed seating and offering a first class dining experience. .
In addition, for departing passengers it has three contact gates for wide body aircraft along with ten remote contact gates with travellator, escalator, and panoramic lifts. It will house thirty-two arrival immigration counters with eight e-gate provisions at the mezzanine floor level.
Regarding the expanded infrastructure, Mr. Tewolde GebreMariam, Group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines remarked:
“I am very pleased to witness the realisation of a brand-new terminal at our Hub. While Addis Ababa Bole International Airport has overtaken Dubai to become the largest gateway to Africa last year, the new terminal will play a key role in cementing that position. What makes the new terminal unique is that it’s the first terminal in the world to be completed after Covid-19. It was designed, not re-purposed, with Bio safety and Bio security in mind. I’m sure our esteemed customers will highly appreciate that. "
Aviation infrastructure expansion is one of the core pillars of Ethiopian’s Vision 2025. Ethiopian is continuously working on expanding airport facilities. The features of the new airport play a key role in protecting passengers’ and employees’ safety as airport experience becomes contactless.
Ethiopia has the potential to harvest more than 500,000 tons of honey annually, Expert said.
Because of its unique production environments and suitable climate, Ethiopia has comparative advantages to produce and supply high-quality honey and beeswax for the global market at competitive price.
International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) More Young Entrepreneurs in Silk and Honey (MOYESH) Programme Coordinator Dr. Workneh Ayalew told The Ethiopian Herald that the country has a wide potential for honey production.
Currently, the country is producing honey below its potential. Despite, the potential to harvest 500,000 tons of honey, it is harvesting not more than 60,000 tons of honey annually.
Besides, there is a potential to harvest up to 50,000 tons of beeswax but the country is harvesting below 10,000 tons of beeswax annually.
The Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategies and the ongoing comprehensive forest rehabilitation efforts could contribute a lot to generate more income from the beekeeping sub-sector.
The millions of hectares of protected and rehabilitating degraded habitats, forests, and bushlands can be used to establish commercial beekeeping, according to him.
Ethiopia is endowed with diverse agro-ecologies that are very suitable for raising honeybees where indigenous bee forages can support commercial beekeeping and promote honey sector investment, he said.
By making sufficient inputs available, conserving indigenous plant species, allocating suitable area of harvesting and infrastructure, designing proper policies, promoting market linkage, among others, are fundamental towards harnessing the honey sector potential, Dr. Workneh said.
Research surveys indicate that there are more than 7,000 indigenous plant species that help to harvest quality honey products countrywide.
Pesticide chemicals application on crops, lack of modern honey harvesting technologies, and the low attention given to the sector are challenging the sector's production and contribution for the national economy, he said adding, ensuring integrated pest management and reducing the application of chemicals on crops is important.
"Every chemical has its own short-term and long-term consequences on vegetation and insects like bees. Thus, utilizing organic-based and pro-environment agricultural inputs is important to maintain the safety of biodiversity," he stressed.
Beyond honey and beeswax production, bees play a significant role in facilitating pollination for the flower industry, coffee, crops, and fruit and vegetables.
Rehabilitating bees is essential not only for the honey production but ensuring sustainable ecological services.
Credit: The Ethiopian Herald
The political crisis in Ethiopia is not showing sings of abating. Ongoing riots in Oromia and Wolayta; state fragmentation in the Amhara region, and the standoff between the federal government and the Tigray region have put the survival of the government in question.
To address this crisis, the African Union has been called upon to mediate between prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Similar in tone, a US-based Ethiopian working group has urged Washington to play a more vocal role in the deepening crisis.
Most recently, some members of the US congress wrote a petition calling on the US secretary of state to encourage the Ethiopian government to engage in an open dialogue with the opposition for a peaceful transition.
These are all encouraging signs. But there needs to be greater clarity on the nature of the crisis for an informed and meaningful intervention.
It is my view that the crisis in Ethiopia today is not a conflict between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the regional government in Tigray. It is a crisis of the federal government manifest in Tigray and other regions. The governance of the federal government has become more of an exercise in seamanship (staying in power) and less of navigation (reaching a destination) falling short of coherent and democratic approaches to address the crisis.
Therefore, defining the problem as a disagreement between the federal government and Tigray is, to say the least, simplistic. There are concurrent crises in Oromia and the Southern regions that also need urgent attention. And to call for dialogue without taking some confidence building measures, such as the unconditional release of political prisoners, is a non-starter.
The ongoing unrest in Oromia
The killing of a popular Oromo singer Hachalu Hundiessa in June sparked massive communal riots. Most parts of western and southern Oromia were engulfed in fighting between armed forces Oromo Liberation Front fighters and government forces. The opposition parties in Oromia – protesting the decision of the government to continue in power beyond its mandate at the end of September 2020 – began preparing for resistance. The killing of the artist occurred in the middle of this political crisis.
The protests engulfed much of the Oromia region where many businesses and shops were torched or looted. The government response to the riots left 178 people dead and a further 9,000 detained without due process of law . Curfews were imposed and a complete closure of the internet enforced.
The public mistrust of government grew amid inconsistent statements and its knee-jerk decision to arrest opposition political leaders. Its failure to set up an independent inquiry into the artiste’s killing further fuelled suspicion.
In reaction to the resistance of the Oromo elites, Abiy has gone about purging over 1,700 local administrators and civil servants. The dismissed officials included Lemma Megersa, the Defense Minister, a politician considered pivotal in prime minister’s rise to power.
But resistance in the Oromia region continues in different forms. With over 9,000 people in prison, including key Oromo political leaders, the crisis has immense potential for escalation.
The Wolayta crisis
The Wolayta people in the country’s south have long agitated for a regional state of their own. The claims have become louder since December 2018 when the neighbouring Sidama people secured a referendum to form their own regional state – breaking away from the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional state.
The constitution recognises the right of any nation or nationality clustered in any of the regional states to form its own state. Following the steps required, the council of representatives of the Wolayta zone unanimously voted for a regional state, and presented its decision on December 19, 2018. But this has yet to be considered at regional or federal levels or referred to the Electoral Board.
In protest at the silence, the Wolayta organised a massive rally and the 38 representatives to the regional council declined to attend the council meeting. The federal government responded to these developments by detaining dozens of zonal officials, elected members of the Wolayta statehood council, political party leaders, and civil society actors.
The regime also acted violently against peaceful demonstrators demanding the release of those detained. The government also suspended a community radio station and shut down offices of civil society organisations.
A national crisis
Events in Oromia and Wolayta illustrate the point that the current Ethiopian problem is not limited to a dispute between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). It is a national one.
The decision of the federal government to postpone the scheduled elections using the excuse of the COVID-19 pandemic was rejected by most substantive opposition political groups calling for a dialogue to avert the consequences of the constitutional crisis.
The best-organised of these groups, the TPLF, has the capacity to hold its regional elections on schedule. This has brought the crisis to a head. But the dispute with Tigray cannot be resolved with a simple compromise: there is much more at stake, and the TPLF leaders are unlikely to make a short-term bargain when they see the problem as more fundamental.
Tens of thousands of Ethiopians, including leaders of the opposition, are in prison for political reasons. All media outlets, except those fully controlled by or affiliated to the Prosperity Party, are closed.
For a meaningful dialogue to start, the federal government should take some unilateral confidence building measures. All political prisoners should be released without condition and all media outlets closed by the government opened immediately. It should also end the unlimited and unlawful state of emergency.
This can then set the stage for a national dialogue with two main objectives. First is to agree an early date for elections and determine how the country transitions to an elected government. Second is a discussion on some of the fundamental questions on the political future of Ethiopia. This is currently obscured by a focus on the crisis of the moment.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has hailed the "historic" early filling of the massive dam on the Blue Nile River that has stoked tensions with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.
Addis Ababa had long said it planned to begin filling the dam's reservoir this month, in the middle of its rainy season, drawing objections from Cairo and Khartoum who wanted to first reach a trilateral agreement on how the dam would be operated.
Ethiopia's announcement on Tuesday that it had hit its first-year target for filling the dam came as the three countries were participating in talks overseen by the African Union (AU) to try to resolve the dispute.
"The completion of the first round of filling is a historic moment that showcases Ethiopians' commitment to the renaissance of our country," Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace laureate, said in a statement read on state television on Wednesday.
"The fact that we reached this milestone by our own efforts when no one else believed in our capabilities to accomplish such initiatives makes the moment even more historic.
"We conducted the filling of the dam without causing harm to anyone," said Abiy.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011.
Ethiopia said the colossal dam offers a critical opportunity to pull millions of its nearly 110 million citizens out of poverty and become a major power exporter.
Downstream Egypt, which depends on the Nile to supply its farmers and booming population of 100 million with fresh water, asserts that the dam poses an existential threat. Sudan also views the dam as a threat to its water supplies.
After Tuesday's call with the AU, leaders from the three countries said they had agreed to continue with the negotiations, though it was unclear what concrete progress had been made.
In a statement Wednesday morning, Egypt's foreign ministry stressed "the necessity of reaching a binding legal agreement on the rules for filling and operating the Renaissance Dam" that would "include a legally binding instrument to resolve conflicts".
Ethiopia has resisted a legally binding dispute resolution process. Its officials said the dam would not harm downstream countries.
They have also said this year's filling was a natural and inevitable part of construction.
By filling the reservoir with 4.9 billion cubic metres (173 billion cubic feet) of water, Ethiopia is now in a position to test its first two turbines - an important step on the way towards actually producing energy.
Ethiopia’s communications regulator said on Friday it received twelve bids for the two telecom licences it plans to award to multinational mobile companies, breaking the state monopoly.
Nine bidders are telecom operators and two non-telecom operators, and one submission was incomplete, the regulator said.
Bidders include Etisalat, Axian, MTN, Orange, Saudi Telecom Company, Telkom SA, Liquid Telecom, Snail Mobile and Global Partnership for Ethiopia, a consortium of telecom operators made of Vodafone, Vodacom, and Safaricom. The two non-telecom operators are Kandu Global Telecommunications and Electromecha International Projects.
The issuing of licences will open up one of the world’s last major closed telecoms markets in the country of around 110 million.
The Ethiopian Communications Authority said the licenses will be awarded through a “competitive bidding process,” but did not clarify a deadline for it.
“This is the initial stage. We will soon have...the second stage,” said Balch Reba, director-general of the Ethiopian Communication Authority.
Leaders of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt said they were hopeful that the African Union could help them broker a deal to end a decade-long dispute over water supplies within two or three weeks.
Ethiopia, which is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which worries its downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan, said it would fill the reservoir in a few weeks, as planned, providing enough time for talks to be concluded.
Tortuous negotiations over the years have left the two nations and their neighbour Sudan short of an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will operate the dam and fill its reservoir, while protecting Egypt’s scarce water supplies from the Nile river.
Ethiopia’s water minister, Seleshi Bekele, said that consensus had been reached to finalise a deal within two to three weeks, a day after leaders from the three countries and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, held an online summit.
Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Ethiopia’s prime minister, said that in Friday’s agreement there was “no divergence from Ethiopia’s original position of filling the dam.”
The Egyptian presidency said in a statement after the summit that Ethiopia will not fill the dam unilaterally.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, the source of most of the Nile’s waters.
Ethiopia says the $4 billion hydropower project, which will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts, is essential to its economic development.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister’s Office said that the three countries agreed that the Nile and the Grand Renaissance Dam “are African issues that must be given African solutions.”
Friday’s round of talks brokered by the African Union, is the latest attempt to move forward negotiations which have repeatedly stalled due to technical and political disagreements. They also signal an intention to solve the issue without foreign intervention.
Ethiopia’s statement said the African Union, and not the U.N. Security Council, will assist the countries in the negotiations and provide technical support.
Cairo had appealed to the Council in a last-ditch diplomatic move aimed at stopping Ethiopia from filling the dam. The Council was expected to hold a public meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.