884.6461 Tsana Dam/20

The Chargé in Great Britain ( Atherton ) to the Secretary of State

No. 2258

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s telegraphic instruction No. 214 of November 4, 3 p.m., 1927, relating to the reported contract for the construction of the Lake Tsana dam by the J. G. White Engineering Corporation of New York, and venture to point out British interest in this proposed construction, as on the water from Lake Tsana depends the economic and agricultural life of the Sudan and, to a lesser extent, the Egyptian Nile lands. Some three or four years ago, at the moment of Ras Tafari’s visit to London, it was generally believed that the concession for this construction would be given to the British Government, but I am informed that the alleged British-Italian Treaty of 1925,24 which divided Abyssinia into two spheres of influence, and which, probably due to French advice, was protested before the League of Nations, resulted in such an unfavorable reaction that the concession was withheld from the English.25 In this connection special reference is made to the interesting despatch from the American Vice Consul at Aden, No. 252.26

I discussed the substance of the Department’s telegraphic instruction first above referred to at the Foreign Office where I was given to understand that no anxiety was felt as to the possibility of the construction of this dam by an American firm without a satisfactory arrangement having been reached with Great Britain in view of the provisions of the Treaty of Addis Ababa, signed in 1902.27 I am [Page 604] informed confidentially from an outside source that the present Ruler, in view of the fact that Abyssinia is not a constitutional country, does not consider himself bound in any way by the Menelek treaty.

The Egyptian Prime Minister, Sarwat Pasha, who was scheduled to leave London last Friday, has delayed his departure, presumably because of this alleged American contract. I am informed that, in spite of British press notices to the contrary, general Egyptian opinion is rather pleased by England’s embarrassment, as Egyptians feel certain that Americans would have no desire to create hardships through their control of the dam, and this political weapon is taken away from British hands.

I lunched with … today, who informed me confidentially that he had reason to believe the British would not object to the construction of the dam under the American contract, providing provision was made for a satisfactory control of the dam upon the completion of the contract.

Clippings, in quadruplicate, from the local press are forwarded herewith.28

Ray Atherton
  1. Great Britain, Cmd. 2680, Treaty Series No. 16 (1926): Notes Exchanged Between the United Kingdom and Italy Respecting Lake Tsana, Borne, December 14/20, 1925.
  2. See Great Britain, Cmd. 2792, Abyssinia No. 1 (1927): Correspondence Respecting the Agreement Between the United Kingdom and Italy of December 14–20, 1925, In Regard to Lake Tsana.
  3. Of September 5, not printed.
  4. Treaty between Great Britain and Ethiopia, signed May 15, 1902; British and Foreign State Papers, 1901–1902, vol. xcv, p. 467. Article III reads as follows: “His Majesty the Emperor Menelek II, King of Kings of Ethiopia, engages himself towards the Government of His Britannic Majesty not to construct, or allow to be constructed, any work across the Blue Nile, Lake Tsana, or the Sobat which would arrest the flow of their waters into the Nile except in agreement with His Britannic Majesty’s Government and the Government of the Soudan.”
  5. Not printed.