884.6461 Tsana Dam/21

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

No. 2267

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Embassy’s despatch No. 2258 of November 8, 1927, relating to the construction of a dam across the Blue Nile by an American Company, and in this connection to forward press clippings29 containing statements by Dr. Wargneh Martin of Abyssinia who recently returned from the United States, and Sir Austen Chamberlain’s remarks in the House of Commons.

I have [etc.]

Ray Atherton
[Enclosure 1]

Excerpt From the London “Daily Telegraph,” November 10, 1927

Reuter’s representative had an interview with Dr. Wargneh Martin, the representative of Abyssinia in the United States, who reached London last evening. Dr. Martin said:

The whole story about the proposed dam is a storm in a teacup and a huge misunderstanding. I am here on private family affairs, and am returning to Addis Ababa in about a week. The excitement only [Page 605] started after I left New York. All suggestions that I or the Abyssinian Government are trying to arrange something against existing Treaties with Great Britain are absurd. Although I saw the President and the Secretary of State in Washington the question of an Abyssinian dam was never mentioned. My journey to the United States was in order to see New York financiers with regard to the scheme for building a dam, and I have received proposals as regards the conditions on which it can be constructed. If these proposals, which I have in my pocket, and concerning which my Government at present knows nothing, are acceptable, the next step is to consult with the British Government.

For about a quarter of a century Great Britain has had in view the construction of a dam on Lake Tsana, and, on and off, this desire of the British Government has been under the consideration of the Government. It has never been a matter on which the Abyssinian Government has taken the initiative. About six months ago the British Minister at Addis Abeba brought up the question, and renewed the request for a concession to build the dam. It was then that I was sent to the United States to see if I could arrange for its construction by an American firm, under the auspices of the Abyssinian Government. I went to the United States because the financial conditions were better there than elsewhere.

There has never been any question of trying to get behind Treaty obligations with Great Britain, but there has been no necessity to inform the British Government because we have only reached the stage of tentative inquiries, as to the results of which, I repeat, the Abyssinian Government is not even aware. The Abyssinian Government has never had the least intention of interfering with the water supply.

[Enclosure 2]

Excerpt From the London “Times,” November 9, 1927

Sir N. Grattan-Doyle (Newcastle, N., U.) asked the Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether he had seen the report that an American company had been granted a concession by the Abyssinian Government which would enable that firm to control the water supplies of Egypt and the Sudan, and if Great Britain had any treaty rights in this important matter.

Sir A. Chamberlain (Birmingham, W.).—Yes, sir; but I have not as yet received any official information as to the reported negotiations, nor as to the attitude of the Abyssinian Government in the matter. If it had been the case that the Abyssinian Government contemplated the grant of such a concession, without consulting us, this action would constitute a violation of the Treaty of 1902 between his Majesty’s Government and the Emperor Menelik, whereby the Abyssinian Government undertook not to construct, or allow to be constructed, such a dam except by agreement with his Majesty’s Government and the Government of the Sudan, but I am confident that the Abyssinian Government are not unmindful of this obligation, and this is confirmed by [Page 606] the interview with Dr. Martin, which appears in this morning’s papers. My meeting with the Egyptian Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs gave me the opportunity to put him in full possession of our views and to take counsel with him on this matter in which the Egyptian Government naturally takes a keen interest.

Sir N. Grattan-Doyle asked if there had been any communication between the Foreign Office and Washington on this matter.

Sir A. Chamberlain.—If the hon. member means between the British and American Governments, no.

Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy (Hull, Central, L.) asked if the Government would themselves take steps to barrage the Nile.

Sir A. Chamberlain.—We have made proposals to the Abyssinian Government with that in view, and the matter is still the subject of negotiations.

Mr. Day asked what the outlay would be.

Sir A. Chamberlain.—An estimate was made, but I will not undertake to say whether that estimate can be absolutely relied on. In any case, my memory could not be relied on to repeat the figure without notice.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton, Lab.).—In the event of America not agreeing to our terms, I suppose this Government would be prepared to call on the English boys and the Scottish boys to go and have a war with the Americans.

Sir A. Chamberlain.—May I be permitted, in the public interest, to say that no question arises between the Government of the United States and His Majesty’s Government in this matter, and I anticipate no difficulties between them.

  1. Two of the four clippings enclosed with this despatch are printed infra.