884.6461 Tsana Dam/36

The Chargé in Egypt (Winship) to the Secretary of State

No. 114

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my cable of November 7th, number seven [eight], reporting great local interest and certain anxiety regarding the alleged contract with White and Company for the construction of a dam at Lake Tsana; and to acknowledge with expressions of appreciation the Department’s cable of November 8th, number twenty-eight, giving the facts in the matter for my information and guidance.

The first Reuter despatch indicated, as shown in last week’s press report, (covering despatch No. 108, of November 7th),30 that negotiations had been practically concluded between the Ethiopian Government [Page 607] and the J. G. White Engineering Corporation of New York, to build a dam across the Blue Nile at Lake Tsana and sell the Nile water to the Sudan and Egypt. Although later despatches stated that the Anglo-Abyssinian Treaty of 1902 would have to be considered, and that well informed circles in London were sceptical, it also appeared that the above details of the contract were confirmed and that same was entered into with the full knowledge of the American Government.

Considerable excitement and anxiety was at once evidenced in Egyptian official and newspaper circles. Cables were sent to the Egyptian Legation in Washington and London for details, following a special meeting of the Council of Ministers; Sarwat deferred his departure from London and Paris to further discuss the matter; and much time was given to conjecture on the possible results of such a project, and what steps might be taken to protect Egypt’s interests. From a British point of view the affair was well timed, in fact the Kawhat-el-Shark (Wafd) refers to it as a “A manoeuvre by which England wished to weaken the position of Egypt in the negotiations to solve the pending questions.”. It was undoubtedly of distinct strategic advantage to the British that at this time the attention of the Egyptian press and public should be diverted from such matters as the opening of Parliament and the airing of grievances to that of a menaced water supply. This obviously gave Premier Baldwin, in his Guildhall speech, an opportunity to emphasize more than ever the importance to Egypt of British help and friendship.

The Arabic and French editorial writers let themselves go in discussing the Dam and the proposed sale of water, “Egypt’s water” to the Sudan and Egypt”. Above all they criticized the Egyptian Government for its procrastination in obtaining guarantees for the unhampered flow of the Blue Nile waters to Egypt, either by treaties with Ethiopia and England, or through the construction of a dam wholly or partly controlled by the Egyptian Government. It was pointed out sarcastically that now against its will Egypt had no choice but to appeal to England for protection.

There was, however, no unfriendly feeling expressed toward America, although a lurking fear was evidenced as regards the danger of a new political influence in Ethiopia, with America linked with England in a combine to control the head waters of the Blue Nile, to the exclusion of Egypt.

Official and press cables now give the assurance that treaty rights will be regarded, and that England and Egypt will be consulted before the Ethiopian Government concludes an agreement or signs a concession or contract. The keen interest and anxiety in the matter have therefore subsided as quickly as they arose; and it is generally conceded that Dr. Martin was correct in stating that the whole question [Page 608] of the Dam has from the first been misunderstood, and caused a tempest in a tea-pot.

It must be observed, however, that a profound impression has been made throughout Egypt, and it is generally believed, with the Mokattam, that “Egypt should join in the political arena and defend its vital interests.”

I have [etc.]

North Winship
  1. Not printed.