Construction of Gibe III hydro power is not detrimental to Ethiopia!

By W. Yilma 05/27/09

Many articles were posted in the news cast, internet and news papers, regarding the construction of the Gilgel Gibe III hydropower. I am following with great interest all the news or opinions regarding this issue. All the arguments presented so far have similar intentions. To block the construction of the hydropower, by disseminating lies based on presumptions about the environmental issues. These kind of lies and “fantasy scientific arguments” will flow again and again from the same groups, until they achieved their ill intended agendas. Therefore, we Ethiopians have to be more vigilant to fight them back. In fact I am not an environmental specialist, nor do I have a thorough knowledge about the dam which is under construction. However, I want to share my opinions based on my personal knowledge about the downstream areas many “environmentalists” re talking about. First, I do believe that the government will not take a huge risk to start this massive construction work without conducting a thorough feasibility studies, through its own agencies (mainly by the Ethiopian Environmental Agencies). And, second it is understandable that construction of such a huge dam could have an acceptable environmental or social impacts, both to down and upstream population. The question that need to be answered here is that, to what extents the construction work could affect the downstream population?, and the impact it may causes to the overall ecosystems. Beside this, does the construction of the dam outweigh the concerns many foreign “specialists” are raising now ?

To me both arguments raised by various “environmental specialist” from Kenya or a group of individuals calling themselves “African Resources Working Group” or “ African program of the environmental group international rivers” are unsubstantiated and are mainly relied on presumptions notions. I do not think we should keep our ecosystem in a way we kept for the last 3000 and more years. It is our right to exploit wisely our cross boundary resources, without causing drastic shift to the ecosystem.

As long as the hydro power dam is satisfying the interest of 80 million Ethiopians, we should ignore those “special interest groups“, who worried for few hundred thousand Turkanas. No matter what the donor countries, or the news cast, like the BBC, or the self appointee “environmental expertise” from Kenya or America said, we should continue to do what is important for our country, and people.

Some of the foreign experts, and news casts crossed the line by saying that the construction of the dam will create uncertainty and conflict in the region. We know they are expert in creating conflict in Africa, and we need to prepare for unexpected. Especially at this time! Some of the news cast, and news papers are the one who stands with terrorists, when it come to Ethiopia. Terrorism have different terms and versions for them. Construction of the dam is purely Ethiopia internal affair, and it could not be a cause for a conflict in the region as many foreigners are advocating now.

We have to know, the more we relied on foreign aid, the more we are exposing ourselves for foreign intervention in our own domestic affairs. At this era we have to be more vigilant. I am sure, the intention of those “environmental specialists” and their friends are not only determined to create confusion, but also to instigate misunderstandings between Ethiopia and Kenya. By doing so, they will do their business as usual to satisfy their own personal interest. Most foreigners working in the so called “third world countries” in the name of expertise lack intellectual decency, and are not immune from any forms of corruptions or “all I know” chauvinist mentality. No matter what, we have to continue with our own way, and with our own power to finish this hydropower. We should ignore those countries who are opposing our developmental plan, and show them we are the one who should be a primary beneficiary from our cross boundary resources. The era of silence must be stopped. There is no need to ask foreigners how we should exploit our natural resources, even if it could cause acceptable negative effects to them! They are the one who should be accountable, and blamed for global worming.

Development programs in Omo valley is not a new strategy for Ethiopia. During the past regime, a massive agricultural land development program has been planed at Omo Rate. However, due to various reasons, the planed agricultural project could not be materialized.

The other issue which the oppositions of the dam construction raised is that they feared some 500,000 people could see their livelihoods destroyed by the dam. In the first place, are they certain that the numbers of the downstream population solely dependent on the Omo river reached half a million?

I have a doubt.

Although my data may not be accurate, the human population of the whole Southern Omo region is a little more than 120,134 people. As far as I know, not all inhabitants from South Omo are entirely dependent on Omo river. People mainly dependent on Omo river are, Dasenech or Geleb, Bodi, Mursi, Bume, Muguji, Karo, Banna (mainly from three wereda‘s). To some extent, the Dasenech (Geleb) tribes also are using the river for transportation and fishing, and some also living in the small islands of lake Turkana.

Beside the human population, the livestock population, which are about 750,000 heads (including cattle, sheep, and goats), and the wild life populations inhabited in Omo and Mago National parks are mostly dependant on this perennial river.

What concern me is that, the Omo river have different depth in its course until it emptied to Lake Turkana. Hence, it have many marine animal species, mainly Nile crocodile, various fish sp., and hippopotamus. I am not sure how the project study address this issue. Although, the project could have some effects on these animals, I do not think this alone could be a major factor to hamper the construction of the hydro power.

Due to financial shortage, the above pastoralist areas are under developed, and the pasture land was degraded, due to overgrazing, and intermittent drought. They lack livestock marketing infrastructures, no major water development or conservation or pasture development programs in the area. Due to the culture and harsh environmental condition, the agricultural extension program which was carried out for decades in this area could not achieved the desired results. The agricultural out put from flood retreat farming practice ( which many foreign experts are raising the issue to block the construction of the dam) is insignificant, and could not support the family of four for more than a month. As a result of this the downstream population depends mainly in government or other NGOs assistances for their food supply.

Because of scarcity of resources for their livestock, mainly grazing land, other social factors, and traditions, inter as well as cross boundaries conflict between different tribes ( the whole Karamojong cluster) is a daily life in this part of region. Hence, their nomadic way of life become harder and harder, and insecure too. Therefore, the conflict between tribes or the chronic food shortage prevailing in this particular area is not directly related with Omo river. Hence, the construction of the hydro power could not be a catalyst for conflict in future.

To me pastoralisism is not a choice to these people, but a way of life they adopted through time to overcome the challenge nature has brought to them. We should not let our people to live the way they live for a centuries.

As far as I know, there are many rivers in the down stream areas, and we can have an opportunity to harvest them effectively, and efficiently if we have financial power (which the dam could be an alternative financial source, and the population of the downstream should be a primary beneficiaries from this income). Because, livestock is the main economic sector for the downstream people, integrated livestock development program (breeding, forage development, pond construction, veterinary service etc..) needs to be strengthen in the area. No matter what the foreign experts are saying, or for the thousand years to come the Omo river continues to flow without interruptions from the upstream, the life of the indigenous population will not be improved, unless a careful and well designed integrated economic developmental plan is in place. Therefore, the government need to work closely with the downstream population, and address their concerns properly. If there is an effective public relation between the government and the population in question, I do not think there could be problems in that areas. The people knows how to stand to protect their interest.

What should be clear here is that Omo river is the quintessential “trans boundary” resources. Hence, there will be always disagreement upon its distribution and use. We have the river Abay issues with Egypt and Sudan.

Except Kenya, we are surrounded by unfriendly countries. However, because of the construction of this dam, Kenya may not be a reliable friend, and may join the Axis at any time. Kenya could be a ground place for militants that oppose our unity. Recently, I read the reporter interview with the house speaker of the Kenyan parliament. It is an alarming for us Ethiopians. The future is in our hand, we survive if we could mange to solve our internal political problems

For us Ethiopian this will be a test to show for the rest of the world that we are the master of our own resources. Other wise we are at the point where we couldn’t do any developmental program, without getting approvals from foreigners. This is why it is a paramount importance to solve our political differences before it is too late. Economic development is unthinkable, and will not be sustainable, if there is no long lasting peace.

The foundation of the Ethiopian politics is not based on ideals and principles. Sectarian politics, and utopian ideology dominated by cult are a domain for the last 40 years. This kind of back ward politics could not bring lasting peace to our people. Hence the tradition of our political engagement need to be changed in to a new direction.

The mishandling, and overreacting to political differences both by the government and the oppositions have created a favorable conditions for foreigners to interfere in our internal affairs. This trend need to be stopped. We have to have a courage to solve our domestic political differences in civilized way. Involving actively in solving political differences is easier than endless blaming for each other. It is also important for the opposition to change their attitudes toward the government. They should know that blaming blindly the government, and joining the axis that opposes the unity of Ethiopia is counterproductive. Giving more emphasis for group politics, and less attention for national security is a recipe for disaster. No country enjoys peace and prosperity from political adventurism. Political civility (accepting, and entertaining political differences) and respect for human dignity and liberty are a key for social, cultural, educational, and economic development. We are in dangerous world. It is an obligation for all Ethiopians to do our best to ease and to solve the political tensions prevailing in our country. We have to take a hard lessons from the political stagnation we are experiencing for the last 40 years. We should think beyond group politics. Sustainable economic development, need political stability. To get political stability mental and spiritual maturity is needed from the political parties, especially from their leaders.


Long live Ethiopia