The Millennium Hydropower Dam Project, Funding and Other Issues

Articles and Analysis

The Millennium Hydropower Dam Project, Funding and Other Issues

Getachew Mequanent

April 12, 2011

Allow me to start by congratulating the Ethiopian government delegation for carrying out a successful mission in North America to promote the five-year national development plan. The individuals and groups including web site hosts who planned and led those distractive and ill-disciplined protests have not served public interest in the Diaspora or back home. Their actions damaged our collective reputation.

In Ethiopia, the growing numbers of factories, cars, TVs, cell phones, computers, laboratories, hospitals, night schools, streetlights, and other modern equipment, facilities and services have created a skyrocketing demand for electric power. Rural access to electricity is also part of the national development strategy, as it improves living conditions and encourages entrepreneurs to enter the hinterland in search of resources and market opportunities. In short, Ethiopia badly needs energy and the proposed Millennium hydropower dam project will ensure that this need is addressed.

The Millennium dam is planned to be the second largest dam in the world. The Egyptians are talking about it (opposing). These two factors, and more, combined have triggered the rise of Ethiopian nationalism. However, there are challenges, two of which I consider here. First is security. Does Ethiopia have the capability to defend the dam against ground or air assault to destroy its structure? Egyptians would consider any army general or political leader who orchestrated the bombing of Ethiopia’s dams as historical hero. One cannot also underestimate the level of support and sympathy for Egypt including Arabs, Sudanese, Eritreans, some reactionary elements in Ethiopian society and few in the West who sincerely believe that the Nile is Egypt’s lifeline. Ethiopia should possess the latest radar equipment to detect danger and fighter jets that are capable of intercepting enemy bomber planes.

The second challenge is finance. Finding the money to cover the cost of material, equipment and labour to build this huge dam is a formidable task. But, it is not impossible. For instance, there may be financing from Indians, Chinese and others in emerging economies who sympathize with Ethiopian given their common experiences of famine and hard struggle for self-directed development. The Ethiopian government will no doubt take advantage of the rising tide of nationalism to mobilize funds from within and the Diaspora. Ethiopian media has already reported that workers’ groups have pledged to support the project. EPRDF may soon send out a call to its millions of party members to contribute. If not already in the plan, the government should replicate the experience of Amhara Development Association (ADA) and other EPRDF-affiliated NGOs to organize a global telethon (last year ADA raised 1.5 billion Birr). Finally, the staff at the Ethiopian missions abroad should encourage Ethiopian origin visa applicants to make voluntary contribution. Embassies and consulates can use a pool of volunteers in the Ethiopian Diaspora communities to trace tens of thousands of addresses from visa application files and then send out letters or e-mails promoting this cause (i.e., next time I come to pick up my visa, I may be asked to contribute voluntarily).

In terms of long-term plan, I propose the establishment of a saving bond program. In Canada, the government has a flexible saving bond program that allows people to save depending on their earning capacities. This program is so popular, because the bond can be redeemed anytime. Hence, for example, if I have a saving bond with the Ethiopian government, and if I want to cash it to buy uniforms for my nephews and nieces, I would expect to get redeemed part or all of it within two weeks (before I get another collect call from Gondar!). The advantage is that such a convenient program allows the Ethiopian Diaspora masses to save a little bit each month and use their savings when they need it. What we need is a system that is easily accessible by the common people of the Diaspora. I envisage myself sitting in front of my computer at the end of each month to go online and transfer money to my Ethiopian government saving bond account. Others who do not use computers could do the same with their banks or by telephone. If this proposal is acceptable, there are ITC experts in the Diaspora and at home who can design the proposed saving bond program. The challenge is speeding up the bureaucratic process within the Ethiopian government to set up the system, which may also require cabinet or ministerial approval.

This time last year, I suggested the creation of an Ethiopian government arm’s length Diaspora agency (A_Call_for_government_armsLength_agency.htm ). Perhaps the timing now is right to think this issue seriously. Right now there is a receding of political interest in the Diaspora, especially as the first generation of immigrants are aging and many increasingly become aware of Ethiopia’s development potential. Equally, many remain reluctant to engage with the Ethiopian government. A non-partisan arm’s length agency would be ideal for promoting development dialogue and building mutual confidence. This agency will also allow spontaneous government engagement with the Diaspora, instead of being too event oriented (like delegation tour) and performance measurement.

Lastly, as a matured organization, EPRDF should not be inclined to ride alone on the rising tide of Ethiopian nationalism and undermine the participation of other political parties in policy discussions. We would also like to see more innovation, flexibility and sensitivity to the needs of the Diaspora. On this note, the people of the Ethiopian Diaspora remain very distressed trying to pledge loyalty to two competing Tewahedo Orthodox churches: one is the “Diaspora” and the other is “Ethiopian”. In my professional (objective) opinion, the Ethiopian Diaspora clergy commands respect, even though some priests have developed a political habit. The clergy has done a lot to promote Ethiopian history and culture in the Western hemisphere and the development of vibrant Diaspora communities. In the future, churches will play a crucial role in mobilizing the Ethiopian Diaspora for peace and development, as humanitarianism and development are compatible with church doctrine. We therefore ask Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to consult legal experts and scholars and then create an initiative for the unification of the Ethiopian church in a manner that is fair and dignified for all parties.

Getachew Mequanent
Ottawa, Canada
April 11, 2011

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