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To writer took this quote out of an article posted by Habtamu Abay on Arga forum, which inspired him into writing this article and, in the belief that it expresses pretty much every Ethiopian feelings towards

Does the Grand Renaissance Dam Really Hurt the Downstream Countries?

                                                       By Zeleke Maru

                                                                         07/07/13

“Dear readers’,

Would you not give your blood and bones let alone your money for the construction of GRD? ... I (the writer of this article) for one, out of a cautious outlook and a determination to see a prosperous future Ethiopia, would willingly give his blood and bones to serve as a mason and mortar of the dam, let alone his money.”

The writer took this quote out of an article posted by Habtamu Abay on Aiga forum believing; aside from inspiring him into writing this article, it captures pretty much every Ethiopian feeling towards the Nile.

It’s now known by everyone that the Ethiopian people and government are working on erecting a dam using only domestic finance, labor (sweat) and expertise. And the recent launching of the conveyance canal as part of the dam project has topped the agenda of every media, even the international. Most of the mainstream international media have given the news a certain coverage, and reported on the issue with professional courtesy and delicacy, while a very few media outlets were busy spewing a grand illusion of ‘water war is in imminent’.

The Egyptian and Sudanese news media and sites on their part have been conveying fragmented views; in which some of the unpalatable media citing Sadat-Mubarak framed politicians have echoed such words as ‘shocking, unexpected and catastrophic’ (as if water diversion have never been done before) with complete disregard to the realities on the ground. This of course is notwithstanding the majority of the Egyptian public support for cooperation and a ‘win-win’ approach in dealing with the Nile issue.

But, it’s the understanding of this writer after witnessing the sensationalist Egyptian media and misguided politician; just as it was the case during the days of Sadat and Mubarak, the Nile Issue is like ‘buffer’ or a ‘political card’ to be played in diffusing and diverting internal political pressure (or inversely ‘inflowing’ public support for personal political agenda).

All in all, it’s not this writer’s interest to dwell into the comments thrown out there, but to probe if ‘the diversion of the flow of the river Nile really harms both Egypt and Sudan’; the reason behind the ‘announcement’ of the ‘diversion’ by the Ethiopian government; to stipulate on the ‘gain not pain (loss)’ associated with the cooperation and mutual understanding in dealing with the GRD and to cast instances of Ethiopia’s drive not to infringe the rights of any and all of the riparian country relating to the construction.

As a democratic nation and democracy’s own innate tendency for transparency and accountability, the Ethiopian government is accountable to its people. There is (has to be) transparency and responsibility in dealing with the public, when there are major developmental projects being undertaken by the government. The GRD construction is financed by (borrowing from the introductory quote) the blood and bone and of course money of the Ethiopian people, which buys them a ticket into the front row seat of the show. The public has the right and earned the privilege of knowing, how their money is spent and keeping tab on new major developments with regard to the project. It’s the understanding of this writer, the Ethiopian government’s announcement of the ‘diversion of the flow of the Nile’ has more to do with keeping the Ethiopian public (major financiers of the project) updated, as any CEO of a company would his board members, than anything else.

Thus, the ‘announcement’ falls with the government’s democratic nature and way of doing things, rather than to preemptively offend any concerned parties which can lead to altercation. Any more explanation for this decision (in a right mind) cannot be considered an iota more than a conspiracy theory blabber.  

The Ethiopian people, in particular the government, have a principle of ‘mutual cooperation and respect’ in dealing with foreign counterparts including and especially with neighboring countries (who we also happen to share natural resources with). The government has been actively promoting equitable utilization of the Nile waters for the last decade or so. FDRE’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy under Egypt and Water Resources clearly entails the government’s commitment in promoting peaceful solutions in dealing with altercation; subscribing to integrated development schemes and creating harmonious relation between the riparian counties.

The writer believes that this shows the government’s project on the Nile River is consistent with country’s strategy of promoting mutual cooperation with both of our Egyptians and Sudanese brothers based on a ‘win-win’ solution. It’s an approach in which everyone involved comes out as winners, and can help further develop the basin-wide cooperation unto (as part of) the continent’s economic integration process.

In light with these realities, one can inevitably assume the “diversion” of the Nile River or the construction of the GRD undertaking by the Ethiopians is done considering the harmonized (mutual) interest of the riparian countries instead of infringing their share (interest). Ethiopia’s aim is only to create and subscribe to equitable sharing of the Nile waters with the basin countries. That’s why objective utilization of the water was emphasized in the country’s new developmental and transformation strategy.   is feeding off with the basin-wide water cooperation in a positive light (without causing any harm) to the down stream counties).

Be that as it may, this is a hydro politics at its worse, exacerbated with inflated media. There are some politicians who are saying, the “diversion” will affect the downstream countries water quota, some of them even went as far as suggesting it will significantly harm their interests.

Suggesting a temporary diversion of the Nile will affect the lower riparian countries is both ludicrous and ridiculous to say the least. Like any dam project launched around the world, temporarily diverting the flow of a river is part of the erection process. It’s an integral pre-requisite of the construction. Simply put, it means changing the course of left flowing river to its right. Aside from a detour of direction, ‘diversion’ has nothing to do with the amount of flowing water.  

River diversion is common and has been used in different parts of the world before. For instance the Egyptian have used ‘diversion’, when they built the ‘Aswan’, the Sudanese with the ‘Atbara’ and Nile, the Chinese with the three gorges and United States with the Hoover Dam. It’s not a new phenomenon and certainly don’t merit such strong words as shocking and catastrophic when describing it, which is what some media outlet and hysterical politicians echoed following the diversion of Nile River. So, what makes Ethiopia’s diversion different? Why did it create such a stir?

It’s the belief of this writer, this has more to do with ‘zero sum game’ of ‘all for everything or all for nothing’ (‘as long as we have the Nile for ourselves, it’s not our concern if others are starved or thirsty’) mentality colonialism created within the psyche of some Egyptian which has no place in the 21st century political arena.

It’s not a secret Egypt’s share and usage of the Nile River is exclusive of others and authoritarian. Egypt’s ruling elites have in the past seen the Nile as their sole property. This crooked eye view peaked under Gamal Abdul Nasser’s regime. In keeping up with this tradition (Anwar) Sadat Administration also pursued exclusive usage of the Nile river and strived for ensuring the status-quo don’t change by building the Aswan dam, which maximized Egypt’s control of the river and forcing, Sudan into signing a treaty which benefited Egypt’s interest. He created hysteria to dupe his people into creating strong central government, by lobbying the basin countries are plotting to harm the river’s flow and destroy Egypt.

The Mubarak’s regime (who came to power after Sadat’s assassination) continued the age old Egyptian Rhetoric of exclusive usage of the Nile. His regimes for years have been closing all doors for a possible diplomatic solution of equitable share of the river within the basin states without harming Egypt’s interest. The government wasn’t ready to change its age-old ‘zero-sum’. All in all it’s safe to say, up until the demise of the Mubarak’s regimes; previous Egyptian ruling elite had an outdated and uncivilized approach when it comes to the Nile. Recent chatters such as ‘Ethiopia diverting the Nile means less water for Egypt and Sudan’; which first of all is an unfounded accusation, stresses and is a product of this outdated and colonial mentality of the former Egyptian governments and the incumbent officials ploy for political gain. This goes out to show as with the former regimes, the new government is using the Nile issue for personal political gain at the expense of the public interest.

It’s the view of this writer; at the expense of these short sighted political mantras, it will be in the interest of the Egyptian politicians to pursue the inevitable ‘win-win’ and cooperative solution to reap the full benefits and have mutual development across the basin. Therefore, it’s imperative for our Egyptian and Sudanese brothers to probe into and understand on how the dam is going to turn into an asset for all the concerned parties.  

As a country with a vast potential for hydroelectric power, Ethiopia is launching the GRD for the sole reason of generating electric power without of coarse reducing the water quota of the downstream countries. Although it’s within the our natural right to utilize our God given water resource, Ethiopia is known for initiating dam projects with due consideration and delicacy surrounding the projects. For instance when the Tekeze River Dam was built, the government have taken every necessary steps to not harm the Sudanese farmers based along the Ethio-Sudan borders. Similarly, the same studies taken before the commencement of the GRD project, shows the dam benefits Sudan and Egypt as well as Ethiopia.

Among the many benefits the dam provides for both Egypt and Sudan are; first of all, the dam releasing regulated water will save them from excess silt load, which will rescue millions of dollars worth sweeping cost. It’ll also by regulating the water flow help save the Sudanese from flush floods. Both countries will have an option on cheap electric power once the dam starts generating, and also the dam can save as much as some 3 billion cubic meters (BCM) worth of water which can be used by the riparian countries. The downstream countries can also save their irrigation project, which usually gets destroyed by flush floods.

Inversely, Ethiopia has a limited land for irrigation, yet, the water that will be conserved as a result of the dam and the 10 billion cubic meter water evaporating every year from the Aswan Dam (which is built in the Middle of the desert) is more than capable of satisfying Egypt’s water needs. Thus, there can be no clear or logical mismatch of interest that can arise between Ethiopia and the downstream countries.

The dam project is part of a larger scheme to meet the ever expanding Ethiopian Industry’s consumption demand, as the sector is growing at speeding rate and is expected to the take mantle of the country’s economy from the agricultural sector (in vision of ADLI). It’s the integral part of the government’s plan of alleviating our people out of poverty and backwardness. Still, Ethiopia has worked and will work to accommodate the lower basin countries interest while engaging in developmental projects around the Nile waters.

Beginning from the designing stage unto the erection of the dam, the Ethiopian government has been ‘tasting the water’ for mutual benefit and ‘win-win’ solution for all the basin countries. That’s why in his recent interview with journalists Dr. Debretsion G/Mikael, coordinator for finance and economic cluster with rank of deputy prime minister, is quoted as saying, “We are not self centered (nation), who look out only for our interests (at the expense of others). As the Nile is an international border-crossing river, we’ll try to accommodate both Egypt’s and Sudan’s interest and exigency as much as we possibly can”.

The Ethiopian government having made its ‘win-win’ and cooperative approach very clear, what baffle this writer is the unfounded and irresponsible statement made by very few Mubarak-framed senior Egyptian politicians. It’s a well known fact that for the first time the Ethiopian people and government are working at overtime to develop the country which was synonymous with famine and starvation unto self-relying and self-sufficient one. And this is proving to be realistic vision as the country for the last 9 years had more than 10% annual growth. So Ethiopians are fixated on continuing with the development agenda, not to get into calamitous war that would severely derail its path. The government isn’t the one for military posturing and ‘zero-sum’ game, but for mutual benefit and cooperation. Thus, there isn’t a hint of possibility for a conflict or war emanating from the boarder of the country, a fatal war that can ruin the people and economy at that. And judging from our government strong commitment for state developmental and transformational agenda, this can’t be far from the truth.

On the same note, the writer also don’t think it’s in the best interest of Egypt to go into a full-scale war (with Ethiopia), because there isn’t a remote possibility for developmental projects within war, and the cost of war will cancel out the faintest of  growth achieved during fighting anyway. There can be no beneficial side at the end of a war. There’s no room for military solution to successfully diffuse hydro (water) political tensions. This is because taking military action within water politics have a little prospect for a remedial action, and by it’s nature cross-border rivers have more leverage on international law than, say inter-state conflicts.

Egypt’s minister of water and irrigation, Dr. Mohammed Baha el Dien recent statement of, “Taking Military action on water related issue, will not solve any problem”, best describes the futility of military action concerning hydro-political tensions. In addition to this, the Sudan’s minister of culture and information and government spokesman Dr. Ahmed Bilal Osman’s call for the three parties to lower the war rhetoric is indicative of the leader’s disillusionment of the futility of military action has on solving the issue. Thus, ‘water war is about to start’ rhetoric of the war mongering Sadat-Mubarak-framed politicians and very few sensationalist media outlets is not shared by the leaders of the three counties, which makes these illusion not more than a delusion.

Generally, since the construction of the GRD genuinely benefits Egypt and Sudan as well as Ethiopia, there can’t be any tension brewing among the three countries. Studies have shown the erection of the whole dam won’t in any way hurt (reduce) the amount of water reaching the downstream countries, let alone a construction of a 120 meter wide, 21 m deep and nearly a km long conveyance canal.  And there can’t be any war, where there’s no harm. It’s a tested fact that a when there’s a progress, there will be a beneficiary public, which in turn diminish the possibility for conflict. This will lead to peace and tranquility in the region. 

This writer concludes this article with the confidence that, the leaders of the downstream countries will come to understand the immense opportunity for mutual development not a peril for conflict,  for a win-win approach not fearful engagement; and to proceed with a three-way cooperation and talk, should a squabble arise.  

 



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