Hailu Bekele

 “….because of our lifelong poverty, our right to use our rivers has been blocked up to now. But, now thanks to the dedication of our people, we are crossing into an era where we can realize our millennium project through the millennium dam.”

Our visionary leader Ato Meles Zenawi

Our visionary Prime Minister gave this speech on the day; he laid the cornerstone for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Looking back through the last two years, I can’t help but feel his vision of starting a country-wide renaissance through the building of the GERD is coming alive. Because it’s obvious the momentous significance the construction has, as it symbolize both our country’s right and capability to utilize its own God given resources.

I can name two instances which can confirm my statement. The first is Ethiopia’s courageous act of exercising its right to utilize the river, which until now had been regarded as the downstream countries sole property and a bit of a taboo. The Second has to do with what the dam implies. It heralds the era in which Ethiopia; thanks to the last nine years successive economic development, can self-finance a project to utilize/divert Nile River and prove the doubters wrong in the process. Initiating the GERD construction, for one shows our right to use our water resources; and also showed to the rest of the world, our ability & capacity of undertaking huge projects- ‘killing two birds with one stone’.

As it’s well documented, the colonial-era agreements on use of the Nile River waters of 1929 and 1959 had been used as sort of vanguard to their interests. Considering its serious consequence, the riparian countries could not even contemplate the thought of utilizing the River, let alone actually doing it, which in turn made the subject a taboo (untouchable). Even though Egypt’s continuous claim of a’ historical right’ on the river and of the inability of the rest of the basin countries to exercise their right on the water; as a token of Egyptian impasse, gave the impression to consider the river as Egypt’s ‘wealth’, a call for a more just, rational and equitable sharing of the river had to be echoed by the upstream countries- cause ‘nothing stays the same’.

It’s known Ethiopia’s stance and frustration with regards to the 1929 colonial-era treaty and the 1959 Egypt–Sudan agreement, including the treaty’s unjust nature. It’s painfully as obvious as the morning sun, the invalidity of an agreement or treaty signed by only two member countries out of a possible number of countries (riparian/littoral).

Whatever the matter, this query of the upstream countries left unheard especially from the corner of the Egyptians. The inviolability of the obsolete colonial-times treaty, mustered with threats had been thrown back until now. Recently, this intimidation has shifted towards Ethiopia, as the rest of the world witnessed. But, what the Egyptians should understand (know) is that the days when Ethiopia compromised its national interest are long gone; and it’s principle of a ‘just & equitable benefit’ would not be undermined. Since it’s a case of ‘playing dumb’, these Mubarak-era nostalgic Egyptian politicians are well aware of Ethiopia’s stance & position, so it would be unnecessary to have more say on the subject.

Instead it’s my opinion; as former colonialist are now issuing an apology for all their mischief and paying hefty sums in damages, Egypt should stop referring to the colonial-times-vested sole proprietorship and issue a public apology for the upstream countries who long have missed out (on the benefit). Other than this citing outdated & unacceptable 19th century treaties and provisions as appoint of reasoning is not adequate. Cause still claiming for those antique treaties, is as the same as calling for the continuation of Britain’s colonial administration. And this is unthinkable to refer to 200 years old setting in today’s civilized and modern world.

Dear readers, It’s a well known fact that although Ethiopia -East Africa’s water tower- is endowed with many rivers capable of generating electricity and easily accessible for irrigation, it’s right to use this natural resources had been hindered til’ now. The backbreaking poverty the country was in and previous government’s limited outlook can be blamed for that.

After establishing a popular democratic system in which it’s people consented to live together and where social justice reigns; the FDRE government‘s vision to put Ethiopia out of poverty ridden country into middle income status through subscribing policies and strategies which guarantee the public equal share of the spoil (benefit), allowed it to successfully bypass these two obstacles (that had hindered our country’s aspiration). With this and masterful diplomatic finessing, the government is working on securing our inalienable right to use our own water resources (which had been a monkey on the back for Ethiopians).

On the other hand, it’s not surprising to see Egyptian government officials dwelling on their passé ‘historical right’, as they have worked on subverting upstream countries out of their lawful share for years. However, ‘Today is not yesterday’; Ethiopia is having double-digit growth culminating to a point and place where it wouldn’t need to compromise, its rightful share of the waters.

The government’s all–encompassing transformational undertakings and the public’s growing commitment to development have been guarantees to sustainable and regional benefits for all involved. This pledge further shows the state of decay ‘isolationist’ and ‘non-mutual’ attitude and view are in.

This is why Ethiopia is continually stressing changing the antique colonial–era treaty with the modern and democratic ‘Entebbe’s cooperation framework agreement’ (CFA), is not up for discussion or grabs. It should be noted, Ethiopia’s stance on the matter is strictly based on the reason that, while the Entebbe agreement guarantees all the basin country’s equal right, the old colonial-era treaty stand to protect one or two countries interests (of all the riparian countries).

The second has to do with Ethiopia’s uncompromising stance on unlawful especially colonial time’s treaties, and the fact that the Entebbe agreement is totally well versed with International watercourses law and provision of equitable and reasonable utilization. The country believes on the need to change the old with the new one. Thus, Ethiopia gives recognition to the ‘Entebbe’s agreement’, on which the majority of the upstream countries signed on, not the controversial colonial– time’s treaty.

In light with all these first of all, I think it’s better to understand Ethiopia ; just like every other nation , has the right to use its God given water resources to alleviate it’s people out of poverty. It’s obvious that the upstream countries including Ethiopia has a major struggle ahead of them –in the shape of lifting their population out of poverty. In order to come out of this struggle on top, they must use all available resources at their disposal, including water resources- since it’s a survival issue.

These countries have all turned to their water resources to use as a precursor to guarantee food security and provide the exigency power and economic climate for their industries. ‘Letting Bygones be bygones’ they have been good-naturedly trying to negotiate for equitable utilization of the river for the last twenty years. This patient pursuit for water utilization confirms one thing that is the upstream countries are after the principle of reciprocity when it comes to the sharing of the river and they are not out to get anyone.

It’s the inconsiderate colonial-epoch treaties that were beneficiary for some with their considerable bias towards Egypt and Sudan, while ignoring and forcing the treaty unto the other basin countries. The Entebbe agreement which is formulated on the basis of reciprocity and sensitivity is after equitable sharing of the river through a give-and-take approach and inclusivity - from the river’s source (upstream) countries up to the heretofore beneficiary (downstream) countries.

It’s a well known fact, the Egypt –Sudan –benefitting 1929 and 1959 treaties are a long time proponents of isolationism and also forbids any other country from using even ‘ a single drop of water’. Still, the Egyptian government is stubbornly reflecting this same old approach.

The fact is following this approach in this day and age, is like thinking as a caveman. There were some chatter heard few some corners that this approach is directly linked with arrogance and pity. Even though this is unlikely the case behind for this thinking, there have been some undenying hint of that. Cause in my opinion there have been obvious inclination towards doubting the upstream countries capabilities, which might be fomented by the countries state of poverty resulted from many years of hindrance sustained to use their natural including and especially their water resources.

All in all the riparian countries have been through talks and discussions to reach a consensus of using their water resources in their quest to defeat poverty and backwardness. As result they have come out with the cooperative framework agreement (CFA), which will help drive Egypt and Sudan’s outrageous isolationist paradigm to its grave. What’s more is they have reached to an agreement based on rational and just principles to address their electric power deficiencies, without negatively affecting other’s water quota- although, both Egypt and Sudan rejected this fair deal up to now

Previously stuttering our country’s development aspirations, Electric- power deficit is being addressed by building numerous hydro-power dams. In order for this initiation to gain momentum, Ethiopia is building Africa’s first and largest GERD on the Nile River.

This dam which its cornerstone was laid by our visionary leader Ato Meles Zenawi; will triple the country’s power supply. In addition to this according to recent study, when the project starts generating the expected 6000 mega watt of power, it will gain the country up to two million euro a day for the next hundred years. This ushers the point where this historical phenomenon ignites future development.

Here it needs to be pointed out that the GERD is being built through the Public’s full-out participation. Due to the dams role in changing previous shackled mentality and inversely planting ‘ It’s doable’ mentality on the public; while also serving as a major imputes for the anti –poverty fight in addition to its ability to pay back the public’s investment with future spoil , makes this huge undertaking historical. But, we are not benefiting alone. We Ethiopians give value and also is part of our identity to cooperatively live and develop .We don’t gun for selfish ends like others. So, everybody should know the purpose of the GERD construction is not to harm anyone; especially considering sharing and growing hand-in-hand had been part and value of Ethiopian for a long time.

Ethiopia’s unwavering support for the Entebbe’s agreement; which is based on International watercourses law and provision of equitable and reasonable utilization, stems from this inherent value, while the public’s financial & labor support for the projects emanates from the guarantee of ‘mutual benefit’ the dam provides. It also showed the public’s strong character in the face of some water –war- crazed Egyptian government official’s threats and rhetoric’s thrown back shortly after the diversion phase was launched successfully.

As the saying, “If you really want to do something, you'll find a way” goes, neighboring countries government’s who understood the benefit of the dam not only fully supported and endorsed it , but also fired back at Egypt’s unjust stance ( with regard to the river) . The riparian countries did not only stop with these. They further stressed on their equal & just right to use their own water resources by announcing future projects waiting in the pipe line. This reiterates the humungous benefit the dam project has on national & regional level, and also Ethiopia’s unwavering ‘mutual benefit’ position on the matter.

Therefore, in light with all these, I think one question should be raised. That is “Does the building of the GERD really hurt Egyptian interest just as their government officials claim?” Let’s take a closer look …

As it’s known, the dam’s construction takes place is constructed 20 Km from the border of the neighboring Sudan. This Shows (illustrates) that the dam cannot be used for irrigation purpose. So, the project purpose is to generate electrical power in order to boost economic development, not to kill anyone with thirst, as they claimed to be the case. It’s a known fact that hydro-electric dams are designed in a way to generate power without compromising (wasting) a single drop of water and to top it all, the expert team comprised out of these countries had concluded the dam would not compromise any one’s interest and does not have an overall significant impact instead the expert claim that the dam will have a positive impact on the downstream countries by reducing the wastage from evaporation which has been a serious problem for these countries.  This testimony debunks Egypt’s ‘the dam will hurt me’ stance. This begs the question, if the Egyptian are not willing to listen to their own experts, who else are they going to believe?

It my view that the Egyptian government officials should start to understand that, the dam do not pose any problem on the downstream countries as some jingoist Mubarak-framed politicians would have them believe, but instead it guarantees their respective share. Since the dam is constructed on a valley landscape, it will have the ability to contain large quantity of water which in turn would lessen the amount of water lost to evaporation. It will also greatly reduce the silt and sediment load that used to affect the downstream countries, especially their dams. In addition to this, the 6000 mega watt electric power the dam generates (upon completion) will not only help Ethiopia but also Sudan, Egypt, Kenya and South-Sudan, while opening an opportunity for further regional economic integration.

Being versed with these realities, the Egyptian authorities are starting to understand that the old argument is not sufficient anymore. So, they’re out with a new arguing point (paradigm) in the shape of - “our water security must be protected”. The good thing is GERD strengthen the grantee of the Egyptian share, not weaken it. It can be challenged that this new paradigm is thrown out there just only out of sheer frustration. All in all, can this new approach pay its dividends- Let’s take closer look…

I don’t think the Egyptian government would forget (disregard) the 4 billion cubic meter (BCM) it wastes to the desert as a result of the over flow of the river during summer . This clearly shows Egypt’s yearly stacked water supply – in which more than satisfying their water needs , they have spare water to create a ‘Garden of Eden’ in the middle of the desert.  So, I don’t think a country living in these lavish conditions should be in a position to demand ‘our water guarantee must be confirmed’. Anyway it should be noted Ethiopia’s inalienable right to use its own water resource, as ’mine is mine, yours is also mine’, kind of mentality has crumbled along with the colonial epoch.

What baffles the writer of this article is that Egypt’s insistence on plotting to sabotage Ethiopia; after all these years of failure. In a grander scheme of things, they have tried to employ some voracious opposition saboteurs in the hopes of subverting Ethiopia aspiration of utilizing the river- with no avail. This approach after gently sloping from government to government, it’s has now rekindled again. The one chosen for these despicable approaches are the so-called Ethiopian ‘Ginbot7 of Berhanu Nega and the OLF’. The ‘man after receiving half a million dollar from Egyptian government’s lackey shabiya vowed (claimed) far that he would accomplish his missions within short time- although his blabber won’t be more than ‘showboating’. The other ragtag OLF has also been seen promoting it’s pro-Egyptian stance by opposing the dam’s building. Other than renewing their failed & worthless servitude to their masters, both know they are not in the position to derail the GERD construction.

All in all the erection of the dam heralds two things. The first is the start of an era where Ethiopia; after years of snarl-up, started exercising it’s right on its water resources. Secondly, Ethiopia confirmed its ability to self–finance its own grand projects. So, sustaining these achievements is no one’s responsibility, but the Public’s. Therefore, as were ‘killing two birds with one store ‘, the Ethiopian people should work hand -in- hand to further fuel the country’s renaissance.


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