The Nile River and the history of men and women of North and East Africa have been intertwined since the beginnings of recorded time. The pharaohs of Lower Egypt (closest to the Nile river/Mediterranean Sea delta), were always
concerned that the pharaohs of Upper Egypt, based in the South near Aswan would divert the Nile River and thus cause havoc to the economy of Lower Egypt. The diverting of the Nile was unrealistic but this fear was utilized for political reasons to polarize the people of Lower Egypt. History has revealed to us that when the land along the Nile was united and Upper and Lower Egypt had one ruler, uncertainty existed but it was related to the inundation of the Nile and concern around the amount of alluvial soil that would be deposited on the banks of the Nile and if it would be normal, greater than normal (resulting in flooding) or less than normal (resulting in draught).
The above scenario has been replicated on numerous occasions. For example, there is an island on the Nile known as Elephantine Island where a temple was built for the purpose of worship. In addition to the sanctuary there was also a section of the temple where the priest could actually measure the height of the Nile. The priest used this information to determine if the Nile inundation would be normal, below normal or above normal. When religious and political leaders disputed, the priests on the island threatened to cease the flow of the Nile. Again, the Nile was used in a political sense to apply pressure to leverage support for policies of interest.
In our Common Era, history is repeating itself in terms of unfair and unequal policies with respect to the Nile River, water rights and access. Of note is the Renaissance Dam Project that Ethiopia, one of the Northeast African riparian countries, has begun construction. The knowledge of Ethiopia that many in the West have lodged into their psyche is that of drought and famine. The fact that Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian nations in the world where Christianity was accepted as the state religion in the year 337 during the 4th Century of the Common Era is not well known.
Judaism and Islam have a long history with Ethiopia. In 985 B.C., the Queen of Sheba, also known as Queen Makada, traveled to Jerusalem to meet with King Solomon. As a result of this visit, the practice of Judaism came to Ethiopia. During the early stages of Islam in the 7th Century, the followers of the Prophet Mohammed were being persecuted. The King of Ethiopia/Axum at the time, Ella Seham, welcomed the Prophet’s followers and said that Ethiopia could be their haven.
In addition to the practice of these three religions, there are many other highlights or “firsts” that have occurred in Ethiopia, such as the unearthing of the fossils Lucy or Dinkenesh and the development of coffee. Many of these Ethiopian firsts are not well known.
The completion of the Dam will usher in a renaissance for Ethiopia and make affordable electricity available to many more Ethiopians and to countries surrounding Ethiopia. The completion of the Dam will increase food security and effectively reduce or even potentially eliminate the tragedies that result from droughts and famine. It will lead to food production and stabilization. This is one of the main benefits of the Dam. The Dam will lead to a reduction of poverty by providing irrigation for crops and a reservoir for fishing.
As with any large engineering project, Ethiopia has completed its due diligence in the planning phase for the Renaissance Dam. Most of Ethiopia’s rivers are in deep canyons and the Ethiopia Blue Nile, also known as Abay, is no exception.
The Dam will be built in a deep gorge that is inhospitable and inaccessible to people so there is no need to move people, villages or historical monuments as was necessary with previous dams on the Nile River. The Renaissance Dam will assist and resolve in part the issue of the excessive alluvial soil buildup that is currently occurring in downstream dams.
Additionally as a result of Ethiopia’s altitude, there will be less evaporation of water, resulting in more water being available for all the stakeholders. Since many of the other dams on the Nile are located in a desert environment, the annual water evaporation rate is high. For example the annual evaporation rate of the Aswan High Dam is 14.3 billion cubic meters. The water evaporation rate of the Renaissance Dam is predicted to be no more than 400 million cubic meters annually.
Studies performed demonstrate that the building of the Renaissance Dam will not affect the downstream dams. In fact, it will benefit the downstream dams through control of the excessive alluvial soil contamination that currently plague the downstream dams. So, one has to ask the question, Why are lending institutions of the international community reluctant to provide loans for the Dam? Again, we go back to the topic discussed earlier. There is a fear promulgated by the powers of some downstream countries that those who will oversee the construction of the Dam would intentionally choke the flow of the Nile.
Ethiopia has firsthand experience with the tragedy that results from lack of water and droughts and therefore does not want to see this happen in the downstream countries or anyplace in the world. Millions of Ethiopians have suffered and died due to droughts and famine. Additionally there are regional governmental bodies and agreements that Ethiopia is signature to which oversees the establishment of rules governing water resources which Ethiopia abides by. Let us not allow this 3000 year old fear of choking off the Nile to resurface in our Common Era. It is imperative that the implementation of positive and sustainable development which will assist in providing stable food and electricity production to Ethiopia and other countries in the region move forward. Ethiopia is going forward with the project, but it will be a strain on the country to foot the entire cost of the Dam. If you have the ear of the international funding community, ask those leaders to consider the whole picture, review Ethiopia’s request and provide support for the Renaissance Dam, a renaissance of Ethiopia and the entire Nile Valley that stretches from Ethiopia, through both Sudan’s and into Egypt.
Yaw Kwakye Davis
Engineer and Historian
November 12, 2011