Aklog Birara (Dr)
Ethiopia will begin filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in two weeks. On our part, it is vital that we engage, mobilize and unite Ethiopians, other Africans and the global community and change the false narrative Egypt continues to propagate against Ethiopia. Egypt is our country’s mortal enemy. Egypt invaded Ethiopia at least twice and was defeated. Nassir encouraged, financed and equipped Said Barre of Somalia to invade Ethiopia. Egypt, Iraq, Syria and other Arab nations hosted ‘liberation fronts,’ financed, supplied weapons, provided intelligence and made Ethiopia land-locked. Egypt is relentless in its intent to dominate Ethiopia’s waters. Today, the Arab League that is dominated by Egypt issues repeated assertions that Ethiopia poses an existential and security threat to Egypt.
The opposite is true. Egypt and its core Arab allies are after an Ethiopian trophy. This trophy is absolute dominance over the Blue Nile (Abbay) that contributes 86 percent of the waters of the Nile. The GERD is a hydroelectric power project. It does not reduce water volume. In contesting the Agreement crafted by the Government of the U.S. and the World Bank, we need to focus on Egypt’s agenda to subjugate Ethiopia’s sovereign and absolute rights over waters within its territory and to construct future dams.
Egypt’s sinister, insidious agenda, its diplomatic offensive and proxy wars are intended to cut Ethiopia’s throat. Egypt wishes to diminish Ethiopia’s chances to harness its waters for the wellbeing and prosperity of its growing population of whom 62 million lack access to electricity and almost the same number suffer from water crisis. In contrast, 100 percent of Egyptians have access to electricity and 98 percent enjoy basic water supply. The U.N. Security Council must take these basic human development contrasts into account when it considers the GERD.
There is no Agreement on the River Nile in general and the Blue Nile (Abbay) in particular that bars Ethiopia from filling and completing the GERD within its own time frame or from constructing numerous dams in the future. Negotiations on the GERD should be conducted in good faith; and must be guided by the 2015 Declaration of Principles that Egypt, the Sudan and Ethiopia signed. Reverting back to and or validating a colonial Agreement that is non-binding on Ethiopia and other Sub-Saharan African riparian nations is inequitable, unjust and unfair.
I feel strongly that Ethiopia faces an existential threat. It is time to set aside non-strategic differences and defend Ethiopia’s sovereign and absolute rights over its own waters.
Egypt will leave no stone unturned in order to achieve its agenda. A key component of Egypt’s strategy is to sponsor and finance proxy wars against Ethiopia. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is a lead example of an internal agent Egypt has used in the past and continues to use in its proxy wars. For example, the promising Tana Beles Project that would have transformed Ethiopia’s agricultural sector was dismantled by the TPLF. This betrayal helped Egypt. I am deeply concerned that the TPLF will repeat this colossal disloyalty.
From the time of the Pashas up to today, Egypt continues to exercise sabre rattling against Ethiopia. Its intent is to mandate absolute hegemony over Nile waters, 86 percent of which comes from Ethiopia. Egypt is aghast that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) financed entirely by the Ethiopian people is poised to change this flawed narrative. The largest electric dam in Africa, the GERD will contribute immensely to economic integration and prosperity not only in the Horn of Africa but the entire continent.
I remind each and every Ethiopian, the rest of Black Africa and global friends that Egyptian aggression against Ethiopia is nothing new. Research and facts on the ground show that Egypt is Ethiopia’s mortal enemy. This animosity towards Ethiopia goes far beyond greed and insatiable appetite for water. I know of no single hydroelectric dam that reduces water volume; and water flow in a natural setting. Egypt’s motive is far more sinister and harmful.
Because the motive is different, I do not believe that Egyptian political leadership has the courage or the willingness to change. This leadership is accustomed to subjecting the Egyptian people to a clientele ideological paradigm of thinking, this time persuading the current Government of the United States and the President of the World Bank to serve as sponsors and as validators. This is the reason why Egypt gyrates from Tripartite negotiation on the one hand; and reverting to the U.N. Security Council on the other.
The evidence on the ground with regard to dominance over Ethiopia’s waters is voluminous. I always imagine how far and how fast my country of origin, Ethiopia, would have prospered had, for example:
- The country been peaceful, stable and all inclusive;
- The country’s political elites not imposed an ethnic-federal system and ethnicized and polarized the society;
- The country’s primary adversary, namely Egypt not conducted direct and proxy wars against Ethiopia; made it land locked; and incapacitated it to prosper;
- The country’s lead party for 27 years, namely the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in concert with internal and external partners not demolished major and transformative infrastructural projects, particularly the promising Tana Beles on the Blue Nile River near Lake Tana.
The Genesis of Destruction
Emperor Haile Selassie played a pioneering role in the study, mapping and project identification of the Blue Nile. At least 5 major dams sites were identified by none other than the renowned U.S of Reclamation in the 1960s. Sadly, heavy pressure by the Government of Great Britain, at the time the colonial power that governed Egypt and the Sudan applied pressure on the U.S., a close ally of Britain, and no hydro or irrigation dam came to fruition. On the contrary, Egypt, the Sudan and their colonial “boss” Great Britain realized the need to arrive at a Nile Waters allocation and signed the 1959 Agreement that gave the lion’s share of the Nile to Egypt. Ethiopia, the single most important source of the waters was denied its rightful share. It was not even a party to the Agreement; nor were the other Sub-Saharan African riparian nations. The socioeconomic and political costs of this injustice are huge.
Imagine the development impacts on Ethiopian society had Ethiopia enjoyed the right and freedom to borrow funds from multilaterals and other sources and to construct irrigation and hydropower dams starting in the late 1950s and in the mid-1960s. I can assure the reader that, at minimum, Ethiopia would have achieved food security and food self-sufficiency.
I will illustrate the lost economic opportunity for Ethiopia by using a specific example.
The Tana Beles Integrated Project
This project was designed to raise the surface level of Lake Tana from a strategic angle of the Blue Nile (Abbay) River by one meter. As a result, Tana’s water volume increased hugely. An underground pipeline stretching 9 kilometers and carrying water was constructed with a high level of technical precision and reliability. The fast running waters generated electricity and powered large turbines.
These turbines had the capacity to irrigate an estimated one million hectares of land. This irrigable land known as the Beles Valley stretches all the way to the Sudanese border in the West. A modern agro-industrial complex with multifaceted development features, this project was poised to help transform Ethiopia’s primitive agricultural system. For example, Tana Beles farms were equipped to produce food staples such as rice, wheat etc. for the domestic market.
The manufacturing and industrial sector was equally planned to be a major beneficiary of value-adding inputs such as peppers, spices, vegetables and fruits and export crops. Manufacturing and industrial plants directly linked to industrial-scale farms equipped with modern machinery almost all imported from Italy were in the works.
The Socialist Government of Ethiopia contracted an Italian firm to implement this mammoth and multipurpose project that spans 1, 600 sq. kms. Well trained agronomists, agricultural economists, hydro and irrigation engineers and other Italian specialists were twined with thousands of Ethiopians assigned to learn the latest skills. Domestic capacity was in sight.
In addition to human and institutional capital investments, Ethiopia expended tens of millions of dollars examining and preparing the soil, studding and fixing the land for irrigation, testing pilots and building the electrical and telephone infrastructure of the project. The land area that would cover the project was determined methodically and systematically. There was a high level of anticipation and expectation among stakeholders that showed Ethiopia’s determination and resolve to conquer abject poverty, famine and destitution among its poorest population.
This national will power and huge investment of scarce capital to harness Ethiopia’s immense water resources for the betterment of its millions was the first of its kind in terms of magnitude. It is no wonder then that it raised hope among Ethiopians; while creating anxiety on the part of Ethiopia’s major adversary, Egypt. It expressed anger, frustration and dismay. It then identified internal allies that would inflict the actual and potential damage.
I remind the reader that Egypt has always wanted to control the Blue Nile and deny Ethiopia any opportunity to harness it for its own development. This is the reason why Emperor Haile Selassie had advised future generations of Ethiopians to guard studies done by his Government pending a time when Ethiopia would be in a position to finance its dams on its own time and using its own investment capital. While the promising multipurpose project Tana Beles demonstrated Ethiopia’s determination to challenge the status quo, this promise came to a complete halt once the TPLF took power in 1991. Meles Zenawi made a huge effort to compensate by initiating the GERD.
Documentary evidence shows that the first pre-state sponsored economic and social crime inflicted on Ethiopia by the TPLF is the dismantlement of the entire physical, institutional and human infrastructure of Tana Beles. Soon after the TPLF approached Tana Beles, it begun dismantling the physical infrastructure by disassembling equipment and hauling useful parts such as farm equipment like tractors to the Tigray Region. Imagine the assault on ordinary people, mostly the poor in the surrounding area. The modern and well-equipped hospital that served the local population was destroyed. Literally all of the materials, including x-ray equipment and medicines were taken out and shipped to the Tigray Region. For all purposes, this was a horrendous and inhumane treatment against the very people of Ethiopia.
In addition to the financial and economic loss, what is most tragic is the enormous cost to poor people and aspiring farmers whose improved livelihoods were shattered by internal actors.
The deliberate destruction of the Tana Beles project is a significant cardinal sin against Ethiopia. It served the strategic interests of Egypt. Upon taking state power, the TPLF compounded this cardinal sin by abandoning Ethiopia’s legitimate access to the sea, another Egyptian dream.
For many decades, Iraq’s Sadam Hussein. Syria’s Assad, Egypt’s Nasser and Anwar Sadat and others had vowed to ensure that the entire Red Sea would become an Arab staging area. They were determined to deprive Ethiopia of its sea coast. The TPLF was key in facilitating this.
All of these different sets of Egyptian direct and indirect assaults on Ethiopia’s development lead me to the same conclusion. Egypt’s determination to dominate the Nile and its primary source namely, the Blue Nile or Abbay is real and compelling. We cannot forget how gleefully Egypt celebrated the destruction of Tana Beles, gratis the TPLF.
The reader should therefore be watchful and guard against internal and external Ethiopian dissenters against the GERD. Those who care deeply must defend Ethiopia’s absolute rights over the Blue Nile.
I shall conclude with the good news. The Congressional Black Caucus Statement on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on June 23, 2020 is encouraging. In brief, the CBC statement said this.
“In recent months negotiations have stalled and there has been an escalation of tensions on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that impacts, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) encourages the continued cooperation and peaceful negotiations of all stakeholders in the construction of the GERD. These negotiations should be based on mutual benefit, good faith, and the principles of international law. The multi-billion-dollar GERD project was announced in 2011, and will have a positive impact in the region by providing Africa’s biggest hydropower dam that will generate approximately 6,000 megawatts of electricity, thus allowing Ethiopia to export power to neighboring countries….The CBC urges the United States and all other international actors to respect the 2015 Declaration of Principles trilateral agreement signed between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, and to continue to play an impartial role, only seeking the counsel of the African Union and diplomats on the ground in the region. In particular, the African Union has a pivotal role to play by expressing to all parties that a peaceful negotiated deal benefits all and not just some on the continent.”
More important, the CBC opined rightly that “The GERD project will have a positive impact on all countries involved and will help combat food security and lack of electricity and power, supply more fresh water to more people, and stabilize and grow the economies in the region. The Congressional Black Caucus supports a peaceful negotiation to the implementation of the GERD project, and stands ready to support the African Union and all stakeholders on peacefully achieving a mutually beneficial agreement.”
I was also gratified by the Speaker of the Kenyan Parliament who expressed his strongest endorsement of Ethiopia’s sovereign and absolute rights to harness its waters for development.
- The GERD will contribute immensely to the economic integration of the Horn, Eastern Africa and in due course, will also fill am enormous gap in the electric grid system of the entire African continent. I suggest strongly that all African nations defend Ethiopia’s sovereign rights over its waters in the spirit of Uhuru.
- The UN Security Council should be totally objective, impartial and fair; and should be guided by international law, conventions and treaties that govern transboundary rivers. More important, it should pressure the primary stakeholders to negotiate. It should also rely more heavily on the African Union and refrain from pressuring Ethiopia.
- Both the UN Security Council and the African Union must recognize that Ethiopia is playing a pioneering role in defense of African rights. Ethiopia’s prosperity will serve as a spring board for the prosperity of Africa. In turn, a prosperous Ethiopia will play a more pronounced role in promoting and defending peace and security in the Horn and the rest of Africa.
- Last but not least, the UN Security Council, the European Union and the African Union must recognize that Ethiopia has played a vital role in collective security; and has served the UN system effectively with peace keeping operations.
June 25, 2020