The Nile River is African and Ethiopia is its hub: rightful governance for rightful ownership Commentary Part three of five. By Aklog Birara, PhD
The Nile River is African and Ethiopia is its hub: Ethiopia’s demand is a matter of survival and national security
“የናይል ውሃ ለግብፅ ብቻ መሆኑ ቀርቶ፤ በወንዙ ከበላይ በኩል በመገኘት ባላቸው መብትና የይገባኛል ጥያቄያቸው ጋር በማነጻፀር ለመላው የወንዙ ተጋሪ አገሮችም ጭምር የተለገሠ ሃብት ሆኖ መቆጠር አለበት።”
ዣክ ቤትህማን፤ ታላላቅ ወንዞች፣ 2002
“ግብፅ የናይል ገፀ በረከት ነች ይባል እንጂ፤ ናይል በበኩሉ የኢትዮጵያ ገፀ በረከት እንደሆነ ምን ጊዜም መዘንጋት የለበትም።”
አለን ጋስኮን፤ የውሃ እጥረትና አጠቃቀም ሊቅ፤ 2004
ለማንኛችን ቢሆን ኢትዮጵያ ታሪክ አላት፤ ‘እንጉዳይ’ አይደለችም፤ ደራሲው
The Nile Basin Initiative is intended “To achieve sustainable socio-economic development through equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.”
Nile Basin Initiative: sustainable development of the River Nile for the benefit of all, March 2001
Part three of five
Aklog Birara, PhD
Part two of this series showed the critical relationship between Ethiopia’s right to use its river resources including the Abay River on the one hand and the vital role of inclusive, fair, just, participatory and democratic governance to sustain ownership on the other. At the end of the day, the most important criteria concerning the GERD is whether or not the Ethiopian people gain from its exploitation. In the battle to control and use the Nile River and its tributaries for growth and development, the country that places a high premium on good, just, equitable, inclusive and pluralist governance would have a better chance of strengthening sustainability than an ethnically and politically conflict-ridden, repressive and dictatorial one. I suggest that this gap in inclusive, participatory, pluralist and democratic governance makes Ethiopia’s claim vulnerable to internal and external threats. Egypt and other adversaries have and will continue to exploit vulnerabilities in governance to advance their interests.
At the height of the tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia emanating from Ethiopia’s determination to harness its rivers, specifically in 2010, the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi was absolutely right when he reacted in the strongest terms to repeated threats from Egyptian officials that they will attack Ethiopia and assert their hegemony over the Nile. The Prime Minister said “I am not worried that Egyptians will invade Ethiopia.” Remember, they tried over and over again by, among other things, conducting proxy wars against Ethiopia for hundreds of years, especially in the 20th and in this century. “Nobody who has tried to invade Ethiopia has lived to tell the story.” It is true that in the past, Ethiopians defended their homeland because they closed ranks and fought back. They though and acted as Ethiopians and made it impossible to conquer and occupy the country. However, Ethiopian governments did not have the financial, economic and diplomatic clout to translate rhetoric into policy and programs. This did not diminish the fact that Ethiopians had repeatedly vowed to build dams on the Abay and other rivers and their tributaries. Claim of ownership of the Abay and other rivers is therefore nothing new. From time immemorial, Ethiopians were never intimidated by Egyptian governments. As the above quotes indicate, foreign experts and the Nile Basin Initiative at the turn of this century strengthen my thesis that, going forward, there must be an equitable and fair share and use of the Nile River.
The 21st century is radically different for Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. Yet, the notion of a different world with different demands and needs is not well understood by Egypt and its supporters, for example, Saudi Arabia and others. Any fair minded observer would find it ironic that Egypt would continue to deny the same privileges of a better life, food security and a strong and diversified economy to the Ethiopian people and to other Sub-Saharan African countries. History recalls that, stunned by Egypt’s unilateral decision to exercise hegemony over the Nile and by the construction of the Aswan Dam that took ten years to complete (1960-1970), the Ethiopian government responded with an action plan decades ago.
The Ethiopian-American connection on Abay
The Imperial Government invited the US Bureau of Reclamation which carried out feasibility studies and options. This comprehensive study was conducted from 1958-1963 and completed in 1964. It resulted in a 17 volume report entitled Land and Water Resources of the Blue Nile: Ethiopia. It was indeed a transformational project that went beyond academic and intellectual analysis. It identified 26 potential hydroelectric power generation sites with capacity to produce 40 billion kilowatt hours. Four of these were large and included the area where the Renaissance Dam is being constructed. In addition, the Bureau identified several irrigation dam sites with substantial potential for large-scale and smallholder farming along the Abay River (Blue Nile) basin that would have supported millions of smallholder farmers and their families.
Emperor Haile Selassie’s dream for his country then was to ensure that the Ethiopian people benefited from Ethiopia’s water resources in concrete terms via irrigation, power generation and industrialization. However, Egypt and its friends and financial organizations including the World Bank refused to support Ethiopian dam building initiatives. In short, Egypt continued to win the diplomatic battle. To ensure that it never lost dominance, Egypt continued to ferment trouble and finance and arm Ethiopian rebel groups, for example, the Eritrean Liberation Front and the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front, the Tigray Liberation Front, the Somali Liberation Front and others. Egypt’s belligerent and aggressive approach to Ethiopia has never ceased and may not at all cease. Destabilizing Ethiopia has become almost a permanent feature of Egyptian foreign policy against Ethiopian and other African countries that have legitimate interests in the Nile. “WikiLeaks cables have shown since 2011 that Cairo had already threatened to bomb new hydro-infrastructure initiatives on the Blue Nile back in 2009-2010 but was told by Washington and Khartoum that this would be politically unacceptable, as well as logistically extremely challenging…The combination of diplomatic isolation and military obstacles—not to mention Egypt’s domestic divisions and instability, which make war financially unaffordable—essentially mean that, despite Morsi’s (the former Egyptian President) claims that all options are on the table.” 2/
Despite this diplomatic pressure from the American government, Egypt and its allies continue to identify other means to trigger unrest and rebellion in Ethiopia and maintain the status quo. They take advantage of repression, discrimination and marginalization in Ethiopia as entry points. In July, 2013, two scholars at American University, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, Chair, Islamic Studies and Dr. Frankie Martin, Research Fellow, School of International Service wrote a scathing article for Al-Jazeera. The title of the article, “The Oromo and the War on Terror in the Horn of Africa,” is telling. The Ethiopian government is well known for not discriminating against anyone that challenges its authority—Christians, Muslims, young and old, men and women, Amhara, Oromo, Annuak, Somali etc. In essence, it can be argued that the TPLF/EPRDF regime an equal opportunity oppressor. So, why create the above title unless the intent is to perpetuate hate and animosity among the population and weaken solidarity to do two things at the same time: defend Ethiopia’s legitimate right to harness the Abay River and to struggle for a just, fair, equitable and participatory system of government.
The authors betrayed intellectual rigor, credibility and integrity when they made the incredible claim that, from 1860-1900, Emperor Menelik “killed 5 million Oromos.” Among other things, census data reveals that the number is completely false and doctored. I suggest that the article is intended to send a political and ideological message in support of the Egyptian position on the Nile. In my considered opinion, the article is important in that it bolsters my central thesis that the Egyptian government and its friends in the Middle East and others will no stone unturned to trigger civil conflict and break-up Ethiopia even further than they did before the TPLF/EPRDF took power in 1991. It is a chorus of internal and external support to undermine Ethiopian sovereignty and territorial integrity and the solidarity of its diverse population. I have tried to show that, historically, Ethiopia has shown a remarkable culture of peaceful coexistence among three major religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. This is unprecedented in the Middle East, North Africa, South and East Asia and other regions. At stake in this article is the fundamental principle that Egypt and its allies are determined to:
1) Destabilize Ethiopia
2) Finance and cause civil war (religion, ethnic and political based)
3) Break-up the country by encouraging secessionist forces and
4) Stop the completion of the GERD and other major dams.
Central to this established and proven strategy that made the country land locked is continued assault of the Amhara population, a population that has been dislodged from political and economic power; and is being ethnically cleansed in all parts of the country. The two authors said this. “The Amhara under Emperors like Menelik utilized modern weapons and European Advisors against their opponents, who fought with spears. The result was devastation and death of enormous scale.” The authors failed to mention the fact that the same Emperor they accuse of causing massacres assembled Ethiopians from all ethnic and religious groups and succeeded in defeating Italian Imperialism without foreign advisors and support. This feat in the face of aggression generated pride and joy among all black people across the globe. It is the same solidarity that will save the country from balkanization and to secure Ethiopia’s right to accelerate its modernization process. I suggest that this insidious article is intended to inflame religious and ethnic war at a time when the country needs peace, national reconciliation and dialogue toward good, inclusive and pluralist governance.
This partisan article is also intended for North African and Middle East audiences. Simply put, it is a disservice to black Africans including Ethiopians and to the people of the region. I am therefore baffled as are many fair minded observers that Al-Jazeera would publish a baseless article without vetting it thoroughly.
Two years ago, I wrote the following at the request of Al-Jazeera. Tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt are inevitable unless a fair and equitable solution along the lines of the Nile Basin Initiative is implemented. “I refer to the future development and use of the waters of the Nile River. I know of no other topic in the 21st century that evokes strong emotions and national sentiments in Egypt and Ethiopia than the development and use of the River Nile and its tributaries. These sentiments emanate from the fact that water is among the most precious natural resource assets in the world. It is the source of life, identity, civilization, food self-sufficiency and security, industrialization, potential wealth and security for those who possess it and a source of jealousy (I would add demise) for those who do not. People need water to survive and to thrive. They need fertile or irrigable land to procreate and to produce food. Water meets basic needs. As populations increase and infrastructural and economic demand intensify, governments are obliged to respond to the needs of their societies as a matter of urgency and sheer survival. They have little choice but to harness their water resources for the betterment of their respective societies. Think of it in simple terms. Ethiopia has a population of 94 million today. By 2050, its population will almost triple to 278 million. The country needs to feed them, house them, etc.
The latest UN data on poverty shows that countries that invest heavily in education, health, nutrition, agriculture, infrastructure, civil society, empowerment etc. are reducing poverty rates at a faster rate than those that invest in show case projects. Ethiopia must reduce and eventually eliminate dire poverty, especially food inadequacy. It can only do this if there is accountable government or what the Economist calls “cleaner governance.” To-date, the exclusive economic system of economic management, greed and corruption has barred millions of Ethiopians from participating in growth and development. There is nothing that justifies that an Ethiopian child should go hungry while an Egyptian child faces no anxiety from lack of food. There is nothing in development policy and practice that suggests that only those who belong to the elite class have the right to eat and the poor to suffer. In this connection, I admit that the GERD is not likely to reduce poverty. It does not address structural issues such as equity; and as designed, it does not contribute to agricultural productivity. It will certainly generate growth. But, growth alone is not a panacea to poverty and rise in incomes. For Ethiopia to reduce poverty to almost zero ($1.25 per day) before 2030– when its population would rise dramatically– experts at the World Bank estimate that household consumption would have to “surge by 7.6 percent per year.” Today, it is declining. Unfortunately, the current economic system is skewed in favor of a few elites who own assets and incomes and who run the county in a self-serving manner. I refer to income and wealth concentration in a few individuals and families. Despite this caveat, I contend that the use of the Abay River for development is a matter of sheer survival. It will have a ripple effect.
Understandably, government officials, experts, academics, and members of civil society from both Egypt and Ethiopia express views that reflect competing national interests. Elementary school children in both countries find themselves growing up with the belief of their own respective perception- that is single country-focused – as the most critical criteria and as the right one etc. and it is. Ethiopian history, resistances to foreign aggression, honor, and identity emanate largely from its coveted position as the source of the Blue Nile or Abay. Eighty five percent of the waters of the Nile come from Ethiopia; and 97 percent of all Egypt’s renewable water comes from the Nile. This is why Herodotus, the Greek Historian and philosopher, called Egypt the “Gift of the Nile.” Equally, Ethiopia is not only a “gift of the Nile; it offers a bulk of the waters of the Nile.” If it is such a gift to Egypt, Ethiopia and Ethiopians have something to SAY AND to do with it. It is simple geopolitical and geographical logic.
The problem is that Egyptian leaders think and believe that the Nile (in its entirety) is a “God given gift to Egypt” and cannot be disputed by any Sub-Saharan African country. Why does Egypt feel justified to continue to project the same image and thinking that it did under the Pharos, in 1929 and in 1959? In part, of the belief that Ethiopian society is “ethnically and religiously divided.” In other words, Egyptians feel that they can destabilize Ethiopia by using Ethiopians. I have heard Egyptians claim that Ethiopian is a country that is “weak, poor and divided.” This is why they seem to project a disdaining attitude. The assumption seems to be that Ethiopian elites do not give primacy to a geopolitical entity (with clear and identified boundaries and legitimacy) called Ethiopia. Many Egyptians still believe that Ethiopians identify themselves as belonging to ethnic and religious groups. I tend to think that this perception is wrong. One has to admit that, this largely wrong perception leads them to contend that they have veto power over the use of all Nile waters and can pull conflict triggers any time they wish. This is why Ethiopian elites need to close ranks and think of themselves as Ethiopians first rather than as ethnic and or religious enclaves. My sense is that they will; they have no choice.
Egypt’s colonial mentality is a passé
Whether it is a state, party, tribe, family or individual, it is often hard to give up privileged status. The tendency is to reinforce this privilege so that others, including those who are harmed by the privilege begin to believe it. At a country level, believing in the permanent nature of privilege is dangerous. This is because of the fact that nothing is permanent but social change. China will replace the US as the largest economy in the world in less than twenty years; and some African countries will be more prosperous than some of their former colonizers, etc. This is inevitable and Egyptians have a hard time accepting this trend as do Americans. This is why I say that “Egypt’s position is a passé.” In the case of Egypt and Ethiopia, and when viewed regionally and multilaterally, perceptions on both sides often underestimate the value-added of interdependence of riparian nations in general and genuine cooperation between Ethiopia and Egypt in particular. Both need to recognize that the benefits of fair and equitable use of the Nile are immense. Both need to realize that for peace and sustainability to prevail—these have social and economic values– mutuality, fair play, equity and justice must “govern relations and the future.” Sadly, this mutuality has been overlooked by successive Egyptian governments and their supporters. Let us put the positions of the two sides side by side and assess their long-term viability as national policy positions. This is the only fairest way we can assess positions objectively.
As I highlighted in Part two of this series, the Egyptian side is best described by a Cairo University consortium report. Although it enjoys a large pool of scholars and experts, Ethiopia does not have anything similar. This is because of the division that the Ethiopian ruling party created among scholars and experts. The Egyptian intellectual think tank type of group called “Group of Nile Basin,” almost akin to the Nile Basin Initiative financed by the World Bank, brought Egyptian academic experts together to advise the Egyptian government. Remember Egypt is going through turmoil. What needs repeating over and over again is this. Egyptians are united with regard to the Nile and Ethiopia’s decision to build the Renaissance Dam on the Abay River that resides on its own soil. In contrast, Ethiopians within the country and in the Diaspora are as divided as ever on a matter of national importance that will shape generations to come. I suggested in Part two that the cause for the division is the Ethiopian governing party. In contrast to Ethiopian academics and experts who are divided, the Egyptian group feels that Ethiopia’s decision to improve the lives of Ethiopians is a “threat to the people of Egypt.” If and when you feel that your existence is threatened, you go “to war” or you cause war. Egyptian academics and experts want to make sure that the Egyptian government has the best technical and policy advice in its diplomatic, moral and other forms of “war” against Ethiopia. Compare this with the fact that Ethiopian intellectuals, civic and political actors—as a group– fail to distinguish between governments that will and have to change and national interests that should persist.
Here is the point again. It is inevitable that the TPLF/EPRDF government will go. I estimate that, given external and internal conditions, the governing party will try to shed its ethnic baggage. Despite cruel and repressive governance, Ethiopia and Ethiopia’s national interests will remain intact for thousands of years as they have for times immemorial. The caveat is that “an ethnically and religiously divided” Ethiopia will undo it if the governing party and the rest of us so choose. Among other things, Egypt and other external powers use these divisions to advance their narrow national interests. The organizing principle to remember and internalize is this. Governments are never permanent; but societies and countries are more or less permanent unless we are willing to abandon them. I bring this distinction between Ethiopians and Egyptians for one reason only, inability to distinguish between an abhorrent regime that must reform itself or allow others to join and reform it for the better; and national interest to which all stakeholders must commit themselves. I am reminded of the costs incurred when some dissidents sided with the Said Bare government that attacked Ethiopia without provocation.
Why did this occur? It is because dissidents hated Mengistu Hailemariam who brutalized the country and its people. The same had happened to black South Africans under Apartheid. The point is that hate of any dictator does not necessarily equate with love for country and society. In light of this, I suggest that Ethiopian opponents of the TPLF/EPRDF government ought to be careful else they make the same mistake again. They need to make a rationale distinction between the current government and its leadership, and Ethiopia’s historical rights to harness its waters for the betterment of its population. They need to accept the notion that today’s Egypt is as divided as today’s Ethiopia but unified with regard to the Nile. We can at least agree that Egypt is not at peace with itself. Nor is Ethiopia. Most recent evidence shows that Egyptians prefer the role of the Egyptian military to a democratically elected government that was repressive, fundamentalist, adventurist and exclusionary. Egyptians seem to prefer peace, stability and prosperity over political pluralism and democracy. By all indications, Egyptians have an identical position on the Nile and Egypt’s singular right to use it. Ethiopians who fail to grasp this national (Egyptian) determination to prevail over the Nile would cost their country and its diverse society a great deal in the years to come.
Seifu Metaferia Firew, a well-known Ethiopian poet, expresses the widely held view among Ethiopians that, as the “origin of the Nile, Ethiopia, continues to suffer from water scarcity” and from recurring famine. He suggests that this “shameful” condition continues not because Ethiopia does not possess water; but because its government is unable to “develop, harness, and use” the country’s “vast water resources and silt to dam, irrigate, produce and feed its large and growing population. Ethiopia, he says, loses in two ways: “The waters of the massive Abay River (the Blue Nile) flow into the Greater Nile; and that this river takes away millions of tons of fertile soils from the Ethiopian highlands” year after year. This massive silt provides the material foundation for Egyptian agriculture. At the same time, Ethiopia faces chronic drought, famine, skyrocketing food prices, and hunger. Today, more than 4.5 million Ethiopians endure “the worst famine since the 1980s.” In light of this, the author suggests that “Someday, I (meaning government), will be held accountable for gross negligence to develop the Abay River” so that Ethiopians will no longer go through the humiliation of hunger, destitution and international food aid dependency. The author is talking about lack of prioritization in the agricultural sector in general and irrigated farming in particular. He points out rightly that this is now a “national crisis.” No current or future government in Ethiopia will survive unless it addresses this fundamental national crisis of food insecurity. Successive Egyptian governments have managed to marginalize Ethiopia and bar it from exploiting its major rivers including the Abay. The fact that Ethiopia is “the water tower of Africa” has meant practically nothing when measured against the criteria of food self-sufficiency and security. In contrast, Nile-centered and dependent Egypt has succeeded to meet domestic food demand and to create a strong agriculture-based industry that employs millions. Egypt has done this by invoking the principle of acquired or “historic rights” while denying Ethiopia fair and equitable share of the Nile. 3/
These two seemingly irreconcilable perspectives and principles held by Egyptians and Ethiopians lead me to the lead thesis of the article. On the Egyptian side is the principle of acquired or “historic rights,” a principle inherited from the colonial era that gives Egypt total hegemony over the Nile. This hegemony clashes with the principles of equitable and fair share, principles that most Sub-Saharan African riparian states now embrace. On the Ethiopian side is the history-based and growing recognition that “historic rights” claimed by Egypt and to some extent Northern Sudan are a story of the colonial past. They are unjust and unfair, and that colonial and foreign interference-based treaties and legal arrangements are no longer viable or acceptable. This may seem like a recently acquired doctrine by the TPLF/PRDF government. It is not. We will have a better appreciation of the depth and breadth of Ethiopia’s position if we go back a bit and examine history. Ethiopia’s claim is pre- Aksumite Empire and goes farther than the height of Egyptian civilization. Records show that King Lalibela wanted to build a dam long before dams had become an economic necessity. Emperors Zara Yaqob, Yohannes, Teodros, Menelik, Haile Selassie, and leaders such as Mengistu Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi manifest visions and perspectives that emanate from this continuity in legitimate claim. ኢትዮጵያ እንጉዳይ አይደለችም ያልኩበት ዋና ምክንያት ለዚህ ነው።
I believe in the notion of national continuity for a reason. Ethiopian leaders defended Ethiopia’s national interests over its water resources. Emperor Yohannes IV died defending this sacrosanct principle, as did Emperor Teodros. The point is that, regardless of regime and the ethnic group to which the regime belonged, history tells us that Ethiopia and Egypt will remain adversaries over the use of the Nile. At best, they will remain keen competitors in the decades ahead. The trick is for each to embrace the fundamental principle of the Nile Basin Initiative that is intended to serve all of their populations in a fair, equitable and sustainable manner.
Demography as destiny and the argument to irrigate Ethiopian lands
The correlation between size of population and the need to meet basic needs is as clear as day and night. Central in meeting basic needs such as food is to use land and water resources optimally. Ethiopia possesses both but is heavily dependent on foreign aid including food aid to feed millions. This condition is no longer acceptable and must change. The contention concerning the Nile is largely about Ethiopia’s need to feed its large and growing population. I recognize that the GERD is about generating hydroelectric power largely for export. It will benefit Egypt, North and South Sudan and may be others. The amount of water loss for Egypt may be minimal. The more contentious issue is investment in irrigated agriculture. I refer to Ethiopia’s legitimate right to dam its rivers for irrigation. Consequently, today’s tensions on the hydroelectric project is part of the story and not the whole story. The contentious future is much more about irrigated land use to which Ethiopia is entitled and without which Ethiopia will not achieve food security.
It goes without saying that the Nile River has been a major source of contention, rivalry, and animosity between Egypt and Ethiopia since time immemorial. The fundamental role of the Nile in shaping Egyptian life is incontestable. The world accepts the notion that Egyptian civilization is a gift of the Nile; this is incontestable. Six sevenths of the waters of Nile waters originate from the Ethiopian highlands. This too is incontestable. The battle for control and for influence of countries around it for such control predates Egypt’s Pharos. This too is incontestable. As in the past, Egyptians want Eritrea, North Sudan and Somalia to serve as proxies. From time to time, interference in Ethiopian affairs had involved powers beyond riparian states. This has happened continuously for more than 7,000 years. This tradition to exercise monopoly continued under British imperial rule that imposed binding agreements on riparian nations on behalf of Egypt, a British colony at the time. Egypt signed a Nile Agreement in 1929 that offered it natural and exclusive rights (the historic right argument) over the Nile. This arrangement begun to unravel only after Sub-Saharan African states gained independence and solidified their positions in the 20th century and changed it into a common policy in the 21st century. Until then, Ethiopia stood as the sole voice in defense of the principle of fair and equitable shares without success. What do we conclude from this? This Egyptian inherited “historic right” and preponderance has virtually undermined Ethiopia’s legitimate rights to advance its national development by building hydroelectric and irrigation dams. This hegemony over Ethiopia’s rivers perpetuated food poverty, especially food insecurity.
Why irrigation cannot be sidelined
Here is another incontestable fact. Ethiopian and other independent experts contend that Egypt does not contribute a drop of rain or water to the Nile. On the other hand, Ethiopia contributes 86 percent of the water and uses only 1 percent for irrigation. Thirty percent of Ethiopia’s land mass that covers 385,400 square kilometers is within the Abay River Basin and its tributaries. In effect, Ethiopia owns the waters and the soils but is “barred from using either.” Ethiopia’s land mass around its lead rivers, especially Abay, provides potential of 3,500,000 hectares of irrigable land, more than sufficient to meet Ethiopia’s food demand for decades. From 1990 to present, the country used only 90,000 hectares of the available potential within this land mass. Compare this with the millions of hectares of irrigated land Egypt farms. Given geographic spread, population and size, Ethiopia possesses geopolitical and demographic advantage unmatched by other riparian states. This enormous potential suggests urgency in policy direction, the structure of the economy and political governance. Ethiopia’s population of 94 million–the second largest in Africa– will reach 278 million by 2050. By then, it will be the tenth largest in the world. This dramatic demographic shift will have profound economic and political impact not only in the Horn but also in the rest of Africa and the Middle East. This in itself foretells the need for change in the governance of Nile waters. For this reason, Ethiopia’s legitimacy is firmer than ever before. Given its sheer size, its natural resources endowments and hard working population, there is no doubt in my mind that Ethiopia will emerge as a leading economy over the coming 25 to 50 years. For this to happen, I contend that the country and its people have no option; but to resolve Ethiopia’s current political crisis and to establish a new inclusive and participatory governance.
Historically, colonial powers and especially Britain, tried to tie Ethiopia’s hands at a time when the country was relatively weak. The May 15 1902 Treaty between Britain and so-called “Abyssinia” regulated the frontier between Ethiopia and the Sudan, a British colony. Article III of this treaty states that “The Emperor Menelik engages not to construct or to allow being constructed any work across the Blue Nile, Lake Tana or the Sobat which would arrest the flow of their waters into the Nile, except in agreement with the governments of Great Britain and the Sudan. “ This and the 1929 agreement weakened Ethiopia’s position in that both set a precedent used by Egypt subsequently to justify unfair and unjust arrangements. The Nile Waters Agreement of 1959 between the Republic of the Sudan and the United Arab Republic of Egypt benefitted from colonial precedents to which Ethiopia, an independent country, was not even a party. At the center of all these agreements, the economic principles that the River “needs projects for its full control and for increasing its yield for the full utilization of its waters” are under-scored. It is unthinkable to realize development without a project or program. This same principle of project design and development applies to Ethiopia. “Acquired or historic rights” to construct projects on the Nile trace their origins to these types of arrangements that conferred on Egypt and the Sudan exclusive rights to develop and use the Nile. This is the past; and one cannot do much about it. The question is about the future and Ethiopia’s right to do the same. This is the heat of the issue.
Both Egypt and North Sudan continue to adhere to these outdated agreements as if the world remains static. “The absurdity of the land of the Blue Nile dying of thirst (during the Great Famine of the 1980s in which 1 million lives were lost; and today in which close to five million Ethiopians face death) was combined with the fact that Egypt at that time (l980s) was about to face a similar catastrophe,” had rains not started in Ethiopia. This nature-driven interdependence between Egypt and Ethiopia virtually defines the acrimonious links between two competing societies that depend on the same river to achieve the same goals. “The intensive Egyptian-Ethiopian efforts to reach understanding that resumed in the early 1990s have not been facilitated by old legacies of mutual suspicion…Egypt was not only born of the Nile, it also lives by it, and its dependence increases with the pace of modernization and population growth.” The same forces that deepen Egypt’s dependence on the Nile are shaping Ethiopian society at speeds that no one had anticipated in the last century. I am not referring only to demographic changes. I am referring to the fact that Ethiopians aspire to achieve rapid and inclusive modernization and possess the requisite talent pool and material resources to achieve these goals over the coming decades. The various dams built, under construction and proposed reflect this achievable goal. 4/
The contention going forward
Egyptian experts and government officials make it sound that Ethiopia’s zeal and determination to build dams is new. I have shown that this is not true. Egypt has been adamant against successive Ethiopian governments who tried to persuade the Egyptian and Sudanese governments of Ethiopia’s right to invest in its waters to meet changing needs. This was especially intense after 1960. As indicated, the American Bureau of Reclamation had recommended the construction of hydroelectric dams that would produce 87 billion kilowatt electricity per year, more than sufficient to meet domestic demand. Irrigation dams of varied sizes would irrigate 430, 000 hectares of land and would meet the food security needs of the country for decades hence. Breakdowns of the proposals suggest the seriousness of the thinking and the sizes of the projects. One such hydroelectric dam would have been bigger than the Aswan Dam that contains 51 million cubic meters of water. It would generate more electricity than the Aswan Dam. The primary locations identified included Lake Tana, Mendassa near the Sudanese border and Makile. The government was able to realize only one dam. The newly proposed GERD is not radically different in dimension or in location from earlier proposals.5/
Why did the other projects fail to come to fruition? The primary reason is Egyptian intransigence and rejection of any move by Ethiopia to develop its waters. The Tana Beles hydroelectric and irrigation project involving five dams near Lake Tana proposed in 1958–that would have benefitted 200,000 farmers under financing from the African Development Bank– was rejected outright by Egypt. The feasibility study conducted by the US Bureau of Reclamation and the expanded Tana Beles project would have effectively transformed the Abay Gorge and Lake Tana into the “primary all-Nile reservoir to supply electricity and irrigation for Ethiopia while significantly enlarging and regulating the amount of water flowing into the Sudan and Egypt. “ The scheme would have benefited Egypt too. Egypt rejected all of the projects and persuaded multilateral financial institutions not to support Ethiopia’s ambitions. This rejection curtailed Ethiopia’s potential in developing its water resources to meet its food demands and to reduce poverty.
In 1977, a World Bank study of the Nile concluded that the “Waters of the Nile probably constitute Ethiopia’s greatest natural asset for development. The development of the River Nile in Ethiopia has the potential to contribute significantly to poverty reduction, meet domestic power and food demands, and become a cornerstone of a future export strategy.” 6/
I leave the reader with this quote from Emperor Haile Selassie, the most ardent advocate of Ethiopia’s right to use its water resources to meet its food and modernization needs.
“ለምንወደው ለዛሬው ሕዝባችንም ሆነ፤ ከዘመን ወደ ዘመን ለሚከተለው ትውልድም ጭምር፤ የአባይን የውሃ ሃብት ለሕይወቱ ደህንነትና ለፍላጎቱ ማርኪያ እንዲውል ማድረግ፤ ኢትዮጵያ ከፍ ያለ ግምት የምትሰጠውና በቅድሚያ የሚያሳስባት ጉዳይ ነው።”
የዛሬ አርባ ስምንት አመት
To be continued
JULY 24, 2013