ADDIS ABABA (HAN) April 20, 2016. Public Diplomacy & Regional Security News. OPINION By Taye Kebede. The construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is halved. We have reached a point where the owner and builders of the dam – the Ethiopian people – are sure that the project will be completed as planned. And this has been a drive and motivation for our people to finish the dam in its scheduled time.
As the Dam was able to bring full national consensus, it has strengthened the unity of Ethiopians. Not only this. The fact that the Ethiopian people and government in full national consensus decided to build the GERD with their own capabilities and brought it to its current completion rate has enabled to change the up to now confrontational relation with the downstream countries of Egypt and Sudan to one of collaborative. It is a huge diplomatic coup that showed Ethiopia has an inalienable right and has the capacity to utilize its natural resource that it shares with other countries to guarantee a better live for its people.
And with regards to utilization of the River, there is one thing every Ethiopian shares – which is a sense of regret that is caused by the international forbiddance the country faced to utilize the water of the Nile when it is the source of more than 85 per cent of the the Nile waters.
And it was a usual thing to hear that Egypt will not back down from striking Ethiopia if the latter tries to utilize/use the River, along with the size and type of war planes Egypt possess. Of course on the side of Ethiopians, there was not that much thought given about an attack from Egypt if they decide to use the Nile tributary rivers. Nevertheless, Egypt and Sudan had made Ethiopia to sit idly while they benefited by downplaying recognition of its rights to utilize its Nile tributary rivers.
But now, all this has changed. The change came because Ethiopia decided to build the dam with its own capacity and started to act upon the decision. Ethiopia has the right to use any of its resources that are found on the landscapes within its borders – including the Nile tributary rivers. And the International principle on the utilization of water of cross-boundary Rivers also guarantees and affirms Ethiopia’s right to use the river in fair manner and without bringing significant impact on the downstream counties. So, when Ethiopia decided to build the GERD, it is by basing on its inalienable right to use its resources and the principle of international water utilization on cross-border Rivers. And as per this international principle, Ethiopia has made it official when the cornerstone for the building of the GERD was laid that it will use the dam in a manner that will not impact the downstream countries.
The country had also stated that as the dam is build for the purpose of generating electric power, the project will not harm Egypt and Sudan, and in fact they will benefit from it. As it can be recalled, our great leader Meles Zenawi had mentioned these facts on a speech he gave during the cornerstone laying of the project.
On that day, Meles had said, “the benefits that will accrue from the Dam will by no means be restricted to Ethiopia. They will clearly extend to all neighbouring states, and particularly to the downstream Nile basin countries, to Sudan and Egypt. The Dam will greatly reduce the problems of silt and sediment that consistently affect dams in Egypt and Sudan.
This has been a particularly acute problem at Sudan’s Fosseiries dam which has been experiencing reduction in output. When the Renaissance Dam becomes operational, communities all along the riverbanks and surrounding areas, particularly in Sudan, will be permanently relieved from centuries of flooding”.
“These countries will have the opportunity to obtain increased power supplies at competitive prices. The Renaissance Dam will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing the wastage from evaporation which has been a serious problem in these countries. It will in fact ensure a steady year-round flow of the Nile. This, in turn, should have the potential to amicably resolve the differences which currently exist among riparian states over the issue of equitable utilization of the resource of the Nile water.”
“In other words, the Renaissance Dam will not only provide benefits to Ethiopia. It will also offer mutually beneficial opportunities to Sudan and to Egypt. Indeed, one might expect these countries to be prepared to share the cost in proportion to the gains that each state will derive. On this calculation, Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project. Unfortunately, the necessary climate for engagement, based on equitable and constructive self-interest, does not exist at the moment. Indeed, the current disposition is to make attempts to undercut Ethiopia’s efforts to secure funding to cover the cost of the project. We have, in fact, been forced to rely on our own savings alone to cover the expense.” And this clearly shows that Ethiopia had taken the rights of the downstream countries into account when it decided to start to construct the dam.
The downstream countries, especially Egypt, had forced Ethiopia to sit idly from using its water resource by not recognizing its inherent right to use its Nile tributary rivers, and making sure that it would not get international financial backing that would enable it to use the waters of the river.
However, as the Ethiopian people had decided to build the dam through their own capability, they can’t do anything about it. What led Ethiopia to achieve this is the peace the country saw for the last two decade, and using those years to record double digit economic growth for ten consecutive years.
And this economic capacity has generated a national capability that is capable enough to cover more than 80 billion birr of the dam’s construction cost. The consecutive economic growth Ethiopia recorded within these past few years played a major role in realizing the Grand Renaissance Dam project and in dismantling the pressure that was put on Ethiopia.
Although the Sudanese government gave its support following the announcement of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Egyptian government that was in power at the time didn’t look at the project in favourable way. And the Egyptian media painted the construction of the dam as a looming threat on the Egyptian people. Without having any viable option to stop the construction of the dam given the fact that Ethiopia is building it through its own capability, the officials of the previous Egypt government went as far as threatening to take air strike on Ethiopia.
In addition to this, there is information that shows that Egypt’s previous regime was trying and actually worked to disturb Ethiopia’s peace through a proxy war. The information show that the previous regime used to give groups like ‘Ginbot 7’, whose objective is to disturb the peace of Ethiopia, up to one million dollar through the Eritrean government.
All in all, the fact that Ethiopia was able to announce/confirm that the GERD would not cause any harm on the downstream countries; made sure that experts that hail from the three countries (Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan) along with an independent and neutral body assesses the impact of the dam has lessened the amount of fear that would have been otherwise caused within Egyptians about the construction of the dam. And at last, they managed to strike up an agreement on March of last year. This agreement is a huge diplomatic success that made all the three riparian countries (Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan) winners. It is a historic agreement that made the Nile River a basis for collaboration between the three countries, and not an area of contention. Many phases had to be passed through to reach this point of agreement. The positions taken by Egypt before the coming of the new regime had been uncomfortable for Ethiopia. The first of those uncomfortable positions of Egypt’s government was the one that asks for halt of the construction of the dam.
The second was the one that said, “Even if the construction goes ahead, the side, length and amount of water the dam handles should be reduced. It should hold only four million cubic meter of water.” Various huge meetings were held with the new Egyptian government which included President Al-Sisi on these issues. On these meetings, Ethiopia was able to present its stance clearly to them. Through these meetings, Ethiopia was able to affirm that the dam will not significantly harm the downstream countries when it is designed or built, as per the international principle on the utilization of water of cross-border Rivers. The country was also to explain that in addition to these things, it will utilize the water in a fair and logical manner. It showed that it is baseless and illogical to argue that Ethiopia doesn’t deserve a fair and appropriate use from the water when in fact it is the source of more than 86 per cent of the river.
In addition to the agreement reached between Sudanese and Egyptian governments, public diplomacy work is being done on the part of Ethiopia believing that people to people understanding is a crucial aspect as well. To this end, Ethiopia has setup one public diplomacy team which is led by the FDRE House of Peoples’ Representatives Speaker Abadula Gemeda. The diplomatic team consists of members from various sects of the public, religious fathers, famous Ethiopian personalities, and people from the Media etc.
The work that is being done by the public diplomacy team helps Ethiopia in reaching agreement in principle with Sudan and Egypt in relation to the Renaissance Dam. As it can be recalled, the Ethiopia public diplomatic team has made a visit to Egypt back in December of 2014.
Similarly, on May of 2015, the team had gone to Khartoum, Sudan and done works that would facilitate the people-to-people relations. The diplomatic team during its visit to Egypt relayed the message to its Egyptian counterpart that the aim of the dam is to help the country break free from poverty and doesn’t intend to harm the downstream countries.
In general, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a monument that signifies the dismantling of the wall that stopped Ethiopians from using their Nile tributary rivers, and that it created a ‘yes we can do’ mentality within the psyche of Ethiopians and created national consensus and unity.