The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has now become a very important part of the life of each and every Ethiopian. It is considered that it is the symbol of the nation, an expression of its sovereignty. It has created a new sense of optimism and consensus among the population. This is clear in that the finger prints of every Ethiopian are sealed on it as it is owned by each citizen.
Naturally, no wonder that the first to be anxious about whatever happens around the Nile waters are the Egyptians, first and foremost, and the Sudanese later. Egypt relies totally on the waters of the Nile and it would not be blamed for its anxiety.
Undeniably, the Nile is the life of Egypt and it has always been so ever since people began to settle there. There are also indications that Egyptians have always tried to ‘control’ either directly or indirectly the source and flow of the Nile.
On the other hand, Ethiopia has always looked at the Nile as a gift of God to its people and considered it as part of the psyche of the people who are directly affected by its flows, by its ups and downs.
The Nile (or Abay as it is named in Ethiopia) is a part of the folklore of citizens who have lived around it for centuries. There are uncountable numbers of anecdotes and dictums around the river in the local language and its variations such as when it is in full gear or very scant due to poor rains. There are so many songs chanted in and around Abay and a lot of literature and poetry has been dedicated to it. It is part and parcel of the daily to day life of the people of the region. However, there has also been a lot of regrets and deep sense of dissatisfaction about the poor utilization of such potential giant.
Ethiopia has never made any meaningful use of the water due to a number of factors. But no one can deny the contribution of the campaign and influence of the downstream countries and their allies who would block any financial support to Ethiopia to carry out a project on the river.
The reluctance of the world financial institutions to back Ethiopia on any of the projects it would carry out on the Nile could only be explained in connection to Egypt, a force to be reckoned with due to its clouts in the geopolitics of the sub-region.
History is witness that all the treaties regarding the use of the water of the Nile have been carried out in complete disregard of the main source of the river. What is more, the question has always been considered as a matter of sovereignty and dignity while generations of Ethiopians could hardly do anything to redress this massive historical wrong.
Beginning from Imperial times, Ethiopia did envisage to make some use of the Nile; but its financial clout was not so strong to see any project realized on its own. It needed support, but no one dared to support.
For years the dream of Ethiopians to use legitimately and reasonably the waters of the Nile was frustrated. Abay thus has always been viewed as a curse rather than a blessing! Fortunately, Ethiopia had other resources and even the climatic conditions were not so indispensable to its people.
But lately Ethiopia has changed tremendously. Its economy has been growing fast and its hydropower resources need to catch up with these expansions. Despite the fact that it has been building dams such as Gilgel Gibe I, II and III, and others, the pace of growth of the country’s economy necessitates more sources of energy. With more focus on industrialization and the plan to join the middle income countries status by 2025, Ethiopia’s growth craves for more power. The late Prime Minister Meles has advocated clearly this idea and explained the priorities of the country to all interested parties and finally he laid the cornerstone for the construction of the Grand Dam seven years ago.
For Meles there was no convincing logical reason why Ethiopia could not make the most use of the Nile in accordance with international norms. This is a question of sovereignty. After all, this would not be the first transboundary river that is a subject to cooperation. Instances of common usage of trans-boundary rivers abound and they are all regulated by accepted international norms, laws, customs and treaties.
Naturally, Ethiopia argues it cannot be bound by outdated colonial treaties that excluded her. The fact that Ethiopia, the most important source of the river, has not even been consulted during the formulating of the treaties can only show the extent of arrogance and ill will of those who fixed the accord. No other word can explain better this perspective than ‘humiliation’.
Today, in twenty-first century politics, it is time to rectify such wrongs. Although now and then we observe some remnants of the past order advocating the politics of might or force, the majority subscribe to the reasonable and equitable use of the water in a win-win equation. After all, to try to perpetuate injustice would not be accepted and serve anyone.
Today, with what the world is undergoing due to unrestrained usage of natural resources, with tremendous environment-hostile activities to grow fast, the very existence of the earth as we have known it for millennia is at severe risk. Current activities cannot continue at the present pace.
Ethiopians cannot be indifferent anymore to certain claims that the real owners of the Nile are the downstream countries. Ethiopia does not claim exclusive rights on the Nile but it cannot forgo its right of reasonable utilization of the river. Egypt and Sudan have been historically fortunate to have used the river to their fullest potential while Ethiopia has had no opportunity of any meaningful usage. But can such status quo be maintained nowadays? The time has come that past injustices be redressed and past mistakes be rectified, past perspectives be straightened.
The politics of the Nile needs a new courageous practical approach that is inclusive of all the basin countries without discriminating based on military or political influence or might. Meles and later Hailemariam addressed this issue in a very straightforward manner soliciting the attention and consent of the populations of the basin, particularly the downstream countries.
The Dam is one form of regional integration and cooperation and must be viewed positively. The continuous series of discussions and consultations on how things proceed on the waters of the Nile between the leaders of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt must be sustained and encouraged. Negotiations should triumph over chauvinism or exclusion.
Ethiopia needs more than twenty thousand megawatt of hydropower for its ever expanding economy and industrialization, and it can secure this demand only from the Nile. Besides, it is a form of clean energy and the dam also helps to regulate the aberrations that the river might cause in its flow to downstream countries besides blocking the silt that has created extra challenges to them.
The economic weakness of Ethiopia has been hampering the country from embarking on any bold project on the Nile but that chain has now been shattered by Meles who decided that Ethiopia can do it using its own local resources. It has been hence raising funds to this objective and the project is now more than sixty four per cent complete.
Ethiopians long for the day that the dam converts the tremendous force of their river to a mighty locomotive of industrialization and progress. Ethiopia can then also export such power to its neighbors benefiting them with cheap costs. And there are several nations that have invested a lot on Ethiopia and any opposition by anyone is bound to have little impact on the new development trajectory of Ethiopia. Africans would like to lift their population out of eternal need and poverty; and so would Ethiopia; one of such megaprojects to the nation is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.