Ethiopia: Why GERD Is Symbol of New Might, National Consensus


There was times when Ethiopia wanted to embark upon various development ventures exploiting its abundant natural resources, yet it could not do so due to a variety of reasons. First of all, being a country with modest financial resources, it could not afford to pursue such projects. However, the affordability issue is not only related to finance. It could be because of other factors such as the issue of availability of capable and well trained human resources and absence of the necessary psychological conviction and national confidence. The launching of mega projects such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which has immense repercussions both domestically and abroad has changed this history.

In a way, one could argue that there was a sense of impotence and powerlessness when the country came to think of long term mega projects such as GERD. Moreover, there was the issue regarding what to do with such a huge dam even if it could be built by some miraculous means. Why? Because many years ago, there were apparently no concrete projects that would justify the materialization of such a project and it would have been a bit difficult to commit such huge financial resource for the construction of such dam. What could be reasonably and gainfully done with thousands of megawatts of hydropower and energy for an economy that did not match such needs?

Today, things are completely different. After decades since the first inception of such a plan, the country has undergone lots of changes. The very geopolitical scenario of the Horn of Africa or the Nile Basin itself has changed completely. First of all, Ethiopia currently has a hundred million people and this is a huge population to be reckoned with, and the needs of such a huge population are equally or huge. Most importantly, Ethiopia is now in full swing of transformation from principally an agriculture-led economy to an industry led one. That means it needs a lot of infrastructure and other facilities such as railroads, highways, huge housing projects, water and power with new projects, new factories such as cement, steel, sugar, beverage and food as well as textile and garment industries in the pipeline. For all these economic endeavours there is a huge demand of power.

It has come to the conclusion that such huge demand of power can only be fulfilled with mega hydropower plants and dams such as GERD. Of course, GERD is not the only big dam that Ethiopia is constructing. It has already engaged itself in the construction of several dams on the Awash, Gibe and Omo rivers. The Tekeze Dam is another one that has been completed and is waiting to be filled for full capacity and operate. Tana Beles is yet another one.

With the Growth and Transformation Plan, GTP II, there are also lots of industrial parks in the pipeline and the only way the country can tackle all these power needs is by preparing feasible plans to fully exploiting its water resources such as the Nile or Abay and GERD is just a case in point. It is symbolic and has a huge psychological impact on the nation.

There is the realization that GERD is not just a simple dam. It is much more than that. First and foremost, it breaks down the psychology of weakness, impotence and inferiority that may have influenced our nation for years. Ethiopia realizes that if it had the necessary resources, it would be able to build a dam on the Nile without any assistance. But all attempts to build such huge dam failed from the very beginning because first and foremost there were not enough financial resources to cover the expenses. All its attempts to secure loans or grants and concessions failed because of mainly the big influence and clout of Egypt among the international financial institutions which has always argued that any project on the Nile is considered as a ‘threat to its national security and sovereignty’. Egypt has consistently argued that its survival depended almost entirely on the Nile waters and that no one would be allowed to tamper with such an almost ‘divine right’.

At least this has always been the public opinion and the government never bothered to contradict such claim openly thus influencing even international financial institutions from considering Ethiopia’s request for loans to finance the construction of such a dam. But Ethiopia’s stance has always been that such argument did not base itself on legitimate and reasonable grounds. Egypt always talked about its ‘historical rights’ over the Nile waters but on the other hand, by the same token, why is Ethiopia, the natural source of the water, not given a similar say on its resource? According to an explicit statement made by the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia cannot be conceived that it cannot use its own resources albeit without damaging the legitimate rights of and negatively affecting other riparian countries. Ethiopians cannot be expected to merely look at the waters of their river and not make any significant use of it! “The colonial days are long gone and colonial pacts cannot be invoked to deprive us from using the waters of the Nile.”

It is a well-known fact that the Nile waters are not managed by modern laws and agreements but colonial deals that deliberately excluded the real stakeholders or owners of the water such as Ethiopia. It is clear that it was an unjust deal sealed between Great Britain, Egypt and Sudan with the blatant exclusion of the main stakeholders of the river. It is clear that this cannot be acceptable reasoning in today’s modern world. Today, all nations are governed not by ‘the law of the might’ and arrogance, but by that of right and reason. That is why Ethiopians once they knew they could have the resources to embark upon such projects, they began to do it.

Today, there is nothing to stop the transformational stride of a huge Ethiopia that has enough international clout to do whatever it takes to enrich its people by extricating them from perennial and dire poverty.

Poverty, drought, famine, warfare can no more be the trademarks of the country and Ethiopians cannot be shoved away by any regional power from using its legitimate natural resources. GERD could be cited as a typical case in point. GERD is the manifestation of this new found might and power, authority and life in the 21st century. It is the manifestation of this new trajectory of transformation and growth that all Ethiopians are united behind. It is a project to be completed soon and there will be no space for a U-turn. The sense of unity and resolve that is mobilized behind it is a testimony for this assertion. Ethiopia is moving on towards new and lofty goals and it won’t step back on such immense breakthroughs.

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