Sunday, June 16, 2013

The renaissance Dam from an Engineering and Environmental View Point

by Asfaw Beyene, Ph.D.
gerd_ethiopiaJune 15, 2013 (OPride) – On a recent Sunday morning a friend called and asked me to tune-in to an online discussion forum on one of the Ethiopian Paltalk forums. 500 attendants, the maximum allowed per room, packed the voice chatting room. After several attempts, I was able to join the room, which was managed by a postmaster named Aba Mela whose civil tone was pleasing.
The Internet is serving Ethiopia’s version of First Amendment, with unfiltered abuses and insults written as footnotes of the busy site so much that I couldn’t keep up reading and listening in tandem. The anonymity afforded by pseudonyms favors excessive diatribe. The topic that captivated so much emotions and interests among Ethiopians of diaspora was the construction of the hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile River, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
The outpouring of emotions was triggered by comments made by Egyptian opposition party leaders during a meeting called by Egypt’s president Dr. Mohamed Morsi to review the impact of Ethiopia’s controversial dam to their country. Unaware that the discussion was transmitted live on Egyptian TV, some of the politicians warmly proposed sabotaging Ethiopia’s plan to build the dam. One party leader suggested helping the Oromo Liberation Front while another surmised spreading rumors about purchase of a refueling airplane to fake preparation of attacking the dam. A gentler politician cautioned that this ‘dangerous’ act neglects the fact that Israel and America are Egypt’s real enemies, not Ethiopia – a trajectory which may be more comforting to Ethiopia but less to Israel and the U.S. Another suggested keeping the discussions confidential; at which time they were told that the event was being transmitted live on Egyptian TV. Laughter followed.
President Morsi’s comment came precipitously after he knew the discussion is certainly headed for an international consumption. He interjected that Egypt will not engage in any aggressive act out of respect for Ethiopia and its people. But he also stated that Egypt would not allow loss of a drop of Nile’s water. A drop will certainly be lost. Unintended exposure of this diplomatic tittle-tattle might have thwarted a real conflict. The coercion could no more intimidate once it was self-exposed, and Ethiopia capitalized on the idle talk summoning the Egyptian Ambassador to Ethiopia and asking for clarification.
Many in the audience at the packed chat room implied that since the Ethiopian government abuses human rights, arrests journalists, distributes land to international corporations, promotes ethnic favoritism, etc., they therefore oppose construction of the dam. Ironically, a journalist named Muluken Tesfaw was detained on May 4 for reporting on the return of thousands of farmers who had been forced from their lands in the Benishangul-Gumuz region – the same region where Ethiopia is construction the multibillion dam. Another journalist was tried for terrorism and sentenced to two years jail for reporting on alleged coercion to force government employees to contribute to the construction of the dam. One can chronicle these facts and set them as conditions that need to be resolved before a dam of this magnitude is built if one believes freedom and construction of the dam are tightly linked.
The reader may indeed decide to object construction of the dam solely based on the regime’s totalitarian governance. I am sympathetic to those who say issues of freedom and human rights shall remain at the forefront of the Ethiopian political discourse, and the rights of the oppressed people must be respected before launching a grand project such as this. Strictly political objections valid but put aside, those who opposed construction of the dam based on its engineering merit did not make their cases. My purpose here is not to debate the political consequences, or speculate on emotional reactions in Egypt or Ethiopia objecting or favoring the project.

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