By Bayelegne Yirgu
Tigrai Online March 15, 2013
It has been almost two years since the Great Leader Meles Zenawi officially launched launched the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam project, the biggest of its kind in Africa.
Upon completion, it will have the capacity to produce 6000 MW hydro-electric power and a reservoir of 67 billion cubic meters of water. That is more than twice of what Ethiopia’s largest lake, Lake Tana, holds at its peak.
As big the potential benefits are, so are its projected financial costs. Meles cautioned that when he launched the dam, saying:
” The estimated cost will be 3.3 billion Euros, or 78 billion birr. As we will be financing several other projects in our plan, the expense will be an additional and heavy burden on us. All our efforts to lighten this have been unsuccessful, leaving us with only two options.
Either to abandon the project or do whatever we must to raise the required funds. I have no doubt which of these difficult choices the Ethiopian people will make. No matter how poor we are, in the Ethiopian traditions of resolve, the Ethiopian people will pay any sacrifice. I have no doubt they will, with one voice, say: ‘Build the Dam!’ ”
The Ethiopian people, including the diaspora heed Meles’ call. A public support and fund-raising of unparallelled scale, consistency and commitment was seen.
Even some “old styled” Egyptian politicians and scholars reluctantly admitted that Ethiopia is unstoppable through old tactics. They have been observing how Meles’s Ethiopia became more and more politically stable, economically stronger, regionally powerful.
Therefore, they begrudgingly agreed when more reasonable and pragmatic Egyptian officials chose to engage Ethiopia by sending a public diplomacy team.
Meles seized the opportunity to institutionalize the good opening by inviting them to conduct environmental assessments together by establishing an International Panel of Experts.
Side by side Ethiopia continued constructing the dam 24 hours a day, mobilizing funds and other related studies and arrangements, including security.
Unfortunately, Meles passed away last September when the project was a little above 10% complete.
The Ethiopian peoples, from all walks of life and age groups, vowed to avenge Meles’s death by realizing the biggest dream of Meles: “Meles will be remembered, Blue Nile will be dammed”, the youth chanted across Ethiopia.
Nonetheless, the “old styled” officials in Cairo thought they found an opening. They hoped Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne, his colleagues and the rest of the country will not be as bold and as committed as Meles.
Therefore they started sending alarm signals here and there.
Several unhelpful remarks were read from officials and experts, speaking anonymously and publicly, to Egyptian newspapers and others. It began in August when Meles was in Hospital.
Bikyanews reported at the time citing an unnamed Egyptian ministry of water and irrigation official that with the combination of Egypt’s new President Morsi and the potential of seeing a new leader in Ethiopia, they hoped the tension over Nile River water could be resolved. “I believe that there would be more maneuvering with a new leadership in Ethiopia because there would be the ability to communicate and not be seen as antagonistic”.
Many Ethiopians asked if the commenter doesn’t know the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam is a dream of generations not a personal issue of Meles.
However, old-styled officials in Cairo continued to make similar unhelpful remarks, while Ethiopians were mourning for Meles, electing new leaders and pledging to realize his vision,
The latest came on November, (reported on the LosAngels Times), an advisor to the president [Morsi] quoted in Al Ahram Weekly said this of Morsi: “The man was shocked when he received a review about the state of ties we have with Nile basin countries. The previous regime should be tried for overlooking such a strategic interest.”
Concerned Ethiopians started asking what is the matter with Cairo and the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote a letter demanding clarification on the matter and its implication on the the two countries’ relation.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister immediately affirmed that there is no change in policy, the remarks on media do not represent the government’s position and that it will effort to mitigate media reporting that are unhelpful to state level cooperation and people-to-people relations.
The Egyptians seem to have kept their words so far. In the past 3 or 4 months, there was hardly negative remark from Cairo.
In fact, news reports are about the International Panel on the Renaissance dam’s meetings, about Egypt’s invitation for Foreign Minister Tewodros, about visit by Egypt diplomacy institute to Addis, about Egyptian investors, and similar healthy matters.
On the other hand, Ethiopians remained committed to cooperation on Nile issues, while building the Renaissance dam with unwavering commitment.
Many are started pledging to contribute their salary for the second time. In fact, they are planning to celebrate the second year of the dam project which is now almost 14% complete.
It seemed this calm and constructive relation will continue for the next several months, even years. However, this month there were two developments from unexpected corners.
The spoilers were the remarks from Saudi Arabian Prince Khaled bin Sultan and Prof. Al-Mariam (Alemayehu Gebremariam), who is the defacto ideologue of the Ethiopian extremists and board member of ESAT.
Prince Khaled bin Sultan, deputy Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, came out of nowhere and made ear-piercing statements about the
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam a few weeks ago.
Speaking at the Arab Water Council meeting in Cairo Egypt, the Prince said:
“The [Grand] Renaissance dam has its capacity of flood waters reaching more than 70 billion cubic meters of water, and is located at an altitude of 700 meters and if it collapsed then Khartoum will drown completely and the impact will even reach the Aswan Dam”.
“Egypt is the most affected party from the Ethiopian Renaissance dam because they have no alternative water source compared to other Nile Basin countries and the establishment of the dam 12 kilometers from the Sudanese border is for political plotting rather than for economic gain and constitutes a threat to Egyptian and Sudanese national security”.
“There are fingers messing with water resources of Sudan and Egypt which are rooted in the mind and body of Ethiopia. They do not forsake an opportunity to harm Arabs without taking advantage of it”.
“The establishment of the dam leads to the transfer of water supply from the front of Lake Nasser to the Ethiopian plateau, which means full Ethiopian control of every drop of water, as well as [causing] an environmental imbalance stirring seismic activity in the region as a result of the massive water weight laden with silt withheld in front of the dam, estimated by experts at more than 63 billion tonnes”.
Prince Khaled bin Sultan’s statements were a complete surprise to the Ethiopian people, government and other observers.
Firstly, it was none of his business as his country is not located in the Nile basin.
Secondly, Egypt and Sudan are not under Saudi Arabia’s protectorate rather sovereign countries with their own re-unowned water experts.
Thirdly, the Nile basin countries including Egypt and Sudan have set-up more than one bilateral and multilateral forums to sort out issues pertaining to the utilization of the Nile waters and the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam.
Fourth and equally important point is that Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia’s trade relation is at its best in years. When the Prince made that statement, the Trade Minister was preparing for his meeting with PM Hailemariam that week, where he signed a host of economic agreements with Ethiopian officials.
Therefore, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry summoned the Saudi Ambassador in Addis Ababa and demanded explanation about Prince Khaled bin Sultan’s unacceptable and shocking remarks.
The Ambassador claimed the remarks do not reflect his government’s position and promised to bring clarification from his government. Few days later, the Saudi Arabia Foreign Ministry issued a conciliatory statement that reads: “Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs has confirmed the deep-rooted and long standing relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Ethiopia.
He said: ‘The first Hijra (migration) in Islam was to Abyssinia, and the ties between the people of the two countries have had a long standing and prestigious history.’
In a press statement today, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said: I have seen development of relations with Abyssinia, which culminated right now to reach an excellent level of cooperation in various fields, citing the significant widening trade between the two countries. He indicated the Kingdom’s investments in Ethiopia.
Prince Saud Al-Faisal also noted that Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Ethiopia are working to calm the situation in the Horn of Africa.”
Though the statement doesn’t seem satisfactory, it was seen as a sign that the hostile remarks are not Saudi’s official position.
Understandably, the Ethiopian government chose to peruse the matter through quite diplomacy. As Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Ambassador Dina Mufti said at the time “you can’t conduct diplomacy matters through media”.
In fact, having seen the scale of Saudi investment and cooperation with Ethiopia, many believed the Prince is a wanna-be Nile expert using an outdated information and not fully aware that the Egyptians moved to more rational ways of managing the Nile water issues, at least officially.
However, one specific remark of the Prince, which was not widely reported, seemed a bit odd. The Saudi Arabia Press Agency reported at the time:
“Addressing the session, the Prince pointed out that there are factors and external challenges that adversely affect the management of water resources in the Arab region, including potential conflicts on shared water due to the non-existence of joint binding agreements
The Prince asked if legislations which are firm and binding in drafting are sufficient in achieving justice in the distribution of water resources or they must be backed by military force if necessary.”
These remarks were alarming and confusing at the same time. Why would a Saudi Prince would talk about military options, while it is obvious it will not be the primary participant of such endeavor.
Indeed, it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia could even think of any more military adventure, as it is engaged in proxy wars in Syria and also heavily involved in Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon and Iraq.
Though the Prince’s statement were disappointing and unacceptable, many Ethiopians soon started shifting their attention to other development issues.
They have seen several remarks being used in the past to undermine their morale when they built the Tana Beles and Tekeze dams on Blue Nile tributaries and the soon-to-completed Gibe III dam.
It was at this time that the chief priest of Ethiopian extremist and ESAT’s board member Prof. Al-Mariam (Alemayehu Gebremariam) entered the scene with bombarding statements to save the day.
With so many words, Al-Mariam prophesied the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam will not be built.
Then, he boastfully declared: “What will Egypt will do if Meles’ “Grand Renaissance Dam” is in fact built? “Simple.” They will use dam busters to smash and trash it”