18 February 2017

Ethiopia: Setting Non-Partisan Agenda On Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Photo: http://africanarguments.org
Artist's impression of the Renaissance Dam, under construction on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia.
analysis

Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn had discussed with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi while here, in Addis Ababa for the 28th African Union (AU) Summit. The two leaders had held thoroughly discussion focusing on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and building mutual trust, confidence and strengthening their bi-lateral ties.

In their joint statement the two leaders stated that Ethiopia and Egypt had agreed to continue to work together to enhance the relations of the two countries. The two leaders had stressed the need to widen the scope of cooperation in the spheres of politics, economy and security.

The leaders underscored the importance to burgeon achievements gained so far in the area of leadership and bi-lateral tie and decided to enhance mutual confidence. The leaders indicated that they are closely following the trilateral technical talks regarding GERD and reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen spirit of cooperation and mutual benefit.

Besides, the two leaders had stressed the need to strengthen closer communication and continuation of consultations regarding the impact assessment of GERD and engagement of companies elected to this purpose.

It has been six years since the construction of GERD has been commenced. The nation is providing all information about the development of GERD to stakeholders and neighboring countries. This clearly shows how GERD is being constructed in an accountable and transparent manner. In light of this, the nation has emphasized the importance of cooperation by all Nile riparian countries for further regional development.

In the contrary, as a beacon of partisanship and best instance of anti-Ethiopian sentiment, for so many years until now the International River Network (IRN), self-appointed "guardian" of all rivers of the world, has been leaving no stone unturned to subvert Ethiopia's efforts to develop its water resources and lift its vast and growing population out of poverty. This is manifested most glaringly in its incessant destructive campaign against the GERD initiated from the very first days when the idea of water resources development on the Nile was floated, including even through the Nile Basin Initiative.

It seems that the IRN wants to illegally and immorally sustain age-ravaged hegemony and colonial water treaty in the basin and entrench the Faustian colonial agreement of 1959 which allocated 18.5 and 55.5 billion m3 , between Sudan and Egypt respectively. Sticking to this colonial treaty, Sudan and Egypt had been opposing other upstream countries from undertaking development projects on Nile and implementing comprehensive agreements of equitable use of Nile water.

National Panel of Experts (NPoE) earlier stated that IRN is accuser, police, judge and jury all rolled into one. It determines for countries, particularly for developing and poor countries like Ethiopia, how to use water resources development projects in the "right" way. For these poverty-stricken countries, IRN has been high handedly and heavy handedly determining what is the most environmentally appropriate, most efficient and economical, and most beneficial for local, national and regional not only flora and fauna but also human communities too. What paternalism! What partisanship!

According to NPoE, by 2000 large scale dams were more than 40,000. As of 2006, they stood at over 50,000. Despite IRN's campaigns, big dams are multiplying, especially in the developing world. So, given these trends, it is deplorable to see IRN throwing its singled out curse and attack on Ethiopia and discouraging its progress.

NPoE stressed that Ethiopia has endured centuries of invasions and subversion by powers from far and close that aspired to control the headwaters of the Nile. Ethiopia has been prevented physically from accessing its water resources by keeping it busy with wars, direct or proxy wars. IRN's anti Ethiopia campaign is but a continuation of that history - by another means.

Absolutely, the stand of IRN has been an epitome of partisanship. Its opposition and publication of statements time and again proves ignorance and bias. Its ideas are unpalatable and unconscionable to common folk of Ethiopia, let alone professional Ethiopians well versed with water engineering and advising on GERD (any unsubstantiated and hostile propaganda against GERD and the Ethiopian people could not bring lasting benefit to the region as well).

Such inability to perceive reality, too much politicization and polarization, partisanship and negative report being made by numerous media institutions have been complicating the idea of utilizing Nile justifiably. Until now, the conflict angle has been overplayed, unbalanced and biased publication aggrandized by partizanship have been compounding the Nile impasse.

In this context, the opportunities and prospects of cooperation to use Nile to benefit all is totally neglected. And the absence of cooperation and shared management has been exacerbating challenges and threats of poverty and conflict to the inhabitants of Nile Basin.

Similarly, group mentality, intransigence and unheeding activity of self-professed journalists openly preaching to be radical nationalists is curbing free flow of unbiased information in the media out lets of the region. Hence, until recently, most of the discourse on the Nile has been dominated by reconstructive and egoistic national ambitions (likewise, some leaders reveal acute shortage of knowledge about the GERD and Nile. Their prime concerns have been political survival and short-term interest).

Amid this disparaging discourse, scholars advise, henceforth, the effort to employ Nile to justifiable benefit of all peoples of the Basin should be accompanied by basin-wide agenda and multi-national cooperation and management of Nile. And politicians should move the discourse of Nile and GERD from making it primarily political and security problem towards basin-wide benefit and wise resource management.

In addition, professional journalist are advised to focus on delving in to facts and counter balancing information and making it free from distortion, partisan bandwagon and red herring. Until now, considering the issue of Nile as predominant subject of national security has been worsening existing problem. Hence, every avenue should be explored for possible means and mechanisms to reconcile the irreconcilable and resolve contradiction between politicization and technicalization of Nile issues(indeed, no one denies the very fact that as home of over 400 million people, Nile could not be far from being political agenda and embellishment of talk of politicians).

In view of this very fact, researchers and academicians should cooperatively work with politicians in terms of deepening their understanding of the Nile and the GERD (and other regional issues as well). A growing and compelling body of research suggests that an urgent and coordinated action is needed to reverse the time-clawed and dangerous trend of Nile utilization (historical rights, acquired rights and established rights).

The media can inform the public about the short term and long term risks that the basin would face as long term strategist and farsighted developer. This way the media can play its critical role by exposing the risks in proceeding business as usual( not only for the present but also to the future generations as well).

The main role of the media should be providing balanced information to its audience. Its role is not different in the context of Nile Cooperation and the GERD. It should help Nile riparian and GERD discussants to enjoy meaningful participation and arrive at informed decision. The media shoulders extra responsibility due to the delicate nature of issues associated with trans-boundary rivers and its significance to affect many lives in numerous countries (national media outlets should on a regular basis inform, educate, inspire and mobilize the public about the benefit of Nile Cooperation, mutual benefits of mega projects like GERD and protecting the basin to lasting benefit).

Literally, the media can generate educated society and critically thinking generation. They can also help the creation of enlightened and bold leaders by mobilizing public support, influencing and shaping public opinion and perception through providing accurate information of the Nile and the GERD. The media can also highlight the comparative advantages to each country when implementing projects like GERD and how that can be exploited to mutual benefit.

Mass media could and should play constructive role by mobilizing the greater public in support of projects, so far as it has established benefit to the people of Nile Basin. Hence, media should critically investigate what is bane and boon to the public and harmonize its publication in line with its benefit to people.

Media is not expected to be shackled with partisanism. Hence, it is anticipated to publicize accurate and balanced information and set non-partisan agenda on Nile, GERD. Let the bygone, turbulent and embarrassing years of Nile utilization be history of dead fish that nobody likes to reckon. Let the future of Nile be superseded by history of cooperation and mutual benefit. To this end, the media is expected to preach peace, cooperation, mutual benefit and Nile management and protection to secure lasting benefit (media should not serve as trivial propaganda machine of politicians and publish unfounded stories; rather it should educate the public including policy-makers on what is real and beneficial).

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