When the news of the death of Chief Engineer of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, GERD, Simegnew Bekele was posted on some news websites of July 26, 2018, a wave of horror and shock was experienced among millions of Ethiopians. They considered it as if something that had to do with their sovereignty had been encroached upon.
Engineer Simegnew may have considered himself as an ordinary citizen despite his enormous responsibilities but he was yes a simple person, as genuine and frank as any individual could be but what you could see in his eyes was his fervent commitment to bring to completion the massive project that involved every citizen. He sensed he was the representation of a project which every Ethiopian considered as their 'child'. He knew he was the representation of a sense of strength and might in carrying out such a huge project. He was the representation of a sense of victory against the archaic that Ethiopians could not do something worthwhile without the aid of some foreign element. Indeed, he was the representation of the might of all Ethiopians in trying to take care of their own business on their own terms and not submitting to some foreign blackmail or influence.
In fact, when the GERD project was first initiated, it was also meant to be a 'symbol of national unity' and most of all, it had this great value of creating a consensus among all the peoples of the country.
However, it was not free of controversies from multiple fronts. The most challenging of them all came from the lower riparian countries who felt they could be threatened with the decrease of the level of the waters.
The dam itself was projected to produce the largest hydropower energy on the continent. Some people say that it would not be easy not to sympathize with the people who live in the lower riparian countries, sensing their worries, but at the same time, the fate of more than a hundred million people in Ethiopia who have been suffering from biting poverty due to the ill use of their natural resources one of which is the Nile, can hardly be overlooked.
In a way, these are really issues of sovereignty and the Ethiopian government, ever since the intention to build this dam was born, it had the argument that there could not be any force that would deny it its natural right to use the waters of its own rivers without violating international laws.
The government has argued that it has reviewed all colonial treaties around the Nile and the greatest mistake they all show is that they did not even consult properly the source country of the river to fix those colonial treaties pretending that Ethiopia did not even exist as a sovereign state! Such negation has several implications. The 21st century reality is quite different and justice is no more the monopoly of the few. One can assert that the world cannot be governed by might any more but rather by the rule of law. Even though there may still be episodes and traces of the mentality that 'might is right' and 'the rule of the jungle' may reign, however, in our digital age of globalization, it receives more condemnation than accommodation or admiration.
Hence, despite controversies and at times outright declarations of war or hostilities from certain extremist quarters from lower riparian countries, Ethiopia has proceeded with the project and after seven years, the stage of completion has reportedly reached 60%.
For some however this is not the right status of the project and more must have been achieved in such span of time. They argue that there could be many unclear issues regarding the running of such huge project.
Engineer Simegnew Bekele has been the only spokesperson of the project and he was the one who has been engaged in giving any sort of explanation and clearing on the work in progress. He was the only person who served as a guide to the site and he was the depositary of several items of information that could be considered more or less sensitive if not confidential.
Engineer Simegnew was the one who was constantly and regularly engaged with press conferences and statements to guests and journalists as regards the developments. He was the one who probably knew every aspect of the contracts handed out, the level of funds raised, used and needed and the future plans for any adaptations. That is why it would not be unfounded speculation if such person could be in the target of someone who may not be in complete agreement with what was going on. This is what many were speculating on certain social media outlets regarding the tragic and unexpected death of the Engineer.
Engineer Simegnew may not be expected to have any enemies among the large masses of Ethiopians because he is the personification of their dreams. He had the admiration, appreciation and support of all Ethiopians. Someone who knew him was telling me that he was just a hardworking field worker and he did not even feel the need to have any security escort believing that his life would be threatened. He travelled quite often and used many times his own four wheel drive personally and alone. It may be hard to imagine that there could be some crazy person who would desire his death! He left his family at home and travelled to the sites for years on end beginning with the Gibe Hydropower Project and continuing with the current GERD project. He was accustomed to withstanding the harsh climatic conditions of the site and used to tease visitors who complained about the weather. This man was faithful to his dream and had accepted and carried all that burden for years.
Many observers were heard asserting that was why his death by a bullet sounds like an assassination rather than anything else. That is why his death can be taken as an attempt on all patriotic Ethiopians who dream of their country being a self-reliant economy. The place where he was found dead or dumped is also another indication that there is a clear and loud message from somewhere. The same observers remark that it may also signal the existence of serious disagreements on the way the project had been managed. This may sound as pure speculation by certain people but it is also equally hard to dismiss it totally without doing some investigation.
Some argue that there may have been people whose interests might have been threatened by the voice of this committed manager who may have preferred to reject any pressure or even blackmail to his integrity. Observers hope that all these mysteries may one day be deciphered and revealed to the public. After all, the GERD is not only Ethiopian, but also international.
Such disclosure might entail national security issues. The public in the meantime has expressed its anger and craves for the speedy solution of the mystery. There were several cases of loud and angry protests immediately after the body was found on the same day and that continued even on the day his body was laid to rest. They shouted "Justice to Engineer!"
Police have not yet given any clear explanations on the dynamics of the death of the Engineer. There are some people who dare to relate that with the attempt carried out at the same central square on June 24 when a hand grenade was thrown on the public.
Clearly, these are complex and intense days in our country's recent history. Changes are being experienced in the political atmosphere in an unprecedented manner with an unprecedented pace compared to what had been taking place during the last three or more decades. A new air is being breathed but there are also agonizing episodes such as the mysterious death of Engineer Simegnew Bekele and the attempt made at Maskal Square during the huge rally in support of the new leadership.
Meanwhile, nationals have the consolation that the social and diplomatic successes of the new leadership are progressing very fast. Even amidst serious challenges, the leaders of the country are now creating a new atmosphere of peace and reconciliation among all Ethiopians across the world and the recent trip of the prime minister and his group to the US where they met the thousands of diaspora community can be mentioned here as a huge success.
Trying to 'bridge the gap demolishing the wall' of hatred and suspicions between Ethiopians here and those in the diaspora, between the government and the communities abroad has been blessed with immense success. The prime minister has said that the new leadership has smashed the wall and is building new bridges so that all Ethiopians throughout the world will live under one umbrella without making an issue their ethnic or religious background. 'The age of hatred and violence must end and the new bridge of love and understanding should be built on the debris of the walls of hate and division' is the core message. After Eritrea and Ethiopia have signed a declaration of peace, the agreement reached to reunite the divided Orthodox Synods and the return home of the Fourth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church along with its synod can be considered as a massive historic achievement for the new leadership headed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.