The Renaissance Dam Proof of Competence


By Hanan Ali

Ethiopia has always had the wits for good foreign policy. This is manifested by the fact that Ethiopia got the diplomatic support of the international community, particularly South Sudan, Sudan and most likely Egypt, states that at one point objected to the construction of the once controversial Renaissance dam on the Nile River.

The victory is earned by the patient and consistent diplomatic efforts Ethiopia had put in even before the launching of the construction of the Renaissance dam. The diplomatic works are traced back to the founding of the Nile Basin Initiative which created a common vision among Nile riparian states; “achieve sustainable socioeconomic development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.”[.

Fortunately for the upper stream states, the initiative gave birth to the Entebbe Agreement signed by all but one of them. Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia signed the agreement whereas Democratic Republic of Congo remains undecided. South Sudan has also disclosed its intention to join the upper riparian states.

The agreement is a huge success for the African states took a significant leap forward in guaranteeing their peoples’ right to development. It is a revolutionary step that must have taken quite a courage to embark on and each state must be applauded for it. And orchestrating it was Ethiopia, a nation that for so long dreamed of but never realized taming the wild Abay (Nile) for domestic development purposes.

It had never been in a position to utilize the Nile; during none of the previous regimes has Ethiopia gotten close to ripping the fruits of the river. The most proximate it got was having had researches made by the Americans during Emperor Haile Silassie’s rule, nothing beyond. Owing to the continuous economic growth that Ethiopia has registered in the past decade or more, its energy demand has more than doubled and it was inevitable that Ethiopia resorted to the most efficient source of energy in the circumstances, hydroelectric power. Having built its capacity and being fit for the task for the first time in its history, Ethiopia launched the construction of the Renaissance dam in the faith that it shall be completed with or without financial aid and approval of those concerned.

This, not by lack of respect for the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement but because as per its article 4(2)d, the technical findings by Ethiopian researchers suggested that the dam posed no threat to the interests of the lower riparian states and in fact in the long run, that it was beneficial.

Accordingly, on May 28th Ethiopia announced its diversion of the Nile from its natural course, a routine step at a certain point of the construction of dams. This led to the outrageous Egyptian verbal assault against Ethiopia driven by the incomprehendable fear that the volume of water reaching Egypt might be significantly reduced. The news of the diversion apparently had the Egyptians throw off their civilized mask and had them show their real selves, at least temporarily.

Mursi and his cabinet were caught off guard rambling what could only be described as disrespectful; not to Ethiopia but to the whole concept of diplomacy, the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement in particular and Africa in general, degrading to Egypt as well.

There were unequivocal and express threats of war made by Egyptian officials and a few of their experts propagated that war is the only way that survival could be secured. As stated earlier, Mursi gave a speech that could have jeopardized the diplomatic ties with Ethiopia, had the latter gave the proportional response.

In his speech that had a completely different agenda than secure the “water the fruit of which Egypt is” Mursi equated a drop of the Nile to a drop of Egyptian blood. He called on Egyptians to unite in front of the greatest danger that their country could ever face; the siphoning off of the Nile. International media outlets gave his pseudo patriotic war provoking speech a huge coverage. From such an irresponsible move, some speculated some sort of measure by Egypt against the Renaissance dam, it was feared that the verbal assault could be escalated to actual conflict.

Some Egyptians suggested that their government gave an end to the Renaissance dam in the soonest possible time. While others insisted that Egypt instrumented all diplomatic means to obstruct the Ethiopian project on the Nile as Ethiopia was not in need of it. This group of Egyptians maintained that Ethiopia had alternative rivers to exploit and that its existence did not depend on the Nile as did Egypt’s. Almasr Elyoum, an Egyptian news site reported that Geographic and Legal experts have warned that Addis Ababa is planning to exterminate Egyptians. Among these was the Egyptian Geographical Expert Dr. Abbas Sheraky who held that the Renaissance dam was basically intended for political consumption and that the amount of mega watt it produces is way beyond Ethiopia’s need.

A certain Abdallah Asha’al, an expert of International Law, recommended that Egypt used its diplomatic means to draw Israel, Italy, China and the U.S. away from Ethiopia leaving the latter helpless and unable to finish the project; with the faulty presumption that Ethiopia relied on these states to undertake the construction of the project.

Also, the former Water resources and Irrigation Minister Dr. Mohamed Nesreddin Allam suggested that Egypt should object to and stand in the face of any projects on the Nile in Ethiopia since the latter contributes to up to 85% of the waters of the Nile, thus making the impact of dams in Ethiopia significantly harmful to Egypt’s share. At least Mr. Allam was generous enough not to deny the overwhelming contribution Ethiopia makes to the Nile River.

As for the diplomatically unsavvy speech Mursi gave in his failed attempt to avert the then upcoming ouster from power, it only earned him more anger from the majority Egyptians who by then were better aware of the Nile agenda than before. Most Egyptians have come to realize that the issue of the Nile had been abused by successive leaders to divert their attentions from the more crucial domestic issues of economic development, equitable growth and the like.

Ethiopia easily perceived this struggle of Mursi’s to hang on to power, so it did not make much fuss over the provoking speech. It only asserted that nothing could stand the way of its construction of the Renaissance dam on the Nile and that peace was in the best interest of both sides. Had Ethiopia been as hot tempered as the situation demanded, it is difficult to imagine what the consequences would have been.

As for those Egyptians who insisted that Ethiopia did not need the dam that is being constructed on the Nile, who said Ethiopia could not be the “new fruit” of the Nile as has been Egypt for this long? Who said that Ethiopia could not rewrite its history of under development and kiss poverty good bye with the help of its mighty river Abay? Here is news to those Egyptians who claim that Ethiopia had other alternative rivers than the Nile: the Nile is the best alternative under the circumstances for the amount of energy it generates and its geographical convenience for construction. With the pace of economic growth Ethiopia is making the Nile now is as crucial to Ethiopia as it has been to Egypt.

The MW that the Renaissance dam produces is intended to expand the electricity coverage and to help narrow the gap between the demand and supply that ever increases. And if the circumstances allow Ethiopia would export electricity to neighboring states. That would be a very helpful income for Ethiopia in light of decreasing the trade balance deficit and in enhancing its campaign of war on poverty.

Thus it should be underlined and understood that Ethiopia’s Renaissance project sees a lot far beyond than the alleged political consumption that is doomed to be short lived. It should be affirmed that the Renaissance dam is intended only for developmental and anti poverty consumption. The diplomatic ploy to cut Ethiopia off partners and have it handicapped is not going to work for two reasons. One is that the construction of the Renaissance dam was not launched counting on foreign aid.

It is with the faith that it will be completed by the contribution of Ethiopians the project got underway. And to this day, Ethiopians everywhere are purchasing bonds to show their allegiance to the brighter future the Ethiopian leadership is trying to secure. On the other hand, Egypt, unfortunately, had lost its diplomatic charm among the international community and particularly among the partners mentioned (Israel, Italy, China and the US) because it failed to produce concrete evidence supporting its woes of water interest infringement.

The harmlessness of the Renaissance project to Egyptian and Sudanese water interests has been established first by Ethiopian experts and later on by a tripartite technical committee to which Egypt and Sudan were parties. The committee subsequently confirmed the findings of the Ethiopian experts upon which Ethiopia based its launching of the project.

The technical committee asserted that Ethiopia’s construction of the dam will have no adverse effect on the Egyptian and Sudanese interest on the Nile. The report further stated that the construction of the Renaissance dam will benefit the two lower riparian states by minimizing water volume fluctuations that result in flooding every year in Sudan. Also, the dam was accredited for saving the amount of water that evaporates in the desert in Egypt’s favor.

Egyptian geologists insisted that the area where the Renaissance dam is built is prone to tectonic activities and that there is always the chance of the dam collapsing inflicting a tremendous damage on Sudan and Egypt. This postulate was annulled by Ethiopian experts’ revealing that the area of the project was away from the tectonic activity prone region of the rift valley. In fact, the project is undertaken in the part of the country where igneous rock mountains are prevalent, making it least susceptible to tectonic activities.

With all the doubts cleared about the nature and consequence of the renaissance dam it’s only reasonable to expect that Egypt would soon join the bloc as did the rest of the Nile River Basin states. Many enlightened Egyptians suggested that violence was no way to handle Egypt’s difference with Ethiopia over the Nile and negotiations were much profitable.

them were those who urged their government to follow an equitable use policy over the Nile as attempting to maintain the status quo would amount to challenging the natural course of things, i.e., change was inevitable and the demand of the time. There were also those who urged for improved diplomatic relation with the so far neglected African continent pointing that it resulted in the Egyptian diplomatic loss of the Nile controversy.

In all these events the extraordinary competence of the Ethiopian diplomatic community stands out. From the earliest stages of harmonizing the upper stream states in equitable use of the Nile to its deaf ear to the Egyptian clamor of war threat and its focus on getting the Renaissance job done, the Ethiopian leadership is worthy of a prize.