Grand Renaissance Dam Essential for Africa’s Economic Growth
Lawrence K Freeman
October 14, 2019
Completion and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam-(GERD) will profoundly affect not only the future of Ethiopia, but all of the Horn of Africa, and the entire African continent. It reflects the bold visionary thinking that characterizes Ethiopia’s unwavering determination to eradicate poverty in the second largest nation on the continent with 103 million people. Ethiopia has been a leader in economic growth for the last decade due to its unparalleled commitment to constructing new infrastructure projects. Although an emerging nation, Ethiopia with assistance from China, completed the Addis-Ababa to Djibouti railroad in October 2016. This is the first and only electrified rail line in sub-Saharan Africa- (SSA), reducing travel time from several days by truck to hours by rail, effectively freeing Ethiopia from the limitations of a landlocked nation via Djibouti’s port.
Ethiopia’s former Prime Minster, Meles Zenawi, who conceptualized the developmental state, proposed building a dam on the Blue Nile, laying the first foundation stone on April 2, 2011. Thus, initiating the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile that will be the largest in Africa. The GERD will be 175 meters tall, 1,800 meters wide, with a reservoir of 79 billion cubic meters-(BCM), more than twice the size of the Hoover Dam in the US. It will have the potential to generate upwards of 6,200 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Upon completion, Ethiopia will be the largest net exporter of electricity in Africa with transmission lines to its neighbors that include Sudan, South Sudan, and Kenya. Ethiopia will also become second only to South Africa in power generation in SSA, as it strives to achieve its interim goal of producing 15,000 MW. The GERD, self-financed by bonds sold to the Ethiopian people, is not only a source of tremendous pride, but an indispensable component of Ethiopia’s resolve to expand its manufacturing sector and become a “middle income” nation by 2025. A nation must have abundant and accessible electricity in order to power an industrialized economy. With more than 60% of its population deprived of access to electricity, and energy demands growing every year, Ethiopia wisely realized that utilizing the potential hydro-power of the Blue Nile to drive its economic growth was not an option; but a necessity.
Sovereignty Superior to Colonialism
Egypt is accusing Ethiopia of violating the 1959 agreement for utilization of water from the Nile River, which stipulated that 55.5 BCM of waters be allocated to Egypt, 18.5 BCM to Sudan and that no other nation could interfere with the flow of water in the Nile. There is no basis in law or physical topography for Ethiopia to adhere to this agreement for the following reasons:
The 1959 water agreement is a rewrite of the British imperialist 1929 water treaty, when Egypt was a British colony that governed Sudan under the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1899-1956).
The Blue Nile flowing from Lake Tana in the Ethiopian highlands that joins the White Nile in Khartoum, provides 85% of the Nile water as it travels north through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.
Ethiopia, as an independent nation that was never colonialized, was not a signatory to either water agreement.
Ethiopia has the sovereign right and obligation to utilize its natural resources, in this case water, to improve the living conditions of its people.
The Nile River, although the longest in the world at 6,650 kilometers, is not the most voluminous. Historically, the Nile was the only water way to cross the Sahara Desert from SSA. Today ten nations in Eastern and Central Africa are part of the Nile Basin with their total population approaching 500 million, whose present and future needs exceed the 84 BCM of Nile water. For development of the Nile Basin, it is urgently required that:
a new approach to water management for the region, which supersedes the archaic colonial agreement.
a new system for generating additional water. A crash program to create billions of cubic meters of fresh water through desalination is an obvious solution.
In essence, a “second Nile” must be created. Nuclear energy, utilizing its higher heat source, would be ideal for removing salt through evaporation, and, equally as important, supplying thousands of megawatts of power to energy-starved nations.
Shared Common Interest
The Declaration of Principles, signed in Khartoum on March 23, 2015 by the heads of state of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia calls for cooperation among the three nations to resolve disputes concerning the GERD among themselves. The report states: “The Three Countries shall cooperate on the basis of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, mutual benefit and good faith in order to attain optimal utilization and adequate protection of the River.”
The shared vision of the Nile Basin should be to promote prosperity for all the nations involved. The common shared interest of the upstream and downstream nations is one and the same: to uplift millions of Africans out of poverty and present the expanding youth population with economic opportunities to obtain a meaningful and productive life that secures a future for their families.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shourky warned Ethiopia: “Ethiopia’s moving forward with the operation and filling of the Renaissance Dam is unacceptable and a clear violation of the Declaration of Principles and will have negative consequences for stability in the region.” Within Egypt threats of military action have recently resurfaced, but such unwarranted aggression is highly unlikely, and would be roundly condemned by the international community.
According to Xinhua News, Egypt is looking for the United States to play an “international instrumental role,” a position presently not supported by the US State Department. Egypt’s attempt to bring in an outside party to mediate disputes concerning the Nile waters is in direct violation of the Declaration of Principles.
Exercising its sovereign rights, Ethiopia has already completed 60% of the construction of the GERD, and although there have been delays, it is expected to begin producing electricity by the end of 2020. Egypt has no choice but to accept this reality and continue to engage discussions regarding the management of the Nile. There are substantive legitimate issues respecting the effects of the GERD on Egypt, a downstream nation that is almost totally dependent on Nile water. However, Ethiopia’s sovereignty over the Blue Nile is inviolate. In 2018 the National Independent Scientific Research Group-(NISRG) was established to discuss the filling of the dam’s reservoir. The NISRG consisting of scientists from Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia, has met several times, and has reported to the Minister of Water Affairs of each nation.
How many years will it take to fill the GERD’s reservoir, and what will be the flow rate of the Nile at the Aswan Dam, are yet to be resolved. These are technical matters that scientists and engineers must continue to examine in an atmosphere of good will and good faith. Such cooperation is essential to promote the common interests of all nations for a prosperous Nile Basin.
Lawrence Freeman is a Political Economic Analyst for Africa with thirty years of experience in Africa promoting infrastructure development policies.
Mahmood Mamdani raises proactive questions on the role ethnicity in Africa and Ethiopia in particular. (See excerpts and article below).
Africa has been plagued to this day by two legacies from colonialism (British): 1) the intentional failure to build infrastructure; 2) the deliberate fostering of ethnicity. Historical literature is replete with evidence of the British creation of ethnic and/or native administrative units as a central feature of their divide and rule colonial policy. Lord Frederick Lugard, who authored the infamous “indirect rule” stratagem, implemented his scheme in Nigeria when he became the Govern General Nigeria in 1914, and ruled the North and South differently. Similarly, the British cultivated the North versus South conflict in Sudan with their separate Southern policy exemplified by their 1922 Passport and Ordinance Act. There are more examples available.
Accentuating ethnic, tribal, religious, and geographical distinctions is used as a means to thwart the creation of sovereign Nation States, particularly in Africa. A functioning Nation State is not founded on a collection of minorities, or even a majority. Instead, it is created on principles that define its responsibilities to provide for the general welfare of its citizens and their posterity, which must include nurturing the creative potential of each child. Nation States transcend differences within their populations by uniting all their people in a common mission, not only to develop their nation, but to contribute to the future of mankind as well.
Ethiopia uniquely evaded colonization with its 1896 military victory against the Italian army in Adwa, led by Menelik II. Yet as Mamdani points out, Ethiopian Federalism accommodates ethnicity, which is divisive today, and is being used to undermine the central-federal government. By following the core economic thesis of Meles Zenawi’s “Developmental State” Ethiopia has embarked on a bold campaign to transform their country through government directed investment in infrastructure, while protecting their economy from being invaded by foreign financial predators. As a result of Ethiopia’s relative success among African nations in performing this necessary Nation State function, it has become the “enemy” to those forces-internal and external-that oppose development of African nations. Not surprisingly in the last six months there have been renewed efforts to liberalize-deregulate Ethiopia’s financial system in an attempt to weaken its commitment to the “Developmental State” model.
Therefore, the suggestion of a new kind of non-ethnic federalism is a conception that could lead to strengthening the institution of the Nation State in Africa.
“Ethiopians used to think of themselves as Africans of a special kind, who were not colonized, but the country today resembles a quintessential African system, marked by ethnic mobilization for ethnic gains.
In most of Africa, ethnicity was politicized when the British turned the ethnic group into a unit of local administration, which they termed “indirect rule.” Every bit of the colony came to be defined as an ethnic homeland, where an ethnic authority enforced an ethnically defined customary law that conferred privileges on those deemed indigenous at the expense of non-indigenous minorities.
An interesting book worth reading by Mahmood Mamdani is: “Saviors and survivors.” It about Sudan and Darfur, but also discusses the creation of ethnic groups.
On June 28, thousands upon thousands of smiling Ethiopians poured into the Washington DC convention center to listen to their new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. They began gathering in the morning hours before the noon starting time of the event. Standing for hours, on a line that snaked around the convention center, with the last of the crowd finally entering the hall at 3pm. I was fortunate to witness this joyous occasion. The entire ground floor hall of the convention center was filled, as far as the eye could see, by the Ethiopian community that came to celebrate the new leadership of their nation.
Only three days earlier on July 26, in Addis Ababa, Simegnew Bekele, the chief engineer of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam-GERD, was found murdered in his car. His assassination was followed by a large funeral at Meskel Square where he was mourned by tens of thousands. His body was taken to Holy Trinity Church where he was honored by being buried alongside Emperor Haile Selassie, and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The juxtaposition of these events, an ocean apart, foretell the challenging course ahead for Ethiopia. A future brimming with optimism, but fraught with danger. There is more than symbolism involved.
Progress Under Attack
Engineer Bekele, in the minds of Ethiopians, embodied a true patriotic spirit, who led their nation forward. He will be remembered for his lasting commitment to develop Ethiopia into growing sovereign economy in the Horn of Africa. Before overseeing the construction of the GERD in 2011, he worked on the Gibe I and II dams. The completed Gibe III hydro-electric project generating 1,872 megawatts, has doubled Ethiopia’s power supply. When the construction of the GERD- 6,450 megawatts-is finished, Ethiopia will be the second largest producer of electricity in Sub-Sahara Africa behind South Africa. The multi billion-dollar GERD, is being built with help of China, but financed by Ethiopia. The GERD is on the Blue Nile close to the border of Sudan and will be the biggest dam in Africa at 1.8 kilometers wide and 155 meters high.
Ethiopia’s ambitions to create a modern-advanced economy and lift its 100 million people out of poverty is evident in its commitment to also expand its rail and road infrastructure. The operational Addis-Ababa to Djibouti electrified train (the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa) will transport manufactured goods from Ethiopia’s industrial parks, to the port of Djibouti for export. Their Growth Transformation Plan II (2014-2019) emphasizes Ethiopia’s intention to expand its manufacturing sector by 25%.
It is Ethiopia’s unwavering devotion to progress to “eliminate poverty, not manage it” that is the real target of Simegnew Bekel’s assassination.
(Artist drawing of completed GERD, whose completion will allow Ethiopia to become an energy exporter)
Abiy’s Life Threatened
In a mere four months since assuming office in April of this year, the 42-year-old Prime Minster has created a fervor in the population, causing waves of unbridled excitement, not seen since the overthrow of the bloody Derg regime in 1991 by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front led by Meles Zinawi. In what is being called a revolution, Prime Minister Abiy has released thousands of political prisoners, reached out to all ethnic regions of the nation, and unexpectedly ended the state of war with Eritrea in a ceremony held in the Eritrean capital Asmara on July 8. By taking this giant step to normalize relations with its neighbor Eritrea after a generation of armed hostility, Prime Minster Abiy has now become a living symbol for peace and security in the Horn of Africa.
Let us not forget that a month before coming to the United States, Prime Minister Abiy escaped an assassination attempt when a grenade was thrown at a rally where he addressed millions of his fellow citizens. Although he was not harmed, over one hundred were wounded and two died from this attack on June 23, in Addis Ababa’s famous Meskel Square.
Steeped in the ideas of Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia, unique among African nations, has demonstrated an understanding of principles fundamental to economic growth. To wit: the necessity for the state to direct public credit into vital categories of infrastructure necessity for the economic security of a nation (dirigisme). The government not only has the right, but the obligation to intervene into the economy to foster “pro-growth” polices that benefit the general welfare of its people. Ethiopia’s relative success in this effort has produced enemies internally, regionally, and internationally, who oppose any progress towards achieving economic stability in the Horn of Africa. Economic independence by Africa nations challenges the dominance of financial predators, who still view Africa as a pawn on their “geo-political” chessboard.
Ethiopia Should Stay the Course
For many years there has been enormous pressure by the international financial community including the IMF to force Ethiopia to “liberalize” its economy by; decentralizing its economy, reducing regulations, allowing foreign investment in state-owned enterprises, and deregulating its banking system. Thus far Ethiopia has resisted, but under increasing duress, there are reports that some in the leadership of Ethiopia may be ready to open the floodgates to intrusions by international financiers, who are not interested in the welfare of the citizens.
Ethiopia, a poor country that suffered from a wrecked economy twenty-five years ago, has emerged as a leader on the Sub-Saharan continent. Ethiopia’s commitment to expanding its physical infrastructure has served the nation well, though it still faces serious impediments. Providing meaningful employment for the 500,000-young people, who are seeking to join the work force each year will remain a significant challenge. However, Ethiopia should not permit itself to be coerced into deviating from its thus far successful economic policy.
“Can Ethiopia be Africa’s leading manufacturing hub?”
August 24, 2017=BBC
With Ethiopia having the second biggest population in Africa, it is under growing pressure to tackle unemployment. The BBC’s Alastair Leithead visited the country to find out how it is tackling the problem.
The factory workers sing Ethiopia’s national anthem in unison as one shift ends and another prepares to begin.
Outside, a fleet of passenger buses pulls into Hawassa Industrial Park, as thousands of textile workers – most of them women – switch places.
The new arrivals take up their stations behind sewing machines, ironing boards and cutting tables as the shirts and suits start taking shape.
The park, claimed to be the biggest in Africa, is 140 hectares (350 acres) of factories, with a water treatment plant and its own textile mill.
Six months after opening in southern Ethiopia, 10,000 people already work here, and at full capacity it is expected to provide 60,000 jobs.
Interview With Bereket Simon: Ethiopia Adopts Rapid Development Approach
November 24, 2014
This is a philosophy which we have tried to learn from the world at large, and specifically also from the East Asian areas—actually from those countries that have shown a rapid development for the last 50-60 years. To a large extent, we have a similar philosophy in relation to the rapid development of the country, as well as a different approach to the democratization of the country. Our philosophy is that of the development of the democratic state, which was espoused by our late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. We give much attention to role of the state as the leading institution for bringing about rapid development, the transformation critical for the creation of a large and very strong private sector, and government assistance in unleashing the productive potential for the public at large.