Grand Renaissance Dam Essential for Africa’s Economic Growth

Artist rendition of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam-GERD

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.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Awarded Nobel Peace Prize 2020 (Courtesy of MGN.TV)

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.

Pres. Trump: Don’t Lose Sudan

Sahalian-Sahara Railroad From Port Sudan Will Transform Sudan & Africa

On October 12, 2017 the Trump administration announced the partial lifting of sanctions against the nation of Sudan to allow the government and people of Sudan to participate in the international banking system to promote trade and economic growth. Over the last twenty years since these financial, trade, and banking sanctions were imposed, Sudan has economically suffered. President’s Trump’s executive order easing restrictions on Sudan created a new mood of optimism, with the State Department indicating that this would be the beginning of new relations with Sudan. The State Department publicly mooted that this could be the first step to removing Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism in the future. However, after almost four months, the U.S. government has not facilitated the transfer of money for Sudan, which is contributing to the nation’s economic strife today.

Sudan Opens a Second Front

The failure by the U.S. to implement fully the easing sanction is the result of a conflict between President Trump’s agenda and dissident factions in the State Department, supported by many in the Congress, who are incapable of relinquishing their fanatical desire to have Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir removed from office.  These contradictions became obvious when Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan visited Khartoum on November 16, 2017, and conspicuously avoided meeting with President Bashir, using the excuse that the president of Sudan has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Even though the U.S. is not a member of the ICC, it is well known that previous administrations supported efforts to have President Bashir removed from office. The zealots of this international alliance for regime change, who have been behind this nefarious campaign for decades, reject even tentative overtures by President Trump to chart a new course for U.S.-Sudan relations. There are unconfirmed reports that the U.S. State Department, not the executive branch, is demanding the removal of President Bashir as a precondition for further progress in U.S.-Sudan relations including removing Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism.

One week following the diplomatic snub by Sullivan, the most senior State Department official to visit Khartoum, President Bashir shocked everyone in Washington, and many in Khartoum, when he visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on November 23.  This surprise move was not expected by Washington. Reflecting the sentiments of most Sudanese, especially in the ruling National Congress Party, that the U.S. once again was not acting in good faith, President Bashir made his very first visit to Russia. Fearing that the goalposts have been moved again, as they have been repeatedly, and that the regime-change faction is still desirous of his removal, President Bashir asked Russia for protection from aggressive acts by the U.S. Sudan’s Rapprochement With Russia

The two presidents discussed increased economic and military cooperation, including the possibility of Russia securing a military base on the Red Sea that forms the eastern border of Sudan. According to knowledgeable sources, President Bashir will continue to look forward to improved cooperation with the U.S. and the West, but simultaneously pursue a closer alliance with Russia.  President Bashir believes Russia’s veto on the United Nations Security Council, along with its military capability as demonstrated in Syria, will provide a bulwark against any future reckless policy against Sudan by the West.

U.S. Needs Sudan

For Sudan, there is no turning back from their “dual-front” policy with the world’s two superpowers, but it didn’t have to come to this. The failure to fully implement the easing of trade/financial sanctions after years of refusal by the U.S. to talk face-to-face with President Bashir, accompanied by the severe economic hardships suffered by the Sudanese people from U.S.-led sanctions, contributed to President Bashir’s first overture to Russia.

Sudan is strategically situated in East Africa in the Nile River system that connects sub-Saharan Africa to North Arica. Moreover, Sudan has for years been a valuable ally in the war against ISIS, providing useful intelligence to U.S. security forces. Also, it must be unequivocally stated, that there will be no solution to the crisis in South Sudan that the U.S. and Britain have contributed to, without the direct participation of the President of Sudan. Susan Rice, in charge of African policy in the second term of Bill Clinton’s Presidency is personally culpable for the horrific conditions in South Sudan today.  She and other so-called liberals hated Sudan’s leadership, and were fierce advocates for the creation of South Sudan. Their intention was to use South Sudan as part of their arsenal for regime change, without the slightest concern for the welfare of the people of South Sudan.

Sudan is a nation rich in mineral resources, and has large tracts of arable land, not yet under cultivation.  It has been known for decades, long before the creation of South Sudan in 2011, that Sudan had the potential to feed a billion people, about the size of sub-Saharan Africa’s population today. It should be recognized (if not admitted) that successive U.S. administrations have strategically failed in their policy towards Sudan, lacking a vision of how to participate with African nations to develop their huge wealth in land and in its people.

Africa needs huge investments in infrastructure to realize its potential in agriculture, industry, and manufacturing. Instead of the West fixating on extractive industries, i.e., gas, oil, and minerals, which have a minimal role in job creation, their focus should have been on railroads and energy. When the South-North and East-West railroads are finally built, their nexus will be in central Sudan. Trains carrying freight and people will be able to travel from Port Sudan on the Red Sea into West and Southern Africa, thus ensuring that Sudan will become a mega manufacturing-agricultural-transportation hub for the continent.

The Way Forward

There is a relatively easy path for President Trump to follow, to engage Sudan fruitfully. Port Sudan is already included on China’s Maritime Silk Road. China’s involvement in building infrastructure throughout the African continent is unparalleled. Were President Trump to join with China’s New Silk Road for Africa in vital infrastructure to Sudan, the U.S. would form new partnerships with Sudan and other African nations.

President Bashir demonstrated his ability to negotiate and compromise when he signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 with President George W. Bush to allow an independence referendum in South Sudan. This resulted in the peaceful separation of Sudan seven years ago, with Khartoum voluntarily giving up 75% of its oil production.  With this historical perspective in mind, President Trump can put U.S.-Sudan relations on a positive course by arranging for direct, if informal, talks with President Bashir, and carrying through on the easing of sanctions pertaining to trade, finance, and banking.  These actions will be well received in Khartoum and reciprocated.

Lawrence Freeman has been visiting and writing about Sudan for over 20 years, discussing economic development and US-Sudan relations with members of parliament, the NCP, and leaders of opposition parties.