BY AYELE YAREGAL

The visitors, with helmet, stood on the great wall and glimpsed towards the lake, which looks like copper sulphate. Their face demonstrates the fact that they are in an amazement mood as they were strongly immersed in the over all surrounding scenery. The timing of the visit in Pagumen, which identifies Ethiopia as the “Thirteenth Month of Sunshine” made the visit more remarkable and rather tantalizing.    

Majestically perched on the foot of Guba mountain range, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been visited by thousands of guests here and oversees. Among the recent guests who visited the site included guests from Regional Integration on Reasonable Utilization of the Nile and other dignitaries. These guests who were delegated from various areas to pay a visit to GERD couldn’t believe their eyes.

Among the guests of honor was a black gentleman who observed the wonders with excitement. This man is the former mayor of Nairobi and Chairperson of the Association of Kenya-Ethiopia Friends (AKEF), Joe Akech. The other members of the delegation were from AFRIRUN-African Forum for Regional Integration on Reasonable Utilization of Nile, who attended the special session of the Forum from September 5-7, 2022 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Indeed, the members of the delegation were watching everything with open eyes sensing the pride and glory that this dam, the biggest in Africa has in store for the continent.

Responding to some questions from ENA, Joe Akech retorted “I am so delighted. I have read a lot about this Dam before, but God blessed me to come here and see it in person”. Akech added “this massive project is not only for Ethiopians but for Africans as well. Africans have to come here and congratulate Ethiopians for creating such a great opportunity that could immensely contribute to the economic development of Africa”. He believed that as a neighboring country, Kenya could have an excellent opportunity to utilize the hydroelectric power from GERD pursuant to the agreement inked between Ethiopian and Kenya in recent past. He was also amazed by the spirit of tenacity enthusiasm of the Ethiopian professionals who were working from dawn to dusk in shifts to complete the construction of the dam in the shortest possible time. Every segment of the Ethiopian social fabric including children and prisoners in the correctional centers of the country has made financial contributions in the form of purchase of treasury bonds and donations.  Joe Akech compared the spirit of Ethiopians to his country’s ‘Harambee’, which means unity in Swahili. The people of Ethiopia financed the dam on their own without resorting to loans from IMF and World Bank. He called upon all concerned to support Ethiopia’s efforts to produce a renewable energy for the benefit of all Africans.  The entire Africa must be proud of this flagship project, Akech added.

According to him, GERD is an engine for catalyzing socio-economic development in Africa. The dam is built by Ethiopians and not by aid from western countries. ‘Therefore we have to be proud of it’ Akech noted. He finally named the dam ‘it is not GERD but GARD’, which does mean Grand African Renaissance Dam.

He recommended other riparian nations to come up with such mega projects for creating jobs for their citizens, promotion of food security through team work. Other African countries should follow the footsteps of Ethiopia and strive for the socio-economic development of their countries by utilizing their natural resources. Akech remarked.  He added that politicians and all other elites must wake up; it is the time for Africans utilize their own resources for the benefit of their people.

A young man from south Sudan, Justin Urio Ajingo, the Secretary General of National Youth Union in South Sudan, shared some of his views with ENA. Justin believed that GERD is an asset for the region. ‘We have to own it since it is for the benefit for all Africans’ Justin noted. GERD is a source of light for Africa in which the majority of people have been living in darkness.

He talked to ENA passionately and said if the youth in South Sudan are requested to support the completion of GERD, they would not hesitate to contribute donations from their pockets. Justin hoped that GERD would be a good resource for South Sudan irrigation development in which 90 percent of arable land could be cultivated through irrigation. So, GERD is expected to become source of energy as Ethiopian and South Sudan Governments have signed an agreement on exporting hydroelectric power. Thus, if South Sudan gets electricity for irrigation, agricultural production and productivity, South Sudan could become African Ukraine.

Kasaija phillip Apuui (PhD), Professor of Political Science and Public Administration Department at Ugandan Mekerere University said for his part “what a fantastic construction of such big dam through national public mobilization.”   GERD is a very good demonstration of high technology of engineering.   Once completed, GERD would be the biggest hydroelectric dam ever to be built in Africa. Integration defined as bringing nations together, so that GERD will be in the first row for integrating African economies.  GERD as a source of power will interconnect Ethiopia, Uganda and other African countries through a continental hydroelectric power gird.

“As a citizen of the nation which is source of White Nile, Uganda, I think GERD is exemplary project that can be replicated to other African countries through mass mobilization of local resources to construct similar hydroelectric dam projects across Africa.  African countries should exercise their rights to share electric power from the Nile River in an equitable manner. GERD is a vivid manifestation of such equitable utilization of hydropower resource,” the Professor added.

Engineer Robert Amino, Advisor to the Minster of Water and Irrigation of the Democratic Republic Congo-DRC; said GERD as impressive showcase of an ultra-modern engineering, “It is impressive structure, and great achievement of Ethiopian people and government as well Africa,   the dam will supply energy for the great region beyond Ethiopia” the Engineer and advisor for  the minister added.

Water is common resource to be shared in equitable manner in order to alleviate poverty. GERD, even if it is being constructed by Ethiopia but highly expected for the region to get out of the dark, according to amino. GERD, as African project, should be supported by Africans and DRC. The way Ethiopians manage this infrastructure by their own would be great lesson for DRC to become self-reliant nation by its own projects, Amino encourage Ethiopians for this project.

Why is Egypt at Loggerhead with Ethiopia on GERD?

Akech, argued that politicizing the GERD and accusation of Ethiopian government is not correct as the dam would not harm the downstream nations. The propaganda, which has been propagated so far by Egyptian or others, is baseless.

“I think a lot of it is mere propagandas. I think it is not fair. All sorts of propaganda and all types on misinformation on GERD are wrong. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with Ethiopia and other African countries in utilizing their natural resources in a manner suited to their own development programs instead of totally depending on the western countries to develop their economies.  

The Association of Kenya-Ethiopia Friends is working on enhancing people to people relationships between the two countries. He recalled Kenya’s stand on GERD issues at UNSC meeting, on thee UNSC session, Kenya defended that African problems have to be resolved by Africans themselves. The counties in the region must focus on collaboration instead of assuming each other as a source of threat. GERD, as hydroelectric dam would not become harmful but could benefit all riparian counties including Egypt. He noted that Egypt must not count on colonial treaties. Akech said “I urge the AU to settle the issue of the dam in peaceful diplomatic manner and strategize on how we can benefit from the dam as Africans”.

Justin Urio believed “before I came here my understanding of the whole issue was very little but the moment I saw this project, I gained a lot of information on its importance. I think if Egyptians come here they will be the first to support the project, because the dam has no side effect on their country.”

He witnessed as the water flows normally and gracefully on the valley, nonetheless, the dam will protect the downstream countries from periodic flooding and will also help to regulate the flow of water over the year.  South Sudan which is affected by flood right now, Justin elaborated ‘GERD is so important to save villages which are vulnerable to flooding. GERD retains water without any harm on the downstream countries.  

According to Justin, the allegation from Egypt against GERD is mistake. “Egyptian politicians and scholars said that if this dam is filled, Egyptians automatically will die which is totally wrong’ Justin added. Egyptian unchanged position depicts an outright opposition to African development, Justin added. What is wrong with building dams? Even if it will have side effects we have to mediate it through negotiation and engagement with all parties. The African resources have to be owned by Africans, and any problem that occurred must be resolved by Africans. Interference from outside world must be stopped.

In terms of ownership Justin recalled that “people in Nile Basin have to share equally and reasonably through agreements subjected to amendment, because the agreement which was made by colonialists is irrelevant now”. According to Justin the colonial era agreements concluded Nile belongs to Egypt, so he asked what about the source countries? If South Sudan tried to block the river, how can Egypt get water?  So, we need to understand it, let’s work together find ways to support each other for the betterment of Africa as a whole.

Whether Egyptian politicians politicized or not, GERD will continue to flow above the dam gracefully, there isn’t blocking of water, noted Professor Kasaija.  ‘What I witnessed is that the water flows naturally, so Egyptians have to think what they are talking about” he added.

“Any interference by the western countries on the issue of GERD and similar projects must end” the professor argued. Since the dam is in Africa and is meant for African people any problems regarding it, have to be solved in the context of African solution for African problems. Thus, Egypt’s perspective towards facilitating the interference of the western countries on GERD is inappropriate,” the Professor noted.

Amino’s supplementary comment is that Nile water should be managed and used fairy among the riparian countries. As the downstream, Egypt might be worried; there could always be a dialogue in case of any threat on the national interest for any country. However, Egyptian should consider that this dam is one of the instruments to drive Ethiopians out of poverty and at the same time to lighten great Africa by generating hydroelectric power. ‘The conflicts of Ethiopia and downstream countries have to be solved through negotiations. We have to come to win-win options’, he added.

The Farewell moment and the rejuvenation of Pan Africanism

After a half day visit to GERD, each member of the group expressed their wishes and the admiration in their speeches underscoring on the wakening of Pan-Africanism,  African unity, integrated development, self-reliance and possibility of joint struggle against neo-colonialism.

Francise Majo, a delegate from South Sudan noted that the awareness of Ethiopian people on the Blue Nile, gives us good lesson to teach the neighboring people about the importance of the utilization of Africa’s natural resources.  

Professor Kasaija phillip Apuui insisted on resolving Africa’s problems and finding solutions to upcoming problems from the perspective of the African region. African leaders need to mobilize African financial resources and natural assets for Africans. “This day on which I paid a visit to this dam I felt of great blessing because if it were in America or Europe it couldn’t be miracle but I hope that the leaders of the riparian countries would come here after the dam is completed to draw lessons,” he concluded.

Ousma Yatum (PhD), former minister of Water and Irrigation of the Republic of Sudan said “Ethiopia is my second home. I came here before 10 years ago. I wonder the amount of water retained, and the facilities working on.” Dr Ousman added “I advise Ethiopians to invite many Egyptians here.”

He was wondering Ethiopia on how the country did not hide any secret during the entire period of the construction of the dam. “I visited every part of civil works, everything is constructed to standards.  Let’s bring the journalists, politicians, and technical people to GERD to see and ask about anything they want as they will be sure that the dam will benefit the downstream countries and causing no harm on them.

Earlier to the visiting day,  Dr, Ousman and his delegate member Dr. Zainelabdin Mahmoud, Secretary-General African Center for Governance, Peace and Transition Studies, told ENA that GERD is crucial, especially for the people of Sudan,  it would help them to cultivate three times a year as the hydroelectric dam will regulate the water flow, reduce mud, and flood. They stressed for strong cooperation between the countries to ensure the expected benefits from GERD for Ethiopia and the downstream countries.

Geo Akeche, from Kenya, who called ‘GERD’ as ‘GARD, meaning Grand African Renaissance Dam’ emphasized GERD is clear manifestation of what Africans can do without begging other countries. “Let’s depend on ourselves first before we go other financial institutions. The shoeshine boys, poor mothers, children, students, elders, even persons in prison have been contributing for GERD. If Ethiopians can do so, why don’t we”? Akech inquired. “Don’t give up, this is our mission. Let’s come up in unity as our forefathers have done. If Haile sellase wakes up today, if Kenyatta wakes up today, if Kwame Nkrumah wakes up today, if all other founding fathers of Africa union wake up today, what would they say for Africa? Their aim to found AU was for continental development and unity”.

After all, the group members who visited GERD have promised that they would become the Ambassadors for the Dam, after returning home. They said ‘no more’ for interference of Westerners in Ethiopian internal affairs. The spirit of Pan-Africanism was shining up. Finally the delegates clapped and loudly said “this dam is not GERD but is GARD”.

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