Egypt & Ethiopia: The war of two morons

By IndepthAfrica
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Jun 20th, 2013
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By Abebe Gellaw

Just like the proverbial bald men fighting over a comb, two unpopular regimes in Cairo and Addis Ababa have lately ended up being ridiculed and jeered across the world for their absurdities. With that melodrama, the long standing loveless relationships between Egypt and Ethiopia have hit rock bottom. It appears that the root cause of the recent debacles by the two beleaguered regimes appears to have little to do with water security but the maddening internal crises that both wanted to divert attention from.

The comedy was started by none other than the foolhardy TPLF that sent out its poodle Demeke Mekonen and the Eritrean-born Amhara leader “Bereket Simon” (aka Comical Simon) to openly declare a top “secret” undertaking. On the occasion of the 22nd anniversary of the fall of a brutal military junta and the rise of TPLF’s apartheid, Comical Simon and his colleagues came up with the most absurd idea that triggered an absurd war of words. Following a carelessly crafted bravado, the officials declared that the TPLF regime had “diverted” the Nile. But it turns out that the bravado was far from the truth and extremely misleading. The blazing propaganda claimed that Abay was now totally harnessed and diverted from its natural course. And yet, given the sensitivity of the Nile waters, the unnecessary spin was a total madness.

The news in English released by state-run media outlets and distributed globally reads: “The diversion of the course of Abay (Nile) River was successfully undertaken on Tuesday to make way for the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

“Speaking at the a ceremony held at Guba, site of the GERD in Benishangul Gumuz State, President of the GERD Construction Public Coordination Council and Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnin said the diversion of the River has been successfully done to utilize the resource for national interest…. Demeke said the government would remain focused to realize the vision of the late Great leader Meles Zenawi and martyrs, thereby promoting the Ethiopian Renaissance.” (ERTA May 28, 2013)

Ethiopia, being the major source of the Nile that generates 85 percent the total water flow, has every right to utilize its water. The monopoly that Egypt and Sudan exercise over the Nile is based on archaic myths and an unacceptable colonial era fraud committed by Britain to water its cotton plantations. Ethiopia was not part of the fraudulent arrangement. It is clearly not only unacceptable but also unsustainable. Nonetheless, TPLF’s bravado of declaring “the successful diversion of Abay” is quite obviously a moronic act.

One could notice that the clumsy spin doctor Comical Simon and his collaborators attained nothing but notoriety that defies the norms of modern diplomacy and international relations. On May 30, Comical Simon even appeared on Al Jazeera, which also happily amplified the TPLF-generated news. “The River Nile has been a source of life for millions over the centuries. Now Ethiopia is diverting water to build a giant dam pushing those downstream who depend on the river to wonder when and whether this issue can be resolved peacefully,” David Foster, the presenter of Inside Story, said adding emphatically that the issue can lead to “death on the Nile.”

Foster exaggerated the dam’s impact using data from the Egyptian misinformation campaign. He said that the loss of water for Egypt, as a result of the construction of the dam, is estimated between 11 to 19 billion cubic meters. “An idea of what that means, a four million cubic meters of loss could turn a million acres of land into a desert…An expert says that would cause two million Egyptian families to lose their livelihoods. The Ethiopian dam could also affect Egypt’s electric supply by 25 to 40 percent, it is argued, which would leave upper Egypt in darkness.”

It was in this context that the inarticulate Comical Simon, who seemed clueless like a sloth, appeared on Al Jazeera to “refute” the root cause of the problem, i.e. his own bravado that Ethiopia diverted the Nile. The background Comical Simon also chose was also as provocative as pornography. He loomed large over an artist’s impression of the so-called Renaissance Dam.

Comical Simon inarticulately and unconvincingly explained that the dam would result in “more flow of water of the Nile River to downstream riparian countries.” But he obviously failed to show his magic wand.

“We believe in Ethiopia we are doing a lot of conservation works [sic], environmental improvement works whereby we are enriching the underground water of the country [sic]. We will have more water in our streams,” says the Minister of Miscommunication cryptically in a way that even himself can hardly understand.

In Cairo, a different kind of bravado followed. A “secret” war plan was broadcast live on TV confirming to the world that the contention over the Nile is more of a comedy than an issue that calls for a serious dialogue and diplomacy. President Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood that is in trouble for hijacking and diverting the popular revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, convened a secret meeting with political leaders from other parties including the opposition. But he and his advisers felt that it was an issue to exploit for a populist cause in order to divert attention from the critical internal crisis the regime is facing. But the decision to broadcast the “secret” meeting live on TV was not communicated to those convened at the palace. The politicians were unaware that the secret meeting was on live TV. Their nonsensical discussion rather exposed the lack of leadership in Cairo, as much as in Addis.

Younes Makhioun, Chairman of Al-Nour Party, focused on a conspiracy theory and concluded that Israel and the U.S. were behind the dam. He proposed that Egypt should use rebel groups and, if that fails, the security service should destroy the dam.

The founding chairman of the Ghad El-Thawra Party put forward the idea of spreading rumors that Egypt had obtained advanced aircraft refueling capability that enables her to bomb the dam. One participant was advising everyone that the meeting should be kept top secret, when it was announced a minute or so later to the room that the secret meeting was actually live on TV. Embarrassed with their own folly, the politicians had no choice but to giggle and chuckle.

The Egyptians know full well that insisting on a colonial era fraud never helps their case. When the colonial masters, British officials, were asked if they could help resolve the “dispute” they suggested that the best way forward would be to have a dialogue among the riparian states in the Nile basin. It is quite obvious that no one will be able to monopolize an international river like the Nile as long as equitable share is the only acceptable solution.

It is quite Quixotic on the part of Egyptian politicians to quote an ancient saying attributed to Herodotus now and again: “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.”

“If Egypt is ‘the gift of the Nile,’ then the Nile is God’s gift to Egypt,” President Morsi declared at a recent all-Islamic conference that was aimed at creating more illusion than helping Egyptians live in the 21st century. “We will defend each drop of Nile water with our blood if necessary,” he warned.

Rhetoric aside, Morsi knows the reality that Egypt can do little to stop Ethiopia from drinking its water and quench its perennial thirst and hunger. For most Ethiopians, the issue of the Nile is not a matter of dispute. Ethiopians have a long established consensus that the problem is to do with their moronic regimes that incite tension for little political ends while doing so little to protect our national interests. After all, this is a regime that has willfully made the country one of the biggest landlocked countries in the world.

There are two fundamental issues that remain unanswered. First of all, building a mega dam without even mobilizing enough resources is like putting all eggs in one basket. It is estimated that the dam would cost around five billion dollars. So far between 10 to 15 percent of the total cost has been collected. The regime has no idea where the remaining 85 percent of the outlay would come from.

Ethiopia needs micro-dams across the country not only for hydroelectric power generation but also irrigation to ensure food security for its hunger-stricken population. While starting from small scale projects is a wiser approach, investing all resources and subcontracting EFFORT companies along with their foreign accomplices will not bring about the construction of a mega-dam. It will only sustain TPLF’s mega-corruption industries that have made the selected few filthy rich criminals.

Secondly, and more importantly, the TPLF-led tyranny should also listen to the cries of Ethiopians across the world. It should dam racism and gross human rights abuses before Abay. Most Ethiopians are wise enough to avoid the war of the two morons in Cairo and Addis. They won’t be hoodwinked.

No diversion, please! We need freedom, more than a mega dam!


Abebe Gellaw is an award-winning Ethiopian journalist. He runs www.addisvoice.com

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