Dam of con­tention: Ethiopi­ans unite around Nile River megapro­ject

Arab News - - News Middle East - AFP Ad­dis Ababa

Last week, Ethiopian Prime Min­is­ter Abiy Ahmed’s press sec­re­tary took a break from of­fi­cial state­ments to post some­thing dif­fer­ent to her Twit­ter feed: A 37-line poem de­fend­ing her coun­try’s mas­sive dam on the Blue Nile River.

“My moth­ers seek respite/ From years of ab­ject poverty/ Their sons a bright fu­ture/And the right to pur­sue pros­per­ity,” Bil­lene Sey­oum wrote in her poem, en­ti­tled “Ethiopia Speaks.”

As the lines in­di­cate, Ethiopia sees the $4.6 bil­lion (€4bil­lion) Grand Ethiopian Re­nais­sance Dam as cru­cial for its elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment.

But the project, set to be­come Africa’s largest hy­dro­elec­tric in­stal­la­tion, has sparked an in­ten­si­fy­ing row with down­stream neigh­bors Egypt and Su­dan, which worry that it will re­strict vi­tal wa­ter sup­plies.

Ad­dis Ababa plans to start fill­ing next month, de­spite de­mands from Cairo and Khar­toum for a deal on the dam’s op­er­a­tions to avoid de­ple­tion of the Nile.

The African Union is as­sum­ing a lead­ing role in talks to re­solve out­stand­ing le­gal and tech­ni­cal is­sues, and the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil could take up the is­sue Mon­day. With global at­ten­tion to the dam on the rise, its de­fend­ers are find­ing creative ways to show sup­port — in verse, in Bil­lene’s case, through other art forms and, most com­monly, in so­cial me­dia posts de­mand­ing the gov­ern­ment fin­ish con­struc­tion.

To some ob­servers, the dam of­fers a rare point of unity in an eth­ni­cally di­verse coun­try un­der­go­ing a fraught demo­cratic tran­si­tion and await­ing elec­tions de­layed by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. Abebe Yirga, a univer­sity lec­turer and ex­pert in wa­ter man­age­ment, com­pared the ef­fort

FASTFACT

The African Union is as­sum­ing a lead­ing role in talks to re­solve out­stand­ing le­gal and tech­ni­cal is­sues.

to fin­ish the dam to Ethiopia’s fight against Ital­ian would-be col­o­niz­ers in the late 19th cen­tury.

“Dur­ing that time, Ethiopi­ans ir­re­spec­tive of re­li­gion and dif­fer­ent back­grounds came to­gether to fight against the colo­nial power,” he said.

“Now, in the 21st cen­tury, the dam is re­unit­ing Ethiopi­ans who have been po­lit­i­cally and eth­ni­cally di­vided.”

Ethiopia broke ground on the dam in 2011 un­der then-Prime Min­is­ter Me­les Ze­nawi, who pitched it as a cat­a­lyst for poverty erad­i­ca­tion.

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