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Reasonable Discussion of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam [by Fasil Amdetsion]

Reasonable Discussion of Ethiopia's Renaissance Dam [by Fasil Amdetsion]

Two momentous events, each occurring within 4 days of one another, have put Egyptian politicians and journalists in a febrile mood.
 
Ethiopia's diversion of the Nile (conducted after giving ample advance notice to Egypt and Sudan, to whom the Nile flows from Ethiopia) as part of ongoing construction of a 6,000 MW generating mega-dam—Africa's largest and Ethiopia's first on the river, was followed by the 1 June submission to all 3 governments of a report by an international panel (composed of Ethiopian, Egyptian, Sudanese, and international experts) evaluating the engineering, socioeconomic and environmental impact of the dam.

EGYPT, ETHIOPIA AND THE NILE

The reactions to these recent developments go beyond opposition to Ethiopia's Renaissance Dam and highlight the difficulties inherent to reaching a future agreement on apportionment of the Nile's waters between all of its 10 riparian states. In particular, between Ethiopia, which previously lacked the financial wherewithal to exploit the river, 85 percent of whose waters spring form within its borders; and Egypt, which uses 75 percent of the Nile, but contributes nothing to its flow.

The effects of the acerbic and misleading commentary in the Egyptian press about the dam and the panel's report should not be underestimated. If misconceptions become deeply rooted in the minds of the public, it will become exponentially harder for the governments involved to reach agreements which are suitable to citizens' needs and which meet their people's expectations.

Certain Egyptian media outlets have, for example, alleged that the postponement of the report's finalization—twice— ostensibly occurred at Ethiopia's behest, because Addis was unhappy with the report's contents. Not true; the panel delayed its report of its own volition and on its own initiative, as independent committees are wont to do. What's more, Ethiopia has accepted the findings of the report which states that the dam meets international standards, but recommends further studies in certain areas.

A perpetual favourite source of misinformation is the invocation of the looming specter of Israeli involvement in Nile-related projects. This most recent spate of reports is no exception, as Egyptian journalists have again resorted to the same scarecrow claiming that Israeli firms are involved in the dam's construction. Again, not true. The companies involved are Italian, Chinese and Ethiopian, and the dam's $4.8 billion price-tag is being met by Ethiopia.

These stories are deliberately designed to inflame, not inform. The climate of mistrust they help spread does not advance the cause of an amicable solution to the Nile issue.

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