AFRICANGLOBE – The narrow road that leads to the beachfront from the ancient city of Bahir Dar betrays little less than the new significance of the waters on Lake Tana beneath. But a hard-to-miss flag on yacht pronounces it all: ‘Wisdom at the source of the Blue Nile,’ the significant motto driving Ethiopia’s determination to turn its massive waters into a national source of wealth.
The battle lines are drawn on the waterfront.
The construction of a massive hydroelectric power dam along the Nile River is setting Ethiopia on a route to rapid industrialisation and the Ethiopian society is talking tough against grand opposition to the dam.
On Tuesday, intellectuals from 22 universities met in this Lakeside city of Bahir Dar, the source of the Blue Nile, to discuss the industrial prospects of the Dam and agreed to help their country to develop ‘ambitious but realistic’ programmes to fight poverty.
‘We will develop ambitious but realistic policy-based programmes with the aim to lift our collective will in achieving the middle income status through effective and efficient use of our water resources,’ the University lecturers and Ethiopia government officials said at the end of a two-day conference on the Nile.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Berhan Gebrekristos said the government was building the Grand Dam to diversify state investments.
He said the construction of the Dam was tied to major anti-poverty goals, the least of which was to grow national per capita incomes to propel Ethiopia into a medium income status.
The investment into the US$5 billion Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) aims to put Ethiopia on a firm Industrilisation footing.
‘The construction of the Dam is the least project Ethiopia could undertake using the least of its resources and with minimal environmental impact,’ said Melak Mengistab, a lecturer at the Bahir Dar University.
Ethiopian industrial growth is fueling demand for energy, whose demand is currently rising at an average rate of 30%.
The intellectual debate on the GERD took place as an American business delegation visited the country to explore new business opportunities.
The delegation met Ethiopian President Melaku Teshome to discuss infrastructure and other investment opportunities.
‘We must satisfy our national demand for electricity by investing in green energy projects with the least environmental impact. For Ethiopia, nuclear energy is not an option,’ Melak said.
Egypt is leading international opposition to the GERD construction citing its possible impact on the water volumes reaching Egypt’s Aswan High Dam.
To solve the diplomatic hardships caused by Egypt, the Ethiopian intellectual community has proposed the creation of a regional centre for the GERD.
The proposed Centre would work towards promoting the regional economic integration and how the Dam could impact economic development in East Africa.
Ethiopian intellectual Zerihun Abebe, of the Dilla University, said building the Grand Dam was a do or die imperative.
‘The Nile is either death or rebirth for Ethiopia because 32% of the Ethiopian land is covered by water. It is a question of state survival,’ Abebe, whose academic research has concentrated on the Nile, said.
To avoid over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture, Ethiopia plans to rapidly expand irrigation to help its farmers exit the poverty trap.
Already, Ethiopian farmers are reporting good progress on their government’s efforts to improve farming.
Beliyu Kasaye, named the Ethiopian Female Food Hero by the British charity Oxfam, says her 5-acre farm in Oromia State has elevated her from poverty to a real estate owner.
From her investment on the five acre piece, where she grows wheat and barley, Beliyu has been able to expand productivity.
‘I am able to produce horticultural crops for my household consumption and the market,’ Beliyu said.
Ethiopian officials say with the developments underway the pace of Ethiopia’s industrialisation would accelerate while local energy costs would remain low.
‘The Nile is a complete rebirth. We stand to irrigate 2.4 million hectares of land and a total hydroelectric potential of 45,000 megawatts. At least 30,000 MW is potential from the Nile,’ Abebe said.
‘The Nile issue is both a state survival issue as well as a national security issue,’ said Abebe, also nicknamed Abbey, the Ethiopian local name of the Nile.
By: Kennedy Abwao