BY BEREKET KIDANE
President Isaias Afewerki in his January 2016 interview with local journalists broadcast on Eri-TV described the late Ethiopian leader’s decision to build the Renaissance Dam as an emotional one and not well-thought-out.
President Isaias recounted how in 1993, while attending the OAU Conference in Cairo, the late Meles Zenawi had mentioned to him that he was going to “show the Arabs” because he felt slighted by Egyptian officials.
A high-ranking Egyptian official by the name Omar Suleiman, in particular, had dismissed the late EPRDF Chief by saying “Who do you think you are?” when Meles tried to bring up the Blue Nile issue with the Egyptian authorities.
In a not-so-subtle reference to the politics of water, Meles had vowed to Isaias that he was going to “show the Arabs” just as “Turkey had brought Syria and Iraq down to their knees.”
There were rumors going around at the time in 1993 that Egypt was selling water from the Nile River to Israel and that a canal was being built to go through the Suez and Sinai Desert for the purpose of selling water to Israel.
President Isaias recalled how he advised Meles against delving into the issue with the Egyptians at the time because he felt that the timing was not right and that there were other priorities the EPRDF Chief needed to pay attention to in his country. Meles nonetheless felt offended by the Egyptians’ dismissal of him and vowed to bring the Egyptians and Sudanese down to their knees just as Turkey had done with Syria and Iraq.
President Isaias pointed to that moment as the beginnings of the Renaissance Dam even though there may have been other project plans for a hydro dam by previous Ethiopian governments. Thus, President Isaias explained, the genesis of the Renaissance Dam was rooted in politics and not on a solid long-term study that took the strategic cost-benefits of a mega project like that to the Ethiopian people.
President Isaias further talked about the failure of the so-called mega electrical and hydropower generation projects in Africa that are built for show and don’t serve the average citizen of a country, in part because they are built by foreign companies that are only concerned with their short-term profits from the project and don’t take into account the long-term feasibility of the project to the host country.