Analysis of The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the regional consequences it will bring!

Confirming the launch of the biggest and probably the most contested African hydro-electrical complex, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made the announcement,” Without bothering and hurting anyone else; we have completed the first dam filling”. For Ethiopia, this is a democracy issue mainly revolving around two levels, political and economic.

Economic aspect mainly revolves around electricity it will produce. Situated on the Blue Nile River, which is the primary tributary of the Nile, the dam will satisfy all of Ethiopia’s electrical needs even when half the country is currently living without it. The World Bank estimates that it will produce a maximum output of 6.45GW supporting the overall economy as well as allowing Ethiopia to sell its electricity to its neighbors during the monsoons. It can be said GERD has very deep-rooted national support as it cost 4.8 billion dollars of which a healthy part was acquired from public help and so aside from the Government, the people have strong ties with it. The facility has often been portrayed as the “Pride of Ethiopia.”

KSA, Beijing, Ankara Washington have brought in billions of dollars in investment in education, ports, airports, rail, electric infrastructure and agriculture. But all this comes with a price, which in case of the US and China are military bases .

China mainly adheres to purely financial debt for control unlike the US, as described by John Perkins in his books, at times makes use of “Jackals” if the country is reluctant. For a layman, jackals are a euphemism for covert/espionage operations. Where there is economy/money involved especially that of foreign actors, there is also politics. Even GERD is just another target of social control for these powers, Ethiopia will not be an easy target since according to a famous political scientist from Cambridge Christopher Clapham it is the only “non-colonial” region of Africa. Meaning unlike its neighbors it will not be passive but active and pit the players against other players and watch the game from far away and only when the winning side is identified will lean towards it. All in all, a tough long term game for foreign powers.

“A bad 20th century”, this is what Ethiopia had according to Murithi Mutiga of Crisis Group. Its decline started under the communist influence of the Marxist Derg regime which executed it by overthrowing Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, and the famines of the mid-1980s were among the final nail in the coffin which granted  Ethiopia the label of ‘failed African state”.

Although after the overthrow, the economy of Ethiopia has seen a constant, some 10% annual growth for the past 20 good years now. This resulted in its transition from world’s poorest state to a country hoping to reach middle-income status by 2025 which 75% of the countries hold so not exactly reaching heights but admirable at least given its history and the same underlying issues mainly political it had before the overthrow. And so, the mega dam financed mainly by its locals is a symbol of Ethiopians renaissance.

Even though the growth of this country was enjoyable, it never saw good steady progress. After Ethiopia escaped from the claws of Derg, the country lost its coastal area after the breakaway of Eritrea. In the same year, Somalia, its neighbor, a country shrouded in the nomadic and tribal way of life and refusing to accept modern democracy fell prey to decades of bloodshed after the dictatorship of Siad Barre fell to the revolution of Mohammad Farah Adid.

The Horn has always attracted foreign powers due to its strategic location near the Red Seas, which in extension controls the Canal and whoever controls the Canal, controls almost every action taking place. China poured billions of dollars in Ethiopia knowing well enough about the country’s lack of material resources and from the military point of view established a base in its neighboring country Djibouti to ensure its dominance and the first foothold against Americans and Brits and their other allies. Acknowledging the loss of coastline, China built a minimalist railway between the base in Djibouti to Addis Ababa. It could be argued China saw its benefit in terms of establishing a supply line. Though the Chinese are not alone. The commercial centre of Djibouti, formerly being French Somaliland is situated on the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb which is a chokepoint separating the Gulf of Aden from the Red Sea, it now is home to the military bases of Japan, US, Italy and France.

Meanwhile, the coastline sees a quiet cold war-like situation between Ethiopia itself, Turkey, UAE and Qatar.

Aside from the external  factors, internal influences mainly major political change after years of turmoil saw Abiy Ahmed become prime minister in 2018 and promising modern democracy, a more dynamic economy and peace talks with Eritrea. This also proved beneficial for the US as they saw this as a chance to contain and possibly to extinguish Chinese influence from Addis Ababa. But the US involvement will not only see American influences alone but also of its allies, such as Demands by KSA and Egypt for the US to mediate and force a treaty for water-sharing.

Toward the finish of August, the three nations stay steadfast and report they still don’t change their decision. On the other hand, time is running out as the filling of the first dam is almost completed.

PM Abiy has made promises to help this chaotic country, but the question remains, will he be able to do it? Decades of turmoil, upcoming challenges of election which were postponed due to Covid-19, external pressure for the GERD. These are the tasks he have that will determine his position as a ruler, and if he bows down to pressure the country once again will go back to the old ways. No matter the external influences, the Horn doesn’t care about the outsiders but only bows to strong local rulers.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Dunya News’ editorial stance.

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