#ItsMyDam is the hashtag invented by the Ethiopian Minister of Water, Seleshi Bekele, contributing to a calculated nationalistic marketing strategy aimed at convincing the population that the controversial Great Renaissance dam is closely linked to the economic progress of the nation, leveraging the historical sentiment of independence nourished by Ethiopia, the only African country not to suffer colonization. Only a short but horrendous period of military occupation by the Italian fascist regime.
This marketing strategy was commissioned by the Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who actively contributed with the publication of a poem explaining the need for national and popular defense of the Blue Nile hydroelectric project. «My mothers seek relief / For years of poverty / their children a bright future / And the right to pursue prosperity ». Bilene Seyoum, author of the poem has leveraged the nationalistic sense that has nourished Ethiopian society for centuries.
The dam project, costing € 4 billion, would be crucial for the electrification and economic development of the country. Egypt and Sudan are depicted as national enemies as they oppose the project. The nationalistic campaign that arose around the Great Renaissance dam aims to create a national unity by easing the ongoing ethnic conflicts by strengthening the democratic transition.
Abebe Yirga, a university professor and expert in water management, compare the construction of the dam to Ethiopian resistance against the Italian fascist invader. “During that time, Ethiopians disunited from religion and ethnic backgrounds joined together to fight colonial power. Now, in the 21st century, the Great Renaissance dam brings together all Ethiopians divided by political and ethnic ideas ».
The idea of associating the mega hydroelectric project with Ethiopian nationalism has been originated in 2011, by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, when he said that the dam had been designed to eradicate poverty in the country. Even the name, ‘Great Renaissance’, was not chosenat random. At the time, all public employees contributed one month of their salary to find the first funds necessary for starting the work. The government proposed bonds to the Ethiopian population and diaspora at very affordable interest rates.
The Great Renaissance dam still remains the hope for 110 million Ethiopians, of whom 56% live without access to electricity. The marketing campaign launched by the Prime Minister is accompanied by a multitude of gadgets imprinted with the #ItsMyDam logo, like the famous T-shirts that most Ethiopian journalists are proud to show.
But #ItsMyDam seems to be a deliberate and calculated mystification of reality. Already in the study phase of the mega project, indications of the environmental disaster that the dam would have caused emerged. Some experts advised to invest the 4 billion euros to create a network of solar and wind power plants scattered throughout the country. No multinational company (including Chinese) wanted to take responsibility for the realization of the project, despite the obvious economic return. The works were offered to the Italian firm Salini Impregilo which, according to rumors (perhaps imaginative) circulating in Addis Ababa, has been enjoying privileged treatments for 20 years thanks to the sentimental relationship between one of the founders and a high-ranking Tigrinya Ethiopian woman.
In fact, Salini conquered the Ethiopian market thanks to his friendship with Giulio Andreotti, leader of the Italian Party “Democrazia Cristiana” (Christian Democracy on power form 1946 to 1994) and his ‘closeness’ to the Ethiopian rebellion against the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s DERG. In the 80s Andreotti entrusted Saliniwith the construction of 250 km of road, 200 of aqueducts, 50 bridges and the reclamation of 20 thousand hectares in Tana Beles, in the Goggiam region. This was the visiting card thatopened the doors to Salini to do business in Ethiopia and in half of the African continent.
During the work, two Salini’s technicians: Dino Martedduand Giorgio Marchiò, were kidnapped on 27 December 1985 by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) tiger guerrillas. During their captivity, the two technicians managed to create an empathy with their captors and a strong friendship which proved extremely useful once the rebels gained power in 1991.
Salini has always enjoyed privileges at the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), mainly controlled by the TPLF. In Ethiopia, criticizing Saliniis synonymous with trouble. The Italian company, reported to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) for the suspicion of complicity in serious human rights violations related to the construction of the mega dam, has subcontracted the work to a Chinese company.
But the history of Salini in the country begins with Italian fascism that killed 780,000 Ethiopians during the war and military occupation. In 1936, Pietro Salini managed to obtain from Benito Mussolini the order for a 100 thousand-seat stadium where the fascist regime wanted to receive Adolf Hitler.
The Great Renaissance dam, in addition to the serious and justified doubts of environmental disaster in Ethiopia and damaging the economy and life of millions of people in Sudan and Egypt, has led to a serious violation of human rights, with the forced deportation of 200,000 people who lived in the area where the dam was to be built. Great Renaissance dam constructions works are linked with mysteries and murders.
The last of which occurred on 26 July 2018, when Simegnew Bekele, Construction Coordinator and Chief Engineer of the Dam was killed in Addis Ababa. Strong suspicions that the murder was closely connected with the construction of the dam and was suspected of the EEPC (Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation). State funerals were organized for Bekele and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised a serious investigation. Two years later, the investigation waseffectively closed.
The propaganda aimed at associating the dam with the national electricity needs to support the national industry and improve the living conditions of the population seems a mystification. According to various sources, the Ethiopian government intends to sell most of the electricity produced to obtain valuable currency abroad.
A detail of no small importance kept hidden from the population, but known since 2014. One of the first media to give the news was the ‘AfricaRenewal’, magazine edited by the United Nations, in December 2014. The article clearly explains that the expected production of 6,000 megawatts of electricity will be export-oriented to East African countries. It was Simegnew Bekele who had revealed it. The Ethiopian government at the time was building a consortium of investors from various African countries such as Djibuti, Uganda, Kenya coordinated by the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation.
The aim of directing the production of electricity produced by the dam towards export was confirmed in an article published last May in the prestigious “African Business” magazine. The export of energy (at the expense of national needs) is a strategic choice to alleviate the chronic shortage of foreign currency of the Central Bank and to repay foreign debt. Currently in Ethiopia it is extremely difficult to obtain even small amounts such as 50 euros or dollars if you do not turn to the black market circuit, often connected with Army generals and government politicians. Abiy also provided extremely facilitated sales rates for Egypt and Sudan with the aim of calming their opposition to the Great Renaissance dam.
The #ItsMyDam marketing campaign hides the vital need of the Ethiopian Prime Minister to start energy production and its sale abroad. “An economic failure on the Great Renaissance dam would have catastrophic consequences for the Prime Minister and his government,” explains Jawar Mohammed. Although Mohammed is one of Abyi’s fiercest opponents, he supports government policy on the dam. “Filling the dam shouldn’t be a hostage. The deal should not be a prerequisite. Filling should start as expected. If an agreement is reached before the filling starts in the next few days, it’s fantastic. If not, the filling should begin and the negotiation will continue. ” Jawar said in a Twitter on 27 June.
The Great Renaissance dam is so vital for the AbyiAdministration that it pushes the Prime Minister, Nobel Peace Prize in October 2019, to declare that it will mobilize “millions of young soldiers to defend the dam if necessary“. A war against Egypt is certainly not desirable. Although Ethiopia has a good army, the Ethiopian Army is not comparable with the Egyptian one. Egypt has 19 times more fighter jets and bombers than Ethiopia, 27% more trained soldiers, 10 times more tanks. The Egyptian defense budget is $ 5 billion, while the Ethiopian budget is 290 million. In addition, the Egyptian Army has Argentine Badr-2000 ballistic missiles with a range of 1000 km. A range not sufficient to reach the dam from Egypt, but sufficient from Sudan, actually allied to Cairo.
Although the Egyptian Army is committed to containing Turkey’s imperialist aims in Libya, the Great Renaissance dam poses a serious threat to the Egyptian national economy to overshadow. If you look at the geographical map, you understand that at military level, the maneuvers of Egypt are aimed at encircling Ethiopia. The military bases under construction in Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia highlight a plan aimed at enabling Cairo to launch any land attacks, opening two fronts north of Ethiopia and one east.
An undesirable war over the waters of the Nile would be fought on Ethiopian territory. Egypt would probably not embark on an adventure of territorial conquest. It would carry out air or missile raids to destroy the mega dam and would militarily support Sudan, the main country in the region to be involved in the conflict. Hopefully in themediation of the African Union, Cario and Khartoum are already contacting the United Nations Security Council in case the UA mediation fails due to the intransigence of Ethiopia.
Abyi Ahmed is showing that he wants the continental war. Cynically speaking, a conflict with Egypt and Sudan would cause tens of thousands of deaths among young Ethiopians, but it would be a cure-all for the Prime Minister. Faced with the foreign (more Arab) threat, he could easily unite the Nation around him, forcing the opposition Amara, Oromo and Tigrinya to support him. The Great Reinassance dam would certainly be destroyed, but the war would provide an opportunity to avoid the elections (already postponed by Abyi on the grounds of the Covid-19 pandemic), guaranteeing him a presidential mandate dictated by the state of war.
Abyi is in extreme difficulty, as evidenced by the armed clashes with the opposition that are taking place in these days in Addis Ababa and other cities in the country due to the murder (probably political) of the famous singer and political activist Hachalu Hundessa, apprentice to the Oromo ethnic group. A war over the waters of the Nile would solve many problems for the Nobel Peace Prize…
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