Egyptian Misrepresentation of History Perpetuates Ethiopia’s Poverty
History teaches us that about 450 BCE, the Greek historian named Herodotus called Egypt the “Gift of the Nile.” He did not know that 86 percent of this mighty river that made Egyptian civilization possible originated from the Ethiopian highlands, an upstream riparian nation. He did not know that, this mighty river, the longest in the world, moved billions of tons of fertile soils that allowed Egypt to produce cotton, wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables etc. and thereby transforming the desert into a livable and vibrant environment. Egypt benefitted. Ethiopia did not!!
The Nile supplies fresh drinking water, generates energy and provides electricity to 100 percent of the Egyptian population. For the most part, this “gift” has enabled Egypt’s inhabitants to mitigate the horrors of famine and starvation. It has also provided the requisite natural resources environment to settle, thrive, create and build marvels in the form of pyramids. I suggest that, without this “gift” Egypt would have been unable to establish a nation with its own identity.
Fast forward to 2020, compare and contrast Egypt’s and Ethiopia’s human development indices for 2019 and judge.
- Egypt’s per capita income per annum was estimated at US $3,046 compared to Ethiopia’s at US $790, less than 1/4th
- Egypt’s overall HDI index placed it at 116th out of 189 countries compared to Ethiopia’s at 173rd out of 189 countries
- Egypt’s average life expectancy is 72 years compared to 66 years for Ethiopia
- Egypt’s years of schooling for young people is 13 years compared to Ethiopia’s at less than half
- Almost 100 percent of the Egyptian population has access to electricity; only 44 percent of Ethiopians enjoy such access
- Only 42 percent of Ethiopians have access to safe drinking water compared to Egyptians at 98 percent
It is not my intention to identify all of the indicators that contrast the human development levels between Egypt and Ethiopia. My primary objective is this. By all indicators, there are substantial disparities in per capita income, access to education and health services, safe drinking water and sanitation, access to electricity and shelter as well as to food and nutrition between Egyptians and Ethiopians.
These glaring and alarming disparities and inequities in socioeconomic status create and sustain imbalances in power and influence across generations. Ethiopia’s alarming poverty level requires a national determination to harness Ethiopia’s water resources assets to fill this development gap on the one hand; and on the other hand, a global understanding that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project financed in its entirety by the Ethiopian people is technically, economically, morally and ethically a welcome development for Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa and the entire globe.
Knowledgeable Ethiopian academics and scholars, prominent hydraulic engineers, sustainable development specialists, economists, financial and legal experts, modelers, journalists, civic and religious leaders, educators, political scientists, geographers and numerous others within and outside Ethiopia believe that the filling and completion of the GERD is within Ethiopia’s legitimate and sovereign rights; and must be supported.
By all measurements, Ethiopia has lived up to and abided by its in good faith obligations under international law to share information on the filling and operations of the GERD since the onset of negotiations over the GERD. There is not an iota of evidence to support Egypt’s claim that Ethiopia withdrew from the U.S. and World Bank sponsored round of talks in Washington capriciously. It withdrew because of arms twisting by Egypt that would give it continued hegemony over Nile waters in perpetuity.
I know of no single scenario under which an Ethiopian government representing Ethiopia’s 120 million people, 75 percent of whom are under the age of 33 would accept continuation of Egypt’s 1959 Nile Waters Agreement with the Sudan that gives it hegemony over the Abbay River/the Blue Nile. The government won’t survive at all.
The Ethiopian public believes that the GERD is a monumental project that will allow Ethiopia to supply electricity to 56 percent of the population that lacks access; to fuel manufacturing and other industries and generate tens of millions of jobs for the country’s youth; reduce heavy reliance on charcoal and wood to cook food and to service homes; boost Ethiopia’s foreign exchange earnings by exporting electricity to the Sudan and other neighboring nations; create a better environment for sustainability of Ethiopia’s fragile eco-system that is being degraded and that will ultimately affect Nile waters adversely and so on.
Altogether, Egypt and the global community must appreciate the notion that the GERD is a vital component in Ethiopia’s national resolve to alleviate poverty; and to engender sustainable and equitable development that the UN system has adopted as a model.
Ethiopia is doing exactly what the UN community has been urging nations to do, to harness water resources carefully, systematically and in a sustainable manner and to alleviate poverty. Water security is among the ingredients. In 2013, the UN defined water security as follows:
“The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.”
It is impossible for me to envision “a climate of peace and stability” not only in Ethiopia; but also in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and the rest unless the core policy, outdated and colonial water agreements and institutional problems that prevent sustainable and equitable use of Nile waters are addressed with a high level of integrity.
In summary, the filling of the GERD and the completion of the entire project are in the interest of the world community.
Egypt must at last allow the origin of the “Gift of the Nile,” namely, Ethiopia, to utilize the waters within its own national boundaries for the benefit of its 120 million people, 75 percent of whom are below the age of 33; and dream a world free of poverty within their own home country.
The cartoon by a Sudanese national of the cow (the Nile River) on the first page of this commentary that is being milked primarily by Egypt and secondarily by the Sudan depicts a historical anomaly, injustice and inequity that must be redressed by this and succeeding generations of Ethiopians and other Black Africans of riparian nations at any cost.
The global community, including the UN Security Council to which Egypt has now appealed must not condone this historical, un-natural and inequitable anomaly.
Egypt’s intransigence, belligerence, arrogance and or bellicose attitude is an anomaly. It is sheer madness for Egypt to go to war for the sole purpose of aborting the GERD.
I can guarantee that future generations of Ethiopians will build dam after dam that Egypt is won’t be in a position to abort. Further, Egypt risks the prospect of its own dam, the Aswan being a target.
The way out is earnest and honest direct negotiation with Ethiopia and other Sub-Saharan African nations.
Regardless of weapons acquired, sabre rattling does not promote peace, stability and mutual collaboration between and among Black African and Arab nations. It does the exact opposite.
For this reason, and in light of the inevitable rise of Sub-Saharan Africa of which Ethiopia is a pillar, the UN Security Council must restrain Egypt from sabre rattling, especially at a time of a global pandemic on which the entire world should focus.
God Bless Ethiopia
Part II of this series will identify best practices on Transboundary water use and management; pinpoint the core impediments for Egypt’s intransigence; and present a road-map ahead.
May 12, 2020
The author, a former Senior Advisor at the World Bank and now retired can be reached at email@example.com
And or via face book or mobile 301-814-0340