Dam of contention: Ethiopians unite around Nile River megaproject

In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019 A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. (AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2020

Dam of contention: Ethiopians unite around Nile River megaproject

  • Addis Ababa plans to start filling next month, despite demands from Cairo and Khartoum for a deal on the dam’s operations to avoid depletion of the Nile

ADDIS ABABA: Last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s press secretary took a break from official statements to post something different to her Twitter feed: A 37-line poem defending her country’s massive dam on the Blue Nile River.
“My mothers seek respite/From years of abject poverty/Their sons a bright future/And the right to pursue prosperity,” Billene Seyoum wrote in her poem, entitled “Ethiopia Speaks.”
As the lines indicate, Ethiopia sees the $4.6 billion (€4billion) Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as crucial for its electrification and development.
But the project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation, has sparked an intensifying row with downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan, which worry that it will restrict vital water supplies.
Addis Ababa plans to start filling next month, despite demands from Cairo and Khartoum for a deal on the dam’s operations to avoid depletion of the Nile.
The African Union is assuming a leading role in talks to resolve outstanding legal and technical issues, and the UN Security Council could take up the issue Monday.
With global attention to the dam on the rise, its defenders are finding creative ways to show support — in verse, in Billene’s case, through other art forms and, most commonly, in social media posts demanding the government finish construction.
To some observers, the dam offers a rare point of unity in an ethnically diverse country undergoing a fraught democratic transition and awaiting elections delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

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The African Union is assuming a leading role in talks to resolve outstanding legal and technical issues.

Abebe Yirga, a university lecturer and expert in water management, compared the effort to finish the dam to Ethiopia’s fight against Italian would-be colonizers in the late 19th century.
“During that time, Ethiopians irrespective of religion and different backgrounds came together to fight against the colonial power,” he said.
“Now, in the 21st century, the dam is reuniting Ethiopians who have been politically and ethnically divided.”
Ethiopia broke ground on the dam in 2011 under then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who pitched it as a catalyst for poverty eradication.
Civil servants contributed one month’s salary towards the project that year, and the government has since issued dam bonds targeting Ethiopians at home and abroad.
Nearly a decade later, the dam remains a source of hope for a country where more than half the population of 110 million lives without electricity.
With Meles dead nearly eight years, perhaps the most prominent face of the project these days is water minister Seleshi Bekele, a former academic whose publications include articles with titles like “Estimation of flow in ungauged catchments by coupling a hydrological model and neural networks: Case study”.
As a government minister, though, Seleshi has demonstrated an ear for the catchy soundbite.
At a January press conference in Addis Ababa, he fielded a question from a journalist wondering whether countries besides Ethiopia might play a role in operating the dam.
With an amused expression on his face, Seleshi looked the journalist dead in the eye and responded simply, “It’s my dam.”
In those five seconds, a hashtag was born.
Coverage of the exchange went viral, and today a Twitter search for #ItsMyDam turns up seemingly endless posts hailing the project.
At recent events officials have even distributed T-shirts bearing the slogan to Ethiopian journalists, who proudly wear them around town.
Some non-Ethiopians have also gotten in on #ItsMyDam fever.
Anna Chojnicka spent four years living in Ethiopia working for an organisation supporting social entrepreneurs, though she recently moved to London.


Iraq’s foreign minister makes first visit to Iran

Updated 26 September 2020

Iraq’s foreign minister makes first visit to Iran

  • Iran sees neighboring Iraq as a possible route to bypass US sanctions that President Donald Trump re-imposed in 2018

TEHRAN: Iraq’s foreign minister arrived Saturday in Tehran for bilateral talks with senior Iranian officials, according to the state-run news agency.
IRNA reported that Fuad Hussein planned to meet his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, in what marked his first visit to the Iranian capital.
Zarif visited Baghdad in mid-July, when he met with Hussein and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. It was Zarif’s first visit to Iraq since a US airstrike in January killed a top Iranian general, Qassim Soleimani, outside Baghdad’s international airport. The strike catapulted Iraq to the brink of a US-Iran proxy war that could have destabilized the Middle East.
After Zarif’s trip, the Iraqi premier visited Iran in July.
The report did not elaborate on the main reasons behind the top Iraqi diplomat’s two-day trip to Tehran.
Iran sees neighboring Iraq as a possible route to bypass US sanctions that President Donald Trump re-imposed in 2018 after pulling the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
Last year, Iran’s exports to Iraq amounted to nearly $9 billion, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday. It said the two nations will discuss increasing the amount to $20 billion.
Before the current global pandemic, some 5 million Iranian pilgrims annually brought in nearly $5 billion visiting Iraq’s Shiite holy sites.
Iran has seen the worst outbreak in the region, with more than 443,000 thousand confirmed cases and at least 25,300 deaths.
A news website affiliated with Iranian state TV, yjc.ir, reported that Iran canceled all its flights to Iraqi cities until the religious holiday of Arbaeen, due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. The holiday marks the end of the forty days of mourning that follow annually on the death anniversary of the seventh-century Muslim leader Hussein, who was killed at the Battle of Karbala during the tumultuous first century of Islam’s history.
Iran fought an eight-year war with Iraq that killed nearly 1 million people on both sides, after former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded in the early 1980s.