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.


Iraqis mourn expert on armed groups killed by unknown gunmen

Updated 16 min 56 sec ago

Iraqis mourn expert on armed groups killed by unknown gunmen

  • Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on Hisham Al-Hashimi outside his home in the Zeyouneh area of Baghdad
  • Al-Hashimi was a well-connected security analyst

BAGHDAD: Iraqi mourners and relatives on Tuesday carried the body of a respected analyst shot and killed the previous night in Baghdad after receiving threats from Iran-backed militias. Many Iraqis expressed their shock over the slaying.
Hisham Al-Hashimi, 47, was gunned down on Monday night outside his home in Baghdad’s Zeyouneh neighborhood. His casket, draped in the Iraqi flag, was taken to his family home before being driven to the burial site.
Al-Hashimi, a leading expert on Daesh and other militant organization, was a regular fixture on Iraqi television and his expertise was often sought by government officials, journalists and researchers.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the killing, which comes weeks after he confided to close friends that he had received threats from militia groups. The slaying also coincides with a spate of rocket attacks targeting US interests that has been blamed on Iran-backed armed groups.
Authorities launched a raid last week in Baghdad, in which they detained 14 members of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah group, suspected of orchestrating the attacks. All but one detainees were released days later.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said Iraqi security forces would “spare no effort” in pursuing Al-Hashimi’s killers.

Hours after Al-Hashimi’s killing, authorities fired the top police officer for Zeyouneh and launched an investigation into his activities, according to an order from the prime minister’s office, seen by The Associated Press.
Condemnations from Iraqi officials poured in as shock reverberated across the country at the news of Al-Hashimi’s killing.

Nechirvan Barzani, president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, said “authorities must find the perpetrators of this terror act and bring them to justice,” in a tweet on Tuesday.