Ethiopia: The Dam Dammed by Cash Flow? – By Pro. Alemayehu G Mariam

In my March 2013 commentary, “Rumors of Water War on the Nile?”, I argued:

… Whether there will be an actual “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” [GERD] is the $5bn dollar question of the century. Because Egypt has been successful in pressuring multilateral development and investment banks not to fund the project, the regime in Ethiopia has defiantly forged ahead to fund the project itself. But is self-funding of the mother of all African dams a realistic possibility?…
al-Sisi, al-Bashir, Desalegn
In that commentary, I asked a number of commonsensical questions about the economic feasibility of the touted “8th largest dam in the world”:

Is it possible to raise USD$5bn by 2015 from the people of the second poorest country in the world, the vast majority of whom live on less than USD$1?
Is the largest recipient of international aid in Africa capable of raising multiple billions of dollars from its citizens for the Dam?

Can a country which “lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009” be able to undertake construction of a USD$5bn dam (unadjusted for cost overruns) on its own?
Can a country which the IMF describes as having “foreign reserves [that] have declined to under two months of import coverage” as of June 2012 really be able to build the largest dam in African history?
Can a country whose external debt in 2012 exceeded USD$12bn be able to build a $5bn dollar project?

At the time, a self-described “researcher on the Nile”, intent on demonstrating the “nudity of some extremist Diaspora” and “challenging” me on my “flawed arguments”, suggested that the “single reflective concern of Al Mariam`s piece would be his concern on how to finance the dam but because he is absorbed by personalizing the dam he missed his target.” (Emphasis added.)

In my April 2014 commentary, “Dam! White Elephants in Ethiopia?”, I argued that the “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” (GERD) is the white elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about openly and earnestly. Meles, like all of his predecessor African dictators, suffered from delusions of grandeur. Like his brethren African dictators, Meles wanted to have a big project that could immortalize him as the little “Big Man” of Africa… The so-called GERD is a vanity make-believe project principally intended to glorify Meles posthumously…

At the time, another commentator, apparently outraged by my “flawed arguments” was not content to merely disagree with me; he felt compelled to charge me with the “unthinkable” political crime of high “treason” and the low moral crime of “vulgarity”.

…Writing as members of a group is not something unusual, and in no way should excuse any writer to unleash an avalanche of vulgarity, as can be observed in Alemayehu’s article quoted above. And ultimately Alemayehu did the unthinkable: he committed treason against Ethiopia by siding with Egypt. He had the temerity to call the construction of the rand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam a “White Elephant” and a “wasteful vanity” project… Alemayehu should have been a lot more careful before writing an article that applauds IRN and demonize the Ethiopian Government and devalue Ethiopia’s sovereignty on its own rivers. (Emphasis added.)

Last week, FRANCE 24 TV released a video report announcing, “Ethiopia’s Nile dam project delayed due to shortage of funds.” The report stated:

Ethiopia is building a huge dam in the Nile Valley… Why aren’t international donors funding it? … The construction project is several years behind schedule. The biggest obstacle is that Ethiopia has to finance the dam on its own. No international institution wanted to help the country since the project is controversial…. Egyptian concern about the dam was put on dramatic and unintended display in 2013 at a ministerial meeting chaired by [President] Mohammed Morsi. [Video insert shows one Egyptian minister at the meeting stating] ‘I say loud and clear that all options are available to us. If diplomacy fails to change the situation, we shall resort to international law; and if this is unsuccessful, we shall resort to anyone can imagine in order to protect our water security, because for us water security is a matter of life and death…. [Video insert of another Egyptian minister at the meeting stating] ‘If all these attempts fail, we may resort to our intelligence agencies in order to destroy any dam that undermines Egypt’s security… That building this dam is tantamount to a declaration of war against Egypt…” (Emphasis added.)

Last week, the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (T-TPLF), through its public relations jockeys, planted a story in the international media announcing yet another big white elephant: “Ethiopian oil marketer sees $5 billion refinery within 10 years.” According to that report (I did not say fairy tale):

Ethiopia’s leading private oil marketer plans to build a $5 billion refinery within ten years to meet the growing demand for refined products in a region experiencing fast economic growth… Tadesse Tilahun, the chief executive of National Oil Ethiopia, said the final decision to build a refinery producing between 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day was yet to be taken. ‘It is a firm plan because oil demand is growing in Ethiopia… about 10 percent each year from the annual consumption of 3 million cubic metres and in the next 10 years we expect that to double… National Oil’s shareholders include Saudi billionaire Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, whose investment portfolio in construction, gold, hotels and energy has helped amass an estimated fortune of over $10 billion…

In March 2011, the T-TPLF announced its $5 billion GERD Dam.

In March 2015, the T-TPLF announces a $5 billion oil refinery to be build by a $10 billion billionaire.

What a coincidence! Or is it just that the T-TPLF likes to bring out and parade its big white circus elephants in the month of March?

Last week, it was also announced that Ethiopia, the Sudan and Egypt signed a “Declaration of Principles”, described in the press as a “water sharing arrangements among Nile Basin countries.”

The “GERD” boondoggle: Putting lipstick on a white elephant?

Over the past two years, I have seen no evidence to convince me of the “wrongfulness” of my prior analysis or conclusions, or disabuse me of my “misplaced” opposition to the “GERD”. The fact of the matter is that the financial questions I posed in my March 2013 commentary remain unanswered.

In April 2013, the T-TPLF announced that nearly 32 percent of the dam project had been completed. It does not appear there has been another official announcement of project progress; but according to one report, as of October 2014 “the dam is more than 40 percent complete”. T

There is substantial empirical evidence which supports my previous contentions that the “GERD” 1) much like the vast majority of large dams throughout the world, and particularly in Africa, has and will continue to fall prey to massive cost overruns; 2) has and will continue to suffer from substantial schedule delays; 3) is a white elephant that does not make economic sense; 4) could have significant negative environmental impact, 5) if actually built, will be hampered in its power generation capacity by prohibitive maintenance costs and substandard construction, which in the long term is likely to increase the risk of catastrophic dam failure, and 6) could be a cause of great instability in the region.

Let me state at the outset that my arguments on this issue will be regarded in some circles as “unpatriotic”, “in support of Egypt”, “treasonous” “vulgar” and so on. I do not care much for argumentum ad passiones (argument by appealing to emotion) or argument by mudslinging. However, I would be glad to correct or even recant my views if presented with compelling facts and persuasive analysis demonstrating “flaws” in my reasoning and conclusions.” I would accept principled criticisms on any of my commentaries and gladly acknowledge my errors publicly.

Let’s talk facts. Let’s examine the evidence.

In the largest and most comprehensive scientific study on the economic viability of large dams ever done, Oxford University researchers Atif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier and Daniel Lunn analyzed all large dams which were built between 1934 and 2007 for which reliable costs and schedule figures are available. Their database included 245 projects in 65 countries with a total cost of US$353 billion (in 2010 prices).

In “Should We Build More Large Dams? The Actual Costs of Hydropower Megaproject Development”, the authors presented their breathtaking findings and analysis which has extraordinary implications for the GERD:

…Large dams suffered average cost overruns of 96% in constant local currency terms. The degree of cost overruns tended to increase with the size of projects. Even without considering social and environmental costs, large dams on average don’t make economic sense…

… Project implementation suffered an average delay of 44%. The implementation schedule does not include the lengthy lead time required to prepare projects. Dam builders and financiers frequently acknowledge the problems of the past, but claim that they have learned from their mistakes…. Neither cost nor schedule overruns have improved over time. There is little learning from past mistakes… Forecasts of costs of dams being made today are likely to be as wrong as they were between 1934 and 2007…

… Both cost and schedule overruns affect projects in all world regions. Poor countries tend to have higher delays, possibly because weak government structures and economies don’t support the construction of complex large dams. Interestingly, projects in democratic countries also tend to experience longer delays, possibly because elected politicians use rosy forecasts to sell their projects…

… Large dam projects such as the Belo Monte, Myitsone, or the Gilgel Gibe III among many others in early planning stages are likely to face large cost and schedule overruns seriously undermining their economic viability…

…[P]lanners for large dams around the world need to increase [their cost estimates] by 99% [and their construction] schedules by 66% to achieve 80% certainty [within budget and on time]… (Emphasis added.)

The findings of the Oxford study particularly on the Diamer-Bhasha Dam in Pakistan should be a warning and instructive to those championing the “GERD”. The Oxford study predicts “with 80% certainty, the giant project on the Indus River can be expected to cost $25.4 billion rather than $12.7 billion, and to be completed in 2027 rather than 2021.” The researchers offer similar conclusions on the “Inga dams on the Congo, the Belo Monte Dam in the Amazon, the proposed dams on the Mekong mainstream and many other mega-projects.”

The guardians of the “GERD” should seriously consider the recommendations of the Oxford researchers: “Many smaller, more flexible projects that can be built and go online quicker, and are more easily adapted to social and environmental concerns, are preferable to high-risk dinosaur projects like conventional mega-dams.”

My personal view on any dam construction is consistent with the findings of the Oxford research group. I have no “misplaced opposition” to the GERD nor do I have knee-jerk opposition because the project was launched by the late Meles and the T-TPLF. Though I consider myself a utopian Ethiopian, I make my inferences and conclusions based on hard evidence. The unrefuted hard evidence in the Oxford Study says “high-risk dinosaur projects like conventional mega-dams” are extremely costly and risky; smaller dam projects are more practical, manageable, durable and profitable.

In my view, a pig in lipstick and a white elephant in lipstick are the same. At the end of the day, a pig in lipstick is still a pig; so a white elephant at the end of the day, even when draped in a pentagrammed green, yellow and red flag, is still a white elephant.

I have no problems with those who wish to proffer impassioned and even patriotic arguments for the construction of the “8th largest dam in the world.” I do not question the motives of those who expect great things from the construction of the dam. The question for me has never been whether Ethiopia has defensible riparian rights to build a dam over the Abay (Blue Nile) River or exercise complete sovereignty over its natural resources. I have never questioned that.

What I question is the economic viability of a “dinosaur megadam”. What I question is the credibility of a regime built on lies, damned lies and statislies. I question whether I should believe the representations of a corrupt regime that lied through its teeth for years claiming “double-digit” economic growth until I demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that the claim of “double-digit” growth was all a fairy tale.

I question the necessity of building a megadam concrete monument to celebrate the life of the T-TPLF “Great Leader”, for me a villainous thug whose name shall go down in infamy in Ethiopian history for the massacres he committed in 2005. I question whether a deceitful, corrupt, treacherous and hypocritical regime could be trusted to do anything in the interest of the Ethiopian people. I question whether any reasonable person should give credibility to a regime that is infinitely more secretive than the Freemasons or the Illuminati.

I believe intellectual engagement on all issues and problems facing Ethiopia is important. I am pleased to see a diversity of opinion being presented to the public on the “GERD”. Such exchanges are vital to the development of a culture of civil dialogue on policy issues and in cultivating an informed and civically engaged citizenry.

I genuinely respect the views of those who disagree with my analysis of the political economy of the “GERD”. I also wholly and fundamentally agree with their aspirations for the dam. What reasonable person would disagree with a project that could potentially lift tens of millions of Africans out of poverty? Of course, the devil is in the details. Regardless, I will passionately defend the rights of those who disagree with me to express their views in the court of public opinion. I would also gladly represent them pro bono in a court of law were they to be charged with high “treason” for expressing unorthodox views with respect to the GERD.

Without cash flow, the Nile flows

My “single reflective concern”, but not the only one, as the “Nile researcher” correctly observed, is still focused on “how to finance the dam” and whether the dam could be economically viable under the best of circumstances.

It is an irrefutable fact that the T-TPLF launched the “GERD” project with full knowledge that it will not be able to secure external financing. The late Meles Zenawi’s defiantly declared he would “go it alone” in building the dam at the inception of the project in 2011. That devil-may-care attitude now haunting the T-TPLF. The project today is facing “massive shortage of funds”, according to very knowledgeable sources.

What happened to the “dam bonds” they were going to sell to raise funds? In 2013, the T-TPLF claimed it had collected $500 million in “bond” sales. It does not appear an update on total “bond” sales has been provided since. Local business and institutions have been forced to buy “bonds”. Ordinary citizens have been subjected to mandatory contributions to the dam from their meagre incomes. The Diaspora “bond” selling frenzy, appears to have completely stopped, at least openly in the United States, after I “advised” the T-TPLF that selling unregistered securities by a foreign government or its representatives is illegal under American federal and state law.

The fact of the matter is that the T-TPLF has been fully aware of the actual and potential financial problems in the construction of the dam all along. It is has also experienced serious problems of cost overruns and poor project management in its other dam construction projects. For instance, the Tekeze hydroelectric dam on the Tekeze River, a Nile tributary, in northern Ethiopia was initially estimated to cost USD$224 million, but when it was completed in 2008, its cost skyrocketed to USD$360 million, $136 million or 38 percent over budget.

The Gilgel Gibe II dam on the Omo River in February 2010 suffered “tunnel collapse closing the largest hydropower plant operating in Ethiopia, only 10 days after its inauguration,” according to a report by the U.S. Homeland Security Department.

A major study entitled, “The Gilgel Gibe Affair” on the structural failure of the Gilgel Gibe II Dam established that the collapse of that dam was related to a number of factors including expedited construction and a lack of proper engineering and environmental studies. The Italian dam contractor, Salini Costruttori S.p.A., admitted as much when it issued a press release stating, “an unforeseen geological event provoked a ‘cave in’ and a huge rock fall involving about 15m of the 26km headrace tunnel”.

A Bankwatch study highlighted the conflict of interest that arises in megaproject infrastructure projects from non-competitive bids “[W]henever the interests of a major private company coincide not only with weak governance in the host country but also very clear willingness from financial institutions to provide funding, in spite of alarming project oversights and impacts.” That smells like CORRUPTION to me in Ethiopia’s dam building projects!

The fact of the matter is that given the seriousness of the structural failure of Gilgel Gibe II, there is no guarantee that it will not experience even more catastrophic failure at any time. Such failure could result from such likely causes as overtopping of the dam by over spilling water, debris blockage of spillways (the structure used to provide the controlled release of flows), settlement of the dam crest; seepage due to eroded piping, animal burrowing and cracks, structural failure of the materials and inadequate maintenance. These are issues that have been raised by scientists in their assessments of the Gilgel Gibe II dam.

The same construction company that built Gilgel Gibe II, Salini Costruttori, is building “GERD” on a no bid (no competitive bidding) contract. Could “GERD” face similar and even worse problems thean Gibe II? Interestingly, Salini has a history of huge cost overruns in its projects in Africa.

I still believe “GERD”, as a megadam, if completed will not be economically viable and the high cost of maintenance will undermine its overall production of electricity if it ever came online.

Again let’s look at the evidence. First, there are significant management issues with the “Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO)” and its electricity tariff (rate) structure. According to a 2011 World Bank Policy Paper,

underpricing is a significant issue. Ethiopia’s power tariffs of $0.04-0.08 per kilowatt-hour are low by regional standards and recover only 46 percent of the costs of the utility. Although the long-term marginal cost of generation is low at $0.04 per kilowatt-hour, major investment needs in the country’s transmission and distribution networks push up the overall long-term marginal cost of power to around $0.16 per kilowatt-hour. Underpricing in the power sector is equivalent to 1.3 percent of GDP, which is even higher than the (already high) low-income country benchmark of 0.8 percent of GDP. Power tariffs will inevitably need to be adjusted upward in the medium term; such a realignment would strengthen the financial position of the company. The overall hidden costs of power sector inefficiency absorb around 100 percent of EEPCO revenues; meaning that the company only captures about half the revenue that it would need to function effectively… [Emphasis added.]

This situation remains unchanged today; and according to some knowledgeable sources, has gotten much worse.

Another World Bank Study, “Africa’s Power Infrastructure”, comes to similar conclusions about electricity tariffs in sub-Sahara Africa.

Power tariffs in Sub-Sahara Africa are high compared with other regions. The average power tariff of $0.12 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) is twice the level in other developing regions, such as South Asia… [T]ariffs for power are heavily subsidized in most African countries. On average, power tariffs recover only 87 percent of full costs. The resulting implicit service subsidies amount to as much as $3.6 billion a year, or 0.56 percent of Africa’s gross domestic product… [T]these subsidies largely bypass low-income households not even connected to services…. Results across a number of African countries show that the share of subsidies going to the poor is less than half their share in the population…

It has been reported that the T-TPLF intends to sell the power from the “GERD” to the Sudan, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula once construction is complete. The “Declaration of Principles” issued last week under clause 6 assures Egypt and the Sudan will be “given priority to purchase energy” from the dam. Such an outcome would be ideal. The question is whether Egypt will trade power for water if the flow of water even marginally impacts its agriculture and its own production of power on the Aswan Dam.

What is the alternative? If one is to follow the Meles/T-TPLF Master Plan for Energy, there is NONE.

According to Bankwatch, the “Ethiopian government’s” master plan for energy “gives virtually all its attention to new hydro generation and does not includes any substantial strategy for diversifying the national energy portfolio.” The mind-boggling fact is that the Meles Master Plan for Energy “has no enthusiasm for solar power or wind power.” What is even more shocking is the fact that even though “Ethiopia is already over-dependent on hydropower in its energy portfolio, upon inquiry, the government ministries responsible shared no concerns about the hydrological impacts which may accompany climate change.” Such is the reality created by the T-TPLF ignoramuses.

What the “GERD” will eventually cost, if built, is anybody’s guess! If one were to extrapolate from the Diamer-Bhasha Dam in Pakistan, the GERD could ultimately cost at least USD$10 billion (assuming the T-TPLF did not lowball the project initially, which knowledgeable sources affirm it has done so) and more likely over USD$15 billion.

The other BIG elephant without lipstick in the room

Second, I still worry about the antsy Big Elephant sitting next to the white elephant in the room. Could GERD be a casus belli (an act or event that provokes or is used to justify war) in the region?

I am deeply troubled by the sentiments and views expressed by ministers of deposed President Mohammed Morsi. Those ministers, in my view, reflected not only the official thinking of the deposed Morsi government but other Egyptian governments dating back to Anwar Sadat and including Sisi’s today. Their views also reflect deeply held public sentiment among Egyptians in general. I don’t think Morsi’s ministers are alone in their belief that “water security is a matter of life and death” for Egyptians. To put it bluntly, I believe most high level Egyptian officials view the “GERD” as a “declaration of war.” That is why I remain very concerned about the “damplomacy” of brinksmanship that characterizes the discourse and debate over the “GERD”.

Regardless of the “Declaration” issued last week or any other international agreement, I believe the GERD will be a sure source of regional conflict and instability. I believe Morsi’s minsters have succinctly laid out the national Egyptian Strategic Plan to deal with the reality of the GERD from construction to completion: 1) try and exhaust diplomacy (“damplomacy” a word I coined for the occasion); 2) resort to international law, i.e. seek judicial or arbitral resolution; 3) if options 1 and 2 fail, “resort to our intelligence agencies in order to destroy any dam that undermines Egypt’s security… That building this dam is tantamount to a declaration of war against Egypt…”

Rumors of war often presage actual war. The talk of war by high level Egyptian leaders and others sympathetic to the Egyptian cause should not be dismissed as blowing smoke. In February 2013, the Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid Bin Sultan fired a shot across the bow from the Arab Water Council in Cairo to let the regime in Ethiopia know that his country takes a dim view of the GERD. According to Prince Khalid, if the dam “collapsed Khartoum will be drowned completely and the impact will even reach the Aswan Dam…” The Prince believes the Dam is being built close to the “Sudanese border for political plotting rather than for economic gain and constitutes a threat to Egyptian and Sudanese national security…” The Prince raised the stakes by accusing the regime in Ethiopia of being hell-bent on harming Arab peoples. “There are fingers messing with water resources of Sudan and Egypt which are rooted in the mind and body of Ethiopia. They do not forsake an opportunity to harm Arabs without taking advantage of it…”

Will the “Declaration of Principles” signed last week and described in the international media as a “water sharing arrangements among Nile Basin countries” eliminate the possibility of war in the region? I shall offer an extended legal and political analysis of the “Declaration” in due course (see preliminary observations below), but suffice it to say here that I see it as nothing more than window-dressing and tap dancing by the three countries to wish away the BIG elephant in battle dress sitting long-faced in the room.

I believe Egypt has already promulgated its casus belli (possible reasons for going to war over the dam) for a dam war. It has made it clear that it will choose war as its ultima ratio (the ultimate reason for war as a last resort) and asserted what it believes to be “just cause” for such a war. No “declaration”, no speech before any parliament, no demonstration of love fest or kumbaya display will mask that fact.

Again, let’s look at the facts and body of evidence.

President Anwar Sadat in 1978 declared, “We depend upon the Nile 100 per cent in our life, so if anyone, at any moment, thinks of depriving us of our life we shall never hesitate to go to war.”

Boutros Boutros Gahali, when he was the Egyptian Foreign State Minister (later U.N. Secretary General), confirmed the same sentiment when he asserted “the next war in our region will be over the water of the Nile, not politics. If it comes to a crisis, we will send a jet to bomb the dam and come back in one day, simple as that.”

An email from the American private security organization Stratfor, the private geopolitical intelligence and consulting firm, released by Wikileaks citing its source as “high-level Egyptian security/intel in regular direct contact with Mubarak and Suleiman” revealed: “If it comes to a crisis, we will send a jet to bomb the dam and come back in one day, simple as that. Or we can send our special forces in to block/sabotage the dam. But we aren’t going for the military option now. This is just contingency planning. Look back to an operation Egypt did in the mid-late 1970s, I think 1976, when Ethiopia was trying to build a large dam. We blew up the equipment while it was traveling by sea to Ethiopia.”

Stratfor last week in its analsyis of the negotiations leading to the “Declaration” concluded, “Whatever agreement emerges from these negotiations will be all but impossible for Egypt to enforce. With no military options and no foreign guarantees, Ethiopia would have the ability to violate the agreement when it needs to. Therefore, whatever the agreement, there is likely to be continued tension over the project at least in the near term.” (Emphasis added.)

Stratfor’s analysis, I believe is correct. I believe once Egypt gains internal stability and al-Sisi consolidates his power, his ticket to president-for-life will be beating the drums of war against Ethiopia over the GERD. Mark my words! I believe he will use Ethiopia as the boogeyman to blame the burgeoning economic problems of Egypt. “The first chapter of the Dictators’ Handbook instructs practitioners to find an external enemy to help them preserve their rule.” I expect al-Sisi will “villainize” and even “demonize” the GERD to maintain himself in power and divert public attention from the enormous social, political and economic problems facing his country. Under such circumstances, I do not agree with Stratfor’s assumptions and analysis that lack of strategic air capability will prevent Egyptian military action on the dam. In this regard, Britain’s “Operation Chastise” in Germany in May 1943 is highly instructive. Of course, my views are based on simple common sense and armchair analysis of military history.

Preliminary observations on the “Declaration of Principles”

I expect to comment extensively on the “Declaration of Principles” in due course. Here I offer some preliminary observations.

First, I do not see anything new the “Declaration” brings to the table. It’s like the old James Brown song, “Talking loud and saying nothing.” The “leaders” of the three countries made a big photo op out of the signing of the “Declaration” and talked big, but as I see it, it is all cotton candy.

Let us examine the textual evidence of the “declaration”. In adopting the “Principles” (P), the parties affirmed they will be good neighbors (P1), acknowledged power is essential to economic development (P2), pledged to avoid significant environmental harm to the Nile (P3), expressed their desire to use the water from the Nile River “fairly” to accommodate the social and economic needs of the peoples of the Basin countries (P4), indicated interest in consulting with each other in the dam’s storage reservoir first filling and subsequent dam operations (P5), expressed aspiration to build trust in each other by giving first priority to “downstream countries” to purchase energy from the dam (P6), agreed to share dam related data (P7), cooperate to ensure dam structural safety (P8), work together “on the basis of equal sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity” (P9), and “settle disputes” through “talks and negotiations”.

In the “Declaration”, the parties make no guarantees, assurances, undertakings or enforceable promises nor do they ratify any ascertainable set of actions. There is no indication the “Declaration” will or could result in a formal “treaty” in the reasonably foreseeable future. As always, the super-secretive T-TPLF has kept the details of the “Declaration” secret. It has not allowed open public debate on the “Declaration” before “signing it”. The marionette Ethiopian “prime minister”, Hailemariam Desalegn, in his usual discombobulated diction said, “I confirm the construction of the Renaissance Dam will not cause any damage to our three states and especially to the Egyptian people.” Classic ignoratio elenchi. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said, “We have chosen cooperation, and to trust one another for the sake of development.”

I think the old saying is, “There is no honor among thieves.” I say, there is no trust among thugtators. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “trust” between nations. There is mighty little of it among individuals. But if one must “trust”, then one must “verify” as Ronald Reagan used to say. English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain “trusted” Hitler when he signed the Munich Agreement in 1938, an instrument far more important than a “Declaration”. Chamberlain announced “peace in our time” before he verified. Instead of having peace in our time, the world had the worst war of all time.

What does it all mean?

The “declaration” raises many troubling questions in my mind. Why did the parties choose to use the diplomatic instrument of “declaration” instead of other more practical and potentially useful instruments such as exchange of notes, memoranda of understanding, modus vivendi, accord, etc.?

A “declaration” under general international legal principles is the equivalent of a Santa’s wish list. It is the least legally significant diplomatic instrument states can use when they are biding their time. A “declaration” is rarely, if ever, intended to create binding legal obligations. It is unenforceable in a proceeding before the International Court of Justice (Art. 92, U.N. Charter.) A “declaration” merely serves as an expression of goodwill, aspirations and hopes as the dogs of war howl and yelp chained to their leashes. I see no intention manifest in the text and language of the “Declaration” that the parties will eventually transform the principles into state practice establishing rights and binding obligations among themselves.

I also find nothing politically significant about the “Declaration” It is not clear from the text of the “Declaration” what the parties intended to accomplish, particularly in light of their previous contentious and recriminatory relationships. On its face, the “Declaration” impresses me as generic diplomatic doublespeak prepared as news fodder for public consumption. My take is that the T-TPLF leaders wanted to generate some public excitement, particularly as the GERD is running short of funds. A “declaration” would be a nice distraction, a clever diversion, aimed at effectively dampening any public inquiry, scrutiny or discussion into the financial troubles of the dam. I believe the T-TPLF wants people to talk about the “big agreement” with Egypt instead of the big empty financial bag. The T-TPLF could also have calculated that signing the “Declaration” will put a nice feather in its cap as the “election” draws near.

The fact of the matter is that it is the job of the make-believe parliament to demand rigorous accountability and transparency on the financial state of the dam construction. Of course, that will not happen.

It is my occupational hazard to doubt and to raise reasonable doubt about contentious issues. So when I hear the dam is facing “massive funding shortage” from very knowledgeable sources, insolvency and bankruptcy ching, ching in my ear. That is not mere speculation on my part. Just a few weeks ago, Karuturi Global, Ltd., the world’s largest producer and exporter of cut roses, which promised to turn Ethiopia into Africa’s breadbasket, threw in the towel and headed straight for bankruptcy with debts in the tens of millions. I would not be surprised if the T-TPLF threw in the towel and walked away from the GERD project leaving the bamboozled “bondholders” high and dry. I don’t want to sound overly cynical but the GERD will eventually prove to be Ethiopia’s Kilamba City, the $4 billion ghost city in Angola, or one of the many Chinese ghost cities. GERD Ghost dam?

Is my “single reflective concern” about “financing the dam” really misplaced? Did my concern over the financing of the dam really “miss the point”?

There is another issue of a legal nature that intrigues me about the “Declaration” in light of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and Articles 102, and particularly Art. 36 (2) of the Charter of the United Nations which provides that “every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member State of the United Nations after the present Charter comes into force shall as soon as possible be registered with the Secretariat and published by it”. Will the parties register the “Declaration” with the Secretariat as evidence of their good will to each other and demonstration of irrevocable commitment to the principles? Clause 6 of the “Declaration” talks about “trust”. Given the acrimonious history of the parties over the “GERD”, wouldn’t trust would be boosted and confidence inspired on all sides if the parties were to register the “Declaration” under Art. 36 (2).

I have no confidence the T-TPLF will uphold the “principles” of the “Declaration. Once again, let’s look at the evidence.

Article 13 (2) of the Ethiopian Constitution provides, “The fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in this Chapter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR]…” The UDHR as a “declaration” is not legally binding in and of itself.

The UDHR, for instance, provides “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” ( Art. 9.) Every day the T-TPLF jails opposition leaders and dissidents without due process of law. It provides, “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal…” (Article 10.). The T-TPLF for nearly a quarter of a century has run kangaroo (monkey) courts. The UDHR provides, “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty.” (Article 11.) The T-TPLF has arrested youngsters for blogging on Facebook and left them languishing in jail without bail as they face interminable continuances in kangaroo court. The UDHR provides, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. (Article 19.) The T-TPLF has crushed the independent media in the country and jailed hundreds of journalists.

So, I have a gnawing question: Is the “Nile Declaration” worth the paper it is written on? Could the T-TPLF, with its long history of trashing its own constitution which incorporates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, be expected to honor a 10-point “Nile Declaration”?

From border, ethnic and communal wars to water wars in Africa

With climate change, population growth, political unrest and regional instability, water is likely to be the principal source of conflict in Africa in the coming decades. In Southern Africa, Lake Malawi is a source of dispute between Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique each claiming ownership. It appears they are headed to the International Court of Justice ICJ). The River Cuito, which originates in Angola and flows through Namibia before terminating in Botswana, has flared up from time to time as a source of conflict. Namibia and Botswana have waged a war of words over the Chobe River and are now before the ICJ. Burkina Faso and Ghana are likely to face off over water in the Volta Basin particularly as Ghana begins to demand more water for its hydroelectric dam. The Zambezi River which flows through eight southern African countries will likely drag these countries into conflict.

Games of “demonization” and “canonization”, doomsayers, naysayers and white elephants

Presenting facts and arguing my case and cause in the court of world public opinion should not be mistaken for “demonization of the Ethiopian government.” I don’t play demonization and canonization games, nor do I prophesy doom and gloom. I just call it as I see it.

I regard myself to be an equal opportunity critic particularly on the issue of human rights. I am the first to admit that I am a hard core and self-righteous advocate for my cause. But I always try to play fair. I will never knowingly make an argument for which I do not supply factual predicates. My interpretation and analysis of the facts may be different than others. I may emphasize one set of facts over another to make my points. That is in the nature of partisan advocacy. I am an unrepentant partisan advocate for the rule of law, democracy and human rights. As a lawyer, my professional duty is to plead my cause and persuade others to agree with me. . The political scientist in me is less of an advocate and more concerned with the theory and practice of politics. I try to do both in my commentaries.

Most of my long time readers over the years have come to know that I became involved in Ethiopian human rights advocacy after the late Meles Zenawi ordered the massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters following the 2005 election. (Yes, I will remind my readers of that crime against humanity every chance I get until all of the perpetrators are brought to justice.) Prior to the Meles Massacres, I had very little interest in Ethiopian politics. I was so outraged by the Meles Massacres that I decided not to be indifferent in the face of the Meles Massacres and to speak up and become a voice for the voiceless. I believe silence is the greatest ally of evil.

I don’t believe in demonizing anyone. I make a distinction between demons, angels and humans. But I do believe demonic acts occur every day. I believe Meles and the T-TPLF have committed demonic acts. The massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters is the ultimate demonic act. Jailing journalists and bloggers without due process of law, maintaining kangaroo courts, stealing elections, obsessive governmental secrecy and reporting bogus economic growth numbers are intolerable demonic acts. Flagrant violations of the rule of law, maintaining an empire of corruption, crushing political opponents and dissidents, practicing torture in prisons and abuse of power and a gang of thugs pretending to be a government in my book are all acts sanctioned and practiced by the Prince of Darkness himself. Calling a spade a spade is not demonizing the spade.

I have nothing personal against the T-TPLF or its public mannequin faces; or for that matter, the faceless and nameless shakers and movers of that organization. My issue is only with their actions and policies. I profit nothing by “demonizing” the T-TPLF. I get no pleasure from raining on the T-TPLF parade every week. I don’t enjoy exposing the “Emperors of the T-TPLF” have no clothes. But, if presenting hard facts and reasoned analysis on acts and omissions of the T-TPLF masquerading as “the Ethiopian government” is equated with “demonization”, my only answer is: “If the shoe (horn and goatee) fits, wear it. As you make your bed, so you must lie on it.”

As I have often said, if the T-TPLF stops massive human rights violations and genocide, establishes structures of accountability and transparency, upholds the rule of law and respect their own constitution and guarantee the complete independence of the judiciary, not steal elections, I will gladly be its number 1 fan.

The song and dance of the 2015 “election”

My take on all of the news and stuff from the past week or so is probably different from most people. The drumbeat of all the “good” news we are hearing is merely an effort by the T-TPLF to show that it is doing big things and is a force to be reckoned with nationally and regionally. Unfortunately, they can no longer talk about the “double digit” 11.7 percent economic growth over the past ten years. So they have to change the narrative as the May “election” they have already tagged and bagged draws near.

But in the pre-“election” narrative the T-TPLF is grasping at straws like the drowning man grabbing any floating object, even a straw, to save himself. Beginning in January of this year, they have been bombarding the public with all sorts of big propaganda. They said Gilegel Gibe III will launch in June 2015 (a week or so after the “election”) to show how much development is taking place in the country. According to Azeb Asnake, chief executive officer of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, as of January 2015, “88 percent of the work for the Gibe 3 hydropower project has already been completed.”

The promised launch of Gilgel Gibe III is meaningless. Atif Ansar of the Oxford research group argues, “A 90% complete dam is as valueless as a dam not built at all. This typically escalates politicians’ desire to throw good money after bad and try to complete a dam long after it has become clear that the investment is a dud.” But even when completed, natural factors affect the performance of the dam. Ansar argues, “Kainji Dam in Nigeria has fallen short of its hydroelectricity production targets by as much as 70%. Volatile swings in water flow have threatened the dam’s safety in times of flood and impaired its hydropower and irrigation benefits during drought.”

The T-TPLF have their public relations jockeys spreading rumors that they sent their fighter planes to bomb an “Eritrean gold mine” to show their military prowess. They say they made a deal with Egypt, and Al-Sisi is coming to town to bow down and pay homage to his new regional water masters. They said a “$10 billion billionaire” is going to build a “a $5 billion refinery within ten years.” They said their former political opponents are flocking back from abroad to make peace with them before the “election”.

All of these and other similar grandiose claims are intended to impress the people a few weeks before the “election”. But grandiosity is the hallmark of all dictatorships. Every dictatorship in history has tried to justify itself and its continued existence by making fantastic claims. For the T-TPLF, grandiosity and lies are the currencies that buy them one extra day in power, one extra week, month and year. Their propaganda efforts remind me of an observation William Hazlitt once made: “Habitual liars invent falsehoods not to gain any end or even to deceive their hearers, but to amuse themselves. It is partly practice and partly habit. It requires an effort in them to speak truth.” As I observed a few weeks ago, the T-TPLF and its late leader are the reincarnation of the Pseudologoi, the gods of lies in Greek mythology, in Ethiopia.

The foregoing analysis of the “GERD” may be “flawed” in one way or another. I invite those “experts” and “researchers” to point out the “flaws” so that I can write a follow up piece acknowledging the errors in my analysis and conclusions. I stand ready to learn.

The late Meles nearly a quarter of a century ago declared that he would consider his government a success if Ethiopians were able to eat three meals a day. That is the only test the T-TPLF needs to pass today. Are the people of Ethiopia eating three meals a day? If not, a $5 billion dam is not worth a damn!

Extremism in the cause of tru

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