Abay The Prodigal Son of Ethiopia

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By Etsubdink Sileshi
A parable I heard growing up is still warm and captivating to my heart. It is fetched from one of the scriptures (dear reader, hold on! I am not here to preach.) .This powerful parable is known as the story of the Prodigal Son .It goes as follows: A father has two sons. The younger son asks for inheritance from his father; and gets granted as per the request. Afterwards, this son goes to a distant place and engages in unspeakable wastefulness, extravagance, and adultery and dries up all the resources from his parents and ends up in destitute. Despite betraying his family, and bringing a disrespect to their house, he is welcomed back with stretched hands, joy and festivity. His older brother, who is loyal and hardworking becomes envious and refuses to join the welcome party. The father tells the older son: “you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours, but your younger brother was lost and now he is found.”
Blue Nile (Abay) is the Prodigal Son of Ethiopia (and Awash the older?).Since time immemorial it has flown without a drop of use to the thirsty dwellers by its bank. Enormous floods during the summer (June-September) erode a vast amount of fertile soil from the Highlands of Ethiopia and carry it downstream with which cotton and wheat are widely cultivated in Egypt and Sudan. The name Blue Nile or “Tikur Abay” in Amharic is a witness to the vast minerals the flood washes away from Ethiopia and turns the color of the water in to blue, blue black, and at times black depending on the severity of flooding and which course of the river we looking at. In Ethiopia, it neither hits the turbines of water mills, nor wets the draught -cracked lands it passes by. Millions of farmers, in the vicinity of Blue Nile still depend on food aid to survive. The circumstances at home and in the region combined used to hinder Ethiopia from developing its natural resources be it underground or the surface ones.
Abay, flows in deep canyons, cutting layers of Cenozoic era sediments, making it difficult to use for the livelihood of the people nearby. It simply flows while our mothers are suffering from shortage of fire wood and bearing the health consequences of the smokes which are toxic. Children cannot do their home works as most of them live in poorly lighted houses. Some are even exposed to asthma at a very young age from using oil lamps. Families starve because the mills don’t have energy to turn their turbines with. Cities suffer from recurrent tap water shortage as there is no electricity to pump up the ground water and drive it through the pipes. Hospital and other health facilities are subject to frequent interruption of electric supply -putting their patients (say in ICU) at a grave danger. The youth are unemployed for there is no energy for businesses to start with and run the machines. Many investments are on pending due to poor energy supply (recently, Amhara Mass Media reported that ,in the Amhara region alone, more than 352 new businesses were ready to start operation with all raw materials at hand if it were not for lack of electric infrastructure). Rail ways cannot operate due lack of electricity supply (remember the Wodia-Hara-Gebeya-Mekelle rail way project). The prodigal son, once it returns has a lot to accomplish to its family and their neighbors. A country with sufficient electric supply has long day lights. Days are productive; nights are safe. And life by far convenient. Energy tames the winter’s cold and the summer’s heat.
The Nile Basin (with Abay at the center) is the major basin in Ethiopia. It accounts for about 70 percent of Ethiopia’s annual runoff. An Ethiopia that is not properly harnessing this vital resource will not emerge out of poverty. Over the years Egypt and Sudan have built several dams, generated enormous electricity, planted and farmed using the water and fertile soil carried out by the prodigal son. These two countries have improved the lives and lively hoods of their respective citizens .Electricity and piped water coverage in Egypt is 100 percent, whereas, in Ethiopia 6 out of t10 people do not have access to electricity. And about forty percent of the people don’t have basic water supply. This is despite Ethiopia’s suitable topography for hydro-power generation potential and immense surface water resource. Now, Ethiopia is saying, “time to have clean drinking water! time have water for sanitation! Above all time to use my fair share and light up millions of houses left in darkness”. To be opposed to this basic human aspiration, and the dream of generations of Ethiopians for development is to live in some far distant era. Using her own resource within her boundary, yet taking in to account the real concerns of downstream countries, building GERD is morally fair, economically efficient, and environmentally friendly. Ultimately the Sudanese people and the Egyptian people will benefit from this be it via cheap supply of electricity, constant flow of water, reduction in flooding and over sedimentation damage. Besides, the location is GERD is less susceptible to evaporation which conserves a huge amount of water for the benefit of all riparian countries. Now, there is no disagreement about technical issues. Experts in the aforementioned countries have reiterated in one way or another the issue, now, is a political one. It is the politics, mainly from Egyptian side, that is trying its best to keep the unfair status quo-1959 agreement (which is now a thing of the past).
It is extremely disheartening to see some media personalities arguing by and mentioning past ‘agreements’ which Ethiopia was neither a part nor her interest represented. These ‘agreements’ are, mainly, by Egypt, for Egypt to Egypt. Take the 1959 ‘agreement’, it bestows veto power to Egypt, gives Sudan 18.5 billion cubic meters and 55.5 to Egypt. Ethiopia, on the other hand was to use zero cubic water; I repeat! ZERO cubic water while it contributes from 86-90 percent (depending on the season). Sometimes I wonder how someone in the 21st century entertains the possibilities of such “agreements”, let alone the practicability. I, for one, consider this inconceivable.
Before concluding my article, let me express my discontent with the economic sabotage and diplomatic com-pain so as to block funds from flowing to Ethiopia and redraw Ethiopia’s image as the bad boy of the Nile region. While the economic sabotage of foreign funds the could have been directed to Nile projects has been successful( thanks to citizens ,every penny is domestically collected, I ,myself ,started contributing when I was 12th grader,5 Birr), the “bad actor’ accusation cannot be further from the truth. Ethiopia has always conduced herself as a responsible actor in the global community. There is rich evidence for everyone to see. Since joining the League of Nation, Ethiopian leaders have advocated for collective world security and an orderly world. And as a founding member of the UN it has contributed a lot. Ethiopia contributed peace keepers to Korea, Congo, Liberia, Rwanda ,Burundi, Sudan, Somalia. Any positive stride, economic or otherwise in Ethiopia is a good news to the rest of at the world. The recent AU-lead talks on the GERD is a good move forward. I hope some positive outcomes will emerge very soon from these negotiations.
It is time to shake off the dust of old ideas and start seeing the entire region (basin)’s future as inter- wined. Development projects by one country should not be seen (intended) as a threat to the other. In matters that involve society and countries, no player solely gains by distorting the rules of the game to one’s short term monopolistic advantage. It is not in the interest of Ethiopia to hurt downstream countries. In the same fashion, it is not in the long term benefit of Egypt to stand on the way of Ethiopia’s development. Efficient utilization and equitable distribution of the Nile water is the only way forward. It is with such mutual understanding that hundreds of millions of people in the region will live a decent life in harmony and with utmost consideration for one another.
The prodigal son is back and is to stay here. He will serve his family as well as their neighbours.

The author has an MA in Economics .You can contact him via : etsubdink08@gmail.com