Last but not least, is the project really economically viable? I am no expert in this matter, but plenty documented studies on the real benefits of grand dams exist that invite caution, if not outright skepticism. Caution is all the more advised since the project originated from the former prime minister whose dictatorial ethos and aspiration to personal grandeur have left Ethiopia in a state of shamble. As pointed out by Alemayehu G. Mariam’s article, dictators are consumed by vanity and the need to justify their rule. As a result, they launch grandiose projects whose purpose is both to flatter their aspiration to grandeur and hide the misery and pettiness of their rule. It is important that we resist the temptation of separating the dam from Meles’s megalomania if only because it gives the reason why alternative proposals that would be less costly and more in tune with the environment and the interests of surrounding people were discarded in favor of the Grand Renaissance Dam. I am not convinced by the argument that economic benefits are dependent on the size of the dam, and not on a smart, efficient, more manageable use of the water.
To the argument of economic benefits, Tecola adds that projects like the grand dam can work as antidotes to the ethnic division of Ethiopia. Projects with a national dimension counter the fragmentation of the country and serve as achievements around which people can rally and repair their torn unity and national identity. As a harsh critic of Meles and his regime, Tecola knows that national projects are not enough to patch up Ethiopian unity. Centuries of common existence did not deter the Tigrean TPLF from advocating and implementing an ethnonationalist agenda. To counter the trend, we need a government that expressly dismantles the institutions created to divide Ethiopia and promotes a national culture that permeates ethnic identities.
That is why Tecola supplements his support to the dam with the argument that “the current Government of Hailemariam Desalegn seems to be engaged in a subtle fight to reverse such disastrous course of national disintegration.” In thus making his support conditional, Tecola joins all those Ethiopians who have serious concerns about the good use of the dam, the only but important difference being that concerned Ethiopians, in which I include myself, are not as optimistic as Tecola in the belief that the actual prime minster has the necessary power to reform the regime. In light of this uncertainty about the reformist agenda of the prime minister, I maintain that it is still reasonable to oppose the construction of the dam.
The upshot of all this is that the mentioned articles, despite their good intention and estimable arguments, do not do the job of appeasing my original concerns. To support the construction of the dam, I require an open debate about the pros and cons and the release of all relevant official and secret documents. By debate I do not mean the defense of the project by the officials of the government, but the presentation of alternative projects. The goal must not be to obtain endorsement, but to allow people to exercise their free and enlightened judgments with no attachment of political significance that would be construed as supporting or opposing the regime. Of course, some such condition amounts to nothing else but a change of government, given that the present regime will never subscribe to an open debate. Anyway, the construction of the dam is on its way so that the time for open debate has already passed. Even so, I reserve the right to oppose a fait accompli if only to show that the dictatorial regime did not fool me a bit.[continue on page 3]