By Mitiku Adisu
On July 16, 2022 Efrem Belete graduated from Addis Ababa University. The same day, President Biden was in Saudi Arabia making deals with Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Saudi has oil; Biden wants Saudi to release more oil to bring down skyrocketing gas prices to help his party win mid-term elections. MBS four years earlier had ordered the gruesome murder of journalist Adnan Khashoggi. Biden had then called Saudi a pariah. Not anymore. Or perhaps only out of earshot.
The day Efrem Belete graduated from Addis Ababa University President Biden was also making joint statement with Egyptian president Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi who had flown over to Saudi for the occasion. The intent of the statement was to “strengthen shared security” (a euphemism for keeping an eye on Palestinians, Muslim Brotherhood, Yemen, China, and Ethiopia). What’s in it for Egypt?: $51 billion in military aid since 1979. Or 3.56 million taxpayer’s dollars per day. Lest we forget, these are grants and not to be repaid!
Have the living conditions of Egyptians improved as a result of the billions poured in over four decades? Of course not as intended or publicized. Except perhaps for the military heads and their extended family. The rest have to contend with fear, unemployment, and unrelenting repression. Biden will look the other way (as did Obama) leaving Sisi to trample on the human rights especially of Coptic Christians. Remember 2011 Tahrir Square where Egyptians in pursuit of freedom were gunned down in broad daylight? In other words, the real boom is in military hardware. And with stockpile of weapons Egypt trained and financed armed groups, especially in Ethiopia.
Egypt-US joint statement included “promoting regional stability.” As in “concluding an agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) without further delay.” [Italics mine.]
The GERD has been under construction since 2011. It is hoped the grand project will help alleviate deep poverty and provide electric power to millions of Ethiopians now in darkness. In other words, completion of project will be good for the well-being of humans and the ecosystem. Two facts should never be overlooked. The project was undertaken in line with international design criteria and standards. That in turn required proper assessment of and adherence to environmental and water security needs of riparian nations. Secondly, the $5 billion project cost was raised from Ethiopians. Is it any wonder that somehow Ethiopians, not Egyptians or Chinese or Americans, are better at figuring out what is best for them? Egypt, on the other hand, took a defunct 1902/1929 colonial treaty to claim sole proprietorship to the Nile and kept complaining in spite of the facts to the contrary.
Egypt historically has tended to cast matters related to the Blue Nile in terms of Christian Ethiopia attempting to poison the waters to harm Muslims downstream. This was fear-mongering at its worst; and foolish to contemplate it is even physically achievable. What’s more, Ethiopia was Muslim before Egypt was. In fact, by the 7th century Ethiopia had already granted refuge to persecuted Meccan converts. (Ethiopia’s Muslim population today is larger than those in Saudi Arabia!)
Egypt however went on to paint Ethiopia as an “existential threat” to distract the world community from rampant corruption, institutionalized arbitrary arrests, and violence against women at home.
Egypt threatened war to discourage the progress of the Ethiopian project. When that failed, Egypt took to courting Trump Admin to facilitate a solution favoring it. The US took Egyptian side thus failing to take seriously the role it was entrusted with. Ethiopian delegation bolted out of that meeting. Trump Admin offered huge sums of aid money to bait and frustrate Ethiopian ambition and later suggested blowing up the dam structure altogether.
Egyptian paranoia entered a new phase as it attempted to cast the issue as Arab versus Africa. Objection to the first of three-phased filling soon reached fever-pitch. Every fear Egypt created simply failed to materialize. Egypt did the same on the second, and now the third filling. All in vain.
How does the now viral story of Efrem Belete fit into the larger picture? It is that Efrem brought his mother along to the graduation ceremony—only this time she is in cap and gown and he carrying a load of leafy firewood on his back. Efrem was determined to celebrate and honor his beloved mother. She it was who undertook the back-breaking task of collecting and selling firewood to feed and send him to school. All to say this: for far too long the absence of electric power has forced millions of Ethiopian mothers into subhuman activity to eke out a living.
Seen in this light, Biden-Sisi joint statement is nothing more than an attempt to condemn millions of women and their household to unending misery. Hypocrisy of wealthy nations and their expedient political chatter have always failed to take note of aspirations of ordinary folk. For Ethiopia the choices could not be starker; completing the dam to generate electric power and revenues is a ticket out of darkness and dependency on foreign aid. We see this beautifully captured in the pain and joy of a mother and her graduating son. This I would say is far nobler a story than chopping up a journalist, denying scientific data, or fomenting conflicts in the name of promoting regional stability.
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