Thursday, September 27, 2012

An olive branch to the new old rulers

There is a discussion going on among Ethiopian opposition circles on the possibilities of a change occurring in Ethiopia as a result of a new leadership taking over the reigns of the ruling party. It is natural to expect a change when there is a change in leadership. Unfortunately, the new leaders of the Ethiopian government have already stated that they are going to stay on the same course that was chartered for them by their former leader.

What is the opposition to do? In my opinion, the opposition groups would be better off if they keep their focus on only what THEY can do to precipitate a change, instead of expecting a change to originate from the ruling group. They can do many things, but here is one suggestion for them: find an area where they have a common objective with the ruling party and offer their cooperation to achieve that objective -- in other words, offer the new old rulers an olive branch.

The building of a dam on Abay (Blue Nile) River, which is dubbed the Renaissance Dam, could be one such an objective where there is a common goal among all Ethiopian political groups, since there is a near unanimous consensus that building a dam on Abay is not only in Ethiopia's national interest but it is also necessary for her survival.

There were and still are some legitimate questions on whether or not sufficient financial planning had taken place prior to the commencement of the building of the dam in April of 2011. There were also questions on the timing of the dam building announcement. Some had suggested that the timing was designed to divert the attention of Ethiopians from the so-called Arab Spring that was happening in the region. This is now a mute question since construction of the dam is already underway. But Ethiopia's ability to raise the necessary financial resources to carry out this project to completion without external loans is still in serious doubt. This is where the opposition comes in.

It is important that the Abay dam project continue at full speed and is completed as scheduled in 2017 regardless of whether or not Ethiopia is able to get external loans for the project. The reason Ethiopia has been unable to secure external loans for this project is because of opposition from Egypt. Egypt has stymied all good faith efforts by Ethiopia and other Nile riparian countries in their attempt to create a mutually beneficial framework of understanding on the use of the Nile waters. Egypt has also been blocking loans to Ethiopia from multilateral institutions to build a dam on the Nile for a long time and she is continuing the same belligerent practice today.

The Woyane regime had made a bold effort to raise the required resources for the Abay dam project through the issuance of treasury bonds from domestic resources and the Ethiopian Diaspora. The estimated cost for building the dam at the time of the announcement was 4.8 billion dollar. The final cost of the dam will most likely exceed the initial figure, and the government is far from raising the funds it needs.

The only way the dam project can come to fruition as scheduled is if the government can bring all Ethiopians together for this common objective irrespective of their political affiliations. This can be done only if the government can persuade the Diaspora to wholeheartedly support the project. And the only way to have the full support of the Diaspora is through the endorsement of the dam project by opposition groups.

This should be a win-win proposition for both sides. At the end of the day, everyone will get a credit for playing a role in the project. The Woyane regime will get the credit for starting it, and the opposition groups will get the credit for getting the critical funds that will enable Ethiopia to circumvent Egypt's bellicose actions. If this proposal comes to pass, Ethiopians may finally usher in an era of real renaissance.

On the face of it, such a proposition for finding a common ground would seem a no-brainer idea. But the Ethiopian culture of suspicion may get in the way of capitalizing on opportunities for a positive change as has been the case way too many times in their history.

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