GERD: A Living Monument of Self Reliance

01 Apr 2017
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Solomon Dibaba: ENA

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is a symbol of national self reliance and a source of confidence for the nations, nationalities and peoples who are financing Africa’s biggest hydro-electric dam.

GERD is a historical project that proved the burning desire of the peoples of Ethiopia can be fulfilled only through the efforts of the people who are out to wage a nationwide battle against poverty and centuries of destitution.

This dam is a living testimony of how a protracted conspiracy on Ethiopia’s efforts to solicit fund from international financial magnets have been effectively foiled.

In an interview he delivered to Great Hidasse magazine, in the 2016special edition, board member of the National Council for the Coordination of Public Participation on the Construction of GERD, Dr. Debretshion Gebremichael said:

The mere fact that we decided to rid ourselves of aid and handouts by hiring international companies by our own financial resources to build this grand dam not only inspired us but also helped to invigorate the rest of Africa.  When we announce the plan, those who were not in favor of our development, said that we would never start the construction of the dam. After we started the project, they said that we will quit it and when we were engaged in temporarily diverting the course of the flow of the Nile, they said, Ethiopia is closing down the river on us. Today, we have now reached on a decisive stage.”

The unanimous decision made by the peoples and government of Ethiopia to build the dam by local resources six years back is a reminder of what has happened during the Battle of Adwa.

Professor Bahiru Zewede, in his book -A History of Modern Ethiopia (London: James Currey, 1991) - wrote, "Few events in the modern period have brought Ethiopia to the attention of the world as has the victory at Adwa".

Indeed after 121 years of this battle, in which Ethiopians fought neck and neck for their sovereignty, the current generation is also engaged in a battle against poverty and GERD has already become symbol of unity and victory against poverty.

Many people here and abroad talk or write about the significance, size and economic benefits of GERD and there is no lack of statistics in this regard. However, the uniqueness of GERD lies in the fact that it is the first ever, people financed mega project in Africa, with no foreign loan or financial assistance.

The peoples and government of Ethiopia turned the challenges they faced in seeking fund for the project into an opportunity to effectively mobilize the entire sector of the Ethiopian society. The strategies charted out for public mobilizations are also home grown and indigenous.

For instance the tour made by the Renaissance Trophy into all regions and zones of the country has cemented national unity, patriotism and a national zeal to finish the construction of GERD as fast as possible.

Public participation in fund raising events like paper and electronic lottery, sports events, purchase of  bonds and in-kind and cash donations as well as unlimited participation of rural societies in preserving natural resources clearly show Ethiopia’s ability towards self financing of even more upcoming mega projects. The natural conservation activities undertaken by the public is estimated to be 47 billion Birr.

Apart from raising fund for the construction of GERD, the fund raising programs have helped to boost a cohesive level of social consciousness and civility among the peoples of Ethiopia.

Briefing local journalists, Roman Gebreselassie, Director General of The Office for the Coordination of Public Participation on the Construction of GERD said that during the bond selling week, more than 52 million Birr has been collected. To date, out of the total 12.4 billion Birr pledged by the public and private investors, some 9.6 billion Birr has been collected. Ethiopian’s and Ethiopian origin in the Diaspora had provided commendable contributions towards the construction of GERD.

Diaspora Engagement Affairs Director-General at the Ministry OF Foreign Affairs, Demeke Atnafu recently told ENA that to date, the Diaspora has contributed more than 420 million USD, out of which 47 percent of this share is the bond bought by Ethiopian living in the Middle East countries, while the balance is by Ethiopians living in different parts of Africa, North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

Ethiopians living abroad mainly in Europe, UK and other parts of the world also came together and formed an organization called ‘Ethiopian International Professional Support for Abbay  (EIPSA)’ in 2013, in response to the timely need for an organized and independent professional Ethiopian voice surrounding the issue of the Nile River. 

The self financed mega project, among other things also indicates the level on which the peoples of Ethiopia have come to tap local resources in the most creative manner by blending creative arts with financing mega projects like GERD. Many Ethiopians in the field of creative arts have contributed their part both in financing and mobilizing the public. This is a new experience both in Ethiopia and Africa at large.

The entire national process of self financing and fund raising has also helped to raise not only the social consciousness of the public but also their political consciousness by inculcating the spirit of democratic patriotism as opposed to narrow nationalism and chauvinism.

Many African countries still depend on foreign assistance even to finance intermediate projects that normally fall under the local capacity of the nations. Ethiopia’s initiative in financing a mega project like GERD is part and parcel of the nation’s protracted battle against poverty.

This generation is tasked with the responsibility of waging a battle against poverty which is the arch enemy of the peoples of Ethiopia. Poverty has humiliated us, it has made us to bow down our heads in agony and it is our task to take this opportunity to finish the construction of GERD and transfer it to the coming generation” Debretshion said.

Ethiopia’s experience in financing GERD has a far greater implication for Africa. The nation decided to construct the dam not only from mere national interest but also because the process of building the dam will be an opportunity to set an example for African countries to finance their mega projects from local resources.

The current global donor fatigue, forced as many developed countries to focus on their own internal resource to undertake economic priorities. Although working in international financial partnership is an acceptable way of economic development, Africans need to chart our creative ways and means of soliciting funds for their projects without waiting for international donor for assistance.

The peoples and government of Ethiopia are already on the right track in shouldering their responsibilities in learning to depend on their own resources.

As the nation marks the 6th anniversary of the official launch of the construction of GERD, each day leads to more successes in making the finalization of the dam a historical reality. GERD is solidifying the unity of all Ethiopians in financing their mega project. This is a lesson that the present and next generation should replicate on upcoming projects.

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