Politicization of science from Cairo University on the Ethiopian Dam

Zerihun Abebe Yigzaw

Politicization is a process of making something and some issue to serve the political perspective of someone. In fact, as the political scientist-Rober Cox in 1981 famously stated even “Theory is always for someone and for some purpose.” Hence, politicization of science is the process and act of using or manipulating-better to say, science to serve a needed political goal or end. It is obvious that science and politics are intertwined in many aspects. Yet a mere polarization mostly created a very perilous situation if we have two opposing views where the facts based on science could solve such differences-for example the politics behind climate change is one illustration of such kind.

As clearly explained by Pielke (2004), an extreme politicization of science by scientists is dangerous because it is “a threat to the institutions of science and democracy.” Pielke was challenging the politicized works on climate change and related issues. He mainly focused his explanation on the book entitled The Skeptical Environmentalist wrote by a Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg. Pielke in general warned that “If scientists evaluate the research findings of their peers on the basis of political perspectives, then “scientific” debate among academics risks morphing into political debates.” This is exactly what happened when a group of professors from Cairo University released what they cliamed is a report on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The professors are members of what they said “Group of Nile Basin (GNB) at Cairo University to Support Egypt.” Most of them are drawn from the engineering and hydraulic faculties. Mohamed Nasir El Din Alam ex-minister of Water Resources and Irrigation during the last days of the Mubarak era is a member of the group as well. As stated in their report which is translated by Egyptianchronicles blog “The purpose of the group is to support the effort of Government and the decision makers facing these serious escalating water threats” These individuals recently prepared a “report” of their view about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The full report is available in the blog mentioned above but here I will reflect on what they said is the major concerns about the GERD and other three remaining dams on the Blue Nile which are lined up to follow. But there view is extremely politicized and it forces us to question their credibility. In the following parts I will show how much their conclusions are politicized.

A. On the International Panel of Experts on the GERD Report

The professors from Cairo University blatantly misuse and misinterpreted the conclusions of the final report of the IPoE on the GERD. This is mainly because they run to select on what they claim are the concerns as

  1. There are no sufficient structural studies.
  2. There is a lack in the hydrological investigations.
  3. There are no environmental impact assessments on the two downstream      countries; Egypt and Sudan.

But the other side of the story as evidenced in the IPoE Report is

  1. The design of the dam is based on international standards
  2. The dam upon accomplishment will yield a lot of benefits to the basin countries
  3. The GERD will not cause significant harm to water flow downstream
  4. To increase the benefits and reduce unseen risks it is recommended to do further studies on socio-economic and environmental aspects

The selection and exaggeration by the professors is purely political and had they have the firm belief in solving the Nile dispute in a way that benefits all riparian states by win-win gains this would not be the way. Yet because what they have in mind is one political perspective they ignored the other side of the story. It should be worth mentioning that had the Dam had that exaggerated impact on downstream states as the professors in Egypt loud it, Sudan would not have to be quite. But Sudan chose the other way of cooperation and affirms and reaffirms the importance of the Dam to downstream states.

B.  Areas of Concern: Politicization of Science on its Peak

The professors under sub-title “Areas of Concern to be considered by the Egyptian Government” have identified four concerns and their counter solutions. All of the concerns in one way or another are victims of politicization and are merely designed to pressure the government of Egypt as well as other riparian states that Egypt will not move an inch to compromise on the 1959 Agreement despite it is a dead-end for upstream states. Furthermore, the politicization process is further aided by the mistrust and suspicion developed in the Egyptian mind which emanates from what I called-Ethiophobia.  The following are their concerns and my reflections is done accordingly.

1. “The plan for the 4 dams on the Blue Nile aims at total control of the water in the Blue Nile which is the main supplier to the Nile. As such, this plan shall subsequently include total control of the share of Egypt’s share of the water in the Nile and the possible redundancy or at least dwarfing the role of the High Dam in securing the future supply of water to Egypt.”

The professors are concerned about Ethiopia´s plan of constructing not only the GERD but the remaining three mega dams on the Blue Nile namely Mabil, Kara Dobi and Mendaia. The professors’ wariness is understandable but in this part they did not provide us with scientific evidence except airing their political suspicion that by constructing these dams Ethiopia is to control the waters of the Nile. This claim of the professors is based on two assumptions. Firstly they are talking about “Egypt´s share of the Nile.” What is this share? Is there any water allotted to the riparian states equitably and reasonably? The answer is no. But these individuals are claiming that share is based on the bilateral 1959 Agreement which is null and void from upstream perspective morally, legally as well as politically. The second assumption is psycho-political in nature which is a result of mistrust and suspicion developed throughout history and largely since the 1950s. Egypt and Egyptians must be aware that no one in Ethiopia is working too anger or harm Egypt. Ethiopia has been calling Egypt for peace not for war. Ethiopia has been calling Egypt and Sudan for win-win gains of positive-sum-game not for zero-sum-game. If mistrust is in our mind how can we cooperate? All Ethiopians do understands the nature of Egypt and its dependency on the Nile. But its call is let us benefit from the fruits of the Nile together which at the same time we can increase its benefits. Regarding the GERD, Ethiopia has called Egypt and Sudan i public to share the cost of the dam as they are also beneficiaries from the fruits of the dam. If Ethiopia had had aim of causing harm to Egypt, it would not have to call both countries to cooperate on the dam and to establish the IPoE.

2. “The minimum requirement for the Egyptian Government should be the maximum size of the Dam not to exceed 14 billion cubic meter as per the proposal prior to the January 2011 Revolution. This capacity would enable producing 60% of the proposed electricity from GERD and with efficiency exceeding double the efficiency of the huge GERD and with much less cost and much less negative impacts that can be lived with. In addition, the proposed design of 14 cubic meters would fulfill most of the advantages of Sudan from GERD and as such, unifies the points of views of both Egypt and Sudan.”

The proposal of the 14 billion cubic meter dam for Ethiopia is problematic from different points of views. One taking the growing energy need of the country and expanding industries the operation of the GERD with full capacity is of huge importance. It is because of this reason that design change was made to increase the capacity of production from 5270 to 6000 megawatts of electricity. Hence a 40 percent reduction for Ethiopia is catastrophic because it is a country where its energy needs is doubling every three years. It should also be underlined that the structure on the ground now will not make it possible to reduce the size of the dam which is more than 20 percent accomplished. Moreover, it should be underlined that the construction of the dam and its full operation as well as the following construction of the other three dams for hydropower generation has no significant harm or impact on downstream states. So why Ethiopia is requested to change the design and install a 14 billion cubic meter dam while the 63 billion cubic meter dam has no impact on water flow downstream? Again this concern follows from the one explained under #1. That is the politics of mistrust and suspicion.

3. Reduction in the water share of Egypt will result in abandoning huge areas of agricultural lands and scattering millions of families….

In the beginning I have said that the professors` report is influenced by their political perspectives. So far the above two concerns fit that conclusion and here is the third one too. The professors are talking about the “water share of Egypt” which they claimed they have. But the issue of the 1959 agreement has nothing to do with this. The CFA was meant to solve the legal problem on the Nile by declaring the equality of all riparian states and their utilization of the Nile equitably and reasonably. This go with obliging all riparian states to take all necessary measures not to significantly affect the water needs of the other riparian states. The water sharing dispute is not yet addressed because Egypt and Sudan are not signing the CFA despite they had been negotiating to the last minute. But this does not stop upstream states from signing and ratifying the agreement. While not considering these all issues, in the concern they raised, the professors are talking about the huge areas of agricultural lands that would be abandoned due to a reduction of water due to upstream dams. Here it is worth mentioning that, Egypt since 1997 has increased its dependency on the Nile waters by diverting the Nile out of its natural basin to Northern Sinai and in the South West to Toshka. Such out of basin diversions are prohibited under international law. This Muabrak´s policy was to preclude Ethiopia and other upstream states from utilizing the Nile waters by creating facts on the ground that would help Egypt to control every drop of the Waters of the Nile. Yet Ethiopia from the very beginning has opposed the policy and is not responsible for the negligence of Egypt under Mubarak. So what is important now is leaving the old school and coming to dialogue and negotiation to minimize risks.

4. “Collapse of GERD will result in catastrophic effects in both Sudan and Egypt. This includes failures of dams, drowning of major towns and villages and exposing millions to the dangers of death and relocation”

The most absurd issue that I have been hearing is the would be collapse of the GERD from Egypt. This no more than either a wish to the demise of the dam by any means including sabotage as we watched from the televised discussions of the Salafist politicians or an extreme level of arrogance of scholarship on the area of dam engineering and hydrology as if Egyptians are the only in the area. It is an Italian company which working on it, don’t worry. If you are talking about endogenic forces Guba is free from that and in case if any, the engineering working has assumed it too.

The highly politicized view of the professors is further evidenced in their recommendations to their government. The professors are extremely worried about the size of the dam and they need to be notified for any future work on the Blue Nile. The way forward is an increasing trust and the Egyptian decision to join the CFA where the Nile riparian states can benefit a lot from their shared water resources. As I stated on other articles on the GERD and the CFA, such moves of Egyptian politicians or university professors is political and identical. What they need is the acceptance of the 1959 agreement by all riparian states and to make the CFA null before the ink gets dry. The 1959 agreement between Egypt and Sudan (Egypt actually due to the coup détat and other political issues) divided the entire Nile flow between Egypt, Sudan and evaporation. No cup of water was left to upstream states. So the question is: is it moral even for the Egyptians to ask their Nile brothers to be arrested by a treaty which the later never consulted, signed and accepted?

In general, the professors’ move was a mere rush to use their knowledge of expertise to achieve their political goals as mentioned above. But it would be nice for all epistemic community on the Nile have a common ground of humanity, mutual respect, mutual benefit and trust for win-win gains on the Nile. That is the only way out.


NB. One thing surprises me in the professors´ report is this point at the last paragraph. The professors claimed that, “It is not a secret that throughout … history, Egypt has never been an obstacle preventing the development in the African Nations in general and the countries of the Nile Basin in particular.” Be that as it may, the truth is on the contrary. I am not here to bring bad memory but I will post my article “Scars of the Nile Dispute since the mid-1900s” soon. I will show how development is undermined in upstream Ethiopia in particular and the Horn of Africa in general. Before that though I will be posting the excerpts and my own analysis on the importance of upstream dams to downstream states from three main researches done Guariso and whittington (1987), Whittington and McClelland (1992) and Block (2007).


One thought on “Politicization of science from Cairo University on the Ethiopian Dam

  1. My respond to their unscientific claim of the Egyptian.
    • In terms of group objective is to continue the old way of water colonial water hegemony composed only Egyptian Eliot water hegemony think tank.
    • Their objective based on biased perception of GRD as a treat to Egypt and its people.
    • The customary of absent of prior notice is started with Egypt and Sudan the build massive project without the prior notice and agreement to the upper riparian countries so Ethiopia dose not obliged to notice to other countries
    • The trio committee quoted out of context IT also stated- .
    • Your claim “The plan for the 4 dams on the Blue Nile aims at total control of the water in the Blue Nile which is the main supplier to the Nile. As such, this plan shall subsequently include total control of the share of Egypt’s share of the water” based on empty
    • Your prediction on the on the impact of possible reduction of contradicts your previous claim without the study of environmental impact assessment on both countries how do you came with the list of harsh negative impact-.this claim sole based only empty un scientific assumption.
    • “Ethiopia has managed to place the dam as a fact and no longer a theory” is the best understanding of our determination to use the shared common resource .
    Comment on your suggestions:
    • Your suggestion to stop the construction of the dam is not acceptable and you are you do not mention any suggestion other means.
    • Your suggestion 14billion cubic 60% instead of 100% not scientific also we do not need any expert from Egypt since our country capacity enhanced by the support of Italy and china.
    • We do not have any obligation in the future since the trend of lower riparian countries not gives any prior notice to their mega project in the past. Similarly both Egypt and Ethiopia did not sign and ratify this convention framework agreement this conventions does not obliged both countries.
    • “It is not a secret that throughout the history, Egypt has never been an obstacle preventing the development in the African Nations in general and the countries of the Nile Basin in particular.”
    This is a false claim of Egypt role in the river.
    o Egypt is monopolies the Nile river with Sudan with colonial agreement
    o Also signed anther agreement with only Sudan by neglecting upper riparian countries
    o Also negatively influence international finial organs to stop any attempt to any development on the river.
    o Treating any attempt by scaring by military resort
    o Also did not accept and cooperation based on mutual benefit.
    • This is the last intellectual endeavor of to extend of Egypt water hegemony on the expense of other riparian states. The only solution is accept equitable reasonable use of common water without significant harm of the other countries that suggested by article 6-7 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses

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