In the Shadow of the Grand Dam and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Blooms! By Tecola W Hagos


There is no need for mudslinging in our discourse, and that we can be reasonably polite to each other in talking about some of the most complex political, legal, and economic problems facing our beloved Ethiopia. I have read the recent joint article “Misplaced opposition to the Grand Ethiopian Renaisance Dam” by professors Minga Negash, Mammo Muchie, and Seid Hassan in support of the GERD. I have also read “My Takes on the Ethiopian Dam and the Addis Ababa Master Plan,” the criticism of Prof Messay Kebede, the prolific writer and astute public intellectual. There are also no less important articles about Ethiopia using the waters of its own rivers, such as the article “The River Dam” by Prof Mankelklot Haile Selassie.

What we have here for our discussion are two extremely important issues concerning Ethiopia: the use of Ethiopia’s rivers and the issue of proper use of the police power of a sovereign state. Such national questions require proper, may be even enlightened, resolution. I wish my good friend Messay had addressed each of these issues in separate articles. I feel that having such important issues discussed in the same article “My Takes on the Ethiopian Dam and…” might have ended up leveling out each (other), rather than increasing the height of the political cusp.

Having a clear understanding of issues will help us see clearly the problems in connection with such issues. With the exception of Messay and few others who oppose the construction of the Dam because they see it as wasteful and/or provocative to Egypt, I suspect most of those individuals opposed to the construction of the Dam chose to oppose the project as a method of personal political power struggle against “Tygreans” presumed hegemony, despite having a clear understanding of both the legal and economic imperative that justify the construction of the Dam. Such opposition’s power struggle is not limited against those Tygreans in power, but against the entire ethnic group of Tygreans irrespective of the individual Tygrean political stand whether in support or against the TPLF/EPRDF.

How else can one understand the lumping and condemnation of highly visible public intellectuals, such as professors Gelawdewos Araya and Teodros Kiros, in the same pro TPLF boat of fanatics, and me (of less significance compared to the two esteemed intellectuals) who have been in opposition for decades against the EPRDF led Government of Meles Zenawi, as TPLF agents except for narrow ethnicism and hatred of a group?

However, most importantly, I was drawn to Messay’s clarion call in his article for the “unionists” “to become more aggressively engaged in favor of Ethiopian unity” and so to say to come out from the shadows and promote a unitary Ethiopian State. This stand of Messay is a courageous stand for Ethiopia that ought to be appreciated by all who value Ethiopia’s continued survival. I will focus on that call/point in the second half of my comment.

The Reality of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

The first part of Messay’s article dealt with the issue of the GERD, which he identified as the “so-called ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.’” There was no need to belittle the Dam in such cynical manner, for it unnecessarily tainted his otherwise excellent article. Already close to forty percent of the construction of the Dam is completed, to the tune of over 30 billion Birr. In other words, most foundational structure is completed and the infrastructure is being constructed. As a matter of common sense, it is too late to decry the construction of the Dam at this stage and time. Although it might be a case of inattentiveness, Messay also adopted the use of the word “Nile“ in connection with the construction of the GERD as the IRN did, in reference to the use of the water of Abay River. Once again I will state with emphasis the fact that Ethiopia is not using the water of the “Nile” but the water of its own river Abay River. The distinction between the term “Nile” i.e., “the White Nile” and the “Abay River” must not be glossed over or overlooked, and such distinctive awareness is the condicio sine qua non of the whole regime of international law, international custom, treaties, diplomatic relations et cetera on rivers like Abay River that cross borders.

At this advanced stage of the construction of the Dam, I suggest that all those who oppose the building of the Dam change their focus from opposition to the construction of the Dam to some form of constructive engagement on how best to finish the Dam and how best to carry out the management and distribution of power from the Dam. There are a number of future construction and management challenges related to the grid system for the Dam, the allocation of power, and the day to day management of such huge project. The inputs from concerned Ethiopians and others that would be affected and also benefit from the Dam project should get involved in constructive discourse. Such concerned individuals must also suggest solutions, for criticism alone will not be of great help. For example, the issue of transparency as to the names and identity of all corporations and/or business organizations (joint ventures, partnerships et cetera) that are working as contractors and sub-contractors, as consultants, and/or in direct iron-work, concrete-powering, digging, earth-moving, et cetera.

Inductive vs deductive and propositional logic/reasoning

I am always worried about the force of seduction of inductive reasoning. It appeals to most anybody not particularly alert against such fallacious process of reasoning. Even the very best among us can be seduced by such reasoning because of its exacting existential appeal to what appears to be real and irrefutable. The seduction of inductive reasoning is truly overwhelming. The individual using such fallacious argument might believe in his reasonableness for the “factual” proof he needs to maintain his assertion seems to be there solidly tangible. The problem is that such alleged “fact” has no real/organic connection with the particular conclusion.

Messay used a classic case of inductive reasoning by writing that “[o]n the other hand, many Ethiopians are understandably apprehensive of the detrimental ecological and social impacts of such a huge project and are skeptical about its economic benefits, a skepticism based on the failures of the experience of huge dams in other African and non-African countries.” [emphasis in the quotation is mine] The problem with all inductive reasoning, as is the case with Messay’s statement, is the lack of causal connection between the alleged empirical evidence and the conclusion asserted or the absence of valid distribution within the premises/terms in the syllogism/propositions and the conclusion, as logicians would put it. Simply put, there is no organic causal connection between the premises and the conclusion. Just because there were several “failures of the experience of huge dams in other African and non-African countries” does not necessarily follow logically that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will fail too. This form of inductive reasoning based on past experience must be handled carefully. I see this form of fallacy very often being the case in those who oppose as well as those who support the Regime/Dam.

This form of inductive reasoning creates havoc in the minds of a number of Diaspora agitators whose ideas are as terrible as their English. There is an acute lack of rigorous use of logic as a proper tool of reasoning in most arguments I read by Ethiopian bloggers. Their fallacious reasoning goes like this: Meles Zenawi is part Tigrean, Meles Zenawi was a violent dictator, Tecola is part Tigrean, and therefore, Tecola is a violent dictator. One is not dealing here with distribution of terms or prepositional inferences, but with the alleged facts commonly shared among entities. David Hume challenged the philosophers of his time in that how a clear showing of causes and effects is impossible. To this day, in my humble opinion, no philosopher has refuted or disproved Hume’s challenge.

In this essay, I am not going that far in mystifying cause and effect, but warning us all involved in discourse/argument/debate on issues dealing with the political and economic life of Ethiopia to be extra careful in asserting conclusions that are not properly/organically derivable from the factual matters we claim to be the cases. The confusion of correlation with cause leads to fallacies as deceptive as inductive reasoning. The most obvious fallacy is identified as post hoc, ergo propter hoc, in a form of misapprehension of events not causally connected but appear in sequence or at the same time. Another equally misleading implication is also known in conditional statements as “affirming the consequent” wherein there is no causal connection between the antecedent and the consequent.

In the “Present Perfect” of the GERD

Of all the tenses in the English language “verb” system of conjugation, the present perfect tense is most intriguing and troublesome for both native and non-native speakers. The use of the “present perfect” with the situation of connecting Meles Zenawi with the illustrative of the problems may sound that I am trivializing a serious issue for many. To illustrate some of the problems of drawing the deceased Meles to the Dam, I quote here Messay again:

“. 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.”

An activity that started sometime in the past and ended before some other activity, such as the death of Meles, for example, is considered to be in the past perfect, meaning such activity is done with, and completely over. In other words, whether the Dam was conceived of as a result of Meles’s vanity, is in the “past perfect,” with no real connection with the reality at hand. The reality at hand is not the “vanity” of Meles Zenawi, but the hostility of our historic enemies the Egyptians, the Arabs in general, and our own political ineptitude.

Moreover, the problem of ethnic based federalism is the single most destructive legacy of Meles Zenawi that is in the “present perfect” unlike his alleged “vanity” in the construction of the Dam. I am not trying to drag out Meles Zenawi from his crypt in order to pound on him, but that his policies are very much alive in the hands of his successors that it is humanly impossible to avoid his shadow-presence in the current Ethiopian Government. I would have loved to leave him to his eternity to rest in peace. I cannot look the other way when his full-length portrait is right there in the Hall of Representatives, keeping an eye on his successors. And we are also bombarded by Prime Minister Hilemariam Desalgn in his nauseating reference to Meles Zenawi in public speeches “as our great leader.”

State Development and Sovereignty

Sovereignty of a nation is truly primordial as opposed to most other attributes of nationhood. When it comes to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia, Messay and I are on the same platform. My views on national unity is no different in concept than that of Messay. Article 39 of the 1995 Constitution must be abrogated first and foremost before we start to tackle meaningfully the de-Kililization of the nation and start the building of a nation based on individual political and human rights. Getting rid of Article 39 first is essential as a matter of strategy.

The recent tragedy of the loss of life during the several demonstrations by university students in “Oromo State/Kilile” is one serious warning of future disaster due to the political structure created by the 1995 Constitution. However, no violent action against student demonstrators is justifiable even if there was violence and looting on the part of demonstrators or individuals that are not students who took advantage of the situation. The proper crowed control of such destructive behavior could be through massive police/security presence rather than shooting at demonstrators/people. At any rate, the Federal Government should have anticipated such reactions from some dissenters and used the public forum to inform the public of its extensive development project of the planned integration of Addis Ababa (and not territorial expansion) with satellite urban centers and suburbia. If the issue was of territorial expansion and changing hither too agreed boundaries between States/Kilils one must follow the procedures laid out in the Constitution and secondary legislations. Nothing in the 1995 Constitution forbids the Federal Government of Ethiopia from reorganizing territorial borders between States/Kilils.

The 1995 Constitution is notoriously poorly written and poorly structured. There are numerous unresolvable questions in regard to allocation of sovereign power between the Federal and State/Kilil governments. For example, the removal of Ethiopians from particular State/Kilil on the basis of ethnic identity is nowhere authorized by the Constitution, even though the past administration of Meles Zenawi allowed massive uprooting of Ethiopians from their farms and homes based on their ethnic identity. The current Government of Hailemariam Desalegn started out by condemning such ethnic cleansing addressing the victims of ethnic cleansing who were removed by force to Bahr Dar. However, the Government of Hailemariam Desalgn seems to be retreating from such clear stand in the Ambo situation.

I am also concerned with the exorbitant amount of money being expended on Addis Ababa that tops billions of dollars while the rest of the nation remains mostly neglected and underdeveloped, where most of the population has no clean drinking-water or access to education, health services et cetera. Ethiopia has tremendous unemployment problems resulting in heart wrenching human tragedy of poverty forcing Ethiopians to flee their own country only to be met by brutality and violent death in the hands of Saudis and others in the Middle East. It seems the priorities of the Ethiopian Government are/were not properly mapped out with the people of Ethiopia in mind. Messay has eloquently and succinctly identified that serious problem in his article that I fully agree with.
“Why expand Addis Abba further when already its disparity with other towns is only too wide? Why not use the available resources to expand other towns that badly need to grow? This focus on Addis Ababa seems to be a continuation of the policy of make-believe, so dear to dictatorial regimes. It is more about impressing tourists, foreign visitors, and supporters than implementing a policy of development that really benefits the country as a whole. More importantly, the plan does no more than expand what Addis Ababa has effectively become, namely, the secluded island of exclusive enrichment for the cronies of the regime.”

I will not attempt in a short article like this one to decipher the convoluted provisions of the 1995 Constitution dealing with the scope of the power of the Federal Government as opposed to the scope of the power of the State/Kilil Governments. I intend to devote time writing on that particular problem in depth in a separate article. For the time being, I will leave you with the thought that Ethiopia as a nation belongs to all Ethiopians in its totality and in its parts equally. In other words the local administrative structure cannot override the principles of individual rights through the mechanism of State/Kilil governments bent to preserve their territories to ethnic groups to the exclusion of non-ethnic members of the State/Kilil living in such territories. There cannot be any privileged group in the 1995 Constitution in human and democratic rights provisions.


I write herein to my Ethiopian brothers and sisters that we are undergoing “our trial by fire” right now, I am hundred percent sure that we will come through our ordeal far stronger and more appreciative of our common history and our bond as one people of extraordinary beauty and courage. Our unity in our diversity is the secret of our national strength, not even religion at its worst would divide us. A people that have overcome entropic forces over thousands of years will not scum to third-rate political machinations of a handful of ersatz political theorists and esoteric “liberation” front leaders.

Our Ethiopia, the cradle of Mankind, the home of great warriors, the playground of incredible athletic World Champions, the incubator of world-class intellectuals and scientists, and the hub of beautiful people will still be there for generations to come, and also for us of the now and the present. Thus the issue for us ought to focus on how best we can use this great gift we have in Ethiopia. It is the responsibility of each of us to promote social harmony by separating the seed from the chaff, the constructive form the destructive, the unitary from the divisive. Our destiny is not around the corner, but right within our grasp in our own hands, and we mold our future by ourselves with the help of our faith in God who had never failed us. Long Live Ethiopia.

Tecola W Hagos
May 12, 2014
Washington DC

Source: Abugida