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Struggle Over the Nile - Legacy of dispute

By Tigrai Online
June 17 2011

Exaggerated and outdated concerns over the Nile

MoFA June 17, 2011)- Apocalyptic prophesies have been around for centuries. Eschatology, millennialism and obsession with Armageddon and the Day of Judgment have all too often resulted in mass hysteria and heavy losses of life. This variant of end-of-the-world prediction is still around—Harold Camping‘s prophesies spring to mind— but it is mostly the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters

Another, more recent strain of prediction can be found in what are normally considered more heavyweight mainstream publications. Recent newspaper headlines in the New York Times or the Washington Post, not just the National Enquirer, show a dangerous trend. This isn‘t alarm about climate change where there are real existential concerns for the entire human race. It is the publication of articles predicting disaster and making outrageous and unsupported claims where there is little or no evidence for it, cashing in on the public interest in catastrophe, real or imagined

One example of this trend was an Op-Ed article in the New York Times, June 1st this year, by Lester Brown. The NYT came up with a splendidly lurid headline: ―When the Nile Runs Dry‖. This followed the author‘s penchant for the dramatic displayed in a truly apocalyptic fashion as he outlines the looming catastrophe he claims is hovering over Egypt. The efforts of some Nile riparian countries to use part of the Nile waters for hydroelectric power or to feed their hungry are going to drain the river dry, and kill off all Egyptians. His article is apparently intended to be a call to the international community to unite to stop any such malicious and evil aims, and force these countries to drop any claims on the use of the Nile waters.

Mr. Brown‘s love of drama begins with his first sentence. A new ‗Scramble for Africa‘ is underway. The evidence is what he calls ‗land grabs‘ in some African countries. He is attempting to draw a parallel with the European decision to ‗civilize‘ Africa in the 19th century and the subsequent colonization of almost the entire continent. Ironically, what he decries today as the ‗new scramble for Africa‘ is actually the effort of African countries to extricate themselves from poverty by utilizing millions of hectares of hitherto uncultivated land. Mr. Brown thinks the fact that investors from the Middle East and Asia are leasing thousands of hectares of land in a number of African countries, notably Ethiopia, should be seen as a process of post-modern colonization. It should be resisted as strongly as possible by the West. Indeed, Mr. Brown makes it clear that it is only the West that can come to rescue Africa from the ‗new scramble [now] underway.‖ The paternalistic undertone is all too clear. His condescending arrogance betrays the kind of contempt with which he and others still regard Africa. Africans cannot be trusted to take care of their own interests. These deals with wealthy countries and investors are tantamount to renewed colonization even though Africans now have their own say on who they are doing business with and the conditions of this activity.

All this is misleading enough but for Mr. Brown it is no more than a prelude to his main thesis which is concern over the impact of deals in Ethiopia for the future of democracy in Egypt. Mr. Brown wants to warn us that the major danger of land agreements in Ethiopia is ―the threat they pose‖ to democracy, or rather to the ―youngest democracy in Africa‖, that is, somewhat surprisingly, Egypt. Certainly, western think-tanks and ideologues are quick to dub as ‗democratic‘ any nation willing to follow their prescriptions, but they usually demand some kind of electoral process however minimal. Whatever the potential for the future, to call Egypt under Marshal Tantawi ‗the youngest democracy in Africa‘ is simply not credible. This doesn‘t prevent Mr. Brown from claiming Ethiopia‘s campaign to increase food supplies for its people will endanger Egypt‘s ‗democracy‘ and must therefore be stopped. This is not the place to argue about the commitment of Egypt‘s military council to democracy but to argue that this might falter because of hydro-electric dams on the Nile takes intellectual duplicity to new heights.

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