GERD information dissemination initiative should bring all actors of the education sector to a self-replicating systematic team-based work capable of addressing an ever increasing larger community, writes Hussien Adal Mohammed.
Two important lessons were learned from the workshop, which was organized by Khartoum University (KU) in collaboration with Addis Ababa University (AAU), pursuant to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by both universities to cooperate in Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) research. These were:
- Biased assertions advanced by most of the Sudanese scholars on the GERD may probably gradually bolster and spread out to misguide political elites and, might diffuse into the honest public to ignite lack of mutual trust between the sister nations.
- Parallel reaction of the Ethiopian scholars should contribute towards moderating the misconception of the Sudan elites through cooperation in research and cultural exchange.
Lesson 1 instructs the possibility of risk because Sudanese elites may direct the workshop proceedings to an undesirable end. But the likelihood of taking the issue in this direction seems improbable since given the modesty of the Sudanese elites it was agreed at the end of the workshop not to do so. Distortion of facts and unethical use of the proceeding may mislead politicians. On the side-lines, Ethiopian scholars can do parallel work to substantiate the unfounded GERD negative impacts as it was tackled during the workshop. The parallel work must have the two sides. On the one side, it should encourage joint research cooperation and, cultural and information exchange between sister universities of the two countries on the GERD issues and beyond. On the other hand, large scale efforts must be extended at home to raise the awareness of the Ethiopian public, especially to inculcate in the minds of school children the courtesy of owning the GERD as a token of national pride and bequest. The same work can be done on the Sudanese side as well.
Truly speaking, GERD is neither a demon causing downstream countries to worry and feel unhappy nor is it the first dam for the world. It is a dam like Meroe, Rosaries, Sinar, or the High Aswan Dam. The likelihood of impact on downstream communities due to the GERD is not unlike the likelihood of occurrence of impact on respective downstream communities due to any one of these dams. Indeed, GERD is a panacea to both upper stream and downstream communities. Unfair generalizations of the GERD during a scientific workshop based on an unsubstantiated thesis can be likened to a proxy’s expression of Egypt’s sheer interest. It can easily be construed that the Egyptian government or an activist group is demonizing Ethiopia regarding GERD using all available means. This is my personal assumption underlying the resentment of Egypt towards the realization of the dam, and the evidenced absence of participants from Egypt at the KU workshop.
Researcher bias driven by conflict of interest may divert the attention of political leaders to use the misconception about the GERD impacts as a prompt to elicit conflicts. Once an undesirable event takes hold on the ground, it may gradually spread throughout the nation. The rigid stand of Egypt for example, is getting ever stronger as the government had broken away from the normal guiding principles agreed by the three countries. Dissenting voices of elites and activist groups in Egypt have influenced the government to take the wrong track. Now, it appears that President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt has reached a point where he can propose nothing better with regards to the GERD except lingering on an old story of the Sudan-Egypt Water treaty, which is immoral and unknown to Ethiopia. It is unfair that Egypt, living off the High Aswan Dam built within the territory of a neighbouring country, interferes with Ethiopia building GERD in its own territory. Egypt shouldn’t navigate a long distance to be able to recognize the importance of tolerance and cooperation out of conflict with Ethiopia.
Participants from Ethiopian universities recommended the need for strengthening university-university linkage. At this juncture, Wollo University expressed its interest in building a strong bilateral relationship with KU through renewing the MoU signed earlier between the two sisterly universities. WU shall keep on doing its best to further the MoU to an implementation phase in which both parties would equally benefit. KU workshop proceedings on “Expected impacts of the GERD” is a powerful spur to the academic staff of Ethiopian universities including WU to work on what to do with GERD related issues and other common interests with the energetic KU scholars.
Mainstreaming GERD related academic activities was stressed at the end of the 35th Institutional Transformation Forum/28th Education and Training Conference held in Asossa during the first week of October 2017. A clear message was communicated to urge all stakeholders in education to develop relevant mechanisms of propagation of GERD information. It was a timely call addressed to all actors of the education sector cutting across all frontiers of the education system. Using the opportunity, Tilaye Getie (PhD), the minister of Education of Ethiopia, Simegnew Bekele ) (Eng.), the Project manager of the GERD, and representatives of the National Public Participation Coordinating Committee of the GERD, all had emphasized the cumbersome responsibilities of higher learning institutions in raising the required level of community awareness to build a single political and economic society in the country using the hegemonic power of the GERD.
Making citizens contribute to expedite the construction work of the GERD, and achieving an enhanced GERD public relations work in the education sector was a serious home-take assignment distributed to all participants of the conference. This was a right measure given the current need to raise public awareness through dissemination of information balancing over anti-GERD missions particularly as Egypt is coming to the front-line faltering away from the guiding principles. With respect to the call, the higher learning institutions in the country must have by now started playing a leading role on their discretion to become a front-runner in guiding other education sectors in this regard. I know for instance; Addis Ababa University had organized a telethon titled: “GERD and Reading Week” that was open until December 1 2010 (EC).
Higher learning institutions must do magnanimous jobs with greater impact on school children using curricular and co-curricular instruments to adequately propagate GERD information to the education community than doing pieces of sporadic activities booming for a week’s time and soon crushing down. Honestly, the AAU’s “reading week” is merely an icebreaking activity to awaken other institutions to the need for incorporating creative GERD related activities in their annual plans. GERD promotion work must stretch beyond collecting and exhibiting GERD-related pamphlets in university campuses. GERD education shall be seriously developed to make the youth conscious of the value of the project, of the current transboundary issues referring to the dam project, alert the youth about the Egypt’s sly move to hamper the progress of the project and correct fake assertions of “expected impacts of the GERD”. Capitalizing on the connectedness of the GERD and the generations’ future survival, guiding citizens to value the GERD as a heritage and vital project of life or death shall get emphasis in dissemination initiatives. On the wider context, it should consider the opportunity of working together with a common mindset about the Blue Nile water with elites of other Nile Basin countries to scale up relationships from “sharing water to sharing benefits”.
GERD information dissemination initiative should bring all actors of the education sector to a self-replicating systematic team-based work capable of addressing an ever increasing larger community. One of the core missions of higher learning institutions, “community service delivery” is a suitable means to extend GERD education to school children and local communities. Via this core mission, higher learning institutions can organize a kick-start campus seminar to own the GERD agenda among the academic staff, inspire the staff to further replicate the output of the seminar in schools and public gatherings through university-school-community linkages. Schools/ higher learning institutions are the preferred focal points to cascade GERD related information to instil hegemony of “everything towards the GERD” in the minds of the youth.
Preparing a seminar on GERD promotion is not an easy routine instead it is a big deal deserving due attention and requiring generous administration support in all steps of the process going through selection of relevant topics, preparation of seminar papers, organizing venue for presentation and covering administrative costs. Meticulous selection of topics is necessary so that the seminar package comprises a wider aspect of the GERD including historical, political, hydrological, societal to provide for a wholistic view of the GERD to participants of the seminar. Also, it is important to give emphasis to the purported “expected impacts” of the GERD those entertained during the Khartoum workshop. The latter helps to substantiate whether the GERD is a panacea or Pandora’s box. Critical scientific evaluation of laymen’s assertions of “expected impacts” leaking to the public would enable to defy wrong perceptions imprinted in peoples’ mind regarding the GERD thus allows peoples’ self-judgement of the boon and bane of the dam.
Launching a seminar in higher learning institutions is not an end, but a means to kick-start the dissemination initiative to a wider scope with which to shift the playground to schools where issues of GERD can be addressed to school youths. Using two important tools so to mention, GERD Club and “GERD awareness day” is commendable for school level dissemination initiative. The club can be organized by coordinating staff members and students interested in GERD promotion activities. It serves as the schools’/ higher learning institutions’ instrument for the regular formal transfer of relevant information on GERD related issues to teachers and students. In addition, dating an “awareness day” once in a week or fortnight in school’s time table allows club members to activate the GERD Club in various ways. Members can present current affairs relating to the GERD, or creative arts of their own in the form of drama, poems and relevant information drawing from topics of the seminar proceeding. Publication of seminar proceedings and distributing printed copies of the proceedings for participant schools would ease further dissemination initiatives at wereda and school level.
The GERD agenda cannot be limited in scope to a run of activities carried out in schools or higher learning institutions or dissemination of awareness education and information to local communities living around higher learning institutions. It can expand outside the realm of the higher learning institutions catchment area over adjoining administration zones, regions and the nation at large. The wider public can be reached out through mass media by casting radio and television programs on relevant topics of the GERD in collaboration with mass media agencies. At present the national mass media is doing good work and only needs to strengthen the endeavour. Moreover, the transboundary nations can jointly develop a public relation package to build common understanding among citizens on GERD issues.
When it comes to relations of countries, in the actual sense, GERD is a common development agenda that Ethiopia presents for other countries of the Nile basin particularly the Sudan. The dam opens a new avenue of opportunities that can be directed to sharing benefits over sharing water. The instant nations and the descent generations had lived together drinking the same water, sharing not only same river but also same blood, history and culture. The water flowing in the Abbay River has strong cohesive force to bring into line the nations to a common destiny than the power of the politics. The politicians may sometimes use the water as their instrument to satisfy their political motifs not reflecting the peoples’ passion. Hence, firstly let the GERD issue be set free from water politics concocted to achieve hidden political goals through blurring hard facts of the dam. Distorted personal perceptions and hasty generalizations about the GERD in connection to an academic forum brings nothing better than eliciting loss of mutual trust and opportunities of collaboration between stakeholders. When such a bad conception is voided, there will be a sober mind to substantiate the panacea of the GERD. Or in the worst scenario, there will be room for assessing how different a dam GERD could be from similar dams performing best within the territories of downstream countries per se and how differently possible negative impacts arising therefrom can be mitigated or whether the mitigation measures on current practice in these old dams do not work in the case of the GERD.
Ed.’s Note: Hussien Adal Mohammed (PhD) is a former vice president for Academic Affairs at Wollo University and is currently a researcher at the Department of Biology, College of Natural Sciences, Wollo University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].
Contributed by Hussien Adal Mohammed