President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed may have been flattering President Cyril Ramaphosa when he asked him recently to mediate the water dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt. But his suggestion was misguided on several fronts.

Fractious ANC infighting has “grounded” Ramaphosa, the seriousness of which is illustrated by his no-show at both Davos and the UK-Africa investment summit in London. Saving the SA economy must be his only concern and focus must not be dissipated through undertaking foreign prestige missions, as predecessors Thabo Mbeki and even Jan Smuts were prone to do, with predictable results.

Even if his ego tempts, Ramaphosa should not get involved in what is likely to prove a dangerously intractable problem. The Nile runs deep in the Egyptian consciousness. While they can dam it at Aswan, anyone attempting it upstream on such a scale as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile will be prejudged as the destroyer of  Egypt’s agriculture.

If the dam had been in neighbouring Sudan it would probably already have been taken out by the Egyptian military. Being as it is in Ethiopia, a rerun of the Dam-busters raid is certainly not impossible. The Egyptians have already run out of sweet water and are negotiating with Saudi Arabia for funds for four desalinisation plants. They will only agree to the Grand Renaissance Dam being filled in 15 years minimum, while Ethiopia needs it filled in less than five, climate change permitting.

The dam’s 6,500MW of hydraulic generation is essential for the development of Ethiopia’s promised industrial economy. We also know the importance of a stable electricity supply, and how it can be destroyed through fractional infighting, incompetence and corruption. Given the current Eskom situation, asking Ramaphosa to in effect secure Ethiopia’s electricity supply is, to put it politely, somewhat odd.        

James Cunningham
Camps Bay

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