Ethiopia: The Meles Jinx, the GERD Nixed?

To “build the dam” or to “abandon” it:  That was Meles’ question!

Exactly four years ago, almost to the day, on April 2, 2011, the late Meles Zenawi gave a speech in Guba, Benishangul Gumuz in Western Ethiopia, setting out his dream and vision for what he called the “Millennium Dam” (later called “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” (GERD)) by his disciples.  In that speech, Meles made a prescient, almost prophetic, observation about the “Dam” which now haunts in daylight his disciples in the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (T-TPLF):

The estimated cost [for the Dam] will be 3.3 billion Euros, or 78 billion birr. As we will be financing several other projects in our plan, the expense will be an additional and heavy burden on us. All our efforts to lighten this have been unsuccessful, leaving us with only two options. Either to abandon the project or do whatever we must to raise the required funds. I have no doubt which of these difficult choices the Ethiopian people will make. No matter how poor we are, in the Ethiopian traditions of resolve, the Ethiopian people will pay any sacrifice. I have no doubt they will, with one voice, say: “Build the Dam!” (Emphasis added.)

Is it time now to abandon the Dam?

Meles understood that in the final analysis whether he will have the biggest and largest concrete monument in Africa to bear and celebrate his name for eternity would be determined by the availability of hard cold cash and a helluva a lot of it. Meles had a cockamamie plan to milk his cash cows for the project.

Shortly after Meles made the Guba speech, he issued an order requiring  all domestic “banks to purchase National Bank of Ethiopia securities worth 27 percent of each loan they disburse” allegedly raising “12.6 billion birr for the government to invest in infrastructure projects in its first 16 months.”

In September 2011, it was reported that “Ethiopian born Saudi Billionaire, Mohammed  Al-Amoudi, pledged to contribute 1.5 Billion Birr(about USD 88 mln) to the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance dam project.”  (Interestingly, a report last month announced, “Ethiopia’s leading private oil marketer plans to build a $5 billion refinery within ten years… National Oil’s shareholders include Saudi billionaire Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, whose investment portfolio in construction, gold, hotels and energy has helped amass an estimated fortune of over $10 billion…”  (Wouldn’t it make more sense for the “shareholders of National oil” to use some of their billions of dollars to save the GERD now than wait for another 10 years to build an oil refinery? I am just sayin’, if you know what I am sayin’.)

By June 2012, according to “state media reports”, “Ambassador” Girma Biru reported raising “over $3.3 mln bond purchase and [receiving] over $123,000 grant in the United States.” That report alleged, “over $1.5 million” was raised in “Washington, D.C., [from the] Ethiopian community.”

In September 2012, according to Bereket “Stonewall” Simon, (the “Communications Minister” who set up an elaborate disinformation campaign to conceal Meles’ death in July 2012 by claiming Meles was on vacation to recover from “exhaustion resulting from long public service”) reported as “co-chair of the fundraising committee for the dam” that “as much as 5 billion birr has been raised for the project so far from the public by selling bonds that pay 5.5 or 6 percent interest.” (Simon reminds me of Iraq’s cartoonish “Chemical Ali”, Saddam Hussien’s Information Minister, who used to tell reporters during the war, “The Americans are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender, it is they who will surrender.” Of course, the Americans had parked their tanks and Humvees outside the Information Ministry as Ali was pronouncing their doom. Meles was already dead when Simon was telling the world he was on vacation.)

By May 2013, the estimated cost of the Dam was USD$4.7 billion.

In September 2012, Jan Mikkelsen, IMF country head in Ethiopia  urged the Meles regime to stop spending like a drunken sailor. “I think there’s a need to rethink some of those projects a little bit to make sure that they don’t absorb all domestic financing just for that project… If you suck in all domestic financing to just a few projects that money will be used for this and not for normal trade and normal business.”

In June 2013, Mikkelsen said the 27 per cent requirement imposed on the banks by Meles after his “Dam” speech in April 2011 had “put a large burden on private banks in Ethiopia and it prevents [them] from increasing banking services… [Banks] are losing money on this transaction… so it’s quite onerous.”

Ordinary citizens to this day are subjected to mandatory payroll deductions or forced to make contributions to the dam from their meagre incomes. The Diaspora “bond” selling frenzy appears to have completely stopped, at least openly in the United States, after I “advised” the T-TPLF that selling unregistered securities by a foreign government or its representatives is illegal under American federal and state law.

The bottom line on the GERD financing is that there is no bottom line. The bottom has fallen out.

No one except the top faceless and nameless leaders of the T-TPLF know how much money has been collected and how the funds “raised” for the “Dam” have been used. There has been little financial disclosure on the financing of the GERD. Total and absolute secrecy is the religion of the T-TPLF and the T-TPLF is more secretive than the Freemasons or the Illuminati. To this day, Meles’ cause of death, the man they said was “loved and mourned” by tens of millions of his subjects, remains a highly classified state secret. Millions remain clueless about Meles’ cause of death. International agreements over the giveaway of Ethiopia’s land to the Sudan and other transactions remain secrets. The transaction with Karuturi, the Indian agribusiness Meles proclaimed would make Ethiopia self-sufficient in food production by 2015, is a secret. Karuturi’s bankruptcy in Ethiopia a few months ago is not a secret anymore. Good riddance, Karuturistan. The financial accounts of all official projects remain highly classified secrets.

When the T-TPLF makes official disclosures on its “accomplishments”, it does so in brilliant strokes of calculated disinformation and often through third-party public relations agencies to make it sound convincing and credible.  (I will admit  T-TPLF always had a good PR sense from their days in the bush. Back then, they used the gullible, lazy and often mindless Western media representatives (as they do today) to their advantage. I admire T-TPLF’s PR gumption. They operate on the principle that “No one went broke underestimating the intelligence of the Ethiopian people.”)

For the past several years, the T-TPLF’s disinformation mantra was, “Ethiopia has had double-digit, 11.7 percent economic growth over the past decade”. That was, of course, a total fraud!  I am proud to say that I proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the T-TPLF’s claim of “double digit “growth” is a lie, a damned lie and a “statislie, (a word I coined to describe the T-TPLF’s use of statistics to lie though their teeth).

Last month, the T-TPLF announced through its PR agents the planned construction of a USD$5 billion oil refinery. Wow! The T-TPLF cannot build a USD$4 billion dam, but is planning to build a USD$5 billion dam!? Daaaamn!

Just last week, the T-TPLF made another delusional announcement, the planned construction of a “huge” airport:  “The airport we are planning to build is going to be huge. Very huge. It will be one of the biggest airports in the world. I don’t know what other countries are planning in this regard for the future but no country has created this much capacity so far in Africa.”  A “very huge”, “biggest” airport in the world? Umm! Umm! Umm!

The T-TPLF leaders think we are all dimwits. The American comedian Conan O’Brien was right when he said, “When all else fails there’s always delusion.”  The T-TPLF has failed completely and now it finds its only refuge in delusions!  (Would someone please tell me: Are we really as dumb as we look to the T-TLF?)

The megalomania of dam building

I find it ironic in the current “raging debate” over the so-called “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” that few have bothered to take the time to examine the “ideas” and “visions” of the late Meles Zenawi, the foremost conceptual architect of that dam. Meles’ most trusted and devoted disciples, overcome by hero worship and under the spell of Meles’ messianic hectoring, to this day remain clueless about his megalomania.

Hailemariam Desalegn, Meles’ handpicked heir to the “throne”, was so star-struck that in his September 2012 inauguration speech as marionette prime minister, he bestowed “eternal glory to our great leader!” (I had always believed the phrase “eternal glory” was reserved only for the Godhead.) Hailemariam spoke of the “wise and farsighted leadership of our late great leader”, “the unrestrained self-sacrifice of our great leader”, the “man of great moral stature and exceptional heroism” and the “aims and ambitions of [the] great and notable leader.”

Hailemariam zeroed in and pledged “to successfully carry out the aims and ambitions of a great and notable leader”. Hailemariam declared:  “Of central interest in this regard, of course, is the construction of the Renaissance Dam. Our great leader gave maximum priority to the realization of this project… we will do everything in our power to make sure the completion of the dam, and, if possible, ahead of schedule.”

Bereket Simon described the GERD as “the brainchild of the late prime minister and we want to show commitment to his vision.”

Are Meles’ disciples living according to the “Gospel of the Eternally Glorious Leader”?

There is persuasive evidence that Meles knew his disciples would never be able to maintain or preserve his “legacy” and enable him to realize his megalomaniacal fantasies posthumously.

It is an open secret that Meles harbored utter contempt for his opposition and believed he could outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver his opponents any day of the week. He actually could. (I have to tell the truth!)  His numerous videotaped speeches, interviews and other statements offer a plain view of the depth of Meles’ contempt for his opposition.

What is not widely known is the fact that Meles had just as much contempt (perhaps more) for the “yes men” that surrounded him.  He regarded most of them as toadies, flunkies, sycophants, flunkies, brownnosers, bootlickers and a_ _ kissers who will do anything to remain in his good favor and avoid being snagged in his corruption dragnet. He regarded the vast majority of them as imbeciles and intellectual midgets, inferior to his prodigious intellectuality. Susan Rice, President Obama’s current National Security Advisor, back in September 2012 in her funeral oration described Meles as someone who was “tough, unsentimental and sometimes unyielding. And, of course, he had little patience for fools, or idiots, as he liked to call them.”  Most of the “fools and idiots” Meles did not suffer were in the T-TLF, not in the opposition. That is just a fact! Meles knew there will be no one, no one at all, to carry on his legacy into the future once he was gone. He knew his legacy would be buried with him!

I raise the foregoing facts and issues to make an important point: Few commentators or even disciples and devotees of Meles have discussed or even mentioned his seminal speech on the GERD and the relevance of that speech to the current “raging” debate. In analyzing that speech, one can discern Meles’ messianically megalomaniacal state of mind. He spoke of his visions of damming  the Abay (Blue Nile) River with the beneficence of Posiedon (the Greek deity of seas and rivers).  For him, it was a perfect blend of supreme self-help and boundless altruism. The Dam will save tens of millions from poverty and natural disasters. The Dam will permanently save “communities all along the riverbanks and surrounding areas in Sudan from centuries of flooding. He said he was building the dam “not only [to] raise our power-generating capacity and meet our domestic needs” but also “to export to neighboring countries” and lift them out of poverty and misery. He repeatedly underscored his belief that the dam will “benefit all neighboring states, and particularly to the downstream Nile basin countries, to Sudan and Egypt.” He waxed eloquent on the environmental safety and technological sophistication of the dam.  He said the Millennium Dam will be one of a kind, a dam that will not have the “problems of silt and sediment that [has] consistently affect[d] dams in Egypt and Sudan.” It will be the most technologically sophisticated dam in all of Africa.  He said the Dam “will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing the wastage from evaporation and  ensure a steady year-round flow of the Nile.” It will promote “equitable utilization of the resource of the Nile water” between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Hidden in plain view in his speech, which few commentators and even disciples noted, is Meles’ clarity of vision that the “Millennium Dam” will be damned by financial problems. The Meles jinx was that the Dam will be nixed without a huge infusion of funds.

Meles correctly understood that the Dam could be built if and successfully maintained, if and only if, there is a buy-in by the Sudan and Egypt. Without their direct financial contributions and stakes, Meles knew without a doubt that the time will surely come when the decision has to be made “either to abandon the project or do whatever we must to raise the required funds.”

Now, Meles’ disciples have tried “whatever they must to raise the required funds” and there is no question whatsoever that the GERD is massively in shortage of funds, perhaps by as much as USD$3 billion. But Meles, the “visionary leader” had seen it all coming. He knew that after milking the Ethiopian cash cows bone dry (the banks, businesses and ordinary people), he would have to get fresh cows. In his Guba speech, Meles explained how the new cash cows were to be got:

[T]he Millennium Dam will not only provide benefits to Ethiopia. It will also offer mutually beneficial opportunities to Sudan and to Egypt. Indeed, one might expect these countries to be prepared to share the cost in proportion to the gains that each state will derive. On this calculation, Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project. Unfortunately, the necessary climate for engagement, based on equitable and constructive self-interest, does not exist at the moment. Indeed, the current disposition is to make attempts to undercut Ethiopia’s efforts to secure funding to cover the cost of the project. We have, in fact, been forced to rely on our own savings alone to cover the expense.”

Is the “climate of engagement” at hand?

Last week, it was announced that Ethiopia, the Sudan and Egypt signed a “Declaration of Principles”, described in the press as a “water sharing arrangements among Nile Basin countries.” The “principles” aspire to common understanding, make commitments to good faith and development, foreswear causing significant environmental damage, pledge to make fair and appropriate use of water, foster trust building and exchange of information and data, aim to enhance dam security, affirm the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the state, and commit to peaceful settlement of disputes.

In my commentary last week, I addressed a number of preliminary questions about that “Declaration”.

I focus on the “Declaration” here to ask a few simple questions of Meles’ disciples who have taken vows to follow in his footsteps lockstep: 1) Have they read and studied his April 2, 2011 dam speech? 2) If they have, do they understand its strategic policy content? 3) If they have read and studied it, why aren’t they following his prescriptions in that speech? 4) If they have not read and studied it, what is their excuse for not doing so? 5) Why aren’t Meles’ Disciples implementing his “30/20/50” Prescription?

In the Guba speech, Meles proposed that when the “necessary climate for engagement” occurs, “Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project.” Does the “Declaration” indicate the arrival of the “necessary climate for engagement” foretold by “visionary” Meles? 

During the signing of the “Declaration”, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said, “We have chosen cooperation, and to trust one another for the sake of development…  We could have lived for years in dispute and doubt, but we have opted for cooperation and trust.” (Truth be told, the legal adviser to Egypt’s Supreme Committee for Nile Water, Ayman Salama, had a different view about Egypt’s legal vision of the declaration. “The upcoming phase of negotiations to ratify the detailed agreements will be the toughest and most critical and will require the Egyptian negotiator to persist in order to extract the most gains possible — namely preserving Egypt’s historical rights to the Nile waters”.) (Emphasis added.) Hailemariam, in a press statement mentioned Meles’ vision of regional altruism  but completely ignored Meles’ core and quintessential message: “Get Sudan and Egypt to buy into the dam 30/20.”

Why did Hailemariam ignore the central commandment of his “eternally glorious leader” in the construction of the Dam?

If the “necessary climate for engagement” foretold by the “visionary” Meles is not now when Hailemariam signed the “Declaration”, when will that day come? Is it possible to envision a  completed, sustainable, survivable and profitable GERD without a 30/20 by the Sudan and Egypt?

According to Ermias Legesse, a former deputy communications minister under the notorious Bereket Simon, currently in exile, the reasons for the T-TPLF to sign the “Declaration” have little to do with building trust, cooperation, etc., but quintessentially with regime survival. It has to do with keeping the T-TPLF in power for as long as possible. It has to do with enriching the T-TPLF’s business empire, the Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT).

Ermias argues the T-TPLF signed the “Declaration” to appease Egypt into not supporting armed regime opponents in Ethiopia and cutoff financial support to Eritrea, fend off pressure from the international donors and loaners, and ultimately to use the “Declaration” as a beggar’s bowl to snag more aid and loans. Ermias suggests the T-TPLF is so cash-strapped that the GERD is probably in the hole by over USD$3 billion. The T-TPLF has no money for the numerous projects it has mindlessly launched.  Most importantly, the T-TPLF has very little foreign exchange reserves. (According to the IMF, the T-TPLF, as of June 2014, does not even “have foreign exchange reserves [equivalent] to 3 months of imports.”)

Ermias makes a compelling argument that the GERD is essentially a project launched to benefit the T-TPLF, EFFORT and their supporters. There is no question that the GERD boondoggle from the beginning has been a windfall, Manna-from-the sky for the T-TPLF and its business arm EFFORT.  The suppliers of building materials – cement, steel, lumber – are directly or indirectly connected to EFFORT, as are transportation and logistical service providers. The GERD could be the biggest payday for EFFORT if it ever came online. But the GERD is in deep financial distress now. It’s best for EFFORT to take their money and run!

T-TPLF out of cash, out of lies, out of time and out of luck: Dam it, try the Meles Prescription  

I conclude by reflecting on Meles’ prophesy for the GERD. There will be no GERD without a “30/20 by Sudan and Egypt.”  There are few things, if there are any at all, over which I agreed with the late Meles. I totally and completely disagreed with him when he massacred 193 unarmed protesters and caused grievous injury to nearly 800 more following the 2005 election. I disagreed with him when he secretly gave away a large piece of Ethiopian territory to the Sudan. I disagreed with him when he jailed Birtukan Midekssa, my great friend Eskinder Nega, the incomparable Reeyot Alemu and the intrepid Woubshet Taye and so many other young patriotic Ethiopian journalists. I disagreed with Meles on everything.

Much to the surprise of my long time readers, I shall confess that Meles was right in believing that it is  possible to build a dam over the River Abay in Ethiopia with a “30/20 buy in from Sudan and Egypt”.  Multi-nation dams have been built before and put to good use. Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay created binational enterprises with each other to build the Salto Grande Dam. Itaipu Dam, the second largest operating hydroelectric facility in terms of annual energy generation, was built by Paraguay and Brazil. There are other examples of multinational dam building. It can be done. I doubt Meles’ Lilliputian disciples could pull off a deal like that with the Sudan and Egypt. With Tedros Adhanom, the malaria-researcher-turned-instant-foreign minister, leading the damplomacy, I really feel sorry for Ethiopia. Adhanom is the same guy who, just a few weeks ago  was bamboozled by a 14-year-old girl claiming to have $20 million to invest in school construction.

Meles could have done it. There was a tragic flaw in Meles. He never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity! For those who believe I oppose the GERD and all that, I say let’s do the GERD “30/20/50”!

For me, Abay is a source of life for Ethiopia, the Sudan and Egypt. The destiny of the three countries is eternally intertwined by the Abay River.  I believe in African unity. I believe in regional unity. I believe in Ethiopian unity. Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt can lock arms around the Abay River and become the breadbaskets of Africa. They can be beacons in the “Dark Continent”. The three countries can become one in the Spirit of Abay.

I believe Meles was wrong on a lot of things, too many for me to count. But he was right on the GERD when he said there are only two options: “To build the dam or to abandon it”. He said it could be built only, and only, if there is a “30/20 buy in by the Sudan and Egypt”. Meles was right!

Here we are in 2015. All of the T-TPLF’s fundraising scams have failed completely. The T-TPLF is out of cash, out of lies, out of time and out of luck.

So here is the 4 billion dollar question to Hailemariam and his T-TPLF paymasters: Why aren’t you following the one clear and core prescription of your “eternally glorious leader” and get a “30/20” deal from Sudan and Egypt and build the damn dam?

When will the “necessary climate” for a “30/20/” deal come to pass?

I never thought I would agree with Meles on anything; or admit it in public if I ever agreed with him. It is true one should never say never!

I always try to call it as I see it. I always try to be fair and call it right when it is right and call it wrong when it is wrong. The fact is Meles’ “20/30/50” prescription for the GERD is right! Simple as that!

I say to the T-TPLF, follow Meles’ Prescription on the GERD!

Dam Distraction: Can we now talk about “THE ELECTION” ?

This dam thing has been a silly distraction over the past couple of weeks. There has been too much intellectual energy exerted debating it. Enough!

There are so many important things we could all be talking about and debating. Like “THE ELECTION”. What “election”!? You know. The one the T-TPLF won on May 24, 2015 by 99.9 percent!  Yes, congratulations are in order!

“One might expect these countries to be prepared to share the cost in proportion to the gains that each state will derive. On this calculation, Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project. Unfortunately, the necessary climate for engagement, based on equitable and constructive self-interest, does not exist at the moment.” Meles Zenawi, April 2, 2011.