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Ethiopia is offering Egypt and Sudan an olive branch in their bitter dispute over sharing the waters of the Nile River. The offer includes possible joint ownership of a huge Ethiopian hydropower project that Egypt has tried to block.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi launched a furious attack Friday on powerful interests seeking to prevent construction of a 5,200-megawatt dam on the Blue Nile, in the highlands along the Sudanese border.
Meles says the massive project would allow Ethiopia to earn precious foreign exchange from electricity exports. But traditional funding sources have dried up, largely due to opposition from environmentalists, as well as from Egypt, which depends almost totally on the Nile for its water supply.
Speaking to the opening session of an international hydropower conference, Meles vowed the $4.8-billion project would go ahead, even if impoverished Ethiopia has to pay the tab itself.
“We are so convinced of the justice of our cause, so sure of the strength of our arguments, so convinced of the role of our hydropower projects in eliminating poverty in our country that we will use every ounce of our strength, every dime of money that we can save to complete our program,” Meles said.
The Ethiopian leader blasted donors and lending agencies that have withheld support for the project, calling their action unjust.
“We need the support of all our partners to build the dam as our savings are inadequate,” Meles added. “If our partners are deterred from doing so because of the noisy campaign of environmental extremists and some politicians with old-fashioned ideas, they will in effect be condemning millions of Africans to poverty. That cannot be just. That cannot be fair.”
In comments to reporters after his speech, the Ethiopian leader held out hope that the post-Mubarak administration in Cairo might soften Egypt’s longstanding opposition to upstream use of Nile water.
“I am still hopeful that the current government in Egypt will recognize that this project has nothing but benefits to Egypt,” said Meles. “Nothing. I believe the Sudanese understand this has nothing but benefits to them.”