27 Mar 2009

Dam those Ethiopians!

Another day, another Western campaign to prevent a Third World country from developing. As has become customary, the BBC instead of covering 'both sides of the story' is so skewed in its coverage to the extent that it has become a party in this debate. The Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectricity project in Ethiopia will be in impressive feat of engineering once it's completed in 2012, rising to a height of 240m, the highest of its kind in the world, and creating a reservoir 150 kilometres long. It will double Ethiopia's current generating capacity, allowing it to sell the surplus to its neighbours in exchange for hard currency, bringing extra economic benefit to the country.

This will be clean, renewable energy, and it is the type of project that governments in the West should be doing instead of wasting their time on solar panels on top of houses in places like London, where the Sun hardly ever shines. Instead of celebrating the project, the eco-whining has started in force, led by some turnip called Richard Leakey, a white Kenyan ecologist who has accused the Ethiopian government and energy company of fiddling with the environmental impact statements in order to pass the approval for the project.

The BBC and their fellow opponents of the dam have been focusing on the fate of about half a million tribes people who live down river of the dam, claiming that this will lead them into a civil war. The BBC television coverage last night was so hysterical and scare-mongering that it was impossible to take it seriously. Of course the BBC managed to summon someone "from the local community" to voice opposition to the dam, in this case an elderly man whom someone had obviously prepped for the interview with enough myths to scare him into giving his 'testimony'. Then in a classic example of how the BBC is blurring the line between drama and news, they lined up a number of tribesmen with their Chinese Ak47's, posing menacingly for the camera. But we will never know they were there, for all we know it was just a photo shoot for them.

What is quite obvious about the whole episode is that Western media and environmentalists think now that their word is more important than that of a sovereign, democratically elected government. What Ethiopia does on its own territory is its own business, and it's up to the Ethiopian people to contest or support the dam project. The BBC has a responsibility to cover general interest stories, but doesn't have a mandate to become a party to this debate, as it clearly becoming through its skewed coverage. Equally, I would rather listen to the Ethiopian people who will benefit from the project, rather than to the "African Resources Working Group", described by the BBC as a 'collection of European, American, and East African academics" who are also critical of the way the environmental impact statement has been carried out.

Leakey and the other 'scientists' have not actually pointed out any serious flows with the report itself, all they are relying on is the 'precautionary principle', the last refuge of the contemporary eco-scoundrel. If they had anything tangible against the project, they would have presented it, instead they are summoning the prospect of some future unforeseen consequence that might prove that the dam project is harmful. If humanity had always taken decisions this way, we would still be living in caves, where Leakey and his colleagues would presumably be warning us against using fire before we complete an 'environmental impact statement'.

The disturbing thing about this whole saga is how little trust Western media and 'scientists' have in African governments, as if the Ethiopian government would have anything to gain by depriving half a million people of their livelihood or forcing them into a civil war. This is the most blatant example of Western racism that masquerades behinds science and ecological concerns, to claim that Africans cannot be trusted to run their own countries. But, for once, it seems that Ethiopian officials are standing up to those interfering Western scientists and journalists. The energy minister and the head of the Electricity Corporation have defended their right to develop the project, and they both argued that Ethiopia needs this project for it to develop.

Those who prefer to see Africans still living without the basic necessities that they take for granted at home are only expressing their patronising contempt for African people and governments. This is not the colonial racism of yesterday, but one that is far more insidious and potentially destructive, it claims that it wants to save Africans from themselves by making sure they stay in mud huts. Any decent progressive in the world should oppose these interfering and patronising attitude.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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