April 11, 2005

monday morning jingoism

What’s happening blog fans? What’s happening, what’s happening? Today, the weather is beautiful sunny – scattered clouds. Seas six feet building to eight feet. Inside waters, a gale warning has been issued for Cape Shoalwater to Cape Fairweather. Small craft advisory…The list goes on and on. These are the words I woke up to most mornings in my Alaska hometown as my father listened to the morning maritime weather report. Don’t know why he liked it – maybe it was a distraction from the pain of shaving, though my father, at that point being a 20-25 year veteran of shaving, maybe wasn’t as sensitive to the razor as say, a man of my age. (Young).

The Rocking Fun Zone has been shopping around town. Work is starting to pick up. One lady even recognized my name from an email I was CC’d on. When I called and introduced myself as a possible consultant, she knew me and seemed glad I called. Now that’s name recognition. $$$.

In other news, I was the official tax preparer for my wife and our close friend over the weekend. Both had been in the U.S. for a paid fellowship, of which the U.S. government wanted its fair share (who can blame it?). So, it fell to me to walk my wife and our friend through the tax preparation process. Actually, it was quite easy. Their educational program in the U.S. had given both of them a subscription to a tax preparation software. It’s crazy – you fill out all these screens that look nothing like tax forms. Then, at the end, you click “print” and out comes your 1040, 8865, and whatever other numbers the IRS requests of non-residents. Great system. For $39, it’s almost worth using it myself next year.

I finally got the chance to show my wife the Matrix. Dang if that ain’t one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. To be honest, and I’m a little ashamed of this, I’m actually a huge fan of the Bourne Identity right now, so huge, in fact, that I might actually prefer the Bourne Identity to the Matrix (that’s where the embarrassment comes in). Probably just because I’ve seen the Matrix so many times. What a movie. I think my wife liked it – she seemed fairly impressed, but I don’t believe it was a mind-blowing experience for her.

I had to have her see it because there are so many culturally relevant things that relate to that movie. I’d told her repeatedly about the school shootings at Columbine, but until you see the scene in the Matrix at the end of the movie when Keaneau Reeves and his female friend walk into the building to save Laurence Fishburn, you can’t understand just how much those kids were imitating the movie. Strange. So, I think she liked it, but wasn’t blown away bit it. That’s good enough for me, I suppose.

No new updates from my Most Improved Cousin. Maybe he should try for that award – Most Improved Cousin. He could start by increasing the number of emails he sends. That would be a good start. Actually, he doesn’t have to send more. If he would just alter the content of the one’s he sends, that would be good. Hah.

I’m trying to think of relevant stuff to relate. The elections are coming up. Parliamentary elections. Nobody expects anything but the current party to win by a whole lot. One funny note – a group of U.S. elections observers was asked to leave the country because they weren’t licensed or operating with the recognition of the appropriate authorities. This is doubly funny because early in the year, I applied for and really wanted an election-observer position at one of the organizations that is now being scrutinized. There is speculation that the reason they have been asked to leave is because the U.S. Department of State released its annual report about human rights in the world and apparently had unfavorable things to say about Ethiopia. Some speculate that the expulsions (or planned expulsions – I don’t think it’s clear that anyone has actually left) were a response to the classification of Ethiopia in the report. I don’t know. I have no inside dirt on this (does anyone?). I think it could go either way. At a minimum, the organizations are probably a nuisance for most people involved in these elections, but that generally isn’t enough to ask people to leave.

In other news, I read a riveting book over the weekend: The Nile Question: Hydropolitics, Legal Wrangling, Modus Vivendi, and Perspectives by Tesfaye Tafesse. You can probably guess from the title, but the book discussed the Nile, current use, future use, politics involved, etc. A very interesting read. I actually made fun of my wife when she was buying it in the bookstore, then I was the first to pick it up and start going over it. After a bit, I couldn’t put it down. Great book.

If you are like I was, you probably don’t know much about the Nile other than that it is the longest river in the world and that it ends in Egypt. But where does it start? That’s a great question to begin your studies with. You’ve probably seen a map of Africa and seen the lakes right around the equator on the eastern side of the continent. Maybe you assumed that that was the source of the Nile. You wouldn’t be totally wrong, and who could fault you for thinking like that. It looks like a lot of water; the Nile is a long river and Egypt is a long way away from the lakes. 2+2 = source of Nile.

But if you thought that way, you wouldn’t be correct. Well, you’d be partly correct. 10% of the Nile’s water comes from Lake Victoria, which is fed by rivers from Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, Tanazania, and Kenya, and rivers in Sudan. The remaining 90%, however, comes right out of the Ethiopian highlands. 90%. Ethiopia uses less than .5% of that water for its own needs. The rest flows into Sudan and then onto Egypt.

You all know the stories of Ethiopian famine. They are horrendous and have carried on for a long time. I think what's less known is that a lot of the recent famines have likely been the result of the politics of the Nile. Where to start, where to start. Egypt is a far more prominent country on the global scene. Past presidents of the World Bank, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros Ghali, and other Egyptians have been at the forefront of international political institutions. Never has an Ethiopian been in similar positions.

You should read some of the quotes made by these leaders. Here’s one from Boutros Ghali: “the next war in our region will be over water and not politics…the national security of Egypt is in the hands of eight other African countries in the Nile basin”. The last part of that quote I find particularly disturbing. Egypt’s fate is in the hands of the other African nations. What about the other African nations, including Ethiopia? Couldn’t you make a similar claim that Ethiopia’s fate is in the hands of Egypt? Is Ethiopia to continue suffering drought and famine so that Egypt can continue its way of life and growth unabated? I don’t think so. What makes this worse is that Egypt is pursuing often times ridiculous strategies of development like building agriculture in the middle of the desert where water often times has to be moved for miles and miles. What happens when you move water through a desert? I don’t know. It makes me so mad; how could one country be so selfish? Some of the quotes I’ve read from Egyptians are ridiculous.

Oh, let me go back to the point about Egyptian leaders being prominent in international institutions. At least a couple of past World Bank presidents were Egyptian and, according to the book, many more Egyptians were highly placed in the bank. It is the author’s contention that these high ranking officials have on numerous occasions thwarted Ethiopia’s attempts to secure funding from the World Bank for dam construction. Without dams, the Nile is essentially useless to Ethiopians. It seems there is some justice in the world, however (I’m keeping my fingers crossed). Blocked at international institutions repeatedly, Ethiopia has begun to seek other means for meeting its water needs. Enter stage right, China. If it’s good business, China is there. China wants access to Ethiopia so that it can have access to Africa (Ethiopia is the capital of the African Union). Egypt is not a large enough country to deter China, so, deals have been made and it looks like things are moving forward for Ethiopia.

Whatever the case, whether Egypt is still firmly in control, or whether Ethiopia is making progress using alternative means, it seems like the two countries may be heading for a showdown, either at the bargaining table or in war. Certainly, that’s the level of talk. Egypt claims, on the basis of precedent and need, that the Nile is its virtually exclusive resource. Ethiopia claims that it will develop the Nile, period. We’ll see. This will be an interesting story to follow, I’m sure. The upper states of the Nile, including Ethiopia, can present a formidable force if they “unionize”. Egypt can galvanize substantial support in the international community. Who knows?

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Strange day or what? :-)

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