"We must get our message about the Nile across slowly but with assuredness."
The Reporter July 12- Professor Teferi Tsegaye
Professor Teferi Tsegaye is one of the few soil physicists and
geostatistians who work at the Alabama University Hydrology, Soil
Climatology and Remote Sensing Center. As the profession is new, he is the
only Ethiopian scientist in the field. He attended the recently held "Nile 2002"
Conference along with others who came from the Center.
Professor Teferi was born in Arsi and grew up in Addis Ababa. He
completed his secondary education at the Shimelis Habte School. Before he
went to America for further studies, he was a teacher in the Awassa
Agricultural College from which he had graduated in the Science of Plant
The professor has plans to conduct a geophysical analysis of the soil and
the environment of the Nile Basin using satellite images. The Reporter spoke
to him about the issues surrounding the Nile Basin. Here are some of the
What was the contribution of your profession to the "Nile 2002" conference?
My profession is one which is based on water. Geostatistics is a new scientific
discipline of acquiring a complete information of the earth and soil. It used to be a
part of the mineral industry. Experts in my profession do not number more than 10
and are mostly foreigners.
I have used a basin-wide approach to study the Nile Basin. My research in the USA
focused on the Tennessee river. There is a hydroelectric power station on the basin
of the river. The river passes through the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.
Because of this, the pollution of the water in one state is a problem for the others.
Georgia's pollution causes a problem in Alabama and Alabama's problem causes a
problem in Florida.
To tackle this problem, the states have signed a tri-state agreement where they
discuss how the pollution can be reduced. If a conflict arises between them, the
federal government will give a solution to the problem. They do not want the volume
of water entering them to decrease just like Ethiopia and Egypt. Water is life for all
There is a lot we can do to prevent the transportation of sediment from the Nile
Basin. Some areas of the basin are stony while, some are covered with eucalyptus
trees. But this does not totally halt soil erosion. However, we can plant various
types of grass, though it must be ascertained whether these grasses are suitable
for the basin.
Do not consider me as the only person capable of doing these things. There are
others behind me and I can bring them here. If we can do these things, we can
contribute a lot to the development of the basin.
The paper you presented in the conference was supported by satellite
photographs. What was their use?
They are useful. Ethiopia doesn't produce such information locally. For instance a
satellite image of a 90 square kilometer area of Lake Tana is considered to cover a
very small area. But it is helpful in conducting a geophysical study of the soil, plants
etc. of that place. We have bought satellite images that show portions of the Nile
basin that stretch from Ethiopia well into Sudan. These images were not shown at
the conference because they are intended for local consumption. We bought them
so that they benefit our country. There are many others which we haven't used,
have not touched.
What is Ethiopia saying about the Nile basin?
It's clear what Ethiopia should say. Nobody can tell us not to use our water. It's our
responsibility to begin to properly use it. We can not stand aside and watch our
people die from hunger. If we have to start irrigation works, then let's do so. If
Ethiopians inside the country and living abroad contribute money to the cause, we
can start a project, be it a small one. But we should do it well and show it to the
rest of the world. Then we can ask for assistance. But if there is nothing we can
show, others won't help us. We have to be united. If we think the same way, we
will be able to do a good job. We once read on the Internet that a person who is
campaigning to make Addis Ababa clean got financial support. That's good. We need
such people. Don't underestimate the effort those of us who are abroad are making.
Personally, I left a lot of work behind to come here. I teach a lot of students and
supervise many projects. I came here to do something positive. There are others
who want to do the same. It is not something we will do just for once. If we get
the opportunity, we will come many times and do some works as well as teach our
fellow Ethiopians. If conditions are not made conducive, it is better for us to stay
out there. We must not be afraid. Let's start working . Let's start using the waters
of the Nile not the main one, but its tributaries. If we do our work where there are
trees or forests, it will be difficult to see from a satellite what we are doing. But if
we do it on open space, it can at least be seen although it may not be possible to
identify what we are doing. It's easy to forecast and calculate what work is being
done from a satellite image of an area not covered by trees.
The Egyptians are now saying that they will not object to and in fact will
collaborate with Ethiopia if it (Ethiopia) starts projects on the Nile. On the
other, it's been long said that Egypt strongly opposes such projects. What do
you think is Egypt's real position on the Nile? Did you observe something new
about its position?
As far as I know the Egyptians have their own problems. They are experiencing
sediment saltation. The water level of Aswan dam is rising they are not willing to
accept or to believe that they have a problem. They have not publicly admitted
that they have these problems. Their experts know that they will also benefit if
Ethiopia develops the river. The problem doesn't lie with the experts. The scientists
know what the problems and the solutions are. It's officials and those who have
outdated beliefs that are causing the problem. The experts know whom they have
to work with. Those with whom I have talked personally told me that Egypt needs
only the water and not the sediment. At the moment, I don't see any problems
coming from the Egyptians.
Are all riparian states of the Nile working together to find solutions for the
problems of the river's basin? Or is it a matter of confrontation between
Ethiopia and Egypt?
There is no confrontation between all riparian states. It's just between Ethiopia and
Egypt. A delegate from Sudan said that Sudan was 'sandwiched' between Ethiopia
and Egypt. For the Sudanese, it will be beneficial if we start works on the Nile
because the floods that cause problems to their dams and irrigation projects will be
solved. A Sudanese official once told me that there is a place in his country near
the Ethiopian border which is suitable for irrigation and that it will be good for Sudan
if Ethiopians living around the border developed the place. This is a sign of their
The government has to campaign to convince Westerners that we have the right to
use the waters of the Nile. But I don't mean through force, but through diplomacy.
It's true that we need a strong army to defend ourselves. If we have such an army,
we will be respected. But we have to be able to achieve what we want peacefully
by using diplomacy. Private investors should be allowed and encouraged to develop
our natural resources. Let them construct buildings dams etc. Let's encourage
countries like Japan to invest here. They may want to do because they have
shortage of land and can produce goods for their consumption that they can't
Has disagreement triumphed on the issue of the use of the Nile or are you
working to fine-tune the details of an already reached agreement?
We have started discussions on how to formulate the work we are going to do.
During the conference, a Sudanese said that a lot of work regarding bio-diversity
can be done on the Nile. A lot of the river basin's natural resources are being
degraded due to the fact that those who live on the highlands of the basin are
using backward farming techniques. This has reduced these people's capacity to
feed themselves. Basically, the task of academicians is not to formulate policy. It is
to present based on evidence, what likely problems are to occur and what should be
done about them. It's up to professional politicians to put into effect these
suggestions. The Nile 2002 conference thus had a scientific approach, it was not a
forum for decision-making.
Do you believe that experts' studies will be accepted by politicians?
I believe that the conference was successful. I have learned a lot about the Nile
and now understand what the problems of both upper and lower riparian countries
are. Particular attention was given to the problems of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.
It's our decision what to do. We don't have to wait for their blessing. We are the
ones who have to fight for our very being, for our existence. Let's do the work first
and defend ourselves when we are asked why we did it. Every body fights for his
existence. I hope that this attitude is fully acceptable by the country's leaders.
In general, is there a problem of water in Ethiopia?
Ethiopia doesn't have shortage of water. The problem lies with its utilization. We
have to start somewhere to tackle the problem, though not on a large scale. We
can use terracing, wooden dams, trees, clothes etc. to retain our sediment and
prevent erosion. Even when there is drought in Ethiopia the amount of rainfall is
constant. The problem thus is management of the water. people live on mountains
while the water is found on the ground. May be these people settled on the
mountain to avoid malaria during warm periods. The reason why people settle on
mountains must be studied. Anyway, the problem is the improper management of
the water and various sociological factors.
At what stage is Egypt's development of the Sinai desert? Do you follow it by
The Egyptians are undertaking huge development activities in the Sinai. The thief
are trying to make the Sinai a garden of Eden. If they develop the Sinai, they can
resettle some of the residents of the overcrowded city of Cairo there. Inevitably,
this will increase their water needs and consumption of Egypt. Inspite of this, there
is more than enough water. It's tradition that is causing disagreements between us
and our neigbours.
Egypt has always been suspicious of Ethiopia regarding the Nile. Although science
shows that cooperation is mutually beneficial tradition, historical enemity and the
like are preventing collaboration. Everybody gets angry when Ethiopia is about to
use the Nile. This conference has enabled us to express our views frankly.
Is there a suspicion that the Egyptians adopt a constructive position in
conferences but do exactly the opposite in secret?
I can only speak about Egyptian experts I have talked to. They have told me that I
can lessen our differences. If we know their problems we can give them solutions.
We are not saying that they can't use the Nile they have the right to use it but not
to the exclusion of everybody else. There were not many problems in the discussion
at the expert level. But some tried to politicize the discussion. The Egyptian
ambassador to Ethiopia once said something that is not expected from an
ambassador. As an ambassador is presumed to express the views of his county, he
must be diplomatic. At this moment we need to get our message about the Nile
across slowly but with assurdness.
Copyright MCC, 2000