In these difficult days, Record new renewable energy capacity this year and next: IEA by Nina Chestney sheds some light in the unending and stuffy tunnel that the world’s economy finds itself stuck-in. Wind turbines lining the roads, roof mounted solar panels generating energy for all are more and more visible even in the MENA region, oil exporters or not.
LONDON, Nov 10 (Reuters) – Record levels of new renewable energy capacity are set to come on stream this year and next, while fossil fuel capacity will fall due to an economic slump and the COVID-19 crisis, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report.
In its annual renewables outlook, the IEA said new additions of renewables capacity worldwide would increase by 4% from last year to a record 198 gigawatts (GW) this year.
This means renewables will account for almost 90% of the increase in total power capacity worldwide this year.
Supply chain disruptions and construction delays slowed the progress of renewable energy projects in the first six months of this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the construction of plants and manufacturing activity has ramped up again, and logistical challenges have been mostly resolved, the IEA said.
Electricity generated by renewables will increase by 7% globally this year, despite a 5% annual drop in global energy demand, the largest since World War Two.
Next year, renewable capacity additions are on track for a rise of almost 10%, which would be the fastest growth since 2015.
“Renewable power is defying the difficulties caused by the pandemic, showing robust growth while others fuels struggle,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.
Policymakers need to support the strong momentum behind renewables growth and if policy uncertainties are addressed, renewable energy capacity additions could reach 271 GW in 2022,the IEA said.
In 2025, renewables are set to become the largest source of electricity generation worldwide, supplying one third of the world’s electricity, and ending coal’s five decades as the topglobal power source, the report said.
Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Mark Potter
Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) of Qatar organizes International Hydrogen Energy workshop as reported by Gulf Times of Qatar as an attempt to not only inform on the country’s hydrogen energy opportunities but also to promote discussions regarding the nation’s strategy of its energy transition.
The picture above is of the Qatar Foundation Headquarters in Doha.
October 10, 2020
Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) organized an international workshop entitled The Hydrogen Energy Opportunity for Qatar.
The two-day event sought to inform stakeholders on the countrys hydrogen energy opportunities, promote discussions regarding a national strategy, and facilitate international collaboration in the areas of policy, business and research, and saw the participation of over 50 delegates from eight countries including Qatar, Japan, Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Switzerland.
Organized in line with QEERIs mandate to support Qatar in tackling its grand challenges related to energy, water and the environment, the workshop brought together leading international experts and national stakeholders from the public, private, academic and industry sectors. The Hydrogen Energy Opportunity for Qatar also reflected the unprecedented attention currently being paid to hydrogen energy as well as global efforts to harness its full potential.
The Principal Economist at QEERI and chair of the workshop Dr. Marcello Contestabile, explained: “There is a growing international consensus that hydrogen has a key role to play in a deeply decarbonized energy system. Conversely, there is also a need for large investments and international cooperation to ensure that hydrogen technology is scaled up and rolled out, and for markets to be created for the end product.
“Qatar is already playing a global role in the energy transition as a major supplier of the cleanest fossil fuel and is taking assertive steps to reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of the LNG it delivers through methane management and CCS. Hydrogen will allow the country to take this further and continue to profit from its endowment of natural gas in a low carbon world. To make the most of it, however, a joint approach at the national and international level is required.” he said.
He added: “The timeliness of the event is demonstrated by the very strong and enthusiastic response we received from international experts and national stakeholders alike. We provided a forum for the necessary conversations to begin and look forward to continuing to play our part supporting the development of a hydrogen ecosystem in Qatar.”
The Energy Technology Analyst in Hydrogen and Alternative Fuels at the International Energy Agency (IEA) Dr. Jose M Bermudez, said: “Hydrogen could play a key role in the energy transition, especially in hard to abate sectors where direct electrification will be challenging and sustainable biomass availability will not be able to meet energy demands. However, this will require to significantly expand hydrogen use and, at the same time, switch hydrogen production to low-carbon routes. This is not an easy endeavour and will require a lot of collaboration and coordination at all levels and, especially, at international level.”
He added: “The first step that countries should take is to develop their national hydrogen strategies that take into due consideration the evolution of the international landscape. Platforms like this workshop, bringing together local and international stakeholders, are ideal to stimulate the conversations and knowledge sharing that is required to develop strategies that will shape the role of hydrogen in a future clean energy system”
Highlighting the importance of such conversations among stakeholders, Dr. Marc Vermeersch said: “It is absolutely imperative that we combine forces and work collectively to achieve the targets set forth by the Qatar National Vision 2030. The Hydrogen Energy Opportunity for Qatar workshop provided a platform not just for knowledge sharing and learning global best practices, but also to discuss how each of us can contribute towards building a robust and efficient strategy for Qatar.”
QEERI is committed to assisting Qatar to diversify its energy mix, and focuses on sustainability research, development and innovation across its various centers including the Energy Center, Water Center, Environment and Sustainability Center, Corrosion Center and its Earth Sciences Program.
If the world is to transition to a climate-compatible future, much will turn on new innovations in clean energy and whether they can be deployed at a large scale. This is especially critical for emerging economies, which are developing their infrastructure and undergoing economic growth and urbanisation at an unprecedented scale and pace, yet still often lack the support for technological innovation found in wealthier countries.
Six of these emerging economies – Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa – contributed more than 40% of the global CO₂ emissions in 2019. That’s 1.5 times the combined emissions from the US and Europe. Yet at the same time China, India, and Brazil were the first, fourth and sixth largest producers of renewable electricity. These three countries – the largest emerging economies – are now at a crucial juncture, faced with immense potential to become major innovators in the development of clean energy technology.
In a new paper we explored how fast-growing countries can not only develop their own sustainable systems but provide a source of learning and knowledge to influence global trends. We did this by investigating specific clean energy success stories in the three countries.
India’s remarkable transition to LEDs
First is India’s 130-fold expansion of its market for light emitting diode (LED) bulbs in just five years. LED bulbs are more energy efficient and last much longer than incandescent bulbs, tube lights, and compact fluorescent bulbs. In India they are primarily being used for residential lighting and street lamps.
An equally remarkable transition occurred in China, which has become the top manufacturer and largest market of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules, accounting for 69% of global production. In the past 40 years, solar panel costs have declined by more than 99%, driven recently by low-cost manufacturing in China.
A third success story is that of Brazil’s long-term growth to become the largest producer, exporter and market for ethanol biofuel made from sugarcane.
Ethanol-run vehicles increased their share of Brazil’s new car sales from 30% in 1980 to 90% in 1985. After ethanol stagnated in the 1990s, biofuels were revived by the introduction of flex-fuel vehicles which use any mix of gasoline and ethanol. Their share increased from negligible in 2003 to 85% of new cars sold just five years later – and has remained constant since.
There are some environmental and socioeconomic impacts. These include deforestation for sugarcane plantations, soil erosion, air and water pollution, and the consolidation of land ownership among large ethanol producers. But when you look at the full lifecycle of sugarcane ethanol fuel, from crop to car, its greenhouse gas emissions are lower than those from gasoline or corn ethanol.
Three lessons for the rest of the world
Based on these unexpected clean-energy transitions, we have identified three insights relevant across emerging economies.
1. Public sector enterprises are crucial
In all three cases businesses with significant equity owned by governments played a crucial role. In India, a joint venture of four public-sector utilities called EESL bought energy-efficient LED bulbs in bulk, reduced prices using competitive bidding, ran national marketing campaigns, and sold the bulbs to customers through new distribution channels.
In China, public sector enterprises provided venture capital investments and loans that enabled rapid expansion of private sector solar startups. In Brazil, the leading public oil company bridged the gap between ethanol production and consumer point-of-purchase by buying ethanol from mills, providing storage and transport, and distributing fuel through the country’s largest network of fuel pumps.
2. Domestic choices in a global economy
Second is the need to reinforce complementary links between the global economy and domestic technology choices. For example, India was able to accelerate its LED market because its bulk procurement and bulb distribution policies complemented access to China’s large scale low-cost LED manufacturing. Equally, China’s early domestic support for export-oriented hi-tech manufacturing complemented the growing demand for solar cells in Germany.
3. R&D that unites academia and industry
Finally, engagement between industry and universities and public sector research institutions is essential. For example, Brazil could develop the technology to make ethanol compete on cost with gasoline only because of strong links between public sector research institutes and industry, including the government-funded “Sugarcane Genome Project”.
Our analysis shows that it is possible for emerging economies to begin from a technologically and economically disadvantaged position and yet successfully accelerate the transition to clean energy technologies. These lessons provide good news, since success or failure in this endeavour will have long-term energy and climate consequences for all.
NEO (New Eastern Outlook) in its ‘Column: Society‘ and within the ‘Region: USA in the World‘ produced this wise article on The Insanity of Sustainability. Sarcasm apart, it sounds as if “Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War” – Plato. But what is The Insanity of Sustainability all about? Here is Peter Koenig.
This wisdom is as valid today as it was 2,500 years ago. Wars go on and on. They are exactly the anti-dote of sustainability. They may be the only “sustainability” modern mankind knows – endless destruction, killing, shameless exploitation of Mother Earth and its sentient beings, including humans.
Yes, we are hellbent towards “sustainably”, destroying our planet and all its living beings, with wars and conflicts and shameless exploitation of Mother Earth – and the people who have peacefully inhabited her lands for thousands of years.
All for greed, and more greed. Greed and destruction are certainly “unsustainable” features of our western “civilization”. Not to worry, in the grand scheme of things, Mother Earth will survive. She will cleanse herself by shaking and shedding off the destroyers, the annihilators – mankind. Only the brave will survive. Indigenous people, who have abstained from abject consumerism and instead worshipped Mother Earth and expressed their gratitude to her daily gifts. There are not many such societies left on our planet.
In the meantime, we lie about the sustainability we live in. We lie to ourselves and to the public at large around us. We make believe sustainability is our cause – and we use the term freely and constantly. Most of us don’t even know what it is supposed to mean. “Sustainability” and “sustainable” anything and everything have become slogans; or household words.
Such buzz-words, repeated over and over again, are made for promoting ideas, and for bending people’s minds to believe in something that isn’t.
We pretend and say that we work sustainably, we develop – just about anything we touch – sustainably, and we project the future in a most sustainable way. That’s what we are made to believe by those who coined this most fabulously clever, but untrue term. It is the 101 of a psycho-factory.
As Voltaire so pointedly said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities; can make you commit atrocities.” Sustainability. What does it mean? It has about as many interpretations as there are people who use the term – namely none specific. It sounds good. Because it has become – well, a household word, ever since the World Bank invented, or rather diverted the term for “sustainable development” in the 1990s, in connection, first, with Global Warming, then with Climate Change – and now back to both.
Imagine! – There was a time at the World Bank – and possibly other institutions, when every page of almost every report had to contain at least once the word “sustainable”, or “sustainability”. Yes, that’s the extent of insanity propagated then – and today, it follows on a global scale, more sophisticated – the corporate world, the mega-polluters make it their buzz-word – our business is sustainable, and we with our products promote sustainability – worldwide.
In fact, sustainable, sustainable growth, sustainable development, sustainable this and sustainable that – was originally coined by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, the Rio Summit, the Rio Conference, and the Earth Summit – held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June in 1992.
The summit is intimately linked to the subsequent drive on Global Warming and Climate Change. It exuded projections of sea level risings, of disappearing cities and land strips, like Florida and New York City, as well as parts of California and many coastal areas and towns in Africa and Asia. It painted endless disasters, droughts, floods and famine as their consequence, if we – mankind – didn’t act. This first of a series of UN environment / climate summits is also closely connected with the UN Agendas 2021 and 2030. The UN Agenda 2030 incorporates or uses as main vehicle – the 17 “Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)”.
In a special UN Conference in 2016, Bill Gates was able to introduce into the 16th SDG “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”, the 9th of the 12 sub-targets – “By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.” This is precisely what Bill Gates needs to introduce digital IDs – most likely injected via vaccines, beginning with children from developing countries – i.e. the poor and defenseless are time and again used as guinea pigs.
They won’t know what happens to them. First trials are underway in one or several rural schools in Bangladesh – see this and this.
These 17 sustainable development goals, are all driving towards a Green Agenda, or as some prominent “left” US Democrat-political figures call it, the New Green Deal. It is nothing else but capitalism painted Green, at a horrendous cost for mankind and for the resources of the world. But it is sold under the label of creating a more sustainable world.
Never mind, the enormous amounts of hydrocarbons – the key polluter itself – that will be needed to convert our “black” economy into a Green economy. Simply because we have not developed effective and efficient alternative sources of energy. The main reasons for this are the strong and politically powerful hydrocarbon lobbies.
The energy cost (hydrocarbon-energy from oil and coal) of producing solar panels and windmills is astounding. So, today’s electric cars – Tesla and Co. – are still driven by hydrocarbon produced electricity – plus their batteries made from lithium destroy pristine landscapes, like huge natural salt flats in Bolivia, Argentina, China and elsewhere. The use of these sources of energy is everything but “sustainable”. See also Michael Moore’s film“Planet of the Humans”.
Hydrogen power is promoted as the panacea of future energy resources. But is it really? Hydrocarbons or fossil fuels today amount to 80% of all energy used worldwide. This is non-renewable and highly polluting energy. Today to produce hydrogen is still mostly dependent on fossil fuels, similar to electricity.
As long as we have purely profit-fueled hydrocarbon lobbies that prevent governments collectively to invest in alternative energy research, like solar energy of the 2nd Generation, i.e. derived from photosynthesis (what plants do), hydrogen production uses more fossil fuels than using straight gas or petrol-derived fuels. Therefore hydrogen, say a hydrogen-driven car, maybe as much as 40% – 50% less efficient than would be a straight electric car. The burden on the environment can be considerably higher. Thus, not sustainable with today’s technology.
To enhance your belief their slogans of “sustainability”, they put up some windmills or solar cells in the “backyard” of their land- and landscape devastating coal mines. They will be filmed along with their “sustainable” buzz-words.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) and the IMF are fully committed to the idea of the New Green Deal. For them it is not unfettered neoliberal capitalism – and extreme consumerism emanating from it, that is the cause for the world’s environmental and societal breakdown, but the use of polluting energies, like hydrocarbons. They seem to ignore the enormous fossil fuel use to convert to a green energy-driven economy. Capitalism is OK, we just have to paint it green (take a look at this).
Let’s look at what else is “sustainable”- or not.
Water use and privatization – Coca Cola tells us their addictive and potentially diabetes-causing soft drinks are produced “sustainably”. They tout sustainability as their sales promotion all over the world. They use enormous amounts of pristine clean drinking water – and so does Nestlé to further promote its number One business branch, bottled water. Nestlé has overtaken Coca Cola as the world number One in bottled water. They both use subterranean sources of drinking water – least costly and often rich in minerals. Both of them have made or are about to sign agreements with Brazil’s President to exploit the world’s largest freshwater aquifer, the Guarani, underlaying Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. They both proclaim sustainability.
Both Coca Cola and Nestlé have horror stories in the Global South (i.e. India, Brazil, Mexico and others), as well as in the Global North. Nestlé is in a battle with the municipality of the tiny Osceola Township, Michigan, where residents complain the Swiss company’s water extraction techniques are ruining the environment. Nestlé pays the State of Michigan US$ 200 to extract 130 million gallons of water per year (2018).
Through over-exploitation both in the Global South and the Global North, especially in the summer, the water table sinks to unattainable levels for the local populations – which are deprived of their water source. Protesting with their government or city officials is often in vain. Corruption is all overarching. – Nothing sustainable here.
These are just two examples of privatizing water for bottling purposes. Privatization of public water supply on a much larger scale is at the core of the issue, carried out mostly in developing countries (the Global South), mainly by French, British, Spanish and US water corporations.
Privatization of water is a socially most unsustainable feat, as it deprives the public, especially the poor, from access to their legitimate water resources. Water is a public good – and water is also a basic human right. On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.
The public water use of Nestlé and Coca Cola – and many others, mind you, doesn’t even take account of the trillions of used plastic bottles ending up as uncollected and non-recycled waste, in the sea, fields, forests and on the road sides. Worldwide less than 8% of plastic bottles are recycled. Therefore, nothing of what Nestlé and Coca Cola practice and profess is sustainable. It’s an outright lie.
Petrol industry – BP with its green business emblem, makes believe – visually, every time you pass a BP station – that they are green. PB proclaims that their oil exploration and exploitation is green and environmentally sustainable.
Let’s look at reality. The so far considered largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It was a giant industrial disaster that started on April 20, 2010 and lasted to 19 September 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect, spilling about 780,000 cubic meter of raw petroleum over an area of up to 180,000 square kilometers. BP promised a full cleanup. By February 2015 they declared task completed. Yet at least 60% of oil and tar along the sea shore and beaches have not been cleaned up – and may never be removed. – Where is the sustainability of their promise? Another outright lie.
BP and other oil corporations also have horrendous human rights records – just about everywhere they operate, mostly in Africa and the Middle East, but also in Asia. The abrogation of human rights is also an abrogation of sustainability.
In this essay BP is used as an example for the petrol industry. None of the petrol giants operate sustainably anywhere in the world, and least where water table-destructive fracking is practiced.
Sustainable mining – is another flagrant lie. But it sells well to the blinded people. And most of the civilized world is blinded. Unfortunately. They want to continue in their comfort zone which includes the use of copper, gold and other precious metals and stones, rare earths for ever more sophisticated electronic gear, gadgets and especially military electronically guided precision weaponry – as well as hydrocarbons in one way or another.
Sustainable mining of anything unrenewable is a Big Oxymoron. Anything you take from the earth that is non-renewable is by its nature not sustainable. Its simply gone. Forever. In addition to the raw material not being renewable, the environmental damage caused by mining – especially gold and copper – is horrendous. Once a mine is exploited in a short 30- or 40-years’ concession, the mining company leaves mountains of contaminated waste, soil and water behind – that takes a thousand years or more to regenerate.
Yet, the industry’s palaver is “sustainability”, and the public buys it.
In fact, our civilization’s sustainability is zero. Aside from the pollution, poisoning and intoxication that we leave around us, our mostly western civilization has used natural resources at the rate of 3 to 4 times in excess of what Mother Earth so generally provides us with. We, the west, had passed the threshold of One in the mid-sixties. In Africa and most of Asia, the rate of depletion is still way below the factor of One, on average somewhere between 0.4 and 0.6.
“Sustainability” is a flash-word, has no meaning in our western civilization. It is pure deception – self-deception, so we may continue with our unsustainable ways of life. That’s what profit-bound capitalism does. It lives today with ever more consumerism, more luxury for the ever-fewer oligarchs – on the resources of tomorrow.
The sustainability of everything is not only a cheap slogan, it’s a ruinous self-deception. A Global Great Reset is needed – but not according to the methods of the IMF and WEF. They would just shovel more resources and assets from the bottom 99.99% to the top few, painting the “new” capitalism a shiny bright green – and fooling the masses. We, The People, must take The Reset in our own hands, with consciousness and responsibility. So, We the People, forget sustainable but act responsibly.
Peter Koenig is an economist and geopolitical analyst. After working for over 30 years with the World Bank, he penned Implosion, an economic thriller, based on his first-hand experience. Exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.
Electrifying has a question: Is the private sector fit tor the energy transition? On October 1, 2020, it is of actuality. The rush towards all renewables although very commendable could nevertheless prove messy. But let us read on :
Following our post on government initiatives of selected countries with regards to renewable energy subsidies, targets and ambitions, we have researched the private sector to obtain a more in-depth look into the big players and their plans for the renewable revolution.
Following media, LinkedIn and press releases of those big fish one might think the move from fossil energy resources to renewable energy will be a walk in the park. But are the measures set, enough to force a clean energy transition and are we on track to complete all the ambitious goals?
Frankly, we have become a bit sceptical during the lockdown when the total amount of energy used has fallen (temporarily, at least) by about 20%, and a mass of posts and articles on all available platforms ringing in the age of renewable energy sources. However, those voices seem to have been silenced recently as the energy hunger is rising again, and renewable energy resources don’t provide enough power to cope with the demand.
A look behind the facades by analyzing the plans and forecast of energy supply enterprises should provide some more detail on how our power will be produced in future.
The table below outlines all the available climate strategies and pledges of the selected corporations by comparing them against the Paris Agreement. The outcome is, frankly, pretty obvious. None of the investigated companies comes anywhere near the 1.5 Celsius target. To reach that target, they should stop new fossil exploration and phase out existing reserves, which clearly isn’t the case.
We have taken BP, which emerges as the best performing company within the selected lot, to analyze its climate strategy.
Scrolling through their homepage offers the impression of a company striving towards net-zero emissions with ambitious climate goals by living up to their new strategy and business model to convert from an oil company to an integrated energy company. However, as of now, most of these measures are time-intensive papers and not reality.
Admittedly, BP is investing vast amounts of capital towards the development of renewable energy assets and has set itself ambitious goals. How come, them, this still isn’t enough?
In our opinion, the answer can also be found on their homepage: ‘Renewables are the fastest-growing energy source, contributing half of the growth in global energy…’ This statement sums up the situation we are in pretty precisely. Renewable energy is not replacing fossil energy but covering about 50% of the rising demand.
Does this mean that if even one of the most ambitious energy companies isn’t able to budget and forecast with targets according to the Paris Agreement, we won’t get rid of dirty fuels in the foreseeable future?
Bernard Looney, CEO of BP, states that: ‘By following this strategy, we expect bp to be a very different energy company by 2030.’
This statement is not satisfying as indeed renewables have proven to be competitive already. What’s more, as an energy company, this form of energy supply is hard to ignore in going forward. On the other hand, it may be a statement not promising too much of a change rather than telling everyone what they want to hear and failing that hussar ride.
Anyway, we acknowledge BP to be an innovator and thought leader among all oil companies and would appreciate the same ambition of their competitors as well.
However, having researched the companies shaping our energy future, we start to think that another massive push is needed towards reaching the Paris Agreement and maximum warming of 1.5 degrees.
The push might come from major renewable energy companies like Siemens, Vestas, GE Energy, NextEra Energy, Inc., Suzlon, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Avangrid Renewables, EDF Energy, NEXT Energy Capital, European Energy, Obton, Orstedt, Luxcara, and Green Investment Group, all leading the way forward.
We would love to see such companies teaming up with oil companies for know-how sharing and collaboration towards a more sustainable future.
To close this blog, we would like to cite another statement of Bernard Looney which is meant to describe BP’s situation but also outlines the global circumstances within these odd times very well:
We are operating in an environment of greater uncertainty than at any time most will recall. But we are in action. Not just to weather the storm. But to emerge transformed and stronger for the opportunities ahead in the energy transition and our net-zero ambition.
The Ethiopian-Egyptian Water War Has Begun by Ayenat Mersie | September 22, 2020
It took only a few weeks to plan the cyberattack—and a few more to abandon the world of ethical hacking for the less noble sort. But they would do anything for the Nile, the four young Egyptians agreed.
With that, the group calling themselves the Cyber_Horus Group in late June hacked more than a dozen Ethiopian government sites, replacing each page with their own creation: an image of a skeleton pharaoh, clutching a scythe in one hand and a scimitar in the other. “If the river’s level drops, let all the Pharaoh’s soldiers hurry,” warned a message underneath. “Prepare the Ethiopian people for the wrath of the Pharaohs.
“There is more power than weapons,” one of the hackers, who asked not to be identified by name, told Foreign Policy. Also, it was a pretty easy job, the hacker added.
A few weeks later and thousands of miles away, a 21-year-old Ethiopian named Liz applied red lipstick and donned a black T-shirt and jeans. She positioned her phone on her desk and started her own kind of online influence campaign: a TikTok video. She danced to a popular Egyptian song underneath the message, “Distracting the Egyptians while we fill the dam.”
“There’s no other country that can stop us,” said Liz, who has more than 70,000 followers on the app and whose taunting video was met with praise and threats. “It’s our right.”
Rarely have young people been so passionate about an infrastructure project. But the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will be Africa’s largest, is more than just a piece of infrastructure. It has become a nationalistic rallying cry for both Ethiopia and Egypt—two countries scrambling to define their nationhood after years of domestic upheaval. Many Ethiopians and Egyptians are getting involved in the only way they can—online—and fomenting the first African cyberconflict of its kind, one with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.
Construction of the dam, which was first dreamed up in the 1960s, started in April 2011, weeks after the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Even then, the online tensions between Ethiopians and Egyptians were palpable in the comments sections of seemingly every article about the dam. The discord soon even spilled over into the world of reviews: Today, there are several entries for the GERD on Google Maps, most earning middling 3 to 4 stars ratings, buoyed by five-star ratings with feedback such as, “One of the great architectural dam in the World!” but weighed down by one-star complaints including, “You’re gonna make us die from thirst.
”Many Ethiopians and Egyptians are getting involved in the only way they can—online—and fomenting the first African cyberconflict of its kind.
Tensions escalated this year, as the U.S.-brokered negotiations between Ethiopia and Egypt unraveled and new talks mediated by the African Union began. Two issues are at the core: what will happen during a drought and what will happen during a dispute. In terms of the former, Egypt wants the pace of the reservoir filling to be dependent on rains, to ensure a minimum flow if there’s a drought; Ethiopia says such a guarantee is unacceptable. And in terms of disputes, Egypt and Sudan want a resolution mechanism with binding results, but Ethiopia doesn’t.
Construction of the dam was completed in July, and the filling of its reservoir started soon after amid heavy rains but before an agreement between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan was signed. The U.S. government, a top source of aid for both Ethiopia and Egypt, said in August that it would halt some aid to Ethiopia over what it saw as a unilateral move to progress with the dam.
At the beginning of the year, when Ethiopia’s water minister was asked in a press conference who would control the dam once complete, he looked surprised before responding with a curt, “It’s my dam.” Ethiopians across social media, including Liz, adopted his response as a mantra and hashtag, urging their government to move forward with the project. Some have gone further, saying that the dam should be filled regardless of downstream countries’ positions: One Twitter user wrote, for example, “There is no need of negotiations with crafty Egypt.”
Egyptians online retorted with pleas using the hashtag #Nile4All and threats such as “I proudly volunteer to join my Egyptian army to demolish Ethiopia and its dam,” using hashtags such as #EgyptNileRights.
Social media users from the two countries frequently collide on the Internet, but seem to do so most often on Adel el-Adawy’s Twitter page: As a member of a prominent Egyptian political dynasty, a professor at the American University in Cairo, and the most visible disseminator of the Egyptian perspective on the dam in English, he has amassed a significant following. Adawy, whose pinned tweet is a picture of himself shaking hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, posts frequently about the Nile and Ethiopian affairs, especially when things get sticky.
At the end of June, when Hachalu Hundessa, a popular activist-singer of Ethiopia’s historically marginalized Oromo ethnic group, was killed, the country descended into chaos. Hundreds were killed as protests were either met with state violence or descended into mob violence. Adawy posted frequently, underscoring the fractious situation but also fomenting alarmism, such as when he posted that frustrated Ethiopians were privately asking Egypt to overthrow the Ethiopian government. Soon after one such post, he was bombarded, he said.
“I got around 500 or 600 friend requests on Facebook by Ethiopian accounts. I got messages with insults.… I got people sending me certain links, of course I didn’t open any of them,” he said. Many of the accounts seemed hollow, with little information contained in them. “Getting within an hour or two 600 friend requests is not normal.”
Even on Twitter, some of the engagement on Adawy’s posts comes from suspicious accounts; they lack followers, were recently created, have number-filled usernames, or only post about the dam. But it’s still unclear the extent of coordination or who might be the coordinator.
“It only means one thing. It means we should expect this more and more.”
It’s possible that the engagement is coming from concerned Ethiopians at home and abroad, at the encouragement but not the behest of Ethiopian officials. “I have friends who joined Twitter just for the sake of this. It’s highly emotional and nationalistic,” said Endalkachew Chala, an Ethiopian communications professor at Hamline University in Minnesota.
The Ethiopian government does broadly engage in “computational propaganda,” according to a 2019 report from the Oxford Internet Institute. Agencies there use human-run social media accounts to spread pro-government propaganda, attack the opposition, and troll users. The same goes for the Egyptian government.
Though there is no evidence yet that either government was involved in coordinated social media attacks or in the Cyber_Horus hack, the activity from the past few months still represents a milestone. It has marked the first known time these kinds of digital tools have been used by people from one African country against people from another, said Gilbert Nyandeje, founder and CEO of the Africa Cyber Defense Forum. “It only means one thing. It means we should expect this more and more.”
At their core, all the online attacks, hacks, and discord are driven by the same force: nationalism. For both countries—Egypt since the 2011 fall of Mubarak and Ethiopia since the 2012 death of strongman Prime Minister Meles Zenawi—national identity has been in flux.
Egypt’s Sisi has anchored his legitimacy on a nationalistic platform. At its core has been an emphasis on national security, rounded out by megaprojects such as the Suez Canal expansion and the construction of a new administrative capital city. But at the core of Egyptian identity is the Nile, so bolstering nationalism means defending the Nile, too. And officials have encouraged this outlook: One sleekly produced video shared on Facebook by the Ministry of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs warned, “More than 40 million Egyptians are facing the threat of drought and thirst.… The cause of water shortage is Ethiopia building a dam five times bigger than its needs.
”At their core, all the online attacks, hacks, and discord are driven by the same force: nationalism.
It has been a show of vulnerability rare in Arab power politics. But the strategy has helped garner global sympathy for Egypt, even as its Nile claims are framed by Ethiopia as the result of unjust colonial-era agreements in which Egypt’s interests were represented by British colonizers.
Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been unable to manage competing nationalist sentiments growing among different ethnic groups. Abiy came to power in 2018 thanks to a wave of protests that started among young Oromos. Following decades of authoritarianism and the country’s domination by the Tigrayan minority ethnic group, Abiy promised to build bridges spanning ethnic fault lines, cultivate an inclusive nationwide identity, and open up the political space. But even at the beginning of this year, slow progress on fulfilling these promises was encouraging criticism, including from Oromos who said he was abandoning the cause.
Still, the dam provided a unifying issue around which Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds could rally. “We do have a lot of divisions—ideological, ethnic, tribal, religious,” said Chala, the Ethiopian professor. “But even though we have these bitter divisions, Ethiopians have overwhelmingly supported this Nile dam especially on social media.”
Even some of Abiy’s most outspoken critics, such as prominent Oromo activist and media mogul Jawar Mohammed, posted frequently about Ethiopia’s right to fill the dam. “Egypt & its backers should know Ethiopia will start filling #GERD in July, agreement or no agreement,” Jawar tweeted in June. Everything changed in the following days, however, after the popular singer Hachalu was killed and Jawar was arrested following accusations of inciting ethnic tensions. While other Oromo activists have echoed Jawar’s support of the dam, they have warned against losing sight of the Oromo struggle and what they regard as Abiy’s failures.
The dam provided a unifying issue around which Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds could rally.
Ethiopian officials, meanwhile, continue to encourage Ethiopians to post about the dam online and often use the #ItsMyDam hashtag in their own social media posts. This use of social media to rally around the dam has also meant that Ethiopia’s massive global diaspora can get involved, without having to worry about frequent in-country Internet shutdowns that otherwise curtail online movements there.
But nationalism creates problems. The thousands of Ethiopian refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants living in Egypt are now facing greater pressure and harassment from Egyptian citizens and authorities since the dam tensions started to heat up, said Hamdy al-Azazy, an Egyptian migrant rights activist currently in Germany. And in Ethiopia, it has meant that any domestic criticism of the dam from an environmentalist point of view—namely, that it could disrupt ecosystems and biodiversity, even within Ethiopia—is met with derision.
And for both countries, surging nationalist sentiment means that it’s harder for officials to agree to, and for the public to accept, compromise. Ethiopia, Egypt, and the quieter Sudan have actually already agreed on most items when it comes to the dam; the main sticking points now are related to dispute resolution, drought contingency plans, and future upstream projects. And yet, much of the online rhetoric remains maximalist, even rejecting items that have already been unanimously decided—such as the existence of an Ethiopian Nile dam in any form—raising the possibility that the online tensions and attacks may not subside anytime soon.
As for the hackers at Cyber_Horus, the group is already planning another attack on Ethiopia. When asked if they would reconsider if an agreement between the two countries was reached, one of the hackers said simply, “Maybe.”Ayenat Mersie is a journalist based in Nairobi.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.