Lessons from Lake Tana

Lake Tana has an enemy, locally called Emboch, a type of weed that covered almost 2000ha of the lake by the end of the past fiscal year. It has been blocking the fishing grounds, reportedly resulting in a decline of fish production. Despite the fact that the river is located in the Amhara Regional State, it has not stopped the youth of neighbouring Oromia Regional State from joining the fight. The phenomenon could be taken as a perfect indicator of what needs to happen at a national level to make sure that the current political tensions in the country end. It was also a precursor to the meeting held between some of the leaders of the Oromia People's Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and the Amhara National Democratic Front (ANDM) in Bahir Dar.

It is not the heartbreaking lyrics to save the famous Lake Tana or the unique nature of the newly produced songs that prompted me to pen this particular column, but how fast Yihune Belay took up arms (musical instruments) to wage war. I wrote this just because there is nothing better than fighting for the betterment of the motherland. Lake Tana, situated in the Amhara Regional State, deserves more than that. Above all, my objective and that of many concerned Ethiopians is loud and clear. It is to help the ailing Lake Tana survive, in case one has not heard the song ‘Tana Tana’.

Located around 374Km from Addis Abeba, Tana rests on a surface area of 2156sqkm, according to the European Space Agency. The same source relates that many island churches on the lake are centuries old. It was formed as a result of a volcanic activity some five million years ago. More famously, it is also a tributary of the Blue Nile, contributing 60pc of its volume.

It is in danger now.  The water hyacinth a.k.a Emboch has become a significant problem. Emboch has been growing at a faster rate than it is being cleared. In 2009, it covered only 20ha of land, but within five years the weed had extended to a land mass of over 50,000ha. Fortunately, there has been some progress as the area covered by Emboch has dropped to 2,000ha in the past fiscal year.

The weed is harmful to the fish population of the lake, with 20 of the 27 species being endemic to it. It has brought down the production of fish, burdening those who depend on fishing for their bread and butter.

What is interesting here is that the hardship of Lake Tana has not been left to the Amhara Regional State alone. Youth from the Oromia Regional State have joined the march, going to Bahir Dar to fight the good fight.

This exemplary unity between the two large regions, it seems, was just a prelude to the next meeting between the leaders of the Oromia People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and the Amhara National Democratic Front (ANDM). It was held in Bahir Dar.

The very idea of having conducted the conference indicates progress in the right direction both for the lake and the political environment of Ethiopia. The weed has to be eradicated as much as possible, just as the political tensions in the country have to be resolved.

Recent actions prove that the leadership at the OPDO is competent, at least in the eyes of its constituents. More than anything else, they have been able to bring cooperation between two of the country’s most populous regions. Power is in the right hands. Seeing the collaboration between the two regional states in clearing the weed from Lake Tana gives one hope for the future of the country.

Religious institutions, elders and advisers have to be listened to and carefully heeded. The various songs about how great it is to be an Ethiopian do help in persuading people through their energetic lyrics. The cooperation and finding common ground enables the country to scale up its development goals.

The fact is that, and this is not lost on anyone, peace and stability are a sure-fire way to bring about economic development. If peace is ensured to start with, other wants and desires can be met in due course. The cooperation between these two regions consolidates unity, and wards off disintegration. Both the Oromia and Amhara regional states are major contributors to the economy. A significant chunk of the foreign exchange earnings from coffee which we are proud of comes from the former. And one of the vital economic contributions of the latter is its production of Teff, an Ethiopian staple food.

The meeting between the youth and leaders of the OPDO and ANDM  are indicators that people of the two regions are close-knit. Historians have done their part by shining a light on this fact, either through recorded marriages or adoptions over the centuries.

Saving Lake Tana will go down as one of the most crucial events in the country’s history. It is an experiment signalling that unity is possible, and could help save it from falling apart. But improving the political situation will not be as easy as clearing the weed from Lake Tana (which has not been easy either). But it is an effort worth expending if democracy is going to reign in the country and the nation’s unity is to continue to hold.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Nov 16,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 916]



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