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50 Years – 50 People: Three questions for Wubalem Fekade, one of the first SPRING alumni

In September 1986, Wubalem Fekade from Ethiopia came to Dortmund as a student in the newly established Master’s Programme in Spatial Planning for Regions in Growing Economies (SPRING). The first year of this programme is spent at TU Dortmund University, the second part at one of the partner universities in Ghana, Tanzania, Chile or the Philippines. For over eleven years now, Wubalem Fekade has been with the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a ten-country inter-governmental organization of Nile riparian states.

Mister Fekade, why did you decide to participate in the SPRING Programme?

Studying agriculture and agricultural economics in Ethiopia allowed me to get a close look at the poor performance of the agriculture sector and endemic rural poverty. Because of the influence of my father and the Student Movement I was also interested in problems of regional inequality and Ethiopia’s underdevelopment. In my search for a school for my graduate studies I stumbled upon the newly established SPRING Master’s Programme in 1986, recommended to me by a friend who was in the first batch. The story of me and SPRING is an enduring association that has been rewarding all along, and I am still in touch with some of my professors and friends at SPRING.

How did you experience your stay in Germany and at TU Dortmund University?

My stay in Germany and at TU Dortmund was very fulfilling. The modular structure of the SPRING Master suited my personal preference for seeking academic space and the freedom that enables me to think for myself. The professors were accessible and supportive, provided guidance and supervision in a way that did not stifle the student’s creativity and quest. During my stay I visited many places both on study excursions and also on a personal basis. In both, I learnt immensely from my observations, which became a life-long experience. Unlike some acquaintances, there were no occasions when I did not feel at home in Germany, nor did I have a negative encounter with a German. I am so unable to come up with such experiences that I am afraid I might come over as excessively “Germanophile”. I made many friends during my stay in Germany and these friendships have lasted for over 35 years now. 

Regarding your job for the NBI, how have you benefited from SPRING?

The NBI aims to bring the Nile riparian states together to harness the potentials of the river. We work to foster cooperative socio-economic development, fight poverty, reverse environmental degradation and build a cooperative transboundary water management regime. We try hard to ensure the sustainability of the Nile and its ecosystem and to build a common institution of the riparian states that does away with the adverse legacies of colonialism. To sum it up, we want to build regional peace and security by avoiding any water conflicts. There is a strong spatial planning element in the work I do, because NBI strives to manage the Nile, both in spatial and hydrological terms, as one integrated unit. After all, the Nile does not “recognize” the artificial political boundaries so that what happens upstream affects downstream and vice versa. Because of this interdependency, we need to reconcile the development needs of riparian countries along with the stakeholders within countries that strive to access the finite Nile waters. We see it as our responsibility to take over the “custodianship”, to protect and conserve the Nile and the life system it supports. So, yes, the spatial planning orientation I acquired at SPRING has come in handy in my job.


Personal details:

Wubalem Fekade (62) graduated from the University of Science and Technology (now Kwame Nkrumah University) in Kumasi/Ghana where he had spent the second year of his SPRING studies. Because of earlier political activism, he was unable to return to his home country Ethiopia and was compelled to do his Ph.D. field research in Tanzania. He then moved to the United States where he joined the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland. After several other appointments, amongst other things working in an EU-interuniversity consortium research project together with his friend and colleague Dr Johannes Lückenkötter of TU Dortmund University, he joined the NBI. Today, he heads the Social Development and Communication unit at a regional office of the NBI in Addis Ababa.

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