News: Ethiopian mega-dam project Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) today started generating power. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad inaugurated the power production. Who deserves credit for the project, PM Abiy’s government or the TPLF-led EPRDF coalition?
GERD is Africa’s largest hydroelectric power project. It is said that Ethiopian Emperor Haieselaisse planned this dam and pictures of the dam appeared on 100 Birr currency note. In the Benishagul Gumuz region close to the Ethiopia-Sudan border, the foundation stone of the dam was laid in 2011. Meles Zenawi was the Prime Minister of Ethiopia who inaugurated the construction. He was prime minister of EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) coalition which ruled Ethiopia from 1991 to the start of 2018.
After Meles Zenawi’s death in 2012, EPRDF Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn continued the construction. Meles Zenawi was from Tigray-based Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Hailemariam Desalegn was from the SNNPR faction of TPLF-led EPRDF. TPLF was the main political party that dominated the EPRDF alliance.
Situated over the Blue Nile river, the dam construction soon became controversial. Egypt and Sudan, Nile river downstream countries, raised objections to the construction. The $4.2 billion project went on despite financial constraints and political wranglings. Due to opposition from Egypt, Ethiopia could not secure loans from international financial institutions. It was an uphill task to build the dam from the Ethiopian pocket. Another challenge was to control armed insurgency in Benishangul Gumuz region where the dam site was situated. On more than one occasion, Ethiopia accused Sudan and Egypt of backing armed groups in the region.
At the start of 2018, EPRD Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn resigned after massive demonstrations. Abiy Ahmad was nominated as the new Prime Minister. In 2018, Simegnew Bekele, an Ethiopian civil engineer who served as chief project manager of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project as well as three other similar dam projects in Ethiopia died in mysterious circumstances.
On the morning of 26 July 2018, Simegnew was found shot dead in his Toyota Land Cruiser in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa. Speaking at a press conference, Ethiopian Federal Police Commissioner Zeinu Jemal said that he had been found with a Colt gun in his right hand and a bullet wound behind his right ear, however, foul play has been suspected. Simegnew was scheduled to give a press conference on the progress of the dam later that day, following comments by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that construction could take up to ten more years, far more than previous projections. He was the public face of the dam.
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Ethiopia completed the first filling of the dam in 2020. In July 2021, its second filling was completed in the rainy season. Before the start of the second filling, Egypt, Suan, European Union, some UN officials, and the US issued statements asking Ethiopia not to start the filling. Egypt and Sudan wanted a legally binding agreement about the operation of the dam before the start of the 2nd filling. Despite several rounds of talks mediated by the African Union, no agreement could be finalized. Faced with stiff resistance, Prime Minister Abiy’s government managed to complete the 2nd filling of the dam.
The dam has a total power generation capacity of more than 5000 megawatts. Today one of its turbines became operational, capable of producing 375 megawatts of electricity.
Prime Minister Abiy in his speech today commemorated Emperor Haileselaisse, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn for their contribution.
It would be unfair to give credit to just one government for this project which took more than 10 years to reach near completion. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi started and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad finished.