Ethiopia campaigns to win Egypt’s support for renaissance dam

The Ethiopian government has heightened diplomatic efforts to secure the support of the Egyptian government for the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile.

The $4.3 billion facility, which is set to be the largest hydro-electrical power plant in Africa, has been the source of contention between Ethiopia and Egypt.

On Monday, the spokesman for Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry, Dina Mufti, told press that “The Egyptian government is expected to stop threatening Ethiopia of breaching international principles and realise the benefits the dam provides to the Egyptian people.”

Upon its completion in 2017, the dam is expected to produce about 6,000MW of electrical power and Ethiopian officials have alluded to plans of exporting electricity to neighboring countries.

At the 3rd anniversary ceremony of the commencement of the dam’s construction last week, the chief engineer of the project, Semegnew Beleke, echoed similar sentiments that the plant will benefit other nations in the region.

According to him, besides the prospect of electrical supply, the dam’s reservoir is expected to reduce the overall amount of water evaporated from the river, thereby ensuring more supply for downstream countries.

Beleke further disclosed that work is ongoing round the clock to complete the dam within the deadline. Reports indicate that the plant is over 30% completed and officials have revealed that everything is coming according to plans. At least 2 turbines are expected to commence operation next year and it is estimated they will generate up to 700MW of electrical power.

After over a month of trading accusations, Ethiopian and Egyptian officials have relayed their willingness to resume discussions – which was abruptly stopped in February due to the inability of the group to reach an agreement on several issues.

Some of the most prominent points of contention are the composition of a committee to implement the recommendations of a panel of experts convened to study the dam last year. Also, the trio have been at odds with one another over the necessity of conducting another study into the effects of the gigantic plant on the environment.

Many Ethiopians have voiced support for the construction of the dam after many years of criticising the government of under-utilising the country’s bountiful natural resources to fight hunger and poverty.

According to some commentators, fears of the Egyptian populace that the dam will drastically reduce the flow of freshwater to the arid country were heightened by images of the plant released in May last year. However, Ethiopian officials insist that the initially instinctive apprehension has been blown out of proportion.

During the recent EU-African Summit in Brussels, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, revealed that Egypt is willing to jointly find the construction of the facility provided it will be run by a committee made up of experts selected from both countries.

Although the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Dina Mufti, has lauded this news in an interview with The Reporter, he noted that the plan to have the plant run by a joint committee is “not acceptable, because it is against the sovereignty of Ethiopia.”

Pundits say the fact that the dam has been strategically positioned at the center of a newly found ‘pan-Ethiopianism’ complicates the possibility of any other major partner or sponsor getting involved in the project.

Although reports indicate that China had plans of giving Ethiopia about $1 billion to support the dam’s construction, until now it has reportedly been completely funded by the state through the sale of bonds to citizens.

Photo by The Reporter: Chief engineer of the GERD project, Semegnew Beleke, speaks to visitors at the construction site.

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