The controversy over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Two-thirds of Ethiopians do not have electricity and many companies use diesel generators. With a new dam, the largest dam in Africa is now being built there. The neighboring countries are worried about their water supply due to the construction. That leads to disagreement.

In August the residents of Addis Ababa had a big party because there is a prospect that they will soon no longer have to prepare their bread with charcoal but with electricity. The completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in 2022 already promises a rebirth of Ethiopia in its name. Because not only the largest part of the Ethiopian population had to get by without electricity, many companies also have problems with the electricity supply.

Largest dam and largest hydropower plant in Africa
The construction of the dam will create a dam that can hold 74 billion cubic meters of water. The connected hydropower plant can thus produce 6000 megawatts of electricity per year. Both the dam and the power station are therefore the largest on the African continent. The water for the dam is diverted from one of the two main strands of the Nile, the Blue Nile.

The power plant will produce so much electricity that there will also be something left over for export. Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti in particular can benefit from this. Although the electricity generated can also benefit Sudan, the state protests against the project.

Because especially in the years to come, when the reservoir will be filled, less water will arrive in other neighboring countries such as Sudan and Egypt. As a result, there is growing concern about their own water supply.

The Nile is particularly important for Egypt because the desert state covers almost all of its water needs with water from the Nile. Negotiations have been going on for months to clarify how much water Ethiopia is allowed to discharge for the dam and how much the land will let through for the neighboring states. So far, no agreement has really been found and the talks have been largely unsuccessful, says Antje Diekhans, ARD correspondent in Nairobi.

Ethiopia has already started collecting water
The dam is currently in a construction phase in which water has to be filled, says Antje Diekhans. The civil engineers explain this by saying that a certain pressure must now be exerted on the retaining walls. That is why Ethiopia started to collect water in the rainy season. This means that so far the country has not drawn any water from the Nile, but has simply not let the rainwater through.

But then Egypt reacted indignantly and ensured that the US supported the state in its interests. As a result, the US cut financial aid to Ethiopia. A kind of political signal, our correspondent calls it a warning shot.

What effect this sanction will actually have remains to be seen, says Antje Diekhans. She says experts even believe that this approach could be counterproductive because it puts pressure on Ethiopia, which may make the country less willing to compromise in the future.

There are contracts that are more than a hundred years old that regulate how the water of the Nile may be used. In these treaties, Egypt was preferred because it corresponded to the power balance of the time.

These treaties say, for example, that Ethiopia and other countries on the Blue or White Nile may not build any structures without Egypt’s consent. However, since these treaties date back to colonial times, most countries no longer feel bound by them. Except Egypt, because the country insists that these treaties are still valid.

Egypt speaks of a win-win-win situation
There is currently severe flooding in Sudan. Ethiopia argues that the dam could prevent such floods in the future. At the start of construction in 2011, the then Prime Minister Meles Zalawi justified the construction by saying that the neighboring countries could also benefit from this project. A win-win-win situation, at least that’s how Ethiopia sees it, says Antje Diekhans.