Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed officially inaugurated electricity production from the country’s massive dam on the Blue Nile on Sunday, in a milestone in the controversial multi-billion dollar project.
Accompanied by high-ranking officials, Abe toured the power plant and pressed a series of buttons on an electronic screen, a move officials said had started production.
“This great dam was built by Ethiopians but not only for Ethiopians, but for the benefit of all our African brothers and sisters,” an official said at the opening ceremony.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is set to be Africa’s largest hydroelectric scheme, but it has been at the center of a regional dispute since Ethiopia began operating there in 2011.
Ethiopia’s neighbors, Egypt and Sudan, view the dam as a threat due to their dependence on the waters of the Nile, while Addis Ababa considers it essential for its electricity supply and development.
The $4.2 billion (€3.7 billion) project is expected to produce more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity, more than double Ethiopia’s electricity production.
Official media reported that the dam, which is located in western Ethiopia close to the border with Sudan, began generating 375 megawatts of electricity from one of its turbines on Sunday.
The largest dam in Africa: Ethiopia in 2011 launched the construction of the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border with Sudan.
The first phase of filling the dam’s 145-meter (475-foot) wide reservoir began in mid-2020.
The total capacity of the reservoir is 74 billion cubic meters, and the goal for 2021 was to add 13.5 billion cubic meters. Ethiopia said last July it had added enough water to start energy production, although officials did not provide a specific figure and are believed to have missed the target.
The project has raised tensions with Egypt, an arid country of about 100 million people that relies on the Nile for most of its water needs, including agriculture.
Cairo claims a historic right to the river dating back to the 1929 treaty between Egypt and Sudan, represented by the British colonial power, which granted Egypt a veto over construction projects along the river.
The 1959 treaty cemented Egypt’s allotment of about 66 percent of the river’s flow, with 22 percent to Sudan.
Ethiopia was not a party to these treaties and does not consider them valid.
In 2010, the Nile Basin countries, with the exception of Egypt and Sudan, signed another agreement, the Cooperative Framework Agreement, which allows projects on the river without Cairo’s approval.
Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies in recent years until the outbreak of war in November 2020, insists that the dam will not affect the flow of water.
But Egypt fears that its supplies will run low during the time it takes to fill the reservoir.
Egypt views the dam as a threat to its existence, and Sudan has warned that millions of lives will be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.
Talks sponsored by the African Union failed to reach a tripartite agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.
Regional Tensions Another source of regional tension is the conflict since November 2020 in northern Ethiopia, which has driven tens of thousands of refugees to flee across the border into Sudan.
Sudan has been plagued by its own political and economic problems since a coup in October toppled the transitional government.
Relations between Addis Ababa and Khartoum have also deteriorated due to the regional conflict over the fertile border region of Fashiqa, where Ethiopian farmers have long cultivated cultivated land claimed by Sudan.
There were sporadic deadly clashes in the area.
(France 24 with AFP)