News / Africa

Ethiopia: Halting Dam's Construction Unthinkable

The construction of the dam in Asosa region Ethiopia, Apr. 2, 2013.  Ethiopia started to divert the flow of the Blue Nile river to construct a giant dam, according to its state media, in a move that could impact the Nile-dependent Egypt.
The construction of the dam in Asosa region Ethiopia, Apr. 2, 2013. Ethiopia started to divert the flow of the Blue Nile river to construct a giant dam, according to its state media, in a move that could impact the Nile-dependent Egypt.
Marthe van der Wolf
Tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia are rising after Ethiopia began diverting the water of a Nile River tributary to build the continent’s biggest hydroelectric power plant.  Despite criticism from Egypt, Ethiopia says construction of the dam will proceed. 

Ethiopia summoned the Egyptian ambassador this week to demand an explanation after Egyptian politicians were overheard on a live broadcast discussing ways to sabotage the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

A traditional felucca sailing boat transits the Nile river passing the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. (file photo)A traditional felucca sailing boat transits the Nile river passing the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. (file photo)
A traditional felucca sailing boat transits the Nile river passing the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. (file photo)
A traditional felucca sailing boat transits the Nile river passing the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. (file photo)
The spokesperson of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dina Mufti, says Ethiopia is surprised by the tone of Egyptian officials.

"Whether those propaganda that are coming from that corner are the government's position or not, we have asked for verification.  We are caught by surprise because some government officials, party leaders and civil society leaders, they were talking about Ethiopia violently and we were surprised.  We are waiting for this tone to be watered down very soon," said Dina Mufti.

Egyptian concerns

Ethiopia started diverting a part of the Blue Nile last week for the construction of the $4.7 billion dam.  The dam, scheduled to be completed by 2017, will transform Ethiopia into Africa’s biggest power producer.

An Egyptian farmer squats down on cracked soil to show the dryness of the land due to drought in a farm formerly irrigated by the river Nile, in Al-Dakahlya, about 120 km from Cairo, June 4, 2013.An Egyptian farmer squats down on cracked soil to show the dryness of the land due to drought in a farm formerly irrigated by the river Nile, in Al-Dakahlya, about 120 km from Cairo, June 4, 2013.
An Egyptian farmer squats down on cracked soil to show the dryness of the land due to drought in a farm formerly irrigated by the river Nile, in Al-Dakahlya, about 120 km from Cairo, June 4, 2013.
An Egyptian farmer squats down on cracked soil to show the dryness of the land due to drought in a farm formerly irrigated by the river Nile, in Al-Dakahlya, about 120 km from Cairo, June 4, 2013.
While the construction started almost two years ago, it was not until last week's diversion that tension between Egypt and Ethiopia broke into public view.  The government in Cairo said it has not approved the building of the dam, and vowed to prevent the dam from reducing Egypt's water supply.

Dina says Ethiopia will not consider halting the construction of the dam.

“The halting of the construction is unthinkable.  We hear two voices; one is a very backward voice of the 19th century.  And there is another voice, with sanity, also a voice that is looking for corporation, for good relationship.  So we hope the sane voice will prevail," said Dina.

Both Egypt and Ethiopia are part of the Nile Basin Initiative, a group of nine countries that have agreed to "develop the river in a cooperative manner."

An international panel of experts released a report last weekend, concluding that construction of Ethiopia’s dam will not harm downstream countries such as Sudan and Egypt.  But the conclusions of the report did not convince Egypt.

Fear of military action

The words of some Egyptian leaders and the media sparked fears about possible military actions. Nile expert Wondwosen Michago says other scenarios are more likely to happen before any type of army intervention will take place:

“The first scenario for me is resorting to the Nile Basin Initiative, coming to the roundtable and discussing under the umbrella of the Nile Basin Initiative.  The other scenario is accepting the international panel of experts' reports.  The other one is, as some people say, going to the international courts and putting that on the table," said Wondwosen Michago.

Mehari Taddele Maru, an international consultant based in Ethiopia,  says military action is highly unlikely.  But he believes the dam would be the first target if the situation were to escalate.

"If bombing happens, basically Egypt would bomb the dam.  That is probably the clear target they may have.  Or send a commando, some Wikileaks stuff has indicated, to try to destabilize the area where the dam is.  And the response from Ethiopian side would also similarly be to use air force and to inflict as many attacks as possible on Egyptian interests," he said.

Ethiopian officials would not say whether the country has increased security around the dam.  They said only that they are following the rising tensions with Egypt closely and carefully.

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Comment Sorting
by: Abebe Tsehay from: addis Ababa
June 14, 2013 7:59 AM

My comment concerning statement Andinet Party.
What happen to Andniet Democratic Party, I was very much ashamed by the statement announced yesterday concerning The Hidase dam, My I advise you? I am not the member of any party, but I have a strong desire to see free and democratic Ethiopia, if you want to be accepted by the public create something which mobilizes the attentions of the society. EPRDF has done the right thing; they announced the building of Abay, which was the dream of Every Ethiopians, so they get the heart of the people. Why you accuse such act. Every party wants to draw the attention of the public towards their goal or objectives. EPRDF has done the assignment successfully. Please come with brilliant idea which can draw the heart of Ethiopians to you.

by: Ye Abay Lij from: AA
June 07, 2013 10:34 AM
If H. E. President Morsi is honest to his people but not to his politics, he shall tell them the truth to the tempered Egyptians that The Hydro-power dam has to do nothing with regard to the flow of our Nile river. However, we Ethiopians shall not and will not be tempted by the devil Egypt politicians to harm the farmers who are hopeless without their farm irrigated by the river.
In Response

by: LMitch from: USA
June 08, 2013 12:18 PM
One final word, Mig from UK,

As for Ethiopia's dam, the water is being diverted around the construction site temporarily; not away from Sudan and Egypt. The very notion of the latter is something out of science fiction novels. The water isn't being used for irrigation, rather for power production, which Ethiopia desperately needs. But even after an International report on the Nile, which included Egyptian investigators determined that the dam would not significantly affect Egypt, the Morsi regime still became beligerent, clearly because the experts didn't agree with them. That tells me, whether the dam is a threat to Egypt's water or not, is meaningless. They just don't want Ethiopia to develop and become an energy exporter. Yes, the dam will benefit all Ethiopians. First of all, it will still be around after the current regime is long gone. Secondly, it will provide electricity for people and towns that have never had it before. Think of the wonders of electricity - improved sanitation, hot water, refrigeration, operating of medical equipment, educational innovations, new ways to communicate, etc. The government needs workers too. There are not enough foreigners to go around, so they have to use their people. It's more likely that foreign aid, coming from the West is the real enemy, because it's really just a form of international welfare, keeping Africans dependent on it, endlessly, getting just enough to survive, but not enough to thrive. African countries develop when they can create financial independence. The real crime would be for the government not to use the countries rivers to harness energy. That would be a human right violation.
In Response

by: LMitch from: USA
June 08, 2013 12:17 PM
And another thing, Mig from Uk,

As for the notion that solar power can suffice for Ethiopia's dire need for electricity, you are mistaken. Solar power, as well as wind and other technologies, are notoriously unreliable. They suffer form intermittent electricity production, often well under their capacity. I know wind power on average produces only about 23 - 30% of it's capacity. Both solar and wind technology are dependent on the unpredictability of nature. That is, the sun doesn't always shine at the same intensity, due to various atmospheric conditions. And the wind doesn't always blow at the the same consistent rate. Even these technologies must be connected to natural gas generators or transmission lines linked to power plants that run on carbon fuels like natural gas and coal. With solar and wind you get lots of brown outs and black outs and sudden electrical spikes. How is a nation of 84 million going to depend on that? You can not run large industries, educational institutions, housing developments, transportation or hospitals on green energy. It's unreliable. Look at what's happening in Europe. It's not a Utopia by any stretch of the imagination. Spain, UK, Germany, and others have made huge cuts, because for the billions being invested, the energy returns are woeful, unlike what you get from coal, gas, and oil. Green energy is artificially propped up by ideological bureaucrats as they line the pockets of green energy cronies. They get profits, but the end users get nothing but dramatically increased energy bills that puts an extra financial burden on them. Now if green energy isn't working for industrialized Europe, as well as the United States, where the majority of our energy comes from carbon emitting fuels and countless green tech companies have collapsed just within the past 4 years, why would we want to see it be the main source of energy in Africa? It's just unrealistic - more idealistic than anything. Of course the UN will say the burden of cost will be put on industrialized nations, so they can be taxed for carbon and that tax revenue, as it were, can be sent to poor countries to help support green energy there. Still, green energy doesn't help poor countries grow - oil and coal does. Because green energy is so inefficient, it requires rationing; it's a very limiting lifestyle. And perhaps that's why the environmental lobbyists and so-called indigenous rights groups believe green tech is good for Africa, because its poor people will accept a limited, meager, that is, a poor lifestyle since they are so used to living that way. This kind of thinking is extremely condescending to Africans and dare I say, has undertones of white paternalism, which I consider a form of racism that disguises itself as compassion.
In Response

by: LMitch from: USA
June 08, 2013 12:16 PM
Mig from UK, if Ethiopia's government is fascist, what does that make the Egyptian regime? They arrest and intimidate people who criticize them and their prophet, they try to force their religious beliefs on everyone, persecute Christians, and make threats of sabotage against Ethiopia by supporting separatist/terrorist groups in the country. If you watched that now infamous video, they even tossed around that idea. Egyptians try to dictate to Ethiopia what she can do with her own waters, citing some invalid and irrelevant colonial era agreement in 1929 and the following in 1959 that did not involve Ethiopia; which begs the question how they can apply to Ethiopia in the first place. Moreover, what gave Great Britain power to arbitrarily grant Egypt the lion's share of the Nile? Great Britain is in Europe, not Africa. Egypt has adopted the colonial mentality of its former rulers, implying racial and cultural superiority over blacks, i.e. Ethiopia. I've heard nonsense that illustrates this very perception like "Egypt has historic rights to the Nile"; yes, but only the part within its own borders. Outside of that, there is no legal case for them to have command over all Nile branches. Then there are my favorite lines like "Egypt is the gift of the Nile and God gifted the Nile to Egypt". Oh how romantic. Let’s put it on a postcard. If that's the case, why is it that 85% of Nile water comes from Ethiopia. I've even heard protesters in Cairo saying Egypt is the "source of the Nile". Really? Egypt is downstream, not upstream. These people are suffering from either an extreme inability to understand geography or an extreme superiority complex. I think it's both.
In Response

by: mig from: uk
June 07, 2013 1:49 PM
already the ethiopia government is murdering the indigenous population to move them from oba where the dam will irrigate. Your fascist government doesnt really care about the ethiopian people when it will just shoot at random. Secondly this is about hydropower which will be sold to neighbouring countries not about irrigation and therefore the big profits are from selling electricity. this electricity can be made by similar investment in SOLAR POWER. Which is the way forward in Europe and America.

So the people will not benefit from this dam, but the big corporations will. So before you protect the dam...protect the people that your Ethiopian corrupt government is murdering daily to clear the way. People mean nothing to your government. It is all about greedy profits for the fat cats. So dont even support is not the way forward. It is a criminal act that goes against all HUMAN RIGHTS in the region and will bring drought to all your neighbours. That is a big responsibility for you to just ignore.

by: Observer from: Addis Ababa
June 07, 2013 8:46 AM
If Egypt try to bomb Renaissance dam , don't forget the retaliation by Ethiopia would be the worst, as the Aswan High Dam will completely be eliminated from the spot ...leaving millions brothers and sisters of Egyptians to virtual death.
In Response

by: hakam from: jordan
June 09, 2013 2:16 AM
can Ethiopia destroy Aswan dam ?? don't dream, this is far away from the realty. Egypt is Africa super power, and Ethiopia will be smashed and erased from the map if it mere thinks to do such stupid act like this, I think that the Ethiopian government is leading it's country to suicide .

by: liichekoo muxa from: Ethiopia
June 07, 2013 12:58 AM
Mehari Taddele Maru, rely you are misleaded by some of rubbish Egyptian propaganda. I think you don't the very well, at which battle did Egyptian defeated Ethiopia in history? Do you think Ethiopia waiting them carelessly? I don't think we are in 21st century, there are ample factors that not support the options you mentioned, and I think the best thing for both of them is solving the problems diplomatically rather than politicized it.

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