A month before his 64th birthday, the Italian businessman and founder of We build, formerly Salini Impregilo, Pietro Salini took the podium during a ceremony organized to mark the beginning of electricity production from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) at the Project site last Sunday.
This [Abbay], he said “is a white oil of Ethiopia.” This expression makes good sense when look at how issues of the Blue Nile and the GERD Project turbines swirling and whining came all the way in time.
The mantra of Abbay (Blue Nile) River, and its associate the GERD Project, is not only about a romantic tale of legendary water but also a common source of inspiration for many Ethiopians beyond the issues that divide them.
Well, to see how big purpose this milestone holds it is sufficient to recap what the aforementioned boss of the project’s civil work contractor said. Ethiopia conducted a preliminary survey to build dam on Abbay River in 1922 and 1927.
As word goes “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” Emperor Haile-Selassie first had the idea of building a dam on the river in 1964, however he left the assignment to future generation as regional bickering over water-hegemony and internal political turmoil crippled his ambition.
Nearly five decades later it was in 2011 that the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced plans for the mega-project that sets the largest hydroelectric scheme in Africa.
The upper Blue Nile basin, which was historically considered as the “great unknown” due to limited data, then becomes centre of a regional dispute with the groundbreaking of this Project. Other documents, however say that the current dam site was identified when the US Bureau of Reclamation first made a survey of the Abbay (Blue Nile) River between 1956 and 1964.
Two site surveys were also carried out in 2009 and 2010, with the design being submitted in November 2010. The Government of Ethiopia kept the design phase of the project secret, under a name called “Project X”, until one month prior to the laying of its milestone in 2011.
Hope is an endless commodity and the milestone and progress of the dam means a lot for Ethiopians at home and abroad. Even the word “renaissance” in the dam’s name refers to a vision of Ethiopia’s rebirth to reclaim its ancient place in the world and to inspire the current generation for greater cause.
For power is seen as the key to economic progress Ethiopia, with the help of the GERD, has set ambitious plan to beat extreme poverty. By using hydroelectric energy the country aims to promote industrialization by engaging its ample human resource without contributing negatively to climate change.
The cashing of GERD set aside for the time being to its sociopolitical contribution, the Project is more or less seen as a monument of unity in the quest to write a new shared history of triumph.
With all ups and downs the GERD now reached 84 percent completion at a cost of 163 billion Birr. Six years delayed from the initial plan it has started generating 375 megawatts of electricity from one of its turbines at a pilot stage.
This new milestone also comes amid multitudes of internal and bilateral conflicts havocking the great Horn of Africa region.
The ongoing political wrangling combined with historic stalemate over transboundary resources should not be given another chance to serve a vicious-cycle to jeopardize the long craved regional
cooperation. Ethiopia’s move marks the beginning of a new era with management of the Blue Nile. It is imperative that other countries in the river basin need to look into a new paradigm for a win-win approach so as to strike a certain level of cooperative framework.
Otherwise with human’s eternal quest for better standards of living, there is no doubt that the demands for utilization of the Nile waters will continue to augment well into the foreseeable future in the region.
On one hand, as this situation is further complicated with other local and global factors it is essential to note that the management of the Nile waters continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the region’s aspiration for development.
On other hand, the question remains to be; how can the whining of the GERD’s turbines at full capacity help recover the nation’s economy severely damaged by war and change headlines?
Editor’s Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The
BY KIRAM TADESSE
The Ethiopian 23 February 2022