Ethiopia is in the final stages of completing the civil engineering aspect of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project within this Ethiopian year.
Ethiopia’s President, Sahle-Work Zewde, discussed this development during her address at the joint session of the House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of Federation on Monday, where she presented the government’s plan for the year.
The President, while highlighting the successful completion of the fourth round of filling and over 90 percent of the construction work, stated, “It is anticipated that the civil engineering work for the Abbay Dam will be finished this year, [according to the Ethiopian calendar].” Her speech came at the conclusion of the first month of the Ethiopian Calendar.
She added, “The Dam is not just a electric power generator; it is also tourism, water resource , environmental conservation, and a source of moral superiority.”
The fourth filling of the dam was completed just before Ethiopia’s New Year in early September 2023. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed posted a cryptic message on social media, saying that the fourth filling was the final one. Implied in his message was that there will no more be another round of filling. This led to confusion among Ethiopian activists on social media who read his message. However, no official explanation was provided by his office.
The confusion stemmed from the fact that after the fourth filling, the dam held only about 42 billion cubic meters of water, a significant shortfall from the initially announced capacity of 74 billion cubic meters. Ethiopians are awaiting further fillings to bring the water levels in line with the original plan.
Many Ethiopians were also concerned when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had a meeting with Egyptian President Al-Sisi in Cairo a few months before the completion of the fourth filling. An agreement was reportedly reached but no details of it was available to the public. Additionally, the negotiation process for GERD shifted away from the African Union platform, with the United Arab Emirates, whose leader is believed to have a close relationship with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, emerging as a mediator – but unofficially.
A negotiation took place in Addis Ababa between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan following the fourth filling between September 23 and 24. The two-day intensive talks concluded without an agreement, with Ethiopia attributing the failure to Egypt. The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that “Egypt’s persistent adherence to a colonial-era treaty, monopolistic utilization, and self-claimed ‘water quota’ hindered successful negotiations.” There remained some lack of clarity, as it was mentioned that the negotiations focused on ‘the first filling of the dam and annual operation’ despite the completion of the fourth filling.
President Sahle-Work’s speech did not address these lingering uncertainties.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is a massive hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile River which is known in Ethiopia as Abbay river. It is one of Africa’s largest infrastructure projects and has been under construction since 2011. When completed, the dam was expected to have a total capacity of around 6,450 megawatts, making it a significant source of electricity for Ethiopia and neighboring countries. Now Abiy Ahmed’s government has made changes to that as the number of turbines to be installed are downsized to 13 from 16.
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