Dam of contention: Ethiopians unite around Nile River megaproject
Last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s press secretary took a break from official statements to post something different to her Twitter feed: A 37-line poem defending her country’s massive dam on the Blue Nile River.
“My mothers seek respite/ From years of abject poverty/ Their sons a bright future/And the right to pursue prosperity,” Billene Seyoum wrote in her poem, entitled “Ethiopia Speaks.”
As the lines indicate, Ethiopia sees the $4.6 billion (€4billion) Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as crucial for its electrification and development.
But the project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation, has sparked an intensifying row with downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan, which worry that it will restrict vital water supplies.
Addis Ababa plans to start filling next month, despite demands from Cairo and Khartoum for a deal on the dam’s operations to avoid depletion of the Nile.
The African Union is assuming a leading role in talks to resolve outstanding legal and technical issues, and the UN Security Council could take up the issue Monday. With global attention to the dam on the rise, its defenders are finding creative ways to show support — in verse, in Billene’s case, through other art forms and, most commonly, in social media posts demanding the government finish construction.
To some observers, the dam offers a rare point of unity in an ethnically diverse country undergoing a fraught democratic transition and awaiting elections delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. Abebe Yirga, a university lecturer and expert in water management, compared the effort
The African Union is assuming a leading role in talks to resolve outstanding legal and technical issues.
to finish the dam to Ethiopia’s fight against Italian would-be colonizers in the late 19th century.
“During that time, Ethiopians irrespective of religion and different backgrounds came together to fight against the colonial power,” he said.
“Now, in the 21st century, the dam is reuniting Ethiopians who have been politically and ethnically divided.”
Ethiopia broke ground on the dam in 2011 under then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who pitched it as a catalyst for poverty eradication.