Controversial $5 Billion Ethiopia Dam Begins Producing Power

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Ethiopia began generating electricity from its giant hydropower dam on a Nile River tributary, a project it sees as key to its economic development but that has stirred tensions with downstream neighbours.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam can now start the first phase of generation, authorities said Sunday at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Guba, near the border with Sudan.

“Ethiopia does not intend to harm anyone, rather, to provide for the 60% of the population that have never seen a bulb, as well as our mothers who carry firewood for energy,” Abiy said. “The intention is not to harm anyone but to collaborate.”

The GERD will be able to generate a total of 5,150 megawatts when finished, according to authorities. The project started a decade ago, has cost $5 billion and is now scheduled for completion in 2024.

Ethiopia last year completed the controversial second phase of filling the reservoir despite strong opposition from Sudan and Egypt. The Horn of Africa country says the dam is key to its long-term development goals, and has sought to downplay its neighbors’ concerns.

The three countries have engaged in African Union-led negotiations that have so far been fruitless.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday condemned the latest move, saying it was a further breach of obligations set out in a 2015 declaration of principles agreed on by the three nations.

Ethiopia also wants to export energy to neighboring countries. It already has a grid connection with Sudan and is in talks with Kenya for a power-purchasing deal.

“We want to export energy to Europe” via Egypt’s connection to the continent, Abiy said. “It is time to stop bickering and begin cooperating in a manner that will help Egypt, Sudan, other countries and also help ourselves.”