The late Meles Zenawi, influenced by the historical perspective of the Italian Pietro Salini, was convinced that Ethiopia had the potential to become an economic powerhouse in the Greater Horn of Africa, gossip recalls. Thus, he set out to realise, in 2008, a long lost national dream of exploring and exploiting what Salini had once told him was Ethiopia's endowment in "white oil", claims gossip.
Hence, Ethiopia embarked upon the national aspiration of building dams, in addition to the 10 dams in operation or under construction. Still to come are dams in Beshilo, Karadobi, Mabil and Mendai, all to be built on the River Abay, gossip learnt. However, none of this will be as large, and perhaps controversial, as the one launched at a place near the town of Guba, in Benshangul Regional State, now popularly known as the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Meles's signature project is estimated to cost the nation close to 78 billion Br, or 11.2pc of Ethiopia's GDP in 2012, gossip claims.
Designed by the Italian Salini Costruttori SpA in order to generate 6,000Mw electric power, the cost per megawatt, 14.8 million Br, will be high - but not the largest, with the Tana-Beles Dam, already completed, which cost 15.4 million Br. Not surprisingly though, the GERD is the first among the four to be built on Aby and the largest in Africa under construction on a transnational river, a source of tension between Ethiopia and Egypt.
No international lender or donor will dare to trek into this territory in the absence of a regional or bilateral agreement, signed either to jointly finance the construction or a memorandum of understanding reached for a power purchase agreement, gossip notes. An earlier attempt by the Chinese government to finance a dam in Chemoga-Yeda was withdrawn four years ago, after the Egyptians succeeded in pressuring the Chinese to budge to their lobbying, gossip disclosed.
With the GRED project comprising 60pc of its cost in foreign currency, no amount of national resolve is sufficient to see through the completion of the project planned for 2017, gossip observed. Neither are Ethiopian authorities at a loss to this haunting reality, whose solution lies in their diplomatic ability to bring Egypt onto their side (if possible) or neutralise its opposition to the GERD, claims gossip.
Such a burden of national importance is put on no other Ethiopian Minister more so than Alemayehu Tegenu, who is in charge of the Water & Energy Ministry. He is set to meet his counterparts from Sudan and Egypt this week, gossip disclosed. What comes of this meeting, called in Khartoum, Sudan, to iron out possible differences on a voluminous document produced by panel of experts, is not only important to convince these countries, but also to determine the fate of the GERD in securing indispensable access to international finance, gossip disclosed.
The contentious issues in the otherwise confidential document are basically the height of the dam, and thus the volume of water it ought to catch. This is in addition to the time it takes to fill the dam and the impact it may have on the flow of water to the Aswan Dam in Egypt, during the catchment period, gossip disclosed. Provided that it takes five to 10 years to fill the dam's projected water volume of up to 63 million cubic metres, during normal operating water levels, whether the reduction in water flow is reduced by five percent, 12pc or 25pc is where positions are sharply divided, claims gossip.
Prime Minister Hailemariam and senior officials in his administration are crossing their fingers that Alemayehu and his team have the ability to strike a deal with Egypt and Sudan. This could pave the way for these countries' possible involvement in owning equity in the dam, claims gossip. This could be more appealing to Egypt in particular, as it spends close to three billion dollars a year to electrify itself from diesel generated power plants, gossip observed.
How much is Ethiopia prepared to concede in the ownership of what will be its most treasured asset is where there is no consensus within the administration, gossip observed. Had it been in the wishes of Meles, Egypt would pay 15.6 billion Br towards the project, while Sudan's slice could be as high as 23.4 billion Br. They would thus share equity in the dam according to the size of their respective investments, gossip disclosed.
His successor and his allies have shown a desire to concede as much as 50pc of its equity to these countries - a crucial compromise to guarantee the realisation of a project in which Ethiopians are already paying a heavy toll in their savings, gossip disclosed.
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