February 22, 2022, was a historic day for the nation of Ethiopia as it started producing its electricity for the first time. Prime minister Abiy Ahmed inaugurated the multi-million-dollar dam hydro-power project designated the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Along with some high-ranking Ethiopian officials, the Prime Minister flicked on a digital switch to turn on the turbines in the first phase of the project which is expected at completion to produce upwards of 5.000 megawatts of electricity, doubling Ethiopia’s electricity output. State media reported the 145-meter (475-foot) high dam started generating 375 megawatts of electricity from one of its turbines on Sunday.
The multi-million-dollar Renaissance Dam project, initiated under the late former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is expected to be entirely financed by Ethiopians who gave up a month’s salary the year it was initiated to finance the project. It is considered by many as a source of national pride as it is the biggest public project Ethiopians have participated in. Samuel Getachew, an independent journalist based in Ethiopia’s capital confirms this when he states, “This is a welcome addition to what Ethiopians have aspired to be – a self-sufficient nation.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is largely credited with reviving the dam project after years of delay due to mismanagement. His government says it is key to the economic development of Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa after Nigeria, with the second-biggest electricity deficit. According to the World Bank, about two-thirds of its 110 million population lacks connection to the grid. Abiy hopes the project will make a great difference, “Ethiopia’s main interest is to bring light to 60% of the population who is suffering in darkness, to save the labor of our mothers who are carrying wood on their backs to get energy,” he said.
The mega-dam located along the Blue Nile has been viewed by Ethiopia’s downstream neighbors who also depend on the river as a threat. Egypt and Sudan have both expressed concern about the impact of the dam on their economies. All three countries have taken part in negotiations led by the African Union which, so far, have failed to make any headway. In a bid to allay the fears of his neighbors, Prime Minister Abiy said Sunday, “Ethiopia does not intend to harm anyone, rather, to provide for the 60% of the population that have never seen a bulb.” He added “We want to export energy to Europe via Egypt’s connection to the continent. It is time to stop bickering and begin cooperating in a manner that will help Egypt, Sudan, other countries, and help ourselves.”