Fetsum Berhane 07-27-16
On the historic speech at the groundbreaking ceremony of The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the late statesman Meles Zenawi has explained these two of the dam as follows.
“Before we mobilized our efforts to eradicate poverty, centuries of impoverishment curtailed our development and restricted us from exercising our right to use the resources of our own rivers. Now, thanks to the dedication of our peoples, we have safely put those times behind us. We are close to opening a new chapter through the realization of our Millennium project. Henceforward, nothing can stop us from exercising our rights; the other dams we plan to build are less challenging than this, the Millennium Dam. So, the first message is that we not only have a plan, but we also have the capacity to assert our rights.”
The speech was five years ago at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and those were the words of Meles Zenawi, the statesman who made the Ethiopian dream of a dam on the Nile a reality.
Great nations and great statesmen build mega projects for several reasons. Some build one for its economic sense since usually there’s the benefit of economies of scale in having one big edifice than building several smaller ones. The Suez Canal has provided Egypt immense economic benefit and leverage while “the Three Gorges” Dam of China has delivered to China several nuclear reactors worth of electric power.
Some statesmen build mega projects for the sole purpose of creating national revival or unifying a fractured populace. The Hoover Dam of the U.S. and the Aswan High Dam of Egypt were catalysts for national pride and drive for national greatness.
Some on the other hand build a mega project for aesthetics as that usually gives positive publicity to the nation and enhance its image. The magnificent and expensive Eiffel Tower of France and “Bird’s Nest” stadium or the “glass bridge” built in China has served more in becoming postage stamp material edifices giving a distinct eye catching landmark representing the cities than any practical usage.
Some statesmen choose to build mega structures as a display of national greatness to friends and foes in the international community. The space program of Nigeria and India are usually explained in that context.
In light of these…the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is like many mega projects packaged into one.
In its economic sense, the mega project provides Ethiopia with 6000 Megawatts of electric power, equivalent to about four nuclear reactors. When it was launched Ethiopia was generating 1886 Megawatts of Hydro-power from 12 dams, the GERD more than tripled that amount hence it was like almost 40 of Ethiopia’s usual dams combined. The artificial lake it creates is double the amount of Tana, Ethiopia’s largest natural lake.
Therefore, the GERD provides a multitude of economic benefits such as generating hydroelectric to power a country with one of the least electric penetration and also for regional energy export. The extensive opportunities for fisheries and cultivation are also significant. For one of the poorest countries on earth that is battling to escape from poverty, the GERD makes a lot of Economic sense.
Another point worth noting is the location of the Dam. The location chosen to build the dam in a border region which is inhabited by Ethiopian ethnic groups which until recently were denied recognition by the state. The newly formed region in this new federal republic housing the nation’s greatest mega structure was a display of the success of multicultural Ethiopia.
The commitment of poor Ethiopians to self-finance a dam that costs 4.8 Billion USD was also a clear signal of our seriousness on the project. For friends and foes, and for those who may have had doubts about our commitment, that certainly delivered a message hard to miss.
With regard to a symbolic meaning of a mega project serving as a display of national power, again, the GERD makes perfect sense. The Dam was Ethiopia’s way of announcing its reemergence from the abyss, the waking of an African giant and its comeback to shove off bullies and reassert its rights in the international arena.
The GERD also makes sense when seen from the Ethiopian Renaissance angle. The full focus Ethiopians have given to poverty eradication and national renaissance witnessed a big leap with the launch of the dam. It was a national cohesion moment similar to the famous war time unity of Ethiopians. The nation stood and still stands as one in this national endeavor. As the late premier said, “No matter how poor we are, in the Ethiopian traditions of resolve, the Ethiopian people will pay any sacrifice. I have no doubt they will, with one voice, say: “Build the Dam!”