The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Africa. This episode explores the dam’s potential benefits, development hurdles, and controversy.

An Economic Boon for Ethiopia

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), located 40km east of Sudan on the Blue Nile River, is expected to be completed by summer 2017. Set to be the largest dam in Africa, it will have 6,000MW of installed electricity capacity. The Ethiopian government is funding the majority of the $4.8 billion project through bond issuances and taxes, with outside investors such as Chinese banks providing funding for the dam’s turbines and electrical equipment.

The electricity produced from the dam will help meet the massive demand from Ethiopia’s burgeoning economy, which has grown 10% every year in the past decade. Now the second-most populous country in Africa and a rising political power in east Africa, Ethiopia’s continued economic and political growth largely depends upon getting electricity to the 73% of citizens without access.

GERD will foster development both in Ethiopia and neighboring countries. The dam’s construction will create up to 12,000 jobs, and increased electricity access will make Ethiopia more attractive to foreign investment. Ethiopia could also earn as much as $1 billion per year in electricity exports.

Regional Roadblocks

The Ethiopian government faces significant hurdles in completing and operating the dam. Its neighbors downstream, Sudan and Egypt, fear that the dam will threaten their scarce water supplies, as they receive the vast majority of their water from the Nile. Egyptian officials in particular worry that using the water for irrigation will make it highly salinated when it enters into Egypt. The construction of the dam, while in Ethiopia’s development interests, will certainly strain its relationship with downstream countries like Egypt.

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