Ethiopia’s dam on the Blue Nile was inaugurated on Sunday while Egypt still strongly disagrees with the project.
One of the 13 turbines of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile started generating power on February 20.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed officiated the inauguration of the controversial infrastructure. “From now on, there will be nothing that will stop Ethiopia,” Abiy said.
The dam will become the largest hydroelectric dam of Africa with a power generation capacity of 6,500 megawatts upon completion, which is expected within two and a half to three years according to Kifle Horo, the dam’s project manager.
The dam has been a recurrent source of tensions with Egypt and Sudan, afraid of the consequences on their quantity of water available.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for its agriculture and commerce, would be vulnerable to Ethiopia’s regulation of the water stream. In April 2021, Egypt’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said that “Egypt will not give up a single drop of its share of the Nile water”.
The upper riparian states found an agreement on Nile water quotas in 2010 but it wasn’t signed by Egypt and Sudan. Egypt prefers the older treaties it signed. In 1959, Egypt and Sudan secured a minimum quantity of water they should receive from the Nile but didn’t include the 9 other countries involved.
And in 1929, Britain, which represented Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan at the time, had given Egypt the right to veto any project on the Nile’s upstream waters that could have an impact on its share.
In 2015, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt signed a declaration of principles to cooperate “based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, win-win, and principles of international law” and “in understanding upstream and downstream water needs in its various aspects”.
But while Ethiopia filled up its water reservoirs and the dam has started generating electricity, the speed at which they will be filled and the amount of water that will be released during drought seasons remains unsolved.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that Ethiopia’s move is another “breach” of the agreement of principles.
Abiy, however, claimed on Sunday the dam would benefit Egypt and Sudan as well, advancing the objective to export carbon-free electricity to Europe through their territory. “Ethiopia doesn’t want and intend to harm anyone”, he said.
Ethiopia contends the $4.2 billion dam is essential for its development as it will distribute power to 60% of its 115-million population.
The construction started in 2011 but its completion was largely delayed because of design flaws and embezzlement of funds.