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Ethiopia: Big Nile dam could ease Africa power failures

Ethiopia: Big Nile dam echoes the Hoover Dam in scale and scope, offering the hope of a brighter economic future in Ethiopia and the Nile region. Ethiopia's big Nile dam – called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – will cost $4.2 billion and be able to produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity. 

By Kirubel TadesseAssociated Press / July 3, 2013

Ethiopia's big Nile dam: A man walks over a bridge by the construction of Ethiopia's Great Renaissance Dam in Guba Woreda, some 25 miles from Ethiopia's border with Sudan.

Tiksa Negeri/Reuters/File

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Assosa, Ethiopia

The book, a history of Hoover Dam, fell from the dashboard as Simegnew Bekele drove through the rugged mountains where the engineer is leading construction work on Ethiopia's massiveNile River dam.

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"This book," he said, picking it up, "I am reading it now ... It's a fascinating story. This dam too (has) a history one day someone will write about."

Simegnew's sentiment illustrated the great expectations of a dam that has raised tensions between this Horn of Africa nation and Egypt, which is concerned the ongoing project will diminish its share of Nile River waters. Reading the book, a gift from Ethiopians he met in New York recently, the engineer has come to see similarities between the Ethiopian dam-in-progress and Hoover Dam, the Great Depression-era project that in its time became an icon of American enterprise under difficult economic conditions.

"Hoover Dam was constructed when America was (in) depression," Simegnew said. "It was an enormous success. I am sure our dam too will herald a bright future for this country and also for the whole region." 

Despite the concerns of Nile-dependent Egypt, Ethiopia —whose economy suffers frequent power failures —has vowed to proceed with the dam that would become the biggest hydro-electric power station in Africa. In May,Ethiopia started to divert Nile waters to make way for the $4.2 billion dam which, when it is finished, will have the capacity to produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity. Ethiopia's national electricity corporation says potential buyers of Ethiopia's electricity will include the two Sudans, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, Uganda and even wary Egypt.

In Ethiopia's Benishangul-Gumuz region near Sudan, some 800 kilometers (500 miles) from the capital, workers labor under intensely hot conditions and gigantic machines smash boulders in order to make the dama reality by July 2017. Even as Egyptian and Ethiopian diplomats talk over the dam's impact on the volume of Blue Nile waters flowing to Egypt, construction work is proceeding apace here in a sign of Ethiopia'sdetermination to resist Egyptian pressure. Some 5,000 Ethiopians, joined by 200 expatriates from 20 nations, work in shifts 24 hours a day. Visitors here have to go through multiple security checkpoints that are manned by soldiers wearing "anti-guerrilla" tags on their fatigues. The Italian construction firm Salini is building thedam while the Chinese company Electric Power Equipment and Technology Co. Ltd. is building power lines for it.

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