(Wrote by Adamu Walelign (Ph.D.) on Horn Africa Insight)
It took a century for Ethiopia to realize the dream of utilizing its prized asset–the Blue Nile River (አባይ).
Now that this African nation is on the cusp of test-producing electricity at the nearly completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), it helps put this ambitious project’s long journey in perspective as we get ready to celebrate this historic milestone.
Such a back-drop is especially pertinent since there has been a tendency to portray the dam as a project which miraculously appeared out of the blue during the Meles Zenawi era. The reality is that many Ethiopian emperors had sent chills down the spines of Egyptian rulers over the centuries by merely hinting that Ethiopia would alter the course of the Blue Nile in retaliation for whatever offense the Egyptian despot had committed against Ethiopia. In the modern era, however, these warnings would acquire a more tangible dimension, prompting many governments with vested interests to erect all kinds of barriers against the realization of this ambitious undertaking.
In November 1922, the British government, which then administered Sudan and Egypt as its colonial protectorates, showed a keen interest in building a dam across the Blue Nile with a view to further bolster an already thriving cotton-farming enterprise in Egypt and Sudan.
In 1927, around the time Cheessman was surveying the Blue Nile, Ras Teferi Mekonnen, then Regent to Empress Zawditu’s new government, was granted robust royal backing to assemble a delegation, led by Dr. Martin (also known as Hakim or Dr. Workneh), to the United States to obtain the government’s help in getting the J. G. White Corporation to build a dam at a cost of USD 20 million.
The second attempt to build the Dam came four decades later, in 1958, again under the direct leadership of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I. In this attempt, the United States government was persuaded to direct the U.S. Bureau of Land Reclamation to carry out an extensive, six-year-long study of the Blue Nile for both electricity generation and industrialized agriculture expansion.
The third attempt was made by the Derg under President Mengistu Haile Mariam, but this quest focused primarily on irrigation and mechanized agriculture.
Ironically, the last but successful, attempt to erect a dam across the Blue Nile would be carried out in 2011, under the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
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