Ethiopia Dam-GERD

GERD Talks Must Shift To Higher Level: Developing the Nile Basin

Lawrence Freeman being interviewed by the Ethiopian Herald on Dec 23, 2023 about the 4th round of talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

December 27, 2023

The colonial mentality has to give way to the mandate for development –

BY ZEKARIAS WOLDEMARIAM, THE ETHIOPIAN HERALD

“I didn’t expect that these discussions would lead to anything because you have to change the topic of the discussion” says Laurence Freeman, American Political Economic Analyst for Africa (www.lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com), asked about the outcome of the 4th round of the latest series of tripartite talks on the first filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The negotiation which took place from 17-19 December 2023 in Cairo, Egypt was held to deal on the final rules and regulations for the filling and operation of the dam. Unfortunately, the talks ended up with no deal concluded following which Ethiopia and Egypt issued statements expressing their stance during the negotiations and why they blame the other side for the failure to reach agreement.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia says that Egypt’s efforts to maintain it historical rights based on the colonial period agreements were the impediments to reach agreement. “During these four rounds, Ethiopia endeavored and keenly engaged with the two lower riparian countries to address the major issues of difference and reach an amicable agreement. Egypt, in contrast, maintained colonial era mentality and erected roadblocks against efforts toward convergence.” The statement read.

Freeman on his part argues that the topic of dialogue among the riparian countries, i.e. Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt should not be to maintain historical rights, but to plan future cooperation on how to use the water together. “It should not be how do we guarantee so much water which the Ethiopians can’t do. But how do we proceed on a development program that would advance the standard of living of all the people living in and now basic. If there’s going to be another round of discussion that should be the main topic.”

Here is the detail of the brief interview with Lawrence Freeman on the latest development around the GERD talks. Enjoy reading!

Could you tell me your reflection on the 4th round of GERD dam talks which took place recently in Cairo?

When Prime Minister Abiy was in Egypt in July, he suggested to President El Sisi, that they continue the discussion was another round of talks on the implications of the GERD, which just occurred last week was the fourth round of these talks, which, from what I read in the media, nothing really happened that changed the position of either country. And I didn’t really expect that it would. I think that both countries now have made very clear what their positions are. Ethiopia claiming the right of sovereignty over its river systems and energy production. And I don’t think much is going to change from that. 

And I don’t think there’s anything Egypt is going to do that’s going to change it. And the Egyptians have maintained that they must have so much water guaranteed for them every year, which is impossible for Ethiopia to do. I don’t think anything more is going to happen. Hopefully, there is no political or other escalation in this disagreement.

(Curtesy of researcgate.net)

After the conclusion of the talks with no deal Ethiopia and Egypt are trading blames for failing to reach agreement. How do you see the stance of the two sides in this regard?

I think the Egyptians are motivated by a type of ideology, rather than an understanding of the implications of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the GERD is a dam for producing hydropower for development. I mean, electricity is ready to be exported to Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan. And we should look at the potential of this increase injection of 5150 megawatts as a potential to develop nations in the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Well, now basically, the Egyptians do not want to have I believe in Ethiopia as a major economic competitor or see Ethiopia as a major economic competitor, which is a false way of looking at the potential rather than countries uniting together for economic development. I think Egypt was caught up in trying to suppress economic progress in Ethiopia.

And of course, the Egyptians claim that the historical rights now and they don’t have historical rights, nobody has historical rights. Plus the fact that the dam is on the Blue Nile, not on the White Nile, so there’s no real argument there. I think the Egyptians want a guaranteed amount of water that will flow to the Aswan dam and that cannot be delivered and the Ethiopians would be remiss and wrong in my view if they guaranteed it, because they can’t. But there can be joint collaboration and Egyptians for the moment are rejecting it.

This tripartite talk on GERD has failed after progressing for four rounds starting from August 2023. Do you think it is being influenced by internal and external factors, or Egypt is intentionally changing its stance every time?

I don’t think the Egyptians have changed their stance at all; this has been their policy going back to 2015. I think the Egyptians have to accept the fact that this, as we say, is a fait accompli. This has occurred, the dam is at proximately 41 billion cubic meters of water filled. I think it’ll go up to 47 or so around there. 

And then that’s the level of which we’ll be operating on. Each year, it will go down to that level as it’s filled up to 74 billion cubic meters from the rain. And this will produce electricity, which can be used for the development of the nations of the Nile Basin; the Egyptians have a different view. But it’s not going to happen; it is not going to work. There’s no way of Egypt, challenging a dam for energy development. And it’s already been built. So it can’t be unbuilt. So I don’t really understand all the political motivations for Egypt. 

Except what I said earlier, I think they want to maintain the dominant position and retard Ethiopia’s economic development  potential. I didn’t expect that these discussions would lead to anything because you have to change the topic of the discussion. It should not be how do we guarantee so much water which the Ethiopians can do? But how do we proceed on a development programme that would advance the standard of living of all the people living in and now basic, if there’s going to be another round of discussion that should be the main topic.

Egypt has insisted on safeguarding its interest which is a vestige of colonial period agreements. Do you see any possibility of coming to terms with a negotiated deal where one of the sides is insisting on colonial era agreement?1

Well, if you look at the reality of this of the situation, one is Sudan, only gains from the GERD and I think the Sudanese before the crisis that began several years ago, and I believe even now, they’ve made statements to the effect that they’re not suffering at all from reduction of the flow of the Nile through the country in Khartoum. I don’t think Sudan is part of this at all at this point. I think that they were early on, I think they were pressured by the Egyptians. 

The problem that the Egyptians have and people who support their position is that the water that flows into the White Nile, I mean, 80% of it comes from three rivers in Ethiopia, the largest Blue Nile but then you also have two other rivers that contribute to the White Nile. And the power plant; The hydroelectric power plant is on an Ethiopian soil and Ethiopian rivers I visited myself I also visited Blue Nile falls, I’m very familiar with it. And fact of the matter is there is more potential. A designated site is three mores sites for dams that have been revealed in a survey done many years ago, that could be also hydroelectric dam.

So there’s a potential in the Blue Nile Basin for more power beyond the 5150 megawatts that the GERD is producing. It would be in Egypt interest to let’s discuss this type of potential for the future. The problem is colonial rights. The Egyptians believe that the British gave them control of the Nile. Because in the history, the British controlled Egypt and Sudan under the 1899 agreement, the Anglo Egyptian condominium, and they think that they have this right. No, they don’t have a right to other people’s waters, especially since the headwaters for both the White Nile and the Blue Nile do not originate in Egypt. 

Now, Egypt built the Aswan Dam, which was their right to provide electricity for their population. But they can’t demand that other countries cannot build on the Blue Nile, what is that lead into the white Nile and that’s the problem is you had a colonial agreement in 19, it was 1929 with British and the Egyptians and the Sudanese that’s, that stipulated no blockage of the water could be no blockage of the water was permitted to the white nile. 

Now, Ethiopia wasn’t at that discussion, even though it was an independent country in 1959. If the Sudan and Egypt became independent, they had another water agreement. And this water agreement, we affirmed the 1929 agreement. And again, Ethiopia was not at that discussion. So the Egyptians really don’t have any legitimate basis, despite claiming colonial rights that have given to them by the British Queen. 

They don’t really have any historical basis for telling Ethiopia what to do. And in fact, the British and other Neo colonial powers never wanted Ethiopia to develop this dam. They wanted to use Lake Tana as a giant water tank to feed their agriculture in Sudan and Egypt. So they’ve always been opposed to this. I mean, this goes back 300 years to the present. 

They’ve been opposed to the development of the Blue Nile Basin, they’ve been opposed to electricity and that position cannot stand up to the needs of providing electricity, employment, agricultural development, for not only Ethiopian people, but from the neighboring nations, which the good will provide. So the colonial mentality has to give way to the mandate for development.

Blue Nile Basin has potential for more hydro-electric dams for development of the Nile Basin (Courtesy sierrarios.org)

How do you think could the two sides break the stalemate and strike a deal in the future?

As I said earlier, we have to change the subject. The topic of providing a guaranteed amount of water to the Aswan Dam each year is a dead issue. That cannot happen. It’s over. The dam has been built as only a small amount. More has to be collected in the first phase up to I think 49 billion cubic metres. 

We have to leave that subject and we have to go to a higher plan; we have to go to a different thinking; a different manifold no longer discussing water guarantee to the Aswan Dam, but discussing how do we use the GERD and potentially other developments of more dams in the Blue Nile Basin for the benefit of all of the downstream nations in the Nile basin. This requires a higher level of thinking. It requires a level of thinking where your concern is the future development of all the people. 

Those who are living in the Blue Nile, basically, that’s several 100 million people over I think, 10 countries? How do we get together and improve the standard of living of our people? How do we end poverty? How do we use this energy, which is a potential 5150 megawatts, and more energy potential. 

So we have to stop thinking about my country’s historical right. And the same thing comes up in discussions in the Horn of Africa. We have to get beyond that. And think about what is the benefit for the futures of our people in the next one to two generations, like we have to expand our thinking, improve our thinking, to this level, and get away from this is mine. This is yours. You can’t take mine. This petty, geopolitical mentality is really stupidity. And I and the leaders of African nations on many different fronts have to learn to rise above this and think about the future. What is going to help their people in the future? And how do we work with other nations? Not how do we demonize other nations. That’s what’s discussion has got to be. 

The Ethiopian should be actually promoting this discussion. Go beyond where they’ve been at this point, and actually promote a conference have let’s have a conference in Addis Ababa, on the future development of the Nile basin, and which then we can discuss how to cooperate with each other for the benefit of our people.

Thank you very much for your collaboration!

Read my earlier posts:

GERD: Utilizing the Blue Nile to Create Energy for Development in Ethiopia & The Horn of Africa

Freeman Speaks On The GERD: An Engineering Marvel-A Necessity For The Nile River

New Book on Ethiopia’s GERD: Historical Battle of the Nile-Colonialism vs Development

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is a teacher, writer, public speaker, and consultant on Africa. Mr. Freeman strongly believes that economic development is an essential human right. He is also the creator of the blog:  lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

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Panel of Experts Discuss Significance of Ethiopia’s Historic 4th Filling of the GERD for Africa

Ethiopia completes fourth filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Courtesy of ethiopianmonitor.com)

September 13, 2023

To hear a panel of experts on the GERD:

Play link twitter.com

After pressing play, the discussion begins in eight minutes with opening remarks of Lawrence Freeman.

Over the course of the last three weeks, two major developments have occurred that potentially will transform the quality of life for Ethiopia, and all the nations we now refer to as, The Global South. I’m referring to two singular events. One, the 4th filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the eve of the Ethiopian New Year. Two, the 15th BRICKS Summit (August 22-24) in Johannesburg South Africa, that added six new nations, which included Egypt and Ethiopia. These two developments occurring over a span of approximately three weeks have now changed Ethiopia, have changed Africa, and have actually changed the world.

As of January 2024, the BRICS will expand from its current five members; Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, to eleven nations by adding; Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Argentina. The world, the physical universe we live in, has changed; and our planet will never go back to the way it was before. The newly expanded BRICS, with its own Development Bank, is in its embryonic stage of becoming an alternative political-economic institution to the so called, rules-based international order. Ethiopia’s GERD is now irreversibly poised within the next two years, to inject 5,150 megawatts of power to the African continent.

On Sunday, September 10th, an extensive detailed examination of the significance of the 4th filling of the  GERD was discussed on Twitter (see link above) by a panel of experts, which included myself.

Briefly. The GERD reservoir now contains 42 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water, just 7 bcm short of the requirement to fill the dam. During the course of the rainy season the water level will increase another 25 bcm to obtain its full capacity of 74 bcm once the walls are raised another 25 meters to reach the height of 645 meters above sea level.

With the addition of eleven more turbines operating at 400 megawatts (MW) each, to the current two turbines operating at 375 MW each, the GERD is projected to generate approximately 16,000 megawatt hours of electricity. This will enable Ethiopia to provide electricity to its population, expand its manufacturing sector, industrialize its economy, and export electricity to neighboring nations in the Horn of Africa. Resulting in a complete transformation of the Ethiopian economy and its society. This dam will have no negative effect on the downstream nations. The GERD is a dam for development of Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, and the entire Nile Basin. The African continent will benefit, and now has a model for other nations to follow.

By listening to  our conversation, you will learn a great deal about the current stage of development of the GERD and its potential for Ethiopia.

Read my earlier posts:

GERD: Utilizing the Blue Nile to Create Energy for Development in Ethiopia & The Horn of Africa

New Book on Ethiopia’s GERD: Historical Battle of the Nile-Colonialism vs Development

Freeman Speaks On The GERD: An Engineering Marvel-A Necessity For The Nile River Basin

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is a teacher, writer, public speaker, and consultant on Africa. Mr. Freeman strongly believes that economic development is an essential human right. He is also the creator of the blog:  lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com.

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Freeman Speaks On The GERD: An Engineering Marvel-A Necessity For The Nile River Basin

Watch the 60 minute video above.

May 12, 2023

Watch the 60 minute video above. On April 13, 2023, Dr. Brook Hailu, of Nahoo tv, interviewed me on the weekly broadcast, Voice of The Diaspora . We had an extensive discussion on the GERD, Ethiopia, Africa, geopolitics, and human crieatvitiy in economics. With the creation, and self financing of the GERD, Ethiopia is breaking through the mentality that African nations will always be poor and underdeveloped.

Watch the 20 mimute video below. Lawrence Freeman, was the lead presenter in the book launch of a new book on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam-GERD, at . Georgetown University, Washington DC, on April 29, 2023

Read my earlier posts:

New Book on Ethiopia’s GERD: Historical Battle of the Nile-Colonialism vs Development

GERD: Utilizing the Blue Nile to Create Energy for Development in Ethiopia & The Horn of Africa

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is a teacher, writer, public speaker, and consultant on Africa. He is also the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton

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New Book on Ethiopia’s GERD: Historical Battle of the Nile-Colonialism vs Development

Lawrence Freeman, delivering the opening presentation at the launch of a new book on the GERD, written by Dereje Tessema.

May 7, 2023

Below are my remarks at the book launch at Georgetown University, Washington, DC on April 29, 2023

We discussed the contribution by author Dereje Tessema, in his new I unique book: How This Happened:  Demystifying The Nile, History and Events Leading to the Realization of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) (amazon.com/HOW-this-HAPPENED-Demystifying-Realization)

In my brief presentation (see below), as the lead presenter, I reviwed the history of the battle in the Nile Basin of colonialism versus economic development, and the positive role of the United States in identifying the GERD, sixty years ago.

Greetings!

It is an honor to be here with all these distinguished panelists and for me to speak on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam–The GERD. Here we are, discussing this new fascinating book on the GERD, 12 years after the first brick was laid by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on April  11,  2011.

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the GERD and get a tour by the deputy project manager in December of 2022 on my last visit to Ethiopia.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam under constrcution

It was a magnificent sight. You have this huge scientific engineering marvel–a great infrastructure project built between two mountains over the Blue Nile-the Abbay River. The water has been flowing through this area into the White Nile from lake Tana for approximately 5 million years. And The Ethiopians, to their credit, realized that they can make this lazy river do some actual work. They understood that the Abby could be exploited for the benefit of humankind by making this unproductive river produce electricity for Africa. Electricity, in my view, as a physical economist, is the most vital category of hard infrastructure that Africa is lacking. Africans suffer every day from a gross deficiency in electricity. The Ethiopians by 2025, when all 11 turbines are projected to be functioning, will add 5,150 megawatts of electricity to their grid. This will be the biggest new injection of electricity on the African continent.

For me it was exceptionally exciting to visit the GERD. Because it confirmed to me: that humankind, through the exercise of our uniquely human creative imagination, intervenes upon the physical universe, to  improve the conditions of life for us human beings. This understanding of human creativity is the underpinning of my philosophy about the universe and the foundation of my economic thinking.

The Ethiopian people and successive Ethiopian governments should be congratulated for self-funding and constructing the GERD. It does not just benefit Ethiopia, but the GERD enhances the entire Nile Basin, including Egypt and Sudan.

One of the most interesting features in this book, among many, is the several hundred year history of the White and Blue Nile River Basins. The key issue which I believe characterizes this 300 year conflict is: the right to utilize the resource of the Blue Nile for the development of the Ethiopian nation and its people. This history is relevant to the efforts today, by some, to prevent the dam from reaching its full productivity; though I am convinced the anti-GERD campaign will not be successful.

Colonial Mentality Over the Nile

As part of their imperialist policy, the British were obsessed with the Nile River Basin, as part of their plans to control indirectly or directly the entire eastern spine of Africa from Egypt to South Africa. Through their control of Egypt, nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, first through Pasha Muhammad Ali and then later his nephew, Khedive Ismail, and finally the outright conquering of Egypt militarily at the end of the 1800s, the British believed that they owned the Nile. Though several battles were waged by the Egyptians against Ethiopia, the Egyptians like the Italians years later at Adwa, were unable to militarily defeat and conquer Ethiopia. The British in their attempt to be the overlord of the entire Nile River Basin, were intent not to allow Ethiopia to develop its own productive capabilities, which most definitely would involve utilizing the water from Lake Tana.

The author, Dereje Tessema, presenting his conception and motivation for wrting his book: How This Happened:  Demystifying The Nile, History and Events Leading to the Realization of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) .

There were over two dozen treaties and official diplomatic exchanges from 1891 to 2015 concerning the Nile that affected Ethiopia. I will highlight only a few.

As early as the 1891 protocol between the United Kingdom and Italy, Britain made very clear that it would recognize Italy’s control of the northern part of Ethiopia, which is now Eritrea, in return, the Italian government would agree not to obstruct the flow of water from the Atbara River that is one of the three main tributaries, that supply 85% of the water into the White Nile. In 1899 the British with the Egyptians created the Anglo Egyptian Condominium ,which effectively allowed the British through Egypt to govern Sudan. This was another step in the process of the British attempt to have control over the entire Nile River system. It is interesting to note that it was also in 1899 that the British began the construction  of the Aswan Low Dam that was completed in 1902. This of course was replaced several decades later by the larger High Aswan Dam.

In the 1902 Anglo Ethiopia Treaty to delineate the borders between Sudan and Ethiopia, the British  included a demand that Emperor Menelik II, could not obstruct the flow of any water into the Nile by building anything across the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, or the Sobat River. The British intended never to allow Ethiopia to utilize the Blue Nile for the benefit of its people. The British did not want an independent, developing nation disrupting their plans for the Nile Basin. Rather, they envisioned, utilizing Lake Tana to as a large rain fed storage area, releasing water during the dry season for the  agriculture-irrigation schemes in the downstream nations of Egypt and Sudan.

In the 1920s, prior to Mussolini’s invasion in 1935, Britain made clear to the Italians that it would be happy to have Lake Tana controlled-protected from Ethiopia’s utilization by a nation friendly to Britain.

The 1929 Water Agreement between the British, Egypt and Sudan, codified Egypt’s so called natural and historical rights to the Nile. The agreement allocated 48 billion cubic meters of Nile water to Egypt and 4  billion to Sudan–less than 1% of the total 52bcm. The agreement also gave Egypt the right to prevent construction of any project on the Nile that would reduce the flow of the Nile water to Egypt. Ethiopia was not part of this agreement and was not in attendance even though it was an independent sovereign nation that provided the majority of Nile water joining the White Nile under the Khartoum- Omdurman bridge.

Ethiopian Ambassador, Seleshi Bekele, speaking at the book launch. To his right, is retired US Ambassador, David Shinn.

The 1959 Water Agreement between the Republics of Sudan and Egypt increased the water allocations for both countries. Egypt would now receive 55.5 billion cubic meters of water, and Sudan would receive 18.5 bcm. The agreement also allowed Egypt to construct the Aswan High Dam and for Sudan to construct the Rosaries dam, on the Blue Nile, which I visited many years ago. This new water agreement also stipulated again that no other construction could be built on the Nile, implicitly the Blue Nile as well. Essentially this agreement gave Egypt and Sudan veto power against the right of Ethiopia to erect its own dam on its own sovereign territory. Again, Ethiopia was not a participant to this agreement. To my knowledge, Ethiopia has not been a party to any official water agreement with Sudan and Egypt regarding the rights to develop the Blue Nile Basin, even during the negotiations in the Trump administration.

Potential of Blue Nile Basin  

Two years before the 1959 Egypt-Sudan Water agreement, Ethiopia officially severed itself  from the colonial mentality regarding the Nile, by informing Egypt, on September 23, 1957, that Ethiopia will utilize it water resources for irrigation and hydropower. Quoting the diplomatic note (Part I, Chapter 3, page 50):

 Ethiopia has the right and obligation to exploit its water resources for the benefit of its present and future generations of its citizens and must, therefore reassert and reserve now and for the future, the right to take all the measures in respect of its water resources.

Reflecting the better period of United States, when our foreign policy reflected our commitment for development in Africa, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Department of the Interior, signed an agreement with the Ethiopian government to investigate the land and water resources of the Blue Nile River Basin. The project began in 1958, was completed in 1963, and its findings were published in 1964. The report was seven volumes and referred to as the Nile Report. Quoting Dereje (page 54 of the same chapter of his book):

The author signing his new book at the conclusion of the event.

The purpose of this program was to:  a) investigate the land and water resources of the Blue Nile River Basin; b) assist in the establishment of an appropriate administrative and engineering organization within the Imperial Ethiopian Government; and c) train Ethiopian personnel in the various disciplines as appropriate.

The other major study of the Blue Nile Basin, was The Abbay River Basin Integrated Development Master Plan, initiated in 1994 and completed in 1998. Dereje documents that in the twentieth century there have been more than 18 feasibility studies of the Nile and Blue Nile River Basin, investigating potential projects for irrigation and hydropower.

The 1957-1964 Nile Report examined the potential of 32 irrigation and energy projects in the Blue Nile River Basin, which are listed in this book on pages 259-260. Four potential dam sites were proposed that could provide sufficient electrical power to satisfy domestic consumption and export to other nations in East Africa. The study identified four potential hydropower projects described on pages 262-266. One of the four hydro-power sites, that the Nile Report called the Border Dam, is today, known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The author celebrating with his family.

In Conclusion

As we are assembled here today discussing the contribution of this new treatise on the GERD by Dereje , we should remember what Emperor Haile Selassie  said in the 1960s, when he was unable to secure funding for the various irrigation and hydropower projects identified in the 1957-1964 Nile Report. (Quoting from Part V, Chapter 17, page 334): Emperor Selassie said:

 We don’t have the capacity to build a dam on the Abbay at this time. Friendly countries will not support this endeavor for fear of antagonizing Egypt. However, the future generations will build it using its own resources. Keep the study safe.

We are less than two years away from celebrating the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam with GERD DAY, my proposal for a new national Ethiopian holiday.

Read my ealier post:

GERD: Utilizing the Blue Nile to Create Energy for Development in Ethiopia & The Horn of Africa

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GERD: Utilizing the Blue Nile to Create Energy for Development in Ethiopia & The Horn of Africa

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam-GERD, built on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile River will be completed in 2025 with an installed capacity to generate 5,150 megawatts of electricity. This will not only provide increased access of electricity to the Ethiopian population, but supply much needed energy to the nations of the Horn of Africa as well.

January 16, 2023

On December 19, 2022, I was given a VIP tour of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, known as the GERD. It was an exciting and joyful experience for me to examine this massive infrastructure project constructed by an emerging sub-Saharan African nation. It is proof that humankind is capable, nay obliged, to intervene upon the physical universe for the betterment of the human race i.e., progress for our civilization. The GERD, when completed, will generate from its thirteen turbines a total of 5,150 megawatts (MW) of electricity for Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. The GERD is a dam for development. Already, with just 750 MW being produced from two of the GERD’s functioning turbines, Ethiopia is already exporting electricity to Djibouti, Kenya, and Sudan. Additionally, Ethiopia has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with South Sudan to sell electricity. Upon completion, the GERD will be the largest hydro-electric dam on the African continent and the seventh largest in the world. For this accomplishment, the Ethiopian people and their leadership should be praised for initiating such a grand endeavor over a decade ago, that is today contributing to the transformation of the African continent.

The author being briefed the Deputy Project Manager

A Source of Pride The GERD is located at the Guba district in the Benishangul-Gumuz regional state of Ethiopia, 20 kilometers (km) (13 miles) upstream from the Sudan border, a driving distance of 729 km (453 miles) from Addis Ababa. Construction began in 2011 to capture the hydro-energy potential of the Blue Nile, a winding river of 1,450 km (910 miles) flowing down from Lake Tana, nestled in Ethiopia’s dense range of mountains. The Blue Nile, which joins the White Nile in Sudan under the bridge connecting Khartoum and Omdurman, provides over 80% of the volume of Nile waters that flow north through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. Ethiopians, refer to the Blue Nile, which contains 70% of the country’s river systems, as Abay River. “’Abay’ is derived from the Ge’ez word for ‘great’ to imply that it is ‘the river of rivers’.”* The Ethiopian people self-financed the $5 billion cost of the GERD. No international loans were issued by Western financial institutions. Nor did China provide any financial assistance, contrary to those maligning China’s relationship with Ethiopia and with Africa. As a result, the GERD is sovereignly owned by the Ethiopian people. It is a well-deserved source of pride and national identity, much like the victory of Menelik II against the invading Italian army at Adwa, on March 1, 1896. Recognizing this accomplishment, I have suggested that upon completion of the GERD, Ethiopia should establish a new holiday that will be called, “GERD Day.”

The author standing in front of a painting of the completed GERD pointing to the Amharic words that mean “Our Pride.”

Humans Create Wealth Standing at the top of the dam’s wall, the GERD, erected between two mountains, with its vast reservoir, is resplendent in its beauty. However, it is more than simple splendor. The GERD is a potent demonstration of the power of human creativity, and humankind’s harmony with the physical universe. All infrastructure is the product of human intervention. We human beings alter the physical universe by creating improvements. This noetic-creative process of the mind is actually transforming our planet, and implicitly the universe, for the advancement of humankind . It is the lack of infrastructure that is killing  Africa and harming my United States as well. The modern form of Lake Tana is estimated to be 5 million years old. Therefore, it is reasonable to estimate, that the Blue Nile, which emanates from Lake Tana’s waterfalls, is millions of years old as well. Thus, the Blue Nile has flowed into the White Nile, unexploited for millennium, before creative Ethiopians willfully decided to make this “lazy river” do some work i.e., produce energy for the progress of civilization.

The GERD situated between two mountains over the Blue Nile River

Given the staggering paucity of energy in sub-Saharan Africa, this injection of  5,150 MW is essential to preserve human life, which depends on energy for all its productive activity. The GERD will significantly improve Ethiopians access to electricity, which is currently estimated at 50%. Energy from the GERD will contribute to powering the industrialization of Ethiopia and will also benefit the greater Horn of Africa. It is all but impossible for any visitor to the GERD not to marvel at this engineering achievement, but for me, it has additional significance. As a physical economist, I understand the vital role that infrastructure performs in a successful economy. Unlike simple financial transactions, services, and even tourism, all of which macro economists include in computing the GDP of an economy, hard infrastructure is unique. It  inserts value by enhancing the productive process, which results in the  creation of additional wealth for society. Infrastructure, a physical input, increases productivity, enabling  the economy to expand (produce more tangible wealth) at a faster rate during the ensuing production cycle. All economies function on and within a given integrated infrastructure platform. A more technologically advanced platform creates more wealth and profitability for the entire economy/society. An economy without energy, a density of paved roads, and railroads per area, is doomed to create misery and death for its population. Thus, the GERD, a human intrusion into nature, not only produces desperately needed energy, but raises Ethiopia’s infrastructure platform to a more advanced level that will permeate the entire productive process of the economy.

The author examining the control panel above, and in front one of the operating turbines below.

A Scientific-Engineering Wonder The height of the dam is 145 meters and is 645 meters above sea level. Its length is 1,780 meters. The reservoir surface area is 1,874 km squared, and will hold 74 billion cubic meters of water. When the water level in the reservoir reaches a height of 640 meters above sea level, it will start flowing into the power generation structure of the dam. There will be 13 independent waterways supplying water to the turbines below through installed pipes, 8.5 meters wide. This directed water flow will rotate the turbines, producing a maximum of 400 MW of electricity per turbine. The water from the reservoir will descend by gravity 123 meters from the head (where the water enters) to the turbines below, at a flow rate of 330 cubic meters per second. These two parameters determine the potential electrical power that can be generated through rotating the turbines 125 times per minute across a magnetic field. U.S. based General Electric (GE) is supplying 5 of the 13 turbines. Presently there are two GE made turbines producing 375 MW each, which has added 500 MW of electricity to Ethiopia’s national grid. This has enabled Ethiopia to export 275 MW of electricity to its neighbors; 75 MW to Djibouti, 100 MW to Sudan, and 100 MW to Kenya. Both these turbines went into operation in 2022. The additional 11 turbines will produce 400 MW each, yielding a total output of 5,150 MW, with average annual energy production about 16,692 gigawatt hours, generated from the GERD.

Building new pipes above to carry water to new turbines being built below

The GERD Is For Africa The GERD will insert over 5,000 MW of renewable electricity into an  African sub-continent starved for power. With its already existing sources of energy, the GERD will make Ethiopia second to South Africa in generation of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. While this amount of additional electricity is desperately needed, my calculations are that to transform African nations into modern industrialized economies, a minimum of 1,000 gigawatts of power has to be added to national grids. It would be wise for more African nations to emulate Ethiopia’s bold visionary initiative. This is the pathway for poverty and hunger to be finally eliminated on the continent. There is no danger to downstream nations from the GERD. Ethiopia has extended the time it will take to fill the GERD’s reservoir beyond the original plan of 3 to 4 years, in order to mitigate any substantial reduction in the flow of the Nile River. Annual fillings will continue until achieving completion. Ethiopia is making every effort to maintain the flow of the Blue Nile while this huge reservoir is being filled yearly during the June and July months of the rainy season. After 3 fillings (2020-2022), the reservoir now holds 22 billion cubic meters of water. Sudanese officials report no noticeable decrease in the water levels of the Nile traveling through their nation.

The author being interviewed by Ethiopian News Agency

The GERD will regulate the flow of the Nile, preventing both deadly flooding in Sudan, and the dwindling of the Nile during drier seasons. The GERD will have three spillways with a discharge capacity of 19,000 cubic meters per second to prevent flooding of the Nile. At the higher altitude of the GERD’s reservoir, evaporation, which can account for 10% of the Nile’s total volume of 84 billion cubic meters, will be reduced. Due to the size and depth of the GERD’s reservoir, there will also be a reduction in the transfer of sediments from the Blue Nile. The drainage area of the Nile Basin includes 11 African nations whose total population is over 400 million and growing, with Egypt and Ethiopia accounting for over half of the people. A long term development plan that provides for the well-being of the people residing in the nations of the Nile Basin, should be established. However, we must be cognizant that the waters of the Nile River are not sufficient to provide for the expanding population of the region. Other alternatives must be sought. For future generations of the Nile Basin nations to prosper, we should create the equivalent of a second Nile River through nuclear powered desalination. Nuclear power plants can be built along the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts. This would deliver millions of tons of fresh water and provide thousands of megawatts of electricity to the Nile Basin nations. Application of nuclear energy, would also crucially upgrade the infrastructure platform of a large section of the African continent by introducing advanced nuclear technologies. Many pessimists will complain that this is impractical and will never happen. In response to these naysayers, I say: let us aspire to the same audacious optimism of Ethiopia when they conceived of creating the GERD where only mountains and the Blue Nile existed. *Wikipedia

Schematic diagram of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is a teacher, writer, public speaker, and consultant on Africa. He is also the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton

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In Addition to Adwa Day, March 1, Ethiopia Should Look Forward to Celebrating “GERD Day “

Ethiopia’s victory against Italy at Adwa on March 1, 1896, profoundly shaped the future of Ethiopia.
Celebrate Ethiopia’s March 1, 1896 Victory at Adwa- A Victory For Africa and All Nations

February 27, 2023

Below are excerpts from my brief analysis of Adwa Day, which I first wrote in 2017. It was published in the newsletter of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC. I have republished it every year since, with different timely introductions.

As I have understood the importance of Adwa Day as an inspiring event of nationalism for the people of Ethiopia, I reflect on my joyful experience of touring the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), during my visit to Ethiopia last December. GERD: Utilizing the Blue Nile to Create Energy for Development in Ethiopia & The Horn of Africa)

The GERD is truly an engineering marvel that displays the most excellent characteristics of Ethiopian civilization and culture. It will be a driver for economic development in the Horn of Africa. The GERD can also serve as a nationalistic and unifying achievement for the Ethiopian people following a divisive and destructive two year war.  

It is projected that in the next 2-3 years the GERD will have all 13 turbines functioning and generate 5,150 megawatts of electricity. Therefore, I suggest that upon completion of this great dam, Ethiopians, with pride, declare “GERD Day” to celebrate along with Adwa Day.

The author standing in front of a painting of the completed GERD pointing to the Amharic words that mean “Our Pride.”

Victory at Adwa-A Victory for Africa

March 1, 2017

The battle of Adwa is probably the most renowned and historic battle in Ethiopian history. This celebrated victory by the Ethiopian army helped define the future of their nation, as one of only two non-colonized countries in Africa. The defeat of a European colonial empire by an African country, following the “Scramble for Africa” after the 1884-1885 Berlin conference a decade earlier, is not only a source of enduring pride and nationalism for Ethiopians, but also an inspiration to other Africans, who took up the fight for independence six decades later. Some historians suggest that this victory also led to the idea for the Pan-African movement. As a result, it is no surprise that on May 25 1963, Ethiopia under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie was a founding member of the Organization of African States-OAS.

Adwa, also known as Adowa, and in Italian Adua, was the capital of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. A late comer to grabbing territory in Africa, Italy began colonizing Somaliland and Eritrea in the 1880s. It was from the vantage point of Eritrea from where Italy launched its campaign against Ethiopia. The immediate pretext of the invasion was a dispute of Article 17 of the 1889 Treaty of Wuchale. Italy insisted that the treaty stated that Ethiopia had to submit to its imperial authority, thus effectively making Ethiopia a colony of the Kingdom of Italy. The Ethiopians resisted Italy’s military enforcement of its version of the treaty, leading to the outbreak of war in December 1894, with the Italian imperialists occupying Adwa and moving further south into Ethiopian territory. On March 1, 1896, King Menelik II, who, commanded a force of over 70,000, defeated the Italian army, killing 7,000 of their soldiers, wounding 1,500, and capturing 3,000 prisoners, routing their enemy, and forcing them to retreat back to their colony of Eritrea. It has been speculated that, if Menelik had pursued the retreating Italian troops, and driven them off of the continent, it might have prevented a second Italian invasion. On October 3, 1935, Italy led by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, launched its second military incursion into sovereign Ethiopia territory. Five years later in 1941, Ethiopia once again drove the Italian invaders out of their country. The 1896 defeat of a European nation, considered an advanced country, by Ethiopia, viewed as a backward Africa country, led to riots on the streets of Italy and well deserved consternation in the capitals of European powers.

Without taking the time now to review the ninety years of Ethiopian history following this famous battle, the military defeat of Ethiopia’s dictatorial Derg Regime in 1991 brings us to the beginning of contemporary Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front-EPRDF assumed control of the government in 1991, it was led by the now deceased, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who initiated the economic policies that have guided Ethiopia for over 25 years. It was…understanding the indispensable role of the state in fostering economic development that distinguishes Ethiopia today from all other sub-Saharan African nations…The state was not “a night watchman,” but rather an active participant promoting economic growth for the benefit of its people. Ethiopia is a poor country, with a population approaching one hundred million, not endowed with rich mineral or hydrocarbon resources, and repeatedly struck by drought. Yet it has emerged in recent years with a rapidly growing economy… This is clearly evident in Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plans I and II, which set ambitious economic goals five years into the future, along with its proposed thirty year road construction plan. Since the EPRDF took over the responsibility of governing the nation, more than thirty new universities have been created, graduating more students that can be easily employed.

In collaboration with China, Ethiopia operates the first electrified train in sub-Saharan Africa, traveling 750 kilometers in seven hours from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, establishing a port to export Ethiopia’s products. Their highway system consisting of toll roads, highways, and all weather roads will connect their light manufacturing industries to the port in Djibouti via their new rail line.  As a result of coherent policy planning in energy infrastructure, the Gibe III hydroelectric power plant has now added 1,872 of megawatts to the country’s electricity grid, and over the next two years, the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) will add an additional 6,000 megawatts, making Ethiopia the second largest producer of power in sub-Saharan Africa, behind South Africa. The next step to develop the Horn of Africa is for Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya to extend their rails lines to become the eastern leg of an East-West railroad. Thus would transform Africa by connecting the Gulf of Eden/Indian Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean, creating an economic corridor that would literally revolutionize the economic power of the continent; contributing to the ending of poverty, hunger, and war.

One cannot deny the success of Ethiopia’s unique path of development, nor can one omit the important role contributed to this process by Ethiopia’s successful resistance to foreign occupation; thus never having to suffer the dehumanizing effects of colonialism.

Celebrate Ethiopia’s March 1, 1896, Victory at Adwa: Ethiopia is Fighting Another Battle Today to Protect its Sovereignty

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is a teacher, writer, public speaker, and consultant on Africa. He is also the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton

Join Me Saturday-Definitive Book on Ethiopia’s GERD, and the Blue & White Nile River Basins

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New Treatise on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Linking the History of the White & Blue Nile River Basins

I will be a featured speaker, along with many specialists, at this book launch on April 29, at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C. This new book is treasure trove of information regarding the history, science, and geography related to the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The GERD is not only a game changer for Ethiopia, but also for the whole African continent. It demonstrates that African nations do not have to remain economically backward and underdeveloped. That they can make sovereign decisions to pursue policies for the development of their nation that will benefit their people.

***SAVE THIS DATE***

Click on link below for schedule and speakers’ profiles