Ethiopia: Gibe River dam project
21 February 2019

On February 3rd, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed officially inaugurated the Gibe River dam project in the Great Rift Valley. The dam will serve a special purpose for the other countries: water for agriculture. The dam is located 17 km south of Addis Ababa to the West of Dilla, an important coffee trade center. The basin of the Gibe River is known for production of the best coffee varieties and is by far the best farm in the country, where cotton, tobacco, oilseeds, legumes and grains are grown too.

Agriculture is the largest GDP expenditure in Ethiopia and exports continue to rise. Until recently, most commercial exchanges took place at a local level. In 1992, Addis Ababa exported 208 tons of agriculture, 16 thousand in 2000, which more than tripled in 2018. At this rate, exports will grow to 54 thousand tons by the end of 2019.

The dam has a capacity of more than 60 million cubic meters of water and was designed to irrigate more than 13 thousand hectares of land and will be used by ten thousand farmers. It is estimated to create jobs for more than 190 thousand young people. The project has been in the works since 2010 but was delayed in order to increase irrigation capacity from 7,000 hectares to 13,000.

The dam is located between the Oromia region and the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region, a region in Southwestern Ethiopia inhabited by more than 45 ethnic groups. According to the Prime Minister, in addition to promoting agriculture and fishing, the project will help develop ties between the people there. Ahmed, who is of Omoro origin, emphasized that his government will continue its effort to create a more peaceful and prosperous Ethiopia through similar projects in the entire country. He expressly mentioned the regions of Amhara and Tigray. The former being inhabited by the largest ethnic group that dominates the political and economic life of the country, and the later being one of the northernmost regions populated by Tigris people and the Tigray ethnic group, who are also present in Eritrea, with whom a historic declaration was signed on 8 July 2018 ending a twenty-year conflict.

However, Ethiopia relies on another commodity for trade – electricity, specifically energy from renewable sources such as hydropower. For this reason, the country is to carry out a plan for the construction of a dam system to create electricity. Thanks to the dams of Legadadi, Beles, Gibe I, Gibe II and Gibe III, Addis Ababa already sells energy to Kenya, South Sudan and Djibouti and aims at selling to the Middle East and European markets. Gibe III represents the completion of the largest integrated complex with the previous hydroelectric plants of Gibe I and Gibe II. Gibe IV and Gibe V on the Omo River are in the planning process and will conclude the big Gibe-Omo hydroelectric project.

The national electricity plan is based on the power of the rivers that flow from the highlands in which Addis Ababa has invested 12 million euro, a third of GDP. In order to become the first carbon free African nation by 2025 and reach 40 thousand MW by 2035, Ethiopia has nearly completed the construction of the “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance” on the Blue Nile in the Benishangul-Gumasz region about 700 km to the Northeast of the capital that should be fully operational by 2022, whereas the production of hydroelectric power production with the first two units should begin in 2021. It is currently about 65% built and once finalized will be the biggest dam in Africa measuring 1,800 meters long, 155 meters high with a total volume of 74,000 million cubic meters. It will have two hydroelectric plants with 16 turbines installed at the foot of the dam with a total capacity of 6,000 MW and an expected production of 15,000 GWh per year.

In mid-February 2019, the Ethiopian Electric Power (Eep) signed a $40 million contract with China Gezhouba Group (Cggc) for the management of the pre-commissioning activities of the Great Rebirth Dam project. The agreement was signed in Addis Ababa by Ethiopian Electric Power’s CEO, Abraham Belay and the CGGC representative in Ethiopia, Wang Yimin. The agreement will speed up the pace of the construction of the dam.