Kingsley Ighobor and Busani Bafana
IT is an audacious $4.8 billion (R56bn) project undertaken by one of the world’s poorest countries. At the construction site in the Benishangul region of Ethiopia near the Sudanese border, some 8 500 workers are labouring tirelessly every day to build the gigantic Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. When completed in 2017, the dam will generate 6 000MW of electricity for domestic consumption and export.
On the surface, the 170m-tall dam – Africa’s biggest hydropower project – belies Ethiopia’s financial muscle. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Ethiopia is only $475. The late prime minister Meles Zenawi, who laid the foundation stone in 2011, said the dam would be built without begging for money from donors. Since then, construction has progressed steadily using money from local taxes, donations and government bonds. Ethiopians abroad and at home contributed the first $350 million, with government workers contributing amounts equivalent to a month of their salaries.