Ethiopia: Kenyan protests could compromise mega electric project?

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After massive protests in Nairobi, Kenya, last weekend, against the construction of Ethiopia’s mega hydro electric dam, Gilgel Gibe III, calling on China to stop financing it, Ethiopia has announced that at least 41 percent of the dam’s construction works has been completed.

Azeb Asnake, Engineer and manager of the project, appeared on Ethiopian state television last Monday to give details on the completion of the 243-meter high dam. Its 211 km2 reservoir is expected to be the first in Africa in terms of capacity.

A group of International and Kenyan NGOs, since the inauguration of the project three years ago, have been lobbying international financial institutions and donors to hold their financial support of the hydropower dam arguing that it will significantly impact the water level of Lake Turkana. The activists say the outcome will negatively affect the livelihoods of herdsmen in the region.

Following a decision by The World Bank, European Investment Bank and African Development Bank to reject an aggregate funding of 1.7 billion euros that had been requested by Ethiopia to finalize the project, China moved to issue a funding of close to US $500 million in 2010 to enable the Horn of Africa country undertake the remaining 36 per cent of the project.

The project has so far created about 3000 jobs for both Ethiopians and foreigners, Azeb Asnake said whilst revealing that a roller-compact concrete work will soon be launched. The roller compacted concrete dam is also expected to be the first of its type to be constructed in Ethiopia.

The protesters, led by the civil society group, Friends of Lake Turkana, marched in front of the Chinese embassy in Nairobi and delivered a petition, which was signed by more than 2,000 organizations and individuals.

According to government sources, the agreement signed between the governments of China and Ethiopia will cover finance for the project’s electro mechanical works, which will be launched after completion of the construction work. This implies that the Chinese funds have not yet been received by Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s Gilgel Gibe III hydropower project is expected to generate up to 1.8 Mega Watts of electricity. Ethiopian officials have said that 95 per cent of the country’s current power generation would be compromised should the Chinese funding be withdrawn.

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