Photograph — GreenMountainWindFarm Fluvanna 2004" by Leaflet - Own work.

On Sunday, 3rd of December, Ethiopia signed a $600 million agreement with United Arab Emirates’ AMEA Power to construct a 300-megawatt wind farm. The wind farm will be located on 18,000 acres of land in Aysha, the Somali region of Ethiopia, making it the country’s largest wind farm. The project hopes to boost electricity access to 50 per cent (about 60 million) of the country’s underserved population and create nearly 2000 jobs during and after its construction phase.  

The Horn of Africa country has other smaller wind farms in the Oromiya and Tigray regions. On completion, the Aysha project will be Ethiopia’s biggest wind power generation plant yet.  This latest development highlights President Abiyi Ahmed’s long-standing commitment to power up the East African nation since he began to rule the country as Prime Minister in 2018. His ultimate plan to light up the country with Africa’s largest dam on the River Nile – the Great Ethiopia Rainessance Dam (GERD) – has received wide criticism from downstream neighbouring countries like Egypt and Sudan. The latest wind farm deal further highlights the government’s efforts to power up Ethiopia, creating electricity access for 60 million people.

The controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

On April 2nd 2011, when Meles Zenawi, then Prime Minister, laid the foundation stone for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Ethiopians celebrated as they anticipated a future without blackouts. The $4.8 billion power project is expected to be a key source of revenue as well as boost industrialisation for the country. At full capacity, the huge hydroelectric dam – 1.8 kilometres (1.1 miles) long and 145 metres (476 feet) high – could generate more than 5,000 megawatts. Compared to the latest wind farm deal, the GERD would be a critical electricity source for the country.

Ethiopia has treated the project with utmost secrecy since it began, not releasing a lot of information about Africa’s largest dam. This has triggered unease for neighbours who depend on the Nile as their main source of fresh water and livelihoods. The Blue Nile, where the GERD is situated happens to be an important river shared with Egypt, Sudan, and some communities in Kenya. True to a 2013 report by Power Technology, where experts and NGOs warned about the environmental and geopolitical backlash it may trigger, the GERD has remained a controversial topic. Disputes have erupted among the three countries over the potential food and water crisis it poses on the downstream countries. Meanwhile, Egypt and Sudan have made several unsuccessful efforts to get Ethiopia to agree on how the dam would be filled.

On September 10, 2023, Ethiopia made a significant announcement, declaring the successful filling of the Great Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD). This milestone occurred just two weeks after negotiations resumed among the three countries, following a prolonged hiatus. The renewed talks aimed to craft an agreement that thoughtfully considered the water requirements of all three countries involved. However, the Egyptian foreign ministry condemned the announcement and called it “illegal”.

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