This post has been thoroughly revised and updated.
For the updated and more complete version please read:
Updated] Facts | Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam

Thank You.

(Updated again: with the new name of the dam – April 20.)

(Updated with additional info on Salini’s role, the name of the sub-contractor, the width of the dam and the legal questions -  April 9)


Ethiopia launched the ‘Grand Millennium dam’ on Saturday, April 2, 2011. What do we know about it so far? As I promised earlier, I presented the facts revealed so far, including the pictures – one from Addis fortune and the rest aired on ETV, the national broadcaster. [Subject to further updates, in the coming days]

The planning was kept secret, though it evidently been in the drawing table for some time. It is not mentioned in the 5-year plan, nor in any official statements, until it was leaked to the English weekly, Addis fortune, as ‘Project X’ and published on the paper on February 6.

It was on late March that government officials confirmed the news, which culminated with the  the Minister of Water and Energy, Alemayehu Tegenu, revealing the details of the project in a press conference at the Sheraton Addis on March 30. Later that week, the project was officially launched in a televised ceremony attended by the Premier on April 2, 2011.

Name: initially dubbed “Project X,” now christened as the “Grand Millennium Dam”, and the plant – ”Millennium Hydropower Plant”. It is called ‘Millennium’ because, according to the PM, ‘It is the largest dam we could build at any point along the Nile, or indeed any other river. More importantly the project takes the pride of place, representing an incomparable addition to our national plan for expanding power production.’

Now, renamed – Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam.(Read HERE)

Location: Guba, Benshangul/Gumuz state, western Ethiopia. It is located some 20km and 40km from the Ethiopia – Sudan common border.

Configuration: 15 units, each with 350 MW power generating capacity. With 10 turbines on the left side powerhouse and an additional five on the right.(See the pictures)

Design_of_Ethiopia_new_dam_on _Nile - Grand_Millennium_dam

Power generating capacity: up to 5,250 MWwhich is threefold of the 1885.8 MW Hydro-power Ethiopia currently generates from 12 dams. Ethiopia has currently a capacity to produce around 2,000MW from hydroelectricity, geothermal energy, and diesel. Of which, 880 MW is form the on Gilgel Gibe II and Tana Beles hydropower plants, which became operational in 2010.

Project life span: 78(?) months, with 2 units becoming operational in 44 months – thus, generating 700 MW by then.

About the dam:

  • The dam will be 145 meters tall and 1800 meters width, creating an artificial lake of 40 km width, according to ETV.
  • It will have the capacity to hold up to 62 or 67 billion cubic meters of water. [62 acc. to  Minister Alemayehu, 67 acc. to the PM speech]. It is said to be the largest Hydro-power dam in Africa, the 10th in the world, and almost twice the size of Ethiopia’s largest natural lake, Lake Tana, which hold 32 billion cubic meters at its peak, according to ETV.
  • ‘The water will be stored in narrow gorges, which would prevent evaporation and retain 7.5 billion cubic meter’, according to Minister Alemayehu.


  • Salini Costruttori will be responsible for ‘the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC)’ contract of the project. The procurement was conducted apparently through a procedure called ‘selective bidding’, as there was no news of a bidding process, nor of the signing of the contract that took place some time between Nov – Dec 2010.

On the other hand, Salini has already begun deploying heavy construction machinery to the site months ago, as the above-cited news by Addis-fortune indicates. Salini Costruttori SPA  is an Italian company that previously built Gilgel Gibe II and Tana Beles dams and in charge of the on-going Gilgel Gibe III dam construction in Ethiopia. It has built about 20 dams in Europe Asia and Africa, according to its website.

Cost estimate: The projected cost of the project is 3.3 billion Euros, or 78 billion birr, acc. to the PM.


  • “Ethiopia will use the water mostly for generating hydroelectric power while the lower riparian countries of Sudan and Egypt can still use the water for irrigation,” according to Minister Alemayehu Tegenu.
  • It will also provide ‘extensive opportunities for fisheries and cultivation’, acc. to the PM speech.
  • With regard to Egypt and Sudan, the Minister said, “They can also import electricity from Ethiopia. If anything, the dam wDesign_of_Ethiopia_new_dam_on _Nile - Grand_Millennium_damill help prevent flooding as well as siltation”, according to Minister Alemayehu Tegenu.
  • ‘The Dam will greatly reduce the problems of silt and sediment that consistently affect dams in Egypt and Sudan. This has been a particularly acute problem at Sudan’s Fosseiries dam which has been experienced reduction in output. When the Millennium Dam becomes operational, communities all along the riverbanks and surrounding areas, particularly in Sudan, will be permanently relieved from centuries of flooding. These countries will have the opportunity to obtain increased power supplies at competitive prices. The Millennium Dam will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing the wastage from evaporation which has been a serious problem in these countries. It will in fact ensure a steady year-round flow of the Nile. ….On this calculation, Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project’, the PM said.

Source of Finance: Ethiopian government budget and through a treasury bond expected to be purchased by domestic banks and individuals.

Is it Ethiopia’s first dam on Nile? No. Ethiopia has already built two dams, Tekeze and Tana Beles dams, on the the tributaries of the Nile, both mainly for Hydro-power generation. Egypt didn’t officially oppose the Tekeze dam, though Ethiopia had to fully finance the project cost. But with the launching of Tana Beles, Egyptian went as far as officially pleading the Italian government, as Salini took part in the project. Yet, Ethiopia was able to complete the project with domestic finance.

Reaction from Egypt: Read the previous and upcoming posts in the Nile Archive this blog.(link)

Background:Design_of_Ethiopia_new_dam_on _Nile - Grand_Millennium_dam
Summary Fact File about the Nile River (
by Patrick Rutagwera)

  • Length: (From White Nile Source to Mouth) 6695 km (4184 miles).
  • Name: The Nile gets its name from the Greek word "Nelios", meaning River Valley.
  • Sources: The White Nile: Lake Victoria, Uganda. The Blue Nile: Lake Tana, Ethiopia.
  • Countries: The Nile and its tributaries flow though nine countries. The White Nile flows though Uganda, Sudan, and Egypt. The Blue Nile starts in Ethiopia. Zaire, Kenya, Tanzanian, Rwanda, and Burundi all have tributaries, which flow into the Nile or into lake Victoria Nyanes.
  • Cities: The major cities that are located on the edge of the Nile and White Nile are: Cairo, Gondokoro, Khartoum, Aswan, Thebes/Luxor, Karnak, and the town of Alexandria lies near the Rozeta branch.
  • Major Dams: The major dams on the Nile are Roseires Dam, Sennar Dam, Aswan High Dam, and Owen Falls Dam.
    Flow Rate: The Nile River’s average discharge is about 300 million cubic metres per day.

Egypt’s claim: (based on Joseph Kieyah’s research paper)

  • Egypt claims a legal right on the Nile waters based on the 1929 and 1955 agreements. Design_of_Ethiopia_new_dam_on _Nile - Grand_Millennium_dam
  • The 1929 agreement, which is of uncertain legal status, was made in the form of Exchange of Notes between the UK ambassador in Cairo and Egypt’s Prime Minister from 1925-1929. It is referred to as ‘Exchange of Notes Regarding the Use of Waters of the Nile for Irrigation Purposes, May 7, 1929, Egypt-Uk’, and it gives almost exclusive rights to Egypt.
  • Sudan contested the 1929 agreement when it attained its independence from UK, but later, in the 1955, signed an accord with Egypt that allocates 55.5 billion cubic meters of the Nile to Egypt and 18.5 billion to Sudan. Notice that the average annual discharge of the Nile river, measured at Aswan dam, Cairo, is 84 billion cubic meter.
  • The other former colonies colonies of U.K. – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda declared the 1929 Nile Agreement non-binding following their independence from UK.
  • The rest upstream countries can not be linked to the 1929 agreement, as they were not part of British colony at the time of the agreement. Burundi, Rwanda and Congo were under Belgium mandate, while Ethiopia has never been colonized.

[the info below is from other sources]

  • Egypt also raises the 1902 Treaty between Ethiopia and UK, on behalf of Sudan, signed by UK’s envoy, John Harrington, and Emperor Menelik in Addis Ababa on May 15/1902. Though the Treaty was on Ethio-Sudan border, its mentions the use of Nile River. Article III of the Treaty appears to preclude any use of the river in its english version, while the corresponding phrase in the Amharic language version refers to works that halt the flow of the water. The validity of the Treaty is also uder question since the Treaty has never been ratified by the British parliament and the Ethiopian Royal Court. Moreover, Emperor Haileselasie I redpudiated the Treaty altogether in 1942 on account of British recognition of FaDesign_of_Ethiopia_new_dam_on _Nile - Grand_Millennium_damscist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia.

[Note: This is only a briefing a forthcoming post in this blog will expound the legal issues]

The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement(CFA)

  • The aforementioned countries founded the Nile Basin Commission, then Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), in 1999, with funds form World Bank, aiming ‘to establish a diplomatic protocol for evaluating the fair use of the river for agricultural and energy projects’.
  • The Commission paved the way for the drafting the ‘Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement’ for the equitable sharing of the Nile waters.
  • It was signed by  was signed by Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania on May 14, 2010, and later by Kenya and Brundi.
  • With the signing of Burundi, last February, the treaty is deemed binding, since 6 of the 9 countries are on board. Yet, Egypt argues it doesn’t replace the 1929 agreement, bereft of her signature. Sudan, apparently, follows Egypt’s lead.

Notice that: The info concerning the new dam, the other dams of Ethiopia, and the legal questions will be presented as an update in this post and in the forthcoming posts in the next week. Perhaps you should consider subscribing to this blog or adding me on Facebook or following me on Twitter if you don’t want to miss.

Daniel Berhane

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