Ethiopia has raised Birr 7 billion ($408 million) of debt to finance the $4.8 bn Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River and plans to issue more bonds. Communications Minister Bereket Simon said the country is not raising funds from foreigners in a bid to demonstrate its economic resurgence, according to an interview on Bloomberg yesterday (29 Sept).
The 5,250-megawatt dam, also called the “Millennium Dam”, is scheduled for completion in 2017 with the first 700 MW to be generated in 2015. It is on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River, about 30 kilometres from the border with Sudan. According to the report, the dam wall is to be 145 meters high and 1.8 kilometres long and the lake will be 1,680 square kilometres (Lake Tana is 3,000-3,500 square kilometres according to Wikipedia), reportedly mostly uninhabited forest in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi launched the project and construction in April. Ethiopia is busy with many giant hydropower, wind and other generation projects to use its potential to generate 45,000 MW of hydropower, 10,000 MW of wind and at least 1,000 MW from geothermal sources. It is becoming a regional electricity exporter to counteract shortages in the nine East African Power Pool (www.eappool.org) countries, including Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan and Uganda, which are to be connected by a regional grid by 2016. The country started exports to Djibouti in May, a transmission line to Sudan may be completed by January and a feasibility study for a link to Kenya has been finished. Ethiopia is seeking to diversify the fast-growing economy, which used to rely on commodities such as coffee for most of its foreign currency.
Bloomberg quotes Bereket: “Building a dam on the Nile has been the dream of every Ethiopian. For millennia, we have been looking at the Nile as if it has been a curse that took our fertile soil and benefited others while Ethiopia was impoverished.” Bereket is heading a “public mobilization council” to raise funds for the project.
Egypt depends on the flow of the Nile for all of its water. Previous President Hosni Mubarak opposed infrastructure projects by upstream nations, citing old treaties established by the British which favoured Egypt. However, Ethiopia announced the dam soon after Mubarak was deposed in February and the new government has reportedly sought details of the technical and environmental studies on the effect of the dam on Egypt’s Nile water flow. Bereket told Bloomberg that Egyptian and Ethiopian officials have met twice and relations are improving.
Zemedeneh Negatu, managing partner for Ernst & Young LLP in Ethiopia, told Bloomberg: “The financial capacity to build the dam I don’t think should be in doubt at all. Over the next six years, Ethiopia can collect from taxes somewhere between Birr 450 and 500 billion.” He said the dam is “very critical” for Ethiopia to achieve its industrialization goals and for neighbouring states.
Donations of a month’s salary by civil servants have been converted into bonds to help boost the nation’s savings rate, currently 5.5% of gross domestic product, Bereket said. The opposition have criticized funding pressure on civil servants.
Public funding is unlikely to be maintained as it would be “too taxing,” so private companies have been encouraged to buy the debt, which offers a coupon of 5%. There are also plans for bonds to be offered to the Ethiopian diaspora with returns above the London Interbank Offered Rate, while sales to farmers are planned “early next year,” he said. A “significant” portion of funding will also come from the government’s development budget, Bereket said. A National Bank of Ethiopia directive was issued in April compelling banks to buy government bonds equivalent to 27% of their loans each month may raise Birr 11 bn for development programs in its first year, according to Access Capital (www.accesscapitalsc.com), the Addis Ababa-based research group. That amount is likely to increase in subsequent years, it said in an April research note.
The Ethiopian Government plans to borrow Birr 398.4 bn by mid- 2015 to invest in industry and infrastructure. The World Bank said in June this may lead to the economy over-heating and debt problems, the. Annual inflation in Ethiopia was 40.6% in August, partly because the central bank boosted money supply.