ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (SUDANOW) – The young engineer summed the talisman of the Ethiopian development: our tools are energy and transportation, our target is the low and mid-income Ethiopians, and our ultimate objective, fighting poverty, zero poverty in the country.
“But most importantly, we involve people in every step, including what color commuter trains should have. People own every project, and you know what it means when something is yours” Engineer Henok Bokale, the General Manager of the Addis Ababa Light, Rail Transit Service told Sudanow.
I did not want to challenge those statements, when he received me at his place, in Addis Ababa. I told him I wanted to see those lofty statements in action.
So, Bokale in his early twenties looking fresh young and energetic, heading a 475 million dollars project for construction of 37 km long railway to transport people in and around the national capital Addis Ababa, related the story to me.
The money for this project is not a grant. No, he stressed the young man who is heading over 4000 employees in this company at its final stage. He said the money came through a loan, repayable in 25 years. But the tariff is very cheap to extends that made my eyebrow went up.
“I know” he replied. “We are not building this project to generate money and make profit- at least not directly- we are providing a service for the people” he said. He said if you provide transport for people and commodities and then you are adding an invaluable input into the economy. People move easily to their place of work, transport their product.
To show how cheap the tariff is, I visited one ticket selling offices. It was stunning. There are three types of tickets: if you are travelling a distance of less than 8 stations out of the 32 stations, then you pay only 2 birrs, if it is less than 16 stations you pay 4 birrs, and if you are travelling more than2 stations you pay 6 birrs. In Sudanese pounds it means one pound, two pounds and three pounds, respectively. By way of comparison, the minimum you pay for the shortest distances using a taxi it is 50-100 birrs.
So my second question was how the hell are they going to repay that whooping 475 million dollars loan? He said the Ethiopian Railways Corporation has come up with an idea, that since there are 39 main stations, then they are going to build huge malls, business centers, hotels, and buildings, all to be hired to business people and the proceeds of the rent will be used to repay part of the sum. The second source is the carbon credit. This carbon credit means that the world leaders and the industrialized countries that produce most of the toxics in the world have agreed that countries that do not produce such poisonous gases have the right to receive money coming out of profit made by those industrialized countries. The train’s energy is electricity, which means zero pollution.
The electricity comes from the Ethiopian electricity national grid, for the time being. The main source, in about one year is The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
But as this is new industry in the country, the Ethiopians made sure that the Chinese Railways Company (CRC) involved in the construction of the project 2012-2015, trains young Ethiopian in and at every phase of the project. Training was a main component in the project’s contract.
The manpower- who worked in the construction of the project- of 1127 people- of whom only 108 hailed from the Chinese construction company, and the Swedish consultant –supervisory firm, received training in China and in Ethiopia on every aspect of the trains, wagons, maintenance, repair and management. Today, with only 40% of the trains in action- as people have to get used to it and to know the culture of taking the train, over 150,000 are using this transportation means, monthly, up from 45,000 in December 2015 when the first train whistled and moved out of the main station in Addis Ababa.
Nothing is left for coincidence. These trains which ferry Ethiopians in and around the capital, need energy, namely electricity of which there wasn’t enough for the country.
Lack of energy and poverty hit most of the African countries. The Ethiopians said they are heading for such huge projects to fight one common enemy in Africa: poverty.
Both the Ethiopian Minister for Water, Irrigation and Minister, Motuma Mekassa, and GERD Project Manager, Semegnew Bekele told Sudanow that GERD was conceived and built because Ethiopia needs energy, without energy and transportation, there would be no development, even if you have human and natural resources.
The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), built between two huge mountains on the Blue Nile 40 km away from the joint border with the Sudan. The dam’s huge water turbines will generate 6000 MW of electricity for the energy-avid country.
This is the one of the largest dams in the world, and the largest in Africa. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) sits across the Blue River near the Sudan border. The dam will flood 1,680 square kilometers of forest in northwest Ethiopia, and will create a reservoir that will hold around 70 billion cubic meters of water, some experts believe this is equivalent to the entire annual flow of the Blue Nile at the Sudan border. This lake which covers 1,680 km in front of the dam will certainly be used for fishery, touristic and other uses, including helping with the traditional gold mining in Bane Shangol province where the project is located.
Bekele, GERD Project Manager said it is not only trains that will make use of the 6000 MW produced by his dam. The country’s strategy is to transform all agricultural produce into industrial produce, add value to row material and help throw poverty out of the window.
According to economist and the World Bank the Ethiopian economy is growing by 12%, one of the fastest growing economies of the world. That means the country needs energy, and cheap energy for that matter.
There is no cheaper energy than hydroelectric power. And this Ethiopia has many, according to Bekele. With the available wind, solar and hydroelectric energy, the country could produce over 45,000 MW of electricity.
When told that the huge dam poses some challenges and raises fear in downstream countries, namely Egypt that it might burst and collapse when filled, inundating all downstream towns, the always calm engineer was almost furious.
“We are doing a responsible work. What decide whether the work is good are three elements: design, material used and workmanship. “He said, adding that in all these areas they were up to par with international standards.
And that he was sure as a technician that the Egyptians were convinced about the technical soundness of the project and its feasibility. He quelled these fears and brushed them away as without any foundation.
President Omar Bashir of Sudan said Egyptian concerns that an Ethiopian hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile could undermine Cairo’s water share, have now been overcome through trilateral meetings held between the three of them.
“The dam has many advantages that overcome its shortcomings,” Bashir was quoted by the official Sudan News Agency as saying Saturday evening.
It said Bashir who is taking part in a forum in Bahir Dar, told the Ethiopian National Television that the dam provides huge benefits for his country and for Ethiopia.
“The Egyptian concerns have been addressed during a number of trilateral meetings” The Sudanese president was quoted as saying.
The Ethiopian minister of Irrigation, Motuma Mekassa, in an interview with the Sudan News Agency, that over 10.2 million people in his country have been affected by drought and are in need of humanitarian assistance, but he said building of such a dam could in the future avert such calamities and help his country fight poverty of which is suffers.
The Ethiopian minister said in the same interview reported by SUNA the GERD could in no way affect Egypt’s water share, over 50 million cubic meters according to a 1950s water sharing agreement between Sudan and Egypt, but on the contrary regulates the water flow in a steady manner all over the year in a way to avoid both floods during rainy season and lack of water during dry seasons.
The said dam is expected to be completed in 2017, with the Ethiopian saying that they have now completed over 50% of the works in the “largest hydroelectric dam in Africa But the country faces many challenges, including fast growing young population and a cycle of drought and food shortage. Young people need jobs, education, and shelter.
To this the man who was standing in the middle of the popular house construction project has the answer. The huge multifaceted project inside the national capital Addis Ababa that contrasted the tin built structures which used to mar the beauty of the capital demonstrated the abject poverty, is his answer. “This is our new project,” he proudly extended his hands towards the tall pink colored towers.
With over 90 million people, mostly youth, Ethiopia is witnessing something that attracts your attention from the very beginning: projects are devised, carried out and handed over by young people and for low and medium income people.
But to me, there is one interesting thing going on in Ethiopia that other African countries should follow: very young people are steering huge development projects in Ethiopia from GERD, to the Minister of Communications, to the housing project, the Ethiopian airlines, the train project and the government ministers and party leaders. They are surprisingly experienced; still they are so young that some have not even grown a moustache.
E N D