Ethiopian Cardinal Appeals for Dialogue Over Controversial Dam Project in New Year Message

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam under construction on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia.

On the occasion of the Ethiopian New Year celebration marked Friday, September 11, the head of the Catholic Church in the Horn of Africa nation has appealed for dialogue to address tensions that surround the controversial construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile.

In the message delivered September 10, the eve of the Ethiopian New Year day, Berhaneyesus Cardinal Souraphiel appealed to Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt “not to let the dispute over the dam lead to conflict but to understanding and collaboration for the common good of all concerned.”

Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have been locked in a bitter dispute over the filling and operation of the GERD, which remains unresolved although the reservoir behind the dam began filling in July.

In his message, the Ethiopian Cardinal underscored the need for dialogue to resolve the conflict pitting the three nations reminding the parties of  Pope Francis’ August 15 message on the crisis. 

“I invite all parties to continue on the path of dialogue so that the Eternal River might continue to be a source of life that unites, not divides, that always nourishes friendship, prosperity, fraternity, and never enmity, misunderstanding or conflict,” Cardinal Souraphiel said recalling the message of Pope Francis last month.

The member of the Congregation of the Mission (CM) founded by St. Vincent de Paul also expressed his appreciation for the mediation efforts being undertaken by the international community.

“I am grateful for all the efforts of the international organizations, especially the African Union, which are facilitating such dialogues. The African Union’s stand: African problems with African solutions is encouraging,” Cardinal Souraphiel said.

Located in Western Ethiopia, the US$4 billion GERD project has been considered one of the world’s most controversial dam projects due to the protracted international dispute it has triggered among the countries over the sharing of the waters of the Blue Nile.

Set to start its operations by the end of 2022, the dam, when realized, will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, doubling Ethiopia’s power generation capacity and thus allowing for export to neighboring countries within the East African regions.

However, Egypt whose 90 percent of freshwater supply is from the Nile River is concerned that GERD is an existential threat to her population. 

Sudan, located between Egypt and Ethiopia, is also concerned that GERD will endanger its own dams

In July, Cardinal Souraphiel, who doubles as the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia said that the Church “aims at a just solution for fair use of these international waters.”

In the September 10 message, the Prelate said, “As it is known, Ethiopia is building a dam, called the Great Renaissance Dam of Ethiopia, on the Abay River, known also as the Blue Nile, which flows to join the White Nile in Omdurman (Khartoum) and continues its journey to Egypt and ends in the Mediterranean Sea.”

He continued, “Water is life and, as such, it is right that the three countries: Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt are giving it high value.”

The Ethiopian New Year falls on the 11th of September except during leap year when it is celebrated on September 12.

The Ethiopian Calendar has thirteen months. The last month, Pagume, which has only five days (six during leap year), is the shortest.

“Happy Ethiopian New Year! May it be a blessed year of good neighborliness, peace, health, and prosperity,” Cardinal Souraphiel said on New Year eve and added, “I especially would like to convey my New Year best wishes to Sudan and Egypt.”

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

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