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Ethiopia's 'grand dam' rouses citizens, dismays critics

In April, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced plans to build Africa's largest hydropower plant along the Blue Nile river. The project is popular, but lack of transparency is a concern.

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In the western fringe of Ethiopia on the banks of the Blue Nile river, the nation's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi thundered that the country would overcome all obstacles to complete Africa's largest hydropower plant.

"No matter how poor we are, in the Ethiopian traditions of resolve, the Ethiopian people will pay any sacrifice," he said. "I have no doubt they will, with one voice, say: 'Build the Dam!'"

The government portrays the dam as a 5,900-foot long, 475-foot high beacon of progress that will banish the country's reputation for famine and dependency. The $4.8 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will lift the country out of poverty, the government argues, by electrifying the country's industrialization and making Ethiopia a regional power-hub - and all without a drop of the aid Ethiopia is synonymous in the West for.

But critics worry that the country may have taken self-sufficiency and ambition a bit too far in the way it pushed ahead with its largest-ever project unilaterally and with little transparent planning.

Secrecy has shrouded the 5,250-megawatt plant, nearly 20 miles from the Sudanese border. Although the site was identified in 1964, the decision to go ahead with what had been known as Project X became public less than a month before construction began on April 2.

Its unveiling shocked a host of interested parties.

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