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

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At a launch in Addis Ababa, the Egyptian embassy's spokesman was astonished to learn a reservoir more than twice the size of Singapore would be created by a barrage Cairo had not been consulted on. Over four-fifths of the water for the Nile, Egypt's lifeblood, comes from Ethiopia's highlands, leading to historic tensions over usage.

Also uninformed was the Eastern Africa Power Pool, which was just putting the finishing touches on a regional integration study that leans heavily on exported Ethiopian hydropower. "We look forward to getting more information so we can factor it into our master plan,” Jasper Oduor, its Executive Secretary, said.

Similarly, the unilateral move was a blow to the Nile Basin Initiative, which is supposed to establish cooperative management of the river, and Norwegian consultants whose ongoing studies on a potential cascade of Blue Nile dams were rendered obsolete by the announcement.

The covert approach may have had the twin purposes of minimizing foreign opposition to the scheme while maximizing the impact of its announcement on Ethiopians - if so, it seems to be working.

Since Meles' speech, the public has been bombarded with advertisements, posters, reports, and speeches about the dam, as the state sells bonds to partially fund it. Most of a patriotic citizenry, who consider Egypt's domination of the Nile an acute injustice, approve of the scheme - even opposition politicians.

"We need this resource to lift people out of the abject poverty we have been wallowing in for centuries,” former member of parliament Temesgen Zewdie says. “There’s no question it’s an idea the Ethiopian people support.”

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