Ethiopia: The Meles Jinx, the GERD Nixed?

To “build the dam” or to “abandon” it:  That was Meles’ question!

Exactly four years ago, almost to the day, on April 2, 2011, the late Meles Zenawi gave a speech in Guba, Benishangul Gumuz in Western Ethiopia, setting out his dream and vision for what he called the “Millennium Dam” (later called “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” (GERD)) by his disciples.  In that speech, Meles made a prescient, almost prophetic, observation about the “Dam” which now haunts in daylight his disciples in the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (T-TPLF):

The estimated cost [for the Dam] will be 3.3 billion Euros, or 78 billion birr. As we will be financing several other projects in our plan, the expense will be an additional and heavy burden on us. All our efforts to lighten this have been unsuccessful, leaving us with only two options. Either to abandon the project or do whatever we must to raise the required funds. I have no doubt which of these difficult choices the Ethiopian people will make. No matter how poor we are, in the Ethiopian traditions of resolve, the Ethiopian people will pay any sacrifice. I have no doubt they will, with one voice, say: “Build the Dam!” (Emphasis added.)

Is it time now to abandon the Dam?

Meles understood that in the final analysis whether he will have the biggest and largest concrete monument in Africa to bear and celebrate his name for eternity would be determined by the availability of hard cold cash and a helluva a lot of it. Meles had a cockamamie plan to milk his cash cows for the project.

Shortly after Meles made the Guba speech, he issued an order requiring  all domestic “banks to purchase National Bank of Ethiopia securities worth 27 percent of each loan they disburse” allegedly raising “12.6 billion birr for the government to invest in infrastructure projects in its first 16 months.”

In September 2011, it was reported that “Ethiopian born Saudi Billionaire, Mohammed  Al-Amoudi, pledged to contribute 1.5 Billion Birr(about USD 88 mln) to the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance dam project.”  (Interestingly, a report last month announced, “Ethiopia’s leading private oil marketer plans to build a $5 billion refinery within ten years… National Oil’s shareholders include Saudi billionaire Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, whose investment portfolio in construction, gold, hotels and energy has helped amass an estimated fortune of over $10 billion…”  (Wouldn’t it make more sense for the “shareholders of National oil” to use some of their billions of dollars to save the GERD now than wait for another 10 years to build an oil refinery? I am just sayin’, if you know what I am sayin’.)

By June 2012, according to “state media reports”, “Ambassador” Girma Biru reported raising “over $3.3 mln bond purchase and [receiving] over $123,000 grant in the United States.” That report alleged, “over $1.5 million” was raised in “Washington, D.C., [from the] Ethiopian community.”

In September 2012, according to Bereket “Stonewall” Simon, (the “Communications Minister” who set up an elaborate disinformation campaign to conceal Meles’ death in July 2012 by claiming Meles was on vacation to recover from “exhaustion resulting from long public service”) reported as “co-chair of the fundraising committee for the dam” that “as much as 5 billion birr has been raised for the project so far from the public by selling bonds that pay 5.5 or 6 percent interest.” (Simon reminds me of Iraq’s cartoonish “Chemical Ali”, Saddam Hussien’s Information Minister, who used to tell reporters during the war, “The Americans are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender, it is they who will surrender.” Of course, the Americans had parked their tanks and Humvees outside the Information Ministry as Ali was pronouncing their doom. Meles was already dead when Simon was telling the world he was on vacation.)

By May 2013, the estimated cost of the Dam was USD$4.7 billion.

In September 2012, Jan Mikkelsen, IMF country head in Ethiopia  urged the Meles regime to stop spending like a drunken sailor. “I think there’s a need to rethink some of those projects a little bit to make sure that they don’t absorb all domestic financing just for that project… If you suck in all domestic financing to just a few projects that money will be used for this and not for normal trade and normal business.”

In June 2013, Mikkelsen said the 27 per cent requirement imposed on the banks by Meles after his “Dam” speech in April 2011 had “put a large burden on private banks in Ethiopia and it prevents [them] from increasing banking services… [Banks] are losing money on this transaction… so it’s quite onerous.”

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