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Ethiopia: Did the rush to complete Gilgel Gibe II for the election result in its collapse?

Posted: Guraandhala/February 15, 2010 · Finfinne Tribune | Gadaa.com | Comments (3)

A blogger at the International Rivers, Peter Bosshard, broke the news (citing an African Confidential news alert) that part of the main tunnel of the Gilgel Gibe II dam collapsed merely two weeks after its inauguration. The blogger also charges “the Gilgel Gibe deal was awarded without a feasibility study, and construction started without the legally required environmental permit.”

The Italian news agency, IPS, also confirms the story citing Salini, the builder of the dam. IPS says, “barely two weeks after it was formally opened on Jan. 14, the Gilgel Gibe II hydroelectric power station suffered a collapse in its main tunnel, forcing closure of the new facility while it is repaired.”

One may be tempted to gloss over the story as the collapse could be minor or it could easily be fixed in the coming few days or weeks. Shelving this story is a big mistake as it does not shine the truth on the root cause of the collapse. One may also engage in endless debates about whether the dam project was tainted with corruption from the get-go or whether the dam could have severe environmental damages. However, that does not address the bigger picture of the issue.

Political Nature of the Gilgel Gibe II Dam Collapse
The Gilgel Gibe II was supposed to be completed in September 2007; and its construction was delayed due to engineering failures resulting from inadequate studies. However, its final phase was rushed to completion just a few months prior to the May 2010 election – to be presented to the public as a trophy for TPLF’s so called “development” platform. The question one needs to ask is at what cost of safety is TPLF using these shoddy projects for its political purpose? More questions …

– Should opposition politicians bring up this important nature of TPLF’s “development” platform – the fact none of them are being done with adequate engineering feasibility studies and, therefore, they lack safety and are environmentally unfriendly?

Did the rush to complete Gilgel Gibe II for the election result in its collapse?

  • Yes (74%, 20 Votes)
  • No (26%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 27

Loading ... Loading …

– One has to wonder how many of the construction projects “littering Addis Ababa (Finfinne)” (read this BBC story about how Addis Ababa was littered with building sites) would face the fate of the Gilgel Gibe II Dam?

– If a high-profile project that TPLF desperately needed for the election was damaged due to a serious engineering mishap just two-weeks after its inauguration, how many other low-profile projects, whom TPLF is using as political trophies, would face the fate of the Gilgel Gibe II Dam?

– Therefore, we ask you to cast your vote for this poll and provide your comments, if any, – “did the rush to complete Gilgel Gibe II for the election result in its collapse?”

Mr. Zenawi at the Inauguration of Gilgel Gibe-I

When Does TPLF Realize Gilgel Gibe Will Not Save It From Electoral Defeat?

Remember 2005? Those who tuned to the Ethiopian state-owned TPLF media could remember how much the construction of Gilgel Gibe-I was propagandized for the election purpose. Merely a year after the inauguration of Gilgel Gibe-I and after countless reruns of Gilgel Gibe-I stories, TPLF faced its defeat at the 2005 election.

Ethiopia: Did the rush to complete Gilgel Gibe II for the election result in its collapse?
What’s up with ultra-radical communist regimes and dams? When it comes to dams, no one beats in the pride North Korea has for dams. Look at the failed state’s official symbol shown here – the dam holds a central place in “development.” Despite having many dams for several years now, North Korea is a failed state (actually, Ethiopia is the 16th failed state while North Korea takes the 17th place). In addition, North Koreans die of famine and are dependent on international food aid. Does that sound like a familiar description of Ethiopia?

South Africa – Despite the glittering sky-creepers in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Durban, South African majority was repressed as third-class citizens under the Apartheid system

Take Apartheid’s South Africa – for all of economic indicators, South Africa had scored economic “achievements” even under the Apartheid system and even when the rest of the world put an embargo on that repressive regime. Most of the buildings in Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria, and other cities of South Africa were built while black South Africans were third-class citizens (after “colored” group, including Indians, Arabs, etc) of their own country under the Apartheid regime.

In conclusion, it’s the nature of the regime, whether it’s repressive, democratic, etc, that determines if a country is on a path to people-centered economic development. In a country where the public is shut out of the political process, “people-centered economic development” resulting in an increase in the standard of living can not be achieved; this follows the Amartya Sen’s Law:

“Shortfalls in food supply do not cause widespread deaths in a democracy because vote-seeking politicians will undertake relief efforts; but even modest food shortfalls can create deadly famines in authoritarian societies.” (Amartya Sen is an Indian Nobel Prize-winning economist)

Debunking the myth that Ethiopia's GDP "just became better than that of Kenya"
Looking at the following World Bank data, it’s false to say that Ethiopia’s GDP became better than that of Kenya for the first time in 2010 (a misleading story on Nazret.com). During the dictatorial Derg regime, Ethiopia’s GDP was much larger than that of Kenya (and also growing at a much faster rate than that of Kenya) – all throughout 1980’s while Ethiopia was waging bloody internal wars, in the mist of a biblical famine and under extreme socialist system. Ethiopia’s GDP made a nose dive downwards in 1992 when TPLF took power in Addis Ababa – the downward trend during TPLF’s reign gave Kenya the advantage to be the biggest economy in east Africa. Therefore, even though Ethiopia’s GDP was much better than that of Kenya during the Derg regime, that alone had not made Derg democratic. In other words, GDP size has no relation to whether a regime is repressive or democratic; it is possible for undemocratic regimes, such as Derg and Woyane, to have a bigger GDP size than any relatively democratic country.


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  1. Administrator

    Feb 16, 10 at 12:42 am


    1. sirreesaa said,

      February 7, 2010
      @ 5:11 pm

      One can criticize the Tigre based regime on several issues. It is undemocratic and violent. But the criticism of its development efforts is like the very ambitious hydroelectric production plan should be highly appreciated. Say what you will please encourage progress attempted towards democracy and development.


      Admin’s Note: Sirreesaa, it is because Zenawi’s government is undemocratic regime that it can never bring about people-centered economic development resulting in an increase in the standard of living of the people. You can not say the regime is “undemocratic” and turn around to say it’s bringing about people-centered economic development; the enrichment of EFFORT and MIDROC owners can not be called ‘development’.

      The article is saying exactly what the Noble Prize winner economist postulated: that a non-democratic government can not bring any increase in the standard of living of the people since the officials of the non-democratic government are not accountable to the people – that means, people do not have the power to vote out officials when bad and misguided policies are being implemented by the government. Therefore, the government lacks a feedback loop – from the people about how the government is doing. That is what’s apparent in Ethiopia.

      UNDP also agrees that GDP size or GDP per capita do not tell anything about how the majority of the people are living (unemployment, inflation, etc). Therefore, UNDP has its own index called HDI (Human Development Index) instead of GDP per capita. If you have read the HDI report for Ethiopia in 2009, there has been no improvement in the Standard of Living (read the report here); in other words, there was no people-centered economic development, but only the enrichment of few individuals owning EFFORT and MIDROC.

    2. Mussa GHedi said,

      February 8, 2010
      @ 6:14 pm

      Tyrannical regimes tend to resort to unilateral projects with severe lack of passing through accepted project appraisal phases, not unique to the woyane regime as such, in Ethiopia’s case, the durg did the same turning unrecoverable virgin forests and pasture land into unproductive state farms or disastrous resettlement schemes.

      The difference between the two regimes in my opinion is that the durg did not do what did to gain votes as the woyane does because its arrogance and political programme did not bother it about threat from opposition groups. Though woyane and its agazi military machine is none less than what durg had, it still wary of its position maintaining power. I do not think this is the manifestation of the strength of the numerous opposition groups but its own awareness of it misdeeds that definitely will backfire.

      Gaadaa is right raising this issue of phony projects (dams, roads, bridges and condos) that I believe might have only allowed fathomless corruption to flourish in the country. I remember recently reading an article that appear to have been written by an knowledgeable person on the danger of trying to construct condos at every corner of the country without regard to the country’s geological variation and disregarding some area’s proneness to earthquakes. Who know if the required type of concrete reinforcement, steel rods or the what cement-to-aggregate ratio is being used save the repair and maintenance schedule that is probably not even considered. I do not think the motive for carrying out nearly all these projects is far from seeking undue credit and perhaps consolidate power through phony and deceit.

      Allah Bless

      Allah forbid if a slight earthquake or tremor hits one of these areas the devastating consequence could be unthinkable for the poor fellow country people who may not see any sort of relief effort reach them on time.

    3. Sirreessaa said,

      February 8, 2010
      @ 9:43 pm

      I appreciate the reply by Admin on my comment. It is quite serious and honest. But it really misses the point.

      The point is – we had several undemocratic rulers in the past. But never has the development effort been given the present focus and the number of projects planned and completed is quite impressive. I just tend to appreciate any progress irrespective of who achieved it. Politics is politics but a hydroelectric power station of this magnitude is a big deal not only for the rulers but for the people and the country as a whole. As economist I know very well the importance of power supply to the economy as a whole. Today’s rulers may disappear soon but the electric power plants the roads and other significant development projects planned and completed by them remain at the service of the country for long time to come. Politics is one thing but we must be able to see and appreciate reality if we can ever make progress even in politics


      Admin’s Note: You said, “But never has the development effort been given the present focus.” Did you mean the “exploitation” effort? As explained before, it’s a misnomer to say “development” when there’s no increase in the standard of living of the people; “exploitation” is a better term. A key question here is “development for whom and for what purpose?”

      Take South Africa, a country with dark past, but bright present. Now, South Africa has close to 10 hydroelectric dams – almost all of whom were constructed during the Apartheid era: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Hydroelectric_power_stations_in_South_Africa You’re not saying that these dams, when constructed, were built by the Apartheid rules for the “development” of the black majority, are you? The purpose of the dams was to exploit the rich resources of South Africa for Apartheid rulers and supporters (is that specific enough for you?)

      The only way Zenawi’s “Revolutionary Democracy” becomes anything other than the grand “exploitation” policy it is now is when it benefits the majority of the people. However, like Apartheid was not designed to benefit the majority; Zenawi’s “Revolutionary Democracy” is not inherently designed for the majority, but for the few, the OLIGARCHY. That’s why it was explained earlier that a system that’s undemocratic can’t bring about an increase in the standard of living of the people – it’s not designed to do so.

      In short, no one is against the actual – physical – construction of the dam(s), but only against the purpose they’ll serve once they become operational – do they serve to make the few filthy rich? Or will they bring about an increase in the standard of living of the people? Right now, their only purpose is to make the Woyane oligarchy filthy rich at the expense of the people and the environment.

      You also said: “Today’s rulers may disappear soon.” Well, if you continue to have wishy-washy stance on them, and continue to call their grand “exploitation” scheme “development,” they will never go away. Back to South Africa — one of the main factors for the crumbling of the Apartheid regime was the UN economic embargo against South Africa in 1987 (in which 130 countries voluntarily participated); 3 years later – Mandela was a free man. In other words, Apartheid was only stopped when the world recognized (in one voice) that what was going on in South Africa was not “development,” but “exploitation,” and the world did not want to be part of it.

    4. Birraa said,

      February 9, 2010
      @ 5:35 am

      Obbo Sirreessaa,

      You stated that you are an economist by profession, and claimed as such building of infrastructure like hydroelectric power contribute to economic growth. I agree with you on that at face value. But infrastructure is just one element of the core of foundations of steady and sustainable economic growth. If may not be aliened with the TPLF/EPRDF government, let me ask you one question: Is the current regime building the right path towards economic growth?

      Economic development research abounds that there are a number of internal obstacles to economic development: underdeveloped financial systems, the lack of economic freedom, macroeconomic instability, an underdeveloped infrastructure, etc.

      Meles’ government seems to handle just one element of these core problems: infrastructure. The regime is not laying any foundation for independent development of financial systems. There is no economic freedom in Ethiopia that creates competitive environment that builds entrepreneurship. Banks are overdrawn by companies affiliated with the regime, and the default rate is extremely high. Still those companies which cannot repay loans are issued new loans.

      Next comes the main question that which companies and businesses are running and controlling the Ethiopian economy? It is a talk of the town that Ethiopia’s economy is controlled and dominated by TPLF-owned and -affiliated companies like EFFORT and its subsidiaries. And few other PDOs affiliated organizations also play some part. Then comes Alamudi’s companies. Therefore, Ethiopia’s economy is controlled by cronyism-driven and rent-seeking companies affiliated with the regime and Alamudi.

      If you are an economist you know that the very purpose of cronyism-driven and rent-seeking companies is enrichment of the few who are involved in them. Therein comes one of Gadaa admin’s assertion of the lack of human dimension to so-called development projects of Meles. Ethiopia only affords sustainable development schemes that take into account both the human dimension as well as the environment. What is development that enriches few and impoverishes many more. Cronyism and rent-seeking just do that.

      And if you’re an economist as you claim you should know the empirical researches and the findings of known development economists, among others, like Professor Raj M. Desai, Professor Gordon Tullock and Professor Edmund Walsh on cronyism and rent-seeking, and their adverse impacts on economic growth and development. They all conclude that cronyism and rent-seeking, close connections between political leaders and some favored companies and businesses undermines competitiveness in economic markets and erodes transparency and accountability in the core of the political system. Cronyism-driven and rent-seeking companies cannot be engines for sustainable and steady economic growth. Rather their very purpose is profiteering and exploitation by few connected and affiliated with politicians than laying a foundation for economic growth that improves the welfare of significant number of the population.

      Even worse, TPLF-affiliated and Alamudi-owned companies are taking a form of monopoly. And you know what the monopolies do to economically underdeveloped areas. They suck them dry. That is exactly what the cronyism-driven and rent-seeking companies are doing to Ethiopia right now. They are not developing the country in a strict sense. They are bleeding every aspect of the country to enrich the few connected people through cronyism and rent-seeking.

      Therefore, there is no sin in criticizing what is going on in Ethiopia in the economic growth itself irrespective of political agenda. The current regime is not building a foundation for growth; they are building a foundation to enrich themselves and those affiliated with them. Gadaa.com is right in raising the issue. Sirreessaa, as an economist, you should know better.

  2. Tazabi

    Feb 17, 10 at 12:55 am

    I was very much concerned about this news and searched google to see if there are similar speculations out there. I found “http://nazret.com/blog/index.php?title=ethiopia_salini_working_to_fix_problem_w&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1” , another Ethiopian news web site, which mentions some minor issues that the Italian vendor is in a process of fixing, but not to the extent stated in this site. Since this site monitors all comments before publishing them, I will be surprised if this comment is posted. However, not publishing my comment will at least give me a confirmation that this is, indeed an exaggerated rumor. Again, there are many fundamental issues that we can raise against this government, but picking on every/any progress at the cost of our poor people is irresponsible. Why not continue to voice our concern about many political prisoners that Meles continues to deny their freedom of speech? Please stick to the truth if you want support from many Ethiopians such as myself. Confirm your news before rushing to publish them? Do you know the main intent for Mr. Bosshard is to stop Gilgel Gibe III from going forward, as there is a hypothesis that it might affect some neighboring countries interest?

    ——- ————–
    Admin’s Note:
    Confirm your news here (“your” most trusted news source): http://www.ethiopiafirst.com/Radio/Bens_PoV_on_Gibe_II.mp3

    We’ve checked at:
    VOA News: Tunnel Collapse Closes Ethiopia’s New Hydropower Project – http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/africa/east/Tunnel-Collapse-Closes-Ethiopias-New-Hydropower-Project-84054397.html
    “10 days after the inauguration, Italian public television reported Gilgel Gibe Two had been forced to shut down. It said the closure was due to a collapse in a 26 kilometer long tunnel that shoots water to the station’s four massive turbines from a dam on the Omo River far above.”

    Bloomberg News: Ethiopian Factories Ordered to Halve Power Use, Capital Reports – http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601116&sid=a7dHDl7hFeIo
    “Repairing the tunnel to the Gilgel Gibe II hydropower station could take as long as two months” … [no minor damage that takes two months to fix]

    Afrique en Ligue – Ethiopia’s newest hydro-power plant shut after tunnel blockade – http://www.afriquejet.com/news/africa-news/ethiopia-hydro-power-plant-shut-2010021344049.html
    “Italian engineers said weaknesses were detected at the Gibe II power plant a few days ago, leading to the indefinite closure of the power plant which was commissioned in January.”

    The New York Times – Ethiopian Hydro Plant Suffers Setback – http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/ethiopian-hydro-plant-suffers-setback/
    “The event was attributed to “an unforeseen geological event,” which caused a partial collapse inside a 16-mile water tunnel at the newly opened Gibe II hydropower plant, according to a statement from the Italian construction firm behind the project, Salini Costruttori.” … [a geological event is not minor, specially, given the fact that the latest collapse wasn’t the first to take place at the Dam. During the construction, a similar damage had also occurred]

    Afrik.com – Ethiopian government admits major dam collapse – http://en.afrik.com/article16938.html
    “According to Alemayehu Tegenu, minister of mines and energy, and Meheret Debebe, CEO of Ethiopian Power Corporation, the 26km tunnel that dispatches water from Gilgel Gibe I collapsed as a result of a geological event in the area, confirming a communiqué released by Salini last week.” … [a geological event does not stop from coming back since man’s engineering marvel is not adequate enough to control it.]

  3. Tazabi

    Feb 24, 10 at 4:01 pm

    Indeed ambitious goal with sad setbacks. I hope, for the sake of the people, this issue will be addressed.

    Thank you Gadaa