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Egypt’s project in Tanzania refutes Ethiopia’s accusations

The project to build a dam on the Rufiji River in Tanzania, which is being carried out by a joint venture of Egyptian companies, proves wrong Ethiopia that has been claiming Cairo is standing in the way of development projects in Africa.
TRAVERSEE DU FLEUVE RUFIJI, TANZANIE. (Photo by Jean-Denis JOUBERT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

CAIRO — The joint venture of Egyptian companies Arab Contractors and El Sewedy Electric Company, under government guidance, continues to work on the Julius Nyerere hydropower project in the Rufiji River in Tanzania.

On June 1, Egyptian Minister of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities Assem el-Gazzar praised the progress of the project and the commitment to preventive and precautionary measures to protect and ensure the health and safety of the workers part of it. Gazzar’s remarks came during a meeting he held to follow up on the execution of the Julius Nyerere hydropower dam and plant project, in the presence of ministry officials and representatives of the joint venture.

The project aims to control the flooding of the Rufiji River, generate power and preserve the environment. It will include the construction of a 1,025-meter-long (3,363-feet) dam, with a height of 134 meters (440 feet) and a storage capacity of 34 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water. The hydroelectric power plant will generate electricity of 2115 megawatts, Mahmoud Nassar, chief of the Central Agency for Reconstruction affiliated with the Ministry of Housing, said during the June 1 meeting. The power station is to be located across the Rufiji River in the Stiegler's Gorge, at the Selous Game Reserve in the Morogoro region in the southwest of Dar es Salaam city in Tanzania, according to Nassar. 

In July 2019, Egypt and Tanzania laid the foundation stone for the hydroelectric dam project in the Rufiji River basin, which is completely located inside Tanzania. The Rufiji River basin consists of the confluence of Kilombero and Luwegu rivers and is approximately 600 kilometers (373 miles) long, with its source in southwestern Tanzania.

The chairman of Arab Contractors, Mohsen Salah, told Al-Monitor that the dam covers an area of ​​1,350 square kilometers (521 square miles) with a length of 100 kilometers (62 miles). A total 80 kilometer (50 miles) of roads will be constructed for the dam, 40% of which have been completed.

On the stages of the project, Salah explained that the project consists of five main components, including the dam body, the powerhouse, the water diversion tunnel, the energy distribution sites and the permanent bridge connecting the two sides of the project. This is in addition to constructing two quarries on the two sides of the project and a small village for the workers. 

He clarified that 20% of the planned housing camps, including the temporary camp, have been executed. The surveying works for all of the project area have been completed along with the soil exploration works with a total of 223 exploration wells. A concrete plant and a crusher were constructed to secure the materials needed by the project, he added.

Nassar noted that the project includes the construction of four sub-dams to form the water reservoir, and two temporary dams in front and behind the main dam, for the drying and diversion during the construction of the main dam. He added that this also includes a water spillway in the middle of the main dam, an emergency spillway and a 703-meter-long (0.4-mile) tunnel to divert river water, three tunnels to ensure the flow of the water needed for the power station, a permanent concrete bridge and two temporary bridges over the Rufiji River. 

“The project area is serviced by creating temporary roads and permanent roads to facilitate movement and connect the project components,” Nassar said. He further noted that the entire project that started in 2019 will be completed in July 2022.

Ahmed Bahaa Eddin, head of the Nile water department at the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, told Al-Monitor that the dam does not have a negative impact on neighboring countries. “The dam does not affect Egypt’s water quota because it is located on the Rufiji River basin and is far from the Nile River. The Nile Basin riparian countries have a number of river basins. The Rufiji River is 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of the Tanzanian capital. It is a 600-kilometer-long internal river and its annual run-off ranges from 10 to 58 bcm.”

Al-Monitor spoke to Mahmoud Abu Zeid, head of the Arab Water Council and former minister of water resources and irrigation. He believes the Tanzanian dam project would boost Egypt’s influence among the Nile Basin countries, as it refutes Ethiopia’s accusations of obstructing development projects in the basin countries to monopolize the largest share of water. “Egypt is strengthening its relations with the Nile Basin countries, by implementing joint development projects for the benefit of their people without harming anyone, and to take advantage of the annual rainwater that is being wasted in most of these countries.”

Abu Zeid stressed the importance of Egypt's support for Tanzanian funding requests to international institutions. “This is all the more important in light of Egypt's presidency of the African Union [AU].”

On Feb. 10, 2019, AU leaders elected Egypt to chair the AU for one year.

Ethiopia claims that Egypt wanted to deprive it of its development projects and electricity generation in light of the dispute of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, alleging that the project goes beyond development since it is a matter of survival for Ethiopia.

Over the past month, Egypt and Ethiopia exchanged accusations of infringing rights and foiling negotiations on the Nile dam dispute, amid verbal skirmishes, and diplomatic moves by officials of the two countries to mobilize international positions in their respective favor.

Negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have been frozen after the latter withdrew from a meeting in Washington in late February, which was dedicated to concluding a final agreement regarding the rules for filling and operating the Renaissance dam.

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