The move threatens to exacerbate a dispute with Egypt and Sudan over the controversial project.

Authorities in Addis Ababa on September 5th shut down a part of the country’s airspace in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, where the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is being built.

Officials cited security reasons for the closure of the region’s airspace amid unresolved issues between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt on the use of the waters of the Nile and dam itself, Nation reported.

“The ban was imposed after consultations with the Air Force and other relevant government and security bodies,” Wosenyeleh Hunegnaw, director general of the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, told the media.

“Such restrictions are common in the international arena to ensure a country’s security,” Wosenyeleh said. “Ethiopia has also imposed the restrictions to ensure the safety of the dam.”

In an interview with the state-run Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), Ethiopian Air Force Commander Brigadier-General Yilma Merdasa said the country’s air force was fully prepared to prevent any attacks targeting the dam.

“The Ethiopian Air Force is providing a 24-hour air surveillance of the country’s airspace and particularly for the Renaissance Dam,” he said.

The latest development comes two months after the east African nation filled the GERD reservoir in defiance of Sudan’s and Egypt’s warning not to do so before a final deal is reached.

Khartoum and Cairo fear that Ethiopia’s $4.8bn mega-dam project will eventually diminish their share of water from the Nile.

Addis Ababa however argues that the project, which will be Africa’s largest of its kind, will not have any significant harm on the two countries. Ethiopia further argues that the dam will ease the severity of deadly flooding in Sudan.

The Africa Union (AU) brokered the last round of talks between the three countries, which ended in August without any major breakthrough.

The three parties are yet to negotiate on key outstanding issues: rules for filling the dam – particularly during drought season – and the annual operation of the GERD.

In a speech to Parliament later on October 5th, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde said: “This year will be a year where the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will start generating power with the two turbines.”

She also said work was underway to enable a second filling of the giant hydropower dam within the next 12 months, according to Al Jazeera.

Men at work on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. Source: Jacey Fortin 2014

The dam is at the centre of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter.

The structure is about 15km (nine miles) from the Ethiopian border with Sudan on the Blue Nile – a tributary of the Nile River, which gives Egypt’s 100m people about 90% of their fresh water.

The United States decided in September to cut $100m in aid to Ethiopia amid the dispute over the dam.

An unnamed US State Department official said at the time that the decision to pause some funding to Ethiopia was triggered by concerns over Ethiopia’s unilateral decision to start filling the dam before an agreement.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Egypt – Ethiopia – Sudan: Stalemate Continues
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 57, Issue 8

Ethiopia – Sudan: Border Clashes
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 57, Issue 6

Egypt – Ethiopia: Battle for the Nile
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 50, Issue 6

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