As a Dam Rises in Ethiopia, Its Manager Is Found Dead

Engineer Simegnew Bekele at the Grand Renaissance Dam
Engineer Simegnew Bekele at the Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia in June. He was the project’s engineer and unofficial ambassador.CreditLaura Boushnak for The New York Times

The manager of a $4 billion dam under construction on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia was found shot dead on Thursday, drawing an anguished reaction from Ethiopia’s leaders and setting on edge one of Africa’s most contentious development projects.

The project manager, Simegnew Bekele, who was overseeing the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, was found slumped behind the wheel of his Toyota Land Cruiser in Meskel Square in the capital, Addis Ababa, at 8:30 a.m. He had a gunshot wound to his head, the federal police commissioner, Zeinu Jamal, told reporters.

The police also found a pistol inside the car and were trying to identify its owner, Mr. Jamal said. The police commissioner did not say whether he suspected foul play, fueling speculation that the death was linked to Mr. Simegnew’s work.

When completed, the giant Renaissance dam is expected to generate 6,400 megawatts of hydroelectricity that will more than double Ethiopia’s current production and potentially allow the country to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in energy export revenues. But the project has met with stiff resistance from Egypt, where many fear it will cut into the country’s already strained supply of Nile water.

Mr. Simegnew, 57, a short, loquacious man with a salt-and-pepper beard, was the project’s engineer and unofficial ambassador. He explained the dam’s benefits to the Ethiopian taxpayers who funded it, and sought to assure nervous Egyptians that it would cause them no harm.

“This is our baby,” he told The New York Times in May during a tour of the dam in the Ethiopian highlands, five miles from the border with Sudan. “This is what we are saying. Not just me — all Ethiopians.” Read more >>

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