Since His Death On The Nile, The Chief Engineer Of An Ethiopian Hydro Dam Has Become A National Hero

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Ethiopian hydro dam
The construction of the multi-million-dollar Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has been mired in problems including financing, delayed timelines, political infighting, and opposition from Egypt. Image: Via Wiki Commons By Jacey Fortin

Simegnew Bekele, a top Ethiopian engineer working on the country’s controversial multimillion-dollar Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, died at the wheel of his Toyota Land Cruiser in Central Addis Ababa on July 26, 2018, with a bullet in his head.

His death, later declared a suicide by the police, shocked Ethiopia and turned him into an instant hero for many who had come to associate him with of the country’s ambitious new dawn driven by reforms initiated by new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

His was the public face of plans for a new Ethiopia that would no longer be known for famines and war, but as an African powerhouse, according to a Bloomberg report.

Many Ethiopians don’t believe that Simegnew committed suicide.

“Why do you buy a ticket and pack your bag to go, if you are going to shoot yourself?” said Membere Mekonnen, Simegnew’s 72-year-old mother-in-law who now stays with his children, in a Bloomberg interview.

Construction of the Renaissance Dam has been mired in problems including financing, delayed timelines, political infighting, opposition from Egypt that almost turned into a war, and death.

Construction of the $4 billion dam, one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Africa, has been delayed by more than two years.

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Matina Stevis-Gridneff, former Africa correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, knew Simegnew. The engineer tasked to deliver this project had come to represent Ethiopia’s patriotic ambitions, Stevis-Gridneff told BBC.

“He was someone who was extremely patriotic and had devoted his life to the betterment of his country,” she said.