In a quest to become Africa’s leading electricity exporter, Ethiopia began diverting a stretch of the Nile on Tuesday to make way for a $4.7 billion hydroelectric dam, Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The project which has been under controversy is worrying downstream countries dependent on the world’s longest river for water as the dam is being built in the middle of the river.

“The dam is being built in the middle of the river so you can’t carry out construction work while the river flowed,” said Mihret Debebe, chief executive officer of the state-run Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, at a ceremony at the site.

“This now enables us to carry out civil engineering work without difficulties. The aim is to divert the river by a few meters and then allow it to flow on its natural course.”

Centerpiece to the plan is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan. Now 21 percent complete, it will eventually have a 6,000 megawatt capacity, the government says, equivalent to six nuclear power plants.

Kenya has plans set to import power from the project scheduled for completion by 2018.Early this month, the African Development Bank launched the 1,068-kilometre high-voltage electricity highway to be built between Kenya and Ethiopia. It will involve the construction of transmission lines of about 437 km in Ethiopia and about 631 km in Kenya and associated AC/DC converter stations at Wolayta-Sodo (Ethiopia) and Suswa (Kenya) substations with a transfer capacity of up to 2,000 MW in either direction.

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