Ethiopian leaders are shocked over the suspected murder of the manager and chief engineer of Africa’s largest hydropower project under construction in a busy square in the capital early on Thursday.
The body of 57-year-old Simegnew Bekele, chief of the $4 billion Grand Renaissance Dam project, was found inside his Toyota Land Cruiser with a gunshot wound to the head in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa around 8.30am.
Zeynu Jemal, head of Ethiopia’s Federal Police Commission, said Simegnew was found slumped inside the vehicle with a bullet wound behind his right ear. A Colt pistol was found inside the car.
Zeynu did not say who the pistol belonged to or confirm whether the engineer was murdered.
Social media, however, carried posts pointing to possible role of corrupt officials involved in the dam project or Egypt in the death of Simegnew.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed his sadness and shock over the engineer’s death.
Upset over the ‘murder’ of the man who was the face of the Renaissance dam, locals clashed with police as they tried to lay flowers for him near the crime scene.
Simegnew’s death came hours before he was to address people to allay their fears over the delay in the dam project and reports of corruption by some officials.
Neighbouring countries like Egypt were disputing the project amid concern it may cut off their access to the river. After Cairo expressed strong reservation, Egypt and Ethiopia held a summit where Abiy assured Egypt a fair share of Nile.
Work on the dam, which is expected to make Ethiopia Africa’s major exporter of power, started in 2011 and 63% of it has been completed.
Two of the dam’s 16 turbines will start generating power from next year. Once it becomes fully operational, the dam is expected to generate 6,400 megawatts per hour, almost doubling the country’s current capacity.