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Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Essay


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Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

In this submission paper, an explanation has been provided as to why GERD is a wicked problem. Further, the submission provided a detailed discussion on the complexities of this project and how the project can be better managed.

Why GERD is a wicked problem?

GERD is a project in Ethiopia and a perfect example of a wicked problem due to numerous factors. First, Nasr & Neef, (2016) noted that the project is undefined. This is because it began in 2011, and the plan was to finish it by 2017. However, according to King & Block, (2014), the project was only 60% completed by august 2017. Presently, the project has not yet been completed considering that we are now in 2019, and the worrying thing is that there do not exist any defined deadlines for its completion according to Chen, H., & Swain, A. (2014). Besides that, there is uncertainty surrounding water drainage into the Dam as the process is expected to take a duration of 5-15 years subject to the agreement between Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia as well as the condition of hydrologic filling. 

According to Chen & Swain, (2014) another reason why the project is a wicked problem is due to the relationship between the nations involved, Egypt and Ethiopia, which represents features of a failed chronic policy. The project depends on goodwill since evidence surrounding the project shows that its designers did not implement the policies involving international relationships between other countries and the project. Egypt argues that construction of the Dam will minimize water drainage into River Nile, and therefore, they oppose the construction. Ethiopia’s response proves that the project completely relies on goodwill as the nation is unable to have any agreements with Egypt. Ethiopia’s argument is that the project will be beneficial and will increase water flow to the River Nile, which is not a good reason to get Egypt convinced (King  & Block, 2014). 

Reduction of water flow to the River Nile is the main problem surrounding this project. Nevertheless, any attempts to agree with Egypt will only solve the symptoms rather than the main issue at hand. Therefore, if there will be a solution between Ethiopia and Egypt, it will barely solve the main issue bothering the project in the present. Chen & Swain, (2014) noted that the project is also under pressure due to the unrealistic expectations of the shareholders. Expectations are that the Dam will be the largest hydro-electric power Dam in Africa. However, these expectations do not consider the water flowing to the neighbouring nations. For these expectations to be realised, neighbouring countries such as Egypt will have to cope with water shortage. Therefore, according to Chen & Swain, (2014) these issues present an incomplete plan to the project.

The fact that Egypt is trying to convince other countries to oppose the construction of the Dam is another challenge that affects the completion rate of the project. Besides this, the project is wicked due to the lack of a clear solution to it. Currently, Sudan supports the development of the project. However, the project’s future is uncertain, as there are no clear agreements on its progress. There is no clarity on how to solve the construction problem with Egypt as the nation has called for the constructions to stop if any negotiations are to be made (King  & Block, 2014).  According to Chen & Swain, (2014), attempts to come into terms with Egypt will halt the construction of a project that has been heavily invested on.

Chen & Swain, (2014) explained that the project might involve several dynamic changes due to its instability. The long duration of 5-15 years to ensure water flow in the Dam proves to be a challenge on the completion of the project, according to King & Block, (2014).  The row between Ethiopia and Egypt is another factor that affects the Dam and could lead to a diplomatic standoff, thus interfering with the Dam’s progress. Additionally, the site in which the Dam is being constructed was identified between the years 1956 and 1964, and therefore, the site was already destabilised by the effects of the 1974 coup de tat (King & Block, 2014).

The project lacks adequate consultation and research. If closely observed, the project shows various discrepancies such as the coup de tat, the uncertainty of filling the Dam, which is anticipated to last for 5-15 years, and the Egypt stalemate. According to Chen & Swain, (2014) the GERD project features high uncertainty in terms of interdependencies and subsystems, risk relations, the difficulty presented by the difficulties involved, the strategic measures taken, viewpoints, consequences of the actions taken and the evolving patterns used. Therefore, there is a challenge to know the exact issues that are affecting the project.

Even though the conclusions made on the Dam are not true or false, they are neither good nor bad; hence making the project wicked concerning the argument made by Chen & Swain, (2014). Ethiopian people will benefit from the increased water volumes, which is a good thing. However, this solution is also bad for Egyptians who will face water shortage. The project also faces a wicked issue due to its uniqueness and the fact that it is the first of its type in Africa.

GERD Project Complexities

Five factors as described by Cooke-Davies, (2011) make the GERD project complex. One of these factors is unhelpful behaviour that refers to stakeholders having different interests and royalties and the decisions which are made are not rational. In the case of GERD, decisions made have not been rational and hence the prolonged delays in finishing the project. Stakeholders like Egypt has other interests and spearheaded others to oppose it. The failure to resolve issues Egypt has with the project points out to the lack of effective communication structures that are vital in reduction of the complexities.

The other factors which characterises the complexities is the failure to appreciate systemicity where a single project such as GERD has the capability of demonstrating more than one type of systemicity. Checkland (1999) was the first to use this term describing the dynamic and complex behaviour that project or systems exhibit. In the GERD project stakeholders are unable to recognise the systemicity and appreciate them and hence the hard lines that have been taken by some parties over the years.

In addition to these factors, the aspect of simplistic management is also visible in this project where the management style being adopted in the project are traditional and hence the rational decisions. The idea was initially developed in 1956 and considering the gap from when the project started in 2011, new style of leadership has been required to ensure that the problems faced are not dealt with in the same way.

Finally, it is evident that there is the issue of an over-ambitious strategic management causing a ripple effect in terms of the problems being faced. In other words, the aspect of being over-ambitious leads to multiple unforeseen challenges. From the viewpoint of Egypt, having the project completed will have a negative effect on its water supply and subsequently lead to inter-community conflicts in this scarce resource.

Among these factors, over-ambitious strategic management could be the most significant for GERD because it would mean never ending problems and further delays in completion of the project. Stakeholders building the project have to be realistic on the issue of ripple effect.

Managing GERD Project

The estimated completion time for the project has been pushed to 2022. Failure to address the issues facing the project will see it pushed further. The need to manage the project effectively is a critical aspect of realising the goals of the project while ensuring that all the stakeholders are appeased. The main stakeholder being Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government should put more strategies that enable proactive management rather than active management. Proactive managing of the project means that issues are identified timely. The Ethiopian authorities should have a better view of the variety of outcomes and disturbances for purposes of ensuring tolerance. In other words, they should use the ASHBY law of variety to deal with emerging situations. The need to gain a balance between adaptive, administrative and enabling leadership will be critical to eliminating technical issues facing the project. A new leadership approach such as adaptive leadership should be adopted that allows problem diagnosis. Institutional practices such as lean agile concepts ought also to be applied in management of the project. Finally, the interests of different stakeholders should be considered and an equitable and fair model developed to ensure satisfaction. Stakeholders in the project should learn the art of compromise or give and take. Being rigid will only do more harm than good (Cooke-Davies, 2011).


According to Whelton, & Ballard, (2002) projects can be a wicked problem if it’s goals are unclear in definition, the underlying problem has no clear solution in sight, attempts of addressing the issues often leads to results which are unforeseen, and also the solutions that are proposed are geared towards having the symptoms addressed rather than the factors attributing the problems. Based on the above analysis, GERD is a wicked problem characterised with complexities and requires immediate changes in its management to achieve the intended goals within the set new timelines.


Chen, H., & Swain, A. (2014). The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: Evaluating its sustainability standard and geopolitical significance. Energy Development Frontier3(1), 11.

Checkland, P. (1999). Systems thinkingRethinking management information systems. Hoboken, New Jersey, United States: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 45-56.

King, A., & Block, P. (2014). An assessment of reservoir filling policies for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Journal of Water and Climate Change5(2), 233-243.

Nasr, H., & Neef, A. (2016). Ethiopia’s challenge to Egyptian hegemony in the Nile River basin: the case of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Geopolitics21(4), 969-989.

Cooke-Davies, T. (2011, August). Aspects of complexity: Managing projects in a complex world. Project Management Institute.

Whelton, M., & Ballard, G. (2002, August). Wicked problems in project definition. In Proceedings of the International Group for Lean Construction 10th Annual Conference, Brazil.

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