Ethiopia: Grand renaissance dam engineer’s death ruled as suicide

The death of the chief engineer on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, whose body was found inside a Toyota Land Cruiser near a busy square in Addis Ababa, has been declared a suicide by Ethiopian police.

Simegnew Bekele, 53, was found in the car on 26 July with a gunshot wound to the head, and a firearm beside him. Mr Simegnew had been the public face of the project, and news of his death prompted an outpouring of grief in Ethiopia and a demand for an investigation.

Zeinu Jamal, the country’s commissioner of police, told reporters on Friday that the evidence indicated that Mr Simegnew had taken his own life. He said the gun found at the scene was his own, the car was locked from the inside and phone calls and letters he made in the period leading up to his death "sounded like he was saying goodbye to everyone".

The letters and phone call transcripts have not been released.

In the aftermath of the death, there was widespread speculation about foul play linked to the dam, and connections were made to other recent murders in Ethiopia, including that of Deep Kamara, the country manager for Dangote Cement, in May.

Other theories suggested Mr Simegnew had been under intense pressure over the project, a large part of which was financed by popular donation, and which has sparked a long-running diplomatic row with Egypt.

He had been in the capital to give a news conference addressing concerns about delays in the project, as well as allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

The dam, which was originally costed at $4bn, was supposed to have been finished two years ago, however it is reportedly only 65% complete, and is likely to go well over budget.

In the last week of July, Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, said that at the current pace of construction the dam might not be completed in the next 10 years.

Image: Work on the renaissance dam is reportedly running behind schedule (Government of Ethiopia)

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