10 biggest dams in Africa

By , K24 Digital
On Wed, 1 Nov, 2023 02:44 | 4 mins read
The Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia. PHOTO/Print
The Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia. PHOTO/Print

With the continent colloquially named the richest continent in the world due to its rich natural mineral deposits, favourable weather and fertile arable soils, it also boasts some of the world’s biggest water reservoirs.

1. Grand Renaissance Dam (Ethiopia)

The Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Ethiopia is currently the biggest dam in Africa and was previously known as the Millennium Dam. It is located close to the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile. Construction started in 2011 and the dam currently generates 6,000 megawatts (MW) annually. The reservoir holds back almost 63 billion m2 (68 billion ft2) of water and is one of the largest reservoirs on the continent. Its surface measures 1,680 km2.

The dam’s walls are 145 metres (475 feet) high and 1,800 metres (5,900 feet) long. The GERD is estimated to cost close to Sh753 billion (US$5 billion), about seven per cent of the 2016 Ethiopian gross national product.

2. Aswan High Dam (Egypt)

The Aswan Dan Dam is located close to the city of the same name In southern Egypt. It holds back 169 km2 of a lake called Lake Nasser.

The turbines produce 2,100MW and due to the high production capacity, the Aswan High Dam ranks as Africa’s second largest. Differences with Gamal Abdel Nasser led the US and Britain to withdraw their financial support of the project in 1956, whereupon Nasser turned to the Soviet Union for assistance. It took 11 years to build and was opened in 1971.

3. Cahora Bassa Dam (Mozambique)

One of the world’s biggest dams is located on the Zambezi River in western Mozambique. The Cahora Bassa Dam has a capacity of 2,075MW. It is 171 metres (560 feet) high and 303 metres (994 feet) wide at the crest and has a volume of 510 million cubic metres.

The Cahora Bassa hydroelectric dam was the last megaproject constructed in Africa during the era of decolonisation and, at the time of its construction, was the fifth largest dam in the world. The major part of electricity produced is exported to South Africa. A consortium of Portuguese, German, British, and South African companies built the dam. Its construction began in 1969 and was completed in 1974, but the last of five 425 MW generators was installed in 1979.

4. Gilgel Gibe III (Ethiopia)

The dam is located 350 kms southwest of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, on the Omo River in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region State (SNNPRS). The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation developed the project at a cost of Sh275 billion (US$1.83 billion).

In total, it produces 1,870 MW and is, with a height of 243 metres (797 feet), the fourth largest dam in Africa. Gibe III was launched in July 2006, with the first unit starting its trial-running generation in September 2013. It was fully commissioned in December 2016.

5. Inga Dams (DR Congo)

The Inga Dams in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) consists of two single dams on the Congo River. Inga 1 (generating 351 MW) and Inga 2 (1,424 MW).

They were commissioned in 1972 and 1982, respectively, as part of a failed industrial development scheme under then-dictator Mobutu Sese Sekko. The two dams currently operate at a 50 per cent capacity because they have not been properly maintained in recent years.

The two dams are located in the west of the DRC, 225km southwest of Kinshasa. The Congolese government plans to start an Inga 3 project, a 4,800 MW hydroelectric plant that would cost Sh2.1 trillion US$14 billion.

6. Merowe Dam (Sudan)

Downstream on the Nile less than a decade ago Sudan completed the Merowe Dam. The dam, also known as Merowe High Dam, has a length of about nine kilometres and a crest height of up to 67m. It consists of concrete-faced rockfill dams on each riverbank.

The planned generating capacity for the dam is 1,250 MW from 10 Francis turbines each having a capacity of 125 MW. Its dimensions make it the largest contemporary hydropower project in Africa. The dam was inaugurated on March 3, 2009.

7. Akosombo Dam (Ghana)

Also known as the Volta Dam, it sits at the base of Lake Volta, on the Volta River in south east Ghana. Lake Volta has a surface area of 8,502 km² and is the largest reservoir in the world. The turbines generate 912 MW, but the dam also serves as flood control.

The Lake Volta itself is popular for being a way for trade and travel. At 124m tall and 660m long, the dam was built between 1961 and 1965 and completed a month ahead of schedule. Funded by the World Bank, UK and US, the ambitious project has been called “the largest single investment in the economic development plans of Ghana”.

8. Kainji Dam (Nigeria)

Located on the Niger River (the third longest river in Africa and the principal river in western Africa), the Kainji Dam is the seventh biggest dam in Africa.

It was built in just four years and opened in 1968. It is 72m high and 7.2km long and generates a total of 760 MW of power. Part of the dam’s function was to control the Niger’s waters downstream to the point the Niger meets the river Kaduna. It also provided waters for irrigation and fishing.

9. Tekeze Dam (Ethiopia)

With a height of 188 metres, Tekeze Dam is the highest dam in Africa. It is a double-curvature arch dam located between Amhara and Tigray region of Ethiopia. It is situated on the Tekeze River, a tributary of the Nile that flows through one of the deepest canyons in the world.

However, with its four 75 MW turbines, the dam has a productivity of just 300 MW, so it only generates one-twentieth of the hydroenergy produced by its big brother the GERD. It took seven years to build the dam that was opened in 2009.

10. Bujagali Dam (Uganda)

The Bujagali Dam in Uganda is located on the Nile River close to Lake Victoria and generates 250 MW. The dam has been operating since 2012 and is the biggest hydroelectrical dam in Uganda.

The construction of two new dams, Karuma und Isimba, could change this but this would mean the resettlement of thousands of farmers and the flooding of protected areas.

Bujagali Dam was initially approved in 1994, as the lowest-cost option to increase power production in the country, but its construction only began in 2007 and was inaugurated in October 2012.

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