Ethiopians are in shock and in a state of disbelief following the tragic death of Semegnew Bekele, chief engineer of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. He was found dead in his car and shot near his right ear at Mesqel Square, the busiest traffic area in the capital.
Police have not confirmed the number of shots fired and the type of bullets used, except to say that they have found a handgun in the vehicle, a light-gold Toyota V8.
Police arrived at the scene at 8:20am on Thursday morning, July 26, 2018, to find Simegnew dead from a gunshot inside the car with the engine still running. Members of the Federal Police and the Addis Abeba Police arrived 20 minutes behind local forces who responded from QirkosDistrict. His car was found parked facing east towards Africa Avenue. Police had to break the right back window to gain access to the locked vehicle.
Federal Police Commissioner General, Zeynu Jemal, has confirmed the same day that police have found a Colt handgun in his car laying next to the right side of his body.
Simegnew left his home around 6:45am with his travelling luggage as he was planning to leave for the project site on the same day, according to people close to his family. He was expected to brief members of selected media at the project site. Three more pieces of luggage were later found in his home located near Flintstone Homes along the road from Goro to Summit, in Bole District.
His housemaid, who takes care of his three children – two boys and a girl – spoke to the state broadcaster, Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), confirming his departure to the project site, located at Juba in the Benishangul Gumuz Regional State.
“Unlike previous days, he left home without even having his breakfast,” she told the state broadcaster. “He only had coffee.”
Police have confirmed that Simegnew went to his Addis Abeba office located inside Zequala Complex on Jomo Kenyata Street, near the UNECA. Eyewitnesses said that a street boy first noticed the body in the car and informed people in the area. The police then took the boy to the police station for an investigation. Simegnew’s co-workers from his Addis Abeba office were also placed under police custody for investigations; It was not disclosed if any of those in police custody have been released since Fortune went to press.
Although the cause of death is due to a gunshot, it remains unclear whether it was a homicide or an act of suicide.
After their arrival on the crime scene, a police forensic team, including two-non-nationals wearing protective gear, conducted investigations that lasted for almost three hours. The body was finally removed at 11:20am and taken to St. Paul’s Hospital where forensic examinations were conducted. Police also impounded his vehicle, a government car with plate number A29722, for further investigation. The forensic examination at the hospital took over six hours, according to people familiar with the case.
The autopsy report has not been delivered to his family, according to the same sources. Officials at the hospital have, however, told his family and co-workers, including Azeb Asnake, CEO of Ethiopian Electric Power, that they will deliver the report to the police. The family received the body the next day, and religious rites and a wake were held at his home.
A committee composed of his family members, co-workers and friends, along with representatives from the Addis Abeba Police Commission and Ministry of Water Irrigation & Electricity (MoWIE) has been formed to organize his funeral ceremony, which is expected to include a marching band. The funeral was initially scheduled for Friday but was postponed until Sunday, July 29.
It was a life publicly associated with the nation’s pride in erecting Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam, the Renaissance Dam.
Simegnew was born in the town of Maksegnit of Tseda Woreda, in North Gonder Zone, in 1966. He finished his primary education at Enfraz Junior and his secondary education at Woldia Secondary School. He joined the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation in 1986 and was trained at the company’s training centre in Kotebe, Addis Abeba, where he eventually became an instructor. He did his undergraduate studies in civil engineering at the Addis Abeba University and graduated in 1997.
His assignment with the GERD was not his first in hydro dam construction. Over four years beginning in 2001, Simegnew worked at the Gilgel Gibe I hydroelectric project, where he rose from office engineer to chief engineer. He then moved to the Gilgel Gibe II and worked as the project manager for four years up until 2010.
Known for being demanding of his subordinates and tough on those who fail to meet his expectations, Simegnew has reportedly been engaged in a strained relationship with his staff and underlings, according to his former co-workers at Gilgel Gibe II. His work discipline and determination to see through tasks completed on time could be personality traits that were behind Simegnew’s rise to national prominence with the Renaissance Dam.
Eight years ago, Semegnew was assigned to oversee the electromechanical works of the dam, along with Kifle Horo, who was a project manager of Tana Beles Dam, as well as head of civil engineering works.
Simegnew left his home around 6:45am with his travelling luggage as he was planning to leave for the project site on the same day, according to people close to his family.
Still under construction with a total projected cost of 4.8 billion dollars, the construction of the dam was awarded to Salini (Costruttori) Construction as a turnkey project. Filling of the water catchment area is expected to start this year, and the project is expected to generate 6,000mw of hydroelectric power when it becomes fully operational with no less than 15 turbines.
Launched by former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the project was awarded to a, Salini, with track records in building Gilgel Gibe II (420MW) and Tana Beles (460MW) dams.
Simegnew returned to Addis Abeba last Monday for a meeting to discuss why the electromechanical part of the project was delayed, according to Sileshi Bekele (PhD), minister of Water Irrigation & Electricity.
“The meeting was concluded after making major decisions,” Sileshi told a select group of journalists.
One of the decisions made early last week included assigning the responsibility of installing the turbines to the French company, Alstom, that was contracted to supply them. In 2013, Alstom was awarded a 250 million euro contract to supply and supervise the installation of all the electromechanical components of the project.
The Metals & Engineering Corporation, which was contracted to install the turbines and generators for the hydroelectric dam backed off from the project and transferred the responsibility to Alstom.
A day before he was found dead, Semegnew was concerned enough with rumours that the dam would not be completed for a decade that he went to Fana Broadcasting Corporation requesting media coverage to set the record straight, according to people familiar with his visit to the station.
A trip for selected media outlets was also organised by the Government Communications Affairs Office on the same date to brief them on the issue. Instead, the media ended up covering his untimely death.
Although the cause of death is due to a gunshot, it remains unclear whether it was a homicide or an act of suicide. Investigators at the Federal Police are expected to announce to the public in the days to come after his funeral is conducted at St. Trinity Cathedral.