The growing tensions between the Nile Basin countries—Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan—over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has made news headlines in recent months.
Egypt and Ethiopia have for many years been at loggerheads over Ethiopia’s plan to dam the Nile River and this conflict has resulted in steadily deteriorating relations between some of Africa’s biggest countries. Numerous attempts to negotiate a deal have failed and the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on the smooth flow of the Nile is at stake.
In 2011, Ethiopia began construction of the GERD, a $4.6 billion hydroelectric project, on the headwaters of the Blue Nile, near the border between Ethiopia and Sudan. For Ethiopia, the dam offers an opportunity to finally take advantage of the world’s longest river in stimulating economic growth, and generate much-needed electricity for itself as well as for its neighbours. But the construction of this dam has resulted in a highly polarised discourse.
Some scholars and analysts have argued that GERD, in addition to its obvious benefits for Ethiopia, could even foster new and productive forms of regional cooperation. But others worry over Ethiopia’s growing economic and political muscle and its motives, and its commitment to respecting future water sharing agreements at the cost of other countries that depend on the Nile.
Egypt in particular is worried about Ethiopia’s control of the river and the risks to its own water supply since up to 90 percent of Egypt’s water supply for fresh water and agriculture comes from the Nile. And in a recent speech at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly in September, Egypt’s president Al-Sisi spoke of his country’s “heightened concerns”, arguing that the negotiations should not continue forever as realities on the ground are fast changing. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, in his speech at the United Nations a few days ago, assured his neighbours that Ethiopia did not wish to harm its neighbours. He also expressed his “commitment to addressing the concerns of downstream countries and reaching a mutually beneficial outcome”.
And what about Sudan? It appears that while Sudan likes the idea of cheaply available electricity from the dam project, as well as the ability of GERD to prevent future floods within its own territory, it too is worried about Ethiopia’s growing economic might and its greater control of the Nile’s water resources.
What is clear is that this dispute must be resolved as quickly as possible. But for a viable solution, the top leadership in all three countries must view water sharing arrangements in the context of climate change and ensure the greater involvement of technical experts in coming up with practical solutions.