Ethiopia and Egypt: Who owns the Nile?

A conflict is brewing in Northeast Africa over control of the waters of the Nile, said Samuel Getachew and Simon Allison in the Mail & Guardian (South Africa). Ethiopia has spent the past decade building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. That river starts in the Ethiopian highlands and meanders north to Sudan, where it joins up with the White Nile, and then runs into Egypt. Ethiopia is supposed to begin filling the reservoir behind the hydroelectric dam—a colossal structure that stands some 500 feet high and is 5,840 feet wide—next month. But years of talks over how quickly that process should occur and how much water should keep flowing to Egypt broke down last week, and now both countries are ratcheting up the rhetoric. Egypt is utterly dependent on the Nile: 90 percent of the desert nation’s water comes from the river, and nearly all of its 100 million people live along its banks. But Ethiopia says it should be allowed to use those waters to generate electricity for the 56 percent of Ethiopians “who currently go without.” If no agreement can be reached, Addis Ababa “will proceed unilaterally” and start to fill the reservoir. Cairo is “putting in an enormous diplomatic effort” to slow the filling, and some there are calling for war.

We Egyptians were fools for thinking Ethiopia wanted this dam for the “noble goal” of generating electricity, said Imad Al-Din Hussein in Al Shorouk (Egypt). Now it’s clear that Addis Ababa’s true ambition is to create a “water bank” to blackmail us. Ethiopia wants to fill the dam’s Londonsize reservoir in a mere six years— Egypt has asked for up to 25 years— which will radically slow the Blue Nile’s flow and deprive us of some 200,000 acres of farmland. When the process is complete, there’s no guarantee that Ethiopia will let the waters gush freely again. Instead, Addis Ababa will expect us to pay fealty to secure our country’s lifeblood. But the Egyptian military is mighty. If our water rights are harmed, Ethiopia “will suffer the consequences!”

Ethiopia has no wish to let Egypt go thirsty, said Samuel Tefera Alemu in The Reporter (Ethiopia). But the dam “is a matter of life and death for millions of Ethiopians living in abject poverty.” Our poor citizens scraped their savings together to buy bonds to finance the $4.6 billion structure, making the dam a source of national pride. Egypt has long held a “colonial attitude,” and for decades was able to dictate how the Nile’s waters are used. Ethiopia is willing to release plenty of water each year as it fills the dam. But Cairo must understand that “the time of monopoly has come to an end” in the Nile River Basin.

A U.S. attempt to broker a deal has already failed, said Addis Geta chew in the Anadolu Agency (Turkey), after Washington produced “a document that was interpreted as heavily tilted in favor of Cairo.” But there’s still hope. If Egypt cools its language, and if Ethiopia offers to submit to African-led arbitration, they can prevent this “escalation of tensions” from ending in bloodshed.