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Countries of the Nile and the Renaissance Dam Crisis

Countries of the Nile and the Renaissance Dam Crisis

Saturday, 20 June, 2020 - 11:30
Jebril Elabidi
Libyan writer and researcher

“When the river’s water supply depletes all the Pharaoh's soldiers are to sprint into action and to return only after liberating the Nile from what had been restricting its flow”, reads a phrase inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Horus, while the Egyptian foreign ministry says: “We will not compromise on Egyptian people’s rights concerning this issue, and we will protect them with all means available to us."


All the Nile Basin Countries have a right to protect their rights to the Nile, which the world associates with Egypt. No one mentions Ethiopia, although it flows from there; this is because "Egypt is the gift of the Nile," as Herodotus described it; one cannot speak of the Nile without mentioning Egypt.


The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is an Ethiopian dam on the Blue Nile in the province of Benishangul-Gumuz, and the 1902 agreements over sharing the water of the Nile stipulate that no projects are to be built on either the Blue Nile or Lake Tana and the Sobat River. The Egyptian's share of Nile’s water was ratified by the agreement reached between the Basin countries, as is Egypt's right to object if any of these countries intend to erect new projects on the river and its tributaries.


The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam costs around four billion dollars, 1.8 billion of which is said to have been financed by Chinese banks, while there are suspicions of Israeli funding. Despite the latter's strong denials, Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Ethiopia in 2016 coinciding with the initiation of the first phase of the project fueled speculation, as did Ethiopian statements on Israel’s role in the management of Ethiopian electricity, especially since the Renaissance Dam is Africa’s largest ever hydropower project. Netanyahu added to the speculation when he said: “Israel will support Addis Ababa so that it can benefit from its water resources.”


Ethiopia’s announcement of its willingness to unilaterally fill the dam exacerbates the crisis and pushes it towards deadlock. This behavior threatens regional security with the insistence on continuing to pursue construction and filling the dam without consulting with the Nile Basin countries, as had been stipulated in the agreements, also, procrastination, postponing the resolution of the crisis from one meeting to the next and from place to another, only to buy time so that construction is complete and the reservoir is full, imposing it as fact on Egypt and Sudan. The Egyptian foreign ministry sees that "the Ethiopian approach indicates an intention to gain hegemony over the Nile, and establish itself as its single beneficiary."


The dam will lead to a decline in water levels in downstream countries considering the time it takes to fill the tank and the permanent decline as a result of water evaporating from the tank. Consequently, there will be a permanent decline in water levels in Lake Nasser.


What the Ethiopian authorities are doing is considered an uncalculated provocation; they are tampering with water and water security.


The most recent negotiations have reached a deadlock as a result of Ethiopian intransigence in regards to filling the collecting tank, while the three countries had reached a provision agreement last month that the filling of the dam should take place over several stages and during rainy seasons. Ethiopia has violated the agreement, especially that the storage capacity is around 74 million square meters, which amounts to around both Egypt and Sudan’s annual share of the Nile.


Taking this position, Ethiopia is trying to put Egypt and Sudan before two choices: Either signing the agreement which would render Ethiopia the highest authority, or to face the Renaissance Dam as a fait accompli.


Resolving the crisis of the dam must be a matter of negotiations, and any hints of a military solution by either side will complicate the crisis and not resolve the crisis. Ethiopian intransigence and its determination to start filling the dam in July will hinder the chance for a peaceful solution.


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