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Cairo and Khartoum caught in the winds of the Ethiopian dam , By Yasser Al-Hussain

Egypt and the Nile countries

There have always been increasing calls for countries in the Nile Basin to reconsider past water agreements. Countries such as Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia have threatened to build dams that would reduce the amount of water flowing into Egypt unless it agreed to revise and amend water agreements to suit today’s needs.

Fortunately, none of these threats have been carried out for the most part and this is due to Cairo’s attempts to calm the situation through artistic, technical and economic cooperation that provided assistance to these countries. However, 11 of the Nile Basin’s countries, with the exception of Sudan and Egypt, have signed the Entebbe Agreement, which is seen as the “equitable and reasonable” alternative to the Nile Basin Initiative because it would redistribute water in fair quotas.

Apparently, Egypt is not only fighting its battle over the Renaissance Dam through Ethiopia and Sudan exclusively, but it has also attempted to win over other African countries. These efforts have been in effect since the beginning of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Further investigation on the matter revealed that the Egyptian government has issued more than $4 million in bribes to three African presidents in an effort to convince them to sway their governments’ positions on the Renaissance Dam. Since the file was listed under matters of national security, the identities of the three leaders were not revealed.

In the state of South Sudan a group of rebels associated with the former Vice President Riek Machar accused the Egyptian government of supporting former President Salva Kiir in the civil war that took place in Juba. It is said that the military support given to Kiir came in exchange for his support for Cairo’s position regarding the dam in Ethiopia and plans even point to Kiir’s intention to divert water to Egypt from the Upper Nile.

It is important to note that Juba has already demanded its share of water from the Nile that was allocated to Sudan. This is estimated at 18.5 million cubic metres as per the Nile Basin Initiative agreements that were signed in 1929 and 1959. However, after the separation of South and North Sudan, Juba was not given a specified share of water from the Nile.

A source of Egypt’s concern is that the Entebbe Agreement replaces the Nile Basin Initiative and it outlines each country’s share in loose terms and supposedly divides water supplies depending on each state’s individual concerns and needs. Yet, the agreement will distribute water in a way that remains “fair and equitable” and this is the very thing that Egypt considers to be a threat because it currently enjoys more than its fair share of the Nile’s resources due to the current agreement. Thus, Egypt has taken a clear and firm decision not to sign the new agreement unless “it is guaranteed its full share of water from the Nile”, the former Minister of Irrigation said.

Solution and salvation on the horizon

Whether it is in regard to the Millennium Dam or the Entebbe Convention, it is not in Sudan or Egypt’s best interest to remain as they are, in a position that counters the rest of the African countries with which they share the Nile’s tributaries and basin. Their current position is somewhat controversial.

As of now, six out of the nine Nile basin countries have signed the agreement and they are: Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Sudan. The critical question here is: can Egypt afford to engage in an active war that not only confronts all of these countries but also threatens its water security? At the end of the day, the question of water supply is a life or death issue that would place Egypt’s wellbeing in jeopardy. This potential war is considered by many to be a strategic mistake on many fronts.

In my opinion, the Entebbe Convention is the first solution to calming this situation and on the other front the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is needed for the time being.

It is Egypt’s responsibility to avoid threatening other countries with military force for every year since the Khedive’s rule, they have devised a new military strategy to intervene should their interests in the Nile and its waters be threatened or jeopardised. At the end of the day, Egypt does not want to enter into any conflicts, whether technical or economic, with the African countries of the Nile Basin because this war will undoubtedly go beyond the African dimension.

The Sudanese government has often criticised Egypt for its position concerning the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and they have expressed that it is not an issue for Khartoum. The Sudanese government has also expressed their desire to remove this issue from its technical and governmental framework and has warned the Egyptian government that, should the relationship between Khartoum and Cairo be jeopardised over this matter, it will only open the door to bigger and more serious disagreements.

As for Ethiopia, it has stated that the Grand Renaissance Dam is 32 per cent complete and that they are ready for any confrontation from the Egyptian government. According to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn his country is ready “to face all options and possibilities”. The only reasonable solution in this scenario would be to come up with an agreement between Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa that would be signed by a tripartite committee dedicated to solving this matter.

Translated from Al-Jazeera net June 2, 2014

Source: Middle East Monitor



  1. Egypt is in need of convincing of the need to settle this dispute peacefully,
    despite America just re-releasing the money they’d held back from Egypt, they are still desperately seeking finance from China to kick start their economy and bring the country forward.
    Egypt must be made aware that war with Ethiopia threatens China’s investment in Ethiopia and investments made with other Nile basin countries.
    China needs to be brought in as an honest broker and way of sobering Egypt up in it’s talk of war.
    Meanwhile Khartoum plans to pipe Nile water to Saudi Arabia in exchange for oil, how come Egypt has had nothing to say on this matter ?


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