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HomeEthiopian NewsEgypt Sparks East African Water Conflict (Ethiopian American Council )

Egypt Sparks East African Water Conflict (Ethiopian American Council )

Ethiopian American Council  

March 24, 2021

The Horn of Africa has enough strife currently, with the conflict in Ethiopia’s  Tigray region, as well as the impact of waves of locusts and intermittent attacks by al-Shabaab. The  last thing the nations in north-eastern Africa need at this point is an active conflict over water  resources, but Egypt seems determined to spark one. 

Apparently, Egypt still believes the Nile River water belongs to it, even though the waters they  use to fill its Aswan High Dam mostly come from sources outside Egypt. In fact, Egypt is unique in  that almost all of the water it uses comes through 10 other African nations rather from sources on its  own territory. 

Certainly Egypt depends on water from the Nile as it has for thousands of years. It is  estimated that the Nile provides 90 percent of Egypt’s water, and about 95 percent of Egyptians are  said to live along the Nile. So important is the water from this river to Egypt that is has long been  belligerent about any effort in nations sourcing the Nile using more of the water than they previously  have. 

The Blue Nile and White Nile are two tributaries that flow from the South into what is referred  to as the Nile proper – the world’s longest river. While the White Nile is the longer tributary, the Blue  Nile is the main source of water and fertile soil. The White Nile arises in the Great Lakes region of  central Africa, with the most distant source still undetermined, but is located in either Rwanda or  Burundi. It flows north through Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and South Sudan. The Blue Nile  originates at Lake Tana in Ethiopia and wends its way approximately 1,450 km through Ethiopia and  Sudan and provides as much as 80 percent of the water in the Nile proper once the two tributaries  unite in Sudan. 

Egypt’s claim on Nile River water rests on two treaties: one a 1929 treaty and a subsequent  treaty in 1959, which gave Egypt and Sudan rights to nearly all of the Nile water. The 1959  agreement afforded no water to Ethiopia or any other upstream Nile source countries. Additionally,  this agreement granted Egypt veto power over future Nile River projects. 

However, in May 2010, five upstream Nile nations — Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and  Rwanda — signed a treaty declaring their rights to a share of the river’s flow, rejecting the 1959 treaty  drawn up by the British. One Ethiopian negotiator accused Egypt of seeking to turn his country into  what he called a “hydrological colony.” 

The Egyptian response to others claiming more access to the Nile has long been belligerent.  Egypt has often said any attempt by upstream nations to take what it regarded as Egyptian water  would result in war. When a previous Ethiopian government proposed building a series of dams on  the Nile in 1978, Egypt began issuing threats.

“We are not going to wait to die of thirst in Egypt,” said Egypt’s president at the time, Anwar  Sadat. “We’ll go to Ethiopia and die there.” 

When Ethiopia began the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project in 2011, Egypt  was mired in its own internal turmoil and could do little except issue critical statements about the $4.5  billion dam, which will be Africa’s largest, with a reservoir about the size of London. Ostensibly, Egypt  is concerned about the rate with which the GERD is filled. Ethiopia wants to fill in four years, while  Egypt wants a slower fill rate of 12 years or more. The GERD project is vital to Ethiopia’s plan for  economic development, with which it would be finally effectively using the water resources at its  disposal. Ethiopia is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and the GERD provides the  opportunity to become Africa’s largest power exporter. So the Nile is central to both countries’  development plans. 

When Egypt constructed the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, its aim was to increase the  amount of hydroelectric power, regulate the flooding of the Nile and increase agricultural production – just like what Ethiopia plans to do. However, Egypt evidently believes its needs overrule those of its  fellow African nations, despite its publicly collegial rhetoric. 

Playing on international sympathies about its need for Nile water in a mostly desert country,  Egypt downplays its economic benefits from Nile water. Each night on American television,  commercials from the My Pillow Company tout “Giza cotton” sheets produced from an area in Egypt  that is bounded by the Nile, the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed, Egyptian cotton  is the world’s best because of its long fibre that makes it softer and stronger. The silky soft cotton has  been called “white gold.” The so-called Giza Dream sheets are promoted as “ultra-soft and  breathable.” It is little remembered at this point, but the prominence of Egyptian cotton largely led to  North African countries being excluded from the original African Growth and Opportunity Act in 1997  and in subsequent iterations. 

Recently, the Egyptian government announced that it would support the expansion of cotton  planting as a way to boost the national economy. Cotton production and exporting is a strategic sector  of the Egyptian economy, contributing 26.4 percent of the gross industrial product and generating $7  billion in annual exports. Egypt has a right to promote its agricultural sector, but not at the expense of  Ethiopia’s plans for economic development. Agricultural production, of course, uses a tremendous  amount of water, so all parties involved need to work out an equitable sharing plan. 

Whatever the eventual outcome of Nile negotiations, Egypt needs to transition to modern  technologies to more efficiently handle the water it receives, but it also needs to transition to non agricultural manufacturing, such as a country like Rwanda has done. If Nile water is to be shared  more than it has been, Egypt needs to diversify its economic output as other Nile source countries are  doing. Farming and tourism will no longer be enough as Egypt moves forward. 

Many world policymakers also seem unaware of Egypt’s poor stewardship of the water it  receives from the Nile. Sewage flows into the Nile in Egyptian territory, and garbage clogs its  irrigation canals. Various Egyptian governments have created schemes to tap into the Nile, including  the current government, which is building a sprawling new administrative capital in the desert outside  Cairo that experts say will diminish Nile water in Egypt further

Criticism of Egypt’s handling of the Nile is not tolerated. Egyptian pop singer Sherine was prosecuted in 2017 for mocking the Nile’s notoriously dirty water. She urged her fans to “drink  Evian instead.” Fortunately, she was eventually acquitted. 

Now that the Egyptian government seems to be in control again, it is taking its anti-GERD  rhetoric further. Back in 2013, in an Egyptian television broadcast, the president at the time,  Mohamed Morsi, discussed using tactics of subversion to prevent the dam from being completed or  made operational, including the possibility of bombing the GERD. More recently, then-U.S. President  Donald Trump, during U.S.-led Nile negotiations last year, also raised the possibility of Egypt bombing  the GERD. 

The war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is distracting for the Ethiopian government and apparently  makes Egypt think it now has the upper hand in Nile negotiations as there is blame concerning the  conduct of the conflict being cast on the government in Addis. Furthermore, the flow of Tigray  People’s Liberation Front rebel forces has led to Ethiopian incursion into Sudanese territory in pursuit.  This has pushed Sudan, likely with Egyptian encouragement, to warn of measures to be taken if such  Ethiopian military actions continue. 

Sudan has benefitted from the previous Nile River water allocation treaties, but the potential of  a greater flow of energy from Ethiopia puts that government in a difficult situation. Do they work to  slow or halt the GERD project as Egypt would want and lose that benefit of increased access to  electrical power, or do they stand by and hope the Tigray conflict doesn’t further spread into their  territory? In any Egyptian bombing of the GERD, it would have to have Sudanese permission to fly  over its territory since Ethiopian and Egypt do not share a border. 

For now, Sudan is encouraging further negotiations, but the second phase of filling the GERD  is set to resume in weeks during the next flood season, and Egypt is increasingly anxious that it  maintain a constant flow of Nile water, which has gradually decreased over the years. Many issues  associated with the filling of the GERD’s reservoir have been resolved, but there is still no agreement  on the role that the dam will play in mitigating droughts. The agreement thus far states that “when the flow of Nile water to the dam falls below 35-40 b.c.m. (billions of cubic meters) per year, that would constitute a drought”, and Egypt and Sudan contend that Ethiopia would be required to release some  of the water in the dam’s reservoir to deal with the drought. Ethiopia prefers to have the flexibility to  make its own decisions on how to deal with droughts, but Ethiopian and Sudan are accustomed to  having veto power over the use of Nile water. 

Egypt and Sudan conducted joint military exercises last year. On a recent visit to Khartoum, the Egyptian military chief of staff cited the “gravity of dangers surrounding us,” and declared his country was “ready to meet Sudan’s requests in all fields.” Clearly, Egypt is encouraging conflict to forestall the completion of the GERD. Egypt has made its desperation to maintain some measure of control of Nile water, but it remains to be seen how far Sudan will go to force the issue. 

Ethiopian American Council

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  1. Subject: “Egypt Sparks East African Water Conflict (Ethiopian American Council )” , Ethiopian American Council , March 23, 2021

    Short Commentary, 24 March 2021
    We all know the DEPTH of the PROBLEM.
    It is EGYPT itself. NO ONE ELSE
    The flow of river water, around the GLOBE, from point ‘X’ to ‘Y’ and ‘Z” , in all zigzagging directions is NOT a new phenomenon.
    What makes the Nile river contentious is EGYPT and ONLY EGYPT — NO ONE ELSE
    Egypt’s negative superiority complex and demeaning attitude against BLACK AFRICANS is the eternal ROOT cause of the problem. NO ONE ELSE and NOTHING ELSE.
    The concept of “NEGOTIATION”, after all, is Not a new phenomenon but with Egypt the idea of negotiation with BLACK AFRICA is fundamentally a TABOO and OBNOXIOUS IDEA. PERIOD!!! FULL STOP!!! In that case, it is prerogative of BLACK AFRICANS to deal with the matter appropriately and protect the dignity of Black Africans. THE END

  2. it’s a fact and well known to Ethiopians as well as to the international community that, Egypt is escalating tensions and beating the dram of wars in coherent and financial support from petrodollar rich Saudi Arabia and America’s surplus military hardwares that is being donated to Egypt, in which the Pharaohs will not be able to finish or win by any stretches of anyone’s imagination, but Also at the same time trying to get other African nations, such as Sudan to get involved in hopes of making the war it’s igniting to be an Eastern African war rather than Egypt’s alone, which is delusional at best. Fore all we know the Grand Renaissance Ethiopian Dam is being built for none other than electric power generation purposes nothing more, nothing less and therefore after the water hits the turbines the water will flow in it’s usual course without causing any reductions of water to both Egypt’s and Sudan’s Lions-share.
    What Egypt and Sudan are trying to do is to stop the great Nation of ETHIOPIA from alleviating its population from poverty and the country as whole, proving to Ethiopians and the world to know that, Egypt is a traditional and historic enemy of Ethiopians. ETHIOPIA will fill its upcoming second filling of the GERD and the delusional Pharaohs will have no say about the second filling nor about the GERD that ETHIOPIA has built in her own land and using its own water, as well as resources. I am not a politician nor a diplomat, as far as I am concerned the Pharaohs (Egypt) and all the rest of them can go and fly a kite and shut up, period end of the story.

  3. There is no second guessing that Egypt alone, single handedly stands responsible for it’s provocation and beating the dram of war on East African nations and therefore its abundantly clear that, Egypt soully bears the ramifications and the consequential outcome of Egypt’s reckless and egregious actions.


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