Skip to main content

Why Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia Disagree Over the Al Nahda Dam

Aerial photograph of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia

Aerial photograph of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia

With the passage of 9 years of negotiations, talks, and mediation attempts, differences still exist between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan over the Renaissance Dam and the timetable for filling the dam, with mutual accusations of infringing on sovereignty and threatening the lives of millions.

Talks stalled again last week amid the three countries' differences overfilling the dam. The most recent controversy was last July, when satellite images from the US-based Maxar Technology showed water gathering in the GERD reservoir, prompting Egyptian officials to seek urgent clarification. Neighboring Sudan also announced a drop in the water level along the river.

It now appears that heavy rains filled the reservoir, but Ethiopia's repeated statements about its intention to fill the dam, whether there is an agreement or not, have worried Egypt and Sudan, as the two countries fear that filling the dam at a rapid pace will have a profound effect on their water supplies. On the same day, the three countries failed to reach an agreement on how to proceed with the project, with another round of talks collapsing between them.

The Renaissance Dam, an ambitious $4.5 billion hydropower project, is a symbol of Ethiopia's goal of becoming a major regional player. The dam project aims to cover the electricity needs of 60% of Ethiopian households who are still outside the power grid, as a part of Prime Minister Abi Ahmed Ali's plan to transform the country into a major energy exporter in the region.

Many Ethiopians, without electricity, depend on shrinking forests for firewood, while the other 40% of the population suffers from constant power cuts, Berhanu Lingisso, co-founder of the East African Policy Research Institute, said in remarks.

He added "It is a very sad and difficult situation, as we have lived in it for centuries. We contribute 85% of the Nile water, and we do not use any of this water."

The dam, on the other hand, threatens one of Egypt's most precious resources. The majority of Egyptians, more than 100 million people live in the narrow Nile Valley along the river, which they depend on for everything from drinking water to industry and irrigation.

Ahmed Abdul Wahab, a farmer in southern Egypt, said " My father and grandfather lived by the Nile, and my children and grandchildren will also live next to it " He expected that the Renaissance Dam might reduce 60% of its annual agricultural yield and increase the cost of water.

Sudan, on the other hand, would likely benefit from the dam’s reduced electricity price, and stable water flow that would reduce floods and increase irrigation, according to the International Crisis Group. However, the proximity of the Renaissance Dam to Sudan (the dam is just 12.5 miles from the borders) may expose the Sudanese Rusayris Dam to the risk of flooding, in the absence of coordination between the two countries.

The Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation, and Energy, Seleshi Bekele, deniedprevious reports stating that his country had begun filling the reservoir, adding that it was the rains that caused the accumulation of water there.

Bekele said that the active filling of the reservoir will begin within two years, when construction work is complete, indicating there is still more time for talks.

The water seen in the satellite images was most likely rainwater, according to experts."Due to the rainy season, the dam's advanced stage of construction has provided a natural source of help in the river behind it," William Davidson, senior analyst at International Crisis Group in Addis Ababa, said.

Managing the longest river in the world

It is not surprising that managing the waters of the Nile is complicated, as the river stretches for more than 4,000 miles and passes through 11 countries. The Blue Nile, which is the artery that supplies the river with 80% of its water, begins at Lake Tana in Ethiopia, and the White Nile meets in Khartoum and then flows into Egypt.

Most of the discussions currently revolve around the timetable and speed of filling the dam, and how to mitigate the impact of the drought. Ethiopia initially proposed filling the dam within 3 years, while Egypt wants a period of 10 to 15 years.

Hafsa Halawa, a researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said there was an oral agreement to fill the dam within eight years.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Soapboxie

Egypt fears the impact of rapidly filling the dam on the shortage of its share of the Nile water.

Former Egyptian Minister of Irrigation, Mohamed Abdul Aty, said in his statements in 2018 that a decrease of 2% of the Nile water would lead to the loss of 200 thousand agricultural acres, and about one million jobs. The exact impact of the dam on the water flows remains unknown.

The three countries failed to agree on who will conduct the environmental studies, the powers that will be granted to researchers, and to what extent the results will be binding. Then comes the question of what might happen if the drought strikes the region for long periods.

With the heavy rainy season and agreement in principle on a timetable for filling the dam within 8 years, there are no immediate problems, but Cairo is concerned about any future drought or any other projects that may impede the flow of the Nile's water.

William Davidson said that Ethiopia wants each party to assume responsibility for mitigating the effects of its drought, such as for Egypt to use its water reserves in the High Dam. "Ethiopia also wants to address problems when they arise, without adhering to prior agreements, such as releasing specific quantities of water downstream from the reservoir during periods of drought," he added
According to Halawa, "Ethiopia views negotiations as a road to an agreement on filling and running the Renaissance Dam, rather than a water protection issue and an agreement on water quotas as Egypt views it, " he said. From a legal standpoint, this is the biggest point of contention, And technical

Agreements from the colonial era

Agreements signed in 1929 and 1959 gave Egypt and Sudan, the lion’s share of the Nile’s waters. While Ethiopia rejects those agreements as "agreements from the colonial era," and signed an agreement in 2010 with 6 countries in the Nile Basin to withdraw the right of a veto from Egypt and Sudan against the establishment of projects on the Nile.

Egyptian President Abdul Fatah El-Sisi said at the United Nations last year: "We recognize Ethiopia's right to the development, but the waters of the Nile are a matter of life and survival for Egypt."

Early this year, Sisi relied on US mediation in the hope of reaching an agreement, but Ethiopia withdrew from the talks, claiming that the agreement put forward by Washington included proposals in favor of Cairo on easing the drought.

A study by International Crisis Group stated that "Addis Ababa objected that the agreement would oblige it to drain the reservoir water to an unacceptable level in the event of a prolonged drought, and legally obligate it not to fill the dam without reaching an agreement."

The Ethiopian ambassador to the United States, Fitful Ariga, said that his country "will not proceed with any agreement that would make it give up its right to use the waters of the Nile."

The African Union, following the follow-up of the Security Council, in June led another attempt to bring the three countries to the negotiating table, but without an agreement yet.

National unity project

In Ethiopia, the success of the Renaissance Dam project is essential not only to strengthen Addis Ababa's role in the region but to unify a homeland torn apart by ethnic violence.

In early July, dozens of Ethiopians were killed during massive protests sparked by the death of singer and activist Hashalu Hundisa, a symbol of the Oromo group that says it is politically marginalized.

Critics accused Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of failing to contain ethnic violence in the country, despite being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his role in ending the 20-year civil war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The dam project has become a source of national pride, as it is self-financed through bonds of 20% and 80% of taxpayer money in Ethiopia. The dam showed success in unifying the homeland, and the hashtag “#It_A_Dyde” was published on Twitter in Ethiopia last month.

"The Renaissance Dam is a national project that has obtained support from the government and the community. Nd the public. It is regarded as a unifying force because it was established with the Ethiopian capital "Adisu Lachito, a Brooking's Institution fellow in the International Economics and Development Program, explained the situation.

Has Sisi issued the "last warning" to Ethiopia?

Former Egyptian Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Nasr Allam stated that building a dam of this large size exceeds development goals in Ethiopia, and said on the sidelines of a seminar of the Egyptian Center for Thought and Strategic Studies to discuss the dimensions of the Renaissance Dam issue that Ethiopia avoided the presence of international consultants to study the repercussions of the dam on Egypt and Sudan, and we have no study on the implications of the dam on the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan.

Allam added that it is necessary to search for solutions to a problem that may seem insurmountable, stressing that the site of the Renaissance Dam requires most of its electricity to be exported to Sudan and Egypt, and from there to Europe, according to what European research has confirmed, which puts this future commodity as an important negotiating card that should be used by Cairo.

Dr. Hani Raslan, an expert at the Al-Ahram Center for Political Studies, indicated that the announcement of the default was long overdue. He told the BBC that Egypt pursued a long-term policy in this regard in light of real evasiveness on the part of Ethiopia. He added that what Egypt has done over the past years is counted for it, and it is now entitled to move forward on the legal path to internationalize the issue.

Raslan explained that Ethiopia was deliberately concealing information, and it was not giving any data about the dam except through the International Committee, which explains the political dimension in building the dam with complete disregard for international law, and an opportunistic rush, taking advantage of the conditions resulting from the so-called Arab Spring, as he put it through The start of construction work and the completion of the dam body, which makes it imperative that Cairo use all means and quickly to defend its water rights.

Sisi: "We will not allow Egypt to thirst."

Sisi says that Ethiopia "could have resorted to generating electricity by building a power station with less than what it built the dam and safer if it wanted electricity but wanted to put Egypt in a dilemma, and unfortunately provoke the Egyptian state."

"The next time," he says, "we should be in favor of coping with the Ethiopian dam crisis." The time for the Egyptian state should be to face danger, peace, and war. At a time when the pharaoh was rushing to the ends of the earth to break the Nile’s captivity, and not return until the river flowed again. We are the children of the Pharaohs." And we will not allow the thirst of Egypt, about which Herodotus said that Egypt is the gift of the Nile. The Egyptian will that liberated the delinquent ship is the same will that will liberate the river, and no eye will sleep for us until that happens. "

And he says, "We are the people inscribed on the walls of its temples since ancient times," If the level of the river falls, let all the soldiers of the Pharaoh run, and they will not return until after the Nile is liberated, which restricts its flow. "This phrase is etched into the Nile Scales wall. Our ancestors who preserved and sanctified the river ... The Nile will continue to flow until God inherits the earth and those on it, as long as we have bloodbaths in us if we exhaust all the tools of politics and diplomacy."

Sisi believes that "the final scene of the sinister Panamanian container ship crisis, which was blocking the artery of world trade, was accompanied by two possible scenarios for the end of the crisis of that damned Ethiopian dam, which threatens the lifeblood of the Egyptians and Sudanese: a happy ending we wish, and another that is not, if a binding "If an agreement cannot be reached," dispel the danger and guarantees that no damage or negative consequences result.

"We know that the problem of the Ethiopian dam is a very important point for the ruling coalition in Ethiopia to work towards ensuring its full completion," he says. remains in power and obtains support from the people." to the government's failure to keep its promises and deal with internal and external crises.

"We must all realize that the Ethiopian people in particular, and the entire nation, will escape the repercussions of a devastating storm from Egypt if an alliance of Arab and foreign powers works together," he added. from Egypt," he added. leaves no one behind," he says.

A comparison between the Egyptian army and the Ethiopian army

A comparison between the Egyptian army and the Ethiopian army

A comparison of the Egyptian and Ethiopian armies' capabilities

In light of the escalation of tension between Egypt and Ethiopia against the background of the Renaissance Dam crisis, especially the recent statements made by the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abi Ahmed, regarding the construction of this dam, as he sent an indirect message to the Republic of Egypt stating: "No force will prevent us from building the dam." In this regard, we provide you with a quick comparison with numbers between the capabilities of the Ethiopian and Egyptian armies, including the population of the two countries and the number of soldiers serving in service, in addition to the reserve forces and the air forces of the two countries, according to the Global Fire Power Foundation, which specializes in military affairs of countries, with the latest statistics for 2019.

World ranking:

The Egyptian army is ranked 9th in the world in the list of the most powerful armies in the world, for the year 2019, insignificant and clear progress over its Ethiopian counterpart, which ranks 47th in the world out of 137 countries, and below we present to you a comparison between the military capabilities of the two countries.

Human power:

The population of the Arab Republic of Egypt is 100 million, of whom about 43 million people are available manpower, compared to a population of 108 million people in Ethiopia, There are about 41 million people eligible for manpower.

The number of soldiers:

The number of Egyptian army personnel reaches 920 thousand soldiers, including 440 thousand active soldiers and 480 thousand soldiers in the reserve forces, while the total number of the Ethiopian army is 140 thousand soldiers.

Air Force:

The Egyptian army has 1092 various warplanes, including 211 fighters, 341 attack aircraft, 59 military cargo planes, in addition to 388 training aircraft and 293 military helicopters, including 46 attack helicopters, in clear and significant superiority over the Ethiopian army, which has only 82 warplanes, of which 26 Fighter jets and 16 attack aircraft, in addition to 9 military cargo planes and 33 military helicopters, including 8 attack helicopters only.

Tank Corps:

The Egyptian army has more than 2,160 tanks, 5,735 armored vehicles, 1,000 self-propelled guns, and more than 2,189 field cannons, in addition to 1,100 missile launchers, a great advantage also over its Ethiopian counterpart, which has 800 tanks and the same number of armor in addition to only 85 self-propelled guns.

Naval power:

In this aspect, too, the superiority appears clear in favor of Egypt, whose naval fleet includes nearly 320 marine units, including two aircraft carriers, 7 cruisers, and 4 submarines, in addition to 55 patrol ships and 11 frigates.

Defense budget:

The Egyptian army’s defense budget is $4.4 billion, compared to the $340 million Ethiopian defense budget.

We note here that the level of technological development and modernity play a major role in determining the capabilities of armies, as the balance is tilted in this aspect in favor of Egypt, which has many advanced fighters and modern tanks.

What is the point of contention between Egypt and Ethiopia?

Axis of contention
The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia revolves around the period of filling, and how to operate the Renaissance Dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile River.

Egypt demands that the period of filling the dam be extended to ten years, taking into account the drought years, while Ethiopia adheres to four to seven years, instead of two to three years, according to Ethiopian government sources.

On the first of last August, Egypt proposed that it be said that to avoid drought, Ethiopia should not start filling the dam without Egypt's approval, which was rejected by Ethiopia.

Ethiopia explained that this proposal reflects the laws of the colonial era that do not take into account the rights of countries of origin regarding transboundary rivers.

In a diplomatic note obtained by Reuters, Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry reported that "fulfilling this request is tantamount to Ethiopia's agreement to make the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam subject to Egypt's approval at any point."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry affirmed before the Egyptian Parliament that the stalled negotiations on the Renaissance Dam affect the stability of the region and that Ethiopia's continued filling and operation of the Renaissance Dam will lead to negative consequences and is a violation of the principle's agreement signed 2015.

Egypt has recently sought to pressure Ethiopia to accept the activation of Article 10 of the Agreement of Principles, with the entry of a fourth international party with experience in the field of cross-border rivers to lift the stumbling block in the negotiations.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said during the opening of the Cairo Water Week that reaching a fair agreement regarding filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam faces "enormous challenges".

"The three countries have sat around the negotiation table since the declaration," Madbouly said. We were unable to reach an agreement on the principles signed by the leaders on March 23, 2015, in Khartoum, leading Egypt to demand the activation of Article 10 of the Declaration of Principles Agreement, and the participation of the fourth party in Consultations.

© 2021 ahmed hosny

Related Articles