The Nile saga: Will Egypt and Ethiopia go to war?

A section of the controversial Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. ANDUALEM SISAY | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

Most of the journalists in Addis Ababa were busy covering the celebrations of the 50th African Union Anniversary during the last week of May when the Office of Ethiopian Government Communications Affairs invited them to witness the re-routing of the flow of the Blue Nile.

Not long after the announcement of the rerouting to start construction of the $4.2 billion Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), with 6,000MW electric power generation capacity, the news spread online like a wild fire.

Most of the news was unbearable to most Egyptians who have been against the dam idea from the time the project was officially launched two years ago.

The situation was aggravated last week through a live television discussion, which Ethiopia considered provocative, and which Egypt quickly claimed was transmitted “by mistake’’.

During the TV discussion, Egyptian officials were heard discussing how Cairo could weaken the Ethiopian administration through various acts of sabotages.

These acts, the Egyptian officials were heard saying, ranged from disseminating propaganda about a plan to attack the dam by air force, to supporting Ethiopian opposition groups to stop the construction or even demolish the dam after its completion.

"Our blood substitutes any decrease of the flow of the river waters, even a single drop," warned Egyptian President Mohammad Morsy during a national meeting on the Nile River on June 10,.

“Halting construction of Nile dam will never happen. There's no reason to do that and they know it,” twitted Dr Tedros Adhanom, the Ethiopia Foreign minister later, in response to the ‘provocative’ message of the Egyptian officials.

Nevertheless, Egypt continues its readiness to go to war, even if a single drop of its share of the Nile waters declined.

Egypt, fondly called the gift of the Nile, gets 94 per cent of its total water resources from the Nile River, while 97 per cent of its population is entirely dependent on the same source.

Past decade

According to a 1929 agreement, no activity would be carried out on the Nile that would lessen or reduce the flow of water to Egypt. The agreement also introduced the concepts of historical rights, acquired rights and established rights.

Another deal in 1959 reaffirmed the ‘full utilisation of the Nile water, between Sudan and Egypt, allotting 55.5 billion cubic meters to Egypt and 18.5 billion cubic meters to Sudan.

In an attempt to share the Nile waters ‘fairly and equitably’ by all the riparian countries, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, DR Congo, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda, have spent the past decade negotiating under the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) umbrella.

In 2011, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi signed the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). The Agreement envisaged that the Nile Commission would be established upon the ratification by the legislatures of at least six riparian countries.

On the other hand, Egypt and Sudan refused to sign the new agreement, sticking to the 1959 deal signed between Sudan and Egypt, ignoring Ethiopia which contributes 85 per cent of the water to the Nile, and other upper stream countries like Uganda which contribute the remainder.

“Egypt’s quest to reaffirm these rights informs its position on current CFA,” according to Jon Harald Sande Lie’s paper, titled; Supporting the Nile Basin Initiative: A political analysis ‘beyond the river’.

To assess the impact of GERD on the downstream countries, mainly Egypt and the Sudan, a group of 10 professionals Independent Panel of Experts (IPE); two from each of the three countries and four from others, submitted a report a few days before the rerouting of the Blue Nile.

Ethiopian officials say IPE’s report revealed that the construction of GERD would not significantly affect Egypt and Sudan, while Egyptian officials say the report was incomplete and suggest further studies.

The content of the report remains confidential, giving each of the three countries the chance to interpret it in their own favour, like the Bible verses. Egypt worries that filling the GERD dam would decrease its share because of its big size.

The distance

On the contrary, Ethiopia argues that well managed and regulated flow of the Nile water would save Khartoum and Cairo from flooding, reduce siltation and enable them to get electricity from the dam, while propelling Addis' efforts to lift its people out of poverty.

On the other hand, Ethiopia’s main opposition Andnet for Democracy and Justice, at a press briefing Thursday, criticised the ruling party for failing to do enough diplomatically and urged both Ethiopia and Egypt to refrain from using the issue of the Nile to divert attention from their internal political pressures.

On the same day, Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt’s major opposition party leader and former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) twitted: “Egypt/ Ethiopia dispute not zero sum game. Equitable cooperative compact with modern technology, agriculture & electricity is only solution.”

“No African wants to hurt Egypt, however, Egypt cannot continue to hurt Black Africa,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said during budget reading to the parliamentarians Thursday.

According to military analysts, the distance between Ethiopia and Egypt would heavily hinder the latter from attacking the dam with the full force of its military.

“Any option Cairo chooses to exercise will be risky at best and will also come with severe international consequences,” concludes Stratfor, a global Intelligence, in its analysis released this week.

“The old habit based on zero sum game never helped. Let's build together on a new culture of trust & cooperation - Win/win,” Dr Tedros twitted on June 9.

Ethiopia officials expect to meet Egyptian Foreign minister over the weekend in Addis Ababa.

Commenting on the ongoing dispute on June 12, 2013 in Addis Ababa, the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said: “Both countries need to use the Nile and I think it is important to just have discussions that are open...not in the context of colonial power, but in context of pan-Africanism and African renaissance.”

Now; the question is; will there be war between the two highly populous nations in Africa?

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