April 30, 2014
Minga Negash, Seid Hassan and Mammo Muchie
The 1929 Nile water allocation agreement that was signed by Egypt and the United Kingdom (which excluded Ethiopia and nearly all other upper basin countries) allocated 48 billion (65%) cubic meters of water per year to Egypt and 4 billion to the Sudan. The 1959 agreement between Egypt and the Sudan raised the share to 55.5 (75%) billion and 18.5 billion cubic meters to Egypt and the Sudan, respectively. This agreement also excluded all the other upper Nile riparian nations. Egypt wants to keep the colonial-era agreements and the 1959 accord. This unfair allocation of the Nile water enabled Egypt to construct the Aswan Dam and the two countries never cared to consult the upper riparian nations. As argued by Badr Abdelatty, a spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, Egypt wants to keep the status quo because it needs all the “assigned 55 billion cubic meters a year for vital use such as drinking, washing and sanitation needs” by 2020. This clearly indicates Egypt’s desire to secure its own Nile water-related benefits intact while at the same time denying other (Sub-Saharan) Nile riparian countries from using their own waters for alleviating poverty and enhancing sustainable development. Contrary to the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) that was formalized in 1999 that Egypt was a party to, it is now saying that any change to the colonial era agreement would be tantamount to affecting its strategic interests and repeatedly threatens to use all means available if Ethiopia continues to build the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Egypt continues to escalate the confrontation despite Ethiopia’s claim that the dam would have no appreciable negative impact on Egypt. Ethiopia, along with the other upper Nile riparian countries object the privileges that Egypt gave itself and consider Egyptian monopoly over the Nile waters as a violation of their sovereignty. In accordance to the 2010 Entebbe Agreement by the upstream countries, which included Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, and now effectively Sudan and South Sudan), Ethiopia, therefore, insists on adhering to its plan and is forging ahead on constructing the dam.
In what follows, we use an amalgam of economics, history, law, security and environment factors to examine the Egyptian opposition to the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). We try to triangulate these factors hoping to contribute to the debate and gain insight into the current tension between Egypt and Ethiopia. We attempt to make a dispassionate analysis of the water sharing problem between upstream and downstream countries. Consistent with theory and real life cases, we surmise that water has been and continues to be the cause for conflict in a number of regions in the world and, unfortunately, water wars tend to be irrational, unsustainable and economically and socially destructive. Trans-boundary water sharing and pollution (environmental-ecological) problems are never resolved through hegemonies, militarism and ultra-nationalism.
Dissenting voices against mega projects such as GERD are not new – the criticisms ranging from cost and scheduling overruns (as a recent study by Ansar, Flyvbjerg, Budzier and Lunn of Oxford University shows ), to their impacts on population dislocation, corruption, transparency in awarding of contracts, the manner in which such projects are financed, social and environmental impacts in upstream and downstream countries and water security concerns. Hence, Ethiopians may legitimately ask questions and raise concerns about the manner in which the Government of Ethiopia is handling the project. In this article, however, we focus on trans-boundary environmental problems, the fair use of the Nile water and address Egyptian concerns. This is important because the construction of GERD has reignited the long standing explosive issue of the equitable use of Nile waters. We also believe the recent (counterproductive) Egyptian threats of war and various forms of diplomatic offensives require the attentions of scholars of substance and policy makers.
Egyptian worries and aspirations over the Nile River system however is historical and goes back to the days before the formation of the Egyptian nation/state even though the issue began to dominate the country’s political landscape with the generation of militarism and ultra-nationalism (from Gamal Abel Nasser to the late President Sadat’s 1979 threat of war and to the current leaders of Egypt vowing not to lose a “drop of water).” The recent political instability in Egypt must have made the trans-boundary water sharing problem a point of political opportunism. Reports indicate that Egypt may indeed be laying the ground work to “destroy the dam before Ethiopia starts filling it with water or risk flooding Sudan’s flat eastern territories upon its destruction.” A WikiLeaks report is also known to have revealed that Egypt, in collaboration with Sudan, had plans “to build an airstrip for bombing a dam in the Blue Nile River Gorge in Ethiopia.” In its June 2013 analysis of Egypt’s military options, Straighter, a global intelligence organization indicated that the country does have military options against Ethiopia’s dam, but noted that distance will heavily constrain Egypt’s ability to demolish the work. The options, however, may include air attack from bases in the Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea and/or sponsoring present day local “militants” to frustrate the construction of the dam. Obviously, Ethiopia is aware of the Egyptian options and its age-old aspiration to control the sources of the Nile River system. For example, on April 17, 2014, amid reports that Egypt was trying to woo South Sudan towards its dispute over Nile waters , the Voice of America reported that the President of South Sudan assured the Ethiopian authorities that the recently signed military and economic cooperation between Egypt and South Sudan would not allow Egypt to attack Ethiopia or allow subversive activities.
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