In 2011, Ethiopia began a six-year project for the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a 6000-megawatt hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile river. The dam is expected to be a boost for the Ethiopian economy’s industrial expansion and provide much-needed electricity to the country’s more than 65% population currently not connected to the grid.

Perhaps more impressively the project’s $4 billion USD cost is entirely financed by Ethiopians through bond issuing and private finance partnerships, as such, it is a sovereignty project of immense Ethiopian pride. On completion of the dam, it is expected that not only will the dam provide electricity to power the whole of Ethiopia’s 109 million people – the project will also be able to sell power to Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea and South Sudan as these regions also suffer from a power deficit. The project will also serve to regulate the water that flows downstream to Sudan and hence minimizing the flooding that often plagues Khartoum during August and September.

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam under construction

Despite all the benefits of the Dam, Egypt is heavily opposed to the flooding of the dam in preparation for power generation, which is due to begin in mid-2020 and despite the benefit of flow regulation, Sudan has also voiced concerns over water flow restrictions once the flooding of the dam begins.

So why is Egypt up in arms? To answer this lets first consider what makes up the Nile river to which 99 million Egyptians absolutely rely on.

The Nile river is made up of two significant tributaries, the White Nile which flows from Burundi through Uganda and meets the Blue Nile in Sudan’s capital Khartoum. The Blue Nile flows from a Lake Tana in the Ethiopian Highlands and delivers 80-85% of all the Nile water that eventually reaches Egypt. This is where Egypt’s fears stem from. Egypt is worried that if Ethiopia starts to flood their dam, this would restrict water levels to Egypt and therefore put their entire population and economy at risk as Egypt relies on 90% of the Nile water, where their population is concentrated given the desert state of the rest of the country. Egypt is so infuriated that they have threatened military action. Their position is also backed by a 1929 treaty (and a subsequent one in 1959) which gave Egypt and Sudan rights to nearly all of the Nile waters. 

The Nile confluence in Khartoum, Sudan

On the 15th of January 2020, a sitting in Washington D.C. between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt with the USA as a mediator was scheduled to resolve the dispute and come to a deal. At the time of writing, we know that at the crux of it, Ethiopia wants to flood the 74 billion cubic metre dam in just 6 years, while Egypt is proposing a 12-21 year flooding schedule.

With any military action that involves Egypt being a bad idea given the strategic importance of the Suez canal to the world, the USA is in the spotlight to help this situation given that these countries are US Allies. Leaving no stone unturned, the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, in a recent state visit to South Africa asked the South African president Cyril Ramaphosa to also help mediate. Cyril Ramaphosa is the incoming African Union (AU) Chairperson and is friends to all the nations involved in this despute.

What solution would you propose to this deadlock, all countries raise valid claims and concerns?

Since we are in the subject of long Rivers, here are the 10 longest rivers in Africa.

  1. Nile River (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan)
  2. Congo River (The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Angola, Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zambia, Burundi, Rwanda)
  3. Niger River (Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Algeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Chad)
  4. Zambezi (Zambia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana)
  5. Ubangi-Uele (The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo)
  6. Kasai River (Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo)
  7. Orange River (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho)
  8. Limpopo River (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana)
  9. Senegal River (Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania)
  10. Blue Nile (Ethiopia, Sudan)

Do you have any comments about this quagmire, let’s hear from you in the comments section.