Military clashes loom as Ethiopia and Egypt wrestle over Nile dam


ADDIS ABABA - The decision by Ethiopia to resume refiling of Grand Renaissance Dam [GERD] along the Blue Nile has escalated tensions between Cairo and Addis Ababa, in a conflict that could blow to unprecedented heights in the modern history of the Horn of Africa.

Already, Ethiopia has issued a formal notification to Egypt that it has resumed filling the dam, which is set to end the power generation crisis in the country. But Cairo, which relies on Nile waters for agriculture and domestic use, has asked a number of questions.

Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister, claimed that Nile waters have dropped by 2 percent, adding that this amounts to a loss of 100,000 acres of farming and 1 million jobs in the Northern Africa nation.

While Egypt is raising these fundamental questions, Ethiopia on the other hand is concerned with its policy of electrifying and modernizing its economy relies on the dam. In other words, one path could lead to Egyptians going thirsty, the other path leads to Ethiopians going hungry.

For months now, both sides along with Sudan have been holding talks on how to mitigate the problem but to date, no agreement has been reached. The US and African Union have been on the frontline looking for long-term solutions to the crisis.

Talks are due to be held at the UN Security Council on Thursday, but talks have been going on about the use of the Nile waters for decades. When – in 2010 – Ethiopia announced that it would build the dam these negotiations took on a new urgency. But they led nowhere.

According to Wilson Center, “The two countries held countless talks, hired commissions of experts to report on the impact of the dam and in 2015 even agreed on a declaration of principles not to inflict damage on each other."

"However, they could never agree on the crucial details: the timetable for filling the reservoir and what to do in years of drought — in early 2020 Egypt insisted the filling should take from twelve to twenty years, depending on the amount of rainfall while Ethiopia, with a $5 billion investment in the dam and urgent need to show returns, insisted on five to seven."

Analysts say the impending meeting at the United Nations Security Council [UNSC] may not reach an amicable solution, which leaves only one other alternative for Egypt and their Sudanese allies – and that is to turn to their military. Cairo and Khartoum signed a military agreement in March this year.

However, it is difficult to see how a military option would work against the dam, but there are few other alternatives for Egypt or Sudan. The time appears to be fast approaching when they either take some kind of action or do what they have sworn not to do – accept the dam on the Blue Nile as a fait accompli.

"If they accept the dam on Ethiopia’s terms then Cairo and Khartoum will be left appealing to Addis Ababa not to fill the dam too fast and to release waters in a severe drought. But they would be in a weak position, without the binding international agreement regulating the dam that they have always wanted," Wilson center says.

Last year, Ethiopia questioned Egypt's move to lobby for the establishment of a military base in Somaliland, which it claimed was a deliberate attempt to 'provoke' us. Addis Ababa further noted that "we will not allow anyone to establish a military base within the neighborhood".

Cairo has been exploring options of settling a military base along the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean as a way of stamping authority in the Horn of Africa. The GERD project has triggered tensions in the three countries despite their own internal crises, including the Tigray conflict and the Sudanese war.


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