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Leap forward to iron out Nile stand off

Leap forward to iron out Nile stand off

Gebre-Michael Asgedom 06-01-18

Last Sunday May 27, 2018 saw citizens participating in the ` I run for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)’ event that has eyed on enhancing the contribution of citizens in income-generation activities; to support the construction and indispensable finalization of the Project. To this end, there was great race that rallied citizens from all corners of the country. It had been said that over 20,000 runners were participating in the event.

In line with GERD, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan announced on May 16, 2018 that they had made progress in talks on the GERD,what will be Africa's largest hydroelectric Dam up on finalization. This time Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi who used to brag ``all options are on the table, Nile is the life line of Egypt`` said ``there was a progress in the negotiations with our brothers in Sudan and Ethiopia".

According to Al Ahram, the president stated that ``the matter had consumed tremendous efforts and time to reach an understanding formula. Fortunately, workable agreement has been reached and it could be taken as a breakthrough’’.

Following the agreement, the foreign ministers the three countries said they will jointly establish a National Independent Scientific Research Study Group. The Group will discuss means of enhancing the levels of understanding and cooperation among the three countries, with regard to the GERD, being erected on the Blue Nile River.”

The scientific group is expected to discuss and develop "various scenarios related to the filling and operation rules in accordance with the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of shared water resources, while taking all appropriate measures to prevent the causing of significant harm."

This Group will also hold nine meetings, each lasting for three days. The meeting venues are set to be held in rotation between the three countries; after three months of meetings, this group will present the result of their negotiations to their respective water ministers. Similarly, it was agreed to hold two meetings in Cairo on 18 and 19 June. The first meeting would be held between the national technical committee and the consultant, while the ministerial would meet to approve the introductory report after receiving the response of the consultant.

It has been stated that the joint technical team will have five members from each country- to study the filling of the GERD reservoir and operating the Dam (now it has been said that Egypt withdrew its proposal to resort to the World Bank as a mediator on the matter while Ethiopia and Sudan strongly rejected the proposal, insisting they can resolve differences without involving a third party).

Following the meetings in Cairo, the consultant would begin to prepare the social, ecological and economic impact studies as well as the hydrological study pertaining to the scenarios for filling the lake and operating the dam. Indubitably, the agreement of the three countries, on contentious issues, pertaining to the technical impact studies and options for filling and operating the GERD is a great victory. It would help once and for all resolve the Nile gridlock (and Egyptian hegemony) in a win-win and manner.

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It is very much appreciable that the agreement came after failures in many rounds of negotiations that were carried out in Addis Ababa, Khartoum and Cairo. These failures had occurred due to fear of Egypt and its suspicion that too much of the Nile's waters could be retained each year, affecting its agriculture.

Despite this very fact, many are of the opinion that Egypt is furthering its obsession to secure the 1929 and 1959 horse-trading agreements and its staunch policy to impede other upstream countries from utilizing Nile water to development purposes; Egypt is concerned that the GERD could reduce its quota of 55.5 billion cubic meters of the Nile water.

This happens while generous Ethiopia feeding the Nile with its exotic rivers cannot ironically feed its people (though things are changing with time). Until now, though, Ethiopia maintains that the Dam is primarily built to produce electricity and will not harm Sudan and Egypt.

So far, Ethiopia has secured its unflappable stance that GERD will be employed for electrification purposes only and it may not affect the volume of water reaching Egypt. Secret in public, it is also the feeder of over 86 percent of the Nile water and it has the carte blanche to employ Nile water for development purposes.

Currently, close to 70 percent of the project is complete. Once complete, it will generate about 6,450 megawatts. That moment will be define transformation to Ethiopia’s epileptic electricity services overburdened with many investment endeavors and buzzing industry parks, let alone blooming small businesses, far cry from Ethiopia's current production of 4,000 MW.

Once completed, the GERD will be the largest structure in Africa. It is located about 20 miles from the Sudan border and it would be a big merit to Sudan too, at least in stemming the flash floods that seasonally devastate Sudanese villages along the Nile.

Moreover, sources indicate that Ethiopia’s per capita consumption of electricity is among the lowest in the world, using just 65 kilowatt hours while the world average is 3,104 kilowatts hours. Hence, finalization of GERD will be expected to significantly catapult Ethiopia’s power sector development.

GERD has embraced myriads of benefits under its belly forged from metal and concrete structures. For instance, many Ethiopians are spending most of their waking time without access to electricity. Instead they are coerced to survive on alternative sources of energy, such as wood, dung, and other forms of biomass.


And hence GERD is heralding citizens to save them from doom and gloom of darkness. In addition, the World Bank estimates that Ethiopia could earn one billion USD a year from electricity exports, which would make it the largest exporter of power in Africa.


Without any exaggeration, the government has publicized the GERD as an incredibly important project for the country, calling it a “strategically important initiative” and has refused any international money for the Dam as a point of national pride. This Project that costs close to five billion USD  is being funded partly through bond offerings to Ethiopian citizens, but mainly through tax collection and citizen’s in kind and money  contributions.


Ethiopia understands the glaring reality that all over the world dams face multifaceted criticism and what GERD has encountered is no different. Earlier, environmental and river-related groups had expressed their opposition (most of which are in favor of Egypt) that the project is white elephant to Ethiopian people, though no one knows the priceless projects they have formulated for the people of Ethiopia instead.


While over 86% of Nile originates from Ethiopia’s Blue Nile, Egypt is worried to secure its Nile water quota of 55 billion cubic meters of water allocated by irrational colonial treaties that shun major contributors like Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Ethiopia is adamantly stating that its Nile utilization will not have significant impact as it is solely for electricity generation.


Until now, there are no studies that accurately showed that GERD would decrease the amount of Nile water flowing to Egypt except partisan and parochial ``studies`` that attempted to play Egypt off  against Ethiopia. Whatever the case, unlike selfish and self-righteous stand of downstream countries (emanated from colonialism), every move of Ethiopia is transparent and cooperative. So far, Ethiopia has handed over 150 GERD-related documents to Egypt.


At this watershed moment, the three countries had indicated that they are interested to cooperate by signing the agreement. The agreement proves, as the time to fill the reservoir and completion of the dam nears, the interest of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan is strengthening to work together  in a spirit of cooperation, most likely (still no guarantee if Egypt flip-flops and U-turns at some point).


Is it weird to think, what if some pie in the sky individuals speculate the effects of the Dam as source of climate change and drought impacting Nile water in a myriad of ways, like the seven years of famine in Egypt, as narrated in the Bible? Will Egypt pick holes in the GERD and pick any quarrel? We hope, hence forth, any future conflict and disagreement may be ruled out through cooperation and negotiation.


Both Egypt and Ethiopia consider the Dam to be a national security issue. Like Egypt, Ethiopia also considers Nile as its strategic means to alleviate poverty. Hence, both countries should resolve differences legally, abiding by international water laws and the principle of insignificant impact.


Whatever the case, the current agreement may be taken as a breakthrough to stamp out Nile impasse that used to hamper equitable utilization of Nile since the time immemorial (may be since Homer’s pedantically nicknaming Egypt the ``gift of the Nile`, neglecting Ethiopia’s being the firstborn of the  Nile).




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