As Ethiopia marks the fourth year of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the Egyptian government persists in obstructing Ethiopia’s endeavors to escape from extreme poverty and embark on a significant journey towards revitalizing itself. This is done in the name of unsubstantiated water shortage claim that the GERD will subject the two downstream countries namely Sudan and Egypt. Contrary to such claims, Egypt’s main water storage, the High Aswan Dam, is still sitting at the highest level it has been in over twenty years. Just like it has been over the last three years. Ethiopia contributes more than 86% of the Nile water and so far, has used less than 10% of its total annual contribution of the Nile water to fill the GERD. Yet talk of the GERD causing water shortages downstream is rampant. The Egyptian and Sudanese governments who know too well it is far from the truth are content, for political expediency, to have this distract their people from political and economic challenges at home.
Looking back, perhaps it’s important to summarize and give coherence to some of the things that happened over the past 5 – 10 years. Every year, since 2018, the government of Egypt and Sudan, independently, have repeatedly bemoaned “water shortages” in their respective countries. This, although since 2020, 500,000 – 700,000 people have been affected by flooding throughout Sudan as a direct result of the Nile overflowing with significant loss of property and life including in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. The overflow of the Abay (Blue Nile) River annually in August and more specifically in 2016, 2017 and 2021 caused loss of life and property downstream in Sudan. It’s not much better on the White Nile as high rainfall in Ethiopia caused the partial collapse of the Al Aawar Dam in 2016, even as the Sudanese government vociferously claimed its people were in drought conditions. Egypt’s Lake Nasser, created after Egypt completed the Aswan High Dam in 1970, has been at historic high levels for the past 3 years, leading to the necessity of releasing water to flow into the desert. Yet Egypt and Sudan continue to voice their complaint, at the United Nations, the Arab league and to an echo chamber of like-minded institutions and politically motivated entities choosing hysterics over coherence. Some scientifically questionable “analysis” by the media who exaggerated the impact of GERD filling didn’t help either. For example, one popular study by the media predicted that GERD will be filled in three years. As a result, the study claimed that 70% of Egyptian agricultural land would disappear, which was subsequently challenged by ten researchers considered knowledgeable about the region and subject matter experts.
The seeming paradox of flood-ravaged cities coinciding with discussions of water shortage and drought highlights the need for more effective water management systems. Ideally, this should involve collaboration with Ethiopia to regulate annual flows. Egypt has harnessed the Nile, not just for immediate agricultural needs but also to cultivate water-intensive cash crops like cotton for export. Furthermore, Egypt’s ability to irrigate over 20 golf resorts, a new city in the Sahara Desert, and sell water to other nations, indicate not a shortage but an excess of water resources. Despite these circumstances, Egypt has been seeking funding from various Arab countries and Western capitals for its “drought-ravaged” economy, and for weapon acquisitions to support its “existential” rights – rights that infringe upon the existential rights of 11 upstream African countries. The weaponry purchased, including helicopter carriers and an army for the “Red Sea,” is reportedly to be stationed in Somalia and Djibouti. This situation underscores the complex and multi-layered dynamics of water resource management and geopolitics in the region.
Ethiopia is signatory to the 2015 Declaration of Principles (DoP), which it has discharged faithfully, while the other two parties were engaged in military exercises to try and intimidate it.
Egyptian criticism of Ethiopian activities mostly centers on the 1902 agreement which they claim binds Ethiopia. But the agreement signed between the Ethiopian Monarch and the British Monarch, is first and foremost not an agreement between Ethiopia and Egypt, rather its colonial power. The agreement has little relevance once that colony ceases to exist. Secondly, the agreement does not bind Ethiopia from doing anything within its own territory and waterways.
Several nations, organizations, and international entities, despite being influenced by Egypt’s campaigns that contradict the Declaration of Principles (DoP), concur that this agreement adequately addresses the recurring issues raised by Egypt and Sudan. These bodies consistently urge Egypt to uphold its responsibilities outlined in the 2015 cooperative resolution accords, signed by Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.
However, attempts at resolution have been undermined by the deliberate absences of Egyptian and Sudanese parties, aiming to orchestrate a deadlock. Primarily, Sudan and Egypt need to commit to conflict resolution measures in good faith to alleviate disputes, rather than exploiting them to pressure Ethiopia into making concessions, like signing a binding agreement, which could then be manipulated to create further conflicts.
Secondly, Egypt and Sudan should refrain from casting aspersions on Ethiopia’s reputation, alleging violation of agreements. It is noteworthy that both Sudan and Egypt have engaged in distortive tactics, accusing Ethiopia of transgressions that they themselves are committing, in direct defiance of the agreed-upon framework.
Ethiopia has made it clear that it is not bound by any colonial agreement established by Egypt, Sudan, or other entities without its participation. Therefore, it cannot be held accountable for violation of agreements it was not a party to. Even the 1902 agreement, which Egypt claims restricts Ethiopia’s use of the Nile, merely prohibits it from completely blocking the Nile flow—an impossible feat, both historically and prospectively.
Whether in Khartoum or Cairo or any of the other capitals these ill-conceived plans are made, no people have a right to impose poverty on another people, least of all the people whose past have enabled Sudan and Egypt to utilize the Nile as if all its waters, all the rain and soil of 11 African Riparian countries belonged to just two of them. That was a colonial pipe dream Great Britain indulged and, like the borders and other devices it arbitrarily drew all over Africa, embedded so it could continue to rule the continent by proxy of conflict years after its colonial devices had been rejected and dismantled. The Nile is Abay, Atbara, Sobat, and many other names, and belongs not to 1 or even 3 but to 11 countries who all share a unique bond as enablers and shapers of some of the world’s greatest civilizations. Truth and common sense are what’s needed, not information operations, cyber warfare and the beating of war drums as has happened before.
The Egyptian Government and the Sudanese Government have been actively promoting a warlike attitude holding baffling war games. These government officials have resorted to saber rattling, exactly the opposite of what they should be doing in search of a humble and equitable solution among their 11 neighbors. It’s become puzzling, though through glimpses in Egyptian government media, the latter’s problems seem to be Ethiopia’s reemergence and revitalization and not genuine concerns about water security. Egyptian governments have for years campaigned to keep Ethiopia from obtaining the necessary funds to develop its water resources. They now campaign to prevent Ethiopia from obtaining weapons to protect itself from attacks, perhaps in the foreknowledge that they plan to launch those attacks.
Having been denied all assistance from the 1960 to 2009, the Ethiopian people funded the GERD themselves. The Egyptian and Sudanese people need to push their leaders to honor commitments made on their behalf by their governments, And the Egyptian and Sudanese Governments need to honor existing commitments they made, specifically in the 2015 accords before demanding others get into additional binding agreements.
All Nile countries, including Ethiopia, should and will use all water resources available to them, observing international norms and their own rights to achieve the health and well-being of their people just like Egypt and Sudan have.