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    Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tweets ‘Nile is Ours,’ Drawing Ire of Egypt and the U.S.

    Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tweets ‘Nile is Ours,’ Drawing Ire of Egypt and the U.S.

    Thousands of years of history would argue otherwise, and Egypt plans to protect its historic and essential water interests.
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    While the world focuses on the COVID pandemic and China’s shenanigans, a potential conflict has been brewing between Ethiopia and Egypt involving the waters of the Blue Nile.

    This month, Ethiopia completed the initial filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a nearly $5 billion hydroelectricity project. The country plans to fill the rest of the dam over the next five years, a prospect that worries downstream Egypt, which depends on the Nile for freshwater.

    Egypt is preparing for a fresh round of negotiations on GERD after the African Union demanded that Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia formulate a binding agreement on the dam that includes the issue of future development on the Blue Nile river.

    During a call-in on Ahmed Moussa’s TV show “Ala Massoulity” (On My Responsibility) on the privately-owned satellite channel Sada al-Balad, Spokesperson for the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohamed al-Sebaie, said that the date for the start of the new round of negotiations will be determined soon.

    Sebaie indicated that the legal points regarding filling the dam are still disputed. He stressed that water is not a luxury for Egypt but rather an existential issue and a matter of life, and that Egypt will not cede its water rights.

    The Nile river, which is the lifeline of Egypt, receives its waters from two main tributaries: The Blue Nile (sourced at Lake Tana in Ethiopia) and the White Nile (sourced at Lake Victoria). The two tributaries merge at Khartoum in Sudan. The Blue Nile supplies about 80% of the water in the Nile during the rainy season.

    Once these facts are understood, one can understand why the Ethiopian foreign minister’s recent tweet that “the Nile is ours” would cause an international stir.

    Ethiopia’s foreign minister outraged Egyptians on Wednesday with a hubristic tweet claiming “The Nile is Ours”, one week after it took a notable step in completing its controversial upsteam Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [GERD] project.

    Gedu Andargachew tweet read: “Congratulations! It was the Nile River and the river became a lake. It will no longer flow into the river. Ethiopia will have all the development it wants from it. In fact the Nile is ours!”

    It comes amid reports that the US is considering sanctions against Ethiopia over its refusal to enter into a final agreement with Sudan and Egypt about the future status of the Nile.

    Tensions have increased between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan after Ethiopia – which has rejected signing a binding agreement regarding the use of the Nile’s waters – unilaterally started to fill the reservoir of the GERD last week.

    The unregulated filling of the GERD’s reservoir could potentially cut off essential water supplies to Sudan and Egypt, causing drought and famine.

    Wherever there is trouble in today’s world, it is wise to consider a connection to China. Looking at the funding background for GERD, reports indicate that the Ethiopians intend to fund the $5 billion for construction themselves with bonds, but have the assistance of the Chinese (who are financing the turbines and associated electrical equipment of the hydropower plants).

    This financing is consistent with the fact China has been buying influence in Africa for the past several years. African countries are just waking up to the potential consequences of this fiscal arrangement.

    [Zambia’s Minister of Finance Dipak] Patel is among a growing number of African activists and policymakers questioning the deluge of Chinese credit—some $150 billion in 2018, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University—that has fueled a debt crisis aggravated by the new coronavirus. Nigerian lawmakers are reviewing Chinese loans they say were unfavorable. Activists in Kenya are demanding the government disclose the terms of Chinese credit used to build a 470-kilometer (292-mile) railway. And Tanzanian President John Magufuli calls an agreement his predecessor made with Chinese investors, to build a $10 billion port and economic zone, a deal “only a madman would sign.”

    While it will be tough for cash-starved African governments to win many concessions, a wave of looming defaults poses the biggest test ever for China’s influence in the region. “This has the potential to produce the most profound change in relations since China became a major economic player on the continent,” says Chris Alden, an international affairs professor at the London School of Economics.

    GERD may have started as a great idea to win favor with the Ethiopian people, the regional consequences may mean there is now a second dam that may prove troubling to the Chinese as Egypt prepares to protect its water rights robustly.

    Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi reaffirmed the state’s rejection of any unilateral action that may compromise Egypt’s right to Nile water.

    El-Sisi made the statement during a phone call with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday as the two heads of state discussed the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

    According to Presidency Spokesman Bassam Rady, El-Sisi said Egypt insists on the formulation of a full-fledged legal agreement between the concerned parties regarding the rules of filling and operation of the dam.


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    ThePrimordialOrderedPair | July 29, 2020 at 11:52 am

    There was a good deal of opposition to Egypt’s construction of the Aswan High dam because of the huge amount of antiquities and important archaeological areas that were going to be flooded but Egypt didn’t really care much about any of that. Preserving any antiquities was never much of a thing in Egypt – not until they found out how much they could extort the West with it. Preserving any historical artifacts has pretty much zero value in arab culture.

    Ethiopia’s rivers are Ethiopia’s and they are free to do with them whatever they want. If Egypt wants to go to war over that then that is how these things go, but Egypt has no say, otherwise, as to how Ethiopia does anything on its sovereign territory.

    fscarn | July 29, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    Once the reservoir is filled it’s back to the status quo.

      artichoke in reply to fscarn. | July 29, 2020 at 2:11 pm

      Not sure about that, because Ethiopia will release water when they want to generate electricity, which will not reproduce the natural river flood cycle.

        ThePrimordialOrderedPair in reply to artichoke. | July 29, 2020 at 2:25 pm

        With a dam it’s not totally up to you as to when and how you let water out. Ethiopia can only fight the natural rise and fall of the water level so much.

        But it’s a river on their territory so it’s up to them what they want to do. If Egypt doesn’t like it then Egypt can try to make a deal with Ethiopia, pay them, give them more power from the Aswan dam, go to war with them … but it’s always Ethiopia’s choice as what they feel like doing on their sovereign territory. Egypt really has nothing to say about it.

        And dams affect things upstream, too. When Egypt built the Aswan High dam that had effects on all sorts of things upriver in Ethiopia. But the dam was Egypt’s prerogative.

      JusticeDelivered in reply to fscarn. | July 29, 2020 at 5:08 pm

      Five years of damage to everyone downstream.

    artichoke | July 29, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    Here’s a crazy thought. Presumably the problem is that Ethiopia will generate electricity by releasing the flow at the “wrong” times, disrupting the normal flood season of the river and destroying customary agriculture. Ethiopia’s dam allows them to control this timing.

    So why doesn’t Egypt build another dam at their southern border and accumulate water behind it there, and release it at the times that would replicate the natural flooding cycle. Undoing the change to the water release schedule that the Ethiopians are doing. In fact don’t they have the Aswan Dam already? Or is the issue upstream of there?

      Milhouse in reply to artichoke. | July 29, 2020 at 4:05 pm

      The issue is that Egypt needs the water that Ethiopia will use to fill the dam. Water is a matter of life and death, and Egypt has every right to go to war to prevent it being stolen.

        ThePrimordialOrderedPair in reply to Milhouse. | July 29, 2020 at 5:14 pm


        Egypt has proven that it is very happy to go to war over all manner of junk, rarely having anything to do with life and death problems.

        I would not go whole hog on the argument about “Egypt’s right to go to war” … I mean, you do know the modern history of Egypt, right? Egypt … which stole the Suez Canal, basically, just as the rest of the arab countries stole the gulf oil fields in the forced nationalizations of the 50s and 60s. Egypt is certainly not one to complain about stuff like this. I mean, really.

        Any country can go to war at any time. That is a country’s prerogative. Whether you consider it justified or not is immaterial.

    Milhouse | July 29, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    Seriously, how does someone reach adulthood without ever having heard of riparian rights?

      Barry in reply to Milhouse. | July 29, 2020 at 4:20 pm

      Seriously, how does someone reach adulthood and think “international rights” exist?

      Egypt can go to war. Ethiopia can blow the Aswan dam sky high, among other things.


        JusticeDelivered in reply to Barry. | July 29, 2020 at 5:15 pm

        Let’s say there is a war, what else could Egypt do to Ethiopia? Which country has the greatest military capacity?

          Barry in reply to JusticeDelivered. | July 29, 2020 at 10:57 pm

          Egypt has a far greater military than Ethiopia, really no comparison.

          But the greater strength of the military does not always win the day, especially when you are going to have to take a country over.

          Egypt could blow the dam in Ethiopia. The Aswan High dam is easy pickings as well.

          There really is no military solution here. Just as “International rights” are of no value, the military is not the answer.

          There is one answer – Egypt will have to work with the Ethiopians to fill the dam with as little disruption as possible to Egypt. The Nile in Ethiopia contributes 80% of the water to the Nile as it flows through Egypt with the other 20% coming from the tributary in the Sudan.

          There will not be a war as it will not solve the problem.

        Milhouse in reply to Barry. | July 30, 2020 at 7:55 pm

        Seriously, how does someone reach adulthood and think “international rights” exist?

        That’s funny. If you really think international rights don’t exist then how can you say the water belongs to Ethiopia? According to you Ethiopia has no right to sovereignty at all, or to anything else, so how can it have any right to the water? From the start you have been pounding on a theory that Ethiopia has an absolute right to the water, but now you say it has no rights?!

        Just admit that when you originally posted you were completely ignorant of the existence of riparian law.

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