A River Runs Through an African Rivalry
JANUARY 3, 2017

The competition to secure water from the Nile River will create problems for Egypt and Ethiopia, much as it has for centuries.
The countries will, however, probably find some common ground despite the ongoing construction of the divisive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Distrust still defines relations between Cairo and Addis Ababa, and Egyptian-Ethiopian competition over water resources will not end.

Egypt and Ethiopia have been at odds for much of their modern history, perhaps nowhere more so than in their attempts to secure water of the Nile River basin. This particular struggle has been on full display in recent negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is situated on the Blue Nile. The history of competition over the critical waterway provides the context for regional dynamics that will endure long into the future.

Troubled Waters
Treaties lie at the center of controversy between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Nile River, primarily because most of these agreements never included Ethiopia as a signatory. The treaties were tools British colonial officials used in the 19th and 20th centuries to manage relations between their Egyptian and Sudanese holdings. Ethiopia, which was not a colony, at times negotiated with the British government but never had the same say in regulating the use of the Nile. Understandably, Addis Ababa has often rejected the legal framework established in this period for managing the river. One of Ethiopia's main concerns is the fact that it, as an upstream country, is not protected in the same way as downstream countries such as Egypt.

From Ethiopia's perspective, all countries in the basin depend on the water resource. Addis Ababa argues that it should have been invited to take part in initial agreements that set water use terms. Because it was sidelined from the process that laid down the management of the river, Ethiopia has instead pursued self-development projects such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. These kinds of projects are a problem for Egypt: the Nile is the desert country's primary source of fresh water and of irrigation for agriculture. For that reason alone, Egypt has and will continue to dominate in use of Nile River water. Without it, Egypt could not survive. 

Subtle Means
The most recent major agreement on managing the Nile was reached in 1959, marking the start of the modern history of Nile River relations. It was signed soon after the independence of Sudan in 1956 and Gamal Abdel Nasser's 1956 rise to power in Egypt. It dictated the amount of water that could be used by each country and established a number of joint projects to limit loss of water from evaporation in certain sections of the Nile. But once again, the agreement did not include Ethiopia.

Of course, Nasser was not oblivious to Ethiopia's concerns — or to its importance to Egyptian water security. Even before Nasser, Egypt had attempted to gain more control over the Blue Nile, one of the Nile's major tributaries. During the 19th century, Egypt tried to invade Ethiopia to gain control over this portion of the basin. But Ethiopian armies deflected the invasion in the coastal areas of modern day northern Eritrea. Even after the failed invasions, Egypt maintained forces in the port city of Massawa (now part of Eritrea) to maintain military options against Ethiopia. By the time Nasser came to power as Egypt's president in 1956, Egypt's military no longer held these areas because the United Kingdom had given up control of the territory. And, in 1952, Eritrea had entered into a federacy with Ethiopia.

Rather than try to force Ethiopia's hand militarily, Nasser attempted to work with Addis Ababa diplomatically. Moreover, Nasser had a direct connection with Ethiopia's rulers. During his career as a military officer, he had been stationed in Sudan and had interacted closely with Ethiopian officials. Nasser failed, however, to convince the Ethiopian emperor to visit Egypt. Despite the interest Ethiopia may have had in collaborating with Egypt on Nile River issues, the style of Arab nationalism Nasser propagated in his country and the region drove a deep wedge between the two countries. Ethiopia considered the ideology a threat to monarchies such as its own. Furthermore, Ethiopians were Africans, not Arabs, so Addis Ababa was suspicious of any potential ulterior motives that may have been guiding Nasser's attempts to initiate dialogue.

The Ebb of Conflict
In addition, both countries were implicated in Cold War politics. While Nasser's Egypt was supported by the Soviet Union, Ethiopia was supported by the United States. For Ethiopia, this allegiance presented an existential threat. Communism, of course, staunchly opposes the concept of a monarchy, and Ethiopian rulers rejected communism and all of its agents. Eventually, communism did indeed bring down Ethiopia's monarchy when the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army (a Marxist-Leninist military council often referred to simply as the Derg), took control of the country in 1974. Before then, the monarchy held off interacting with Nasser, forcing Egypt to explore other means of establishing influence over the Blue Nile.

Consequently, Nasser's government began to undermine the Ethiopian government. By supporting Eritrea and Somalia, Egypt attempted to distract and weaken Addis Ababa by inspiring the Muslim population of Ethiopia to resist the Christian emperor, in part through propaganda operations out of Radio Cairo. They also provided facilities to Eritrean revolutionaries to broadcast their own propaganda, and even provided military training to Eritreans, many of which went on to become part of the current ruling class following Eritrea's independence in 1991. Nasser also exploited the ethnic Somali struggle to unify greater Somalia, which spans across southeastern Ethiopia. Egypt provided military support here as well.

However, this interference eventually led to war between Ethiopia and Somalia over the disputed Ogaden region. By this time, communists had come to power in Ethiopia, and Nasser no longer ruled Egypt. Ethiopia's military eventually defeated Somalia after the Soviet Union sided with Addis Ababa, beginning an era of communism in Ethiopia. During this period, Anwar Sadat became president of Egypt, and the country's priorities changed. Ethiopia was in no position to continue its competition with Egypt regardless: It was distracted by internal conflict, not to mention Eritrea's war of independence. And so, for a time, the two countries' attempts to undermine one another declined markedly.

Precious Water
But tensions rekindled in 2011, when Ethiopia started the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near the Sudanese-Ethiopian border. Seeking reassurances that the dam will not endanger the crucial flow of the Nile River, Egypt has taken part in round after round of negotiations. The construction of the dam — and the diplomatic process surrounding it — has since progressed at a slow but steady pace.

Despite collaboration, partially explained by the fact that Egypt simply has few alternatives to halt the dam's construction, historical concerns between Cairo and Addis Ababa endure. Even now, Ethiopia faces internal unrest driven by ethnic discontent, and accusations of Egyptian support to opposition fighters have again emerged. Countries such as Saudi Arabia have also reached out, hoping to use the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as a lever to influence Egypt, which has recently sought greater independence in its Middle East foreign policy, resisting any attempts to bring it further under outside influence. Geography dictates that Egypt and Ethiopia will continue compete.


Egypt Girds Itself for a Loss of Power Over the Nile
Dec 18, 2017  


*        Egypt will continue to maintain an aggressive tone against Ethiopia on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in an attempt to force Ethiopia to capitulate to Cairo's demands, but the dam will be completed.

*        Over the past decade, upstream states have shifted the balance of power in Nile River politics and are beginning to challenge Egypt's leverage over the use of the river's resources.

*        Egypt will be forced to come back to the negotiating table with Ethiopia because once the  am is built, Egypt must coordinate its dam operations with Ethiopia's as the new reservoir is filled.

It is no understatement that the Nile River is Egypt's lifeblood. Since antiquity, the Nile has allowed a civilization to flourish along its banks and in its delta. It should be no surprise, therefore, that Egypt's dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile River's most important tributary continues to vex Cairo as it exhausts all diplomatic avenues to ensure that its water supply remains secure.

The dispute, however, is now reaching crunch time, with the GERD's construction tentatively scheduled to be finished in late 2018. Once construction is complete, Ethiopia will push to start filling the dam's massive reservoir, which can hold up to 74 billion cubic meters of water.
But negotiations between Ethiopia and its downstream neighbors, Sudan and Egypt, fell apart in November when disagreements over the results of technical studies of the dam's impacts and the potential ways to coordinate filling its reservoir prompted Cairo to walk out of the talks. Ethiopian
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn hopes to visit Cairo this month to try to get the talks back on track.

Egypt: Leverage Washes Away

With a fast-growing population of 96 million people in Egypt, the challenges of managing its water supply are not going to get any easier in the coming decades. Because of the Nile, Egypt's water stress level is lower than many of its neighbors in the Middle East, but any diminishment of its access to the river's water, even for a short time, would quickly increase that stress. Historical rights and treaties have allowed Egypt to influence negotiations among other Nile Basin countries and thus maintain significant control over the politics of the river. Developments around the GERD, however, have highlighted how much Egypt's historical leverage has waned.

Egypt and Sudan have long relied on old agreements, many of them negotiated when many African states were European colonies, to justify their rights to the Nile's waters. In their dispute with Ethiopia over the dam, Egypt and Sudan — both former British colonies — say a 1902 treaty between Great Britain and Ethiopia gives them veto authority over any upstream projects that could threaten their water supplies. The Ethiopian government argues that the treaty was never properly approved domestically, and thus is invalid. Egypt and Sudan also point to a 1959 agreement between them that allocates 55.5 billion cubic meters and 18.5 billion cubic meters of water to each country, respectively. The total — 74 billion cubic meters — is most of the Nile River's estimated annual flow of 84 billion cubic meters (an amount not entirely adjusted for seepage and evaporation).

In most cases with transboundary rivers, upstream countries hold more leverage than downstream ones, but many of the Nile's upstream countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda were not sufficiently developed, or did not exist in their present form, when the agreements governing the Nile's flows were negotiated. Egypt's position as a powerful downstream state that holds more control over the Nile because of existing treaties is rare. Other geopolitical factors, however, are starting to line up for Ethiopia and other upstream countries, and they are starting to flip the Nile Basin back to a more "natural" order.

In 1993, Egypt and Ethiopia broke an impasse by agreeing to abide by international practices and frameworks in future Nile negotiations, which were to be governed by two principles: equitable distribution and do no harm to others. Egypt has stressed that this agreement gives it a say in upstream projects, while Ethiopia argues it should have a say in downstream projects. Downstream projects can affect equitable distribution of water, Ethiopia maintains, by forcing upstream countries to forgo future consumption, which is essentially the way Egypt (and Sudan) have been able to justify their high consumption rates.

The upstream countries have banded together more strongly over the past 25 years, and they have used the Nile Basin Initiative to strengthen their negotiating position vis-a-vis Egypt and Sudan, both members of the initiative. They also pushed for the Cooperative Framework Agreement in
2010, which Egypt and Sudan did not sign. The agreement aims to redistribute some of the historical rights of the Nile's water and, more importantly, reduce some of the leverage Cairo has over potential upstream irrigation plans. Egypt has accused Ethiopia of taking advantage of the turmoil during the Arab Spring and of the breakdown in negotiations over the Cooperative Framework Agreement to announce plans for the GERD in 2011.

Ethiopia: East Africa's Water Tower
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is designed to produce up to 6,450 megawatts of electricity, potentially more than doubling Ethiopia's power capacity. The Blue Nile, which the dam sits on, is the source of an estimated 84 percent of the combined Nile Rivers' water supply, and the 74
billion cubic meters the reservoir will hold is nearly an entire year's
worth of the Nile's water supply. To fill the reservoir so it minimally affects Egypt requires a well-designed protocol, and operations at various dams downstream — principally the Aswan High Dam in Egypt — will have to be coordinated with operations at the GERD.

Dozens of studies have examined the potential impact of different strategies for filling the reservoir. Egypt wants the process to take up to 5 years, depending on rain conditions, while Ethiopia wants to fill it more quickly, so it can start reaping the benefits of producing and exporting
electricity. Egypt has argued that Ethiopia should stop building the dam until the studies are complete. Ethiopia has said it doesn't need to respond to Egypt's demands because the Egyptians don't always notify Ethiopia of their water-related projects on the Nile.

Some of the studies suggest that the dam actually could improve Egypt's water security in the long term. For example, the GERD reservoir will lose less water to evaporation than the Aswan High Dam reservoir in southern Egypt. A coordination agreement with Ethiopia and Sudan potentially could benefit Egypt, at least slightly, because the dam would allow the governments to better control the Nile's flow. Such control would reduce the Aswan High Dam's electricity generation, but electricity via hydropower is becoming increasingly less import for Egypt. Meanwhile, the water supply created by the dam is set to benefit Sudan by potentially making irrigation more efficient and increasing the number of planting seasons in the country.

But for Egypt, the GERD is just one of many large Nile River projects Ethiopia is planning, and it comes in the context of its reduced leverage over Nile flows. Ethiopia sees a string of dams as critical to its potential long-term power generation and growing status as a cheap source of labor for export-oriented manufacturing. Although the GERD isn't meant to store water for irrigation, Egypt is concerned that Ethiopia could use other dams to irrigate crops. It's this potential threat to Egypt's water availability that explains why it is taking such a hard stand on the GERD, which is a risk only during its filling. Egypt is attempting to force Ethiopia into
accepting its approval in order to set a precedent for future projects and to preserve its leverage in bigger disputes.

A Dammed Dispute
While Egypt has pushed back against Ethiopia for unilaterally moving forward on the GERD, it is in its interest to stay involved in talks. Indeed, the 2015 Khartoum agreement among Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, which laid out a road map for talks about the dam, is indicative of Egypt's wanting to exhaust diplomatic options. The road map included choosing outside parties to study the dam's impact.

This is where talks have broken down. In September 2016, the three governments selected two European firms to study how to fill the dam, but once the studies came back in August 2017, there was disagreement — across old lines — on how to interpret them. Egypt has pushed for reports that highlight the potential risks it faces as it tries to get more concessions from Ethiopia over operating practices and filling protocols. Sudan and Ethiopia have pushed for interpretations that highlight practices and protocols. Egypt pulled out of the talks in November.

The story has taken on a life of its own in Egyptian media. Rarely a day goes by without a public official, member of parliament or an op-ed expressing concern about the dam. The reaction is somewhat reminiscent of the way the Egyptian media criticized the Red Sea islands deal with Saudi Arabia, which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pushed through parliament this year. Al-Sisi, who appears interested in getting Desalegn's visit finalized, also appears to be a moderating force in negotiations with Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian dam is about 70 percent complete. Construction continues regardless of Egypt's desire that it stop, either permanently or temporarily, and the reservoir eventually will begin to be filled. Egypt has issued military threats from time to time, but the international community, which largely supports the dam, will frown on any threats of military force to prevent its completion.

With the dam an inevitability, Cairo finds itself backed into a corner in negotiations and its ability to get Ethiopia to grant concessions increasingly limited. Egypt has pleaded its case to its Arab League partners and to the World Bank, but to little avail. With Ethiopia largely consistent
in its message that irrigation is not a key part of the dam's plan, Egypt has found that its diplomatic pleas are falling on deaf ears. This is likely to force Egypt to come back to the negotiating table sooner rather than later, and it is possible that Desalegn's visit will initiate Egypt's return. In any case, Cairo's lack of options, its reduced ability to unite with Sudan against upstream countries and the dam's continuing construction have shown Egypt that its old tactics are declining and that upstream countries are gaining leverage in Nile Basin water politics.

A behind the scenes documentary. Over a year after principle photography of People of the Delta, Joey returns to the Omo Valley to collect the last missing pieces of the film. Joey must track down his nomadic subjects one last time, who have moved away to other corners of Ethiopia.

​                                                                                     People of the Delta - The Hunt for Nomadic Friends         

                                                                                                          Sent in by Bill Phillipson                       

​​​Egypt, Ethiopia: Presidents Talk Fence Mending And Dam Building
Jan 18, 2018

In our 2018 Annual Forecast, we said that Ethiopia would forge ahead with its flagship Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project on the Blue Nile River, despite Egypt's concerns. Though talks about how to balance the needs of all parties fell apart in November, there are signs that Egypt may once more be willing to discuss the impact of the inevitable dam.

Neither Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn nor his Egyptian counterpart President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are eager to see relations between their two countries deteriorate any further than they already have. To that end, on Jan. 18, Al Ahram reported that the two leaders met in Cairo, just one day after talks between the Ethiopian and Egyptian foreign ministers on Jan. 17. Tensions remain high over progress on Ethiopia’s flagship Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and high-level representatives appear committed to managing the dynamic between the countries to prevent any serious disputes.

Ethiopia is continuing its work on the GERD, a multibillion-dollar gravity dam project on the Blue Nile River designed to provide hydroelectric power to the electricity-starved country and tentatively scheduled for completion in late 2018. But Egypt, which has been critically dependent on the Nile to sustain itself for millennia, is worried that the dam will put its water access at risk.

Though both parties — as well as other countries related to the project such as Sudan — had been engaged in negotiations about how to ensure that their needs are met, Egypt pulled out of GERD talks at the ministerial level in November 2017, claiming Ethiopia was not adequately addressing its demands. The reality of a finished GERD has loomed over Egypt since 2011, and the country has frequently oscillated between diplomacy and hostility toward Ethiopia and Sudan. Now, negotiations between the various countries remain stalled over how to best manage the impact of the dam.

Egypt’s bargaining position is very weak compared to Ethiopia’s, as the country depends on the Nile's flow yet does not control the source. On Jan. 18, al-Sisi noted his "extreme concern" over the lack of current negotiations over the dam, and his recent meeting with Desalegn signals that a more open dialogue may be on its way. Still, the issue will continue to be a sticky one for Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in the months and even years ahead

Ethiopia Declares State Of Emergency

Monday, October 10, 2016 - 16:56​

Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency in response to ongoing and
increasingly disruptive protests. On Oct. 8, the Ethiopian government
accused "troublemakers" and external powers of instigating the insurrection
against it. Sporadic demonstrations driven by ethnic strife have occurred
in Ethiopia since November 2015, but over the past few months the unrest
has escalated. Now the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups have joined the fray,
leading protests and strikes across the country.

Much of the uptick in demonstrations can be attributed to the violence that
broke out at a religious festival, Irreecha, on Oct. 2. When the
festivities gave way to an anti-government demonstration, security forces
intervened and sparked panic that left between 52 and 300 civilians dead.
Citizens, outraged at the high death toll, have since taken to the streets
to vent their frustration with the ruling administration. The protests have
even reached the outskirts of Addis Ababa in an unprecedented sign of
popular discontent.

Among the protesters' demands are that foreign companies close their
operations in Ethiopia. (The firms are seen as a financial lifeline for the
Tigray ethnic minority that controls the government.) According to Stratfor
sources, protesters have begun attacking farms and factories on the edges
of the capital city, destroying more than 132 businesses, the bulk of which
are owned by foreigners. The government in Addis Ababa, meanwhile, has
publicly placed blame for the unrest on Eritrea and Egypt, accusing both
countries of arming and supporting Ethiopian protesters. (The claim against
Egypt rests on a two-year-old video of Ethiopian opposition figures meeting
with Egyptian officials.) Cairo, unsurprisingly, has denied Addis Ababa's

The state of emergency could enable federal security forces to step in for
their local counterparts, who have been reluctant to crack down on the
Amhara and Oromo demonstrations. It may also expand the military rule
already in place in several of Ethiopia's northern districts. But in all likelihood, the move
will do little to clamp down on the protests sweeping the country, or to
prevent strikes and demonstrations from moving deeper into the capital.


The following articles are prepared by STRATFOR out of Austin, Texas.