Ethiopia says a multibillion dollar hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile will change the lives of 65 million people currently without electricity, and mark the country’s arrival as a major African power. But the project threatens a lasting rift between Nile basin countries downstream – especially Egypt.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will hold 74 billion cubic metres of Nile water by the time it is filled. But Ethiopia and Egypt, as well as Sudan, remain at odds over the length of time it will take to fill the dam, as well as how future disputes will be mediated. Egypt fears rapidly filling the dam will arrest the flow of water downstream, where Egyptian farmers already struggling with the impact of climate change rely on irrigation from the Nile. Recent talks led by the African Union have so far failed to yield an agreement.
For Ethiopians – some of whom gave small individual donations to fund the dam’s construction – the project is evidence of their country’s rapid regional ascent. Hashtags such as #ItsMyDam and #EthiopiaNileRights have trended on social media, the latter reflective of simmering resentments over colonial-era Nile river treaties that have favoured Egypt and Sudan.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says Addis Ababa has “no intention” of harming Egypt and neighbouring Sudan by running the new dam. But Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al Sisi recently told the UN General Assembly that “the Nile River must not be monopolised by one state”, adding that “for Egypt, the Nile water is an existential matter.” Tensions have been particularly acute since Ethiopia announced in July it had started filling the dam, sparking surprise and alarm among leaders in Cairo and Khartoum and prompting Egyptians to add hashtags such as #EgyptNileRights and #Nile4All to their social media posts.
In this episode of The Stream, we will look at what the GERD means for people living in the Nile basin and whether Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan can find common ground. Join the conversation.
Timothy E. Kaldas, @tekaldas
Non-Resident Fellow, Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy