history vs sovereignty

Is a war between Egypt and Ethiopia brewing on the Nile?

in depth

This article is part of the dossier:

GERD: The dam of discord

By Olivier Caslin, Hossam Rabie

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Posted on May 6, 2021 18:37

At the start of April, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke up for the first time using very direct words against any action that would take away any drop if its water resources. In this second part of our series, we examine how likely military action is between the two.

This is part 2 of a 5-part series

In response to Addis Ababa’s announcement of plans to begin the second phase of filling the reservoir behind the dam under construction on the Blue Nile, Cairo — backed by a growing chorus of countries, including Sudan — said it will not allow a soul to hijack its water resources and is willing to use force to defend them.

Is a war brewing on the Nile? An impasse has set in less than two months before the deadline of what amounts to an ultimatum — issued by Egypt and Sudan — calling on Ethiopia to reverse its plans to move forward with the second phase of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

The gulf continues to widen between Egypt and Ethiopia in a dispute that dates back to April 2011, when Addis Ababa took the unilateral decision to divert waters from the Blue Nile to fill what is set to become, by the end of 2022, the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa.

Cairo is invoking its historical rights over the waterway, while Addis Ababa views the dam as a matter of national sovereignty. Both positions have become irreconcilable, with the two countries’ assorted leaders doubling down on their stances over the course of the decade-long feud.

Threats of military action

Ethiopia’s response to Egypt’s veto power over Nile projects — a vestige of British colonial rule — that the country continues to believe it enjoys, has been to impose a fait accompli.

As far as their respective populations are concerned, they manipulate symbols to stir up nationalist pride and prey on fears. For instance, Addis Ababa has talked up how the dam will benefit Ethiopia’s economic development by meeting its power needs, among other things.

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