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Ethiopian Dam  over  Blue  Nile  Raises   Specter  of  Conflict  with  Egypt   Col.  (ret.)  Dr.  Jacques  Neriah   June  13,  2013     In  line  with  Egypt’s  past  military  rulers,  who  warned  at  times  of  military   action  if  Ethiopia  threatened  water  resources,  Egypt’s  Islamist  President   Mohammad  Morsi  threatened  that  “all  options  were  open”  if  Ethiopia   would  divert  the  waters  of  the  Blue  Nile.    The  purpose  of  Ethiopia’s   action  is  to  build  the  Great  Ethiopian  Renaissance  Dam;  a  mammoth   project  ($4.7B)  intended  to  produce  6000  megawatt  of  electricity   generated  by  a  Hydroelectric  Dam.  This  dam  is  to  be  constructed  by   Italians  and  partly  funded  by  China.  The  Great  Ethiopian  Renaissance   Dam,  which  is  being  built  in  the  Benishangul-­‐Gumuz  region  bordering   Sudan  is  part  of  a  $12B  investment  project  to  boost  power  exports.   Egyptian  sensitivity  to  what  happens  with  the  Blue  Nile  emanates  from   the  fact  that  it  is  the  largest  tributary  proving  most  of  the  water  to  the   Nile  itself  (in  comparison  with  the  White  Nile).    The  Blue  Nile  originates   from  Lake  Tana  in  Ethiopia  and  then  flows  into  Sudan,  where  its  waters   join  with  those  of  the  White  Nile  and  form  one  river  that  consequently   flows  into  Egypt,  eventually  reaching  the  Mediterranean  Sea.   In  an  emotional  and  defiant  televised  speech  before  cheering  Islamist   supporters,  President  Morsi  said  on  June  10,”Egypt’s  water  security   cannot  be  violated  at  all…As  president  of  the  state,  I  confirm  to  you  that   all  options  are  open…If  Egypt  is  the  Nile’s  gift,  then  the  Nile  is  a  gift  to   Egypt…The  lives  of  Egyptians  are  connected  around  it…  as  one  great   people.  If  it  diminishes  by  one  drop  then  our  blood  is  the  alternative.”   However  Morsi  stopped  short  of  “calling  for  war”,  but  he  did  say  he   would  not  allow  Egypt’s  water  supply  to  be  endangered.  President   Morsi  said  Egypt  had  no  objection  to  development  projects  on  Nile  basin   areas,  “but  on  condition  that  those  projects  do  not  affect  or  damage   Egypt’s  legal  and  historical  rights”.1  


Morsi’s speech  comes  a  week  after  bellicose  rhetoric,  including  talk  of   military  action  were  aired  by  Egyptian  politicians  last  week,  raising   concerns  of  a  “water  war”  between  Africa’s  second  and  third  most   populous  states.  Egyptian  politicians  were  embarrassed  after  being   heard  suggesting  hostile  acts  against  Ethiopia  to  stop  it  from  building  a   dam  across  the  Blue  Nile.  They  were  inadvertently  heard  on  live  TV    proposing  military  action  at  a  meeting  called  by  President  Mohammed   Morsi.   As  the  participants  did  not  know  that  the  meeting  was  being  aired  live   by  state  TV,  they  spoke  their  minds  freely.  Their  suggestions  centered   on  military  action  as  a  decisive  response  to  what  one  of  them  called  a   “declaration  of  war”.  One  of  the  participants  even  suggested  sending   Special  Forces  to  destroy  the  dam;  another  thought  of  jet  fighters  to   scare  the  Ethiopians;  and  a  third  called  for  Egypt  to  support  rebel   groups  fighting  the  government  in  Addis  Ababa.2   But  President  Morsi,  appeared  to  leave  room  for  compromise.  He  did   not  renew  an  Egyptian  call  –  flatly  rejected  by  Ethiopia  –  to  stop  work  at   the  dam  but  said  further  study  on  its  impact  was  needed.  Describing   Ethiopia  as  a  “friendly  state”,  he  said  Cairo  was  pursuing  all  political  and   diplomatic  avenues  for  a  solution.   Earlier  on  June  10th,  Egyptian  Prime  Minister  Hisham  Kandil,  who  was   sent  several  times  to  Addis  Ababa  to  discuss  the  issue  of  the  Nile  waters   during  the  military  regime  that  preceded  Morsi’s  presidency  and  knows   the  issue  quite  well,  told  parliament  more  time  was  needed  to  study   Ethiopia’s  project  and  for  dialogue  with  Sudan  and  Ethiopia  on  the  best   design  for  the  dam  and  how  to  fill  its  reservoir  without  reducing  the   river’s  flow.     Egypt  and  Sudan  are  particularly  dependent  on  water  supply  from  the   Nile.  Both  countries  claim  that  diversion  of  the  Nile  violates  a  colonial-­‐ era  agreement,  amended  in  1959,  which  gives  both  of  them  rights  to   90%  of  the  Nile’s  water.  Ethiopia’s  decision  to  construct  the  dam   challenges  a  colonial-­‐era  agreement  that  had  allocated  both  Egypt  and  


Sudan rights  to  the  Nile  water,  with  Egypt  taking  55.5  billion  cubic   meters  and  Sudan  18.5  billion  cubic  meters.   That  agreement,  first  signed  in  1929,  took  no  account  of  the  eight  other   nations  along  the  6,700km  (4,160-­‐mile)  river  and  its  basin.  Those   African  states  south  of  the  historic  frontier  of  the  Muslim  Arab  world  –   notably  Uganda,  Kenya,  Tanzania,  Burundi,  Rwanda  and  Democratic   Republic  of  Congo  –  have  been  agitating  for  a  decade  for  a  more   equitable  accord  and    are  also  anxious  to  develop  the  water  resources  of   the  Nile  Basin.   Ethiopia,  on  its  part,  claims  the  diversion  is  momentary  and  will  allow  it   to  carry  out  civil  engineering  work.  The  aim  is  to  divert  the  river  by  a   few  meters  and  then  allow  it  to  flow  on  its  natural  course.   In  fact,  it  is  not  the  diversion  which  is  the  source  of  concern:  Even   though  the  Ethiopian  energy  minister  said  the  dam  does  not  cause  harm   to  any  country,  Egypt’s  Deputy  Foreign  Minister  for  African  Affairs,  Ali   Hifni,  said  that  the  diversion  of  the  river  was  not  something  to  worry   about,  but  that  the  dam  itself  was  of  concern.  Experts  from  Ethiopia,   Egypt  and  Sudan  are  set  to  announce  findings  of  a  study  into  the  impact   of  the  Ethiopian  dam  on  the  Nile’s  flow  in  the  coming  weeks.   While  letting  water  through  such  dams  –  of  which  Egypt,  Sudan  and   Ethiopia  already  have  several  –  may  not  reduce  its  flow  greatly,  the   filling  of  the  reservoir  behind  any  new  dam  means  cutting  the  river’s   flow  for  a  time.  Evaporation  from  reservoirs  can  also  permanently   reduce  water  flowing  downstream.3   However,  it  seems  that  Ethiopia  is  not  impressed  by  the  Egyptian   bellicose  language.  Ethiopia  summoned  the  Egyptian  ambassador  after   politicians  in  Cairo  appeared  on  television  suggesting  military  action  or   supporting  Ethiopian  rebels.   Egypt’s  military  options  are  very  limited  (if  not  non-­‐existent):   1. There  are  no  common  borders  between  the  two  countries  


2. The Egyptian  air  force  does  have  the  capacity  to  carry  a  massive   strike  at  the  Dam  when  finished    and  even  in  the  course  of  its   construction   3. The  use  of  Special  Forces  is  very  complex  and  could  be  beyond   Egypt’s  army  capabilities   4. Assisting  anti-­‐Ethiopian  rebel  groups  could  be  a  double  edged  sword   5. Egypt  could  “pay”  a  dire  political  and  economical  price  vis-­‐à-­‐vis  the   African  continent  and  the  US.   Egypt’s  options  could  be  economic  (closing  the  Suez  Canal  and  Egyptian   airspace  to  and  from  Ethiopia)  together  with  diplomatic  efforts  to   undermine  Ethiopia.  At  the  end  of  the  day,  Egypt  will  have  no  other   choice  but  to  negotiate  a  new  covenant  relating  to  the  distribution  of  the   Nile  water  to  all  countries  concerned,  replacing  the  1929  agreement   dictated  at  the  time  by  British  colonialism.   From  this  perspective,  it  becomes  clear  that  Morsi  is  exploiting  this   crisis  in  order  to  outwit  his  opponents  from  within  and  could  be  using   the  issue  to  distract  attention  from  severe  domestic  political  and   economic  challenges.  In  fact,  Morsi  faces  a  planned  mass  protest  by  non-­‐ Islamist  groups  on  June  30,  the  anniversary  of  his  election,  and  he  is   calling  on  his  opponents  to  forget  their  differences  to  safeguard  the  Nile.   Notes   1  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-­‐africa-­‐22850124   2  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-­‐africa-­‐22771563   3  http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/06/10/ethiopia-­‐egypt-­‐nile-­‐war-­‐ idUKL5N0EM3PD20130610;  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-­‐ africa-­‐22696623    

Ethiopian Dam Over Blue Nile Raises Specter of Conflict with Egypt  

Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah on how President Morsi threatened that "all options were open" if Ethiopia diverts the Blue Nile

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