Waterworks around the Nile

Pr. Marc Lavergne, Senior Fellow Researcher (Emeritus) on MENA & Horn of Africa at the French National Center for Scientific Research (French).

Negotiations just started in Washington between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia this 6th of September, under the auspices of the US and the World Bank. It was high time that these three Nile riverine countries sit together and try to solve matters concerning the sharing and the use of Nile waters.

Egypt has since 2011 been complaining about the building of the huge Renaissance dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Despite all military threats and financial obstacles, the completion of the dam is now in its last phase. The nomination of Ahmed Abyi Ali as Prime Minister, which was supported by the US, heralded the dam as the flagship of Ethiopia’s new path of development and regional key player. Several diplomatic successes, as the iconic reconciliation with Eritrea, which was rewarded by the 2019 Nobel prize, and also the opening of a new corridor of access to the Gulf of Aden are landmarks in this accelerated development process.

Egypt has been expressing loudly its rejection of this Ethiopian rising as a regional power :   it is not unconceivable that its hand has been active in the regional and ethnic rifts within Ethiopia, which aim at undermining the premier minister’s action : Egypt is said to have deployed troops at the Ethiopian border in Southern Sudan.

The aggressive approach of the sharing and use of the Nile waters is playing with fire, while the Horn of Africa is longing for stability and development, with the support of the United Arab Emirates.

The Renaissance dam could be a tool in implementing this joint effort for a mutual benefit. The Sudan is already convinced of the positive role that the dam will play to regulate the seasonal flood of the Blue Nile by granting its seven dams under construction on the Nile north of Khartoum, a regular flow of water.

Egypt is still at pain recognizing that its use of water is less than when agriculture was its main resource, and that its irrigation system is a cause of water waste which needs to be checked.

Certainly, while Egypt and Ethiopia are nearing a population of 100 million each, food security is a major concern, while in Sudan, large tracks of desert land is attributed to foreign companies producing for export, at the expense of local needs. This is all food for thought for these negotiations, a key for a prosperous future of the whole Nile basin.