Why Ethiopia and Egypt are at Odds Over the Nile

By Bhavya Surapaneni

Castle Pines, Colorado

There have long been debates on who has rightful claim to the Nile (Photo Credit: Britannica)

In the Horn of Africa, the ongoing Ethiopian-Egyptian dispute over the Nile River has escalated into a full-blown conflict between citizens of both countries.


The Nile River, the longest river in Africa, has long been a source of clashing viewpoints on who has rightful claim to the water and resources it provides. According to Brookings, the argument stems from Ethiopia’s commencement of the building of a hydroelectric dam on the Nile River, known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).


Construction of the GERD began in 2011 when Ethiopia decided that a hydro-powered dam on the Nile river would benefit economic growth for Ethiopia itself and its surrounding countries, according to Reuters. Egypt, however, viewed the dam as an opportunity for Ethiopia to gain control of the Nile and affect the river’s natural flow. Thus, the discord between Egypt and Ethiopia swelled during dam construction from 2011 to the present.


The dam, which is considered a mega dam, will hold approximately 74 billion cubic meters of water when at full capacity, according to BBC. The construction is on the Blue Nile, a tributary of the Nile River, and approximately 85% of the water in the Blue Nile comes from Ethiopian highlands––Ethiopia’s primary reasoning for their claim to the right to build the dam. Despite a 1959 agreement between Egypt and Sudan regarding use of the Nile river, Ethiopia began their new project for widespread hydroelectric power. Basillioh Mutahi of BBC states that the hydroelectric power would not only benefit Ethiopia, but would also improve conditions in many of its neighboring countries, including South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea and others.


The GERD appears to have been timed in accord with Egypt's political situation, as construction began in April of 2011, only weeks after President Hosni Mubarak resigned from office, according to Foreign Policy. Mubarak’s presidency was marked by internal political corruption. Egypt received a 3.1 corruption rating in 2010, and was ranked as 105th corrupt out of 178 countries measured by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Mubarak’s resignation signified a major change in authority and the Egyptian military assumed power.


Egypt’s issue with the Grand Renaissance Dam is due largely in part to its reliance on the water of the Nile River. Based on statistics from BBC, 90% of Egypt’s water comes from the Nile. Egypt has historically faced constant water shortages, making its reliance on the river far more significant.


Ethiopia’s plans to fill the dam within a certain time frame have also strained relations between the two countries. The plan outlined by Ethiopia calls for the dam to be filled in approximately 6 years, a short timeline for the filling of a megadam, says BBC. A longer filling time minimizes the environmental impacts of a dam, so Egypt has been pushing for Ethiopia to increase their time frame. Disagreements continue between the nations. 


The United States has stepped in and mediated the dispute, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt requesting intervention from President Donald Trump and his administration. In January, the U.S. declared that they would be halting foreign assistance funds to Ethiopia to address the strain between Ethiopia, Egypt and many other African countries over the GERD, according to Foreign Policy.


Much of the “war” has been occuring on the internet and in cyberspace, reports Ayenat Mersie in Foreign Policy. Hacking, TikToks and tweets are just a handful of the methods of expressing opinion regarding the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam for people residing in Egypt, Ethiopia and the surrounding area.


Ethiopia persists in the construction of the dam, and tension is still present between many nations in the region.

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