Ethiopia Controversy: The Renaissance Dam



For almost the past decade, Ethiopia’s renaissance dam project has created tension between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Each country has the legitimate right to the Nile’s running water. However, with neither time nor negotiations yielding any tangible solutions, experts fear the escalation of the problem.

 Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power plant

Since 2011, Ethiopia embarked on the journey of creating Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power plant. Not only can the dam solve the country’s dire electric situation, but it can also fuel Ethiopia’s manufacturing and industrial dreams. Therefore, the dam can play a vital role in aiding the country’s economy.

According to Ethiopia’s reports, the dam can produce a massive 6,000 megawatts of electricity. Thus, the renaissance dam will be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power generator and will rank as the world’s seventh-largest power source of this kind. 

“It is about lifting millions of its people out of abject poverty and meeting their energy, water, and food security needs,” stated the East African nation’s foreign ministry. “Ethiopia is exercising its legitimate right to use its water resources in full respect of international law and the principle of causing no significant harm,” they added. 

Furthermore, 2021 reports state that the dam’s construction is almost finished, and experts expect it to reach full capacity in 2023. 

Egypt’s concern

Since the beginning, Egypt has voiced its deep concern while rectifying its opposition against the dam. The Nile river is Egypt’s most valued source of water. Thus, any threat to the Nile’s stable flow of water is a threat to the country’s survival. 

Additionally, back in 1929 and 1959, a treaty gave Egypt and Sudan the right to almost all of the Nile’s water. The documents even gave Egypt the right to veto any project that might affect its share of the water. Despite that, Ethiopia began the construction of the dam without consulting Egypt, igniting the tension.

Thus, in 2020, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, appealed to the UN, arguing the dam’s threat to Egypt’s water security. “We in Egypt populate the most arid of the Nile Basin riparian states and one of the most water-impoverished nations on earth. This harsh reality compels us to inhabit no more than 7% of our territory along a slender strip of green and a fertile delta teeming with millions of souls, whose annual share of water is no more than 560 cubic meters, which places Egypt well below the international threshold of water scarcity,” he said. “Survival is not a question of choice, but an imperative of nature.”

Sudan’s position 

In the beginning, the Sudanese government favored the dam’s construction. Not only can the GDEM help solve the country’s power deficits, but it can also regulate the flow of the river. However, tides began to change after the failure of the African Union-brokered negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan in Kinshasa.

Because of the country’s geographic position between Ethiopia and Egypt, Sudan has a lot more to lose in case of a water war. Yasir Abbas, the Water Resources Minister in Sudan, explained that by neglecting to solve the issue with Egypt, Ethiopia is threatening the country’s national security. 

“Without an agreement, the Gerd is really a threat to the people downstream, both the environment and the livelihoods of the people,” he added.

Therefore, Sudan wants Ethiopia to sign a legally binding agreement, instead of following mere guidelines, to preserve the peace, security, and stability between the three countries. Furthermore, Abbas also argued that Sudan will even suffer more than Egypt if the dam ended up reducing the flow of the river. 

No intention of causing harm

While addressing both Sudan and Egypt, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tweeted that “Ethiopia, in developing Abbay River for its needs, has no intention of causing harm to lower riparian countries.” 

The tweet also noted the dam’s success stating “Heavy rains last year enabled successful 1st filling of the GERD while the presence of the GERD itself has undoubtedly prevented severe flooding in neighboring Sudan.”

Nevertheless, Egypt is still pushing for a legally binding agreement under international law before Ethiopia starts to officially fill the dam. Moreover, the three countries agreed to conclude the ongoing trilateral negotiations on June 27.

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