Mankind’s relationship with the River Nile is lost in the mists of time: its almost 7000 km length has allowed human civilisation to grow, prosper and enrich itself, bringing fertility even to the most hostile and desert territories it encounters along its path. Thanks to this mighty river, one of the oldest and most fascinating civilisations known to history, the Ancient Egypt, was able to flourish in all its splendour.
The importance of the Nile has remained unchanged over the centuries, and indeed it has grown even greater, as almost 250 million people now live in the surrounding area of the Nile basin, and among the most populous nations that derive their livelihood from this river is undoubtedly Egypt, which sees the majority of its population, amounting to almost 85 million people, living from the waters of this river.
It is therefore not surprising that the Egyptian nation, which is dependent on the flow of the river, is now showing considerable concern for the development of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which Addis Ababa considers crucial to its economic development: with an estimated 6000 megawatts of electricity produced by the flow of the Blue Nile, the gravity dam in Ethiopia would become the largest dam in the whole of Africa and would be able to double the power production of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, which has experienced some of the most impressive growth in the world in the years leading up to the pandemic, is in an economic boom where access to electricity is increasing rapidly across the country, reaching 45% of the population in 2018 and having grown by 30% in the last 25 years. In the 2019 National Electrification 2.0 program, Ethiopia launched its most ambitious action plan ever, with the prerogative, by 2025, to bring electricity access to the whole country covering even the very large rural areas that characterise the African country.
While it is clear that Ethiopia needs to complete the dam, it is also understandable that countries such as Egypt and Sudan, represented by Presidents Al-Sisi and al-Burhan, are threatening Ethiopia with harsh retaliation for what they consider to be unilateral actions carried out without respecting common agreements and which could endanger the environment of the region due to possible droughts caused by the dam
Yet the construction of the dam was not carried out without any dialogue, on the contrary: since September 2011, the three nations have collaborated to create an International Committee of Experts to study the impacts of the GERD. As early as 2011, the committee created comprised 10 Ethiopian, Egyptian, Sudanese and four neutral international experts to assess the consequences of the operation. Cooperation continued with the creation of a national tripartite committee in 2014 and the signing in 2015 in Khartoum of the Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which seemed to put an end to international diatribes.
However, something went wrong in the years that followed, especially as both Egypt and Sudan accused Ethiopia of conducting unilateral actions that in no way respected the 2015 Declaration of Principles. To address these differences, the Tripartite National Committee on Renaissance Dam (TNCRD) was held in Cairo in 2017, which has previously seen no less than 14 rounds of consultations to resolve disputes over the Renaissance Dam. Nevertheless, no meeting on that occasion managed to resolve the issue, which remained unresolved, and Ethiopia refused to accept the World Bank’s request for arbitration within the TNCRD in 2018. It required four technical meetings, held from 2019 to 2020, to finally reach, through US mediation in Washington, the agreement signed in January 2020 based on six provisions that consisted of a timetable for filling the basin that included times of drought and prolonged droughts.
But despite this latest effort, tensions have flared up again, with Sudan and Egypt jointly accusing Ethiopia of actions taken without the agreement of the other two parties. Recently, both Egypt and Sudan decided to relaunch negotiations with the mediation of the African Union, the UN, the US and the European Union, but Ethiopia, meanwhile, claims to have completed its 2020 targets and to be ready, even without an agreement, to proceed with the operation to fill the GERD reserve. The diplomatic conflict, after ten years, not only seems to know no end, but it seriously risks compromising the stability of the entire region.