ArticlePDF Available

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam: Ending Africa's Oldest Geopolitical Rivalry?

Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
The Washington Quarterly
ISSN: 0163-660X (Print) 1530-9177 (Online) Journal homepage:
Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam: Ending Africa's
Oldest Geopolitical Rivalry?
Goitom Gebreluel
To cite this article: Goitom Gebreluel (2014) Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam:
Ending Africa's Oldest Geopolitical Rivalry?, The Washington Quarterly, 37:2, 25-37, DOI:
To link to this article:
Published online: 25 Jun 2014.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 2396
View Crossmark data
Citing articles: 23 View citing articles
Goitom Gebreluel
Ethiopia’s Grand
Renaissance Dam: Ending
Africa’s Oldest Geopolitical
Ethiopia surprised northeastern Africa in 2011 by announcing its plan
to construct the first hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile. With an annual
production capacity of 6,000 megawatts, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
(GERD) is set to become the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa.
Expected to be completed by 2015, the dam will not only break Egypt’s
millennia-long monopoly over the Nile waters, but will also, according to Cairo,
threaten its water supply. The Nile is Egypt’s only major source of freshwater and
has served as the lifeline of the nation since the dawn of its civilization.
Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan organized a group of experts to review and assess
the potential effects of the dam. The International Panel of Experts—made up
of ten members, two from each of the three states and four international—
submitted their impact assessment to all three governments in June 2013. The
report has not yet been made public, but Ethiopia claims it concluded that the
dam will not cause “significant harm” to any downstream state.
What is certain
however is that the reservoir of the GERD will have the capacity to store up to
74 billion cubic meters of water (equivalent to 40 percent more than Egypt’s
entire annual Nile water supply)
—providing Ethiopia with the capacity to
potentially disturb the water flows of the world’s longest river in a significant
Goitom Gebreluel is an advisor at the International Law and Policy Institute in Oslo,
Norway. He has previously worked for the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation
as well as taught foreign policy studies at Mekelle University in Ethiopia.
Copyright #2014 The Elliott School of International Affairs
The Washington Quarterly 37:2 pp. 25–37
Although water politics have historically been a central feature of geopolitics
in this region, they have grown particularly tense over the last decades due to
the pressures of population growth, industrialization, and climate change. When
Ethiopia diverted the first stretch of the Nile in May 2013 in anticipation of the
dam’s construction, tensions reached unprecedented heights and led Egyptian
politicians to publicly threaten military action.
The ensuing diplomatic drama
over the last year or so has led many to question: will the millennia-long rivalry
over the Nile finally culminate in an armed confrontation between these two
regional giants?
The current challenge to Egypt’s hydro-hegemony is a consequence of a
general shift in the regional geopolitical balance which has been underway
for some years now. Despite these power shifts,
alarmist pundits, and even Egyptian military
threats, the prospect for armed confrontation
between Egypt and Ethiopia is very unlikely.
Such a confrontation would set in motion
dynamics that would eventually lead to their
mutual destruction—an outcome that serves as a
deterrent. Instead of conflict, the GERD may have
arguably initiated a process which will, through time, culminate in the cessation
of Africa’s oldest geopolitical rivalry.
Egypts Historical Monopoly
Egypt and Ethiopia have long struggled for control of the Nile. As far back as
the 12th century, Ethiopian emperor Amda Syon threatened to divert the waters
unless the Egyptian Sultan stopped persecuting Coptic Christians.
Securing the
uninterrupted flow of the Nile waters from the Ethiopian highlands has
therefore been a concern for Egyptian statesmen as far back as medieval times,
making it arguably the oldest continuous and most important foreign policy
concern of this ancient state.
Since Egypt experienced many different colonial masters, foreigners there
often had to handle this crucial matter. Most important of these was Great
Britain, which effectively governed this country from 1882–1952. Egypt offered
Britain great strategic value—access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean
meant easier trade with India—and an important supply of cotton to its
domestic industries. Seeking a legal monopoly, Britain signed two treaties
governing utilization of the Nile waters. The first, signed in 1902 between
Britain and Ethiopia, was never ratified by Ethiopia due to different meanings in
the English and Amharic versions. The second, signed in 1929 between Egypt
and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, gave Egypt the right to 48 billion cubic meters of
The regional
geopolitical balance
has been shifting for
some years now.
Goitom Gebreluel
water per year, complete control over the Nile during the dry season, and veto
power over any upriver water projects. Sudan received rights to 4 billion cubic
meters of water, and Ethiopia was not consulted at all.
Nearly three decades later, Egypt and Sudan (now independent) signed the
1959 Nile Waters Agreement. This treaty was far more comprehensive and
sought to replace the former by providing a legal framework for complete
control over the waters. Sudan was given the right to utilize 25 percent of the
waters, and Egypt the remaining 75 percent; none of the upstream states were
consulted, included, or given any shares.
Unsurprisingly, the upstream states have never accepted these colonial-era
treaties. In fact, one source claims that the 1959 treaty “so negatively affected
the upriver states that it provided the inspiration for the Nyerere Doctrine,
named after independent Tanzania’s first president, which asserted that former
colonies had no obligation to abide by treaties signed for them by Great
The two groups of riparian states each emphasize different principles
of international law in their Nile Basin claims.
The downstream states of Egypt
and Sudan claim, based on the notion of customary law, that they have
historical and natural rights over these waters. In addition, they invoke the
more moderate principle of the “obligation not to cause significant harm” from
Article 7 in the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of
International Watercourses. Upstream states have, on their part, moved from
initially invoking the more extreme principle of absolute sovereignty—i.e. a
state has the right to utilize all resources within its borders in any way it wants—
to the more moderate principle of “equitable use,” also derived from the same
UN convention.
In an effort to reach a common understanding and develop a mutually
beneficial framework, the Nile Basin Initiative was launched in 1999 by all
riparian states: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania,
Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as Eritrea as an
observer. The old divides have nonetheless yet to be overcome; while nearly all
downstream states (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania) have
signed a May 2010 Cooperative Framework Agreement, which seeks to replace
previous colonial era treaties based on the principle of equitable use, Sudan and
Egypt oppose it and claim it infringes upon their historical rights.
international law of transnational watercourses is ambiguous and, as this
dispute illustrates, contains principles that are somewhat contradictory. One
principle emphasizes the sovereign rights of states to utilize any resources within
their territories, while the other requires that such actions do not cause
significant harm to other states that share the resource. Consequently, although
all parties cite international law in defense of their hydro-political claims, it has
had marginal practical and political consequences.
Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam
Cairo has historically not solely relied on legal means when pursuing
monopoly over the Nile waters. Instead, it for decades also pursued a foreign
policy strategy of destabilization—that is, supporting armed rebels operating in
rival states. Many of the downstream states are among the most fragile in the
world, and Ethiopia in particular was grappling with the problem of secessionism
for decades. The Ethiopian state’s different authoritarian regimes, competing
nationalisms, ethnic inequalities, incapacity to control its territories, and failure
to deliver much needed socioeconomic development made it a fertile ground for
armed ethnic liberation fronts. For decades, Cairo had therefore not so much to
consider the option of direct military action against Ethiopia to maintain its
hydro hegemony, but could instead rely on providing tactical support to armed
rebel groups.
In addition, Egypt’s war through proxy extended to supporting
armed groups in Somalia who were fighting Ethiopia and its local allies.
Egypt has over the years complemented this strategy of destabilization with
intensive diplomatic activity. It has used its immense diplomatic clout to
persuade or pressure international donor agencies to refrain from funding any
hydro-development project on the River Nile in upstream countries.
strategies combined have, for decades, been instrumental in effectively
upholding Egypt’s hydro-monopoly in the Nile Basin.
Ethiopias Emergence as a Regional Power
The regional geopolitical equation has today changed dramatically. The primary
cause lies in Ethiopian state-formation processes. The Ethiopian state has
throughout its entire political history been plagued by centrifugal tendencies. In
the imperial era, all emperors were forced to fight, compete, and negotiate with
regional feudal lords who had significant political-military power. This
phenomenon continued throughout Ethiopia’s communist era (1974–1991)
and current regimes in the form of armed ethnic liberation fronts.
Consequently, instead of focusing their resources on development endeavors,
Ethiopian governments were preoccupied with regime survival.
In recent years, however, this centuries-long feature of Ethiopian statehood
has reversed. For example, at its worst during the 1980s, more than a dozen
heavily armed factions—that together controlled more than 100,000 militiamen—
fought a severe insurgency against the central government. Today’s ruling
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which came to
power in 1991, has over the last decade managed to eliminate or co-opt most
armed opposition groups to the point where no such faction can today pose a
significant threat to its authority—a situation unprecedented in the country’s
political history.
Goitom Gebreluel
The increasing concentration over coercive powers in the hands of the state
has also accompanied a rapid expansion of public institutions, particularly in the
health and education sectors. The bureaucratic apparatus of the state now
reaches all corners and inhabitants of the country, leading among other things
to a significant improvement in the state’s ability to collect taxes.
Over the
last decade, the EPRDF has steered the country’s economy through a robust
growth trajectory. The amount of these growth rates remains controversial: the
government of Ethiopia claims an average GDP growth rate of 11 percent over
the past 8 years,
whereas the IMF and many other analysts claim that a 7-8
percent average is more accurate.
Regardless, the trajectory remains
impressive. One consequence of such growth is an ability to fund major
projects from domestic sources, such as the GERD dam.
The changes that have taken place on the domestic front have important
implications for Ethiopia’s foreign relations. A decade of relative internal
stability and robust economic growth, together with extensive battlefield
experience in fighting both domestic and external groups, has turned
Ethiopia’s military apparatus into one of the most substantial and battle-
hardened on the continent. This development has moreover coincided with the
weakening of most of its long-time regional rivals, such as Libya, Eritrea, Egypt,
and Somalia, who have all undergone different forms of domestic turmoil over
the last years.
Ethiopia has accordingly been assuming a role that its sheer enormous
demographic and geographic features—with a population of around 90 million
and geographic area almost twice as large as France—naturally assign it, namely
that of a regional and continental power. It has emerged as a central actor in
regional and continental diplomacy, and has often displayed an ability to set
agendas and effectively mobilize support from its peers in the African Union
(AU). In 2009, for example, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi represented
the continent in global climate negotiations.
Located at the center of what is arguably the most conflict-prone region in
the world, Ethiopia has also emerged as a critical anchor of stability and a buffer
containing the emergence of a belt of failed states from the Horn of Africa to
the Red Sea. For example, Ethiopia is hosting and leading mediation in the
ongoing South Sudanese civil war.
It has helped broker recent agreements
among the central government and sub-state actors in Somalia.
In 2006, it
also took the lead (prior to the intervention of AU and Kenyan troops) in
combatting the various Islamist insurgent groups which threatened the existence
of the internationally recognized and fragile transitional government in
Mogadishu. It also aids in the border dispute between Sudan and South
Sudan, and its military personnel furthermore command and make up more than
95 percent of the peacekeeping forces in the disputed territory of Abyei,
Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam
straddling the border between the two Sudanese states.
Ethiopia’s ability to
manage the difficult task of enjoying the confidence and trust of all conflicting
parties in these surrounding areas is an important indicator of its new diplomatic
influence in the region and beyond.
Addis Ababa is thus not only the diplomatic capital of Africa but also a key
site and agent of regional conflict resolution. These factors, in addition to its
essential role in regional counterterrorism operations, has made it a strategically
pivotal ally of the West, notably the United States and Israel. For Ethiopia, this
has entailed substantial financial and military assistance as well as diplomatic
support—making it the third-largest recipient of U.S. assistance in Africa.
Zenawi identified regional integration as a key factor for ending the perpetual
cycles of conflict that have shaped much of the history of this region. Addis
Ababa’s regional integration scheme is centered on two pillars: the first is
infrastructural development “to link up producers and consumers of the East
Africa region,” and the second is to develop and integrate the energy markets of
the region. Ethiopia, for example, imports 80 percent of its crude oil from Sudan
and exports hydropower to nearly all its neighbors.
Today, the Ethiopian state, whose international relations was for decades
mainly limited to the objective of ensuring state survival, now possesses the
diplomatic influence, strategic weight, and economic as well as military
resources to pursue one of its perennial aspirations: successfully challenging
Egypt’s hegemony in the Nile Basin.
Prospects for Water War
Northeastern Africa’s population growth is
expected to more than double by 2050,
in conjunction with climate change, increasing
water scarcity, and food insecurity
has produced
many daunting Malthusian speculations about
inevitable conflicts over Nile water as an
essential resource.
These speculators include
influential personalities such as former UN
Secretary-General (1992–96) Boutros Boutros
Ghali, who warned that “The next war in our
region will be over the waters of the Nile, not politics.”
Similarly, the late
Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat declared, “The only matter that could take
Egypt to war again is water”;
and finally both former and current General
Secretaries of the UN, Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, warned in 2008 about the
conflict-generating potential of water scarcity.
Many influential
personalities have
warned about
inevitable conflicts
over Nile water.
Goitom Gebreluel
The conflict over the Nile also has important
symbolic and sentimental aspects. Security and
geopolitics aside, the Nile is for the Egyptian
people much more than just a river—it holds a
special and entrenched role in the history and
identity of the nation. Ethiopians, too, see the river
in a symbolic light: their incapacity thus far to
utilize the Nile waters epitomizes the nation’s
political and economic underdevelopment. Hence,
as the name implies, the GERD represents a
leap out of the dark ages of underdevelopment and national humiliation.
the leaders of both nations, the dispute over the Nile is therefore a political
minefield where one slight mistake or misunderstanding might constitute
domestic political suicide.
In Egypt, politicians and violent public protesters have ferociously been
demanding that their government stop Ethiopia from constructing the GERD—
by any means necessary. In June 2013, after Ethiopia began diverting part of the
Nile in dam preparations, Egyptian politicians—unaware of the fact that their
debate was being broadcast on live TV—suggested to former President Morsi
that Egypt should either conduct a military attack on Ethiopia or sabotage it by
funding armed rebels operating in its territories.
Morsi eventually bowed to
popular pressure and warned Ethiopia that he considered “all options open” to
protect Egypt’s interests in the Nile.
More recently, Egyptian presidential
candidate Mortadar Mansour reiterated this threat, even going one step further
than Morsi to state that he will “order the use of military force against Ethiopia”
if it continues construction of the GERD.
Despite the many threats and warnings from both analysts and politicians,
the empirical evidence for inter-state war over water is very clear: several
statistical studies have illustrated the historical anomaly of water wars. The
International Crisis Behaviour dataset, for example, found 412 incidents of
inter-state crises from 1918–1994.
In only seven of these cases did it find water
to be a central point of dispute, and all seven were minor skirmishes rather than
large-scale confrontations. Nonetheless, although the negative correlation is
convincingly clear, the question of why conflicting claims over this critical
resource have not lead to war, as well as the future course of events, are more
debatable. The changing geopolitical balance and the emergence of Ethiopia as
a regional power could be one reason armed confrontation is an unlikely
scenario. Other analysts point out that an Egyptian water war is unlikely
because Egypt simply cannot finance one under its current economic
represents a leap
out of Ethiopia’s
dark ages of
and humiliation.
Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam
One needs to bear in mind that, in this region alone, historical examples
abound of states initiating wars under far worse economic conditions, and that
poverty has very often failed to act as a deterrent to armed conflict. One should
also consider that, despite Ethiopia’s growth, the asymmetries in economic and
military capacities between Egypt and Ethiopia are still substantial, and are not
by themselves likely to deter Cairo from confrontation. The growth of Ethiopia
does therefore not explain the absence of conflict, but simply how Egypt’s
monopoly over the Nile waters came to be challenged and is coming to an end.
If anything, the emergence of a new revisionist and rising status quo-challenging
power in a global geopolitical system is most often associated with confrontation
and war.
Instead of changes in geopolitical balance or economic factors, the prospect
for water wars in the Nile Basin is best understood by examining the strategic
decision-making dynamics which the protagonists face: in other words, the
incentives and deterrents for conflict and cooperation. One theoretical
explanation for the absence of water wars emphasizes the strategic irrationality
of such a confrontation. This argument is based on the premise that armed
conflict over a transnational river must presumably be initiated by a militarily
superior downstream state, in reaction to actions by an upstream state which
would decrease the quality or quantity of the waters flowing to the downstream
hegemon. If a dam project in the upstream state is the cause of such a
confrontation, and the downstream state opts for a military attack on that
project site, it would flood areas in the downstream state(s), as well as adversely
impact the quality of their water supply. Such actions would moreover leave the
attacked upstream state with the critical retribution option of polluting the
waters flowing to the downstream state. The consequences to the downstream
hegemon of such an attack would be so severe, and the cost-benefit ratio so
skewed, that it would be irrational to pay this price for a resource which Aaron
Wolf points out can be made from seawater for a mere US$1 per cubic meter.
The current Nile Basin strategic context very much embodies these
theoretical deterrents. Egypt, a downstream and militarily superior state, wants
to prevent upstream Ethiopia—who provides the lions-share of the waters—
from constructing a dam on the Blue Nile. Moreover, although Morsi (and
nearly all Egyptian governments since WWII) have made numerous threats,
they have so far proven to be bluffs: Ethiopia has begun to divert the Nile waters
and finished more than 30 percent of the dam construction without witnessing
the materialization of any of the many military threats.
This likely comes from a realistic assessment of Egypt’s circumstances. First of
all, since Ethiopia and Egypt do not share borders, Cairo faces the practical
challenge of finding a neighbor of Ethiopia willing to provide it with a base from
which it can carry out military operations. Furthermore, an attack on a dam in
Goitom Gebreluel
Ethiopia is likely to flood parts of Sudan and Egypt, adversely impacting the
quality of Egypt’s water supplies, as noted hypothetically above.
The issue of retribution, also noted above, is critical: Ethiopia could choose
to respond to an attack by polluting the Nile waters flowing to Egypt, which
would jeopardize the fresh water supply and thereby the lives of millions of
Egyptians. The threat or act of polluting water resources—or water terrorism—is
not a mere hypothetical scenario but has in fact numerous historical precedents
in countries such as Iran, Israel, Jordan, and the United States.
examples involve predominantly domestic water resources, but it is important to
realize that such international water terrorism is possible, has been done before,
and therefore merits consideration in an analysis of potential conflict scenarios.
Ethiopia’s Nile policy has also been very interesting for another reason:
despite being the source of more than two-thirds
of the Nile’s waters, Addis Ababa is not invoking
absolute territorial sovereignty or initiating actions
which would significantly reduce Egypt’s Nile
water flows. Such actions would undoubtedly spur
Egypt to respond using all available means, given
the life-threatening implications for the Egyptian
people. Sudan, who would also suffer as a fellow
victim of Ethiopia’s actions, would likely co-
operate with Egypt in such a mission. Due to its standing in the Arab world,
Egypt could certainly count on their financial and diplomatic support.
The strategic equation that Ethiopia and Egypt face is therefore the
following: armed confrontation would initiate dynamics that would force
both parties to take measures which would have severe, even existential,
repercussions for all. Consequently, this serves as a mutual deterrent to both
parties. Prophecies of water wars come from an existential premise—that
population growth and water scarcity will lead to conflict over water. Yet, the
argument forwarded here against a water wars scenario also comes from an
existential premise—namely, that the potential water conflict offers an effective
deterrent of mutual destruction. That is why, despite the upsurge of popular
nationalist sentiments and warmongering, the leaders of both nations so far have
made the strategically rational decision not to cross the boundary which would
lead to armed confrontation.
Interdependence and its Geopolitical Implications
Instead of conflict, statistical data in fact illustrates that transnational water
resources are highly correlated with cooperation and treaty-making; transnational
water resources provide many shared interests to the riparian states and induce
Potential water
conflict actually
offers an effective
deterrent of mutual
Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam
The geography of transnational rivers is very often relatively
conducive to hydropower projects in upstream states, whereas downstream states
are comparatively better positioned to engage in agricultural production along
river banks, and all riparians can consequently utilize the shared river in a
mutually beneficial manner.
In cases where the river acts as a state boundary, it
serves as a shared resource that all parties have an interest in preserving.
The GERD has the potential to provide mutual benefits to both Ethiopia and
Egypt. Ethiopia will be able to produce hydropower, the surplus of which it has
stated that it—as part of its regional economic integration scheme—seeks to sell
to its neighbors.
Egypt, which today relies predominantly on fossil fuels for its
energy supplies, will therefore have access to a cheaper and more
environmentally friendly electricity supply. And contrary to the claim that the
GERD will reduce Egypt’s water supply, some studies suggest that—if managed
in the right manner—storing the waters in the Ethiopian highlands, where the
temperature is much cooler, may in fact over time increase Egypt’s water
supplies, as less water would evaporate in Egypt’s Aswan Dam.
demands in the Nile Basin already outstrip supply, with demand expected to
increase several-fold over the next decade.
Egypt has already reached
maximum hydropower production potential,
whereas Ethiopia with its
ecological and geographical features has a hydropower production capacity of
45,000 MW—“enough to meet most of sub-Saharan Africa’s current demand.”
The comparative advantage of geography is at the center of the economic logic
for energy integration in northeastern Africa.
The promise of mutual benefits has so far failed to initiate cooperation
between these parties. This is somewhat understandable given that Egypt’s
stance is a consequence of a security imperative
that springs from the insecurity of letting an
external actor gain control over a resource so
critical to national survival. Once the dam
becomes a matter of fact, however, the decision-
making rationale is likely to change significantly.
Given that Egypt cannot reverse this process—
neither through military nor diplomatic means—it
will have to learn to live with the GERD. These
new conditions will make it very likely that the Egyptian government will
renounce their monopolistic, zero-sum, and now anachronistic hydro-politics,
and will begin engaging with Ethiopia on crafting mutually acceptable co-
management frameworks of this shared resource; in other words, accepting the
fait accompli. One can already see signs with Cairo’s occasional, yet
contradictory, signaling of its willingness to negotiate with Addis Ababa on
the “political and technical aspects of Nile Water division.”
Once the dam
becomes complete,
decision-making is
likely to change
Goitom Gebreluel
The millennia-long Egyptian-Ethiopian regional rivalry has centered
primarily on the dispute over the Nile. If this issue is resolved and both
parties are in fact forced by new circumstances to cooperate on managing this
resource, it will likely gradually initiate a new era in this relationship,
characterized by more cooperation and less rivalry. Given that this “cold war”
has been carried out through proxies and played a noteworthy role in
destabilizing and fueling conflicts in Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, the
cessation of Africa’s longest interstate rivalry would have immense geopolitical
implications for peace and security in Northeastern Africa.
1. The NGO International River Network recently leaked a copy of the report from the
Panel of Experts, but its conclusions are still interpreted differently by both
governments as well as independent observers. For the different views see: “Egypt to
‘escalate’ Ethiopian dam dispute,” Al Jazeera, April 21, 2014,
html; for Ethiopia’s claim regarding the conclusions of the report, see William Davison,
“Ethiopian Hydropower Dam Assessment Warns of Structural Weakness,” Bloomberg
News, October 3, 2013,
2. Ibid.
3. “Egyptian politicians caught in on-air Ethiopia dam gaffe,” BBC News, June 4, 2013,
4. Richard Pankhurst, The Ethiopian Borderlands (Asmara: Red Sea Press, 1997)
5. Abadir Ibrahim, “The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement: The Beginning
of the End of Egyptian Hydro-Political Hegemony,” Missouri Environmental Law and
Policy Review 18, no. 2 (2012): 284–312,
6. Andrew Carlson, “Who Owns the Nile? Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia’s History-
Changing Dam,” Origins 6, no. 6 (March 2013),
7. Abadir Ibrahim, “The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement.” Op. cit.
8. State Information Service, Egypt, “The Situation After Signing the Framework
9. Daniel Kendie, “Egypt and the hydro-politics of the Blue Nile River,” North Eastern
African Studies 6, no. 1–2, (1999): pp. 141–169; Tesfaye Tafesse, Nile Question:
Hydropolitics, Legal Wrangling, Modus Vivendi and Perspectives (London: Lit, 2001).
10. UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, “Final report of the Monitoring Group
on Somalia submitted in accordance with resolution 1676,” United Nations Security
Council, S/2006/913, November 22, 2006,
11. Daniel Kendie, “Egypt and the hydro-politics of the Blue Nile River.” Op. cit.
Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam
12. Christopher Clapham, Transformation and Continuity in Revolutionary Ethiopia
(Cambridge University Press, 1987). John Markakis, Ethiopia: The Last Two Frontiers
(Oxford: James Curry, 2011)
13. African Economic Outlook, Ethiopia 2012,
14. Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Brief Note on the 2005 (EFY)* GDP
Estimates series,
15. IMF Country Report No. 11/304, The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia: Poverty
Reduction Strategy Paper: Growth and Transformation Plan 2010/11–2014/15 – Volume I,
16. Jason McLure, “Meles Unites 52 Nations to Exert Clout at UN Summit (Update1),”
Bloomberg, November 12, 2009,
17. “Ethiopia mediates South Sudan’s political conflict amid persistent fighting for
territory,” Fox News, January 2, 2014,
18. “UN Envoy Welcomes Agreement Between Government, Southern Region’s Leaders,”
All Africa News, August 28, 2013,
19. “UN Mission’s Contributions by Country,” United Nations, June, 30, 2013, http://www.
20. “Ethiopia: Regional strength, economic progress,” The Africa Reporter, June 6, 2012,
21. “FY2012 Top 10 Recipients,” U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants, USAID, http://gbk.eads.; Regarding military assistance Ethiopia received in
2012 more than others, see “Military Assistance, 1947–2012,” U.S. Overseas Loans and
Grants, USAID,
22. See Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, “Ethiopia:
Center of Regional Integration in the Horn of Africa,”
php?pg=55; and Harry Verhoeven, “Black Gold for Blue Gold? Sudan’s Oil, Ethiopia’s
Water and Regional Integration,” Chatham House Briefing Paper, 2011/03, June 2011,
23. “World Population Data-Sheet 2013,” Population Reference Bureau, http://www.prb.
24. East African Agriculture and Climate Change (Washington, DC: International Food and
Policy Research Institute, 2013),
25. Water, Peace and War (Chellaney, Brahma, Plymouth: Rowman and Littlefield
Publishers, 2013).
26. “Water and Conflict: Fresh Water Resources and International Security,” in Global
Dangers: Changing Dimensions of International Secuurity, eds. Lynn-Jones, Sean M. and
Steven Miller (MIT Press, 1995).
27. Abadir Ibrahim, “The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement: The Beginning
of the End of Egyptian Hydro-Political Hegemony. Op. cit.
Goitom Gebreluel
28. “Ban Ki-moon warns that water shortages are increasingly driving conflicts,” UN News
Center, February 6, 2008,
29. Office of National Council for the Coordination of Public Participation on the
Construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam,
30. “Egyptian politicians caught in on-air Ethiopia dam gaffe,” BBC News. Op. cit.
31. “Egypt warns Ethiopia over Nile dam,” Al Jazeera, June 11, 2013, http://www.aljazeera.
32. “Egypt presidential hopeful threatens to use force over Ethiopian dam,” Sudan Tribune,
April 7, 2014,
33. Aaron T. Wolf, “Conflict and cooperation along international waterways,” Water Policy
1 (1998): 255.
34. Seifulaziz Milas, ‘Egypt/Ethiopia: There Will Be No Water War In The Nile Basin
Because No One Can Afford It,” African Arguments, June 10, 2013, http://
basin-because-no-one-can-afford-it-by-seifulaziz-milas/; Harry Verhoeven, “Why a
‘water war’ over the Nile River won’t happen,’ Al Jazeera, June 13, 2013, http://www.
35. Ronald L. Tammen, et al, Power Transitions: Strategies for the 21st Century, (Seven
Bridges Press, 2000)
36. Aaron T. Wolf, “Conflict and cooperation along international waterways,” 259. Op. cit.
37. Peter H. Gleick, “Water and Terrorism,” Water Policy 8 (2006): 490.
38. Aaron T. Wolf, “Conflict and cooperation along international waterways,” 258. Op. cit.
39. Ibid.
40. E.G. Woldegabriel, “Ethiopia seeks to power East Africa with hydro-power,” Reuters,
January, 29, 2013,
41. “Symposium: Ethiopia’s Nile dam cuts Sudan’s expenditure on siltation,” Sudan
Tribune, June, 30, 2013,
42. “Hydropower Potential and the Region’s Rising Energy Demand,” Nile Information
43. “Egypt,” U.S. Energy Information Administration,
44. Harry Verhoeven, “Black Gold for Blue Gold? Sudan’s Oil, Ethiopia’s Water and
Regional Integration.” Op. cit.
45. “Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to start negotiations on Nile water dispute,” Ahramonline.
com, June 18, 2013,
Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam
... In 2011, Ethiopia exposed its intention to construct the largest hydropower plant in Africa (Gebreluel, 2014). At that time, the dam was known as the Millennium Dam. ...
... Consequently, political tensions and threat interactions were raised between Ethiopia and Egypt. However, in June 2013, a report was submitted and a claim made by Ethiopia concluded that no significant harm will affect any downstream state (Gebreluel, 2014). Ylönen (2020) stated that Egypt and Sudan worked as the leading states in studying and exploiting the Nile water resources. ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
This report provides a technical review of the available literature on different studies and analyses applied to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) up to May 2021.
... Egypt prefers that the reservoir be filled as slowly as possible, preferably over 10 years, while Ethiopia wants to engage in filling as fast as possible over a much shorter period. If managed in the correct manner, shifting water supply (storage) from the Egyptian desert to the Ethiopian Highlands may in fact increase Egypt's water supply over time [17], since Ethiopia has a much lower average temperature than Egypt, which implies that the evaporation rate of water will be slower in the Ethiopian reservoir than the reservoir in the Aswan Dam. However, this also allows Sudan to use the dam as a source of irrigation, which will have permanent and detrimental implications for Egypt [9]. ...
... GERD, which is scheduled to be completed by 2025, will be Africa's largest, with a capacity of about 6,000 megawatts [39]. This dam will create a reservoir with a volume of more than 74 billion cubic meters, or roughly 1.3 times the annual flow of the Blue Nile [40]. Figure 2 depicts the Nile river basin and the location of the GERD. ...
Full-text available
Ethiopia, one of the countries in the Horn of Africa, has an abundance of hydroelectric resource potential that can meet the country's energy demand. However, this energy resource has been underutilized, and the country has one of the lowest per capita consumption rates of electricity. Recognizing that energy access and security are critical factors in economic growth, the country has launched a number of hydroelectric projects to meet rising energy demand, as well as a plan to export electricity to neighboring countries. As a result, this paper provides an in-depth review of the country's hydropower potential and current development status. The article then discusses hydro-politics in the context of the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Finally, it discusses the role of hydropower in meeting energy needs.
... The Blue Nile contributes up to 70 per cent of the water flow to the Nile River basin, a basin shared by ten other countries in the east and horn of Africa. Although beyond the remit of this paper, it is important to note that over the years, a number of studies have been carried out to investigate its impact on the environment (Aziz et al., 2019;El-Nashar & Elyamany, 2018;Liersch et al., 2017), transboundary water management (Wheeler et al., 2020;Yihdego et al., 2017), regional geopolitics (Gebreluel, 2014;Hussein & Grandi, 2017;Nasr & Neef, 2016), and the communities that live around the construction site (Abbink, 2012;Vaughan & Gebremichael, 2020;Veilleux, 2013). ...
Full-text available
Anchored by ambitions of economic growth and energy security, governments in developing countries are building large-scale energy infrastructures at a fast pace. While committed to making modern energy accessible to all, many are also reconfiguring their institutions to hasten the sector transformation into a market-oriented entity. In some cases, these ambitious agendas are also being pursued in the context of deteriorating infrastructure and supply shortfalls. The paper uses the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to explore how political elites and citizens construct visions of the desirable future to be realised through large scale energy projects. After documenting how dominant accounts align with and diverge from citizens expectations, the paper explores how urban households reconcile the energy abundance large-scale projects promise with their experience of inadequate and increasingly expensive access to electricity. Furthermore, noting the absence of a meaningful and effective citizens engagement in the sector governance, the paper highlights the inherent risks of large-scale projects from an energy justice perspective.
... The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a topic of contention between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, which has led to rising tensions between the three countries since the construction and filling of the dam was announced in 2011. It is expected to be fully operational by the year 2023 and is projected to be the leading hydropower project in the African Continent (Gebreluel, 2014;Barnes, 2022). The resurgence of the (GERD) as an issue deliberated by speech actors in communication centers and political circlesacross the Arab and African worldis one of the most pressing issues that raised the concern of Egyptian and Sudanese politicians and intellectuals since the government of Ethiopia announced in July of the year 2020 the filling of the reservoir without any diplomatic reconnaissance between Sudan and Egypt. ...
Full-text available
The following research is interested in analyzing the communicated political and legal reverberations of Ethiopia announcing in 2011 the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the unilateral filling of the reservoir in July 2020 by ignoring the social consequences resulting from such unethical policy on Egyptian and Sudanese citizens. The primary question accenting the research paper is concerned in deconstructing how a realist approach to International Relations communicated by Ethiopia aggravates reaching a cooperative solution prioritizing the well-being of all parties in managing water scarcity. Since Ethiopia prefers adopting a realpolitik approach disregarding mutual cooperation reflecting ethical considerations between Egypt and Sudan, the research proceeds in revealing the attitude of Egyptian politicians and intellectuals through data obtained from 225 respondents (p=225) answering particular questions (i.e., preferred solution to the crisis and preferred news channel discussing GERD), including an analysis of Sky News and Alhurra news frames-between January 2020 until January 2021-emphasizing either "negotiation", "intervention", or "internationalization" as solution to the GERD crisis. The research concludes by stressing that a realist approach to foreign relations informed by positivist law protracts the crisis since it necessitates framing parties involved using a self-other binary for ontological security thereby characterizing parties using a frame fueling a "cultural (security) dilemma" instead of prioritizing a principle of cultural cooperation.
... The Blue Nile runs north-south and then east-west through the Upper Blue Nile Basin (UBN; area: 173,000 km 2 ; Figure 1b). It is estimated that the dam will provide up to 6.45 gigawatts of electricity upon completion [5]. This is a significant power source for the Ethiopian economy. ...
Full-text available
A multidisciplinary study was conducted to investigate the environmental and economic impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Focusing on Egypt, we estimate projected losses in Egypt’s annual water allocation from the Blue Nile under the 3, 7, and 10-year GERD reservoir filling scenarios, which are part of an array of scenarios currently under consideration. We then examine the resultant losses in Egypt’s agricultural land and the corresponding impact on selected macroeconomic variables relative to a baseline (no GERD) scenario. For the 3-year filling period, in particular, we estimate projected losses in Egypt’s annual water allocation to be 51.29 ± 2.62%. This translates into annual losses of agricultural land of 52.75 ± 2.44% relative to the baseline, with a resultant decline in food production of 38.47 ± 2.18 % and an overall decline in agricultural sector output by 17.51 ± 0.99%. This contributes to a rise in the national unemployment rate of 11.24 ± 1.77 percentage points above the baseline. Moreover, we estimate projected annual losses in real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita to be 8.02 ± 0.45% relative to the baseline, which translates into an annual loss in real GDP of $26.30 ± 2.81 billion and a loss in welfare of 12.83 ± 0.73% annually, relative to the baseline.
Abstract Tana sub-basin receives rainfall during summer as a primary source of stream flow. This research aimed to relate the catchment characteristics with hydrology of headwater catchments. Rainfall-runoff and sediment yield modeling in relation to catchment characteristics was conducted. Land use, soil, digital elevation model (DEM), precipitation, water quality and quantity were used in the analysis. ERDAS, GIS and HYDATA software were used to evaluate the physical catchment characteristics and meteorological data. Model parameters were calibrated using observed data of 2009–2011 and validated over the period of 2012. Particle swarm optimization was used to determine optimal model parameters. The model parameters were related to catchment characteristics using linear regression in a statistical software. Normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and hypso�metric integral are directly proportional to direct runoff parameter C. Likewise, the baseflow model parameter b is positively affected by elongation ratio and average slope, and NDVI shows negative effect. Finally, regional model for the hydrology of the headwater catchments was developed.
This chapter examines the architecture of transboundary water governance and its dominant approaches to tackling the global degradation of freshwater resources, such as rivers, lakes and groundwater aquifers. The chapter presents two case studies to exemplify the dominant logic of freshwater governance. The first case study examines the international governance logic in the South American Rio de la Plata River Basin, one of the most biodiverse and agriculturally intensive river basins worldwide. The second case study examines water conflicts in the Nile River Basin, the world’s longest river. A third case study presents a radical alternative to the traditional freshwater governance approaches and sheds light on the pioneering decisions made in New Zealand, India and Colombia in 2017 to grant legal personhood to several rivers.
Egypt, SudanSudanand EthiopiaEthiopia have been negotiating for nearly a decade to reach an agreement on key technical and legal issues related to the impact of the GERD. Some of the major milestones in the negotiationTransboundary water negotiation process are: the formation of the International Panel of ExpertsInternational Panel of Experts (IPOE)), Declaration of PrinciplesDeclaration of Principles, formation of a Joint Research Group, involvement of the USAUnited States and the World BankWorld Bank to observe tripartite talks and the request by EgyptEgypt to the United Nations Security CouncilUnited Nations Security Council to intervene. The outstanding issues to be resolved include: droughtMitigationmitigationDrought mitigation, binding agreementBinding agreement, dam safety and dispute resolution. African UnionAfrican Union (AU) has been approached to intervene in the dispute. The involvement of AU provides an opportunity for the continental peace architectural framework through three ways: the Assembly of Heads of state and government which is the AU’s supreme policy and decision-making organ, the AU Peace and Security Council (APSC)AU Peace and Security Council (APSC) which is the pinnacle of the AU architecture framework of conflict prevention, management and resolution and the involvement of COMESACommon Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) which is the largest Regional Economic Community of the African UnionAfrican Union aimed at promoting regional integration through trade and the development of natural and human resources. The main purpose of the chapter is to analyse how the AU peace building frameworks can be used to resolve the GERD dispute. The chapter will explain how the AU frameworks can be used to promote integrated and sustainable management outcomes and the significant steps of dispute resolution mechanisms that can be taken through the AU framework.
The paperback edition of a book first published in hardback in 1988, and abstracted as 89V/01730. (ISBN 0 521 33441 1). A postscript outlines events in Ethiopia since 1987. -M.Amos
In May 2010, upper riparian states of the Nile opened the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement for signature. The article argues that despite the fact that the agreement is presented as a legal treaty, it is rather a counter-hegemonic move by the upper riparian states. While the 'agreement' will fail as a legal instrument, especially with the lower riparian states not participating, it is very likely to succeed in promoting a counter hegemonic narrative. Any further effects will depend on other countervailing factors.
There are 261 international rivers, covering almost one half of the total land surface of the globe, and untold numbers of shared aquifers. Water has been a cause of political tensions between Arabs and Israelis; Indians and Bangladeshis; Americans and Mexicans; and all ten riparian states of the Nile River. Water is the only scarce resource for which there is no substitute, over which there is poorly-developed international law, and the need for which is overwhelming, constant, and immediate. As a consequence, "water" and "war" are two topics being assessed together with increasing frequency. This paper investigates the reality of historic water conflict and draws lessons for the plausibility of future "water wars." The datasets of conflict are explored for those related to water --only seven minor skirmishes are found in this century; no war has ever been fought over water. In contrast, 145 water-related treaties were signed in the same period. These treaties, collected and catalogued in a computerized database along with relevant notes from negotiators, are assessed for patterns of conflict resolution. War over water seems neither strategically rational, hydrographically effective, nor economically viable. Shared interests along a waterway seem to consistently outweigh water's conflict-inducing characteristics. Furthermore, once cooperative water regimes are established through treaty, they turn out to be impressively resilient over time, even between otherwise hostile riparians, and even as conflict is waged over other issues. These patterns suggest that the more valuable lesson of international water is as a resources whose characteristics tend to induce cooperation, and incite violence only in the exception.
The importance of freshwater and water infrastructure to human and ecosystem health and to the smooth functioning of a commercial and industrial economy makes water and water systems targets for terrorism. The chance that terrorists will strike at water systems is real; indeed, there is a long history of such attacks. Water infrastructure can be targeted directly or water can be contaminated through the introduction of poison or disease-causing agents. The damage is done by hurting people, rendering water unusable, or destroying purification and supply infrastructure. More uncertain, however, is how significant such threats are today, compared with other targets that may be subject to terrorist attack, or how effective such attacks would actually be. Analysis and historical evidence suggest that massive casualties from attacking water systems are difficult to produce, although there may be some significant exceptions. At the same time, the risk of societal disruptions, disarray, and even overreaction on the part of governments and the public from any attack, may be high. This paper reviews the history of past attacks on water systems and the most pressing vulnerabilities and risks facing modern water systems. Suggestions of ways to reduce those risks are also presented.
Meles Unites 52 Nations to Exert Clout at UN Summit (Update1)
  • Jason Mclure
Jason McLure, "Meles Unites 52 Nations to Exert Clout at UN Summit (Update1)," Bloomberg, November 12, 2009, archive&sid=agSY4tVL.oOw.
Ethiopia mediates South Sudan's political conflict amid persistent fighting for territory
"Ethiopia mediates South Sudan's political conflict amid persistent fighting for territory," Fox News, January 2, 2014, ethiopia-mediates-south-sudan-political-conflict-amid-persistent-fighting-for/.
UN Envoy Welcomes Agreement Between Government, Southern Region's Leaders
"UN Envoy Welcomes Agreement Between Government, Southern Region's Leaders," All Africa News, August 28, 2013,