The leaders of Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan signed an agreement in Khartoum (capital of Sudan) today, which will balance Ethiopia’s economic interest in and Egypt’s national security concern around the use of water from the Nile River that runs through the three countries.
This comes years after Ethiopia started building a large hydroelectric dam in an attempt to ease the country’s electricity shortage, which resulted in a long-running dispute with Egypt and Sudan over the sharing of Nile waters.
“This is a framework agreement and it will be completed,” said Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, about the agreement the three nations signed today.
The deal will “achieve benefits and development for Ethiopia without harming Egypt and Sudan’s interests,” al-Sisi added.
Backstory and Historical Context
Ever since the United Kingdom put in place a treaty in 1929 and again in 1959, the nation of Egypt has been granted 87 percent of the river’s flow and veto power over any upstream projects related to the Nile.
In 2010, however, some of the “Nile Basin” countries, including Rwanda and Ethiopia, decided to establish a new deal, which would free them from Egypt’s jurisdiction and allowed them to launch river projects without Egypt’s permission.
Neither Egypt nor Sudan signed the new 2010 Nile Basin agreement. In fact, Egypt protested the deal by exciting the Nile Basin Initiate altogether – an assembly that until then provided a forum for discussion of the region’s resources as well as the management of the same.
Following the 2010 agreement, Ethiopia started redirecting parts of the Nile River in May 2013, which marked the beginning of the country’s $4.7 billion Grand Renaissance project to build a 6,000 MW dam (Africa’s largest) to be completed in 2017.
This caught Egypt off guard, because the 87-million people desert nation has heavily relied on Nile waters as a source of drinking water and agricultural resources for thousands of years. Now, the Grand Renaissance project threatened to diminish Egypt’s and Sudan’s water supply.
“The Renaissance Dam project represents a source of development for the millions of Ethiopia’s citizens through producing green and sustainable energy, but for their brothers living on the banks of that very Nile in Egypt, and who approximately equal them in numbers, it represents a source of concern and worry,” al-Sisi said in a statement reported by the BBC.
“This is because the Nile is their only source of water, in fact their source of life,” he added.
A New Era of Fairness and Trust
After re-joining the Nile Basin Initiative on February 21, 2015, Egypt agreed to meet with Ethiopia and Sudan to discuss preliminary Nile water sharing principles on March 6.
“I confirm the construction of the Renaissance Dam will not cause any damage to our three states and especially to the Egyptian people,” Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced at the signing ceremony hosted by Khartoum’s Republican Palace today.
He also pointed out that the dam will provide his nation with a fairer share of the Nile, while only diverting the river slightly without any intentions to impact its natural course.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir signed the agreement with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and Halemariam Desalegn after viewing a film about the Grand Renaissance project outlining the great benefits for the region, according to the Associated Press.
Abdul Fattah al-Sisi summed up the significance of today’s historic signing when he stated that, “We have chosen cooperation, and to trust one another for the sake of development.”