After almost two decades of political exchange that ranged from negotiation to intimidation, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has become a reality that downstream countries, on the Nile River, have to accept and deal with.
On the morning of February 20th, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, officially inaugurated the electricity production operations of the GERD. That is despite the Egyptian and Sudanese appeals to convene a binding agreement with Ethiopia, that preserves their fair share in the Nile River against any potential abuse by the current or future Ethiopian governments to the GERD. However, for more than ten years, Ethiopia has been avoiding signing any agreements with Egypt and Sudan out of a local nationalist propaganda that falsely claims that Ethiopia owns the water of the Nile River, because it springs in its soil, and thus should sell the water to downstream countries.
According to Ethiopian media, the initial electric output of each turbine in the dam will range between 300 to 375 megawatts. When the construction of the dam is completed, the electricity production will exceed five-thousand megawatts per year. Electricity production is the main stimulus behind building the GERD, from the very beginning. More than 60% of the Ethiopian cities is suffering from the lack of electricity or an alternative resource of energy; which is a huge problem that does not only affect the quality of life for citizens, but also limits the economic potential of Ethiopia.
However, the Ethiopian government is committing a grieve mistake by not caring to preserve the rights of Egypt and Sudan, as the downstream countries on the same river. Since the 1970s, Ethiopia has always dreamt about building a huge dam on the Blue Nile, but it dreaded a military reaction from Egypt. In April 2011, Ethiopia started to take serious steps towards building the GERD project, which was officially launched in 2010. Since then, negotiations have been going back and forth between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt about the provisions of building the GERD. In 2015, the three countries signed a declaration of principles as a first step towards solving the dispute. Yet, unfortunately, the Ethiopian government of Abiy Ahmed has not given a weight to this declaration and proceeded with building the dam without proper consultation with downstream countries.
In an official press statement, that appeared too delicate for many Egyptians, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Ethiopia of breaching the aforementioned declaration of principles by unilaterally initiating the GERD energy operations, on the 20th of February, after unilaterally completing the first and second stages of filling the dam. The statement did not mention how Egypt is expected to react to Ethiopia’s stubbornness. For Egypt, the issue is more complicated than water security or enjoying a natural resource of clean water for drinking and agriculture. For Egyptians, the Nile River is the symbol around which the entire social and cultural identity is based.
In that sense, some voices are calling for military action to deter Ethiopia from proceeding with the remaining stages of completing the building and filling of the dam. In fact, these voices have been very loud since the beginning of 2021, when the Egyptian President signaled a clear warning to Ethiopia that “if negotiations fail, all other options are open for Egypt to take, including options that may threaten the security and stability of the region.”
Around that time, in March 2021, Egypt signed a military cooperation agreement with Sudan that allows the two countries to join forces in face of regional threats. In the following months, Egypt and Sudan conducted a number of joint military exercises at Merwoe military base, in southern Sudan, quite close to Ethiopia’s GERD. Meanwhile, Egypt signed other military cooperation agreements with Uganda, Kenya, and Burundi, which are believed to be put into action if Egypt decides to go to war with Ethiopia.
Should an armed conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia erupts, it will paralyze the international trade flow via the Red Sea, and thus harm the political and economic interests of Europe and the Middle East. Despite that, the international community and regional powers are watching from distance, without any intention to intervene to solve the crisis from escalating into a violent conflict. Ironically, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, launched the electricity operations of the GERD a few hours after returning from Brussels where he participated with the Egyptian President El-Sisi in the sixth African Union – European Union Summit.
Therefore, Egypt, the country expected to be most affected by the operation of the GERD, should spend some time revising the points of weakness in its regional policies and alliances, in order to prepare for handling the future political and economic consequences of this whopping diplomatic disappointment.
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