Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Nile

Not to be overly dramatic, but sometimes I feel that water disputes are a harbinger of an apocalyptic, resource-conflict-filled future that awaits most of humanity. Hopefully we can avoid that future – but water disputes, like the one that has broken out concerning the Nile, are worth watching.

Blue Nile, Ethiopia

First, a little background. The Nile Basin Initiative, an organization at the center of the controversy I discuss below, was “formally launched in February 1999” to “provid[e] an institutional mechanism, a shared vision, and a set of agreed policy guidelines to provide a basinwide framework for cooperative action.” Its members are Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Eritrea is not a member, though it is home to a small part of the Nile Basin. Wikipedia has a helpful article on “Hydropolitics in the Nile Basin,” which explains that the legacy of colonial-era water rights treaties as well as inequities in use have caused tensions between different countries in the region.

Since 1999, the Nile countries have been working on a treaty, and after long delays they met last week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to conclude it. But “Egypt has categorically refused to sign the agreement.” Cairo demands that it be able to “maintain its share of 55.5 billion cubic meters of water from the river — more than half of the Nile’s flow” and also to have “veto power over any new irrigation projects undertaken by the other nine riparian states.” So the talks broke down.

Now, with Ethiopia leading, the other nations are pushing back against Egypt and Sudan:

Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal says Egypt is raising technical objections to avoid signing a new framework accord on reallocating shares of Nile River water.  He says seven of the nine member states of the Nile Basin Initiative are going to sign the deal next month, with or without Egypt and Sudan.


Ethiopian spokesman Shimelis says the accord leaves open a controversial provision on water security in hopes Egypt and Sudan could be persuaded to return to the bargaining table.


An Egyptian government spokesman was quoted this week as warning that any framework agreement signed without Egypt and Sudan would mean the death of the Nile Basin initiative.

The National quotes an Egyptian policymaker skeptical of the other countries’ power to decisively affect the situation:

Hani Raslan, the director of the Sudan and Nile basin studies programme at the semi-official Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said he does not expect any serious decisions on a co-operative agreement within the next 20 years.

“These countries are small and fragile, they have many crises, and they act with Egypt like maybe they think they are superpowers,” Mr Raslan said. “That is not real. Egypt must have the right to do anything to protect its people.”

Kenya’s Daily Nation makes the situation sound even more serious. The paper reports that “Egypt, [a] heavily armed powerful nation, previously threatened military action against water contributing nations if they slow the flow of water to Egypt.”

The conflict has drawn substantial coverage in the African press – from South Africa and Uganda, to name two – offering further evidence of the strong feelings around the issue in the region. Some East African voices are demanding action. The Daily Nation editorializes that “countries of the Nile Basin Initiative must call Egypt’s bluff.” When seven countries sign the agreement in Kampala, Uganda on May 14, they will be doing just that.

I think war is unlikely to break out now. But clearly the riverine nations are eager for a sustainable solution to the conflict. Let’s hope the countries of the Nile can reach an accommodation before that eagerness turns to desperation, on either side.


16 thoughts on “Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Nile

  1. Ethiopian will not frighten Egypt. Don’t forget we had done against fascist Italy. If u want war come on let us start. but diplomacy is the best solution.

  2. Ethiopia has the right to use the water more than any contry .It is not the time that, as “League of Nation”was do on us. Ethiopian Peple and Goverment in one word ,have non tolerance on any one that want to stop our devlopment.

  3. Where is the end of this selfishness and the tag-of-war? Nile is the life and death for al of us. Unless we solve it today its consequence will exist as long as this planet exists. I know we all are at war (directly or indirectly). Of course the upstream countries have options but they are paralyzed by some diplomatic tactics. Why we worry about the option while the surface water is available. Ethiopia is acting by its own internal sources because of the selfishness in the downstream. Therefore, is there any problem if Ethiopia the major contributor too selfish for its people.

  4. Egyptians, be mindful. When you think of benefiting your people, respect z benefit of other people as well. You are no greater than any one as to change the course of the river Nile.

  5. There is no way out of poverty for Ethiopia without using its vast water resources including the Nile Thus the focus that the government to develop its water resource any where in the country is right and timely. As poverty is an agenda for the world everyone should support Ethiopia’s effort. I hope with better cooperation it is possible to fairly use the Nile river for the benefit of both Egypt and Ethiopia and what we don’t have to forget without proper development of the upper basin countries the Volume of the Nile river is going to fluctuate anyway and it is a must for Egypt to cooperate and work for the development and Environmental protection of the upper basin countries

  6. “You” better consider the mutual benefit at first hand else we Ethiopian will take what ever possible effort to protect the life of our people as “you”…

  7. As PM Meles Zenawi said no any nation in the world can stop Ethiopia from using its internal resources includiing the Ethiopian blue nile, of course in a manner that is intenatonationally accpted but as to the Egyptian stand I think it will let them loos even the existing portion provided. Mitual benefit is the only possible way out of this messery for Egypt uness the historia of vito power over the blue nile I aassure you they will be bitter loosers if they continue their rigidity sticking to their colonial british treaty. Because every thing is in our door gate which we can block and ope as we wish. The only way out is agreement if not the consequence be it sooner or latter it will be so bitter to Egypt.

  8. You are telling Ethiopia not to use her own resource?
    wow! Do Egypt forgotten what happen to them when they start war with Ethiopian?
    Foolish Arabs go read history and think twice or you will be drinking your own blood not water from Nile.
    All black African country will stand together for this matter.
    Go get fuck by British who gave you the right to use Ethiopian water, its not our problem if you drink water or blood, come to the negotiations table if you want water or keep barking like dog.

  9. You egyptians, shame on you to still insist that you have got the veto power as regards nile. If you got the right mind and aren’t blinded by your foolish Arab hipocracy, then it’s smartly easy to understand the stand of Ethiopia. We aren’t saying that Ethiopia must benefit better than others, though we have got the natural veto power to claim so. Let’s use nile fairly, justly and equitably. You see? Ethiopia is kind to this extent. We are ready to share nile even with you cursed egyptians. Well, we’re ready for any military confrontation though I believe you aren’t bold enough to give it a try.

  10. You fool ass idiots ,war with Egypt? you will be destroyed by the airforce in 30 minutes inshallah, go get yourselves some clothes to put on first and then start dreaming, somalian youth kicked your ass over and over again and you called USA for help and you say come on let egypt come hahaha. israel will put you in trouble then leave you swimming in your own blood. Wake up!

  11. this is not the time to solve problems by force. i think Egypt must understand this.water is life. we Ethiopians are ready to share the Nile water paying any cost,cos it is our right not Egypt’s wish. we are not selfish unlike Egypt is. we are saying that the water is enough for all countries. WE HAVE A RIGHT ON ABAY/NILE

  12. Do you know Egypt ,90 billion mc water burn into Nasir & Aswan dam ,the world should help how to save evaporated water for equitable usage.The resourse is morethan enough to reparians countries,so that the world sould hear and see scientifical keeping & usage.A winner is who save the evaporation,countries should discuss it deeply to win win solution

  13. Nile basin countries should discuss how to reduce evaporation for utilisation of water,world should hear and see it properly.

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