News / Africa

Nile River Dispute Between Egypt, Ethiopia Sparks Tensions

This photo, made available on April 2, 2013, shows the construction of the dam in Ethiopia's Asosa region.
This photo, made available on April 2, 2013, shows the construction of the dam in Ethiopia's Asosa region.
Peter Heinlein
A former high-ranking Egyptian diplomat says Ethiopia’s move to divert the flow of the Nile River has needlessly heightened regional tensions.  Ethiopia began diverting the river this week as it builds a massive hydroelectric dam. Egypt, which depends on the Nile for its water supply, stressed that it has not approved the dam's construction. 

Ambassador Tarek Ghuneim was a key player in Nile water negotiations until shortly before his retirement last year. In a interview, the former Egyptian diplomat said those talks were characterized by mutual mistrust.

He questioned Ethiopia’s timing in announcing the diversion of Nile water, one day after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s visit to Addis Ababa, and just days before release of a study on the effects of building a giant dam on the river.

Ghuneim also expressed doubts about the coming report of a commission examining the pros and cons of Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam.  Critical information has been withheld from the tripartite commission, made up of independent experts and representatives from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, he said. "This committee would not be able to come to a full conclusion because of a lack of information being withheld from the Ethiopian side."  

Ghuneim expressed hope that the international community will intervene to make the three countries cooperate in a way that will benefit them all.  He said cooperation would have the additional benefit of persuading the World Bank and others to provide critically needed funding and quality control measures.

"We here in Egypt understand that lack of energy in Ethiopia; it needs energy, we understand," he said. "But do it in a way that it will not affect negatively any other country.  And that’s the problem they face in financing this dam from the international financial organizations, like the [World] Bank, because it’s standing policy is not to fund anything unless there is consensus from all parties involved."

Ethiopia has said the dam will provide essential energy for the country's development and will not harm countries further downstream.

Ghuneim said this might be a good time for some breakthrough in the long-stalled talks on Nile River water sharing.  He points out that the two leaders who presided over the stalemate, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, have left the scene, replaced by a new generation that might be more willing to look at the issues in a different way.

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Comments page of 2
by: Dr. John Ibekwe from: USA
June 11, 2013 10:52 AM
Morsi should study the geography of the Nile. Two rivers originating from from Black Africa make up the Nile. The white Nile originates from the great lakes of Central Africa between Rwanda and Burundi, and courses upwards through Burundi, Rwanda,Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan. The blue Nile originates from Lake Tana in Ethiopia and meets the white Nile in Sudan near Khartoum. It is the Blue Nile from Ethiopia that gives River Nile its force and flow. The co-joint River Nile then passes through Eritrea and Egypt and empties in the Mediterranean. Nile is an international river passing through 11 or 12 African countries and any of these countries has the right to use the Nile within its territory. Any agreement on the use of Nile must involve the 12 countries. The agreement between Britain and Egypt is obsolete just like any other fraudulent agreement between Britain and the colonies. Egypt should realize that as industrial developments are embarked upon by the countries along the Nile, there will be further use of the Nile by these countries. How many wars can Egypt fight with the other Nile partners in the name of agreement between Egypt and Britain? Egypt cannot claim the Nile alone. She must come to terms with the realities of today and remain in peace with other Nile neighbors in order to take advantage of the Nile. Supposing Rwanda and Burundi decide to divert the Nile at its source, then Egypt will no longer see the Nile. Meaningful use of the Nile from its source to its end at the Mediterranean is the way out. Nile is an international river given by God to all the countries in its long course. Let common sense prevail!

June 06, 2013 8:41 PM
I hope the Egyptians people are not any more kid for their political leader b/c we know what is happen in the past ten years in the continent of Africa, most country including Ethiopia became most diplomatically accepted but Egypt are not even mention. Here both country's political leader use the issue of Nile as political solution.For me both country have related in their history ,culture & religion so they must stop to creativity conflict b/n these two country especially Egyptians.
If the Ethiopian government aims to harm Egypt's and generate electricity , it is shame and also Egyptian will also want lonely user of the Nile forever it also awful.
But as I said above if Egyptian try to fight with Ethiopia , the result will be harsh for them b/c no invader was not touch the black lion in the past plus economically Egypt is more affected by the war.

by: me from: addis
June 03, 2013 1:36 PM
Egypt must refrain from its acts of destabilizing Ethiopia .Their long time fear ( Ethiopia's capability and peace )is now a reality .

Their negative efforts will be met by negative actions . If ever they resort to war , not only we shall defend our mother land but THEY WILL NOT GET A DROP OF WATER FOR GOOD .

by: hisham saleh from: egypt
June 01, 2013 8:11 AM
I'm from Egypt :
First of all we don't want to go to war with Ethiopia or any other country -our army is to protect our land not to attack other countries - we are not the USA that attack any one without reason
second we don't hate Ethiopia or see it as an enemy and we wish them to grow and prosper
BUT the water is essential for all the humans so we need to work something out to benefit Ethiopia and in the same time don't harm Egypt .
I read a study that most of the rain fall in Ethiopia go to wast if we can collect it with some projects and feed the river with more water then we'll both benefit from it even with the dam built .
If we look to the river as a one body that we can develop all at once we can redouble the water for all it's countries and generate electricity that we all need .
Most of the problem come from the mistrust and lack of communications between Egypt and Ethiopia -especially because of your cooperation with our nemesis enemy (Israel )
that we don't trust it's intent toward us - how we trust that if we have to go to war with Israel they'll not use that dam to stop the water and district us to fight in two sides .
that is the real problem not that we hate the good for Ethiopia or we want them to live in dark ages - we wish to all the African countries to develop and for Africa (Including Egypt ) to rise as a global power and defend it's rights .

In Response

by: David from: CA
June 01, 2013 4:41 PM
Dear Hisham, Thank you for your comment. We never cooperated with anyone to harm Egypt.

Ethiopians are the only one financing this dam. Egypt has been blocking loans and funds from World Bank. She also has been helping rebels in Horn of Africa. Why Egypt does those evil things if she want to see to developed and prospered Africans? Our arms stretched for love and peace, but many Egyptians brothers have been discussing in many Arabic website how to use Eritreans and Somalis blood and souls to keep Egypt's selfish interest. This need to Stop!

by: Reality Check
May 31, 2013 10:43 PM
Funny how media refuse to quote President Morsi who said Renaissance Dam will not harm Egypt, and he has a PhD in engineering from USC. The dam is for hydroelectricity, not crop irrigation. Impact to Egypt is negligible, but media are allergic to real facts that don't sell papers.

by: Shibru from: California, USA
May 31, 2013 6:05 PM
@John Doe: " ... the unilateral decision making policy that Ethiopia has takes with no RIGHTS to do so."

I read your comments and citations to what you referred to as international and agreed rights and the the one I quoted above from your write-ups. I wish you also comment tooth and nail, as you did it here, on the legitimacy of the unilateral decision that Egypt took with it former colonial master without consulting with Ethiopia on the resource that originates in Ethiopia and that flows in the Ethiopian territory for hundreds of miles.

As for referring to international treaties and rules of law, I very much feel that you have a lot to preach here at your own back yard rather than doing it across the Atlantic or Pacific.

One important point, though; Egypt and Ethiopia -- and ESPECIALLY their fellow citizens -- share the same destiny and they are wise enough to sort out any outstanding issue in their own way; they fully understand where crocodile tears flow from and for what eventual reason. By the way, those who master-mined the concept of Kashmir and Ogaden may have done so for the same reason when they embraced Egypt (and the Sudan) and left out Ethiopia in their so-called Nile Treaty; they may be happy to hear the drum beating of war between Egypt and Ethiopia and they even be planning who would deliver arms to which party and the cover of which agent. Remember who was delivering arms to Iran and Iraq during their long years of war?


by: Shibru from: California, USA
May 31, 2013 5:27 PM
The last paragraph of the report says, quote, " ... a new generation that might be more willing to look at the issues in a different way ...".

Ethiopia has always been willing to look at the issue from different perspectives, but short of abandoning the dam project. The waters of the BLUE NILE are God-given to Ethiopian than probably to Egypt. Any healthy brain of a human being does not contemplate Ethiopia not to use the resources generated in its own territory and, further, try to give advice that Ethiopia should use the other rivers and not the Nile.

Egypt should stop fermenting and conducting unrest in Ethiopia under the cover of freedom for Muslims; the same tactic that it has always been using since the time of Emperor Haile Sellassie through student movement and by supporting the Eritrean secessionists for long.

Thus, Egypt should start approaching not only the dam issues, but its very attitude towards Ethiopia and Ethiopians in a different way all together.

by: Aklilu from: Ethiopia
May 31, 2013 3:28 PM
The Egyptian Media has an obligation to tell the truth than igniting the tension between two friendly countries. The agreement between Egypt and Britain to use Nile in 1929 without Ethiopian involvement is outdated. Ethiopia has not an obligation be bid by this rule. But negotiation between the two countries is important. As a source of Abay(Nile) we have every right to use our resource. I am sure Egyptian will not choose a war as a solution. If that is the case Egypt will lose as Italians did. I hope we have good politician from both side to work for better use of Abay(nile).

God bless Ethiopia and Egypt

by: euel from: Jnadu
May 31, 2013 4:40 AM
Where does the Water Originate!!???
The water comes from Ethiopia not from Red sea or Indian Ocean. It is from the heart of Ethiopia. Can Ethiopia prevent tourists from visiting Egypt's pyramids since it may harm the tourist flow to Ethiopia?? Egypt's stand is like that.....Egypt wants to develop projects for Ethiopia, Egypt wants to develop policies to Ethiopia,....After all, Egypt is one of the poor African countries that needs to work hard to bring its people out of poverty....How many Egyptians do have sufficient food and shelter....rather than getting obsessed with war where the budget could help its poor people and, war which would result permanent damage to its Nile flow and which will be futile at the end of the day, better for Egypt to tilt towards political solution-Win-Win.

by: Lee from: Norfolk
May 30, 2013 7:30 PM
The diversion of water is only around the construction area, but the water will still flow to Egypt. It's a very common procedure with dam construction. Either Egyptian officials are unaware of the facts or they are deliberately twisting them.
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