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James Burgess

James Burgess

James Burgess studied Business Management at the University of Nottingham. He has worked in property development, chartered surveying, marketing, law, and accounts. He has also…

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Nile Disputes Threaten Africa’s Largest Hydropower Project

The largest Hydropower project in Africa, the 6,000MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is under threat as Ethiopia and Egypt remain unable to come to an agreement over the flow of the River Nile.

The giant dam is being constructed on the Blue Nile River, the largest tributary of the Nile, and Egypt is fearful that it might restrict the flow of the river which provides almost all of the country’s water. Historically, as one of the most powerful countries along the length of the Nile, Egypt has benefitted from almost complete control, but recent attempts to secure almost all rights in the future have just been rejected by Ethiopia.

Related article: Argentina: Hydropower Plans and EU Bio-Diesel Duties

Egypt claims that it signed a 1959 agreement with Sudan that granted them the rights to 55.5 billion cubic metres of water from the total 84 billion cubic metres flowing through the river. However, Ethiopia and other upriver countries have rejected the agreement, which they were never a part of, and claim that Egypt’s monopolisation of the Nile would deprive them of a vital resource that runs through their country.

RIver Nile

In 2010, Ethiopia, along with five other countries based along the river Nile (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi in 2011) signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement that addressed issues of using the water in ways that do not cause significant harm to other countries reliant on the water. Basically these countries were fed up with always having to ask permission from Egypt before they could attempt to use the river in any development project. The agreement lays the foundations for creating a Nile River Basin Commission that would manage all water rights and development projects along the river.

Ethiopia claims that the $4.2 billion hydroelectric dam would benefit agriculture and any energy consumers in East Africa, whilst at the same time not affecting the flow of water downstream; even Sudan has shown its support for the project.

Related article: Belgian Minister Inaugurates Power Plant in Eastern DRC

Egypt remains determined to retain its dominance of the River Nile, claiming that it is a matter of national security and that they actually need an even larger share of the water now due to the growing population. Politicians have even suggested the use of force against Ethiopia to prevent the dam from being completed.

Mohamed Abdel-Moteleb, the Egyptian Irrigation Minister, said that the country “has escalatory steps to assert our historic rights to the Nile waters.”


Egypt suggested that a panel of neutral experts should be appointed to study the dam’s impact on the river and the surrounding environment however Ethiopia was quick to reject this proposal. Eventually a committee was created, that included members from Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, on the recommendation of international experts who were worried by the lack of understanding about the dam’s downstream impact.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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  • Samuel on January 13 2014 said:
    I don't think the Egyptians will ever come to agreement about any meaningful developmental activities that eventually leads to the growth of the Ethiopians; that's why they have been and are at the back of any conspiracy that undermine the Ethiopians stability; I think the Ethiopians should do their home work in regard to their internal politics to avoid any space that foreign insurgents like Egypt may seek to utilize.
  • LM on January 10 2014 said:
    The truth is it was the 1929 Nile agreement between Egypt and Great Britain that supposedly gave Egypt the lion's share of the Nile. Now, consider this. Ethiopia was never consulted when this agreement was signed; and other upstream countries had yet to be independent, so they were not allowed to have a say on it. How can Egypt claim control over the entire Nile basin, when it stretches into 11 countries? Do not those other countries have a say? If not, then you are suggesting that Egypt has a right to dictate to them how and if they can use their resources. It is a direct violation of their sovereign rights. The 1929 agreement, which preceded the 1959 agreement, is just as unfair and illegal as the latter. Let's be specific here; 85% of the Nile water in Egypt comes from Ethiopia, through the Blue Nile, which begins in Ethiopia. As for this panel of "neutral experts", Egypt cannot be trusted to form any panel until they renounce the 1929 and 1959 agreements which are in direct conflict with the purpose and spirit of the negotiations. Why should we believe Egypt believes in the mutual benefit of the Nile among all riparian nations, when they are still holding on to edicts that grant them the lion's share of it?
  • Beselam Techawet on January 10 2014 said:
    James, I have read your article, for balanced article I add some points.

    The downstream impact detail studies was recommended with objective of maximize benefit - power uplift in Sudan, flood reduction in Sudan, recession and formal agriculture expansion, drought / flood period reservoir managements in Egypt + minimize adverse effect if any + increase in life of High Aswan dam in Egypt etc on full collaborative platform. This requires complete actual data of all dams in Eastern Nile, if not in equatorial lakes area and all water uses and their rules.

    It is to be recalled that The IPOE in May 2013, based on 153 documents, have highlighted that GERD has no significant adverse impact in the downstream countries, rather has significant positive impact in short and long-term to the downstream countries.

    Coming back to the current issue, Ethiopia have agreed to jointly employee International Firm (consultancy) to study the above; and establish three (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia) countries expert groups who follow and finally review the final report of the above study and submit to the three governments for their consideration.

    What Egypt proposed was to establish on top of the above International Firm another international panel of experts to follow the above study in parallel with the three countries expert group. Ethiopia could not see the value of such duplicate panel establishment without objective, unless the objective is to complicate the matter.

    In case the final report recommendations of the International Firm becomes not agreeable to all three countries, then at this stage with three government agreement the International panel of experts will be employed to review the results of the final document where disagreement occur and give opinion for the three countries. This is also suggested by Ethiopia. Egypt declined to agree.

    To complicate the matter Egypt also demanded to re-discuss on trans-boundary water management principles which have been negotiated and signed by Ethiopia among 6 Nile riparian countries in Nile CFA, in which Egypt also included all along, although Egypt left the negotiation platform near the end of the conclusion, CFA ratification.

    It is clear for all that Great Ethiopia Renaissance Dam is hydropower dam constructed in an area with less evaporation, can only be benefit to all countries in the region. If Egypt request to upstream countries is that do not use Nile water even for hydro-power, not a drop to reduce, it is only time will teach them what will happen on the ground in the upper riparian countries.
  • Wasse Alem on January 10 2014 said:
    Nile river is one of the great gift of nature to Ethiopia. However, todate Ethiopia never benefited from this huge resource. As world knows that the present Ethiopia's plan to use its water resource in equitable base is obligatory and mandatory.

    I may ask people some questions:
    What is historic right that always sound by Egyptians about Nile river ?

    Who gave that right for Egyptian ? because this definitely not their resource

    But, what ever the case will be, nobody can get frustrated on Egypt politician speech. With no dought the dam construction continues to its final.

    The only and the best solution for all nations around Nile will be negotiation for equitable use of water. Lets negotiate each other again and again to come to reliable conclusion. Otherwise nobody can monopolize this resource.
  • shimeles on January 10 2014 said:
    ethiopia still has the right to use its water even for errigation purpose as far as egypt is not affected

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