The Nile River is the largest in the world at 6,650 kilometers long. It runs through Egypt, Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. The Nile River riparian states make up the Nile River Basin Initiative (NBI), an international partnership between Nile River countries that aims to increase cooperation, share the river’s socioeconomic benefits, and promote regional peace. The Nile River states’ population is estimated to be 400 million, with over half of these residents (250 million) relying on the Nile for daily water supply. The UN estimates that the Nile’s population will double by 2050, significantly increasing pressure on Nile water flow to sustain a nearly billion-strong population. Currently, 10% (4 million people) of the Nile region’s population faces water scarcity. However, it is estimated that by 2040, 35% (80 million people) will be water-scarce due to increasing population and climate change-related events such as increased Nile River flow variability and severe weather events.
Treaties regarding Nile River water rights date back to the colonial period and continue to be referenced today in legal matters. In the colonial period of the early 20th century, historically significant treaties were signed between colonial powers and Nile River riparian states, including the Treaty Between Great Britain and Ethiopia, the Tripartite Treaty, and the Agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The treaties significantly undermined Ethiopia’s rights to the Nile River, despite the Blue Nile running through Ethiopia’s sovereign land, and favored Egypt and Sudan’s rights to the Nile’s water.
Both Egypt and Sudan are Lower Nile Basin countries and receive relatively low rainfall levels compared to Upper Nile Basin states, making them highly dependent on the Nile River for water supply. Moreover, according to the UN, Egypt has an annual water deficit of around seven billion cubic meters and is projected to completely water-scarce by 2025. Egypt’s water scarcity resulted in protests in 2007, known as the “Revolution of the Thirsty,” after residents of the Nile Delta reported putrid water in their limited water supply. As such, both countries continue to reference these colonial-era treaties in a bid to remain water-secure despite environmental pressures. However, Ethiopia refuses to recognize the treaty’s validity due to its colonial context and unadulterated bias against Ethiopian water rights.
Disputes between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan over Nile River water rights culminated into outright tensions in 1978 following Ethiopia’s proposal of dam construction on the Blue Nile. Ethiopia’s proposal was met with significant Egyptian backlash that ultimately led to the failure of the project. However, tensions continue today with the construction of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam.
In 2010, Ethiopia announced its intention to build the largest and most expensive hydroelectric dam in Africa. The proposal was immediately met with Egyptian and Sudanese backlash, with Egypt calling for African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) intervention on the matter and then Egyptian Minister of Water and Environmental Resources, Mohamed Nasr Eldin Allam, forming an agreement with the Sudanese government to preserve “the historical rights of both countries to the Nile’s water.” The deal directly responded to the Grand Renaissance dam proposal and bound Sudan and Egypt together in opposition against the dam’s construction.
Although Sudan declared neutrality in the dispute in 2014, negotiations between all three states continue today to no avail. Currently, the latest round of negotiations reached a stalemate in August of 2020 with the Sudanese Water Resources and Irrigation Minister, stating that “the continuation of negotiations in this current form will not lead to achieving practical results.” It is expected for a new round of negotiations to begin shortly, although there is little optimism that another round of talks will resolve this nearly decade long dispute.
On August 28th, negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan reached yet another stalemate after nearly a decade of talks between the three states over the construction and utilization of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam. Both Egyptian and Sudanese Irrigation Ministers told media outlets that a consensus between the three countries had not been reached, resulting in Egyptian and Sudanese withdrawal from talks. The Sudanese Water and Irrigation Minister stated that “the continuation of negotiations in this current form will not lead to achieving practical results.” It remains unclear when the next round of negotiations will begin, or which third party state or organization would mediate such talks. Prior negotiation mediator, the United States (US), announced a temporary ban on Ethiopian financial aid on September 2nd. The US hopes that the withdrawal of funding will influence Ethiopia to make more significant concessions in future talks with Egypt and Sudan. Since then, Ethiopia has demanded an explanation from the US Trump Administration on the temporary cessation of financial aid, and the ban’s effects on Ethiopian compromise remains unknown.
Classification: Ongoing International Water Rights Conflict
Where: The Nile flows from south of the Equator northward through Northeastern Africa and drains into the Mediterranean Sea
Nile River Countries: Egypt, Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.
Total Population of Nile River Countries: 400 million
Nile River Length: 6,650 kilometers
People Reliant on the Nile River for Daily Water Supply: 250 million
Nile River Region Population Predictions: According to UN estimates, the population of the Nile River region is expected to double by 2050
Nile River Annual Flow: 80 cubic kilometers per year
Nile River Water Flow Prediction: Research predicts that climate change will cause the Nile’s annual flow to increase in variability by 50% over the next 15 years, meaning that flooding and droughts will increase in occurrence and severity
Principal Streams of Nile River: The Blue Nile and Atabara (flows through Ethiopian highlands), and the White Nile (flows into lakes Victoria and Albert)
Current Status of Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan Negotiations: Stalemate as of August 28, 2020
Water Scarcity in Nile Region: 10% of the Nile region’s population face water scarcity
Water Scarcity Projections: By 2040, 35% of the Nile region’s population (80 million people) will face water scarcity
The Nile River Basin Initiative (NBI) is an international partnership among Nile River riparian states. The initiative was formed in 1999 and includes Egypt, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Eritrea, the tenth Nile riparian state, currently acts as an observer and has expressed interest in joining the NBI. The initiative aims to increase cooperation, share the river’s socioeconomic benefits, and promote regional peace between Nile River riparian states. In November 2008, NBI member states signed the Khartoum Declaration, which was a non-binding agreement that declared the support for the harmonization of environmental management, data exchange, ecological impact assessment, and a coordinating role in climate change issues to establish a “cooperative framework agreement” to replace earlier bilateral treaties. In 2007, seven of the NBI’s member states signed the declaration, excluding Egypt and Sudan, who requested that member states issue a “presidential declaration to launch the River Nile Basin Commission as negotiations [on the CFA] continue.” Egypt’s rejection of the agreement primarily comes from recognizing the prior colonial-era agreements that granted the state significant rights to the Nile. As water rights conflicts continue between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, it is expected for the NBI to have a mediating role in disputes and expand Nile River water agreements in the future.
Historically, Britain has played a crucial role in Nile River water rights and conflicts and a significant colonial power on the African continent. Britain controlled Egypt from 1882 until its independence in 1936, during which multiple colonial treaties over Nile River water rights were signed by both Egypt and Britain. Such treaties include the Tripartite Treat of 1906, which denied Ethiopia its Nile water rights, and the Agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in 1929, which granted Egypt the right to monitor Nile River water flow and exclusively reserve the Nile’s flow in the dry seasons. Such colonial treaties continue to be referred to by Egypt as guaranteeing their rights to the Nile’s water. However, Ethiopia refuses to recognize such treaties due to their colonial conception and have signed onto new water rights agreements and several other Nile River riparian states. Such disagreements over British supervised colonial treaties have led to increasingly high tensions between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan over the building of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, which continues to remain unresolved.
France is a European state with a long history in the Nile River region and prior colonial ties to multiple African countries. As early as 1798, France was interested in the strategic and financial gains the Nile could offer, with the French and British navies having fought over control of the river. Eventually, in 1854, French Diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps convinced the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohamed Said, to allow for the Suez Canal construction, which would cut through 100 miles of desert between Africa and Asia. France was also a signatory of the 1906 Tripartite Treaty along with Italy and Britain, which denied Ethiopia its sovereign rights to its national water resources. The Tripartite Treaty would go on to be recognized as invalid by Ethiopia due to its colonial context. However, Egypt continues to fight for its recognition due to the advantages the treaty gave them regarding Nile River water rights.
The United Nations (UN) has played a significant role in international water law and conflict resolution between the Nile River riparian states. In 1997, the UN held the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, an international treaty regarding the use and conservation of all water systems that cross international borders. The framework calls for watercourse states to behave equitably and reasonably, including considering the social and economic needs of watercourse states and existing and potential uses of the watercourse. In June of 2010, Egypt officially expressed its grievances against Ethiopia’s planned construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile to the UN. Following this official grievance, Ethiopia asked Egypt to meet for discussions on cooperation. In 2018, the United Nations released a Water Quality Report on the Nile River, which stated that Egypt is expected to struggle to fulfill national water supply requirements by 2025. The report also warned that Egypt’s water supply is currently below the UN’s water poverty threshold and is heading towards absolute water scarcity. The UN’s report strengthened Egypt’s initiative to fight the Grand Renaissance Dam’s construction as it sees it as a threat to their national water supply.
The African Union (AU) is the union of all 55 African states, including all Nile River Riparian states. The African Union has played a significant role in conflict resolution between Nile states over the river’s water rights. In 2010, Egypt aired its official grievance against Ethiopia for the Grand Renaissance Dam’s planned construction to the AU. Egypt demanded that the dam’s funding be cut off to protect its national water supply, which is 90% reliant on Nile’s flow. After over a decade of failed negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, the AU held a mediation in July of 2020 between the three countries to settle the dispute over the Grand Renaissance Dam and Nile water rights. However, the conflict remains unresolved, and tensions have recently spiked over satellite images of the dam’s filling in July of 2020, which resulted in Egypt pulling out the latest round of negotiations. It is expected for the AU to hold similar mediation between the three states shortly.
Egypt has utilized the Nile River for financial and strategic gains since its ancient origins in 3000 BCE. In the modern era, Egypt has been a significant player in Nile River water conflicts. In 1854, the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohamed Said, allowed for the Suez Canal construction, which cuts through 100 miles of desert between Africa and Asia. The canal would become the most crucial waterway in the world due to its economic and strategic importance. While under British colonial rule, Egypt signed multiple colonial-era water rights treaties, including the 1929 Agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The agreement gave Egypt the right to monitor the flow of the Nile in Upstream Countries, reserve the Nile’s flow during the dry season, undertake Nile River related Projects without the consent of upper riparian states, and gave Egypt the right to veto any construction projects that would adversely affect its national interests. Since 1978, Egypt has been in conflict with Ethiopia over rights to the Nile’s water flow after Ethiopia proposed dam construction on the Blue Nile. The same tensions continue today over Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. As recently as 2013, Egypt has considered military action to intervene in the dam’s construction. As of 2020, negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have not led to a formal agreement that could resolve water rights disputes despite nearly a decade of negotiations.
Sudan is a Nile River riparian state and has been a significant player in Nile River water conflicts for nearly a century. While under British imperial and Egyptian control, Sudan signed the 1929 Agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan that included clauses that heavily favored Egypt’s rights to the Nile’s water supply. Following Sudan’s independence in 1956, the state clashed with Egypt over water rights to the Nile. In 1958, Egypt held a military expedition in a disputed territory amid ongoing negotiations with Sudan over Nile waters. The expedition was unsuccessful, and a Nile Water Treaty was signed between the two countries a year later when a pro-Egyptian government rose to power in Sudan. The following year, the 1959 Egypt-Sudan Nile Water Agreement was signed between the two states, which allowed Egypt to construct the Aswan Dam and allocated a quarter of the Nile’s water volume to Sudan. More recently, following Ethiopia’s announcement of the Grand Renaissance Dam’s proposed construction, Sudan and Egypt agreed to protect their national rights to the Nile’s water flow. However, in 2014 Sudan went against its prior alliance with Egypt and declared neutrality with Ethiopia over Nile River disputes. Despite this neutrality, negotiations between the three countries continue today, with the latest negotiations having failed in August of 2020.
During the colonial era, Ethiopia was subject to treaties that heavily favored Egyptian rights to the Nile. The 1906 Tripartite Treaty between Britain, Italy, and France denied Ethiopia any water rights over the Nile River. Ethiopia refuses to recognize the treaty and the 1929 Agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, which further increased Egypt’s rights to the Nile. Ethiopia’s rejection of these agreements’ validity had caused tensions with Egypt since 1978 when the state proposed constructing dams on the Blue Nile. In 2010, Ethiopia announced its intention to build the Grand Renaissance Dam, the largest and most expensive hydroelectric dam on the entire African continent. The dam significantly increased tensions between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, with Egypt even considering military action to intervene in the dam’s construction recently as 2013. Negotiations between the three states have been ongoing for a decade, with mediation failing to produce an agreement between the three countries overfilling the dam and Nile water rights. In July of 2020, satellite images showed filling of the dam during Ethiopia’s wet season, which resulted in Egypt pulling out of the most recent round of negotiations in August of the same year.
In December of 2018, the United States (U.S) invited Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to its capital in Washington, DC, to continue negotiations over Nile River water rights and the Grand Renaissance Dam. American President, Donald Trump, hoped that he could reach an agreement between the three states to fortify his reputation as a dealmaker. However, negotiations failed after Ethiopia pulled out mediation talks due to what they described as pro-Egyptian bias in negotiations. In September of 2020, the U.S “temporarily” suspended its financial aid to Ethiopia over lack of progression in the negotiations with Sudan and Egypt. The U.S hopes that financial suspension will act as an incentive for Ethiopia to further compromise in future discussions. It is expected for the U.S to remain involved in the conflict shortly, both through financial and diplomatic means.
Protestors have been active in multiple Nile River riparian states since the late 20th century. From 1978-1984, Sudan killed protestors against the Jonglei Canal construction, resulting in the project’s ultimate failure. In July of 2007, the “Revolution of the Thirsty” erupted in Egypt over water shortages in Brulus. Protestors blocked the local highway in an attempt to have the Egyptian government solve the water supply issue. Following these protests, water supply in Egypt continued to deteriorate and acted as a significant instigator in the buildup to the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. At the time, Egypt was in the midst of a water crisis after dropping below the globally accepted “water poverty” line. A year before the revolution, water utility expenses underwent a drastic hike for downtown residents of Cairo. The next year, water shortages in South Sudanese refugee camps resulted in protests as well, with Medecins Sans Frontieres reporting that approximately ten refugees died every day in refugee camps in South Sudan due to water shortages. As global warming continues on its current upwards trend and the newly finished Grand Renaissance Dam poses a potential risk to future Egyptian water supply. It is expected for protests to increase in number and regularity shortly.
Since approximately 3000 BCE, the Egyptians have utilized the Nile River in their power expansion. The Egyptians constructed advanced irrigation systems on the Nile and used the river to transport people and goods. The Nile is closely intertwined with ancient Egyptian culture with the god Hapi symbolizing the Nile’s annual flooding.
In 1854, French Diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps convinced the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohamed Said, to allow for constructing a canal that would cut through 100 miles of desert between Africa and Asia. This canal would go on to become the Suez Canal.
Article III of the Anglo-Italian Protocol states that “the Italian government engages not to construct on the Atbara River, in view of irrigation, any work which might sensibly modify its flow into the Nile.” The protocol’s language was too vague to distinguish clear water rights to the Nile, contributing to differing national claims over the Nile’s water.
Article III of the treaty between Great Britain and Ethiopia states, “his Majesty the Emperor Menilik II, King of Kings of Ethiopia, engages himself towards the Government of His Britannic Majesty not to construct or allow to be constructed any work across the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, or the Sobat, which would arrest the flow of their waters except in agreement with His Britannic Majesty’s Government and the Government of Sudan.” The goal of the treaty was to distinguish a border between Ethiopia and Sudan. However, the treaty has historically been one of the most contested in Nile water rights agreements.
Article III of the Agreement between Britain and the Government of the Independent State of the Congo states, “the Government of the independent state of the Congo undertakes not to construct, or allow to be constructed, any work over or near the Semliki or Isango river which would diminish the volume of water entering Lake Albert except in agreement with the Sudanese Government.” However, the Congo did not sign the treaty; instead, Belgium signed the treaty on behalf of the Congo. The treaty favored the downstream states on the Nile and restricted the Congo from accessing its Nile territory.
Article 4(a) of the tripartite Treaty between Britain, France, and Italy states, “To act together… to safeguard; … the interests of Great Britain and Egypt in the Nile Basin, more especially as regards the regulation of the waters of that river and its tributaries (due consideration being paid to local interests) without prejudice to Italian interests.” The treaty denied Ethiopia its sovereign rights to its national water resources. In response, Ethiopia rejected the treaty and does not recognize its validity.
The Sinai and Palestine Campaign led by German-Ottoman forces against the Arab Revolt and the British Empire began with the Suez canal’s January 26th attempted seizure. The Suez Canal was of significant strategic interest to both sides during World War 1, and fighting lasted three years before the German-Ottomans were defeated. Egypt was a protectorate of Britain at the time and thus had the benefit of British troops to aid in the German-Ottoman defeat. The conflict ended with the Armistice of Mudros in October of 1918.
The Agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan includes clauses that heavily favored Egypt’s rights to the Nile’s water supply. The treaty gave Egypt the right to monitor the flow of the Nile in Upstream Countries, reserve the Nile’s flow during the dry season, undertake Nile River related Projects without the consent of upper riparian states, and gave Egypt the right to veto any construction projects that would adversely affect their national interests.
In 1936, the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was signed in London and proclaimed Egypt as an independent sovereign state. However, British troops were allowed to continue their stationing at the Suez Canal to protect British financial and strategic interests.
The first battle of El Alamein was an Egyptian battle during the Second World War between Axis and Allied forces and began the Western Desert Campaign. The Axis powers were significantly close to seizing the Suez canal and gaining financial and strategic advantage in North Africa over the allied power. However, the Allied powers overcame the Axis forces, and the Suez canal was never seized.
In October of 1951, Egyptian Prime Minister Nahas Pasha asked the Egyptian parliament to approve the abrogation of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian treaty. The treaty allowed Britain to keep troops stationed on the Suez Canal.
Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal, which invoked conflict between Israel and Egypt (the former with the backing of France and Great Britain). The move to nationalize the canal came from a post-war increase in Egyptian nationalism. Egypt agreed to free navigation of the canal in June of the same year and that British troops would return to the canal if a foreign state threatened it.
In 1958, Egypt held a military expedition in a disputed territory amid ongoing negotiations with Sudan over Nile waters. The expedition was unsuccessful, and a Nile Water Treaty was signed between the two countries a year later when a pro-Egyptian government rose to power in Sudan.
In 1959 Egypt and Sudan signed the Nile Water Agreement that allocated three-quarters of the Nile’s total water volume to Egypt, allowing the state to construct the Aswan Dam. Additionally, the agreement issued a quarter of the water volume to Sudan. According to the agreement, Egypt must consent to other states’ use of the Nile’s water, and as such, a majority of the Nile Basin’s countries have not developed extensive projects on the river. However, the other Nile River basin nations question the legitimacy of the agreement due to many states lacking independence at the time, and Ethiopia does not recognize the agreement at all.
The Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers is an international guideline on regulating rivers that cross national boundaries. The international law association adopted the Helsinki rules in 1966; however, they lack any legal enforcement mechanism. The Helsinki Rules apply to the Nile, which passes through 10 African countries, but the lack of enforcement has proven to make them ineffective in Nile river conflict resolution.
From 1978-1984, Sudan killed protestors of the Jonglei Canal. The canal was a project set in Sudan’s wetlands to increase water supply to Sudan and Egypt to counteract Nile River drying. However, the canal was never completed due to the socio-political unrest it created.
Ethiopia’s proposed construction of dams on the Blue Nile in 1978 was met with backlash from Egypt that feared the dams would threaten their national water supply. Disputes between Egypt and Ethiopia over Nile River water rights continues today, with negotiations ongoing.
In 1979, then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat said, “The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.” The same message continues today with military intervention remaining a viable option in Egypt-Ethiopia disputes over Nile River water rights.
In 1988, then Egyptian Foreign Minister Boutros Boutros-Ghali predicted that the next war in the Middle East would be fought over water rights to the Nile, not politics. Boutros-Ghali would go on to become the United Nations Secretary-General from 1992-1996.
The Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems was signed between the countries of The Republic of Angola, the Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, the Republic of South Africa, the Kingdom of Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, the Republic of Zambia and the Republic of Zimbabwe. The protocol aimed to develop “close co-operation for judicious and co-ordinated utilization of the resources of the shared watercourse systems in the SADC region.” The protocol states that countries with a shared water system shall exchange information and data regarding the water’s hydrogeological, quality, meteorological, and ecological conditions. The protocol also states that permits are required to discharge waste into such water systems from relevant state authorities.
The Nile River Cooperative Framework (NRCF) was created in 1997 to promote “integrated management, sustainable development, and harmonious utilization of the water resources of the Basin, as well as their conservation and protection for the benefit of the present and future generation.” The framework envisaged a permanent institution mechanism, the Nile River Commission (NRBC), which would promote and facilitate the implementation of the framework and cooperation between member states.
Referred to as the UN Watercourses Convention, the convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses is an international treaty regarding the use and conservation of all water systems that cross international borders. The goal of the convention was to “ensure the utilization, development, conservation, management, and protection of international watercourses and the promotion of the optimal and sustainable utilization thereof for present and future generations.” The framework calls for watercourse states to behave equitably and reasonably, which includes considering the social and economic needs of watercourse states and existing and potential uses of the watercourse. The convention is regarded as a crucial milestone in establishing international water laws.
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is a partnership between the Nile riparian states of Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as including Eritrea as an observer. The goal of the NBI is to achieve sustainable socioeconomic development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources.”
In 2004, Tanzania planned the construction of the Lake Victoria Pipeline to increase water supply to its 400,000 people in the North-West of the state. In response, Egypt threatened to bomb the construction site to protect its water flow into the Aswan Dam. Egypt enacted the 1929 agreement to restrict Tanzania from blocking the Nile’s waters without British permission.
In April of 2004 Egypt privatized its national water supply. The privatization transformed water utility into corporations that resulted in the doubling of water expenses within months in the capital of Cairo. The increase in cost led to Cairo residents protesting the new water privatization.
The first draft of the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) was created in 2007, however it was not signed for three more years due to disputes between the Niles states regarding prior treaties on the Nile. Disagreements over the draft are considered the beginning of modern tensions between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan over the Nile River water rights.
Protests erupted in the summer of 2007 in Egypt over a lack of water supply for the residents of Brulus on the Nile Delta. The protests became known as the “Revolution of the Thirsty.” The little water supply available to them was reported as being putrid and collected from puddles. Protests blocked the local highway in an attempt to have the Egyptian government solve the water supply issue.
In 2010, Wikileaks released an email that revealed a high-level Egyptian source saying “we are discussing military co-operation with Sudan” against Ethiopia. The email also included plans of establishing a military base in Sudan for Egyptian Special Forces to attack the planned Grand Renaissance Dam from.
In May 2010, Ethiopia announced its intention to build Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile. The announcement caused a massive backlash from Egypt and Sudan and increased tensions between the three states, which continue today.
Then Egyptian Minister of Water and Environmental Resources, Mohamed Nasr Eldin Allam, agreed with Sudan to preserve “the historical rights of both countries to the Nile’s water.” This move primarily comes in response to the announcement of Ethiopia’s intentions to build a hydroelectric dam on the Nile.
In May of 2010, Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak met with Kenya’s leaders and the Democratic Republic of Congo to discuss disputes over the Nile River. The meeting comes after Kenya, and four other African countries agreed to re-examine Nile water-sharing rights. Egypt disagrees with re-examining the 1929 treaty gives them the majority of the Nile’s water rights.
In June of 2010, Egypt officially expressed its grievances to the United Nations and African Union over the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam. Egypt demanded that the dam’s funding be cut off due to its risk to the Egyptian water supply. Following this official grievance, Ethiopia asked Egypt to meet for discussions on cooperation.
In November of 2010, the Grand Renaissance Dam plans were completed; however, international backers required an agreement between Nile Basin nations before funding of the project could begin. The deal, known as the Entebbe Agreement, was signed in the following years.
Conflict in South Sudan dates back to the country’s independence in 2011. The ongoing violence has negatively impacted water infrastructure across the country resulting in widespread national water insecurity.
Revolution broke out in Egypt in January of 2011 over protests against widespread national police brutality. However, water poverty was a decisive factor in the revolution and acted as an agitator for socio-political unrest. At the time, Egypt was in the midst of a water crisis after dropping below the globally accepted “water poverty” line. A year before the revolution, water utility expenses underwent a drastic hike for downtown residents of Cairo.
The Nile River Cooperative Framework (NRCF) came into force as international law when the sixth member state, Burundi, signed the Entebbe Agreement in 2011. The agreement allowed riparian nations to construct dams and other Nile related projects, which contradicted prior colonial agreements. Sudan and Egypt refused to sign the deal, suggesting that the phrasing of Article 14(b) goes against pre-existing water rights. The following month Ethiopia began construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
Since 2011, Ethiopia has been building a large dam to become a regional leader in electricity exportation. However, it is expected that the dam will decrease water flow to Egypt by 25 percent. Considering that rainfall has reduced in the area annually, and global temperatures continue to rise, Egypt needs to secure reliable water resources for their country. The Egyptian government has said that the dam will affect the water supply of nearly 100 million citizens. Egyptian officials have considered military action as recent as 2013.
In May of 2011, Ethiopia announced that it would share its plans for the Grand Renaissance Dam with Egypt in compliance with existing international water laws and hopefully aid in easing tensions between them.
Following Sudan’s independence in 2011, the state sought to join the Nile River Basin (NBI) and was admitted as a member in July 2012, bringing the NBI’s membership up to 10 member states. Currently, the South Sudanese government controls 28% of the Nile’s flow; however, it is expected for this to be renegotiated between South Sudan and Sudan with the help of the NBI.
In September of 2011, Ethiopia suggested a partnership between themselves and Sudan regarding electricity the Grand Renaissance Dam would produce. The electricity supply would greatly benefit Sudan and ease tensions over the dam between the two states.
In 2012, 200 tourists were held captive by Egyptian farmers from the Abu Simbel region to protest the insufficient irrigation water in the area. The majority of irrigation water in Egypt derives from the Nile River. The kidnappers released the tourists after officials agreed to a temporary release of water to the region.
The 2012 Director of National Intelligence report on Global Water Security states that “as water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives also will become more likely beyond 10 years.” The report went on to say that they expect states to use water projects (such as the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam) to obtain regional influence or preserve their water rights.
In April of 2012, violence broke out in the Jamam refugee camp in South Sudan over shortages in its water supply. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that approximately ten refugees died every day in refugee camps in South Sudan due to water shortages. The majority of South Sudan’s water is acquired from the Nile River Basin.
Then Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi visited Ethiopia in July of 2012. The trip was monumental in that it was the first time an Egyptian president had visited Ethiopia in 17 years since the attempted assassination of Mubarak’s life. However, negotiations between the two states fell through a few months following the president’s visit.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi visited Bashir, Sudan, in April of 2013 to strengthen ties with the state. In a statement, Morsi said, “Egypt’s ties stumbled in the past, but now we are together, with possibilities of enhancing cooperation that satisfies the interests of all sides.”
In May 2013, Ethiopia temporarily diverged the Blue Nile flow to assist in the next phase of the Renaissance Dam construction. The move prompted former Egyptian President Morsi to suggest that if Egypt’s share of the Nile water supply was diminished by a single drop, “blood” would be the response.
In 2013, a meeting between Egyptian politicians was accidentally televised, where they discussed possible methods for absorbing the shock of the Renaissance Dam. Supporting proxy military groups within Ethiopia in an attempt to destabilize the government was considered.
Negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over Nile River water rights and the Grand Renaissance Dam briefly halted following Morsi’s ousting. However, they resumed again In November 2013.
In December of 2013, former president Bashir of Sudan confirmed to the Ethiopian Prime Minister that the dam would benefit all Nile Basin countries, including Egypt. The announcement went against prior disputes between the three countries over the dam’s construction and was promising for Ethiopia-Sudan relations.
In January of 2014, officials from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan met in Khartoum to begin another round of negotiations regarding Nile River water rights and the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam.
In February of 2014, Egypt’s Irrigation Ministry announced that the negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia had disagreed on Nile River water rights and the Grand Renaissance Dam only a month after they had begun again.
Following Egypt’s request for the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam to stop, Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry refused to halt the construction. In response, Egypt announced that it would be taking the international route to challenge its construction.
In February of 2014, following the failed Khartoum negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over Nile River water rights and the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam, Sudan announced its neutrality in the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia. Many believe Sudan’s neutrality is mostly the energy supply they would receive from the dam.
In March of 2014, following increased tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, the Ethiopian Irrigation minister denied that military intervention would settle the dispute. The claim comes after years of military intervention remaining a viable option for both states.
In April of 2014, Russia, China, the European Union, Italy, and the IMF stopped their funding of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam following backlash from Egypt over the dam’s construction. However, the dam continued construction despite the loss of funding.
After negotiations failed in February 2014 at Khartoum, Ethiopian Defense Minister called for Egypt to allow talks to resume in April of the same year to reach an agreement over the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam and Nile River water rights.
In May of 2014, Ethiopia’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Adam Mohamed, said that the Ethiopian army is ready to defend against any attack on the Grand Renaissance Dam. The statement was directed towards Egypt, which in the past had discussed possible attacks on the dam to preserve their Nile water supply.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in June of 2014 to discuss their states’ dispute over the construction of the Grand Renaissance dam and Nile River water rights. The meeting was a monumental step towards conflict resolution. However, no agreement was made, and negotiations continue today between the two countries.
A ten-person international commission that included representatives from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan found in their 2014 report that Egypt faces minimal impact from the construction and filling of the Grand Renaissance Dam. This goes against Egypt’s prior claims that the dam would threaten millions of their citizens’ water supply.
In March of 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed a preliminary deal regarding Nile River water rights, which allowed Ethiopia to continue the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam. The agreement was designed to pave the way for future cooperation.
According to the United Nations’ 2018 World Water Development Report, Egypt is expected to struggle to fulfill national water supply requirements by 2025. The report also warned that Egypt’s water supply is currently below the UN’s water poverty threshold and is heading towards absolute water scarcity.
In December of 2019, President Trump invited negotiators from Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt to the White House to continue negotiations in hopes that he could aid in negotiation efforts between the three countries. However, the White House held negotiations failed, and Ethiopia pulled out of the talks after feeling they unfairly favored Egypt.
Following over a dozen cyber attacks by the Egyptian government and the Egyptian hacking group Cyber_Horus Group, Ethiopia announced that it had successfully foiled several other hacking attempts. According to The Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), the foiled hacking attempts were related to Ethiopian economic and political activities.
Satellite images from Planet Labs Inc. in July of 2020 showed visible filling of the Grand Renaissance dam. The dam’s filling was ahead of schedule and explained as uncontrollable flooding during Ethiopia’s wet season. However, Egypt negatively responded to the preemptive filling, reigniting tensions between the two countries.
In August of 2020, Egypt withdrew from the latest round of negotiations with Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam. The withdrawal comes after Addis Ababa proposed a new draft of filling guidelines. The Egyptian Water Ministry said that Ethiopia’s proposed policies lacked regulations or any legal obligations.
Shortly following the failure of negotiations over the Grand Renaissance Dam in early August, talks between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan have restarted to resolve increasing tensions between the states.
On August 18th, Egypt and Ethiopia announced that the latest round of negotiations had reached a stalemate. Both Egyptian and Sudanese Irrigation Ministers said that the three states could not reach a consensus during the talks. Sudanese Water Resources and Irrigation Minister said, “the continuation of negotiations in this current form will not lead to achieving practical results.” It is currently unknown when the next round of negotiations between the three countries will start.
In September 2020, The Trump Administration announced it would be ending its financial aid to Ethiopia over a “lack of progress” in Nile River negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan. The negotiations relate to the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam, which has led to tensions between the three states for nearly a decade. The Trump administration hoped that ending Ethiopian aid would influence the government to make greater compromises in future talks after Ethiopia walked out of negotiations in Washington, DC, in December of 2019.
A day after the Trump Administration announced it would be ending its financial aid to Ethiopia due to a “lack of progress” in negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, the Ethiopian government demanded an explanation. Eyob Tekalign, Ethiopia’s state finance minister, said, “We don’t think that the U.S. has thought this through carefully because the partnership with the U.S. and Ethiopia is solid, very strong and continues to be,” he said. “We consider this a misunderstanding. We don’t think this will last. We are very hopeful that they will reconsider because Ethiopia is doing what is right in all senses of the word legally, morally as well.”
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s visit to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) raised questions about the diplomatic position of Eritrea regarding Egypt’s attempts to galvanize support in the region behind their position in the Nile dam dispute. Eritrea had always backed Egypt in the dispute, but with the president’s visit to the site of the dam it is unclear if that position still stands.
Talks over the construction and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam were set to continue on 27 October 2020 after the African Union had extensive consultations with Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.
For the first time, Sudan has boycotted talks between Nile Valley countries over Ethiopia’s controversial Nile River dam due to belief that the current approach to reaching an agreement had not yielded results. Sudan’s boycott could derail the negotiations that the African Union had taken a lead role in supporting.