The Nile Dam Dispute And A Possible Solution

On Wednesday the United States hosted talks between the three countries – Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan – caught up in the Nile River Dispute, which has been ongoing since the 1950s. The dispute has been especially present for the past decade as Ethiopia has built a dam, called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the impact of which can seriously affect the downriver countries of Egypt and Sudan. The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, announced that the foreign ministers from the three countries had agreed to work toward resolving the dispute on the Nile River and the Ethiopian dam project by January of the upcoming year. The announcement came following a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, who had announced on Twitter that the discussions between the three counties “went well.”

The joint statement issued by Mnuchin, the foreign ministers, and the World Bank President David Malpass, reveals a possibility of finding a solution for the dispute.  The statement announces, “The ministers reaffirmed their joint commitment to reach a comprehensive cooperative, adaptive, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and to establish a clear process for fulfilling the commitment in accordance with the 2015 Declaration of Principles.” The wording shows a willingness from all parties to end the dispute and come to a compromise. But is this possible?  Will each country be willing to make sacrifices in the name of cooperation? First, the importance of water must be considered.

Water is often seen as the source of life, rightfully so. Because it is a resource that is necessary for survival, it is no wonder that people and states tend to fight over claims to it. In the case of the Nile River, it has a long history of being a source of conflict in the region. In 1929, the British made a treaty that gave the downstream countries access to the majority of the Nile’s water. This, of course, was not favorable to Ethiopia where the Blue Nile begins. With the building of the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa near the border of Sudan, Ethiopia has attempted to reclaim its authority over the river. They see the dam as a massive boost to their economy and status in the region. Egypt, on the other hand, is afraid that filling the dam reservoir would reduce the already scarce water supply in their country. Sudan, for its part, is interested in the possibility of cheap electricity and expanding its agricultural production if the dam’s output is allowed to be outsourced.

How promising is it that there will be a solution by January 2020? There may be a chance if all three countries can come to a joint agreement. How might that be done? According to the International Crisis Group, the three countries and the other riparian states “should seek a long-term transboundary agreement on resource sharing that balances the needs of countries up and down the Nile basin and offers a framework for averting conflict over future projects.” They also suggest a third-party mediator to help settle the dispute. They write, “Outside partners should encourage Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to approach the dispute not as an existential conflict but as a chance to establish a resource-sharing partnership.” Given Wednesday’s occurrence, it appears the United States has stepped into this role. This is a little surprisingly given that the Trump administration has not taken a huge interest in African issues. However, if the United States is willing to serve as a mediator, then that is more beneficial than not.

The Nile Dispute has been continuing for too long. While it is rooted in the area’s colonial past and has a complicated history, the countries can still find a solution that pleases everyone moving forward. They need to be willing to communicate and make amends with one another, which Wednesday’s talks show that they are. A solution seems promising.

Megan Caldwell