Egypt and the Hydro-Politics of the Blue Nile River
Henderson State University
As early as the 4th century b.c., Herodotus observed that Egypt was
a gift of the Nile. That observation is no less true today than in the
distant past, because not only the prosperity of Egypt, but also its very
existence depends on the annual flood of the Nile. Of its two sources,
the Blue Nile flows from Lake Tana in Ethiopia, while the White Nile
flows from Lake Victoria in Uganda. Some 86 percent of the water that
Egypt consumes annually originates from the Blue Nile River, while the
remainder comes from the White Nile. Since concern with the free flow
of the Nile has always been a national security issue for Egypt, as far
as the Blue Nile goes it has been held that Egypt must be in a position
either to dominate Ethiopia, or to neutralize whatever unfriendly regime
might emerge there. As the late President Sadat stated: " Any action
that would endanger the waters of the Blue Nile will be faced with a firm
reaction on the part of Egypt, even if that action should lead to war."
In this respect, an acute observer of the Egyptian scene recently
Egypt is a country that has not abandoned its expansionist
ambitions. It regards its southern neighbors as its sphere of
influence. Its strategy is essentially negative: to prevent the
emergence of any force that could challenge its hegemony, and to thwart
any economic development along the banks of the Nile that could either
divert the flow of the water, or decrease its volume. The arithmetic
of the waters of the Blue Nile River is, therefore, a zero-sum game,
which Egypt is determined to win. It must have a hegemonic relationship
with the countries of the Nile Valley and the Horn of Africa. When, for
instance, Ethiopia is weak and internally divided, Egypt can rest. But
when Ethiopia is prosperous and self-confident, playing a leading role
in the region, Egypt is worried.
2[End Page 141]
In response, Marawan Badr, the Egyptian Ambassador to Ethiopia wrote:
Such political commentary, or more correctly, political trash,
cannot come [except] from a sick and disturbed mind. Egyptian-Ethiopian
relations are not in a crisis. We do not even have problems. There are
serious issues, which need to be addressed.
Diplomatic evasiveness aside, one cannot claim that there is no crisis in
the relations between the two countries. If the Blue Nile is the backbone
of Egypt, and equally crucial to Ethiopia's development, and if no less
a person than Sadat could declare that Egypt will go to war to prevent
any tampering with the waters of the Blue Nile, how could one say that
there are no problems between Ethiopia and Egypt? Other areas of conflict
could also be mentioned. The conflicting national interests between
Ethiopia and Egypt in Northeast Africa; Egypt's dream of converting the
Red Sea into an Arab lake; the status of the Copts in Egypt, which has
always been of utmost concern to Ethiopia; as well as the conflict of
entitlement to the Covenant of Dayr-es-Sultan in Jerusalem, are cases
in point. Given this background, let us raise some basic questions: why
have the two countries not exploited the potential of the river for mutual
benefit? Apart from fears stoked by misinformed nationalism on both sides,
are there other problems that prevent them from doing so? How did Egypt
manage to "guarantee" the normal flow of the waters of the Blue Nile?
Geographic and Economic Facts
While the White Nile is 5,584 km long, the Blue Nile covers a distance
of 1,529 km from its source in Lake Tana to Khartoum, where both join
and then flow north-east before being joined by another Ethiopian river,
the Atbara, or the Tekezie. The Nile then drains into Egypt--a country
where there is practically no rain, and where 86 percent of the land
is classified as very arid, and the rest as arid. The exceptions to the
extreme aridity are the narrow bands of the Nile Valley and the narrow
coastal strip, where some 150 mm of winter rainfalls. All this accounts
for no more than 3.03 percent of the total land area of Egypt. As a
result, 96 percent of the population is forced to live astride the Nile
River, upon which the entire life of Egypt depends.
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Within Ethiopia itself, the Blue Nile is 960 km long and has an annual
discharge of some 55,000,000 m
, constituting the major portion of the flow of the Nile. Lake Tana is
situated at an elevation of 6,000 ft. above sea level. It is about 40 to
50 miles square and reaches depths in the neighborhood of 200 feet. The
water as it flows from the lake contains no silt. According to engineers,
by blasting a deep outlet and erecting a dam, about six billion cubic
meters of water could be stored at the lake, ready for use when needed.
Recent water storage estimates are not at variance with the above
Over the entire year, about 86 percent of the Nile's water originates
from the Ethiopian Highlands, while the White Nile contributes only
14 percent. During the flood period, however, 95 percent of the water
originates from Ethiopia, and only 5 percent from East Africa. The reason
for this is that the White Nile loses a considerable amount of water to
swamp areas near its source, and then to evaporation during its course
through arid terrain.
In its transit, the Blue Nile takes decomposed basalt, rich alluvial soil
and silts and converts what would otherwise have been a complete desert
into a rich agricultural area. It is not without reason, therefore,
that the Greek historian Herodotus (c.486-425) observed that Egypt
was a gift of the Nile. To this, the British of the nineteenth century,
who intended to stay in that country, and who made Egypt's interests
their own, added that he who controls the Nile controls Egypt.
Broadly speaking, international rivers are often the subjects of
treaties providing for their shared use. States sharing common rivers
usually harmonize their policies for the purpose of establishing agreed
regimes. Unilateral use of the waters of such rivers by any riparian state
can cause considerable damage to the other states and can lead to serious
international conflicts. However, discussions and negotiations leading
to agreements for their shared use usually resolve such conflicts. Hence,
because of the "dual sovereignty" over such waterways, unilateral actions
affecting use by other riparian states are generally discouraged.
As far as the Blue Nile goes, while Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Sudan
recognize its international character, there is no agreed regime governing
the actions of the three states. As a result, there is no integrated
plan for optimum use and development of the waters of this river, which
could benefit all concerned.
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There have been meetings between the officials of Egypt and Ethiopia in
particular, aimed at exploring the possibilities of cooperation between
the two countries on the waters of the Blue Nile. While Ethiopia advocated
the principle of negotiation on water sharing, Egypt's position was for
limiting negotiations to cooperation in exchanging information in the area
of hydrological study. These positions, however, do not go far enough
to address other simmering problems such as water shortage. Studying
the development plans of these countries with regard to the use of the
waters of the Blue Nile, one could say that future conflicts are possible.
The population of Egypt, which grows by more than 1,000,000 per year,
could reach 85,000,000 by the year 2015. Since the annual increase in
population (2.8 percent) exceeds the annual increase in food production
(2.6 percent), Egypt's food imports, currently valued at more than $3
billion, absorb most of its foreign currency earnings. Water shortage,
which is forecasted to reach a deficit of 10,000 million m
by the year 2,000, threatens Egyptian agriculture and industry. In the
absence of agreements, therefore, if irrigation dams were to be built
in either Ethiopia or East Africa, or if climatic change were to result
in increased warming, or in droughts and increased evaporation, reduced
water flow into the Nile would further exacerbate Egypt's problems,
and the country could face an explosive situation.
Some years ago, the lowering of the water level of the Aswan High Dam
drastically affected agricultural and industrial output, reduced oil
exports, and accelerated the depletion of what limited foreign exchange
reserves Egypt had.
The lowering of the water level has had serious consequences on the
economy, including food production, and led to severe dislocation of
normal life. Export earnings and government revenues have diminished,
leading to a substantial reduction of public services, as well as in
essential imports and development programs. Since the situation led
to increased imports, it resulted in an enlargement of the deficit in
the balance of payments, therefore reducing the rate of savings and
investment and, consequently, lowering the rate of economic growth. The
fall of the water level of the dams also lowered national hydroelectric
power supplies, of which the Aswan High Dam alone provides 22 percent.
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Among the Egyptians of the distant past, it was widely believed that
the Emperor of Ethiopia could shut off the waters of the Nile, as one
would shut off a faucet.
For example, during the reign of Emperor Amde Zion (1314-1344),
the Mamluk Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad Qalaurn began to persecute the
Copts of Egypt and to demolish their churches. The Sultan's actions
brought forth a strong protest from the Ethiopian monarch, who sent
envoys to Cairo in a.h. 726 (AD 1321) to ask Al-Nasir to restore the
churches and to refrain from persecuting the Copts. Otherwise, he said,
he would take reciprocal measures against the Muslims in his dominions
and also starve the people of Egypt by diverting the course of the Nile.
It was, no doubt, this incident which caused Al-Umari to write that the
Ethiopians claim that they are the guardians of the course of the Nile
for its descent to Egypt, and that they promote its regular arrival
out of respect for the Sultan of Egypt.
In more modern times, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, Egypt's invasion and final conquest of the Sudan was
largely motivated by its desire to secure control over the entire
Nile system. Muhammed Ali (1769-1849), for instance, felt that the
security and prosperity of Egypt could only be assured fully by extending
conquests to those Ethiopian provinces from which Egypt received its
great reserves of water.
The objective of such a conquest was designed to impose Egypt's will on
Ethiopia, and either to occupy it or to force it to give up the Lake Tana
area. Hence, the conquest of the Sudan in 1820 served as a stepping-stone
to the increased appearance of Egyptian soldiers in the western frontiers
of Ethiopia, and to the subsequent Egyptian occupation of Kasala in 1834,
Metema in 1838, Massawa in 1846, Kunama in 1869, and Harar in 1875.
Khedive Ismail (1863-1879), too, wanted to make the Nile an Egyptian
river by annexing to Egypt all the geographical areas of the basin. To
that end, the Swiss adventurer Werner Munzinger (1832 -1875), who served
him, had remarked: "Ethiopia with a disciplined administration and army,
and a friend of the European powers, is a danger for Egypt. Egypt must
either take over Ethiopia and Islamize it, or retain it in anarchy
Khedive Ismail decided to conquer Ethiopia. However, he lived to regret
that decision. The series of military expeditions he launched in 1875
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resulted in ignominious defeats for Egypt. Between 14 and 16 November
1875, more than 2,500 Egyptian soldiers were routed at the Battle of
Gundet. Similarly, from 7 to 9 March 1876, some 12,000 Egyptian soldiers
were annihilated at the Battle of Gura.
It may be interesting to note that the Egyptians even recruited foreign
military officers in their campaigns against Ethiopia.
In the same year, the Afars decimated the expedition led by Munzinger
in northeastern Ethiopia and Munzinger himself was killed.
Yet, despite the enormous debacle, Egyptian raids against Ethiopia
continued. They were eventually brought to a temporary halt only when
Britain occupied Egypt in 1882.
The crucial importance of the Blue Nile to Egypt was not lost on Britain,
which had made Egypt's interests its own. In 1902, London dispatched John
Harrington to Addis Ababa to negotiate border and Nile water issues with
Emperor Menelik. Article III of the 15 May 1902 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty,
which resulted from the visit, affirms:
His Majesty the Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, engages himself towards
the Government of His Britannic Majesty not to construct or allow to be
constructed, any works across the Blue Nile, Lake Tana or the Sabot, which
would arrest the flow of their waters into the Nile except in agreement
with His Britannic Majesty's Government and the Government of the Sudan.
Ethiopia's legitimate reasons to exploit the waters in its own territory
for development purposes should be understandable. This fact alone would
provide sufficient grounds for some to invalidate the binding force of
the agreement. But it was never ratified, either by the British Parliament
or by the Ethiopian Crown Council.
Another indication of British interest in the waters of the Blue Nile was
the Anglo-Italian exchange of letters, which led to the secret agreement
of 1926. Britain sought Italy's support for its plan to construct a
barrage at Lake Tana, together with the right to construct a motor for
the passage of stores, personnel, and so on. In turn, as a quid pro quo,
Britain was to support Italy in its attempt to obtain from Ethiopia a
concession to construct and run a railway
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from the frontier of Eritrea to the frontier of Italian Somaliland.
Ethiopia denounced the secret deal and brought the matter before the
League of Nations.
There was also the 1929 Agreement between Egypt and Britain. It stipulated
that "no irrigation or power works or measures are to be constructed or
taken on the River Nile or its tributaries, or on the lakes from which
it flows in so far as all these are in the Sudan or in countries under
British administration, which would entail prejudice to the interests
Since Ethiopia had never been a British colony, or part of any European
power for that matter, except for the five years (1936-1941) of
occupation by Fascist Italy, it maintains that this agreement has no
legal effect on it.
Ethiopia was a member of the League of Nations since 1923. Yet,
when Mussolini invaded it in 1936, despite treaty obligations, the
League remained indifferent to Ethiopia's plight. Fascist Italy had
no problems in transporting 500,000 troops through the Suez Canal
to invade Ethiopia. But when it came to Ethiopia's use, the canal
was closed. By invoking Article 10 of the Covenant of the League of
Nations, Ethiopia requested a loan of £10,000,000, but Britain
and France opposed it. Ethiopia was even refused permission to buy six
airplanes from excess government stocks in England, which it needed for
legitimate self-defense. The League of Nations sacrificed Ethiopia at
the altar of political expediency. The apologetic view of some that
Italy had legitimate grievances was not an honorable and principled
position. Mussolini was neither grateful nor appeased and joined Hitler as
an ally. Nevertheless, after five years of bitter struggle against Italian
Fascism, Ethiopia gained its independence. Following the restoration of
Emperor Haile Selassie's government in 1941, it repudiated the 1902 Treaty
on account of British recognition of the Italian "conquest" of Ethiopia.
Moreover, Ethiopia also declined to recognize the 1929 agreement
arguing that it had never been a British colony. But more specifically,
it declared that one party reserved for itself all the rights and
privileges, leaving the other party without any quid pro quo. Ethiopia
maintained that the whole exercise of the agreement was geared mainly
to protect and to promote Egypt's interests without any reciprocity,
and that it had not renounced its own quantitatively unspecified but
existing natural right to the Nile waters in its territory. It argued
that the agreements that made no reference to this fact could have no
binding force. Hence, as early as 1956, Ethiopia asserted and reserved,
then and in the
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future, its right to utilize the waters of the Blue Nile without
recognizing any limitations on its freedom of action. It also invoked its
new economic needs as grounds for its release from old treaty obligations.
Similarly, Ethiopia declined to recognize the Agreement of November
1959 between Egypt and the Sudan on the division of the waters of the
Nile. The agreement gave Egypt 75 percent of the waters of the river
(i.e., 55.5 billion m
) and 25 percent to the Sudan (18.5 billion m
The very agreement which allowed Egypt to receive three times as much
water as the Sudan, refers to "full utilization" and "full control of
the river," when it involved only two states. Needless to say, Egypt
and the Sudan were both recipients and users and, therefore, arguably
cannot have the last word on the utilization of the waters of the river.
In an Aide Memoir of 23 September 1957 addressed to the diplomatic
missions in Cairo, the Government of Ethiopia declared: "Ethiopia has
the right and obligation to exploit its water resources, for the benefit
of present and future generations of its citizens [and] must, therefore,
reassert and reserve now and for the future, the right to take all such
measures in respect of its water resources."
Despite Ethiopia's protest, Egypt went ahead with the construction of the
Aswan High Dam, which took seven years (1964-1971) to build and was
completed with the help of the Soviet Union, at a cost of $100,000,000, or
850,000,000 Egyptian pounds. As far as Egypt was concerned, the Aswan High
Dam helped to reclaim 650,000 feddans and brought some 800,000 feddans
under permanent irrigation. As a result, agricultural production has
increased considerably and village communities have been provided with
water and electricity. However, Lake Nasser, an artificial lake created
by the damming of the Nile, has blocked the normal flow of the rich Nile,
preventing the nourishment of agricultural lands farther down the river,
and destroying the fishing industry. Vegetation in Lake Nasser also grew
rapidly, clogging irrigation channels, and creating stagnant water that
has become a breeding ground for a variety of disease-bearing insects
and sea urchins. Hydrologists also estimate that each year the reservoir
alone loses a staggering 15 km3
of water to evaporation.
Despite these negative aspects, the Aswan project has facilitated double
and triple crop production, and the country's agricultural yields have
soared. Egypt still uses far more of the river's annual flow of around
than any of the
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other eight nations along its banks, which apart from Ethiopia, Sudan and
Egypt, also include Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, and the
Congo. To be sure, out of an ultimate irrigable land of some 5,000,000
hectares, Egypt has already managed to irrigate nearly 3,000,000
hectares. But the question is: what will happen when countries like
Ethiopia begin to utilize their waters meaningfully and substantially?
Studies on the Blue Nile
Ethiopia has long been interested in exploring the possibilities of
building a dam on Lake Tana. For example, in 1927 Ethiopia reached an
agreement with J. G. White Engineering Corporation of New York, for
a number of engineers and experts had visited Lake Tana and studied
the feasibility of building a dam at the source of the Blue Nile. The
required feasibility studies were carried out for the construction of
a dam at Lake Tana at an estimated cost of $20,000,000.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also accomplished substantial work,
including a survey of the Blue Nile Basin (1956-1964). It proposed
four major dams on the Blue Nile with a combined storage of 51 km3
, equal to the mean annual flow of the Blue Nile, with a hydroelectric
capacity three times that of the Aswan High Dam. Of more immediate
interest was the effect of the four dams on the natural flow of the Blue
Nile and, of course, on irrigation in Egypt and the Sudan. The annual
flood of the Blue Nile would be virtually eliminated, the flow into the
Sudan becoming constant, and the total quantity of the Blue Nile water
reduced by 8.5 percent. If all the projects were completed, the amount
of land put into cultivation in Ethiopia would be equal to 17 percent
of the current land under irrigation in Egypt and would require six km3
of Nile water.
In 1962, the German engineering team of Lahmeyer also carried out
further studies of the waters of Gilgel Abbai.
Because the Blue Nile terrain favors the construction of dams to generate
power, Ethiopia could not only satisfy most of its own needs but also
export electricity to the Sudan and Egypt, as well as the Arabian
Peninsula. In fact, the findings reveal that the Blue Nile has a power
potential of 172 billion-kilowatts, twice that of the combined national
hydroelectric output of both the Sudan and Egypt. Of the 35 multi-purpose
projects that the survey identified,
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16 were irrigation schemes for the development of 439,440 hectares of
land to help settle four million farmers, and 12 were power projects,
which could utilize as much as 12 billion m3
of water from the Blue Nile.
According to the experts, the amount of water available to the downstream
riparian states would not be affected, even if Ethiopia were to implement
the Blue Nile Plan, drawing off six km3
, Egypt and the Sudan would still benefit from the construction of the
reservoirs within Ethiopia.
Why has Ethiopia not utilized this development potential? The reason is
in part because its agriculture is largely rain fed, and partly because
the political strife that Egypt helped to instigate earlier forced
Ethiopia to divert scarce resources from development into security and
defense. But in recent years Addis Ababa has indicated its intention to
do more. At present, using only 0.6 billion m3
. of water a year, only five percent, i.e., 200,000 hectares, is being
irrigated out of a potential 3.7 million hectares of irrigable land. With
a population nearly the size of Egypt, and facing the enormous problem
of feeding itself, Ethiopia will need to develop a large portion of this
land for agricultural use. If, for instance, Ethiopia were to contemplate
the development of 500,000 hectares, it would require 6.25 km3
of water. In this regard, Ethiopian government sources estimate that
over the next half century, the country would need $60 billion investment
for irrigation and $19 billion for hydropower development.
In response to Ethiopia's intention to use more Blue Nile water, Sudan's
Minister of Irrigation, Sharif al-Tuhami, recently remarked that Sudan and
Egypt have built all their civilizations on the Nile for 7,000 years. So
both countries have priority over others. What about Ethiopia, which
provides 86 percent of the water that these countries consume, but which
has its own priorities of feeding its population? It is computed that
by 2025, its population could be 112,000,000, double its present level.
The influential head of the Environmental Research Institute World Watch,
Lester Brown, says that water scarcity is now the single biggest threat
to global food security, and that Egypt is unlikely to take kindly to
losing out to Ethiopia.
Dr Mohammed El Said Selim of Cairo University also contends that
Ethiopia's ambitious development plans, if implemented, will pose a
grave threat to Egypt before the end of the century.
His remarks are noteworthy in the sense that they reflect Egyptian
official policy and imply that Egypt should
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take effective measures to prevent the threat. We should note that
Ethiopia has an average of 112 km3
of water annually compared to Egypt, which has 55.5 km3
per year and a projected demand of 65.5 km3
, (which, if accurate, would even be higher than that of Ethiopia).The
Sudan has 18.5 km3
The End Justifies the Means
Egypt's foreign policy has, to a significant degree, been shaped by the
hydro-politics of the Nile in general and the Blue Nile in particular. It
is predicated upon the premise that Egypt should be strong enough
either to dominate Ethiopia, or to create the conditions to prevent
the latter from building dams on the Blue Nile. With that end in mind,
Egypt controlled the port of Massawa from 1865 to 1885,
and occupied parts of present-day northwestern Eritrea from
with a view to using these areas as bases for military operations against
the rest of Ethiopia. Egypt's military adventures, as noted earlier were,
however, brought to a halt, at least temporarily, by its disastrous
defeats at Gura and Gundet. But by using its occupation of certain parts
of what was to become Eritrea as proof of historical legitimacy, as
early as 1945 Egypt instigated the Arab League to declare its intention
to put Eritrea under the Trusteeship of the Arab nations. Moreover,
at the Paris Peace Conference of 1946, Egypt also advanced an outright
claim to Eritrea. In fact, on 15 April 1950, when the UN Commission
on Eritrea visited Cairo to consult with the Egyptian Government,
Foreign Minister Salah El-Din maintained: "Italian expansion in Africa
was inaugurated by an encroachment upon the rights of Egypt. Egypt has
been in Eritrea and in Massawa long before the Italians had driven it
out, and at a time when power was the dominating factor over rights."
The historical accuracy of the above statement is certainly
debatable. Italy did not drive Egypt out of Eritrea. A. Caimi, who
occupied Massawa on behalf of Italy on February 3, 1885 proclaimed: "The
Italian government, in accord with the English and Egyptian governments,
takes possession of Massawa."
What is noteworthy in the Egyptian position is this: Ethiopia had
successfully resisted the invasion of the Ottoman Turks and had defeated
and evicted them from its Northern Provinces, but had failed to dislodge
them from their strongly fortified position at Massawa. Yet, despite
the fact that they had occupied the port for some time, the Ottoman
Turks still recognized Massawa as Ethiopia's historical outlet to the outside
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world, and referred to the entire cost as Habeshstan.
Since Massawa was an active outlet of the Red Sea slave trade of the
time, in 1865 the Ottoman Sultan leased it to Egypt, its vassal state,
at the latter's request. In approaching the Sultan for the lease of the
port, Khedive Ismail argued that because of distance, Istanbul would
not be in a position to check the slave trade, whereas Egypt could.
As might be expected, the most important naval and commercial power of
the day--Britain--supported Egypt. There were two reasons for this:
First, the American civil war threatened the supply of cotton to
British textile mills. Hence, in order to ensure the continued supply
of cotton from Egypt, for what could be described as enlightened
self-interest, Britain supported Khedive Ismail in his negotiations
with Istanbul. Second, with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1868,
the Red Sea had also assumed a special role in Britain's worldwide
communications network, and therefore, it wanted the safety of the sea
route to India. Hence, what took place at Massawa was simply a peaceful
transfer of administrative authority from the Egyptians to the Italians
under British supervision.
With regard to the Italian take over of Massawa, we should also note that
competition between the European colonial powers was a familiar feature
of the late nineteenth century. Britain invited Italy to take over the
port of Massawa. In doing so, Britain was encouraging Italy's colonial
ambitions with a view to using it as a counter-weight to France, which
had already taken over Djibouti and was threatening British interests
in the area. Ethiopia perceived the takeover of Massawa by the Italians
as a violation of the Adowa Treaty of 3 June 1884, between Britain,
Ethiopia, and Egypt.
What was the Adowa Treaty? Stated briefly, the Mahdist uprising in the
Sudan had put a severe strain on Egypt. As a result, its soldiers were
trapped and besieged in that country. According to the treaty, which
was signed in the Ethiopian city of Adowa, Egypt agreed to "restore"
to Ethiopia the northern Ethiopian provinces such as Keren that it had
occupied in the 1860s and 1870s, in exchange for Ethiopia's assistance in
relieving isolated Egyptian forces and providing them safe conduct through
Massawa. Additionally, free passage was to be allowed to Ethiopian trade
through the port of Massawa, in effect making the port revert back to its
historic status as Ethiopia's outlet to the sea. Consequently, pitched
battles were fought between Ethiopia and the Mahdist forces. The besieged
Egyptian garrisons were relieved and given safe conduct through the
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Port of Massawa, fulfilling Ethiopia's part of the agreement. Egypt
too carried out its part of the bargain, by restoring Keren and the
other provinces to Ethiopian authority. But what about Britain? Instead
of carrying out its commitments, Britain invited Italy to take over
Massawa. Italy then attempted to expand inland to take over the hinterland
of Massawa. In the process, there were a series of military engagements
between Ethiopia and Italy, which soon developed into pitched battles
which led to Dogali (1887) and the historic Battle of Adowa (1896),
on both counts of which the Italian army was routed.
Nevertheless, thanks to British support and Menelik's acquiescence,
Italy consolidated itself in northern Ethiopia, and named the northern
Ethiopian province of Medri Bahri as Eritrea - the Greco-Roman name
for the Red Sea. Having colonized Eritrea from 1890 - 1941, Italy was
defeated and evicted from the area in 1941. From 1941- 1952, Britain
In 1947 the Allied Powers--the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain,
and France--sent a Four-Power Commission of Investigation (FPCI), to
Eritrea. Among other things, the Commission reported that the great
majority of the people of Eritrea favored reunion with Ethiopia.
Since there was no agreement between the four powers, Britain submitted
the question of Eritrea's future to the United Nations. The UN in turn
established its own commission of inquiry composed of the representatives
of Burma, Guatemala, Norway, Pakistan, and South Africa. Since the
majority of the members of the UN Commission also reported that the
majority of the people of Eritrea favored reunion with Ethiopia, the
United Nations decided to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia.
What about Ethio-Egyptian Relations?
When Egypt's outright claim to Eritrea failed, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who
had subsequently come to power (1956-1970), launched a campaign
for the unity of the Nile Valley. However, his "unity" proposal gave the
impression that it was aimed at bringing Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Sudan,
Somaliland, Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya under Egypt's control.
In any case, the proposal failed to materialize with Eritrea's
re-unification with Ethiopia in 1952, the independence of the Sudan in
1956, and Somalia in 1960.
Since the years when Nasser was stationed in the Sudan as an Egyptian army
officer, he had had contacts with the Emperor Haile Selassie. In 1941, for
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instance, during the Ethiopian liberation campaign when the emperor was
re-organizing the anti-Fascist forces from the Sudan, Nasser went to
After he took power in 1952, Nasser repeatedly extended official
invitations to Haile Selassie to visit Egypt. The emperor repeatedly
declined the offers. In fact, in December 1956, he instructed his
ambassador to the Sudan, Melesse Andom, to discuss matters with Nasser,
who had not given up on the idea of the unity of the Nile Valley
countries. Melessse Andom did not mince words:
You claim to be an Arab and to lead the Arab world, but you interfere
in the affairs of your Arab neighbours, and have tried to cause trouble
for the Governments of Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and the Sudan. We Ethiopians
do not belong to your world, although like you we drink of the water
of the Nile. You have military objectives. We do not know exactly what
they may be, but we have no confidence in the strength of your armed
After this showdown, Nasser appears to have begun his effort to undermine
and to destabilize Ethiopia. Egypt has never publicly admitted that one
of its foreign policy objectives continues to be the destabilization
of Ethiopia. To do so, would be a violation of international law. To
be sure, the Egyptian authorities would classify any evidence to
this effect. However, there is ample documentation, which clearly
demonstrates that the question of the use of the Blue Nile waters has
been an overriding concern of Egyptian governments.
Radio Cairo broadcasts started to remind Ethiopian Muslims where their
"primary loyalties" lay. Providing scholarships to Muslim Eritreans at
Al-Azhar University followed suit, and soon, Cairo became the center for
the Eritrean Student Union in the Middle East. In 1958, a small military
training camp for Eritreans opened near Alexandria, where some of the
future military commanders received their initial training. Idris Mohammed
Adem, the former President of the Eritrean Parliament, Ibrahim Sultan,
Secretary General of the Islamic League, and Wolde Ab Wolde Mariam,
President of the Eritrean Labour Unions, and others, were encouraged
to go to Egypt. Wolde Ab was given a special radio programme and began
to broadcast to Eritrea from Radio Cairo. He sought to undermine Haile
Selassie's Government and urged Eritreans to take up arms and to struggle
for their independence.
51[End Page 154]
No sooner had Haile Selassie's government made Eritrea Ethiopia's 14th
province by dismantling its UN-sponsored federal status in 1960, than
Egypt took advantage of the situation to establish an office in Cairo for
what came to be know as the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). The front
started the most protracted, militarily and economically debilitating
civil war Ethiopia has known in recent memory. The ensuing struggle
pitted Eritrean Muslims against Eritrean Christians, highlanders against
lowlanders, the ELF against the EPLF, and most of the Eritrean elite
against governments in Addis Ababa, and contributed strongly to political
instability, economic decline, and social turmoil. Cairo's overt and
covert role in the creation of the ELF was fairly obvious. In fact,
even two years before the outbreak of the rebellion, the idea that the
ELF was preparing to launch its military campaigns was an open secret in
Egypt. Moreover, the Ethiopian Embassy in Cairo had warned the Ethiopian
Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Egypt was behind the preparation of
the military insurrection of the ELF.
Also thanks to the good offices of Egypt, the April 1962 conference
of the Arab League promised the ELF its full solidarity and support,
because it was allegedly claimed that the Eritreans were Arabs and
overwhelmingly Muslim; that they were struggling against the forces of
"Zionism," "American imperialism," and "Ethiopian colonialism"; that in
violation of its status as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, Ethiopia
had provided the United States with military bases to spy on the USSR and
the Arab countries of the Middle East; that Ethiopia had provided Israel
access into some strategic Red Sea islands like the Dahlack, where Israel
had allegedly built military bases to undermine the peace and security of
the Arab world; and that the Red Sea should be considered an Arab lake,
because "all" the states surrounding it are Arab. The major objective of
the last strategy was designed to impede Israeli navigation on the Red
Sea, and also to make Ethiopia landlocked by helping its Red Sea province,
Eritrea, attain its independence and join the Arab League. These and
similar other reasons were provided to justify Egyptian assertiveness
and malevolence, as well as the involvement of countries like Syria,
Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Yemen, and others. By internationalizing what was
essentially an Ethiopian domestic affair, therefore, Egypt succeeded in
converting the Eritrean problem into an extension of the Arab-Israeli
disputes, and exploited Ethiopia's predicament to its advantage.
53[End Page 155]
Given the imperatives of 'cold war' rhetoric and power politics,
undermining the pro-American and pro-Israeli government of Haile Selassie
was important for Egypt. But its interest in the waters of the Blue Nile
figured prominently on its political agenda. Few would doubt that Egypt's
overriding motivation was the perceived need to have enough leverage to
force Ethiopia to abandon some of its activities on the river, and to
thwart the threat that Ethiopia posed to the Nile waters. By promoting the
Eritrean insurrection, Egypt made sure that Ethiopia would divert both its
efforts and its resources into quelling the Eritrean uprising--resources,
which could have been utilized in tapping the waters of the Blue Nile for
development purposes. By providing the necessary military, ideological,
political, and diplomatic support for the insurrection, Egypt effectively
undermined Ethiopia. As a result of the insurrection, which lasted 30
years, thousands of people were killed, thousands were uprooted and
displaced, and millions of dollars worth of property was destroyed.
Needless to say, the ensuing turmoil and instability was beneficial for
Egypt. Cairo was able to secure the flow of a disproportionate amount
of water to its territory, and also to force Ethiopia to squander its
scarce resources and, in the process, to ally with the USA and Israel at
one time, and with the Soviet Union, the Socialist countries of Eastern
Europe, and Cuba at another time, with all the attendant consequences
that such alliances entailed.
Further Exploitation of the Nile
The development of irrigated farming in the Sinai is a particularly
prominent project. In December 1975, Egypt announced that it would open
pipelines to carry water across the Suez Canal to the Sinai desert for
irrigation. The project was supposed to commence with irrigation of some
5,000 feddans, to be increased later to provide support and livelihood
for 100,000 refugee families from the Gaza Strip. Additionally, Egypt
commissioned studies of the possibility of piping the Nile waters to
Jerusalem for pilgrims visiting the Holy places. This extension would
add 240 miles to the length of the Nile, and is further evidence of the
potential and controversial downstream uses of water. From the legal
point of view, one could ask whether it requires consideration by all
basin states before inter-basin transfers are effected.
55[End Page 156]
Moreover, with Egypt's full support, planners had also begun work on
a $2 billion project which was to have diverted 4,500,000 liters of
water an hour from the Atbara river to the Red Sea port of Port Sudan,
and from there across the Red Sea to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. According
to the plan, Sudan would have benefited in two ways: The large barren
area to the east of Atbara would have come under irrigation, and by the
utilization of the resultant waterfalls near the Red Sea coast, more
than 7,000 kwh of electricity would have been generated. The Saudis would
have compensated Sudan and Egypt for their loss of irrigation water with
investment capital for agricultural and industrial projects.
In the 1970s and 1980s, drought repeatedly struck Ethiopia, causing great
loss of life, much human suffering and considerable loss of property. In
order to reverse the situation, the government of the time had begun
to take some remedial measures. To that end, in 1978, when Ethiopian
engineers and economists started to carry out irrigation feasibility
studies in the Lake Tana area, the late President Anwar Sadat declared:
"Any action that would endanger the waters of the Blue Nile will be faced
with a firm reaction on the part of Egypt, even if that action should
lead to war. As the Nile waters issue is one of life and death for my
people, I feel I must urge the United States to speed up the delivery
of the promised military aid so that Egypt might not be caught napping."
No sooner had Sadat finished his threatening speech against Ethiopia
than he visited Haifa and announced his plan to construct the Suez
Canal tunnel and said to the Israelis:
After the tunnel is completed, I am planning to bring the sweet
Nile waters--this is the sweetest of the four big rivers of the whole
world--to the Sinai. Well, why not send you some of this sweet water to
the Negev Desert as good neighbors?
The ironic contradiction of the situation should not escape our
attention. On one hand, Cairo warns Addis Ababa that if Ethiopia builds
dams on the river, Egypt said that it would go to war. On the other hand,
Cairo offers Israel the "sweet" waters of the Nile, even without Israel
asking for it. The Egyptian Minister of Irrigation, Abdul Azim Abdel Atta,
repeated the same threat when he said: "Egypt would never permit Ethiopia
to exploit the waters of the Blue Nile," and concluded by appealing to
Arab countries to shoulder their historical
[End Page 157]
responsibilities--a coded message lending itself to different
interpretations. In all likelihood, he may have been appealing to the
other Arab countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Kuwait, and
others, to continue to follow Egypt's example and support the Eritrean
insurrection in order to destabilize Ethiopia. But the Ethiopians were
not impressed by Sadat's ferocious rhetoric. They quickly countered by
accusing Egypt of expansionist ambitions; of creating the so-called
"Eritrean Liberation Front"; of training and arming the terrorists
assembled in that organization to help Cairo achieve its designs at
Ethiopia's expense; of a dream to control the sources of the Nile;
and of beating cold war drums to use first the Soviet Union and then
the United States for the realization of its sinister agenda.
It should be noted that in the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser, since Egypt
was an ally of the USSR, the name of the game was fighting "Zionism" and
"American imperialism." But when Sadat, who served as Nasser's deputy,
came to power, Egypt's policy changed 180 degrees, and yesterday's
"anti-imperialists" became champions of western "democracy" and "free
enterprise." In both cases, cold war drums were beaten, but the drums
served as a convenient musk to conceal one essential truth-that
Egypt sought to prevent Ethiopia from building dams on the Blue Nile
Despite the de-stabilizing effect of the Eritrean conflict, the first
phase of Ethiopia's $300,000,000 Tana Beles project began in 1988. The
project aimed at doubling Ethiopia's hydroelectric power and provide
irrigation for a settlement scheme that would take water from Lake Tana
to the Beles River, across which five dams were to be built. Some 200,000
farmers were to be settled after the completion of this project. However,
Egypt blocked a loan from the African Development Bank because Cairo
feared that the Tana Beles project would consume too much Blue Nile water.
Blocking a loan or not, to the dismay of the Egyptian authorities,
the Nile Delta was going through an unprecedented winter drought that
was seriously jeopardizing the country's wheat crop and its cotton
exports. Water Resources Minister Abdul Hadi Radi informed a stormy
parliamentary session in Cairo that the drought was owing to meager
rainfall in Ethiopia and not to the diversion of the waters of the River
Nile. Indeed, the long drought in Ethiopia had lowered the water in the
Aswan High Dam's Lake Nasser to levels that threatened complete stoppage
of the turbines.
62[End Page 158]
While moving to impede Ethiopia's expanded use of Blue Nile waters,
Egypt has recently begun an expanded use of its own. Digging has begun
for the Salaam (peace) Canal--a $1.4 billion project aimed to carry 12.5
a day of fresh water from the Nile into the Northern Sinai, by traversing
the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, in order to irrigate 400,000 acres of
new farmland. It is designed to open the way for 3,000,000 or more
Egyptians eventually to populate a region that is now home to only
some 250,000. It is the second largest public works project in Egypt's
history--second only to the Aswan High Dam.
The massive project entails constructing a canal from Lake Nasser to carry
water 186 miles to the northwest. The project could cost as much as $90
billion. By 2000, it was supposed to bring under cultivation 500,000 acres
of land around the Baris Oasis. "We must expand beyond the narrow valley
we have lived in for centuries. Our population is now 60,000,000, and
there are only 8,000,000 acres of agricultural land," says Hosni Mubarak.
Even Egyptian scientists like Farouk El-Baz oppose the project on the
ground that the waters of the Nile are not inexhaustible.
Tony Allen of the University of London calls the plan "a national
Lester Brown agrees and says that, "there is already little water left
when the Nile reaches the sea.
In the view of the Ethiopian Government, the several ambitious Egyptian
agricultural projects begun within the last few years are part of an
Egyptian attempt to secure even more water in disregard of the needs
of other countries. Egypt is doing this in violation of the obligation
to keep the Nile within its natural basin and is trying to create the
conditions in which it becomes the sole beneficiary of the Nile. Ethiopia
has been consistent in opposition to this policy position. At the UN
Conference at Mar Del Plata in 1977, for example, it asserted its rights
to the waters of the Blue Nile, and in June 1980, at the OAU Economic
conference in Lagos, Nigeria, Ethiopia charged Egypt with planning to
divert the Nile waters to the Sinai illegally.
Ethiopia claimed that Egypt's policy of hostility was also visible in
its attempt to convert the Red Sea into an Arab Lake,
adding that Egypt's unfriendly acts were also manifested in other areas
as well. According to the constitution of the Arab League: "The League
of Arab States is a voluntary association of sovereign Arab States
designed to strengthen the close ties linking them and to coordinate
[End Page 159]
their policies and activities and direct them towards the common good
of all the Arab countries."
The people of Somalia and Djibouti do not consider themselves to be
Arabs, and no anthropologist has argued otherwise. Given this fact,
it would be reasonable to ask: Why did Egypt sponsor their membership
in the Arab League? Could it be religious solidarity? Granted that
the majority of the people in the two countries are Muslim, religious
solidarity alone would not appear to be a sufficient justification
for membership. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey,
for example, are all Muslim states, but none of them are members of
the Arab League.
The truth is, Egypt has a long established involvement in the affairs of
Somalia. The official Egyptian line is that its role has been solely to
promote cultural and educational exchanges and to work for peace. But
a closer analysis suggests a very different motivation. If as advanced
previously, Egypt's policy was designed to prevent the use of the
waters of the Blue Nile, Cairo's intervention on the side of Somalia
and subsidization of Somalia's attempts to annex a good portion of
eastern Ethiopia, was certainly not inconsistent with such a policy
objective. Thus, in the series of armed conflicts that raged between
Ethiopia and Somalia in 1960, 1964, and from 1977 to 1979, Egypt was
involved in support of Somalia. Since Somalia also laid claim to Kenya's
territory as part of what it called "Greater Somalia," Kenya announced
that it would fight "side by side" with the Ethiopians to beat back what
it described as Somali "aggression."
In May 1978, Egyptian planes carrying weapons for the Somali army warring
against Ethiopia were forcefully landed at Nairobi international airport
by the Kenyan air force.
No doubt, from 1964 to 1978, Somalia received extensive military aid
from the Soviet Union. But Egypt also provided military training and
weapons in order to help Cairo maintain leverage over Ethiopia, and to
prevent Ethiopia from achieving stability. For example, in 1978 Egypt
gave Somalia millions of dollars worth of Russian equipment. Sadat was
also quoted as saying that in addition to sending arms, Egypt might send
troops to help Somalia.
According to Ethiopian Government sources, 100,000 fully equipped
Somali soldiers armed with very sophisticated modern weapons attacked
Ethiopia from 1977 to 1979. As a result, Ethiopia argued that thousands
of defenseless people were killed; and thousands were uprooted and made
destitute, and development projects in
[End Page 160]
eastern and southern parts of the country worth millions of dollars were
destroyed. Schools, hospitals, bridges, farms, power plants, water supply
systems, industrial plants, and even UN financed settlement projects for
nomads were not spared. Whole villages and towns were razed to the ground.
Recently, the Siad Barre regime of Somalia collapsed, plunging the country
into a tragic civil war where anarchy and the establishment of clan
fiefdoms have become the order of the day. An exception is the northern
part of Somalia, which has declared itself the independent state of
Somaliland. Presently, however, Cairo is investing a lot alongside Libya
in setting up a new administration in the southern province of Mogadishu.
To that end, the Egyptian press published an official statement by
the Egyptian Foreign Office, contending that Cairo would be willing to
organize, arm, and actively assist military action against Somaliland,
if the objective of reconciliation and unity between the factions
In response, the President of Somaliland, Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, said:
"We must react to the statement of the Egyptian Foreign Office for the
sake of the safety and security of the Republic of Somaliland. We see
the Egyptian statements as a declaration of war against Somaliland,
and we resolve to defend ourselves in every way and by all means."
Addis Ababa claims that apart from presenting itself as a leader of the
Arab/Muslim world, Egypt's objective is to arm a united Somalia state
to wage war against Ethiopia.
The regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, too, has fallen, leading
to the independence of Eritrea - a small state that is attempting to
shoulder tasks which are clearly beyond its capabilities.
It is at loggerheads with Yemen, Djibouti, Sudan, and now, Ethiopia. In
the recent Ethio-Eritrean border dispute too, there is evidence that
Egypt is involved. For example, according to recent global intelligence
sources, it is alleged that Egypt is supporting Eritrea with arms
The Economist magazine's Africa editor, Richard Dowdson, says that
part of Egypt's motivation for supporting Eritrea in its conflict with
Ethiopia is its mistrust of Addis Ababa's plan for the Blue Nile.
Ethiopian newspapers have also reported that light and medium arms and
explosives captured from Eritrean forces were manufactured in Egypt and
were paid for with Egyptian, Libyan, or U.S. money. Egypt claims that
it has not armed Eritrea, and that the military equipment made its way
to Eritrea through
[End Page 161]
third parties. However, sources close to the opposition in Eritrea
claim that Egypt is providing the Eritrean regime with military advice
and intelligence through military experts masquerading as diplomats at
Egypt's embassy in Asmara and Egyptian spies in Addis Ababa.
Likewise, Ethiopian newspapers, no doubt, reflecting public opinion,
contend that Egypt needs and loves the Nile so much that it has a
predisposition for hating the people inhabiting the land from which this
great river originates. Since geography prevents Cairo from directly
expressing this hatred in practical terms, it has to resort to assisting
all forces bent on undermining Ethiopia.
It was also reported recently that two Somali factions accused the
government of Eritrea of sending five planeloads of weapons to warlord
Hussein Mohammed Aided to arm Ethiopian dissidents. The sources describe
Egypt as the architect, Libya as the financier, and Eritrea as the
executor, and the Somali factions as instruments in a design targeting
To Ethiopians, these seemingly unrelated acts reinforce the idea of
Egypt's wider objective to secure hegemony in the Red Sea and the Horn
of Africa region. They say that Ethiopia is indeed the main target
within this larger regional strategic scheme, and that in the eyes of
the Egyptians, Ethiopia was to have been encircled and destroyed by the
Sudan, the various Eritrean movements, Somalia, and Djibouti.
A Step in the Right Direction
According to Marawan Badr, the Ambassador of Egypt to Ethiopia, "Egypt
recognizes that each state has the right to equitable utilization of its
waters in accordance with international law. Egypt further recognizes
that existing water agreements do not hinder the utilization of the
Nile waters by any of the riparian states. Egypt is ready to cooperate
with Ethiopia in exploiting its huge hydro-electric power potentials,
and did not object to the construction of small scale water dams."
If so, the qualification of " did not object to the construction of
small dams" notwithstanding, there seems to be a change of policy. But
has Ethiopia's attitude also changed? Ethiopia repeatedly declared that
it did not regard itself bound by Nile water treaty obligations, arguing
their inadequacy and irrelevance since they run contrary to the present
exigencies of development. It has been
[End Page 162]
argued that its territory is the source of some six-sevenths of the waters
of the Nile, and that its waters have nourished Egypt for centuries
without it getting any compensation, and that billions of tons of top
soil is being eroded each year which sustains Egyptian livelihood, and
that Ethiopia will need a lot of investment to rehabilitate the ecology
of the land through reforestation and soil preservation schemes.
Nevertheless, if Ethiopia is to exploit its river resources, it will have
to develop the necessary civil and irrigation works, which will require
a decade or more of effort and investment. In order to bring this about,
Ethiopia's internal conditions and its external economic and political
relations, especially with Egypt--a neighboring country with which it
shares strong historical ties, cultural affinity, and economic, political,
and strategic relations will have to be transformed. The two countries
should not continue to look at each other through the prism of distorted
lenses. Egypt and the Sudan in turn will have to be convinced that by
cooperating with Ethiopia, they can achieve reciprocal benefits. After
that, it will be necessary for the states involved to devise a framework
for evaluating regional water budgets and the benefits and draw-backs
of upstream development in both economic and resource security terms.
Egypt has been living beyond its water means. So far, it has attempted
to solve its economic problems by playing the game of hydro-politics,
and by the political device of subordinating its regional position to
the United States, in return for the provision of the means to obtain
commodities to fill its food gap. But Washington may not have the
economic strength, or will, to take on additional burdens on the scale
of Egypt. Egypt could also be outliving its usefulness to Washington in
both political and strategic terms. The Sudan will certainly "run out"
of Nile water in 10 or 20 years.
In such a situation, Ethiopia could very quickly develop an
internationally acceptable volume of Nile water.
So what is the way out?
Nile waters appear to have a convenient unity. If Egypt's diversion
attempts were to be brought to a halt, and if politics would allow the
overall resources of the river to be considered as a whole, then a number
of economically rational and environmentally sensible decisions could
be made, which would maximize the returns to the limited water resource
of this international river.
Exploiting the Nile's resources requires a new and imaginative approach
[End Page 163]
states concerned. An integrated approach is required that will bring
about studies of the environment as well as of appropriate institutional,
political and legislative arrangements, which will enable mutually agreed
upon water management policies.
If agreements were to be reached on the regulation of water and power
generation, Ethiopia is the natural place to regulate the Blue Nile
flow. The construction of dams and barrages in the Ethiopian highlands
would increase the total amount of water deposited on the door of Egypt.
Indeed, if properly managed, water stored in the four Blue Nile reservoirs
could be released in May to Egypt when its water requirement is the
highest without sustaining the great loss by evaporation now experienced
at Aswan. Egypt, however, would no longer benefit from additional water in
years of high flood, which would be stored and regulated in the Blue Nile
reservoirs. Moreover, lowering the level of Lake Nasser in order to limit
the evaporable loss would concomitantly reduce available hydroelectric
power at the beginning. But after speedy adjustments are made, Egypt would
receive additional water for irrigation and electricity from Ethiopia.
Water Ministers from the Nile Basin countries met in Addis Ababa, in May
1999 for talks focusing on sharing Nile waters, on ways to exploit the
underutilized Nile tributaries, on the estimated 40 percent rainfall in
the region that is currently not exploited, and on more cooperation in
joint water projects.
As a result, the Nile basin countries--Burundi, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia,
Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda have agreed to unite in
common pursuit of sustainable development and management of the Nile. To
that end, they have established a Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat
at Entebbe, Uganda. The secretariat will be the nucleus for planning
and coordination of activities. It serves both the Technical Advisory
Committee and the Nile Council of Ministers. The chairmanship of the
council is rotated annually. Since the development of the Nile waters
will require substantial external funding, member states have called
upon the international community to provide support. As a result, donors
include the World Bank, UNDP, CIDA, FOA, Italy, Netherlands, Britain,
Germany, Norway, and Sweden.89[End Page 164]
Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan have also agreed to design a project that
will enable them to jointly utilize the Tekezie, Baro, Akobo, and Nile
rivers effectively and equitably. They have already approved an accord for
the equitable use of the waters of the rivers for irrigation and electric
power projects and backed the principles of integrated sustainable
development. Feasibility studies are also planned for joint projects.
In the power sector the interests of Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan are
compatible. The energy that is available would be so huge that Ethiopia
alone does not have the absorptive capacity. With regard to water, there
is the problem of evaporation loss, which is 3 percent in Ethiopia,
and 12 percent in Egypt.
If present trends continue, Egypt will have to seriously look at the
problem of increased evaporation and seepage losses of 10 billion m
; and silt loss and associated channel erosion problems. The building
of the dams in Ethiopia can mitigate the problem. Hence, reduction of
evaporation and transmission losses; availability of regulated flow;
control of flood hazards; possible development of river transport;
increased water storage facilities; and generation of surplus energy
for the benefit of the three countries are some of the advantages of
Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Sudan are at different levels of
development. Nevertheless, the goal of any economy is to feed the
population, which cooperation on the Blue Nile can facilitate. When
surplus is produced, part of it can be used to develop handicrafts and
small industries that meet local needs and that capitalize on local raw
materials. This will assist in saving foreign exchange and in stabilizing
the currency. As one builds up savings, one could move into light industry
and heavy industry. Even in this area and in the area of trade, they
can accomplish more in cooperation than they would through competition.
Patricia Wright, Conflict on the Nile, The Fashoda Incident of
1898, London: Heinemann, 1972), 44. See also John Waterbury,
Hydro-Politics of the Nile Valley, (New York: Syracuse University
Press, 1929), 79. See also The Ethiopian Herald (Addis Ababa),
May 21, 1978.
"Egypt and the Horn of Africa," Addis Tribune, June 26, 1998.
Marawan Badr, Ambassador of Egypt to Ethiopia. See "Egypt and the Horn
Africa the True Perspective," Addis Tribune, August 14, 1998.
Albert Garretson, "The Nile Basin," in The Law of International
Drainage Basins, ed. Albert H. Garretson, R. D. Hayton, and
C. J. Olmstead, (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1967) 256-97.
William Langer, "The Struggle for the Nile," Foreign Affairs, 14,
Oct. 1935-July 1936, 267.
See Waterbury, Hydro-Politics of the Nile Valley, 23.
L. Hoskins Halford, "The Suez Canal in Time of War," Foreign
Affairs, 14, October 1935-July 1936, 101.
See for example, A. H. Garretson, et al., eds., The Law of
International Drainage Basins, (New York: Dobbs Ferry, 1964).
Aaron Gladden, "Massive Nile Diversion Planned," World Rivers
Review, 12, no. 3, (June 1997): 87.
Sarah Gauch, "Nile Nations Move a Step Nearer Water Use Solutions,"
The Christian Science Monitor, July 1999.
See William Langer, "The Struggle for the Nile," 261.
Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia, (London: Oxford University
Press, 1952), 70-71.
As quoted by Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia, 71.
A.S. White The Expansion of Egypt Under Anglo-Egyptian Condominium,
(London: Methuen, 1899).
Sven Rubenson, (1976) The Survival of Ethiopian Independence,
(London: Heinemann, 1976) 200.
Zewde Gabre-Selassie, Yohannes IV of Ethiopia: A Political
Biography, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 54-83.
William M. Dye fought on the Federalist side during the American Civil
War, rising to the rank of colonel. He joined the Egyptian army in 1876,
was wounded at the Battle of Gura in the Ethio-Egyptian war of 1876 and,
after his retirement from the Egyptian army, he wrote an account of
the war in a book entitled Moslem Egypt and Christian Abyssinia,
(New York: Atkin & Prout, 1880).
Op. cit., G. S. Zewde, Yohannes IV of Ethiopia, 62-63.
United Nations Legislative Series, Legislative Texts and Treaty
Provisions Concerning the Utilization of International Rivers for Purposes
other than Navigation, (New York: 1963), 112; See also E. Hertslet,
Map of Africa by Treaty, II, (London: Frank Cross, 1967), 585.
P. P. Howell and J. A. Allan, eds. The Nile: Sharing a Scarce Resource:
An Historical and Technical Review of Water Management and Economic and
Legal Issues, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 347.
United Nations Legislative Series, 102-106. See also Bonaya Adhi
Godana, Africa's Shared Water Resources Legal and Institutional
Aspects of the Nile, Niger and Senegal River Systems, (Boulder:
Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1985), 106-117.
Majorie D. Whiteman, Digest of International Law, Vol. 3, (1964),
For a historical study of the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between Egypt
and the Sudan, see I. H. Abdalla, "The 1959 Nile Waters Agreement in
Sudanese-Egyptian Relations," Middle East Studies [Great Britain],
7 (1971): 329-341.
See the full text of the Aide-Memoire in M. Whitman Digest of
International Law, Vol. 3, (Washington D.C.: Department of State,
1964), 1011-1012. 1 feddan = 1.04 acres. With regard to the
accomplishments as well as the problems, see Fahim Hussien, Dams,
People and Development: the Aswan High Dam Case, (New York: Pergamon
See James McCann "Ethiopia, Britain and Negotiations for the Lake Tana
Dam 1922-1935," International Journal of African Historical
Studies, 14 (1981): 667-96.
U.S Department of the Interior, Land and Water Resources of the Blue
Nile Basin: Ethiopia 17 vols., (Washington D.C.: Government Printing
Lahmeyer Consulting Engineers, Gilgel Abbai Study, (Addis Ababa:
Imperial Ethiopian Government, Ministry of Public Works, 1962).
Ministry of Information Silver Jubilee: 25th Anniversary of the
Liberation of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, 1966.
Giorgio Guariso, et al "Implications of Ethiopian Water Development for
Egypt and Sudan," Water Resources Development, 1987, 3.
J. A. Allan (1996) "The Nile Basin: Water Management Strategies,"
and "Development Policies for Harmonized Nile Waters Development and
Management," in The Nile: Sharing a Scarce Resource, (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1996), 299-301 and 385-393.
See "Africa's Potential Water Wars," BBC, 11 October 1999.
Observations made at Addis Ababa University in 1983.
Ghada H. Talhami, Swakin and Massawa under Egyptian Rule,
1865-1885, (Washington D.C.: University Press of America, 1975).
For the Ethio-Egyptian struggle of the time, see Sven Rubenson The
Survival of Ethiopian Independence, (London: Heinemann, 1976),
esp. chapters 3, 5.
Report of the United Nations Commission for Eritrea, General Assembly
Official Records: 5th Session, Supplement No. 8 (A/1285), Annex 9,
"Consultation with the Government of Egypt," 64-65.
Augustus Wylde Modern Abyssinia, (London: Methuen, 1901),
Gengeis Orhonlu "Turkish Archival Sources on Ethiopia," International
Congress of Ethiopian Studies, 10 April-10 May, 1972, Roma, Anno
ACCCLXI. See also Stephen Longrigg A Short History of Eritrea,
(Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1945), 17-20.
Ghada Talhami, Swakin and Massawa under Egyptian Rule, 1975. See
also Ehud Toledano, The Ottoman Slave Trade and its Suppression,
1840 -1890, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).
E. Hertslet, The Map of Africa by Treaty, (London: Frank Cross,
G. H. Berkley The Campaign of Adowa and the Rise of Menelik,
(London: Constable and Co., 1902).
For Menelik's acquiescence, see Treaty between Ethiopia and Italy, signed
in Addis Ababa on 10th July, 1900, in Hertslet, The Map of Africa,
460. For the Italian and for British period see, G. N. K. Trevaskis,
Eritrea a Colony in Transition, (London: Oxford University Press,
Four Power Commission of Investigation for the Former Italian
Colonies, "Report On Eritrea," 22 June 1948.
Final Report of the United Nations Commissioner in Eritrea,
7th Session, Supplement 15, 1952 (A/2188).
John Spencer, Ethiopia at Bay: A Personal Account of the Haile Selassie
Years, (Michigan: Reference Publications, 1984), 205.
Haggai Erlich, Ethiopia and the Middle East, (Boulder: Lynne
Rienner Publishers, 1994), 133.
For a study that examines the river development policies of Egypt and
the Sudan and the effect on the availability of Nile water, see Martin
Adams, "Nile Water: A Crisis Postponed?," Economic Development and
Cultural Change, 983, 31 (3): 639-644. See also The Nile:
Sharing a Scarce Resource, 301-311.
See "Africa's Potential Water Wars," BBC, October, 1999.
Ministry of Information, The Consequences of Somalia's Aggression,
(Addis Ababa, 1978). For a succinct study that discusses the causes of
the conflict, see Daniel Kendie, "Towards Resolving the Ethio-Somalia
Dispute," Proceedings of the Third International Conference on the Horn
of Africa, (New York: New School for Social Research, 1988).
Sudan Democratic Gazette, (London) February 1995. See also
the article entitled "Eritrea's Dilemma and its Unwelcome Alienation"
that appeared on 5 June 2000, in the London-based Arabic daily,
Al-Quds Al-Arabi. The paper criticizes the leadership in Eritrea
of antagonizing all of Eritrea's neighbors, behaving as if Eritrea were
a superpower, not a small African state with limited resources.
Stratford's Global Intelligence Update, 21 April 1999.
See Ashot Swain, "Ethiopia, The Sudan, and Egypt: The Nile River Dispute,"
Journal of Modern African Studies, 35 (1997): 675-694.