Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 9 December 2019

Egypt final push to secure zero-sum water-share agreement


By Ermias Hailu

After Egypt’s failure to integrate Eritrea to its territories by the end of the second world war, due to Emperor Haile Selassie’s superior diplomatic skills, the then Egyptian Pan- Arab nationalistic President Nasser’s government turned to ethnic and religious subversion against Ethiopia. In 1955 Egypt began working for the instigation of an “Arab” revolution in the then autonomous Ethiopian province Eritrea, to that effect, hundreds of young Muslims from Eritrea were invited to Cairo to study and enjoy special benefits. Though, the Muslims from Eritrea were not native Arabic speakers they absorbed the spirit of the Arab revolution and adopted a modern Arab identity. Furthermore, these Eritreans Muslims were trained how to set up a modern guerrilla ‘liberation front’ and established the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1959 with the support of Egypt and an Algerian Islamic movement. Thereafter, the ELF launched an open anti-Ethiopian revolt in Eritrea in 1961, claiming and propagating a fake Arab Eritrean identity “The Arabism of the Eritrean People”.

To promote Eritrea’s liberation from Ethiopia, Nasser also helped local Eritrean Christian Tigrayans who resisted reunification with Ethiopia. In 1955, the prominent leader of Christian Tigrayans in Eritrea, WaldeAb WeldeMariam, was invited to broadcast daily anti-Ethiopian propaganda on Radio Cairo and the Nasserist regime and subsequent Egyptian governments remained the main pillar of support for the Eritrean separatist movement.

The myth of Eritrea’s Arabism, adopted and advanced by Eritrean Muslims, was to survive until the 1980s and the war in Eritrea that was instigated by Egypt lasted 30 years and caused untold human and financial losses both to Ethiopia and Eritrea. As of today, Eritrea has been a de facto colony of Egypt and has been used as a proxy war front against Ethiopia and it has been also the command post of those Egypt funded Ethiopian political groups who opted to ally with Egypt or Eritrea to destabilize Ethiopia. In a new development both the Eritrean government and the Ethiopian political groups who resided in Eritrea have been making peace with Ethiopia but how they will free themselves from Egypt’s standing agenda of “destabilizing Ethiopia” is yet to be seen. I doubt if this new development was possible without the blessing of Egypt and it could be an indication of a new covert intrusive strategy of Egypt to control Ethiopia.

No less significant was the Nasserist influence on the Somali nationalists and starting in the mid-1950s Nasserist agents worked to enhance the anti-Ethiopian dimension of Somali nationalism branded it as “Greater Somalia”. The Somalis encouraged by the potential Egypt backing claimed about one-third of Ethiopia’s territory and fought two unsuccessful wars that subsequently resulted in the disintegration of Somalia. The disintegration of Somalia and the subsequent civil war which has caused the scatter of Somalis throughout the world and death of millions of Somalis by war and famine and wastage of decades of nation-building opportunity was a by-product of the failed Egypt destabilization strategy of Ethiopia using Somalia as its proxy.

Similarly, after Egypt failed to stop the British from allowing Sudan to declare its independence from Egypt in 1956, it has been constantly interfering into the internal affairs of Sudan including the Sudanese army staged coup d’état in November 1958, overthrowing the civilian government of Abdullah Khalil which had uncompromised and hard negotiation position the interest of Sudan on the Nile river, in which Egypt friendly Gen. Ibrahim Abboud led the new military Sudan government.

The 1959 Nile water share agreement signed between Egypt and Sudan which gave the lion share to Egypt (78% to Egypt and 22% to Sudan on the net annual flow after deducting 10 billion cubic meters for evaporation loss) was signed with the Egypt friendly Sudan PresidentGen. Ibrahim Abboud. Considering, the flow measuring point is deep in Egypt at the Aswan High Dam and the annual hypothetical evaporation loss of 10 billion cubic meters, the share for Sudan is substantially lower than 22%. However, If the water share allocation was done considering “population size and arable land area” as factors, Sudan’s share should have been not less than 40%.

It is my expectation and I am confident that the new PM of Ethiopia will not make the same mistake as Gen. Ibrahim Abboud of Sudan!!!

Though Egypt opposed the split of South Sudan from Sudan during the pre-independence war period, currently it is the main sponsor of the undemocratic and corrupt President Kiir government and is prolonging the suffering of the South Sudan people with the objective of getting a foothold near to Ethiopian border to sabotage Ethiopia and possibly to resurrect its aborted project of digging the Jonglei Canal in South Sudan.

Therefore, due to Egypt’s standing strategy of securing the lion share of the water from the Nile river( under the pretext of ensuring water security) at the expense of more than 300 million people around the Horn of Africa, it has been obsessed in sabotaging the peace and stability of Ethiopia and Sudan for more than 50 years and as the result, the whole of Horn/East of Africa has been unstable and remained as one of the poorest regions in the world and major source of migrants to Europe, USA and elsewhere. Since the mid of 20th century, the Horn Africa has witnessed the death of millions of people, aggravation of poverty and wastage of scarce billions of dollars for a war that could have been used for development due to the behind curtain destabilizing activities of Egypt

However, the Zero-Sum game that has been played by Egypt to ensure its water security has become unsustainable, out of dated and irrelevant for the following reasons:

Creating jobs and feeding the rapidly growing population in the Horn of Africa and the countries of the Nile Basin demands governments generate power for industrialization and to transform traditional farming to mechanized irrigated farming to produce sufficient food to ensure food security which requires more consumption of water. The domestic consumption of water also increases in proportion to population growth.

The Aswan High dam only stores one-year flow of the Nile water, whereas, global warming and other unpredictable climate changes could result in a drought that lasts to the biblical-proportion of up to seven years. In that case, the Aswan dam could dry with unimaginable consequences on Egypt’s 100 million &growing population and makes Egypt’s current water security strategy null and void.

The growing population of Egypt also requires more water than the storage capacity of the High Aswan dam. That necessitates the construction of additional reservoir dams either in Ethiopia and/or Sudan (building an additional dam in Egypt looks not practical).

The Aswan high dam may be filled by silt within the next 300 to 500 years. How will Egypt manage such unavoidable fact with a huge population that is 95% dependent on the Nile water??? It is important to note that, dams built in Ethiopia prolong the service life of the Aswan dam by reducing the silt that goes from Ethiopia.

Considering the above points, it is obvious that Egyptian water security strategists, hydrology experts and the Egyptians government covertly want the construction of more dams (reservoirs) in Sudan and Ethiopia as far as their so-called historical share is not significantly affected. They also know that dams built in Ethiopia along the deep Abay River gorge could only be mainly used for hydroelectric power generation with lower evaporation loss and lower construction cost per volume.

Egyptians are also considering other sources of water such us linking the Congo River with the White Nile and digging the Jonglei Canal in South Sudan which are good ideas but difficult to implement. However, If Egypt succeeds to dig the Jonglei Canal or /and connect the White Nile with the Congo river, the construction of a cascade of dams on the Abay river is mandatory to regulate its flow and avoid flooding of Khartoum, other Sudan territories and Egypt.

Therefore, Egypt’s strategy of sustaining its water security through sabotaging and destabilizing Ethiopia and Sudan is no more relevant strategy as Egypt needs more water reservoirs to be built both in Sudan and Ethiopia for sustaining its water security and cater for its growing population. Hence, to sustain Egypt’s water security, storing water in the deep Abay gorge is the most attractive option as it could store more water at a lower cost and less evaporation loss. However, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt should negotiate and agree on a win-win water share tripartite and bilateral agreements on how to equitably benefit from the Abay River.

Whatever plot that Egypt may try to sabotage and destabilize the main water supplier to the Nile “Ethiopia “and the main potential Nile water Consumer” Sudan” may not be effective now and in the future, as Egypt is economically weak and facing serious external and internal geopolitical threats and the international community is also expected to put pressure on Egypt to abandon its bad habits of destabilizing the Horn of Africa and seek for a negotiated solution. Also, the main neighbours of Ethiopia, including Eritrea and Somalia, that Egypt had been historically using as a proxy to destabilize Ethiopia are currently making peace with Ethiopia, most likely as they are fully aware of the consequences of being manipulated and used by Egypt to conspire against their strategic neighbour.

However, as a negotiating tactic, Egypt has been blackmailing the GERD and is launching a fierce diplomatic offensive to directly or indirectlypressurizeEthiopia, through the Middle East countries, USA, UN, The Arab League etc, with the objective of signing a water-sharing agreement with Ethiopia that legitimizes Egypt’s claim of so-called historic rights.

The objective of this article is to forward some ideas for the Ethiopian government that could be used for the negotiation with Egypt as illustrated below:
The Negotiation with Egypt must consider the following points:
• As discussed above, the Egyptians badly need the construction of dams in Ethiopia as far as there is an agreement that protects their interest (this is a driver for win-win negotiation).

• Population growth
o By the year 2050 and 2100, the population of Ethiopia will reach 190m and 240m respectively. Hence, any water share agreement should consider such future population growth

• The economic value of the water flowing to Sudan and Egypt:

o As of today, the annual flow of water from Ethiopia’sall rivers to South Sudan and Sudan is estimated to be 73 billion Cubic meters. Assuming ocean water salination cost is USD 0.40 per Cubic meter (this is the current lowest cost according to new salination plants build by Israel) and assuming 25% of salination cost to be the price of each cubic meter of water flowing out of Ethiopia, the annual price of the total water out of Ethiopia is: USD 0.40/ cubic meters X 25% X 73 billion cubic meter = USD 7.3 billion per year

o Similarly, the annual flow of the Abay (Blue Nile) river to Sudan is about 53 billion cubic meters. Based on the above assumptions the economic value of the Abay river to both Sudan and Egypt is USD 0.40/ cubic meter X 25% X 53 billion cubic meters = USD 5.3 billion per year

o Assuming Ethiopia is willing to share 50% of the annual flow free of charge to both Sudan and Egypt (based on the principles of equitable usage of water), Ethiopia could charge both Sudan and Egypt USD3.65 billion per year for all the water flows to the Nile. Considering Egypt share is 78%( as per Egypt and Sudan agreement), Ethiopia could demand Egypt to pay Ethiopia about USD 3 billion per year.

o Egypt that generates annually about USD 6 billion from Suez Canal, USD 13 billion from tourism and USD 30 billion from its agricultural sector is capable and should be willing to compenetrate Ethiopia to sustain its water security in a win-win manner.

• Egypt wants Ethiopia to curtail its population growth and continue with the existing unsustainable rain-fed agriculture instead of irrigated agriculture (these conditions should not be accepted by Ethiopia). Considering the erratic nature of rainfall, mechanized irrigated agriculture is the only viable option for Ethiopia’s future food security. Hence, Ethiopia must secure its right to use the water from the Abay river not only for Electric generation but for agricultural production.

• Egypt is also trying to unreasonably prolong the filling of GERD so that Ethiopia could not timely benefit from the dam and that must be resisted by Ethiopia. Filling of the dam is purely technical and three measurable scenarios could be agreed based on the forecasted rain in the Ethiopian high lands.

• Egypt is trying to hide the water share agreement in the “dam operation agreement”. It has been reported in the media that Egypt is proposing to Ethiopia to guarantee the GERD to release minimum 40 billion Cubic meter volume of water per year (volume to be measured at the Aswan dam in Egypt). This proposal is impractical, and Egypt is trying to deny the today and future Ethiopia’s generation their right to use the Abay river for agricultural production, which should not be accepted considering the future population growth of Ethiopia and as it contradicts water-sharing international principles. I would like to emphasize this issue to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia so that he will not make any compromise on this issue and avoid the enslavement of Ethiopia’s future generation by Egypt.

• It is recommended to benchmark Turkey water share agreements and experience with its neighbours on Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.

• Any agreement with Sudan and Egypt:

o Should have political, economic, social, technical and environmental dimensions and must be comprehensive enough to cover all aspects.

o Should be conditional to both countries committing that they will not be directly or indirectly involved in any activity that destabilizes or harms the interests of Ethiopia such as security, economy and political interests.

o Ethiopia should be economically compensated for the water flowing to both Egypt and Sudan.

o Any agreed volume to be shared to Sudan and Egypt should be measured within the territory of Ethiopia.

o Should have exit provisions that enable agreed on parties to revoke the agreement at any time based on defined events of defaults.

o Should have specified time span and expiry date (it should not be more than 25 years). This allows all parties to renegotiate a new agreement (from zero drafts) every 25 years.

o Egypt must abandon its claim of zero-sum historic rights

o Ethiopia’s sovereignty over its rivers in its territory and its right to build a cascade of dams over its rivers to use the water for irrigated farming, without significant harm to Sudan and Egypt, should not be compromised.

o Egypt and Sudan must enter a binding agreement to buy electric power from Ethiopia at international market rates with forecasted escalation rates.

o As beneficiaries from the water from the Ethiopian dams(reservoirs) both Sudan and Egypt must contribute up to 50% of the dam construction cost (assuming Ethiopia will give them 50% the water flows to Sudan free of charge).

o Must be openly communicated to the people of Ethiopia and ratified by the parliament. The fact that the agreements/understandings signed between the Ethiopian and Eritrean government were not discussed and ratified by the parliament of Ethiopia gives me concern on how the Ethiopian government is handling and is going to handle the agreement with Egypt and Sudan.

• The Ethiopian government should resist any attempt by Egypt, USA or any party to pressurize Ethiopia to agree on one-sided water share agreement in a rushed manner sweetened with a one-time monetary incentive from World Bank and the USA treasury.

• If Egypt is requesting for prolonged filling of the dam and one-sided water share agreement without exit clause and termination period, there is no any incentive for Ethiopia to rush for an agreement while it is facing Egypt induced internal instabilities and with weak negotiation position. Ultimately, Ethiopia may consider or will be forced to delay the negotiation process.

• It is recommended to include the European Union, China and Russia to observe the negotiation process to avoid one-sided pressure from the USA which is the main strategic partner of Egypt in the Middle East. The World Bank has been also historically the supporter of Egypt and has denied Ethiopia any financing for all the dams Ethiopia building. There is a risk that Ethiopia could be sandwiched between the rock and the hard place and pressurized to give-in for Egypt for a couple of billion dollars grant from the USA and World Bank.

• Ethiopia must resist reaching an agreement on a piece by piece basis. Any agreed issues must be conditional to reaching a comprehensive final agreement as outlined above.

• It is recommended that PM Abiy Ahmed meets President Trump and UN officials as soon as possible to present Ethiopian case for win-win solutions. It looks Egypt is leading in its diplomatic offence and Ethiopia is critically lagging.

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