THE BLUE NILE DAM: AN ARAB OR AFRICAN ISSUE?
The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today, we turn the spotlight on the Nile, where the dispute between Ethiopia and downstream countries over Addis Ababa’s plan to further fill his “Renaissance” dam is increasingly pressuring Arab states to mediate among quarrelling stakeholders.
On June 15th, upon a request from Egypt and Sudan, the Arab League held an extraordinary meeting in Doha (the first such gathering Qatar has hosted since the restoration of diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia and its allies) on the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). In fact, tensions are rapidly soaring over Addis Ababa’s intention to complete the second phase of the filling of the dam’s reservoir without a legally binding instrument mutually agreed upon with Cairo and Khartoum. Historically, the Blue Nile water governance has been a source of political contention between the three basin countries. For Ethiopia, completing what will be Africa’s largest hydropower plant embodies the country’s hopes for power generation and economic development. At the same time, it will be a remarkable result for a country frustrated by eight months of dire civil war in the Tigray region. Marked by famine and atrocities, the conflict has also sullied the international reputation of the country’s president, Abiy Ahmed, whose political stance is under scrutiny since the June 21 parliamentary elections. Conversely, Egypt sees this project as a direct threat that could undermine its security and status in the region, while Sudan is concerned for its own dams and water stations along the Nile. The previous round of talks — held in April under the African Union brokerage — stalled after Addis Ababa refused the two downstream countries’ demand to involve international mediation to help settle the dispute. In Qatar’s capital, representatives of the 22-member league states issued a communiqué, calling for the UN Security Council to take all the “necessary measures” to start an “active negotiating process” to reach a deal among stakeholders involved in the dispute. Nonetheless, Ethiopia’s authorities have rejected the resolution in its entirety, blaming Egypt and Sudan for “unnecessarily politicizing” negotiations around the dam and turning an “African problem” into an Arab issue. As a result, the latest effort by downstream countries to reach an agreement on filling the GERD risks another deadlock, which in turn could open the way to a further rekindling of tensions in this highly volatile context.
Experts from the ISPI MED network react to the Arab League meeting on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam.