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The Dangerous Politics of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)


It is annoyingly interesting that some people can afford to speak so casually about the controversies surrounding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). This thing is much more complicated and how it is handled will have huge implications on the geopolitical dynamics of a region that is already too complex. Launched in 2011, GERD is a $5 billion project. It was started at a time when Egypt was embroiled in the Arab spring madness. But since Fatah al-Sisi came into power (2013), he has been keen on Cairo's interest in the construction, filling and maintenance of GERD. For Egypt, River Nile is simply a lifeline. Cairo's concerns relate to the impact of GERD on water flow (quantity and quality) to Egypt. Egypt does have almost absolute Nile water rights under colonial era treaties established between 1929 and 1959. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia do support Egypt's position over its rights to the Nile waters. About 80% of the waters of River Nile waters flow from Ethiopia. Hence, Ethiopia claims rights to benefit from the waters of the Nile and finds the colonial treaties that gave Cairo near absolute rights over the waters of the Nile unacceptable. Ethiopia further protests these treaties since it was never signatories to them.

Ethiopia, under the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) has sought an alternative framework. In 2010, before the commencement of the GERD, the NBI bringing together riparian states of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda,Tanzania and Uganda signed a cooperative framework agreement that sought to shift how decisions over utilization of Nile waters were made. This agreement de-centered Egypt and stands protested by Cairo. While the other riparian countries have largely remained passive and/or lukewarm about this issue, Addis Ababa took Cairo by the horns by commencing the GERD project. For Cairo the GERD is tantamount to an act of war.

For Addis Ababa the GERD is a potent national symbol linked strongly to the government’s economic agenda. In fact, public sector employees offer salary sacrifice (one month per year) towards its construction. Ethiopia has consistently rejected significant Egyptian involvement in the construction, maintenance or operation of the dam or its security. Indeed, Abiy, who is known for his rather softer stance, has (in October 2019) categorically asserted Ethiopia’s readiness to defend the dam militarily if necessary. That is the GERD at a glance.

The Dangerous Politics of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) The Dangerous Politics of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on April 13, 2020 Rating: 5

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