Monday, February 10, 2014

Egypt and Ethiopia spar over the Nile

Hassen Hussain in Al On Jan. 8, Ethiopia turned down Egypt’s demand that it suspend construction of its mega-dam on the Nile, further escalating tensions between the two states. Fearing that Ethiopia’s $4.2 billion project would reduce the river’s flow, Egypt calls for a halt in construction until the dam’s downstream impact is determined. Otherwise, it has vowed to protect its “historical rights” to the Nile at “any cost.”

While scoffing at Egyptian threats, Ethiopia has called for Cairo’s collaboration in negotiations and claims that the dam will have no adverse effect on Egypt. It would, in fact, decrease evaporation and improve water flow. Ethiopia hopes that the ambitious hydroelectric project, slated to be completed in 2017, would catapult the country out of poverty. Frustrated by what it described as Ethiopia’s stubborn stance, Cairo is threatening to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council.

Is this just standard diplomatic brinkmanship before an inevitable compromise, or a harbinger of a looming water war? Regardless, the lack of progress on the diplomatic front bodes
ill for a quick end to a stalemate that has long gripped the region. Home to 600 million people, more than half of Africa’s total population, the Nile Basin is already traumatized by endless internal political strife and mounting pressures to feed a population growing at Malthusian proportions.

However, as ominous as it sounds, the collapse of the talks does not necessarily mean Egypt and Ethiopia will soon be locking horns. Despite suggestions to the contrary, this is simply the waning phase of a protracted diplomatic dance before an inevitable conciliation....

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