Ministers from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan resume talks today aimed at resolving a simmering dispute over Ethiopia’s $4.6 billion dollar Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
The GERD sits on the Blue Nile, the river that eventually becomes the River Nile in Sudan as it winds on toward Egypt. Both Egypt and Sudan, concerned that Ethiopia will use the dam to constrict the Blue Nile’s flow, want a binding agreement that will guarantee that a certain amount of water will still flow downstream.
Tensions have been rising since June when Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew posted a tweet that included the phrase “the Nile is ours!” following record rains that began filling the dam’s reservoir. Andargachew’s comments were received angrily in Egypt, which accuses Ethiopia of deliberately holding back water to strengthen its negotiating position.
When fully completed, the GERD will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa and the Ethiopian government sees it as key to achieving economic stability and for raising citizens out of poverty.
#ItsMyDam. The dam has become a point of pride, too. On Sunday, citizens in the capital Addis Ababa took to the streets to celebrate the dam’s construction progress and hashtags such as #ItsMyDam, #EthiopiaNileRights, and #GERD have been trending on Ethiopian social media.
Dam diplomacy. The United States, a backer of today’s talks along with the African Union and the World Bank, is divided on how best to incentivize cooperation between the three countries. As Addisu Lashitew argued in Foreign Policy in March, the United States’ “success in mediating the dispute will depend on its ability to find a middle ground acceptable to both Ethiopia and Egypt,” rather than appearing to take Egypt’s side.
FP’s Robbie Gramer reported on July 22 that “there’s growing concern that the Trump administration is putting its thumb on the scales to favor Egypt at the expense of Ethiopia—even as new signs of progress emerge in negotiations.” U.S. officials suggest that if this week’s talks don’t progress, then U.S. aid to Ethiopia could soon dry up.