The Bet over the Nile

Apr 10 , 2021
By Christian Tesfaye ( Christian Tesfaye ( is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture. )

There was some hope that Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan would come to some form of general understanding over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) when they agreed to a three-day summit in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was not to be.

The African Union, currently chaired by DRC’s president, was supposed to play the negotiator's role. This was not enough for Sudan and Egypt, according to the Ethiopian delegation that accused its upstream neighbours of attempting to elevate the European Union and the United States to the same role as the AU. If this is the case, indeed, there is much to be skeptical about any sort of role that could be played (especially) by the United States after its conduct during a similar exercise of negotiations previously in Washington.

Deadlocked, nothing much has changed. Egypt remains stubborn that a drop of what it currently receives must not be touched. Sudan remains on the side of Egypt, at least for now, given how much it dilly-dallies over the issue. Ethiopia plans to continue with the second filling of the dam, despite Egypt’s dire warnings.

Whether or not the reservoir is filled and the GERD becomes operational following a consensus or through unilateral action by Ethiopia, its importance can scarcely be overstated. Indeed, it is such natural resources that countries are supposed to make use of to drive their development ambitions. And for all the white elephant projects launched in this country to extensive loss of public resources and little to show for it in the end, that the one mega-project that serves as a symbol of resourcefulness and perseverance would come under such pressure is saddening.

It is all the more incomprehensible that, in a world suffering from the dire effects of greenhouse gases, produced mainly from burning coal to produce energy, and the environmental devastation that accidents in nuclear plants could cause, the GERD would get such a bad reputation. Such a significant investment in a renewable natural resource, to power economic development, including for export to other countries, should instead be encouraged.

Neither is there much clarity over why it would be expected of Ethiopia to see its water resources and fertile soil be exported without so much as compensation. A better proposition by Egypt over its downstream neighbour’s plan to utilise its own natural resources, if it believes that its interests would be impacted, should have been to offer some form of financial compensation. What it is doing now is not negotiating. It is merely threatening.

If the Nile is as important to its existence, should Egypt not pay, seeing as it is not its product?

Over 100 billion Br has already been spent on this colossal project. It is not at a stage where it can be delayed without incurring even higher costs. More importantly, it is desperately needed to power a growing economy, which would be impossible to do without such energy. Any other country would have done the same, but only earlier.

The GERD will not be enough, especially if it is the industry sector we envision leading the economy. Industry is the production of goods for the export sector and for domestic consumption. It means many factories that need to be kept running with rising demand. There is no alternative to building infrastructure to produce energy to keep up with growth. If there were, either the United States or the European Union - which play observer roles as if there is anything fair about twisting the arm of a country to negotiate over the use of its own resources – would have found it by now.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 10,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1093]

Christian Tesfaye ( is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture.

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