Egypt & Ethiopia: Nile Cooperation at last?

By Patrick Keys 

UPDATE – “The Dragon and the Nile” exploring China’s role in Nile geopolitics

(This is Part V, of Water Security Blog’s series on post-Mubarak Water Security, the previous posts are: 1. Mubarak’s Fall and the Future of the Nile Basin; 2. Egyptian Water Security vs. Ethiopian Development; 3. Egypt’s Jonglei Canal Gambit; and, 4. Egyptian Saber-rattling and a White Nile Coalition)

This series on Egyptian water security has explored the hydrology, diplomatic relations with upstream riparians, and potential infrastructure changes to White Nile and Blue Nile streamflow. The emphasis has been on the relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia, because as evidenced in the second post in the series, Egypt receives the majority of its Nile streamflow from the Blue Nile. This final post seeks to summarize the series and briefly explore a few potential scenarios for what the future may hold.

What have we learned?

As the upstream riparians of the Nile River are finally planning to use their water, specifically Ethiopia, Egypt’s water security is uncertain. However, as the details of the Millennium Dam are becoming evident, Egypt and Ethiopia have exchanged strong words; but so far, only words. It seems unlikely to me that the nations in the Nile would resort to violence, simply because it would (a) inflame existing instability, and (b) the international repercussions would likely be swift. Furthermore, recent news indicates that Egypt is more willing to cooperate than previously thought.

What is most likely is the continued development of Ethiopian water resources. If this is so, we can expect to see Egypt continuing to pursue alternative/ back-up strategies to ensure that it receives the flow it needs for agriculture, municipal, and industrial purposes.

The perspective of this series has been that of “what are the impacts of X on Egypt’s water security” and relatively scant attention has been paid to “whether or not X is appropriate.” The development of Ethiopian water resources, both for hydropower and agriculture, is to be considered an important step forward towards modernization. Given the ambition and the potential of Ethiopian water resources, important strides could be made towards providing food, energy, and jobs to the current residents of Ethiopia, many of who live in poverty.

Future scenarios

These are speculative scenarios for how Egypt’s water security may proceed, focusing on Egypt’s relationship with Ethiopia.

Scenario 1: War on the Nile

by Kobus Savonije, Picasa

Let it be known that this is considered very unlikely. If armed conflict was to emerge, it would likely begin with Egypt striking first, and would cost Egypt resources as well as potentially contribute to additional instability. Furthermore, if Egypt were to attack, it loses the moral high-ground that it is trying hard to cultivate with the international community, as it has tried to cast itself as somewhat of a  victim.

However, instability can often lead to the emergence of nationalist sentiments, and the seeking for a rallying cause. This fall, assuming democratic elections take place, it is possible that one ore more candidates may try and take advantage of this cause.  Mohamed Elbaradei, a strong contender for the Egyptian Presidency, has already indicated he can use strong language towards Israel, so it should be considered a possibility that he can direct that rhetoric towards other nations which threaten Egyptian interests.

Though I do not think this is likely, this scenario is potentially catastrophic and warrants consideration, if for no other reason, to illustrate what should not be allowed to happen.

Scenario 2: White Nile Coalition

Sudanese and Egyptian flags from “One Step Forward”

This was described in the previous post , regarding a potential collaboration among the White Nile Riparians. This was evidenced by Egyptian officials visiting White Nile nations (Uganda, South Sudan, and Sudan), and the promises made (e.g. South Sudanese development funds) and partnerships forged (e.g. Ugandan “tabling” of ratification of the Entebbe Agreement).

If Egypt successfully forms this White Nile Coalition, as a counter to Ethiopian control of the Blue Nile, then it is likely  that the chief impacts would be in the form of non-violent hostility, such as trade tariffs, trade embargoes, or marginalization in the international community.

Scenario 3: Egyptian & Ethiopian Cooperation

This is rarely suggested in either News reports or more thorough analyses; however, I think there is a strong case to be made for cooperation between Egypt and Ethiopia. Egypt is much richer than Ethiopia, with a more diversified economy. Ethiopia has the potential to store a great deal more water in the Blue Nile, which could have further benefits to downstream nations in terms of preparing for and adapting to changes in streamflow.

Cooperation would also provide an opportunity for Egypt to monitor construction of new dams along the Blue Nile, and play a role in the negotiations of when and how these dams are filled. Hostility would not be likely to produce the same willingness to share this type of information.

Recent news indicates that it is looking increasingly likely that Egypt will pursue a strategy of cooperation. Egyptian Ambassdor to Ethiopia, Tarik Ghoneim, said Thursday: “Everything is on the table.” He says Egypt’s new government wants to start discussions with all nine Nile countries about using waters in the best interest of all.

The long-term impact of this “willingness to negotiate” will be measured by Egypt’s willingness to participate in international treaties, specifically the Entebbe Agreement/Comprehensive Framework Agreement. I predict that Egypt will seek only bilateral cooperation with Ethiopia, and avoid larger agreements because there is more sacrifice associated with a broader agreement.


The final message of this series, though not apparent at first, appears to be a positive one of cooperation. Though the news mentioned above is less than a day old, it suggests that Egypt is seeking a balanced and regionally productive approach to managing transboundary issues.  Rest assured, however, that updates to Egyptian Nile relations will be explored as they arise, here on this blog.

What’s next?

Center pivot irrigation in Sahara, from Wikipedia

In exploring the relationship between Egypt and its dependence on the Nile River, interesting questions have arisen. Among these, what has been interesting to me is the foreign acquisition of land resources for the purposes of food security (or biofuels security). This land acquisition, also known as “land-grabs”,  is taking place quickly, in a less-than-transparent manner, and is concentrated in Africa. Given that large-scale appropriation of water for irrigation can be disastrous for downstream users (see inflows of the Colorado river to Mexico) it is worth exploring the potential impacts of irrigating these land acquisitions relative to changes in streamflow.

This will be the topic of the next series. “Global Land-grabs and Irrigation.” Gathering the necessary information for this will take a bit of time, so please be patient!

16 Replies to “Egypt & Ethiopia: Nile Cooperation at last?”

  1. The visit of Egypt prime minister to Ethiopia will be good start,but he has to apologise Ethiopia, unrest the regim for 32 years.Superiority can be measured by thinking ahead of the solution,this is not power taking but equitable,safely use of the resourse in modern cooperation,it should be a win win mutual cooperation,no one will be a winner winner but the resourse will be.

  2. now a days as egyptians acted all africans must cooporat in all diractions,b/s we can use our africans resource by ours peacefuly and cooperatly,if we are honst and coperative our wealth can feed us eccessivally more than us.

  3. I am happy, for the success of the third scinario, that is the cooperation between Ethiopia and Egypt regarding the use and management of Nile water. Oh, great, we have a leader as an individual, we have vangardship as a party and we have a people as a country.
    from Tadesse Gebrewahid

  4. What is ato tadesse Gebrewahid tolking about?Dont forget that a leader or
    a party are nothing to do here . it is the duty of all ethiopian people.your massage is clear. you are trying the people to run away from this project.
    We Ethiopians are rady to build nile not only with our money but also with
    our blud

  5. The Arabs marchedinto Africa uninvited, destroyed ancioent Egypt ( our civilization, not theirs); imposed a culture that hates women on our psyche, and now wants us to starve when they diverted water frtom the Nile to the parts of Sinai to sell to the Isreali. The time has come for them to decide whether thay are Africans or not, and whether they think that the treatment metered out to Africans who are indegrenous to the continent as during the years of the Sudan and the sale of us during slavery can persist. The Nile begins in Uganda, not in the sea; a river flows down stream, not upstream and if Africans in African do not know who they are the next African American president of the United States will bring them to book. Obama is not the first and he certainly shall not be the last. The colonial attitude that the majority of Arabs in African display to the black race must end no, in the 21st century, and “hands off Ethiopia”, if you please! The sacredness of Ethiopia is still in the minds of 40 million African Americans and thirteen million African Caribbeans. Egypt, you have been warned.

  6. I am so sorry for what At Olana Gutu is saying. I am not saying as what you are saying. What I am saying is very clear and prcise but you are trying to divert my idea to the negative way. please, it is not good for you to have such a negative idea. of course, you said that we Ethiopian are ready to build Nile. So that is What i am saying. Understood? bye.

  7. the only choice of Egypt must be the third scenario as this generation of Ethiopia is standing for the reality of balanced water use & is correct one.

  8. anyway we need our water to improve our economy. egypt must switch to cooperation rather than disturbing ethiopia as before, like separating erteria and ethiopia it didn’t work for both egypet and erteria.

  9. The third scenario is good for all.For Egypt and Ethiopia for Africa and the whole world.The problem with Egyptian government is that they find it hard to admit openly to the public that the Dam is legitimate.As Egyptians were told for centuries the Nile is only yours.It is shame.The nile belongs to all nine reparian countries.What Egypt should ask is the upper countries to humanly and brotherly consider the need of water in Egypt for the people.Not to brag with USA planes .It is not only weapon that matters.Dedicated people and the side with justice are the core for victory.Who told you Ethiopia can not buy US or Russian sophisticated planes.It is free market ,do not forget friends.

  10. Egypt,Sudan and Ethiopia are countries that can live and grow together.Let us all pray Muslims and Christians for their good relationship.

  11. Before we answer your question,A person should be who lead a country should have reliable human nature.Burning water in 165 meter above see level,is a major issue globally,because Egypt should work how to save this burning water 10billion cm.Egypt has to discuss the future extaction of Abay,we know they are knowldgeable on water processing.So trained and matured persons has to say something.People relation should not be disterbed.Egyptian president barking is not a mankind and jealious type becase Ethiopia servive .Egypt is Egypt by Abay why not Ethiopia because you are unrest by Ethiopia development.You are not as a human being in your leadership.Egotism selfcenter leadership and let me live,ignore other sevival not mankind ability.

  12. Ethiopia should progress poverty must eradicate from the country once and for all , the people should go forward we have been stupid all these time ,but no more blue Nile is also belongs to us we must use it, full stop .

  13. In 1991 When PM Meles visit Egypt,Mubarek show him by video,how much strong Egypt military, his visit was aimed to creat cooperation beteeeen two nation, but Egypt response was to creat negative attitude and it inforce Ethiopia to strengeth her self and the wise government establish nile initiative.Now a day bright leadership became a winner.Then Ethiopia declare to the world,as she is going to build Great renassance Abay dam by herself because be Egptians actress we cant get aid for Nile dam but PM Meles break Egypt jealousey.Ethiopia ask them to work togather but Egotism was Egptian way.The time has come to develope owen resourse,Egypt cant stop Ethiopians but thought them cooperation is center to use resource.She fight Ethiopia in different form but they cant stop us.Mutual benefit is a leading idea in 21 century.Old thinking passed we have to cooperate peacefully and eith truth Alah/Godwill be with us!! Long live peace and estability.
    Thank u

  14. Dear brothers:

    Sadat,Mubarek and Mursi adminstrayion was targeted to unrest Ethiopia and Nile reparian countries they were successful.They were afraid,if they develop they will use it so our water security will be in trouble.

    As a human being gaining from confict unrest a country is meaning less.”a donkey says, if I died a grass should be dry cant serve others.A need of mankind is limitless no one will stop it.

    The time has come Nile repariens country to use it.Egypt wast her money energy and intellgence to disterb them.

    Force love never and ever work in this world on nile.We know history of Egypt,they slavery people of Isreal for 400yrs but by power of God free them.

    Queran thought u how to communicate ,respect mankind, Prophet Mohammed thought u also dont touch Ethiopia she is first hejera unless .Old regim has done his duty to unrest Ethiopia lastely he never successful he failed by his people.God/Alah is always on truth way to mankind.What did she do to Egypt does she interfair on your poletical adminstration on soverginity,Why Egypt regime target unrest Ethiopia ,she is giving live ,water to people of Egypt.

    Is this rule of Alah/God to unrest a country,entering people in poverty,Did Queran thought u, is this Prophet Mohammed rule and regulation to Ethiopians????

    You pray to Alahe /God three times a day did he order you to do bad thing to Ethiopians.So you have done your duty to develope your country,why u be anty Ethiopia,you are diging grave to us, you wish to develope your self why are u strategy negatively to us Morcyi and the coming leaders.

    We thanks lord we can built our dam with out getting your permissiom but we have done our project not only for u also to people of Egypt and Sudan.Experties assure you, this is a mankind attitude to use it togather.

    No one will stop us!! our enemy will cry boold by our development ,our development will continue for ever God bless Ethiopia and people of Egypt.

    Ruling parties are different from people of Egypt.Let us cooperate by win win solution than Egotism(Egypt leaders)

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