Geopolitics Of The River Nile


The River Nile flows from northwest Ethiopia to East Sudan and is formed of two parts, namely, the Blue Nile and the White Nile. The two meet in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan after which this river passes through Egypt. It is the longest river in the world and is about 6550 km long passing through other 11 countries. The Nile is the only major source of water in the countries that it flows through. More than 200 million people rely on the river directly as a result of which the river has been the reason for many conflicts and interstate politics.


The dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of a long-standing disagreement between the downstream states of Sudan and Egypt and Ethiopia and the upstream riparians over the access to Nile’s waters. However, towards the end of the 1900s, Ethiopia had consolidated the political power, will, and money to completely reshape the Nile. The two treaties signed in 1929 and 1959 gave both Egypt and Sudan the right to nearly most of the Nile’s water. In addition to this, it also gave Egypt veto powers over any projects that upstream nations planned to undertake, that would affect their share, considering they were already at a disadvantage as they were downstream. However, Ethiopia disagreed to follow an age old treaty and instead started the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in 2011.

Despite Egypt being completely against the construction of the dam, viewing it as an existential crisis, Ethiopia paid no heed went ahead with it, and after about 40 percent of the dam was completed, Egypt reconsidered its position. Despite several tripartite negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan from November 2013 and January 2014, no agreement was reached.

The river Nile is of great importance to the nations it passes through as tt has a high potential
for hydropower and irrigation, and if exploited well could lead to economic development which would overcome famines and poverty, an occurrence not uncommon in North Africa. All of Egypt’s power, both modern and ancient, is linked with the Nile. It had helped Egypt in producing surplus agriculture, freeing up its labor to work on new technology, making it the most powerful and advanced civilization. The benefits of the river are seen, even today as 95% of the country’s population lives with the narrow strip of land on either side of the Nile. Similarly, Sudan’s ancient civilization also benefitted from the river in a similar manner and a large chunk of the country’s population lives within the green zone on either side of the Nile

Clashes in interest

Ethiopia has a shortage of electricity and about 65% of its population is not connected to the grid. Therefore, Ethiopia built a $4bn dam and is expected to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity. The energy generated would provide enough for its citizens and have more to sell to other nations surrounding it.

Egypt is dependent on the Nile for 90% of its water and most of its population is located around the riverbanks. Thus having a stable flow is necessary for the survival of the country. The dam would restrict its already scarce supply of the Nile waters. If the water level wouldn’t be regulated well then it would hinder the transportation and the livelihood of those who are dependent on it. Also, the filling regime and operational methods of GERD would affect Egypt, by impacting its operation of its Aswan High Dam (AHD).AHD aims at reducing the high variability of the Nile river flow. The filling would take about 10 years, during which the Blue Nile water flows would be reduced. This would increase the salinization in the river, which would affect the crops. If it were to take place during a sequence of years in which the Blue Nile flow and the AHD reservoir itself were low, then there wouldn’t be sufficient water supplies to meet its agricultural needs. If AHD and GERD were not coordinated then Egypt would have very low levels of water.

However, both the governments received positive feedback on their agreements. This was due to historical grievances and among the people in the nations. Some Ethiopian journalists assess the ‘Declaration of Principles’ as being more in favor of Egypt than Ethiopia. In contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt called it ‘high treason.’

Who would benefit?

Sudan would benefit from GERD because in the future it is predicted that Sudan would require more water for various purposes than its current quota under the 1950s agreement. Sudan has been changing its stance, Initially, it extended its support to the construction of GERD in 2013, although it was against it in the beginning. Recently, Sudan has raised concerns that GERD’s operation could jeopardize its own dams. The United States and World Bank mediated talks between November 2019 and February 2020, when they failed the downstream nations then requested the UNSC to intervene. However, By mid-July, there seemed to be some fruitful negotiations going on.


If the tripartite agreement works out then all three nations would benefit from it. It gives the African countries an opportunity to coordinate and collaborate. Fair and equitable distribution can prove to be very beneficial and an end to the longstanding tensions between the nations.

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