The governments of Sudan and Ethiopia have agreed to deploy a joint military force along their common border to protect the Renaissance Dam from possible attacks. That makes Egypt nervous.
Sudan lies between Egypt and Ethiopia and resolutely chooses the side of Ethiopia. Sudan hopes to take advantage of the dam: primarily for its electricity supply, but also to prevent flooding of the Nile in Sudan.
Egyptian President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi said after his meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn “extremely worried” about the progress of the talks about the Nile water. But he added that Egypt does not want war with Ethiopia and Sudan.
The Nile is the lifeblood of Egypt. The survival of the country depends on it. 95 percent of the population lives on the Nile and
is completely dependent on it.
But Ethiopia is building up a gigantic dam upstream in the Nile: the Grand Renaissance Dam. When it is finished, Ethiopia becomes, at one stroke, the most important electricity producer in Africa. The dam will mean a huge boost for its economy.
Before the dam there will be a reservoir with a volume of 63 billion cubic meters of water. Egypt fears that 25 percent less water will flow through the Nile when Ethiopia starts filling that reservoir.
That is what both heads of government sought in vain this week for an agreement. Egypt has always claimed the lion’s share of the Nile water, but Ethiopia – one of Africa’s strongest growing economies – has in the meantime become an important geopolitical player. It feels that it is also entitled to its part of the Nile water.
Between Egypt and Sudan – not so long ago allies – the tensions have increased rapidly over the last few weeks, not just for the Renaissance delta.
Just before Christmas, Sudanese President Bashir was still raving Egyptian President Sisi by signing a deal with Turkish President Erdogan about the historic port city of Suakin, a small island in the strategically important Red Sea. Turkey gets that city on loan and Egypt is afraid that Turkey wants to establish a military base there.
Bashir is also winding up the old dispute about the Hala’ib triangle. Both Egypt and Sudan claim that area. Bashir might feel strengthened by the Turkish presence at the Red Sea in that conflict, Sisi fears.
The new friendship between Sudan and Turkey further fuels the unrest in the region. The relationship between Egypt and Turkey has deteriorated dramatically years ago, since Turkey supported the Muslim Brotherhood and the deposed president Morsi.
The Turkish presence in the Red Sea also makes Saudi Arabia nervous. All the more because both countries are diametrically opposed in the Gulf region. Turkey cooperates with Qatar, arch enemy of Saudi Arabia.
Egypt has in the meantime also deployed troops in Eritrea, arch enemy of Ethiopia. Sudan, the new friend of Ethiopia, responded by closing his border with Eritrea and sending thousands of extra soldiers to the border area. Bashir called his ambassador back from Cairo.
Egyptian President Sisi tried to stop the escalation of all that muscle ball on Monday by declaring live on television that he does not want war with Ethiopia and Sudan. Something he repeated today.
But there is no agreement about the distribution of the Nile water. And if that does not happen before the reservoir is filled by the Renaissance Dam, a first major conflict threatens water.