The world’s longest river has an identity that is as much a product of poetry as politics; both countries need to share it, not fight to own it
By Maaza Mengiste
Tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia have grown at an alarming rate since Addis Ababa announced its plans to construct the Grand Renaissance dam across part of the Nile. The project will divert the flow of the river and give Ethiopia greater access.
The Nile, at 6,700km, is the longest river in the world. It begins in Ethiopia and ends in Egypt. It moves counter to what one might expect, flowing upwards on the map. This, as much as anything, reflects the river’s mythological dimensions. It defies logic, its identity is as much a product of poetry as politics. Homer, in The Odyssey, called the body of water “Aegyptus, the heaven-fed river”. The name alone gave Egypt symbolic rights, and bestowed religious qualities upon the water. Despite the fact that 85 per cent of the Nile originates in Ethiopia, we still associate the river with Cleopatra and King Tut, with pyramids and the sphinx, with sophisticated belief systems and advanced scientific knowledge. The Nile is a metaphor for Egypt.
Maaza Mengiste is the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze.