EthioPoint: Ethiopians Analysis | Research Articles

IT IS MY DAM!! The Nile dispute is the result of colonialism in Africa

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KurazIn the 19th century, as industrialization spread and matured throughout western and central Europe, it gave countries the wealth, technology, and motivation to look beyond their homelands. Nations competed with each other for access to raw materials and cheap labour market . A strategy to control markets, European countries sought to establish colonial monopolies. They were on the look out to take advantage of the weak and defenseless countries. By the early 20th century, many African countries, with the exception Ethiopia and Liberia, had been colonized.

Repulsive face of colonialism

Egypt is an ancient country whose story spans the historical record and has been a geopolitical interest of many European powers. The Suez Canal was one of the most important trade link between Europe and Asia.

The Suez Canal opened in 1869, but was soon bankrupt due to poorly managed finances by the Egyptian government. As a result, in 1875, Britain purchased all of Egypt’s shares in the canal. Egypt fell deeper into debt and came to the brink of a civil war. To protect their investments in the canal, Britain and France sent their navies to Egypt. By September of 1882 Britain had formally occupied Egypt and controlled its government. The British invasion expanded beyond Egypt and included Sudan, Uganda and Kenya by 1890, 1894 and 1895, respectively. By 1898, the British had managed to control the whole White Nile basin.

The British saw themselves as guardians of the Nile. They decided to transform Egypt into a cotton farm for England’s textile industry. Egypt’s Lower Delta, with a fertile soil made up of river sediments used for cotton production.

After the 1919 Egyptian revolution, the British began to pay significant attention to Sudan. The political unrest in Egypt caused disruption of cotton exports, and in an interest to scale cotton production in the region, Britain planned to better employ the more independent Sudan, with its more stable control of the Nile. This strategy served as leverage against Egyptian nationalism, reminding Egypt of its limited control. Employing a seasoned policy of divide and conquer, Britain nurtured a rift between Egypt and Sudan. In order to secure water for farms in the two colonies, it also denied upstream colonies access to the Nile.


Treatiesaffecting Nile water use

Several treaties were designed to deny the right of upstream countries to use Nile. Some of the colonies’ rights were signed away by their colonists. Example, Belgium signed on behalf of the Congo. Who gives you the right to control sovereign resources? The Wikipedia page on the relevant treaties reads:

April 15, 1891 – Article III of the Anglo-Italian Protocol. Article III states that “theItalian government engages not to construct on the Atbara River, in view of irrigation, any work which might sensibly modify its flow into the Nile”.”Thelanguage used in this article was too vague to provide clear property rights or rights to the use of water”.

May 15, 1902 – Article III of the Treaty between Great Britain and Ethiopia. Article three is the British wish version. It states “His Majesty the Emperor Menilik II, King of Kings of Ethiopia, engages himself towards the Government of His Britannic Majesty not to construct or allow to be constructed any work across the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, or the Sobat, which would arrest the flow of their waters except in agreement with His Britannic Majesty’sGovernment and the Government of Sudan”The aim of this treaty was to establish the border between Ethiopia and the Sudan. The Amharic version, however,translates a different meaning and understanding to

Ethiopia and “wasnever ratified by his country.”

May 9, 1906 – Article III of the Agreement between Britain and the Government of the Independent State of the Congo. Article III states “TheGovernment of the independent state of the Congo undertakes not to construct, or allow to be constructed, any work over or near the Semliki or Isango river which would diminish the volume of water entering Lake Albert except in agreement with the Sudanese Government”.Belgium signed this agreement on behalf of the Congo despite the agreement favoring only the downstream users of the Nile waters and restricting the people of the Congo from accessing their part of the Nile.

December 13, 1906 – Article 4(a) of the Tripartite Treaty (Britain-France-Italy). Article 4(a) states “To act together… to safeguard; … the interests of Great Britain and Egypt in the Nile Basin, more especially as regards the regulation of the waters of that river and its tributaries (due consideration being paid to local interests) without prejudice to Italian interests”.This treaty, in effect, denied Ethiopia its sovereign right over the use of its own water. Ethiopia has rejected the treaty their military and political power was not sufficient to regain its use of the Nile water.

The 1925 exchange of notes between Britain and Italy concerning Lake Tana which states “…Italyrecognizes the prior hydraulic rights of Egypt and the Sudan… not to construct on the head waters of the Blue Nile and the White Nile (the Sobat) and their tributaries and effluents any work which might sensibly modify their flow into the main river.”Ethiopia opposed the agreement and notified both parties of its objections: When an explanation was required from the British and the Italian governments by the League of Nations, they denied challenging Ethiopia’s sovereignty over Lake Tana.

May 7, 1929 – The Agreement between Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. This agreement included:

Egypt and Sudan utilize 48 and 4 billion cubic meters of the Nile flow per year,respectively; The flow of the Nile during January 20 to July 15 (dry season) would be reserved for Egypt;

Egypt reserves the right to monitor the Nile flow in the upstream countries;

Egypt assumed the right to undertake Nile river related projects without the consent of upper riparian states.

Egypt assumed the right to veto any construction projects that would affect her interests adversely.

In effect, this agreement gave Egypt complete control over the Nile during the dry season when water is most needed for agricultural irrigation. It also severely limits the amount of water allotted Sudan and provides no water to any of the other riparian states.

The 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between the Sudan and Egypt for full control utilization of the Nile waters.


This agreement included:

The controversy on the quantity of average annual Nile flow was settled and agreed to be about 84 billion cubic meters measured at Aswan High Dam, in Egypt. The agreement allowed the entire average annual flow of the Nile to be shared among the Sudan and Egypt at 18.5 and 55.5 billion cubic meters, respectively.

Annual water loss due to evaporation and other factors were agreed to be about 10 billion cubic meters. This quantity would be deducted from the Nile yield before share was assigned to Egypt and Sudan.

The agreement granted Egypt the right to construct the Aswan High Dam that can store the entire annual Nile River flow of a year.

It granted the Sudan to construct the Rosaries Dam on the Blue Nile and, to develop other irrigation and hydroelectric power generation until it fully utilizes its Nile share.


Abay/Nile: a sovereign natural resource

The longest river in the world 6700 KM basin area of about 3350000 SQ km stretching over ten east-central and northeast African countries.


Abay/Nile: Serving Egypt

The total area equipped for irrigation was 3 422 178 ha in 2002; 85 percent of this area was in the Nile Valley and Delta. In 2010, 3 610 000 ha are equipped for full control irrigation, including 2 730 000 ha in the Old Lands (76 percent) and 880 000 ha in the Oases and New Lands (source FAO)


Abay/Nile: Serving Sudan

Sudan has created four dams in the last century. This has resulted in the development so far of 18,000 km² of irrigated land, making Sudan the second most extensive user of the Nile after Egypt.


What are the world’s observers saying?

Stop the threat to use force to defend Egypt’s right to use water from the Nile has been a common theme through successive governments. What these developments mean is that Egypt’s insistence that the old agreements should remain untouched is no longer practical.

Egypt needs to stop issuing threats and turn its attention to normal bargaining processes as the first step towards equitable and reasonable sharing for all the riparian states.

Egypt’s threatening stance doesn’t allow compromise because security is directly connected to people’s lives and their survival. But the growing challenges are unlikely to be met with force.

Ethiopia’s tributaries supply about 86 percent of the waters of the Nile. Egypt has historically threatened war on Ethiopia over the Nile river. Egypt armed Somali separatist rebels in Ethiopia during the Somalia invasion of Ethiopia in the 1970.


What is Ethiopia saying?

Egypt should stop interfering sovereign country internal affairs by funding and arming our neighbors.

Egypt should stop threaten upstream countries. It is time for equitable fare share water allocation. We are not bound by colonial treaty.

Ethiopia is not tolerating Egypt’s defamation of sovereign nation reputation and integrity. We demand the Egyptian government to stop disseminate of misguided propaganda .

Egypt’s share of water is actually more than its need. It has not used the resource wisely.

Egypt has ground water. Manage your ground water and work on desalination Mediterranean Sea. Nile is diminishing in size every year due to global warming.

Egypt should participate in Nile restoration initiative to fight global warming and afforestation project with upstream countries to ensures water level stability and soil erosion conservation. Lake Tana the source of Nile, is threatened by aquatic weed water hyacinth. It is believed that more than 50,000 hectare of lake Tana is covered by water hyacinth. The Water hyacinth coverage grows every year. Egypt has to be aware Water hyacinth impedes water flow of Nile. Lake Tana and other tributaries are drying due to global warming.


The construction of GERD has more benefit to Egypt and Sudan than Ethiopia.

  • Flood protection. GERD prevents flooding Egypt and Sudan’s farms and communities.
  • Egypt and Sudan can make use of our hydro power.

Advice to our Egyptian and Sudanese friends

Ethiopian has no intention hurting downstream countries. Our people need to improve their quality of life just like yours. 60% of Ethiopian people live in darkness. By using hydroelectric power, we want to reduce the deforestation. We want to replace wood and charcoal burning stoves with efficient power saving appliances. This has a direct impact on maintaining the ecosystem; simply more precipitation means more water flow to Egypt and Sudan.

IMG 2911

Ethiopia needs to feed its fast growing population. The current population of Ethiopia is 115,067,656 as of Saturday, July 18, 2020, based on United Nations data. In 1984, the world observed the severe drought and famine suffered by Ethiopians. We have recurring drought and famine, as well as declining land resources, environmental degradation, failing rain etc. We do not want to see another famine while we have access to resources to support ourselves.

KurazEthiopia needs to eradicate poverty. The only option we have is to utilize our sovereign natural resources. It must be clear no one will stop us to exercise our right. We are in no way at the mercy of Egypt and Sudan in the use of our resources. It is matter of life and death to Ethiopians. We have demanded an equitable share of our resources that does not cause harm to downstream neighbors Lets share our resources peacefully. Bragging military capability is not going to bring peace and stability to the region. It would not bring you drop of water. Do not forget, you are downstream drinking our water, we are not bragging what we are capable of doing. We simply advise you to invest in a common good and sustainable water supply.


Resource credits:

food and agricultural organization (FAO)

encyclopedia britannica

ebs images/Helen


Zelalem Mengistu

Toronto Canada

July 27 2020