Op-ed:Politics of the Nile A curse to Ethiopia

The Geological Society of America (GSA) warns construction of GERD would have unexpected risk – that of the eventual submerging of parts of the low-lying Nile Delta region under the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Recently, the region of Horn of Africa has witnessed a series waves of political changes, alliances and rapprochements, which have left observers and the world at large stunned and the local population confused. After a series of popular unrest and demonstrations in Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned. Resignation is a word too uncommon in the political dictionary of African leadership. Seeing the popular turmoil and subsequent state of emergencies suggest that the resignation was a forced soft coup, not only to the so called “peacefully resigned” prime minister, but to some important figures within the EPRDF coalition who have stayed untouched during their stay in power for the last three decades. After almost two months of intra-party squabbles, an unexpected figure emerged to the political landscape of Ethiopia. So far Abiy Ahmed (PhD) is largely hailed as a reformer within Ethiopia and internationally. The major seismic changes he introduced in Ethiopia and his diplomatic engagements in the region are widely admired as a breakthrough. But four months in to his premiership, his euphoric fame is mired by a recent assassination of highly revered project manager of the biggest dam in the continent, known as the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, (GERD), which its construction has faced more political than technical challenges.


The heart of Egyptian economy is agriculture, and that agriculture is solely dependent on the water that flows through the Nile River – 85% of which is originated from Ethiopia. Egypt depends on the Nile for 90% of its water needs. And hence, that water is a matter of life or death to Egypt. That is why Herodotus, the ‘Father of history’ had rightly said Egypt as “the gift of the Nile.”


Ancient feudal kingdoms in the now “Ethiopia” used to intimidate the Pharaohs of Egypt that they will make the Nile flow to the red sea unless the Egyptians pay them quintals of gifts of gold and other expensive metals and ornaments. Ignorant of geography and unaware of the capacity of Ethiopian kings –  capacity  to divert the Nile to flow to the Red Sea, the Pharaohs were complicit and used to pay hefty gifts to those kings.  In many ways consecutive Egyptian kingdoms and governments have been able to insure Egypt’s uncontested share of the Nile water mainly by destabilizing Ethiopia.

But that story seemed to be over – ones and for all according the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, when Ethiopia initiated an ambitious project to build a massive dam that is feared to reduce the volume of the Nile flow substantially. Construction started in April 2011 and was initially expected to be completed by July 2017. As of now the project is Eight years old and is only 70 percent complete.

The project construction budget estimated at US$4.8 billion, (excluding the cost of power transmission lines), corresponds to about 5% of Ethiopia’s Gross Domestic Product. This 1,800 meter long and 155 meter high project can accommodate a total volume of 74,000 million cubic meter of water when full, while the average of the Nile water flow is 84 billion cubic meters.


But quite recently to the dismay of the Ethiopian public there has been tragic developments in the construction of the dam.


Prime Minister Abi has shown his disapproval of flagship projects that has been running in Ethiopia including this great dam. He has allegedly said that the project at a current pace may not even be finished in ten years’ time from now. On his few days in office he went to Egypt where he got a warm welcome by President Al Sisi. His visits was hailed as opening a new chapter in the relationship of Ethiopia and Egypt. On his visit the primer has repeatedly assured the Egyptians that there will not be any threat to Egypt that emanates from Ethiopia in relation with the construction of the dam.  Later on, some high profile government officials were heard voicing their dissatisfaction about the progress of the construction of the dam. On recent interview with BBC Amharic program, the late Engineer Smegnew Bekele said that he was unaware of the negative remarks and said that the project was progressing well. Quite recently


On the morning of 26 July 2018 Simegnew was found shot dead in his Toyota Land Cruiser on Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square.

In the days before and after his death,

  1. CCTV cameras were inexplicably disabled in the area.
  2. His personal security detail was also relieved from duty to accompany him.
  3. On the morning of the shooting, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed flew to the US
  4. Ahmed ignored a public outcry for him to return to the country on the appalling news of the engineer’s death.
  5. His absence from the high-profile funeral on July 29, which was mourned by the nation was seen as unbecoming.


The Nile water has been the source of Ethiopian insecurity for centuries now. The Eritrean revolution in its early days has got major support from Egypt. That support cannot be due to Egypt’s believe in the freedom of the people of Eritrea from Ethiopia. That was largely made crystal clear immediately in 1991 when the Eritrean revolution led by EPLF successfully toppled the Derg region, Egypt was firmly opposed to Eritrean referendum. That opposition is aimed to perpetuate the war and the crisis in Ethiopia.  The recent rapprochement between Eritrea and Egypt is therefore a temporary and tactical relationship that ends when it’s short term goals end, and that goal is centered on ensuring Egypt’s unreserved share of the Nile water by destabilizing or pressurizing Ethiopia.

The Nile politics has played a pivotal role in destabilizing Ethiopia and the horn of Africa region at large. By hosting and supplying logistics to Eritrean revolutionists in the 190s it played a key role in the ultimate secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia which left the later the largest and most populated land locked country in Africa

Beside perpetuating crisis in Ethiopia and ransoming a huge amount of resources – withholding 4.8 billion dollar creates a substantial pressure for a subsistent economy like Ethiopia, the so called Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) might cost Ethiopia its fragile unity and change the political land scape of the Horn of Africa once and for all. Although it’s premature to suggest who was behind this tragic killing, but noting all these stark loop holes  it might not need genius to suggest that it was politically motivated assassination.

By Aklilu H. michael Tekle


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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Horndiplomat editorial policy.

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