Posted by on April 17, 2015 in Blog

By Eve Soliman
Winter Intern, 2015

On Monday, March 23rd the leaders of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan signed a preliminary agreement approving Ethiopia’s hydroelectric project and provide the framework principles for building the dam that would impact the entire region. The construction of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam is projected to be completed in 2017 and will cost $4.2 billion dollars.

The dam is designed to generate 6,000 megawatts of clean and sustainable energy for the region and advance Ethiopia’s development. At 1,780 meters wide and 145 meters tall, it will be the largest dam on the African continent. The project is of concern to Egypt because of their almost exclusive reliance on the Nile River for drinking water, and agriculture. Although, Egyptian President Sisi signed the agreement it was not without voicing his concern about Egypt being a dry country that relies on its share of the water from the river. Egypt received only 55 mm of rainfall last year, compared to Ethiopia’s 848 mm of rainfall and Sudan’s 250 mm.

The declaration of principles agreement is designed to peacefully resolve any future disputes about the use of the Nile’s waters and govern how Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan will work together to create a solution for sharing and using the water. This accord will replace the previous rights given to Egypt by the 1929 Nile Waters Agreement and the 1959 agreement, which granted Egypt the power to veto any project involving the Nile River by upstream countries. It gave Egypt and Sudan primary rights to the Nile River’s annual flow of 84 billion cubic meters of water; the water was split between the two countries and gave 55.5 billion cubic meters to Egypt and 18.5 billion cubic meters to Sudan. In 2013, the Ethiopian Parliament ratified a treaty that would annul Egypt’s veto power in Nile River projects granted from the 1929 agreement.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Halemariam reassured President Sisi that the dam would not harm downstream countries and that once the construction of the dam is complete, the flow of water from the Nile would return to normal.  Despite Prime Minister Halemariam’s assurances, Egypt remains worried that the amount of water it receives from the Nile could be reduced during the time it takes to complete and fill the dam.

The Nile River serves as a point of connection between the 11 diverse Northeast African countries that share its resources. The management and use of the regions’ “source of life” has been historically disputed and a source of conflict for the Nile Basin countries. In 2011, Ethiopia announced its plan to build the dam and started diverting the Blue Nile without the approval of downstream countries, but was supported by five Nile Basin countries, which included Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi.

This agreement is not the only initiative in the works to foster peace in the region. In 2011, Egyptian American ethnomusicologist, Mina Girgis and Ethiopian American singer, Meklit Hadero founded the Nile River Project as a way to reconcile the growing conflict caused by the Nile River countries’ geopolitical issues and cultural barriers.

The project utilizes music and educational programs to facilitate cross-cultural dialogues aimed at advancing understanding of the Nile’s ecosystem, solutions to the Nile Basin’s challenges, and promote a united regional identity. The music collaboration program consists of artists from the 11 Nile Basin countries and promotes music that blends the diverse instruments, languages and cultures from the region. The Nile River Project’s band performs in Africa, as well as internationally and hosts Nile gatherings that promotes regional connections and demonstrates the reality of cooperation across borders.

Girgis  said, “For many projects, music is the end result. But for us, it is just the beginning,” when describing the Nile River Project’s music program. The Arab American-led initiative aims to, “create a driving force that will change the way Nile Citizens relate to each other and their shared ecosystem.” The Nile River Project blurs transnational borders to foster civic involvement from the diverse cultures that share the lifeline of the Nile River.

This project, paired with the agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on fair usage of the Nile’s waters gives way for a promising future of cooperation, development and peace between the Nile River countries.