Ethiopia and Egypt Smooth Tensions Over Nile Dam

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Reservoir

By Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Jared Malsin

Wall Street Journal

CAIRO—Officials from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on Wednesday made progress after months of acrimony over how to share the waters of the Nile river, smoothing tensions in a conflict that has threatened to upset the political balance in the Horn of Africa.

The spat is pitting old power Egypt against a rising Ethiopia. Ethiopia is building a massive $4.2 billion dam on the Nile’s main tributary that Egypt, which depends on the Nile for its water supply, fears will divert too much water and place pressure on its agriculture.

The foreign ministers from Egypt and Ethiopia and Sudan’s water minister agreed at a meeting in Cairo to launch a joint scientific study of how quickly the dam being built by Ethiopia should be filled. The three signed a document calling for the leaders of the three countries to meet every six months.

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“We have consulted and deliberated quite extensively as you have seen, which has led us to an understanding of the way forward,” said Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the conclusion of the talks.

The positive note follows months of meetings in Cairo and Addis Ababa that all failed to yield consensus on how to break the deadlock.

Ethiopia started constructing the dam, which will be Africa’s biggest, in 2011 when Egypt was in the throes of the Arab Spring. The project, which is due to be completed next year, has been fully funded by Ethiopia and has become a national symbol of its economic and strategic ambitions.

Ethiopia last year was the world’s fastest-growing economy and is desperate for additional energy sources to power its plans to become a major manufacturer. The country also hopes to generate income by selling power from dam.

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Ethiopia has dismissed Egypt’s fears that if the dam is as filled as quickly as Addis Ababa wants it could affect its agriculture. Officials criticize Cairo as clinging to colonial-era agreements that grant Egypt the vast majority of the Nile waters, despite the fact that the river largely emanates in and flows through Ethiopia. Sudan, wedged between the two, has seen its relationship with Egypt rapidly deteriorate.

Another high-level meeting on the dam is planned for July 3 and 4 in Cairo.

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