Updated: Feb 15, 2021

The 1902 Nile Water Agreement

  • Britain signed a treaty with Ethiopia on the utilization of Nile waters in 1902, but it was never ratified by Ethiopia due to variations in meaning between the English and Amharic versions.


The 1929 Nile Water Agreement

  • The Nile Commission was formed in 1925.

  • It defended the crucial role of the Nile River in the development of Egypt and Sudan since 1894.

  • Consisted of representatives from Egypt, Britain, and an independent chairman.

  • The outcome of the commission’s discussions was an exchange of notes between the governments of Britain and Egypt that became the Anglo-Egyptian Nile Water Agreement of 1929. By this agreement, Egypt received the lion’s share of the Nile waters—48 million cubic meters—and Sudan got a paltry 4 million cubic meters.

  • The 1929 agreement completely ignored the interests of the upstream peoples in the Great Lakes region, and it did not even mention the sovereign nation of Ethiopia, despite the fact that the Blue Nile originates in Ethiopia.


The 1959 Water Agreement

Egypt and Sudan established the 1959 Water Agreement for the full utilization of the Nile Waters.

  • The Agreement addressed other riparian nations only by stipulating that Egypt and Sudan present a unified front to them on any matter regarding the use of the Nile waters, including any water-related projects on the Nile and any of its tributaries.

  • The Agreement completely disregarded the utilization of the Nile waters by any country except Egypt and Sudan. It unilaterally asserted the principle of prior use: that is, essentially, that the signatories were entitled to total control of the waters of the Nile because they “had them first.” Egypt controlled 66 percent and Sudan 22 percent– Ethiopia zero percent.

  • This bilateral deal ignored and restricted the nine countries that share the Nile Basin. This eventually led to demands from the upstream countries for a new, equitable Nile waters regime.

 

Source: Aaron Tesfaye. “The Politics of the Imposed and Negotiation of the Emerging Nile Basin Regime,” International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, 7(1&2), 2013, pp. 57-76.

Source: Verhoeven, Harry. Black Gold for Blue Gold? Sudan’ Oil, Ethiopia’s Water and Regional Integration, Chatham House, AFP BP 2011/03, June 2011.

Source: Nasr, H., & Neef, A. “Ethiopia’s Challenge to Egyptian Hegemony in the Nile River Basin: The Case of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” Geopolitics, 21(4), 2016, pp. 969-989.

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Updated: Feb 15, 2021

  • The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is one of Ethiopia’s mega development projects expected to address the urgent energy and development needs of Africa’s second most populace nation of 115 million (in 2020).


  • GERD is Ethiopia’s pathway to development and is part of the nation’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) to transform its economy [from agriculture to industry and turn Ethiopia into an “African hub” for manufacturing and to bring the country to lower-middle income status, lifting its population out of poverty by 2030.


  • Ethiopian rivers and streams contribute up to 85 percent of the Nile waters - Egypt receives 86 percent of the Nile waters.


  • Aiming to harness its natural resources and following its right to development, the dam construction started in April 2011 on the Abbay/Blue Nile river and is expected to be fully completed and operational by August 2023.


  • The Nile waters are shared by 11 countries in Africa (Burundi, DRC, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda).


  • The construction of GERD fully aligns with the principles of preserving the interest of all riparian countries while adhering to international laws.


  • GERD construction cost is estimated at US $5 billion dollars. 100 percent of funding comes from Ethiopia’s own resources and the people of Ethiopia.

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Updated: Feb 15, 2021

The Legacy Agreements and treaties, i.e. the 1902, 1929 and 1959 Nile Water Agreements, did not include Ethiopia as a beneficiary of its own resources. Ethiopia, despite being the source of the Blue Nile, along with all downstream riparian Nile Basin states are excluded by the legacy agreements from sharing and utilizing the Nile waters.


The 1999 Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) brought all the Nile Basin countries together for dialogue leading to the drafting of the Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA) of 2010. The CFA allowed the waters of the Nile river to be utilized for the benefit of all nations in the Nile basin and facilitated the establishment of new arrangements for the rules for sharing of the water among the Nile basin nations.


CFA was ratified by six of the Nile basin countries including Ethiopia. Egypt opposed the ratification of the CFA claiming that the 1959 agreement is non-negotiable and argues for upholding the 1929 Nile agreement.


In 2015, Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan signed the Declaration of Principle agreement which stipulated cooperative approaches in fair use of the waters, sharing of data and information and guiding principles in the first filling of the GERD and its operations, based on the recommendations of the International Technical Experts Committee.


In 2020, various meetings and negotiations had taken place. The ministerial level meetings in February 2020 demanded Ethiopia not to start filling the dam before Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan reached and signed a U.S. sponsored agreement. Ethiopia completed the first filling of the GERD in July 2020, per internationally recognized and accepted project design.


The African Union, then led by the South African Cyril Ramaphosa, its Chairperson began to play a leading role in the GERD Negotiations in June 2020. The initial round of talks was relatively successful. A major point of contention in the tripartite negotiations involved the period of the filling of the dam. Initially, Ethiopia proposed filling the dam in three years, while Egypt suggested a gradual process lasting up to fifteen years.


Egypt maintains that filling the GERD at normal flow through three years will reduce the active storage of Lake Nasser by 25.413 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) each year. It also predicts that the dam would reduce Egypt’s electricity production by 25%.


Ethiopia maintains that the GERD will have minimal impact on Egypt’s agricultural projects if the reservoir is filled over 6 years. The downstream countries, especially Egypt, are also concerned about the impact the dam will have on the Blue Nile if drought occurs. But Ethiopia reasons that the entire Nile basin economies will benefit if the dam is filled over a period of three-four years.

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