The Nile is no one’s property; it belongs to everyone
I think the Renaissance Dam negotiations were landed with a new problem the moment Ethiopia announced the end of the first stage of filling the dam’s reservoir. This was a unilateral decision taken by Addis Ababa after prevarications by Ethiopian officials regarding this matter.
More than two weeks ago, pictures published by international news agencies showed that Ethiopia had begun filling the dam's reservoir, a move that Egypt had strongly rejected in negotiations, with Sudan’s opinion swaying between truce and rejection. Addis Ababa, however, had announced to everyone that the photos were accurate but that it had not made a decision and that what the pictures showed was seasonal rainwater.
This deception continued for days afterward, with the Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Seleshi Bekele, announcing on July 15 that his country had actually begun filling the Renaissance Dam’s reservoir despite the stalled agreement between Egypt and Sudan. Bekele was quoted as saying that the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia had reached a stage that allowed the start of the initial storage process, estimated to be 4.9 billion cubic meters. He also said: “Building the dam and filling the reservoir go hand in hand.” The same minister came out a few hours later to deny what he said and to say that his statements had been misunderstood!
The drama of prevarication did not last long; the Ethiopian prime minister himself announced at a mini-South African-sponsored summit which brought the Egyptian and Sudanese leaders together that Addis Ababa had already completed the first stage of filling the dam’s reservoir.
Egypt’s stance has remained the same for years — perhaps since the beginning of Ethiopia’s talk of building the Renaissance Dam. Egypt is not against the development carried out in Ethiopia. On the contrary, it has offered more than once to participate directly or indirectly, and the heads of successive Egyptian governments have always stressed the right of the Ethiopian people to develop and generate electricity as an important part of progress for Africa. Egypt has, however, been against any encroachment on its water rights. The current leadership of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has drawn a red line on this and promised not to yield this right as that would expose Egypt and its people to imminent danger in the coming years.
Egypt’s stance remained the same, even going so far as seeking support from the Security Council. At the mini-summit, the Egyptian president stressed Egypt’s sincere desire to achieve progress on contentious issues as this would be essential in any fair and balanced agreement concerning the Renaissance Dam. He highlighted, however, that the matter required political will to agree on the outstanding issues in order to improve opportunities and efforts to reach an agreement and support confidence-building and cooperation which would be in line with the common interest of the three countries.
At the end of the summit, it was agreed to continue negotiations and focus at the present time on prioritizing a binding legal agreement on the rules for filling and operating the Renaissance Dam. This meant that a comprehensive agreement would be reached later in order to cover all aspects of joint cooperation between the three countries and their use of Nile water.
But will Egypt’s stance continue with the same level of patience and deliberation in the future? The coming days will surely answer this question.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed congratulated all Ethiopians on filling the dam and said: “I would like to congratulate all the Ethiopian people on the achievement we have made in building the dam through our collective efforts.” He added, “This achievement demonstrates Ethiopians’ ability to repeat this achievement in other national efforts.” He also pointed out, “The most exciting thing is the confidence we had in building the dam ourselves and completing it when there were many uncertainties.”
“This dam is the symbol and icon of this generation,” he continued, “and it is an ideal response and a bright light for Ethiopians for years to come.”
The Ethiopian leader explained that the first year of filling the dam would enable two turbines to generate power, pointing out that if every effort were made in the next two years, the dam could be expected to generate energy at full capacity.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Guido Andargachio had a more "gloating" and escalating tone. He congratulated Ethiopia's citizens on the completion of his country’s first stage of filling the reservoir of the Renaissance Dam. He wrote on his Twitter account: “Congratulations! It was the Nile River and now it is a lake, and its waters will not flow toward the river. Ethiopia will get (from this lake) what it needs for development.” He continued: “In fact ... the Nile is ours.”
The sentence “The Nile is ours” angered many Egyptians who demanded that their president cease negotiations and respond decisively. On the other hand, some decided to respond to Ethiopia in the same vein so they created the hashtag “#Nile4All.”
Among the most notable tweets that the Egyptians wrote using this hashtag was: “The Nile is for everyone; the Nile is not for Ethiopia only; the Nile is a gift from our Lord to all.” The blogger who wrote this tweet called on the world to show solidarity and reach a solution to the crisis, explaining that the waters of the Nile were an issue of national security and national life for Egypt.
Another tweet said: “We are not fans of conflict, but the Nile is a matter of life and death, and everyone knows this. Egypt must not be deprived of its historical right to the Nile’s water. We are the creators of a civilization that was built on the Nile.”
The future of this crisis seems vague. Egypt may again return to negotiations with Ethiopia so as to minimize the impact of Addis Ababa's unilateral move. Egypt may seek support from the Security Council, having resorted to it in the past. Egypt may use its regional and international influence to re-pressure
The waters of the Nile are an issue of national security and national life for Egypt.
Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy
Ethiopia to take into account Egypt’s historical right to the waters of the Nile. And there may of course be even more escalation.
In all cases, there must be a new culture among the Egyptian people and government on the issue of using the Nile's water which in the past was a necessity. Successive governments launched a number of campaigns calling for the protection of the Nile which was a matter of life or death even before Ethiopia began building the Renaissance Dam.
Egyptians must emphasize in all cases that the Nile is no one’s property. It belongs to the life of the various peoples who have lived along its banks for thousands of years.
- Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. Twitter: @ALMenawy