Egypt–Ethiopia crisis: “No Nile, No Egypt”

Long years of deadlock and bitter recrimination are now coming to a head as the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam threatens Egypt's water security.

The long-running dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over the waters of the Nile is coming to a head. The Egyptian Prime Minister has been angrily denounced in parliament for failing to prevent the construction of a giant $4.7bn Ethiopian dam, which is threatening to leave Egypt dangerously short of water. Senior Egyptian politicians were caught on live television plotting the use of military force to halt the project.

Then, on Monday, President Mohammed Morsi told a cheering crowd that “all options are open” in dealing with the crisis.

Declaring that any threat to water security would not be accepted by Egypt, he said: “If it loses one drop, our blood is the alternative.” The president’s promise received a standing ovation.

The conflict over water goes back more than a century. Next to no rain falls on Egypt itself; its 85 million people depend, almost exclusively, on the waters of the Nile. They have relied on the sluggish brown waters of the river for all their needs. This has been guaranteed by a series of colonial treaties. First Italy and then Britain promised Egypt that it would have the vast majority of the Nile water in perpetuity. A 1959 agreement between Egypt and Sudan - following Sudan's independence in 1956 - allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres of the Nile to Egypt, and 18.5 billion to Sudan; a combined total of 87 per cent of the Nile flow.

This suited the Egyptians, but the treaties offered nothing to the states further upstream. Since 1998 the Nile Basin Initiative has been attempting to bring together the 10 states that border on the Nile to discuss the issue.

But the states - Burundi, D.R. Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, plus Eritrea as an observer -  have failed to reach a consensus. Its laudable objective; “to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from, the common Nile Basin water resources" has been thwarted by Egyptian intransigence.

While Cairo has repeatedly promised co-operation, it has jealously guarded its historic treaties, with their assurances that water will continue to flow southwards. The Nile Basin is home to over 200 million people. This figure is set to double in the next 25 years, greatly increasing the demand for water. But since Egypt depends on the Nile for 98 per cent of its irrigation, it has little option but to fight its corner at almost any cost. The result has been deadlock and bitter recriminations.

The construction of the giant Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has brought the crisis to a head. This vast project on the Blue Nile, close to the Sudanese border, is designed to produce hydro-electricity to be used inside Ethiopia and exported to its neighbours. But Egypt estimates that even if not a drop is used for irrigation, the dam will mean they will lose as much as 20 per cent of the Nile water during the three to five years needed for Ethiopia to fill a massive planned reservoir.

Egyptian members of parliament have denounced their own government for inaction in the face of this threat. "Egypt will turn to a graveyard" if the dam is completed, geologist and Egyptian MP, Khaled Ouda shouted in parliament. "The prime minister didn't provide anything." "We have to stop the construction of this dam first before entering negotiations," he said.

Egypt's foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, who has promised not to give up “a single drop of water from the Nile”, said on Sunday he would go to Addis Ababa to discuss the dam.

Speaking to Egypt's state news agency, MENA, two days after the Ethiopian government flatly rejected a request from Cairo to halt the project, Kamel Amr said Egyptians viewed any obstacle to the river's flow as a threat to national survival. “No Nile - no Egypt,” he said.

This is not the first time Egypt has threatened military force to protect its share of the Nile. But in the past it has generally resorted to indirect means. There is a firmly held Ethiopian view that Egypt is behind many of its troubles. When President Nasser excluded Ethiopia from the planning of the Aswan Dam in 1959, the Emperor Haile Selassie negotiated the separation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from its opposite number in Alexandria, ending a relationship that had lasted 1,600 years.

Nasser responded by backing the Eritrean revolt against Ethiopian rule and by encouraging Somali Muslims to fight for Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. Eritrea still backs the Egyptian position over the Nile. In April this year a message of support was sent from the Eritrean president and delivered to Egypt’s president by Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs, Yemane Gebreab.

Egypt’s problems with the Nile are only likely to intensify. In April 2010, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania signed a new agreement in Entebbe, Uganda, to overturn the colonial-era treaties and replace them with a more reasonable and equitable utilisation of the river. The deal was approved after Burundi signed the agreement and joined the group in March 2011. It is just a matter of time before these countries begin drawing on the Nile waters for their own purposes. The outlook for Egyptians is grim indeed.

 

 

A narrow branch of the Nile river in downtown Cairo. Photograph: Getty Images

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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Scarred lands: visiting the villages Boko Haram left behind reveals the toxic legacy of terrorism

The progress and challenges of Nigerian communities rebuilding after Boko Haram’s insurgency begins to wane.

“Sometimes it’s when I go to bed that what happened comes back to me.” Two years ago, Boko Haram militants stormed into 23-year-old John Amida’s home late at night in a village in Gwoza, Borno State, northeast Nigeria. Shielding his eyes with his hands from the torchlight saved his life. He shows me the mark in the centre of his forearm where the bullet aimed for his head went instead.

“All my friends were either killed or abducted,” he says. “I don’t try to forget what happened because it’s not possible; it’s with you even when it is not in your mind. The best thing is just to keep on living every day.”

After a broadly effective 18-month military campaign, Boko Haram remains a deadly yet waning force. Many communities once occupied by Boko Haram are now liberated. In Adamawa, just south of Borno, over 630,000 people previously displaced by Boko Haram have returned home.

With them, over 170,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) now live in camps, or – like John and his family – in host communities. He and his family live in a home vacated and lent to them by a local. All over Adamawa, IDPs live in homes shared with residents or given to them temporarily in exchange for help, crops or token sums of rent.

Adamawa is a serene, largely rural, mountainous state. Even deep into the dry season, driving through the roads that cut between its vast countryside, its land is incredibly scenic. But within local communities, in more rural, isolated villages north of the state’s capital, Yola, the picture is more complicated.

Gombi, a small town a few hours’ drive from Yola, was recaptured from Boko Haram in late 2014. Much of what was destroyed in the insurgency – shops and small businesses – have been rebuilt or replaced. The local government buildings have been largely restored. The impact is still visible but, according to locals, decreasingly so.

But in less urban areas, like in Garaha, a village in Adamawa, rebuilt homes sit next to broken, abandoned houses, churches, mosques and buildings blackened by the fires that damaged them. Local government officials say the damage across Adamawa by the insurgency has set the state’s development back by a decade. Funding for rebuilding the state, which local governments complain is insufficient, is concentrated on urban areas.

According to Chief Suleimanu, a traditional ruler in Garaha, mental health issues are widespread but few are financially able to access support. While some people have been able to move on, others are still dealing with the consequences.

“Many couples and families have separated,” he tells me, detailing how in some couples one partner feels attached to their home while the other can’t face returning, or feel there is little to return to.

“The same with the children, some of the young people have gone to bigger cities like Kano or Abuja because of a lack of opportunities.”

Many returnees, who left camps in Cameroon to come back to Adamawa, are from families who have lived in their villages for generations. Their ancestral roots anchor them to their homes because their farmland is their main source of income. Non-agriculture-based industries provide few jobs. For many people, fleeing their homes meant abandoning their livelihoods.

As of 2015, 52 per cent of people in Nigeria lived in rural areas. Their relative isolation is a blessing and a curse. Larger rural spaces provide them with adequate land to cultivate their crops – but it also leaves them exposed.

During Boko Haram attacks on Garaha through to early 2015, there was minimal protection from security forces who often take hours to arrive.

For many people living in rural Adamawa, life is getting harder and easier at the same time. Armed herdsmen, mainly from the Fulani ethnicity have become a greater threat across Nigeria, partly due to tensions between land ownership and cattle grazing.

According to locals, killings by herdsmen have increased this year. But villages are addressing their vulnerability. Armed vigilantes, some of which formed due to the lack of military protection against Boko Haram, are increasing. The police services are often too far away or too under-resourced to protect them. But some vigilantes now have more weapons and vehicles due to help from state services and locals. It is not an ideal solution but it has made places like Garaha safer.

With this new-found relative safety, villagers have begun farming again. With cash grants and donated tools from charities like Tearfund, it has been easier for thousands of people to begin cultivating land. In many villages there are small, lively recreation centres where young people play snooker and watch sport. Many of their places of worship have been rebuilt.

But the situation is grimmer in communities where such charities are not present.  Without resources, state or non-government help, rebuilding is a real challenge.

Adamawa is a state maxing on its credit of hospitality, relative safety and appreciation of agriculture. A recession in Nigeria and a severe food crisis in the northeast have added pressures on returnees and IDPs. Liberated communities will need more help and attention before they truly feel free.

Emmanuel Akinwotu is a journalist based between Lagos and London who writes about Africa, migration, and specialises in Nigeria.