Ethiopia, Egypt and The Abay River

January 26, 2021

The Abay river tumbles out of the Ethiopian highlands from its source in Lake Tana and embarks on an 800km journey through a deep gorge as large as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River until it makes a sharp western turn and meets the White Nile near Khartoum, Sudan.

Ethiopia is constructing a hydroelectirc dam on this river (called Abay in Ethiopia) at the edge of its western border with Sudan. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) broke ground in 2011 and is now nearing completion.

This project has been fully financed by the Ethiopian public and has cemented itself as a monument of national pride for the country.

Abay River Originating From Lake Tana

Egypt, a downstream consumer of the Nile river has opposed the construction of this dam from the beginning. Nonetheless, that didn't stop Ethiopia from breaking ground on the project nearly a decade ago.

The dam is now at the final stages of completion and these two countries are at a crossroads again about the filling and operation of the dam. 

Egypt contends that the filling of this dam will reduce its current flow of the Nile waters. Ethiopia argues that it has the right to fully utilize waters of the Abay river which originates in its country in Lake Tana.

Furthermore, Ethiopia believes that it has already accommodated Egypt's concerns by agreeing to fill this dam over a prolonged course of three to seven years. 

The moral, historical, economic, and legal dimensions of this dispute collectively make it one of the most interesting and important geopolitical issues of the 21st century and a harbinger of other climate and resource related conflicts to come.

Arriving at a long-term solution to this dispute is crucial to the development of both these countries and Africa's economic future. This essay is a four part series that seeks to understand this issue from these four dimensions. Each section is self-contained and may be read independently or from start to finish.

Table of Contents

Whose Water is It Anyway?
Brief History of Ethiopia, Egypt and the Abay River
Economic Growth and the Abay River
International Law and the Abay River

(The above sections are forthcoming)

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