- M. AL-MUAID ALI, African Strategic Analyst
Egyptian Air Force fighter jets recently landed at the Merowe Air Force Base in the northern state in the country of Sudan for the training exercise dubbed “Nile Eagles 2”.
At a glance, such an exercise may seem almost normal to some observers; after all, military cooperation is only one of many fields in which two neighboring nations may cooperate on, security cooperation isn’t unheard of, as it occurs even amongst allies which may be geographically, thousands of kilometers apart, let alone sharing borders.
Most media reporting on this exercise was relegated to the sidelines, and most have either ignored or have failed to address the elephant in the room.
As mentioned, at a glance the exercise may seem relatively normal, but with the geopolitical context of the Nile basin region, the message conveyed by the exercise becomes far more ominous. To further clarify, in the recent years, Ethiopia completed one of its biggest hydro electrical projects, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a massive US$4.8 billion-project, capable of generating 16 thousand GWh annually, enough to cover the power consumption needs of 234 million Ethiopians, in a country of 109 million, not only covering the energy need of every Ethiopian, but creating a massive energy surplus that can be exported to neighboring countries like Djibouti, Tanzania, Sudan, and many others, creating up to $1 billion of revenue annually.
“Egypt is severely water scarce”
The reservoir is capable of holding 74 billion cubic meters of water, far more than the annual flow of the
Blue Nile, which amounts to 48 billion cubic meters annually, and therein lies the main point of contention for the countries upstream, in particular, the Arab Republic of Egypt.
With a water supply of 570 cubic meters per person per year, Egypt is considered severely water scarce, facing an annual deficit of around 7 billion cubic meters, and relies heavily on the Nile for the water needs of both its population, and agriculture.
The schedule for filling of the dam can greatly alter the flow of the Nile and, in turn, Egypt’s water supply, and for a country as water scarce as Egypt, such prospect can have serious implications, as filling the time in a short amount of time can severely restrict the flow of the Nile, placing the nation that is so reliant on the Nile under the threat of severe water shortages.
Another less prominent party in this conflict, who is undoubtedly less affected by the dam, but still maintaining a horse in this race, is the Republic of Sudan, which, while not as threatened by water shortages as its neighboring Egypt, can still find itself in a less than favorable position if Ethiopia acts unilaterally.
Despite the threat of water shortages being less prominent for Sudan at first glance, as the country doesn’t consume its yearly mandated share of the water of the Nile, as per international treaties, the situation in reality is far more complex, as the decreased flow from the Blue Nile would present major complications to the Hydroelectric power generation infrastructure, something that could be considered invaluable to a country already facing severe power outages due to shortages.
With all of this in mind, and with the ongoing trilateral negotiations between the three countries having broken down recently, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the military option is not off the table, especially for Egypt, a country whom the dam represents an existential threat.
Military option in the table?
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a major investment by Ethiopia and, once fully operational, would enable Ethiopia to enter a period of economic growth that can be truly described as renaissance, and the Ethiopian government wants to see a return on this investment as soon as possible, but all action taken by the Ethiopian government will have consequences on the countries downstream.
This exercise, “Nile Eagles 2”, goes beyond the usual bounds of bi-lateral military cooperation; it sends a
clear message that the military option is not off the table for Egypt, if all options are exhausted, and that
there is enough political will to carry out such options.
Ethiopia has long pre-emptively anticipated such action, and has already moved air defense batteries into the area surrounding the dam, although it is to be said that this event has occurred before this exercise was announced.
With the threat of conflict in the region growing each day, the situation is becoming more dire as diplomatic efforts are failing, and with posturing growing, one only has to pray that conflict can be avoided, such conflict will benefit no one, and will leave nothing but destruction, and lost lives, we pray that the cooler heads prevail, and that the issue can be resolved through diplomacy and mutual understanding. (/)
The opinion and views expressed in this piece are solely the author’s and not reflect those of SDN.
Featured image of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam courtesy and thanks to Agazi Tekle via Wikipedia.