Noble Peace Prize-winning Ethiopian PM 'threatens Egypt with war' over Nile dam

Noble Peace Prize-winning Ethiopian PM 'threatens Egypt with war' over Nile dam
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that his country was prepared for war with Egypt over the controversial Renaissance Dam, as Egyptian media also took a bellicose tone against Ethiopia.
3 min read
22 October, 2019
Abiy Ahmed said 'no force' could stop Ethiopia from building the Renaissance Dam [Getty]
Ethiopian prime minister, and winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Abiy Ahmed, threatened on Tuesday to fight a war over the controversial Renaissance Dam Ethiopia is seeking to build on the Nile.

Ethiopia has been involved in a long-running dispute with Egypt over the dam, which Egypt says could deprive its population of the freshwater its population needs to survive.

Speaking at the Ethiopian parliament, Ahmed said that his country was prepared to mobilise one million people to defend the dam. "No force can stop Ethiopia from building the dam," he added.

Talks with Egypt collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is around 70 percent complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia's 100 million people.

Read more: Sisi faces backlash over breakdown of dam negotiations

But Egypt, with a population of around the same size, fears that the process of filling the reservoir behind the dam could slice into its share of the river, with catastrophic consequences. Pro-government Egyptian media have cast it as a national security threat that could warrant military action, echoing the Ethiopian prime minister's warning.

Abdallah el-Senawy, a prominent columnist for the daily newspaper el-Shorouk, said the only alternatives were internationalising the dispute or taking military action.

"Egypt is not a small county," he wrote in a Sunday column. "If all diplomatic and legal options fail, a military intervention might be obligatory."

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Anwar el-Hawary, the former editor of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, compared the dispute to the 1973 war, in which Egypt launched a surprise attack into the Sinai Peninsula to regain territory previously captured by Israel.

"If we fought to liberate Sinai, it is logical to fight to liberate the water," he wrote on Facebook. "The danger is the same in the two cases. War is the last response."

Dwindling options

The latest breakdown in talks with Ethiopia over its construction of a massive upstream Nile dam has left Egypt with dwindling options as it seeks to protect the main source of freshwater for its large and growing population.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Prime Minister Ahmed are due to meet on Wednesday on the sidelines of a Russian-African summit in the Russian city of Sochi.

The two leaders are expected to discuss studies regarding the negative economic and social effects Egypt will likely suffer as a result of the building of the dam.

Ethiopia insists on filling the dam in four years, a proposal Egypt has rejected, saying it will cause unprecedented drought. Egypt says that Ethiopia should fill the dam at a slower pace, completing the process in seven years.

The Nile supplies more than 90 percent of Egypt's freshwater. Egyptians already have one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, at around 570 cubic meters per year, compared to a global average of 1,000.

Ethiopians however have an average of 125 cubic meters per year.

Egypt wants to guarantee a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the Blue Nile. An Egyptian Irrigation Ministry official who spoke to Associated Press said anything less could affect Egypt's own massive Aswan High Dam, with dire economic consequences.

"It could put millions of farmers out of work. We might lose more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion annually, as well as $300 million worth of electricity," he said.

Speaking at the UN last month, Sisi said he would "never" allow Ethiopia to impose a "de facto situation" by filling the dam without an agreement.

"While we acknowledge Ethiopia's right to development, the water of the Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt," he said.

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