major drama is building in northeast Africa, among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, as Ethiopia nears completion of work on a large new dam on the Nile River.
Part of the Nile, known as the White Nile, rises in the mountains of Burundi, far south of Egypt in Africa. The Nile eventually pours into the Mediterranean Sea in the north of Egypt. The river has served as the stem of civilizations, dating from thousands of years ago. Its waters are absolutely critical to Egypt, upon which that country’s agriculture, electric power and internal transport are heavily dependent. Without its waters, more Egyptians would starve than do already.
Ethiopia has been building for years the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam at its border with Sudan. It’s on what is called the Blue Nile, the river’s other major tributary. The Blue Nile accounts for some 85 percent of the water flowing into the main Nile. Ethiopia is at the point of filling the huge reservoir behind the dam, already, in Egypt’s eyes, putting Egypt’s Nile waters at risk.
Egypt’s complaint is that the Ethiopians have built the dam without, or with insufficient, consultation with it, as to its impact on Egypt. Egypt itself built the massive Aswan Dam, with financing help from the Soviet Union, completing it in 1970.
Sudan, a very dry country, is happy enough with the new Ethiopian dam, which will make irrigation and thus cultivation in it much more feasible than before, attracting investment, increasing food supplies and bringing other benefits.
The United States does not have a dog in the fight, except that it has relatively decent relations with both Egypt and Ethiopia, would not like to see them descend into warfare with each other, and hopes that trouble over the dam will not generate one more war in northeast Africa. There already continues in that region, with American military involvement, the long war between different elements in Somalia, bordering on Ethiopia. The trouble in Somalia started in 1991, and matters there are no better now than they were when the United States first put troops into the conflict in 1992. That war also serves as the justification for the United States maintaining 4,000 troops, jet fighter-bombers and drones in neighboring Djibouti, the former French Somaliland, an expensive U.S. overseas presence.
What needs to be done is increased, improved communication and consultation among Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over the new dam. All three need the Nile water badly and it can probably be divided in such a way that all three can profit from it. Ethiopia and Egypt hissing at each other serves no purpose. Both countries are heavily armed.
If the U.S. had an active diplomacy to pursue, it could play a useful role in seeking to resolve this problem. No American government would like to sit down at a table with Sudan, given the problems associated with its regime, but the Nile issue is easily important enough to justify Sudan’s necessary inclusion in talks. They could also serve as a forum to seek to resolve some of America’s other problems with Sudan, including Darfur and the civil war in independent South Sudan.
With the Ethiopian dam issue heating up, it could be a good moment for America to step up to the plate to help resolve a serious problem over water, increasingly the basis for major problems in the world.
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