A Letter To Ethiopia


Ethiopia’s Meklit Berihun wrote a letter in the Africa Report “Dear Egypt’,  regarding the Ethiopian Dam crisis, In response, I wrote a rebuttal in the same outlet, highlighting the risks of the dam on Egypt, “Dear Ethiopia”



Aftica Report photo


Dear Ethiopia,

Thank you for your letter.

The fate of our two countries has been linked since ancient times, as described in Herodotus’s book An Account of Egypt, Egypt is the “gift of the Nile,” “it has soil which is black and easily breaks up, seeing that it is in truth mud and silt brought down from Ethiopia by the river.”

It is sad you question Egypt’s African identity. It may sound surprising to you, but the vast majority of Egyptians are proud Africans. In 1990, my entire family was glued to the television, showing our support for Cameroon against England, in the World Cup. Last year, Egypt hosted the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.  Many Egyptians supported Senegal and Nigeria, who played Arab teams, in the final rounds because we see ourselves as Africans.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that you — our African brothers — appreciate the potential disastrous impacts of your Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) on our livelihood in Egypt.

Two factors, geography and climate, can neither can be disputed nor dismissed. The Nile basin in Egypt is mostly rainless, while its southern parts and the highlands of Ethiopia experience heavy rains.

As Prof Khaled Abu Zeid wrote, there is a vast difference in natural climatic conditions between upstream and downstream in the Nile Basin. Egypt’s annual renewable water resources provide about 570 m3 per person per year, which is below the water scarcity limit of 1000 cubic meter per person per year. On the other hand, Ethiopia’s renewable water resources provide about 8100 m3 per person per year.

Therefore, I find it astonishing that you compare your GERD project with our High Aswan Dam, missing the stark reality that our High Aswan Dam did not affect any other country. When we built it, we sought to optimise the use of its water without reducing the water share in any other country. Can you say the same about GERD?

How can you celebrate your GERD project, knowing you are denying millions of innocent Egyptian children access to water and potentially exposing them to thirst and even death during severe droughts?

You mentioned colonialism, asking, “How can we hold on to something whose origins — colonisation — you so despised?” The worst example of colonialism is when one power controls and denies others their basic water rights.

It is striking that Ethiopia is expecting Egypt to “share carrying the burden that [Ethiopia believes] it has done for thousands of years.” Ethiopia, a home of 20 lakes, yet you have the nerve to dictate to Egypt how it should use its only source of water: the Nile River.

Ethiopia’s economic grievances are mostly the legacy of decades of authoritarianism, not those of Egypt. The genocidal regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam was responsible for an estimated 1,200,000 to more than 2,000,000 Ethiopian deaths.

Shifting the debate to Egypt’s military budget and our “informal economy” will not help build trust or good relations between our countries. Neither our informal economy nor our military budget can be converted to cubic meters of extra water supplies.

Egypt adapted to our harsh water conditions for years. Furthermore, Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation established a National Water Resource Plan in 2017 with the aim of safeguarding and optimising our water resources.

It is funny that you mentioned mosques. Perhaps you are not aware that, last year, our Ministry of Military Production collaborated with the Religious Endowment Ministry to fit all our mosques with water-saving tapes.  The Egyptian government also has plans to increase desalinization and recycle sewage water and line canals. It has already started enforcing restrictions on planting water-intensive commodities, like rice, but all those efforts are not enough to offset the GERD reservoir’s filling period.

It is cheap populism to dwell on past colonialism and ignore the course of the present negotiations. For years, Egypt negotiated with Ethiopia in good faith, with the hopes of reaching a fair deal on GERD that serves the interests of both countries.

But as Ezzat Ibrahim wrote, the brazenness with which the Ethiopian proposal aimed to jettison all agreements and understandings that the three parties (i.e., Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia) had previously reached over the course of their negotiations, which have dragged on for almost a full decade, is surprising. This includes the understandings reached during the negotiating rounds brokered by Washington and attended by the World Bank.

My dear Ethiopia, the Nile for Egypt is a matter of life and death. Is it too much for Egypt that hosts 20% of the Nile Basin countries’ population, with 97% of its land as desert, to benefit from only 3 % of the Nile Basin’s rainfall, as Prof Khaled Abu Zeid asked?

The essence of “truth, balance, order, and justice” is on Egypt’s side in the dispute over your GERD. Water hegemony will not benefit Ethiopia. Ethiopia has other water sources besides the Nile; we Egyptians don’t.

Egypt maintains that an agreement can be achieved, but that it “has to be negotiated in good faith.” Our water security is neither a political game nor an economic one, but a basic human right that we cannot abandon. Your well-being cannot be built on the sufferings of our children.

With love,

An Egyptian


About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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