Ethiopia's Dam Dispute Could Escalate

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in 2015 signed an agreement in Khartoum to resolve differences between the three countries. The deal was signed so that technical impact studies on the dam could be carried out.

Continued negotiations failed in 2017, but resumed in 2018. There had not been much progress between then and 2021, when the African Union stepped in. 

However, talks sponsored by the AU in April 2021 — which the bloc had hoped would result in a deal — also failed, resulting in the process being suspended.  

Negotiations resumed in August 2023 after Egypt and Ethiopia said in July that they hoped to reach a deal within four months.

Colonial era treaties

The conflict over the dam has some colonial era undertones dating as far back as between 1882 and 1956.

During the colonial days and especially in the early 20th century, there was this agreement that was signed between the colonial masters,” Owusu said, specifically when Egypt was occupied by Britain.

That agreement covered former colonies in eastern Africa, including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, all of whom who all depend on the Nile.

Owusu said that the deal had been signed to prevent any hindrance to the flow of the river.

Egypt and Sudan want the rights maintained — but Ethiopia rejects that idea. 

Owusu said that the colonial-era treaties have led to the current impasse because Ethiopia wasn’t part of the agreement.

So, it is not as simple matter of somebody building a dam in this country. And it’s not a simple matter of you threatening that somebody shouldn’t let them,” he explained.

It is all about the technicalities, which are very complex because … Ethiopia has no signature or has not signed any document.”

Resolving the Conflict
There have been several unsuccessful attempts at resolving the conflict. And Owusu blamed the entrenched positions held by the parties.

Owusu said bodies like the AU have challenges when it comes to resolving the crisis.

The African Union doesn’t have sovereignty,” Owusu said, adding that the bloc is only as effective as the domestic environment in which it operates.

The parties to the conflict will have to make concessions to reach an agreement, Owusu highlighted, the absence of which he said would prolong the conflict.

The most consequential outcome would be a bilateral agreement or bilateral dialogue,” he added.

The United Nations, the US and China can exert some influence to resolve the conflict, but Owusu urged the countries involved in the conflict to show maturity.

They will have to agree that, well, this is how we can talk about it. You may fill it [the dam] to this level so that we can also get what we need. There’s always a solution to anything of this nature,” he said.

Isaac Kaledzi is a freelance reporter based in Accra, Ghana. This article was edited by Keith Walker, and it is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).