Silabat Manaye is international relations professional based in Addis Ababa. His research interests include water politics, geopolitics in the Horn of Africa, and War Journalism. He authored two books on Nile geopolitics.

Hydro-diplomacy plays a crucial role in fostering cooperation and negotiation among countries sharing water resources. The recent completion of the 4th filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) by Ethiopia without significant impacts on downstream countries, Sudan and Egypt, indicates positive developments in hydro-diplomacy efforts. This article analyzes key points derived from the recent statements of the Ethiopian Government on the completion of the 4th filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the potential for increased cooperation in managing water resources in the Nile basin.

No Significant Impact on Water Volume

With the first four fillings of the GERD showing no effect on the Nile River’s flow towards Sudan and Egypt, Ethiopia’s cautious management of the dam’s operations becomes evident. This cautious approach indicates Ethiopia’s commitment to mitigating potential negative impacts on downstream countries and promoting a constructive hydro-diplomatic approach. By safeguarding the interests of neighboring countries, Ethiopia exhibits a willingness to cooperate and maintain the ecological balance and livelihoods of communities in Sudan and Egypt.

Reassurance of Good Intentions

The completion of the first four fillings serves as evidence of Ethiopia’s intentions to avoid causing significant harm to downstream countries. This accomplishment is crucial for building trust and fostering cooperation among riparian countries. By assuring Sudan and Egypt that the GERD operations will not cause significant harm to their livelihoods, Ethiopia aims to establish a foundation of trust and collaboration. This reassurance is a pivotal component of successful hydro diplomacy, highlighting Ethiopia’s commitment to addressing concerns and promoting cooperation.

Unwarranted Claims over the GERD

The completion of the first four fillings challenges Egypt’s exaggerated fears of a water shortage by emphasizing Ethiopia’s successful completion of the fourth filling. By demonstrating that these exaggerated concerns are unwarranted, Ethiopia aims to invalidate Egypt’s claims and reduce international support for these fears. Through dispelling misconceptions surrounding the GERD, Ethiopia strives to foster a more constructive and cooperative dialogue with Egypt and other riparian countries. Addressing misinterpretations is critical for advancing hydro diplomacy efforts and promoting understanding among all stakeholders.

GERD and Population Growth

The construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the Nile Basin has been a subject of intense debate and controversy. However, understanding the rationale behind the decision to build this massive hydropower dam requires a closer examination of the social and economic shifts within Ethiopia. In the past century, Egypt held a position of social and economic dominance within the Nile Basin, fueled by its rapid population growth. However, this balance began to change over time as Ethiopia witnessed a surge in population growth. According to recent data from the Worldometer (2022), the population of Ethiopia surpassed that of Egypt.

Ethiopia currently has a booming economically engaged population in need of energy, jobs, and economic possibilities as its population grows. Access to energy capacity has become a critical issue in Ethiopia’s ability to sustain growth and development. Despite Ethiopia’s expanding goals, the country’s inability to obtain adequate energy capacity has limited its economic potential.

As a result, Ethiopia’s government looked to a massive hydroelectric dam as a way to fulfill its energy needs while also fostering economic growth.

Survival also became a driving force behind the construction of the GERD. With a rapidly expanding population and limited resources, Ethiopia faced pressing questions regarding its long-term sustainability. Developing the GERD became a strategic response to secure a sustainable future for Ethiopia, ensuring access to water, energy, and economic opportunities.

Egypt’s Long-standing Hegemony over Nile

Egypt’s “water security” strategy is built on a fixation with the Nile River, with the goal of obstructing all avenues that could lead to an equitable distribution of the Nile’s waters. When any basin country lays out a strategy to utilize Nile water on its own territory, the Egyptians frequently respond with war threats and conflict-laden remarks. When requested to renegotiate the distribution of water in the basin, they set conditions by stating that colonial and postcolonial treaties are non-negotiable and that we can discuss anything else.

We believe that other riparian countries, like Egypt, have genuine ambitions to utilize the Nile’s waters. Ethiopia has already done so by launching and building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The contemporary geopolitical realities in the Nile Basin do not allow for the continuation of colonial-period agreements. Egypt’s hegemony over the Nile River Basin has been stuck in time.

GERD and Hydro-diplomacy

Ethiopia’s completion of the 4th filling of the GERD presents an opportunity to revitalize hydro-diplomacy in the region. By demonstrating its cautious approach and commitment to cooperation, Ethiopia is sending a clear message to Sudan, Egypt, and other riparian countries that it values their concerns and seeks a mutually beneficial solution. Rather than viewing the GERD as a threat, stakeholders should see it as an opportunity for collaboration in managing the Nile’s resources for the greater benefit of all.

Negotiations and collaboration should be based on principles of equity, fairness, and respect for the sovereignty of all riparian countries. A fresh start is needed to address historical grievances and move towards a more inclusive and sustainable water management system. The completion of the fourth filling should serve as a catalyst for renewed dialogue and trust-building among all involved parties.

The completion of the fourth filling of the GERD marks a significant achievement for Ethiopia. It showcases the country’s ability to construct and manage a mega dam while minimizing harm to downstream countries. Ethiopia’s cautious approach and commitment to addressing concerns demonstrate its willingness to promote hydro diplomacy and collaboration among riparian countries. By dispelling misconceptions and challenging colonial-era agreements, Ethiopia aims to foster a more inclusive and equitable water management system for the Nile River. The fourth filling presents an opportunity for all stakeholders to revitalize hydro diplomacy and work together towards a sustainable and mutually beneficial solution. The rationale behind the development of the GERD cannot be understood in isolation but must be viewed through the lens of social and economic shifts in the Nile Basin. As upstream states experience rapid population growth and the emergence of a new economically active population, the need for energy capacity becomes critical. The GERD is a deliberate step to address these needs, assure long-term growth and development for the basin’s states, and address Ethiopia’s survival issue.