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Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam-Geopolitical Tension Escalates the Potential for a War in Horn of Africa

Authors: David Monyae and Ekeminiabasi Eyita-Okon

Affiliations: Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg

Organisation/Publisher: All Africa

Date/Place: March 23, 2021/USA

Type of Literature: Commentary 

Word Count: 2600


Keywords: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Water War, GERD, Geopolitics


The ongoing and recurrent geopolitical tensions that often manifest in disputes over border areas,  transboundary river water resource allocation, and cross-border migrations in the Horn of Africa originate from the colonial scramble for East Africa between imperial powers -Britain, Italy, France, and Ethiopia. Central to today’s geopolitical tension in the region emanates from the tripartite crisis between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over the latter’s controversial Dam project called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the River Nile in Ethiopia. Threatened by the potential effects of the project on the volume of waters that flow to downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan have been cautious of Ethiopia’s project since its inauguration in 2011. As a result, both downstream countries have sought Ethiopia to enter into a binding legal agreement regarding the conditions of safety, operation, and filling of the dam to secure the regular flow of Nile river water—a request that Ethiopia has rejected. Moreover, the controversies over the dam triggered by long-time border disputes between Sudan and Ethiopia, when the latter entered the war with itself in Tigray, has created a condition that increases Sudan’s bargaining power as the latter can provide logistic facilities to combatants in Northern Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Ethiopia has announced its preparation for the second phase—filling of the dam this summer. Egypt and Sudan have been warning Ethiopia to revise its unilateral decision to fill the dam without agreements among riparian states on the governance to which Ethiopia said no. Egypt and Sudan have retorted to Ethiopia’s stand by signing a military pact and conducting joint military training, including in the border areas with Ethiopia, to signify the risks of a full-blown armed conflict with multiple actors. The condition is complicated by the geopolitical rivalries between global and regional powers including the US and China, EU and Gulf states, Turkey, and Israel, all of which have pursued geopolitical interests in the area and are competing for geo-strategic, economic, military influences in the sub-region. Thus, it is time for the continental organisation, African Union (AU) to intervene before too late in this tripartite crisis between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to avert this conflict before it turns into large-scale confrontations.


By: Jemal Muhamed, CIGA Research Associate



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