AFRICANGLOBE – As rhetorical battles raged last month, with analysts providing doomsday forecasts of an imminent water war, it was hightime someone poured a few gallons of realism on the Egypt-Ethiopia River Nile affair.
As pressure from local opposition mounted in June, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi sought to hit on a useful nationalist diversion in defending the sacred Nile.
The now ousted Morsi’s foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, said he would not surrender “a single drop” in negotiation over Ethiopia’s $4.2bn Grand Renaissance Dam.
But Ethiopia’s energy minister, Alemayehu Tegenu, insisted it will take five to six years to fill the dam, stretching it out so that it will have minimal effects on Egypt and Sudan.
A negotiating team, including Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, commissioned an independent panel to assess the effects of the dam on the Nile.
After a year of research, it concluded that the dam would not significantly affect Egypt or Sudan.
Television viewers were left in no doubt in early June about Egyptian politicians’ views.
A supposedly secret meeting in President Morsi’s office with top politicians was broadcast live – by mistake according to Morsi’s cabinet director.
Those in attendance quickly reached agreement on the need to stop Ethiopia’s dam.
They discussed tactics ranging from backing rebel movements, sending the air force on flyovers or even a bombing campaign.
The Ethiopian government immediately issued a protest to the United Nations Security Council. It was the second alarm over the dam this year.
In February, a comment by Saudi Arabia’s deputy defence minister, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, at the Arab Water Council in Cairo, had also sparked a row.
“There are fingers messing with water resources of Sudan and Egypt which are rooted in the mind and body of Ethiopia. They do not forsake any opportunity to harm Arabs,” Khalid bin Sultan said.
That outburst prompted Ethiopia’s foreign ministry to call in Riyadh’s ambassador to Addis Ababa, who proffered a quick disavowal from King Abdullah.
In April, King Abdullah replaced Prince Khalid with Prince Fahd bin Abdullah.
The Saudi reaction might suggest the delicacy of the Nile waters issue at a time of otherwise strong African-Arab relations.
Even the oil-rich Middle East doesn’t want to be squeezed out of Africa’s rising economies.
It might also have helped that one of the biggest investors in Ethiopia is the multi-billionaire Mohammed Al Amoudi, who has joint Saudi-Ethiopian citizenship.
Or it may mean both sides are still shadow boxing in the great fight for the Nile.