Ethiopia, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, has poured its resources into a slew of megaprojects in recent years, including dams, factories, roads and railways across the country.
But its strong, state-driven approach has been criticized for displacing rural communities, elbowing out private investors and muzzling political dissent. The Renaissance Dam, its biggest project, has met with resistance even outside Ethiopia’s borders, setting off a heated diplomatic battle with Egypt that, at one point, led to threats of war.
From the very beginning, this relentless drive has put Ethiopia at odds with Egypt. The Renaissance Dam is on the Blue Nile, a tributary that contributes most of the water flowing into the Nile River, heightening concerns that it could threaten Egypt’s most vital natural resource. Fears of armed conflict surfaced during the brief tenure of Egypt’s former president, Mohamed Morsi, who said last year that “Egyptian blood” would substitute for every drop of lost water.
But under Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the icy relationship between the two countries has begun to thaw. Ethiopia’s prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, and Mr. Sisi had a cordial first meeting in June, and water ministers from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan met for renewed discussions in late August. Egypt’s new foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, set a diplomatic tone during a visit last month to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, declaring “a new phase of our relationship based on mutual understanding, mutual respect and a recognition that the Nile binds us.”
A smaller dam nearing completion in southern Ethiopia could threaten ecosystems affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Huge land leases to foreign commercial farms have displaced communities and left tens of thousands of acres uncultivated.
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Building the vast reservoir needed to generate maximum power, on the other hand, poses some risks to Egypt and Sudan, as it will temporarily lessen the flow downstream.
Ethiopian media said that the country's government finished plans to establish a second main dam on the Nile, irrespective of the rising tensions with Egyptian authorities.
“Members of the left-wing of Ethiopia's ruling party are accusing the US of disturbing the balance in the region by supplying Egypt with F16 jets, as well as millions of dollars in military aid, which gave Egypt the courage to pressure the rest of the Nile Basin countries,” the Somalian Sun reported according to Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“There’s no need to acquire Egypt’s approval for establishing any dams in Ethiopia since Egypt previously established the High Dam without Ethiopia’s approval,” the newspaper added.