Oduu Haaraya

“Who Owns the Waters of the Nile? Reflections on the Conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt over the Ethiopian Grand Dam”

(A note from an international conference)



“Who Owns the Waters of the Nile?” – Oromo scholars raise critical questions regarding the waters of the Nile on Nordic African Days 2014 held in Uppsala, Sweden

Two Oromo scholars, Professor Mekuria Bulcha1 and Dr. Techane Bosona2, have participated in the Nordic African Days 2014 Conference held on 26-27 September in Uppsala (Sweden), and have discussed both the open and hidden conflicts over the waters of the Nile. Their paper titled “Who Owns the Waters of the Nile? Reflections on the Conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt over the Ethiopian Grand Dam” was presented on the Panel – The Horn of Africa in Quest for Harmonious Coexistence of State and Society. In their joint paper, the two Oromo scholars raise both interstate and intrastate (hidden) conflicts over the waters of the Nile. They argue that although the threat of the Abyssinian kings to stop the flow of the Blue Nile to Egypt was mere bluff in the past, today it is becoming real through the construction of the Ethiopian Grand Dam. The Ethiopian authorities say that they have sovereign rights over the waters that originate in their territory and will build the dam as planned. On their part, the Egyptians are threatening Ethiopia saying that they will defend their “rights” by any means. Describing statistically the great decrease in the volume of the flows of the Nile in tandem with a great demographic increase in the Nile River Basin the authors predict exacerbated conflict over access to fresh water in the future. Intrigued by the manner in which the two states are articulating their “rights” and claims over the Nile waters, they ask the question: “Who Owns the Waters of the Nile?” Pointing out that 86% of the waters of the Nile that reaches Egypt originates from Ethiopia, and that about 60% of that (86%) is from Oromia which is the actual “water-tower” of northeast Africa in general, these scholars raise the question whether the indigenous peoples such as the Oromo, the Gumuz and the Anuak have any rights over the Nile waters or not. They also question whether the claims of the two states are based on moral or legal precepts and argue that treaties which do not take into account the rights and interests of the indigenous peoples of the Upper Nile River Basin are bound to exacerbate interstate animosities and intensify the unacknowledged intrastate conflicts particularly in Ethiopia.

The authors describe the causes and extent of the accelerated destruction of forests and wetlands in Oromia, Benishangul and Gambella, and analyze the threat which it poses in terms of regional food and water security in general, and argue that this is at least as alarming as the ongoing construction of the Grand Dam. They also raise and analyze intrastate conflicts over access to water and land, particularly as consequences of land grabbing, which they say, are neglected in both academic and political discussions. Describing the ongoing conflict between the Oromo people and the Ethiopian state, and analyzing the 2014 mass massacre perpetrated by the Ethiopian security forces on Oromo students who participated in peaceful protests against land and water grabbing, displacement and environmental destruction as an example, they point out that, in general, the threat posed by intrastate conflicts could be greater compared to the interstate hostility between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Grand Dam.

The paper has attracted the attention of many scholars, human rights’ activists and international journals. For example, COSPE (an NGO based in Italy and working in the fields of development and human rights in 30 countries around the world), Journal International Relations and Diplomacy, and Journal of US-China Public Administration (both based in New York, USA) have sent formal requests to publish and disseminate the paper mentioning the fact that the issues raised during presentation are very important from both academic point of view and activism to raise awareness among civil society.

The Nordic Africa Days (NAD) is the biennial conference and is organized in the Nordic countries in rotation. The theme of this year’s conference was “Misbehaving States and Behaving Citizens? Questions of Governance in African States.” The conference was structured into 29 panels and about 167 papers were presented. The two distinguished keynote speakers were Dr. Mo Ibrahim of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Professor Morten Jerven of the University of Vancouver, Canada, addressing the theme from different angles in their speeches entitled “Why Governance Matters” and “Africa by Numbers: Knowledge & Governance” respectively. More than 240 academicians and professionals have participated from all over the world and about 25 participants were researchers from universities and research institutions in Africa.


Professor Mekuria Bulcha is a historical and political sociologist and author of many widely read books and articles. He can be reached at Mekuria.Bulcha@mdh.se or mekuriabulcha@gmail.com

Dr. Techane Bosona has a PhD in Logistics Engineering and Management from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala, Sweden. His scientific articles on logistics of food, agriculture and water resources management are available online at ScienceDirect (Journal of Biosystems engineering, Journal of food control)  and Scientific Research portals. He is a former Chief Engineer of Oromia Water Works and currently a researcher at SLU University. He can be reached at Techane.Bosona@slu.se or tg.bosona@live.se



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