From Hostility to Cooperation: how Ethiopia and Egypt can serve future generations

19 mins read

Aklog Birara (Dr)

The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” — Albert Einstein

Dr. Aklog Birara former Sr. Advisor at World Bank,, Commentator at Center for Inclusive Development (ABRAW) and a regular contributor to

In the global debate on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that, among others, the Ethiopian poor are financing for the sole purpose of alleviating poverty, very little is said about climate change, the degradation of the ecosystem and sustainability. The devastating effects of soil erosion and degradation, the cutting of trees and bushes for fuel and other essentials, claims on lands for farming in response to increased population growth etc. have huge impact on the entire ecosystem. In turn, this has adverse impact on rainfalls and rivers, including the long-term viability of the River Nile, 86 percent of the waters of which come from Ethiopia. Doing nothing to mitigate the damage from climate change and increased population is not an option. Neglect is irresponsible and endangers the entire Nile River on which numerous countries depend.

While I understand fully the contentious and acrimonious debates and negotiations on the GERD, the global community misses a critical component that should also be addressed, namely, the need for addressing the entire ecosystem and the massive investment that is required. Here, I commend the Government of Ethiopia for its bold and innovative initiate of planning billions of trees each winter. It is not because Ethiopia possesses the budgetary means to plant billions of trees. Rather, it is because Ethiopians expend their free labor in order to sustain their natural resources and restore their environment for the wellbeing of their people.

The parallel I should like to draw to the global community in general and to donors in particular is this. Ethiopians from all walks of life, from shoe shiners to millionaires resolved to finance the multi-billion-dollar hydropower project, namely, the GERD on their own. Here, I should like to record for eternity that donors such as the World Bank that purport to support poverty alleviation projects refused to finance dams in Ethiopia. Why? Because they did not want to upset their relations with Egypt, the Arab World and the powers that control multilateral institutions. I argue here that, by taking political sides, donor and financing institutions will face moral hazard.

This same determination to be self-reliant and self-sufficient compelled Ethiopians to initiate a greening revolution without donor support. At minimum, the UN should recognize Ethiopia’s remarkable contribution to mitigate climate change.

Upon completion, the GERD project has the potential to supply electricity to countries in the Horn and Eastern Africa, Egypt and the Sudan and far beyond. It will serve as a boon to the African grid. Sudan will benefit hugely by expanding its irrigable lands multifold.  Loss from evaporation of Nile waters will decrease, etc., etc., etc. These huge benefits are deliberately unappreciated and underreported by the Egyptian and by the further Arab world media.

It is time to recognize Ethiopia

The same is true with regard to Ethiopia’s huge investments in restoring the ecosystem by planting trees. The long-term beneficiaries of tree planting and other restoration initiatives in Ethiopia are not only of value to Ethiopians; but also, to all riparian nations including Egypt and the Sudan. Here, I should note that 90 percent of Ethiopia’s Rivers cross boundaries.

Accordingly, Ethiopia’s efforts at restoration of the ecosystem have substantial positive and lasting impacts on its neighbors. Can donors and the global media recognize this impressive contribution by Ethiopia that also mitigates climate change?

Should the global community, especially the Government of the United States and the World Bank not apply their leverage on Egypt such that it moves from its current position of hegemony over the Nile to that of cooperation for equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile River; and on shared investment to restore the ecosystem?

Read Aloud:   Western JournaLIEsm and Ethiopia: How Susan Rice, Antony Blinken and the Corporate Media Spread Disinformation Against Ethiopia

This overarching theme leads me to the GERD and the important next steps that I believe all Ethiopians and the rest of the global community must recognize.

First and foremost, Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia, the rest of Nile River riparian nations as well as the world community must acknowledge and accept the principle that there is adequate water on the River Nile that will meet the current needs of all riparian nations. Greed is not the answer.

  • However, and as I noted in the previous paragraphs, upstream and downstream nations must do their best to restore the ecosystem; share the burden of investments in restoration and reduce waste.

Second, Egypt, the Sudan and their external supporters, especially Arab nations, the Government of the United States and the World Bank that stood with Egypt during the tripartite negotiations must recognize and accept the principle that Ethiopia’s portion of the Blue Nile that supplies 86 percent of Nile waters is available to the Ethiopian people only for 3-4 months each and every year.

  • For 8 to 9 months each and every year, millions of Ethiopians suffer from inadequate water or no water at all. Girls and women travel for miles to fetch water.


  • Egyptians have water options, huge storages and constant flow from the Nile; potential for massive desalination and huge untapped aquifers estimated to last at least 500 years.


  • Egypt squanders huge quantities of waters and literally exports waters by diverting Nile waters and utilizing it to irrigate deserts and export foods.


  • Huge vested investments in irrigated farm land by Saudi and Emirate billionaires prevent them from injecting an ounce of objectivity concerning GERD negotiations. They need to be fair, impartial and objective. In the long-term, a prosperous and wealthy Ethiopia will be a boon for their own national economies. A poor and conflict-ridden Ethiopia will not serve them at all. A conflict-ridden Ethiopia will not serve global security.


  • Egyptian society and the rest of the world must recognize the notion that, although the country is labeled as a water tower; an estimated 75 percent of Ethiopia’s land mass is categorized as extremely dry; Ethiopians who reside in these dry areas deserve reasonable access to Blue Nile Waters that originates in their own homeland. It is simply unfair and unjust to deny them the right to live by utilizing their own waters. No Ethiopian government worthy of its name can afford to deny them this right. Egyptians have alternatives while millions of Ethiopians have none.


  • Egyptian society must accept the notion that Egypt’s proxy wars against Ethiopia will only strengthen anti-Egyptian sentiments. In the long-term, this policy will be detrimental to equitable and fair distribution of Nile waters.


Third, Egypt must appreciate and recognize the irreversible trend that the colonial past does not govern or apply to the 21st century. The UN system has adopted water conventions that underpin the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of water resources shared by transboundary river nations. The Nile River lacks such governance that the Nile Basin Initiative that the World Bank and the UNDP supported and that numerous riparian African nations adopted in the form of the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework, 2010, signed and ratified by Ethiopia among others. This is foundational document to start with; and to arrive at a 21st century Nile Waters Agreement.

  • Article 4 on Equitable and Reasonable Utilization provides guidance for signatory nations.
  • Among others, it states that “Nile Basin States shall in their respective territories utilize the water resources of the Nile River system and the Nile River Basin in an equitable and reasonable manner. In particular, those water resources shall be used and developed by Nile Basin States with a view to attaining optimal and sustainable utilization thereof and benefits therefrom, taking into account the interests of the Basin States concerned, consistent with adequate protection of those water resources. Each Basin State is entitled to an equitable and reasonable share in the beneficial uses of the water resources of the Nile River system and the Nile River Basin.”
  • It is this principle that Ethiopia has adhered to and is implementing within its own or “respective territory.”
  • The good news is that this principle is also consistent with norms and principles that have guided other nations such as the USA, Turkey, China, India and others.
  • Ethiopia has an obligation to serve its own huge population; possesses the legal means; has sovereign rights to harness waters within its own territories; has at its disposal the means to construct more dams in order to feed its increasing population; and to provide sufficient energy to propel manufacturing and industrialization.
  • This proposal is consistent with the UN sanctioned and supported Sustainable Development Goals. It will enable Ethiopia to eradicate poverty and to join the family of middle-income nations by 2030. Is this not what the world also wants?
Read Aloud:   The Ethiopians and their recent history. By Yilma Bekele

Fourth, until recently, Ethiopian civil society and political leaders have neglected to challenge Egyptian government policy on non-reciprocity in their total disregard of Ethiopia’s societal needs. What upsets and angers me to no end is also the tendency of Egypt’s supporters and the global media to implicitly disregard and ignore the disastrous and inhumane quality of life of tens of millions of Ethiopians; and to designate these episodes as secondary or tertiary in the debate over Nile waters. These millions are human beings worthy of consideration too.

  • I have not found a single Ethiopian who does not believe that Ethiopia and the rest of Nile riparian nations should not share Nile waters with Egypt or with the Sudan or both.
  • Missing in the argument of Egypt’s supporters for Egyptian hegemony over the Nile is not only shared responsibility; but equally, the legitimacy of compensation by Egypt for total hegemony and use of the Nile since Pharaonic times. There is increasing shout out among Ethiopians who feel strongly and passionately that Egypt should be asked to compensate Ethiopia for its proxy wars too.
  • Mind you that hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian children, men and women perished during drought induced famines numerous times in the past. How just and fair is that?
  • These Ethiopians perished under a Nile River Agreement that granted Egypt and the Sudan 100 percent of Nile waters while Ethiopian and the rest of Black African riparian nations were allocated nothing. It is unreasonable and intolerable for this hegemony that punishes Black Africans to continue.
  • As I stated under principle three above, Ethiopia’s refusal to reject this unfair and unjust supremacy must be respected and honored by the global community and by the peoples of Egypt and the Sudan.
  • The Ethiopian people have no intention to harm the people of Egypt and their brotherly neighbors in the Sudan. This is why a fair and just deal becomes vital.
  • Egypt must abandon its sabre rattling and proxy wars immediately and for good. Instead, it must be willing and ready to resolve the current impasse by reaching a win-win deal that will also address the issue of sustainability and burden sharing during drought.
  • Egypt’s failure to negotiate in good faith, reverting to the Arab League and to the UN Security Council is no longer tolerable of acceptable. The issue is an African problem and must be resolved through the auspices of the African Union.
  • Ethiopia must not enter into a water sharing Agreement of any kind with Egypt or the Sudan or both without the participation and engagement of all Nile Basin countries.
  • The issue of a water sharing Agreement must be deliberate, well studied, consultative and must be based on the Nile Basin Initiative and the Framework Agreement Ethiopia signed but Egypt rejected.
  • The GERD is a single hydroelectric power generating project that is governed by the 21015 Declaration of Principles (DOP) that Egypt, the Sudan and Ethiopia signed. It has no relevance what so ever to water sharing and the Nile.
Read Aloud:   Proof that Meles lit Africa’s woes. By Robele Ababya

Fifth, Egypt argues that the burden of drought mitigation must be borne by Ethiopia. I remember that during the worst drought-famine in Ethiopia that contributed to the down fall of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Government, thousands of Ethiopians died from starvation. I do not recall that a single Egyptian died from that drought. So, why does Egypt want to punish Ethiopia again? Why do Egyptians want an Ethiopian child or mother of father to die from drought induced famine again and again? Drought induced famine harms Ethiopia; and not Egypt

  • Drought mitigation must be a shared responsibility when and if it occurs.
  • Riparian nations in general and Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan in particular must invest in drought mitigation efforts; Ethiopia is doing its part. What has Egypt contributed to the common good of the Nile? None that I can find.

Sixth, the people of Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan have a long and distinguished history largely driven by the Nile water that their peoples share, albeit asymmetrically in terms of equitable use. The cultural, religious, trade and geopolitical bonds they share have often been marred by the vitriolic and unnecessary conflicts largely led by Egypt. This must stop once and for all.

In the long-run, these conflicts do not bode well for their respective peoples.

My recommendation is that all three nations must be bold, principled and foresighted enough to imagine a compelling future that will serve future generations by investing heavily into sustainable programs, such as the restoration of the entire ecosystem. Ethiopia is doing its part by planting trees; while Egypt is investing in proxy wars. It is time to flip this and craft a win-win formula that recognizes Ethiopia’s incontestable sovereign rights to fill the GERD; and provide power to millions that lack electricity.

This way, Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan will establish a key ingredient for future negotiations, namely, mutual trust. Proxy wars undermine mutual trust and confidence.

Finally, I should like to go on record that Egypt continues to undermine mutual trust by sponsoring proxy wars; and by trying to establish military posts in neighboring nations. Sponsoring nations must wary that Egyptian sinister and cunning intentions will not serve their own national security interests at all. Just think of Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen across the Red Sea.

What the world needs is not war and conflict. Rather, it is a stable and prosperous Horn of Africa in which Ethiopia serves as a hub.


August 4, 2020



  1. This is a well thought out and data based article by Dr. Aklog. It’ puts forth an interesting angle to think about the problem and the issues underlined in the educational article even though that was not the best or fitting quote for the piece by Albert Einstein, who is easily “the most influential physicist of the 20th century, and just might be the most famous scientist to have ever lived. He was only 26 when in 1905, he had four separate papers published, electrifying the field of physics and rocketing him to global renown. Among them were his ground-breaking special theory of relativity, as well as his famous equation, E = mc², which asserted that matter could be turned into energy. Not since Isaac Newton had one man so drastically altered our understanding of how the universe works.”

    Top 30 Most Inspiring Albert Einstein Quotes:

    Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.

    Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

    Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.

    Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.

    I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever.

    Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.

    I would teach peace rather than war. I would inculcate love rather than hate.

    I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am.

    Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

    All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.

    A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.

    A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

    The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.

    I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings.

    It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry

    A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?

    A human being is part of a whole called by us “Universe.”

    The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

    A question that sometimes drives me hazy — am I or are the others crazy?

    The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it

    Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

    Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.

    I love to travel, but I hate to arrive.

    All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.

    The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.

    Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.

    The years of anxious searching in the dark, with their intense longing, their alternations of confidence and exhaustion, and final emergence into light—only those who have experienced it can understand that.

    Let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life

    He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.

    I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.

    Invention is not the product of logical thought, even though the final product is tied to a logical structure.

    Science can flourish only in an atmosphere of free speech.

    Hail to the man who went through life always helping others, knowing no fear, and to whom aggressiveness and resentment are alien

    A happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell too much on the future.

    I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.

    Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.

    The great moral teachers of humanity were, in a way, artistic geniuses in the art of living.

    Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation…

  2. Very informed and well written article. Thank you Professor Birara for being a true son of Ethiopia!
    I recommend this should be disseminated to all the powers that be.

    On the other hand, I see we are inadvertently muddling the picture a bit when we use the term Nile and not the Abay. The issue is about Ethiopia’s plan to build a dam on the Abay which is wholly within Ethiopia’s boundaries and thus an Ethiopian river. Although you might opine its a matter of semantics, you are adding an additional layer of hurdle on yourself when you talk about the Nile that Egypt propaganda machine has successfully built an image around (vis-a-vis Egypt as the gift of the Nile). On the other hand, by flipping it around and using the term Abay you make it that much easier for the average Joe to understand and question what all the brouhaha is about, not to mention putting the onus on them to explain their recalcitrance.


  3. Alex,

    You’re being really silly. The article is English. Aklog Birara knows when to use English and when to use Amharic.

  4. This is a well thought article. seems fun to see that you use Einstein’s quote, which is literally the on;y thing i read from this lol.
    More quotes that look fun from:
    The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new
    discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny …’

    Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992)
    The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the
    source of all true art and science.

    Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)
    You cannot teach a man anything; you can only find it within yourself.

    Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)
    Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. (It is vain to do with more what can be done with less. — Ockham’s Razor.)

    Ockham of Surrey, Oxford scholar in the Order of the Fransiscan Friars (~1300-1349)
    In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood
    by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s
    the exact opposite.

    Paul Dirac (1902 – 1984)
    Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which
    deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense.

    Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996)
    The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as
    to discover new ways of thinking about them.

    Sir William Lawrence Bragg (1890 – 1971)
    In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble
    reasoning of a single individual.

    Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)
    That’s not right. That’s not even wrong.

    Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958)
    An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature and a
    measurement is the recording of Nature’s answer.

    Max Planck (1958 – 1947)
    In Einstein’s theory of relativity the observer is a man who sets out in
    quest of truth armed with a measuring-rod. In quantum theory he sets
    out with a sieve.

    Sir Arthur Eddington (1882 – 1944)
    Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.

    Niels H. D. Bohr (1885 – 1962)
    The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience The reward of the old scientist is the sense of having seen a vague sketch grow into a masterly landscape.

    Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979)
    In physics, you don’t have to go around making trouble for yourself –
    nature does it for you.

    Frank Wilczek (1951 – )
    Science is the only self-correcting human institution, but it also is a process
    that progresses only by showing itself to be wrong.

    Allan Sandage (1926-2010)
    Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time
    to understand more, so that we may fear less.

    Maire Curie (1867 – 1934)
    Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love.
    How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so
    important a biological phenomenon as first love? Put your hand on a
    stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with that special
    girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.

    Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
    In many cases, people who win a Nobel prize, their work slows down after
    that because of the distractions. Yes, fame is rewarding, but it’s a pity if it
    keeps you from doing the work you are good at.

    Charles H. Townes (1915 – 2015)
    Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this
    world to another.

    Plato (427 BC – 347 BC)

  5. Subject: “From Hostility to Cooperation: how Ethiopia and Egypt can serve future generations
    August 4, 2020, by Aklog Birara (Dr)

    Commentary, 5 Aug 2020
    It is always good to see the bright side of Life. It is also essential that we face the reality on the ground.
    Egypt is not going to heed to what Ethiopia is saying. It has nothing to do with Egypt’s capability to understand what Ethiopia is saying. Egypt wants to have its own way. It has always been so. Not too far ago, Egypt had a cozy relationship with Great Britain with respect to the Nile. It did NOT include Ethiopia, the SOURCE of the Blue Nile. It seems bizarre to have International meeting on somebody’s property without including the OWNER !!! For Egypt ,and the GREAT Britain of the Day, there was nothing wrong, AFTER ALL Ethiopia in the mirror of the ‘robbers’ is just a backward BLACK AFRICAN country NOT WORTHY TALKING TO!!!! That ugly attkitud is still lingering TODAY, with some slim adjustment of deceiving manuvering to hide the NEVER ENDING REALITY of negative attitude of countries like racist Egypt and its enablers. THAT is the REALITy, the TRUTH , of our WORLD.

    Ethiopia MUST do what is RIGHT for itself. but also duly concerned for human consideration for others. Ethiopia, after all, is an ancient country with its own long HISTORY, not less than the so-called self-glorified countries. THE END

  6. Alex, Aaron and Rezen are the probably the same person, possibly the “writer” himself or one of his family members or friend.

    Aklog Birrara is one of the worst writers and speakers in Ethiopians news media. He has terrible voice when he speaks and very poor skill when he writes. He also lies and writes like uneducated people. For example. he said no Ethiopian said Egypt should not share the water as if he has interviewed the more than 100 people Ethiopians.

    Despite his lack of natural charisma and educational skill to write and speak he continues to do so because he likes to draw attention through Abay even at this time of ethnic cleansing. Sad!

  7. Whatever articles are being written now, it seems too late especially for scholars in which they have been shut down for past many years that could play great role in international media & social networking. What I wonder is that with such so many exchanging of comments with silly issue; like stating Albert Einstein quote instead we have to forward relevant comment for the result that will get from article.

    Last remark, Ethiopian scholars & diplomatic community have to do many things for international community by exploring & writing articles about the fact of Nile basin, sabotage that has been made by Egypt & its alliance. And, though it is late still scholars shall forward their view in international medias instead of posting in some irrelevant social media. It should not be garbage-in-garbage-out.

    Long live to Ethiopia!!

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