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The Myth of Nile: an open Letter to Egyptians

June 6, 2013
By Yared HM

The Egyptian politicians and the Media have been feeding false information to the people and now they have started believing their own propaganda.

Sudan to some extent has realized the benefits of the Grand Renaissance Dam,  to Sudan as well as Egypt and has been handling the issue with maturity and cooperation. On the contrary, Egyptian politicians were caught on camera planning to use terrorism to advance their agenda, most likely through Al-Shabaab and the Eritrean government that has been under international watch list of terrorism.

It is important that the Ethiopia government alert the international community about the intention of some of the Egyptian politicians and make them accountable for any future terrorist actions that they are planning.

That is a different story and it will be addressed separately in another article. In this article I would like to address the myth surrounding the Nile water that has been standing on the way of cooperation between Egypt and nine other African countries.

The failure of Egyptian politicians not to cooperate with Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and other upper Nile countries to develop their resource for the benefit of all is hindered by the myths that the Egyptian politicians have created and sustained.

Even when the international experts as well as by experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia report that there is no adverse effect of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), they myth in the minds of Egyptian politicians is standing on the way of meaningful dialogue, pushing Egypt more and more into isolation.


The Egyptian politicians’ propaganda has created three major myths. The first myth is Egypt owns the Nile. The second myth is there were international treaties on Nile water and the third myth is Ethiopia can block the water. .
Myth is defined as “an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution”. Allow me to elaborate why I think the foreign policy of Egypt was based on myth than facts.

1. Does Egypt exclusively own the Nile?

The bitter truth is Egypt does not own the Nile, no matter how hard the politicians shout about it. Nile belongs to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, South Sudan, and of course Sudan and Egypt. If Egyptian politicians’ think that only Egypt can drink from the Nile water, then they need to take a hard look of the reality.
What the politicians need to know is they are receiving every day, clean, fresh and drinkable water – free from industrial toxic from highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Congo, Rwanda etc. If these countries cannot benefit from the water, they will have no interest to protect it by investing on reforestation and conservation. Even more damagingly, they might even send their wastes with it. That means Nile will be no good for anyone.

It is tough fact that Nile is a shared resource and every stakeholder has to invest and protect it to give fresh and sustainable water to Egypt. The easy solution for Egyptian politicians is to come back to the Nile Basin Initiative, sign the agreement and negotiate how to develop this shared resource together for the benefit of 473 million people sharing the Nile. The good thing is some countries are suitable for power generation and other countries need water for irrigation. Both are complementary projects and there could be fair share of the water for all.
Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Congo, South Sudan etc. cannot afford to invest on the land and the forests which give life of Nile at great cost to their people if they cannot use it. It is too naive of the Egyptian politicians to plan to work towards Zero sum game and against the development of Sub Saharan Africa.

The Egyptian politicians should not presume that the rest of Africans are their slaves who should invest and work hard to deliver drinkable water to Egyptians while they are not allowed to drink from the water.
In fact, Egypt should have put at list half of the Ethiopian Dam cost since it will serve as water reservoir for Egypt by reducing the amount of evaporation and increasing the flow of the water all year round. All the scientific research shows Egypt lose 10% the Nile water by storing it in the desert. This evaporation can be halved by storing it in cold and deep gorge of Ethiopia and releasing it all year round.

The Egyptians media and politicians seems to forget that 85% of the Nile water comes from Ethiopia and Ethiopia is not using even 1% of the water so far, while its own people perish from starvation and drought. So there is no international or moral law that obliges Ethiopians to die of drought and thirst while Egyptians want to water their desert gardens and grass lawn to attract European tourists or plan to export it to Israel to earn cash.

Egyptian politician should know that Abay/ Nile/ is a shared resource and the way forward is to take time to understand the position of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda etc. In fact, despite internal public criticism and anxiety, Ethiopia has taken a leap of faith to prove and reassure Egyptians by inviting them and setting a joint expert committee to investigate the dam. The conclusion is the hydroelectric dam is resounding is clear that it does not at all affect the water flow.

In fact, all experts view show that it will increase the water flow in sustainable way, since the water will be stored in cold and deep gorge. From the dam the water can be released all year round than flush the water in to the Mediterranean Sea between June and October. This is science and I think Egyptian politicians may need to revise their school text books to undo the myth and the fear they chose to live with.

Egypt must accept Nile is a resource of Ethiopian as well as 9 African countries. No threat of a regional terrorism can change the reality. Ethiopia need the hydro power to develop as Egypt needs water for its excessively manicured grass lawns in Suburbia Cairo.

It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the water in the dam will move turbines and then move to Sudan and Egypt. As we stand, there is no technology to bring it back. It is extremely large power station that has to discharge huge amount of water per-second to be able to generate 6000 MW power.

Only populist politicians get carried away to fail to imagine the working mechanism of hydroelectric power. If Ethiopia has intention to reduce the flow, the dam would have been built somewhere where Irrigation is possible and not where it can only produce electricity.

2. The Myth of water allocation treaties on Nile water

The second Egyptian myth is, believing in non-existent treaties. Ethiopia had never been a British Colony like Egypt and Britain had no legal jurisdiction to sign any treaty on behalf of Ethiopians. This is a historical record that anyone can verify. Egypt might have a very week moral, not legal, argument to pick with former British colonies but not with Ethiopia.

Thanks to our forefathers, Ethiopians have fought all colonial forces at great cost and never surrendered to any mighty power. No one had signed on behalf of Ethiopia and no one ever will. Dying with freedom and dignity has been the ultimate choice of all our forefathers, who gave this generation this country without any bondage and the right to put our signature on our issues.

It is a historical record that our forefathers were subjected to poison gasses, tank shells and areal carpet bombing, but they never surrendered or signed their rights away. Even when their bodies burnt by chemicals, their 2/3 of cattle wiped out by biological warfare introduced by invaders, the Ethiopians chose to die than surrender to anyone.

As a result, thanks to God, Ethiopia was not part of any treaty. Ethiopia never signed anything and accepted any treaty. Hence, the fact is 85% of the Nile water had never been part of any treaty or claimed by anyone. This is a fact cast on stones.

The Egyptian politicians need to stop misinforming the Egyptian people as if they have a legal right. We have heard about the myth and now it is time for them to produce a single legal document signed by Ethiopia or anyone who had legal jurisdiction over Ethiopia in relation to Nile water.

Rather than openly advocating to use terrorism to advance their cause, the Egyptian politicians need to produce the signature that Ethiopia had signed and Ethiopia would happy to honor it. So let us not waste our energy on this myth of treaty that never existed!! The 85% of the water had never been part of any agreement and it has to be decided through the Nile Basin collective agreement. It is too naive of the Egyptian politicians to think that the threats of war and sponsored international terrorism will lead to Ethiopians signing away its rights.
3. The third Myth is Ethiopia can stop Nile.

The third myth in the mind of Egyptian politicians is that Ethiopia can stop the Nile. If Egyptian politicians bother even to do a search to Google, they could easily find enough scientific research papers published by Egyptians that it is almost impossible for Ethiopia to stop the Nile flowing, without submerging a quarter of Western Ethiopia underwater and turning themselves into fish to survive. So it is time to separate ancient Egyptian myth from scientific data. A good example is, if Egypt blocks the flow of Nile in to Mediterranean Sea, Cairo will be under water in a short time. By the same token, Ethiopia cannot contain 85% of the Nile water within its territory without submerging the country under water.

One thing Egyptian politicians and the media need to understand is that if there was an intention on Ethiopian side to reduce the water, just for the fun of it, there is no need to build a mega dam on the most rugged terrain of Ethiopia, where there is no land for irrigation. This is a gorge suitable only for hydroelectric power and nothing else. If Ethiopia had any intention to reduce the water, it is much easier for each village to earth dams on flood plains and micro-dams on tributaries.

The fact that Ethiopia is building this huge dam close to the Sudan border means it is in its own interest to recharge the dam continuously to keep the power turbines moving. In fact this is probably a God given insurance for Egypt that the water will continue to flow to Sudan border and Egypt for eternity. If this GERD is not built, then small dames would be a reality that would increase evaporation and use of the water for other uses, including irrigation. So, it is naive of Egyptian politicians to think no dam means more water for Egypt.

That is why Egyptian politicians and the media need to focus on the real interest of Egypt rather than getting carried away with myth creation and misinformation of the people.

The Egyptian people also need to ask their noisy politicians hard questions, such as to show them the treaty that Ethiopia signed, why Egypt is not part of the Nile basin initiative to develop the resource collectively for benefit of the whole region without reducing the water flow etc.? Egyptian people need to tell their politicians to stop empty threat and bravado which is designed for internal consumption rather than dealing the real Egyptian issue.

The interest of Egypt can be protected in collaboration with Nile basin countries and definitely not by working with terrorist organization. Sponsoring international terrorism will isolate Egypt and it may attract more hostility towards Egypt from all over the world. It is so naive of the Egyptian politicians to openly advocate sponsoring international terrorism.

Even more a military attack on the GERD dam is like playing with fire and set the precedence to make the Aswan dam a legitimate target for future conflict with other countries, including Israel. What has been revealed in the last few days is how naive the Egyptian politicians are and become a source of embarrassment to the Egyptian people in front of the world.

It would be too naive to think that the 9 Nile basin countries could be bullied into submission through sponsorship of terrorism. Nile belongs to all of us and it is enough for all of us. It is time for Egyptian politicians to come down off their high horse and talk to the Africans who are delivering their drinking water every day. The Nile basin countries had been waiting for 1 year for Egyptians to set-up a stable government and sign the agreement. That is now over and talk of terror will make the things worse.

Ethiopians, Kenyans, Ugandans, South Sudanese, Burundian, Rwandans and Congolese are united and the solution is not in bullying or arming international terrorist groups but negotiation to have a win-win situation. Let the upper Nile Basin countries use the water for power generation while Egypt continues to enjoy a free supply of clean, drinkable and life giving water from countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and others.

That is a win-win situation and the rest is more of a fantasy based on false assumption and myths. Egypt is not a superpower or a colonial master over Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan or anyone. A little bit of respect towards Africans is overdue.

In the last 20 years, there were more Egyptian investment in Ethiopia and we all thought that the old Egyptians politics is beginning to change to create some brotherhood with the African nations. However what we see from Egyptian politicians reminds us that old habits never die easily. Egypt still wants to play the African Union as a second fiddle to the Arab League. Mubarak may have gone but not his ideology.
Ethiopia has opened it door and files to Egyptian experts in good faith for Egyptians to examine every data that about the dam. The good thing is that the conclusion of these experts is clear and the dam has no impact on the flow of water. That file is closed.

But Ethiopians good gesture of brotherhood appears to have been taken for weakness by Egyptian politicians. Now if that is the perception, then Ethiopia need to close its door and focus on protecting its security from terrorist attack till the Egyptian politicians learn to behave in civilized way and prepare to work with mutual respect and brotherhood.

Considering the threat of war and terrorism, Ethiopia should immediately suspend sharing information about the design of the dam and  its progress since this information could be used to expose the dam to terrorist actions. In fact, the damage is already done by sharing confidential information and what Ethiopia need to do is mitigating factor that Egypt does not pass confidential information to international terrorist putting the lives of Ethiopian and Sudanese people in danger.

Cooperation and win-win solution benefit all but bullying will only lead for Egypt to be left out of the Nile basin initiatives and collaboration. The Nile basin initiative is meant to remain here and the only way out is a negotiated equitable distribution of Nile.
It is time for Egyptian politicians either to believe their own myth and refuse to cooperate or come down off their imaginary high horse to cooperate with African countries for our collective benefits. The choice is in Egypt hand.

Ethiopia too needs to take immediate measure to alert the international community about the Egyptian politicians desire to use terrorism for their political ends. To protect Ethiopian infrastructure, including the dam, Ethiopia need to suspended information sharing and collaboration with Egypt till Egypt provide international guarantee that the information shared will not be used for terrorism.


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