Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Saturday announced that his country “will not cave in to aggressions of any kind,” in response to President Donald Trump’s warning that Egypt could, and maybe should destroy the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, suggesting “They should have stopped it long before it was started.”
Formerly known as the Millennium Dam, located 9 miles east of the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia, the dam has been under construction since 2011. Its primary purpose is to produce electricity to relieve Ethiopia’s acute energy crisis, and for electricity exports to neighboring countries.
There have been disputes between Ethiopia and the two countries downstream from the dam, Sudan and Egypt, who rely on the Nile water almost exclusively. Egypt invited the World Bank and the United States to mediate, which was endorsed by the three nations, but earlier this year, Ethiopia walked away from the talks, suggesting Trump was not being an honest broker by favoring the Egyptian side.
In response to Ethiopia’s unilateral suspension of the talks, the US suspended $264 million in developmental aid to Ethiopia, and Trump said on Friday: “They will never see that money unless they adhere to that agreement.”
During his three-way phone conversation on Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, President Trump referred to the Ethiopian dam, telling the Sudanese team: While you are on the phone, could I ask you how is the dam doing in Ethiopia? […] Unfortunately, it stops water from flowing into the — the Nile, which causes Egypt a little bit of a problem. Right? As it should.”
Trump proceeded: “Are they working out their deal? Because I had a deal done for them, and then, unfortunately, Ethiopia broke the deal, which they should not have done. That was a big mistake. And we’ve stopped payment to them of about — of a lot of aid because they did it. And they will never see that money unless they adhere to the agreement. But they built a dam, which stops water from flowing into the Nile. And you can’t blame Egypt for being a little bit upset. Right? How are they doing with that? Do you know?”
To which Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan, Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, responded: “We do very much appreciate the effort that started with the Washington (inaudible), which in very few months, brought us together. I think that this is very (inaudible) we hope to reach a win-win situation that will bring a lot of benefits (inaudible). And we are moving in that direction. We hope you reach an amicable solution soon for this.”
And Trump said: “Yeah, if you would, because I had a deal done and then they broke the deal, and they can’t do that. They can’t do that.”
Following which the US President kind of started WW3 when he said: “So the deal was done, and it’s a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way. And they’ll end up blowing up the dam. And I said it — and I say it loud and clear, ‘They’ll blow up that dam.’ And they have to do something. So whatever you can do to get them, Ethiopia, to do that, they’re going to have to. Okay? And we’ve cut off all payment and everything else to Ethiopia.”
And: “So whatever you could do, Prime Minister, if you could, that would be great. Okay? You tell them they got to get it done. And I’m telling Egypt the same thing, by the way, you know, because they could have stopped it. They should have stopped it long before it was started. I said, ‘How do you let it get built?’ And then you say, ‘They’ve — they have a dam.’ You know.”
Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union, rebuked President Trump, saying: “An agreement on the filling of the GERD is within the reach of Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. Now is the time for action and not for increasing tensions.”
Alexander Assefa, an Ethiopian-born Nevada state assemblyman, sent an open letter to Trump, saying: “Your remarks are divisive and anti-democratic in the course of an ongoing diplomatic conversation among the parties involved.”
Ethiopia still plans to begin the second phase of filling the dam with water, despite warnings from Egypt, Sudan, and now President Trump. Egypt fears a temporary reduction of water availability due to the filling of the dam and a permanent reduction because of evaporation from the reservoir.
Studies indicate that the primary factors which will govern the impacts during the reservoir filling phase include the initial reservoir elevation of the Aswan High Dam, the rainfall during the filling period, and the negotiated arrangement between the three countries.
Studies also show that only through close and continuous coordination can the risks of negative impacts be minimized. The reservoir volume (74 billion cubic meters) is about 1.5 times the average annual flow (49 billion cubic meters) of the Blue Nile at the Sudanese-Egyptian border. This loss to downstream countries could be spread over several years if the countries reach an agreement.
If they don’t, the President’s warning might become a reality and US-made Egyptian warplanes might start bombing the new dam.