Foreign Minister of Sudan Asma Mohamed Abdalla and her delegation leave the U.S. Treasury Department after negotiations on the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, situated on the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, in Washington. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
When Gamal Abdel Nassir of Egypt faced opposition mainly from Western countries in the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1960, he said: “We will build and complete the dam at any cost.”

Like Nassir, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia has stood firmly resolute in favour of the completion of Meles Zenawi’s dream to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd), known in Ethiopia as Hedassie, along the Blue Nile river. One of the thorniest issues President Cyril Ramaphosa will face as the chair of the AU in 2020 is the prospect of conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt over the Gerd.

In a shocking move, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ethiopia and Sudan have abandoned fellow Africans in favour of President Donald Trump as the mediator for the Gerd matter. Ironically, the US and the World Bank were not in favour of the dam from its inception. One wonders why Ethiopia would accept the involvement of the US.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the president of the World Bank Group, David Malpass, facilitating negotiation on a matter appear to have a conflict of interest.

Ahmed has stood firm in fulfilling the ancient dream of the emperors of Ethiopia to build four dams on the Nile, including the hydroelectric plant.

It all began in 2011 when Zenawi embarked upon a plan to boost the Ethiopian energy sector in line with a fast-growing economy.

Shunned by the World Bank and major Western countries, Ethiopia raised the much-needed $5billion domestically.

First, Ethiopia was criticised that its dam would flood 1 680km² of forest in northern Ethiopia and Sudan. Second, 20000 people were resettled for the dam project to take place. Third, the budget earmarked for Gerd was equal to Ethiopia’s annual budget, hence this was perceived as a waste of resources better suited for more burning social needs.

The question of the Nile River has a rich historical background. There are numerous countries other than Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan with an interest in the Blue Nile River. The other interested parties are Uganda, Tanzania, the DRC, Eritrea and Rwanda.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Al Dardeery Mohamed Ahmed and his delegation leave the U.S. Treasury Department after negotiations on the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, situated on the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, in Washington. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

In 1959, Egypt and Sudan signed the Nile Treaty excluding all other countries along the river. Due to this, Egypt claims majority rights for the usage of the Nile River water seen as constituting national interest despite the fact that 85% of the river’s water source is in Ethiopia. Although Ethiopia and Egypt have held numerous negotiations over Gerd, “one sticking point remains the rate at which Ethiopia will draw water out of the Nile to fill the dam’s reservoir”, according to the Voice of America.

Russia, on the other hand, has shown keen interest to be a mediator on the matter of the Ethiopia-Egypt dispute.

It is within this context therefore that Pretoria, as it takes the AU chair in early 2020, ought to pay great attention to this matter. Given the significance of Gerd to both Ethiopia and Egypt and the multiplicity of role-players with competing interests, an African solution to the crisis should be urgently found.

Both Ethiopia and Egypt have legitimate rights to the Nile River. The Ethiopia-Egypt dispute has the potential to cause another African war with dire consequences for the African Agenda as encapsulated in Agenda 2063.

The African landscape is littered with cases of the destructive role played by external meddlers.

A classic example was the US and the then USSR involvement in the Ethiopia-Sudan Ogaden Desert War during the cold war.

* Monyae is the director for the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg. He is currently on a short-term Visiting Program for International Think Tank Experts hosted by the Communication University of China in Beijing.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.