For more than 10 years, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have been holding periodic negotiations aimed at reaching a water arrangement that will govern the flow of the Blue Nile into Sudan and Egypt in the wake of the planned 2022 inauguration of the mammoth Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Once complete, GERD will be the biggest hydroelectric power facility in Africa and the seventh-largest in the world.

The massive dam is being built 12 miles from the Sudan-Ethiopia border on the Blue Nile, which provides 85 percent of the water to Egypt downstream (the White Nile provides the remaining 15 percent). The 6,450-megawatt hydroelectric power project was to have been inaugurated in 2018 but was delayed due to budgetary constraints and mismanagement.

With the prospect of a stalemate in the negotiations, barely four months before the second filling of the dam’s reservoir in July 2021, tensions are steadily mounting between Egypt and Sudan on one side and Ethiopia on the other. Egypt sees the dam as an “existential threat” to millions of Egyptians. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned on March 27, 2021: “We reject the policy of imposing a fait accompli and extending control over the Blue Nile through unilateral measures without taking Sudan’s and Egypt’s interests into account.”

The specter of military confrontation has been openly presented by Egypt and Sudan as a last-resort option to stop Ethiopia from going forward with the inauguration.

The new energy source is essential for Ethiopia; according to the World Bank, only 44 percent of Ethiopians have access to electricity. Once the dam is operational, Ethiopia expects to export energy to the neighboring states of Kenya, Sudan and Djibouti.