The Utilization of Nile Water among the Riparian States: Tensions and Controversies on the Filling and Annual Operation of the GERD

Main Article Content

Negasa Gelana Debisa


Despite the fear entertained by the downstream countries of the Nile basin, little attention was paid to the right of Ethiopia to utilize the Blue Nile waters. The purpose of this study is to explain the tension between upper riparian Ethiopia and downstream Sudan and Egypt on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) filling and controversies on its annual operation. A descriptive qualitative research method was employed to describe the tension concerning the filling and controversies on the annual operation of the GERD. The investigation relied on secondary sources of data obtained from YouTube videos of international broadcast media such as CGTN, Aljazeera, and TRT World. In addition, national broadcast media of Ethiopia (Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation and Ahadu Television), Sudan (Sudan Tribune), and Egypt (Daily News Egypt) accessed to make data balance. Moreover, letters from these countries sent to the UNSC have been reviewed. Besides, published and unpublished secondary sources on the Nile basin hydro-politics and the GERD were reviewed. The finding of the study reveals that the filling of the dam does not constitute significant harm as it can be seen from the first phase filling given the hydrological condition in the Eastern Nile Basin. The controversy regarding the annual operation of the GERD arises from the fear that their historical and current water use will be threatened. They wanted to conclude the binding agreement in their favor at the expense of Ethiopia’s future utilization of Blue Nile water. Their fear is Ethiopia would not remain faithful to its promises that the dam and its filling do not affect their water security. Rather than basing their claim on invalid colonial treaties, Egypt and Sudan should acknowledge Ethiopia’s right to utilize the Blue Nile water resource and fill the dam without causing significant harm. It is suggested to clear distrust and discuss issues of common concern by tolerating short-term risk for the long-term collective prosperity.


Metrics Loading ...

Article Details

How to Cite
Negasa Gelana Debisa. (2021). The Utilization of Nile Water among the Riparian States: Tensions and Controversies on the Filling and Annual Operation of the GERD. PanAfrican Journal of Governance and Development (PJGD), 2(1), 31-54.
Author Biography

Negasa Gelana Debisa, Bule Hora University, Ethiopia

Negasa Gelana Debisa is a Lecturer at the Department of Civics and Ethical Studies, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Bule Hora University, Ethiopia. He earned his BA Degree in Civics and Ethical Studies from Wollega University in 2012 and his MA Degree in Foreign Policy and Diplomacy from Hawassa University in 2018. He worked as the Dean of College of Social Sciences and Humanities from October 2019-to May 2020 at Bule Hora University. Currently, he is the Director of Indigenous Knowledge and Technology Affairs in the same university. His area of research interests is indigenous knowledge, terrorism, international relations and diplomacy, democracy, good governance, human rights, conflict, transboundary water resources, peace, and security.


Abdelhady, D., Aggestam, K., et al. (2015). The Nile and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: Is there a meeting point between nationalism and hydrosolidarity? Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education 155(1):73-82.
Abdulrahman, S. A. (2019). The river Nile and Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam: Challenges to Egypt’s security approach. International Journal of Environmental Studies 76(1): 136–149.
Adejumobi, S. A. (2007). The history of Ethiopia. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Bah, M. L., Sangare, Z.D., & Bantin, A.B. (2018). Integrated water resource management policy in Africa: Case study of the Nile water and its politics. Journal of Geology and Geoscience 2(2): 1-10.
Barnaby, W. (2009). Do nations go to over water? Essay. Nature (458): 282–283
Beatrice, M. (Host). (2014). Talk Africa: The Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam. CGTN Africa News, Nairobi. Retrieved on October 19, 2020, from
Brunnée, J. & Toope, S. J. (2003). The Nile basin regime: A role for law? In Abdulrahman, S. Alsharhan & Warren, W. Wood (Eds.), Water Resources Perspectives: Evaluation, Management, and Policy, pp. 93-117.
Cascão, A.E. (2009). Changing power relations in the Nile river basin: Unilateralism vs. Cooperation. Water Alternatives 2(2): 245‐268.
CFA. (2010). Agreement on the Nile river basin cooperative framework. Entebbe, Uganda.
Daily News Egypt. (June 7, 2020). Ethiopia will rethink before filling GERD reservoir without trilateral agreement: Sudan Foreign Minister. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved on 26/12/2020 from
DoP. (2015). Agreement on Declaration of Principles (DoP), March 23rd, 2015, Khartoum, Sudan.
EBC. (2020). Ethiopia completes the first filling of the GERD, Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, Televised News, July 22 2020.
Eckstein, G. (1995). Application of international water law to transboundary groundwater resources, and the Slovak-Hungarian dispute over Gabcikovo-Nagymaros, 19 Suffolk Transnat'l L. Rev. 67. Available at:
El-Said, M. (July 13, 2020). AU-sponsored Nile dam talks end fruitless: Concerned parties to present separate final reports on GERD negotiations to AU chair on Tuesday. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved on 26/12/2020 from
El-Said, M. (July 26, 2020). Ethiopia cannot complete GERD filling without consensus: Egypt Official. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved on 26/12/2020 from
Elsayed, H., Djordjevi, S., Savi´c, D. A., Tsoukalas, I., & Makropoulos, C. (2020). The Nile water-food-energy nexus under uncertainty: Impacts of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management 146(11): 1–17.
El-Sebahy, N. (November 18, 2015). Egypt has 3 concerns on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: Prime Minister. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved from
Endalcachew, B. (2016). Agreement on declaration of principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project: A reaffirmation of the 1929 and 1959 agreements? Arts and Social Sciences Journal 07(02): 7–9.
Endaylalu, G. A. (2019). Egypt’s quest for hydro-hegemony and the changing power relation in the eastern nile basin. Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences 5(1): 36–62.
Foster, D. (Host). (October 14, 2020). Ethiopia dam dispute: How to solve it? [Video File] Round Table, TRT World. Retrieved on October 17, 2020, from
Gebreluel, G. (2014). Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam: Ending Africa’s oldest geopolitical rivalry? The Washington Quarterly 37(2): 25–37.
Goad, D. (2020). Water law be dammed?: How dam construction by non-hegemonic basin states places strain on the customary law of transboundary watercourses. American University International Law Review, 35(4): 907–939.
Howe, L. (2010). Hydropolitics of the Nile River: Conflict, policy and the future. Insights 4(1): 30-43.
Ibrahim, A. M. (2011). The Nile basin cooperative framework agreement: The beginning of the end of egyptian hydro-political hegemony. Missouri Environmental Law and Policy Review 18(4): 282–313.
Karyabwite, R. D. (2000). Water sharing in the Nile river valley. UNEP Project Gnv011: Using GIS/Remote sensing for the sustainable use of natural resources. UNEP/DEWA/GRID-Geneva.
Khan, I. (Host). (June 28, 2020). What is behind the dispute over Africa’s largest dam project? [Video File] Aljazeera Inside Story, Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from
Lazerwitz, D. J. (1993). The flow of international water law: The international law commission's law of the non-navigational uses of international watercourses, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 1(1): 247-271.
Liersch, S., K. H., & Hattermann, F. F. (2017). Management scenarios of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and their impacts under recent and future climates. Water 9(728): 1–24.
Lumumba, P. L. O. (2007). The interpretation of the 1929 treaty and its legal relevance and implications for the stability of the region. African Sociological Review 11(1): 10-24.
Madani, K, Rheinheimer. D, Elimam. L. & Connell-Buck, Ch. (2011). A game theory approach to understanding the Nile river basin conflict. In K. M. Person (Eds.). “A Water Resource”, pp. 97-114: Lund University.
Mehari, T. M. (2020). The Nile rivalry and its peace and security implications: what can the African union do? IPSS Policy Brief 1(1): Addis Ababa University.
Nicol, A. & Cascão, A.E., (2011). Against the flow-new power dynamics and upstream mobilization in the Nile basin. Review of African Political Economy 38 (128): 317-325.
Nicol, A. & Shahin, M. (n.d) The Nile: Moving beyond cooperation (Provisional version). UNESCO.
Nunzio, J. D. (2013). Conflict on the Nile: The future of transboundary water disputes over the world’s longest river. Strategic Analysis Paper. Future Directions International. Australia.
Obengo, J. O. (2016). Hydropolitics of the Nile : The case of Ethiopia and Egypt. African Security Review 25(1): 95–103.
Okoth-Owiro, A. (2004). The Nile treaty, state succession, and international treaty commitments: a case study of the Nile water treaties. Occasional Papers no.9. Nairobi: Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
Oloo, A. (2007). The quest for cooperation in the Nile water conflicts: The case of Eritrea. African Sociological Review 11 (1): 95-105.
Onencan, A. M., & Van de Walle, B. V. (2018). Equitable and reasonable utilization: reconstructing the Nile basin water allocation dialogue. Water, 10(6): 1-32.
Ottaway, M. (July 7, 2020). Egypt and Ethiopia: The curse of the Nile. Wilson Center’s Middle East Program.
Paul, Block. (2015). Ethiopia’s Grand Dam Plan [Video File]. Presented at University of Wisconsin, Maddison. Accessed on 8/13/2020 from
Paul, Williams. (2002). Nile cooperation through hydro-realpolitik? Third World Quarterly 23(6): 1189-1196.
Qureshi, W. A. (2017). Equitable apportionment of shared transboundary river waters: A case study of modifications of the Indus waters treaty. San Diego International Law Journal 18(199): 199-240.
Rahaman, M. M. (2009). Principles of international water law: Creating effective transboundary water resources management. International Journal of Sustainable Society 1(3): 207-223.
Ribeiro, W. C., & Sant’Anna, F. M. (2014). Water security and interstate conflict and cooperation. Documents d’Anàlisi Geogràfica 60(3): 573–596.
Samuel, L. (2008). Double-edged hydro politics on the Nile linkages between domestic water policy making and transboundary conflict and cooperation (Doctoral Thesis). ETH Zurich Research Collection.
Satti S., Zaitchik B., & Siddiqui S. (2015). The question of Sudan: A hydro-economic optimization model for the Sudanese Blue Nile. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (19): 2275–2293.
Shaw, M. N. (2003). International law (Fifth Edition).Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shaw, M. N. (2008). International Law (Sixth Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sudan Tribune. (August 15, 2020). Sudan, Egypt call for legally binding agreement on Ethiopia’s Dam. Sudan Tribune: Plural News and views on Sudan. Retrieved on 2/18/2021 from id_article=69707.
Sudan Tribune. (June 29, 2013, Addis Ababa). Symposium: Ethiopia’s Nile Dam cuts Sudan’s expenditure on siltation. Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan. Retrieved on 2/18/2021 from
Surafel, Z. & Lidya, A. (Hosts). (October 9, 2020). Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the Recent Position of Egypt [Video File]. Ahadu TV: Ahadu Medrek, Retrieved on October 17, 2020, from
Swain, A. (2002). The Nile river basin initiative: Too many cooks, too little broth. SAIS Review 22(2): 293-308. DOI:10.1353/sais.2002.0044.
Swain, A. (2008). Mission not yet accomplished managing water resources in the Nile River Basin. Journal of International Affairs 61(2):201-214.
Swain, A. (2011). Challenges for water sharing in the Nile basin: Changing geopolitics and changing climate. Hydrological Sciences Journal 56(4): 687-702.
Tadesse, Debay. (2008). The Nile: Is it a curse or a blessing? ISS Paper No. 174. Institute for Security Studies.
Talwar, E., Vishwanath. A., Kumar, A., Philip, D., Singh, E. & Mutoo, Sh. (2013). Blue peace for the Nile. Strategic Foresight Group. Mumbai.
Tawfik, R. (2019). Beyond the river: Elite perceptions and regional cooperation in the eastern Nile basin. Water Alternatives 12(2): 655-675.
Tesfa-Alem, T. (14 January 2016). Ethiopia rejects Egypt’s proposal to redesign Nile Dam. Sudan Tribune: Plural News and views on Sudan. Retrieved on 2/18/2021 from
The Ethiopian Herald. (July 24, 2020). Abbay - From a source of grief to a cause of relief. Retrieved on October 17, 2020, from
Udobong, E. (2016). The rising conflict on the nile waters: Understand its legal, environmental, and public health consequences. Liberty University Law Review 10(3): 468–500.
Upadhyay, S. N. & Gaudel, P. (2017). The adoption of the declaration of the principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and lessons for South Asia. Hydro Nepal 1(21):17-24.
Wendmu, B. (2019). Counter hydro-hegemony movement over the Nile basin by the upstream states and Egypt’s reactions: The cooperative framework agreement and the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam. Mekelle University Journal of Political Science and Strategic Studies 1(1):1-34.
Wheeler, K. G., Basheer, M., Mekonnen, Z. T., Eltoum, S. O., Mersha, A., Abdo, G. M., & Dadson, S. J. (2016). Cooperative filling approaches for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Water International 41(4): 611–634.
Wheeler, K. G., Jeuland, M., Hall, J. W., Zagona, E., & Whittington, D. (2020). Understanding and managing new risks on the Nile with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Nature Communications 11(5222): 1–9.
Wirkus, L. & Böge, V. (2006). Transboundary water management on Africa’s international rivers and lakes: Current state and experiences. In Waltina Scheumann & Susanne Neubert (Eds.), Transboundary water management in Africa: Challenges for development cooperation, pp. 1-11. Bonn: German Development Institute (DIE).
Wolde, E. A., & Habte, A. D. (2020). Trilateral talks on the filling and annual operation of the
GERD: Competing demands and the need for revisiting the status quo towards a negotiated settlement. PanAfrican Journal of Governance and Development (PJGD) 1(2): 4-29. DOI:10.46404/panjogov.v1i2.2381
Wossenu, A. (2014). “Land and water in the Nile basin”. In Assefa M. Melesse, Wossenu Abtew & Shimelis G. Setegn (Eds.), Nile river basin eco hydrological challenges, climate change, and hydropolitics, pp. 119-129. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.
Wu, X & Whittington, D. (2006). Incentive compatibility and conflict resolution in international river basins: A case study of the Nile Basin. Water Resources Research 42(2): W02417. DOI: 10.1029/2005WR004238.
Xinhua. (2020-06-18). Sudan voices rejection to filling of Ethiopia's Nile Dam without agreement. Retrieved on October 12, 2020, from
Yeshihareg, A. (2014). A comparative analysis of hydropolitics in the Rhine and Nile river basins [Unpublished Master’s Thesis]. Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa.
Zewdineh, B. & Ian, W. (2004). Common goods and the common good: Transboundary natural resources, principled cooperation, and the Nile basin initiative. Center for African Studies, Breslauer Symposium on Natural Resource Issues in Africa (University of California, Berkeley).
Zeydan, B. A. (2015). Water security and population dynamics in the Nile river basin. Tenth International Water Technology Conference, IWTC10 2006, Alexandria, Egypt.
Zeydan, B. A. (2018). Nile water conflict management. Research Gate. Available at
Zhang, Y., Block, P., Hammond, M., & King, A. (2015). Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam: Implications for downstream riparian countries. Journal of Water Resource Planning Management 14(9): 1–10.