Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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TEFERI Mekonnen, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

The hydro-politics of the Nile River was one of the major factors in shaping interstate relationships in Northeast Africa before and after the advent of colonial rule. During the colonial period, the Ethiopian Government desired to use the United States as a counterweight against Italy and Britain that were threatening its existence as an independent state. Indeed, America began to get involved in the Nile waters issue in 1927; nevertheless US involvement could not serve as a means of safeguarding Ethiopian independence as had been the expectation of the Ethiopian Government. The role of the USA in the water use conflict of Northeast Africa became evident after World War II in general and since the onset of the Cold War in particular. This paper assesses Ethiopia’s attempts at studying its water resources by using American experts and finances from US aid, during the 1950s and early 1960s, in response to the downstream states of Egypt and the Sudan that had promoted unilateral and bilateral water development schemes of their own. It critically examines the Ethio-US Agreement to study the Blue Nile Basin as to tame the river for Ethiopia's use and examines its results. It also deals with the impacts of the massive Ethio-US joint study of the Blue Nile Basin on the downstream states of Egypt and the Sudan as well as the foundations and subsequent developments of some important governmental institutions with respect to the water sector development projects in Ethiopia. Through a study of USA’s response to loan requests to build dams and irrigation projects and the geo-political underpinnings, the paper argues that the USA maneuvered the hydro-politics of the Northeast Africa to promote ultra-regional motives which extends to the Middle East conflict. The article draws on archival evidence from the Ethiopian Ministry of Water Resources, Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, diplomatic dispatches from Egypt and the Sudan as well as media reports, academic publications and oral informants.