For several years, political tensions between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have been escalating in a conflict over the near-complete Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The GERD is Africa’s largest hydropower plant. It dams the Blue Nile river coming from Ethiopia’s highlands just before it crosses into Sudan where, after merging with the White Nile, it continues northwards to Egypt.

Ethiopia needs GERD’s electricity to lift millions of citizens out of poverty. But Egypt is concerned by GERD’s consequences for its agriculture, which depends completely on Nile water. Sudan, meanwhile, sees both potential benefits and risks. Mediation talks to agree on GERD operation have been ongoing for years and are currently stalled.

Why the contention? The GERD’s reservoir will be large enough to store the full annual Blue Nile flow, allowing GERD to produce year-round hydroelectricity. However, such an operational scheme would overhaul the natural timing of the highly seasonal river. Behind many disagreements around GERD hides the question of who, if anyone, should be allowed to exert such control over the Nile.

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