For millennia, the Nile River has served as the backbone of Egypt, the lifeblood of its people. Gradually, though, the land of the pharaohs is losing its grip.
Late last month, Uganda hosted the first ever heads-of-state summit aimed at resolving disagreements over the waters of the Nile. But it produced no major breakthrough and appeared to be a flop. In coming months, the opening of a major dam in Ethiopia will truly test Egypt’s anxieties that countries upstream are refusing to bow to its demands. The dam’s opening will reveal just how much leverage Egypt has lost.
Egypt has a strong historical and legal claim to the Nile dating back to the colonial era, but that framework is being undercut by rapid development and population growth upstream. Currently, more than 430 million people live across the 11 countries that make up the Nile Basin: Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Eritrea. The population of the Nile Basin is likely to jump to nearly 1 billion by 2050.