Egypt Boosts Ties With Ethiopia Neighbors Amid Nile Dam Dispute

Egypt’s president outlined plans to boost security and military ties with the Red Sea state of Djibouti, as Cairo strengthens relations in eastern Africa while mired in a dispute over Ethiopia’s use of the Nile River.

Thursday’s talks between Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and his counterpart Ismail Omar Guelleh in Djibouti come amid “exceptional circumstances” and conflicts that represent an “important challenge” in the Horn of Africa, Sisi said in a statement afterward.

He and Guelleh “agreed on the importance of strengthening cooperation to support regional security and stability, and joint action to avoid the spreading of conflicts to neighboring countries, which may threaten the peace and security situation in our dear African continent,” Sisi said.

The visit, billed as the first by an Egyptian president to Djibouti since independence in 1977, took place a day after Kenya’s army said it had signed a “technical agreement on defense cooperation” with the Egyptian military. The North African nation has agreed broadly similar pacts with Sudan, Burundi and Uganda in recent months.

Former French colony Djibouti, which is roughly the size of New Jersey and hosts U.S. and Chinese military bases, is a key trade conduit for neighboring Ethiopia. The latter is the site of a hydropower project that’s set to be Africa’s largest and the subject of a long-running dispute with Egypt.

Ethiopia enacted the first filling phase of the dam on the Nile’s main tributary last year and says it will begin the second one around July. Downstream Egypt and Sudan rely on the Nile for most of their fresh water needs and have urged additional international mediation to secure an agreement on filling and operating the dam before the step is taken.

Sisi has previously warned Ethiopia not to “touch a drop” of Egypt’s water, while urging a negotiated solution. Sudan this week said it had evidence that Ethiopia had resumed pooling the reservoir, a claim the Horn of Africa country denied.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam “affects the vital interests of the entire region,” Sisi said in the statement. He said it was imperative to reach a fair agreement “that fulfills the interests of all and strengthens cooperation and integration between the countries and peoples of the region.”

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