Popular culture and Nile hydropolitics: Amharic songs about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam


  • Abebe Yirga Ayenalem Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia
  • Emanuele Fantini IHE Delft, the Netherlands
  • Pieter Van der Zaag IHE Delft, The Netherlands




Songs, Popular culture, Abbay, Nile, Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Water Diplomacy


Water conflicts and negotiations between riparian states in the Nile Basin have mostly focused on legal, political, technical, and hydrological aspects of the river and dam construction. The contemporary cultural, emotional, and symbolic dimensions of the river and its dams have been largely overlooked. Therefore, this article explores how the Nile is portrayed, embedded, and perceived in Ethiopian popular culture, particularly popular songs. The Abbay, as the Nile is called in Ethiopia, is an integral part of the country’s identity, culture, history and politics. The river is at the heart of Ethiopian public space and popular songs, which both influence and are shaped by public opinion and official government discourses. The narratives communi- cated through these popular songs dramatically changed after construction began for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile in 2011. While most songs had previously lamented and cursed the river’s indifference to Ethiopians’ strife, newer narratives glorify and celebrate the river and the GERD. This study used discourse analysis to illustrate how popular songs shape public opinion about Abbay and mobilize popular support for the construction of the GERD. The article concludes with broader implications for water diplomacy and ongoing GERD negotiations.


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How to Cite

Ayenalem, A. Y., Fantini, E., & Van der Zaag, P. (2023). Popular culture and Nile hydropolitics: Amharic songs about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. International Journal of Water Governance, 10. https://doi.org/10.59490/ijwg.10.2023.7359



Research Article

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