Ethiopian Dam negotiations to recommence next Sunday

Sarah El-Sheikh
6 Min Read
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile River raises tensions between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan

The African Union (AU) has invited Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to meet, next Sunday, to continue negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

It will be the first such meeting of 2021, following a year full of disappointments regarding the dam negotiations.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Dina Mufti said during the ministry’s weekly press conference, on Tuesday, that this would be the first meeting after negotiations were suspended for a full month. The suspension of talks occurred after Sudan requested a change to the negotiation mechanism.

He said that the upcoming meeting is seen as a “competition of time”, in reference to the transfer of the AU presidency in 2021 to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The year 2020 began with negotiations on the Dam, with the participation of the World Bank and under the supervision of US President Donald Trump. The negotiations took place in order to agree on the rules for filling the dam’s reservoir, which has been a major source of contention between the three countries.

However, when all three sides had apparently reached an agreement, Ethiopia refused to participate in the final meeting that was held in the US. The meeting had ostensibly been held to sign a US-proposed draft of the agreement on the dam’s filling and operation.

The three countries involved in the negotiations have not succeeded in resolving the dispute over the Dam crisis, despite the continued talks throughout 2020. This means that they will enter the New Year with the concept of more negotiations and procrastination from the Ethiopian side to look forward to.

The year 2020 witnessed an evasive policy and much procrastination from the Ethiopian side, as a tactic to delay negotiations with Egypt on the dam. The Ethiopian move comes despite the fact that Egypt submitted many proposals to contain the crisis, and reach solutions that satisfy all parties without causing harm to any of them.

France announced the UN Security Council’s call to hold an open session to discuss the GERD crisis, in response to the Egyptian request, and on 30 June, the Security Council met to do so.

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry confirmed, during the session, that the issue is currently linked to a “matter of greatness” for the Egyptian people. The dam, Shoukry said, is an “existential threat to the only source of life for more than 100 million Egyptians.”

He added that the huge project that Ethiopia has built on the Blue Nile could endanger the security and survival of an entire nation, by threatening its only source of water.

On 16 June, Egypt submitted a request to the UN Security Council in which it called on the Council to intervene in order to confirm the importance of continued negotiations in good faith. This would also be in implementation of Egypt’s obligations in accordance with the rules of international law, in order to reach a just and balanced solution to the issue.

The crisis regarding the dam’s filling ensured that negotiations were brought back to the table, but Egypt and Sudan decided to withdraw due to Ethiopia’s failure to adhere to the agreed agenda.

Last September at a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi stressed the escalation of Egypt’s grave concern about the Renaissance Dam project.

Amidst the stalled negotiations and Ethiopia’s following its usual method of lack of clarity in the negotiations, Khartoum said, last November, that it refused to continue negotiations with the old approach. It added that it would no longer be participating in any dialogue that proceeds with the same mechanism of the previous negotiations.

On 13 December, the Sudanese government announced an agreement with Ethiopia to resume negotiations on the Renaissance Dam within the following week.

However, the negotiations are threatened by several crises relating to Ethiopia’s ongoing internal war between the country’s army and the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Forces (TPLF).

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has consistently asserted that the country’s federal authorities will control the restive northern region of Tigray, which the TPLF represents. There has been the addition of a new dispute between Ethiopia and Sudan due to the military tension on the shared border.

In a statement last Saturday, the Egyptian President reiterated the importance of reaching a binding legal agreement on the rules for filling and operating GERD. This is despite the stalled negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the project, which the two downstream countries fear will affect the water quotas and damage their dams.

The statement said that President Al-Sisi received a phone call from his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, whose country presides over the current session of the African bloc, and which is leading the final stages of negotiations.

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