During their meeting in Russia, the leaders of African nations Egypt and Ethiopia have agreed on resuming their negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), after it reached a deadlock earlier this month over disagreement on its filling and operation period.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that the GERD’s technical committee will convene and put forward how to operate the dam, Egyptian presidency stated last Thursday.
The announcement came during a meeting held on the sidelines of the first Russia-Africa forum held in the city of Sochi on 23-24 October.
During the Thursday meeting, Al-Sisi said that Egypt upholds its historical rights in the Nile, affirming that Ethiopian efforts to the development should not be achieved at the expense of the Egypt’s and Sudan’s interests.
Meanwhile, the Russian President Vladimir Putin said he is ready to mediate talks between Egypt and Ethiopia on the $4bn dam, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters during the forum. However, Peskov did not mention if both sides accepted the Russian mediation initiative.
Egypt has been already calling for international mediation to resolve the dispute, but Ethiopia refused saying that “there is no need for it.”
Tensions escalated between Cairo and Addis Ababa in recent days after the Ethiopian Prime Minister said that his country is ready to “mobilise millions” if there is a need to go for war with Egypt over the GERD, but only negotiations would resolve the dispute.
Egypt criticised the controversial statement, describing it as “unacceptable,” and violates the values of the African Union.
However, the Ethiopian leader said last Thursday that his remarks to go for a war over the dam “were taken out of context.”
Earlier this month, Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation announced that negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia reached a “deadlock.”
The ministry said that Egypt summited a “fair and balanced” proposal on the filling and operating the dam that takes into account the interests of the three countries, while Ethiopia submitted a proposal that the ministry said did not “offer assurances over the minimum annual release from the GERD and the dealing with future drought years.”
Ethiopia rejects the Egyptian proposal saying it is “biased” and disrupts its economic development. Water, Irrigation, and Energy Minister Seleshi Bekele said that “Egypt forwarded unfair proposal on the filling and operation of the dam.”
Bekele added, “Cairo requested that Ethiopia guarantees a water level of 165 meters above mean sea level for the Aswan High Dam by releasing water from the GERD and demanded to establish a permanent office at the dam with its own personnel,” the Ethiopian news agency reported.
Egypt depends on the Nile River for about 90% of its water, in drinking water, industry, and agriculture. Egypt is concerned that the GERD will shrink its share of Nile water and cause “harms” to its people.
Egypt’s water share of the Nile is about 55 bn cubic meters (cm), while the water needs reach 59 bn cm, according to the Ministry of Irrigation.
The latest in the dispute
The dispute between the two countries is on the period of filling and operating the GERD’s reservoir. Egypt suggested the period to be within seven years, while Ethiopia wants it to be only within three years, according to state-run newspaper Al-Ahram.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry said that Egypt requires a minimum release of 40 bn cm of water from the GERD every year, while Ethiopia wants it to be 35 bn cm, according to Reuters.
Al-Sisi has been stressing that the Nile water is a matter of life and death for Egypt. He brought the issue during his address at the UN General Assembly in New York this September.
In the same context, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has called the international community to mediate between Cairo and Addis Ababa to reach a final fair agreement on the process of filling and operating the dam.
In addition to Russian mediation, Egypt revealed that it has received an invitation from the United States administration for a meeting with Sudan and Ethiopia’s foreign ministers in Washington to discuss the dispute over the GERD talks. The date of the upcoming meeting has not been specified yet.
Egypt called for international mediation based on the principle No 10 in the 2015 Declaration of Principles Agreement that Cairo, Khartoum, and Addis Ababa signed and pledged to equitably share water resources and cooperate over the GERD.
“If the Parties are unable to resolve the dispute through consultation or negotiation, they may jointly request for conciliation, mediation, or refer the matter for the consideration of the Heads of State/Head of Government,” the principle read.
The GERD on the Blue Nile River “is for power generation, to contribute to economic development, promotion of transboundary cooperation, and regional integration through the generation of sustainable and reliable clean energy supply,” the agreement read.
However, Ethiopia previously announced that it refuses to involve an international party, arguing that it defends its right to development, saying it will never harm the interests of Egypt or Sudan.
Mohamed Nasr Eldin Allam, a former Egyptian irrigation minister, told Daily News Egypt that the continuation of negotiations was expected, but he stated that the round of talks should not exceed a month to reach a final fair agreement that achieves the development for Ethiopia and not cause harm to Egypt.
Allam said that Ethiopia refused to involve any international experts or parties because it is certain of the “major damages” that the dam will cause for Egypt.
However, Allam pointed out that Ethiopia’s rejection has negative and positive sides. The positive side is that Egypt could achieve a lot through negotiations which will ensure real peace and good relations with Ethiopia and avoid any escalation in the future. While the involvement of an international mediation could result in “unfavourable results,” Allam added.
The former minister highlighted that Egypt still has significant negotiations tools that include the international resolutions and agreements as well as boycotting the electricity that will be generated by the GERD.
Allam noted that Egypt will be the main importer to the electricity generated by the dam and will also be the main passage for it to Europe. If Egypt refused to import this electricity, the establishment of the dam will be suspended, Allam suggested.
Allam also said that Egypt could resort to the UN Security Council to halt the establishment of the dam, if the talks failed this time too.
Through the GERD, Ethiopia seeks to be the largest hydropower project in Africa. The dam, which 70% of have already completed, is expected to generate more than 6,000 megawatts (MW) by 2021.
On the other hand, Allam suggested that Egypt has to improve its relations with Sudan as both countries have to unite their voices to avoid any expected harms to their countries and peoples in the future because of the dam.
The former minister said that Sudan will be harmed more than Egypt because its water share will be decreased and if the dam collapsed, it could result in a humanitarian crisis in Sudan.
“For the sake of Sudan and Egypt, both countries have to team up to protect their water interests,” Allam added.
Egypt State Information Service said that Cairo maintains several international agreements and treaties governing the use of Nile River waters.
In 1993, Egypt and Ethiopia signed an agreement that prevents any of both countries from implementing water projects that harm the interests of the other.
There is also an agreement between Egypt and Sudan signed in 1959 that allows Egypt the right to an annual share of 55.5 bn cm of Nile water and Sudan 18.5 bn cm every year.
Noha Bakr, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, told Daily News Egypt the previous rounds of talks cannot be described as negotiations because the Ethiopian side “was inflexible toward Egypt legitimate rights regarding the filling and operating of the GERD.”
Bakr said that if the future talks will be similar to the previous ones, she could not be optimistic regarding its results.
She warned that if the GERD is mismanaged, it will result in not only water or environmental threats, but also in threats on the infrastructure.
Bakr noted that Egypt showed “good faith” more than it should, adding that the Ethiopian PM has to act in a manner that consists of his winning to the Noble Peace Prize.
Bakr also highlighted that Egypt stance has been “very wise” in dealing with the dam issue, suggesting that Egypt could turn to the World Bank, the UN Security Council, and even the African Union to mediate talks and to resolve the dispute.