CAIRO – 22 January 2018: Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu asserted that PM Hailemariam Desalegn’s remark on the World Bank’s mediation in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) talks was “out of context,” Egypt’s Foreign ministry spokesman, Ahmed Abu Zeid, said on Sunday.
Media reports pointed out that Desalegn rejected Egypt's request to include the World Bank in the tripartite technical committee’s talks (Egypt- Ethiopia – Sudan) on the Ethiopian Dam in an interview with the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA).
Desalegn said that Ethiopia will not accept any arbitration by a third party on the GERD issue as there is an opportunity for the three countries to resolve possible disputes by themselves.
Abu Zeid said in an interview with ON E channel that the tripartite technical committee’s talks should not bear any political interpretation, because they have a technical nature.
He added that Egypt was keen to include the World Bank in the tripartite talks to act as a neutral party based on its international experience in establishing major dam projects.
Desalegn visited Cairo in the last week when he attended the sixth meeting of the joint Egyptian-Ethiopian Higher Committee. The meeting tackled several fields, including education, health, agriculture and fisheries.
Desalegn also met with President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi and discussed the GERD issue among other topics of common interest.
Controversy over the Declaration of Principles
In March 2015, the leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed the "Declaration of Principles" in a step to put an end to the four-year dispute over Nile water sharing arrangements among Nile Basin countries.
The 10-principles declaration was the foundation that further agreements should be based on and was one of the first steps on the path of “understanding and rapprochement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Egyptian diplomatic sources pointed out that the current dispute was caused by the Ethiopian and Sudanese sides' misinterpretation of the Declaration of Principles. They said that Ethiopia is trying to twist the principles in a way that serves its interests without any obligations, while Egypt aims to limit the harmful effects that may be caused by the dam.
The sources expected that the coming visit will witness an end to the crisis, otherwise the situation will be more complicated.
Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Photo by Eric Mil
GERD Tripartite National Technical Committee
The 17th round of GERD Tripartite National Technical Committee dispersed from a meeting in Cairo in November 2017 without reaching agreement on the "inception report" prepared by two French firms, BRL and Arterlia, on their technical studies of the dam's potential impact on Egypt and Sudan.
Ever since this latest unsuccessful meeting, there has been strong word coming from the Egyptian side.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah Al-Sisi said that “Nile is a matter of life or death to Egypt.” A catchword that Sisi repeated at a recent inauguration of a fishery in Egypt.
In 2011, Ethiopia started the construction of the 6,000-megawatt Renaissance Dam over the Blue Nile River, one of the major sources of water that forms the Nile River downstream. Concerns have risen in Cairo and Khartoum over the negative impact the Ethiopian dam will have on their historic Nile water share, amounting to 55.5 billion cubic meters in Egypt only, in accordance with the historic 1959 agreement with Sudan.
However, Ethiopia stressed that the dam will not have any negative impact on Egypt or Sudan; the two countries opposed the dam’s construction from the very beginning. Even though, Sudan changed its stance towards the dam in 2013, expressing support for its construction, and claiming that it is going to serve the interest of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt.
President Omar al-Bashir claimed that his country’s approval for the construction of the Ethiopian dam was driven by economic not political reasons.
Addis Ababa was pleased by Sudan’s support to the new dam project and welcomed Bashir several times on its territory. The Sudanese president's remarks about the GERD seemed to be a bargaining chip to secure Addis Ababa's support before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has issued an arrest warrant against Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
In July 2017, Sudanese Media Minister Ahmed Bilal asserted that Egypt and Sudan share strong links and a long history of unending relationship, adding that Khartoum will not harm Egypt's national security. Bilal pointed out, in a press conference at the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo, that the filling of GERD’s reservoir should be applied in cooperation with downstream countries to minimize potential negative impacts.
In late December 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry visited Ethiopia to meet with his Ethiopian counterpart in a bid to break the current stalemate affecting the negotiations concerning the establishment of the Renaissance Dam.
On a similar note, Ethiopian Minister of Water and Irrigation Salehi Baqal revealed last week while reviewing the ministry’s performance before the Ethiopian Parliament that the negotiations on the Grand Dam are based on a notion of fair distribution of water, adding that 63.87 percent of its construction works were complete.
Egypt has previously announced its approval of the report prepared by PRL Consulting on the guidelines that should be followed when conducting studies on the effects of the dam; however, Ethiopia and Sudan rejected the findings of the report, crippling the continuation of the studies necessary for the establishment of the dam.
Since May 2011, Cairo has voiced its concern over how the dam can reduce the country’s annual share of Nile water. The real average consumption of water in Egypt is 105 billion cubic meters, and we get only 55.5 billion cubic meters from the Nile. The remaining 80 billion cubic meters are covered by the reuse of wastewater.
Egypt’s average water per-capita is expected to drop from 663 cubic meters per year to 582 cubic meters by 2025, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Addis Ababa, however, claimed that the dam is necessary for Ethiopia’s development and will not harm downstream countries.