Another two-day round of tripartite meetings between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the contentious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) commenced in Washington, DC 28 January. Talks were supposed to be concluded mid this month but were deferred after failure to reach final consensus
Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Irrigation from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met 14 January in Washington to discuss continuing differences around timing and technical regulations regarding filling and operation of the $ 4 Billion USD Nile dam, hosted by United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and included World Bank President David Malpass.
After the 14 January meeting, some signs of agreement were indicated in a joint statement that “The Ministers noted the progress achieved in the four technical meetings among the Ministers of Water Resources and their two prior meetings in Washington DC and the outcomes of those meetings and their joint commitment to reach a comprehensive, cooperative, adaptive, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation (of the dam)”.
The three countries agreed that the filling process will be implemented in stages to not cause any harm to the downstream countries of Egypt and Sudan. “Firstly, the initial stage of filling will be conducted during the Nile wet season, generally from July to August [the annual season of Nile rainwater], and will continue in September, they said, adding that the filling process during this period will be “subject to certain conditions”.
It was also agreed that the dam will be filled with water, in the initial stage, to reach a level of 595 meters above sea level and to generate electricity for the Ethiopians, while taking “appropriate mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan in case of severe droughts during this stage”, while subsequent stages of the filling process will depend on the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile by putting into consideration the level needed for producing the electricity for Ethiopia and adopted mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan.
The three countries previously held a ministerial meeting on the GERD 8-9 January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as part of talks that began in November 2019 in Washington in an attempt to reach trilateral agreement. On 10 January, Egypt said that negotiations had failed to lead to tangible progress because of Ethiopia’s intransigence.
This was followed, 12 January, by announcement from Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that he asked South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa to act as a mediator among the three countries over the dam.
“As for Cyril Ramaphosa, he is a good friend for both Ethiopia and Egypt and is the upcoming president of the African Union. He can mediate a discussion between both parties to solve the issue peacefully because peace is the foundation of everything here in Africa…That is why he can mediate as a brother of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. I am sure that he will play a significant role in bringing us a win-win approach”, Ahmed said.
The United States and The World Bank have supported and acted as observers to the agreed schedule of talks to work toward completion of an agreement by 15 January, 2020 and that if an agreement is not reached by that date, that Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles would be invoked, that:
“The three countries commit to settle any dispute resulting from the interpretation or application of the declaration of principles through talks or negotiations based on the good will principle. If the parties involved do not succeed in solving the dispute through talks or negotiations, they can ask for mediation or refer the matter to their heads of states or prime ministers”.
The first of the experts’ meetings, held in mid-November in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was followed by claims in Ethiopian media that Egypt and Sudan have accepted Ethiopia’s proposal to start filling the dam in June 2020, when there will be high rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands.
Subsequent talks in Cairo in early December over the filling and operation of the dam did not reach substantial agreement.
A third meeting took place in Khartoum on 21-22 December, with the fourth meeting hosted by Ethiopia 8-9 January, again resulting in deadlock.
Egypt has insisted that Ethiopia should fill the dam reservoir over a period of seven years and release 40 billion cubic meters of water every year. However, Ethiopia wants to fill the dam in 3 years and earlier this year rejected Egypt’s proposal, claiming that it does not “respect current and future rights and development plans of Ethiopia over the Nile and complicates the filling of the dam”.