Following Ethiopia’s effective withdrawal from US-brokered negotiations around the contentious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, the governments of both Egypt and Ethiopia are engaging in international lobbying and sharp words around their respective positions in the longstanding dispute.
Egypt unilaterally signed a draft agreement in Washington at the end of February which Ethiopia’s foreign ministry has described as “unacceptable and highly partisan” and indicated that it will bring in a new proposal on filling of the GERD's reservoir.
Construction of the $4 Billion USD GERD commenced in 2011; upon completion it will produce over 6,000 megawatts of electricity and become Africa's largest hydropower project. Downstream, Egypt is concerned that the dam will affect its annual share of Nile water, causing shortages.
The Egypt-Ethiopia standoff is around timing of filling the reservoir. 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”.
The US Treasury which, with The World Bank, has acted as a broker between the two countries in recent months, has described the draft agreement as addressing “all issues in a balanced and equitable manner… taking into account the interests of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan”, and warned Ethiopia that “final testing and filling (of the dam) should not take place without an agreement”, prompting accusations of bias by the US in favour of Egypt’s position. US President Donald Trump, who has suggested that he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for the US government’s mediation role, is also known to have described Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as “my favourite dictator”.
Former US Ambassador to Ethiopia David H. Shinn has accused the Trump administration of “putting its thumb on the scale in favour of Egypt” in the GERD dispute, amid suggestions that the Trump administration may be engaging in a quid-pro-quo for Egyptian and Arab League backing for the US President’s Middle East Israel-Palestine “Deal of the Century”, and concern over a potential Egypt-sponsored armed attack on the dam.
Both Egypt and Ethiopia have moved to rally international support for their respective positions since the breakdown of the Washington talks. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry this week started a tour of seven touring African countries while senior Ethiopian diplomatic delegations have been dispatched to European and African countries.
Egypt Today has reported that Sudan, the third national participant in the Washington-brokered discussion, is to act as a new mediator between Egypt and Ethiopia, following a Cairo meeting last week between Sisi and the First Deputy Chairman of the Sudanese Sovereign Council Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo during which Sisi “highlighted Egypt's support to Sudan during the current critical transitional phase”.
Egypt’s foreign affairs committee is set to ramp up pressure by taking measures against contracting companies participating in the building of the GERD. "This is part of Egypt's current efforts aimed at safeguarding its water security and preserving Egypt's rights to the Nile water”, according to committee head Karim Darwish 16 March, who added that "MPs who asked for holding this urgent meeting recommend that the government take measures against international contracting companies participating in the building of the GERD…we recommend the (Egypt) government suspend all contracts with these companies and stop any deals with them in the future”.
Meantime, Ethiopia’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Adam Mohamed, has said that his country’s army is ready to resist any attack on the dam and carry out counterattacks against aggressors, with Brigadier General Yilma Mordesa, the commander of the Ethiopian Air Force, adding that it is ready to defend the dam and the surrounding area.