Water war raging in the Nile Basin

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The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has been a source of discord for years. (AP/UNB file photo)

On July 24, 2020, I wrote an article here in the Dhaka Carrier magazine and website that "the negotiations for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have entered a critical stage".

After the latest tripartite negotiations entered a dead end between Egypt and Sudan on one side and Ethiopia on the other side, the drums of war began to ring throughout the region, preceded by vigorous regional diplomatic and political efforts to reach a peaceful and legal solution binding on all parties, and to avoid the option of a military solution.

Today, April 18th, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry urged in a letter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) the international community to persuade Ethiopia against taking any unilateral action on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) before it reaches a legally binding deal with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

Ethiopia plans to move ahead with the second filling of the dam in July despite the objections of Egypt and Sudan over the move in the absence of a legally binding deal.

Rounds of African Union-sponsored negotiations to reach an agreement have failed, including the latest round in DR Congo’s capital of Kinshasa earlier in April.

The talks, held under the auspices of the AU chair for 2021, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, were dubbed by Egypt as the "last chance."

In a letter to the president of the UNSC this week, Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy, Shoukry called on the international community to impress upon Ethiopia the importance of maintaining a spirit of good faith during negotiations to conclude an agreement on GERD within the coming months.

Shoukry affirmed the need for Ethiopia to refrain from unilaterally implementing the second phase of the filling this summer before an agreement is concluded.

Shoukry warned that the failure to reach an agreement will harm the water interests and security of Egypt and Sudan and increase tensions throughout East Africa and the Horn of Africa.

He added that the absence of a legally binding agreement will make Ethiopia "that has demonstrated a lack of political will to act as a responsible stakeholder and co-riparian" in control of the "survival and livelihood" of the Egyptian people.

Shoukry warned that the failure to reach a deal will also "constitute a serious threat to international peace and security."

The Egyptian foreign minister expressed hope that the international community’s engagement will contribute to reaching a fair and balanced agreement on GERD.

He said the desired agreement should "unlock the potential for cooperation between the three countries" and "chart a new course for the entire Nile Basin and East Africa."

In the letter conveyed by the Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN, Shoukry briefed the Security Council on the latest developments in the years-long GERD dispute.

In May 2020, Egypt sent a letter to the Security Council to inform it about the latest developments in the diplomatic GERD crisis.

A month later, Egypt submitted another letter urging the Security Council to intervene.

On March 2, 2021, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Sudan Dr. Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi and Sameh Shoukry of Egypt called on Ethiopia to show goodwill and engage in an effective negotiation process in order to reach an agreement.

The two ministers also expressed concern on the stalled negotiations that took place under the auspices of the African Union, and stressed that Ethiopia's implementation of the second phase of filling the Renaissance Dam unilaterally would pose a direct threat to the water security of Egypt and Sudan, especially with regard to the operation of the Sudanese dams and threatening lives of 20 million Sudanese citizens.

They also stressed that this measure would be a concrete violation of the Declaration of Principles agreement concluded between the three countries in Khartoum on March 23, 2015. The two ministers also affirmed that the two countries adhere to the proposal submitted by the Republic of Sudan and supported by the Arab Republic of Egypt on developing the negotiation mechanism that is sponsored by the African Union and includes the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to mediate in  the negotiations, as the two countries called on these four parties to adopt this proposal, announce their acceptance of it, and launch these negotiations at the earliest possible opportunity.

On March 3, 2021, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abul Gheit has renewed the pan-Arab organization's commitment to maintaining the water rights of Egypt and Sudan and supporting efforts exerted to reach a fair, legal and binding agreement towards the issue of filling Ethiopia's Renaissance Dam to protect the interests of all parties.

On March 18, 2021, Foreign Ministry spokesman of Egypt Ahmed Hafez stressed that latest statements by senior Ethiopian officials on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam reveal the country's intention to impose a fait accompli policy on the Nile River’s downstream countries, a move that Egypt totally rebuffs as it poses serious threats to Egyptian and Sudanese peoples’ interests.

In a press release, Hafez warned that such unilateral moves endanger regional security and stability.

In earlier statements, the Ethiopian irrigation and foreign ministers said their country plans to proceed with the second stage of filling the dam even if an agreement was not reached with Egypt and Sudan.

It is regrettable that Ethiopian officials use the language of sovereignty in their talks about the exploitation of the resources of a transboundary river, he said, making clear that international rivers are a joint property of riparian states.

It is not permissible for any one riparian state to try to impose its sovereignty over a transboundary river that passes through its land or seek to monopolize it, he went on to say.

Such natural resources should be utilized to serve peoples of riparian states in accordance with international law and cooperation principles, he added.

He said such statements come at a time Congo, in its capacity as current chair of the AU, is exerting efforts to set up an international Quartet grouping the US, EU, UN and AU to reach a satisfactory agreement before the start of flooding season.

The latest statements indicate that the Ethiopian government has no political will to engage in negotiations to reach a settlement of the crisis, he added.

He underlined the importance of engaging the international community in negotiations led by Congo to reach an agreement within the coming few months.

The two Ethiopian ministers made the statements on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of launching the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

On March 30, 2021, during a visit to the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) in Ismailia, during which he inspected the Authority’s Maritime Training and Simulation Center, President El-Sisi stressed that Egypt chose the path of negotiation in accordance with international covenants and laws.

Such despicable and odious hostile acts soiling our nation have had a negative impact for several years.

President El-Sisi further asserted that Egypt's water is a red line that cannot be crossed and compromising it would plunge the entire region into a state of instability.

Lastly, On April 18, 2021, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that the second filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will proceed as planned for July/August.

"Ethiopia, in developing Abbay (Blue Nile) River for its needs, has no intention of causing harm to lower riparian countries. Heavy rains last year enabled successful first filling of the GERD while the presence of the GERD itself has undoubtedly prevented severe flooding in neighboring Sudan," Ahmed wrote in a post on twitter.

"Ahead of the second filling, Ethiopia is releasing more water from last year’s storage through newly completed outlets & sharing information.

The next filling takes place only during heavy rainfall months of July/August, ensuring benefits in reducing floods in Sudan."

The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also informed Washington of its commitment to African sponsorship of the GERD negotiations.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, said during a phone call with the US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, that “the Renaissance Dam negotiations under the auspices of the AU are necessary, given that it is an impartial and fair observer.

Kamal Gaballa, Former Managing Editor of Al-Ahram

  • Suez Canal Authority (SCA)
  • United Nations Security Council (UNSC)
  • Water war raging in the Nile Basin
  • Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

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