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Samuel Addis Alemayehu

Egyptians have recently been busy producing reams of alleged ‘information’, attempting to put the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in a negative light; some bordering paranoiac whims which pose challenge to one’s imaginary capabilities. From officials to retired generals to academicians of all colors Egyptians are busy producing stories that portray the Dam as some sort of existential threat to Egypt. They are even producing claims that deny the Dam is making any progress or (baseless) forecasts that construction will come to a halt as Ethiopia runs out of cash. Not surprisingly, Ethiopians around the world have responded angrily to this sort of gibberish. To the surprise of many, in the past two months alone we have read stories of invented omens that forecast the collapse of the Dam, or fictitious allegations of foreign finances to the dam. To make matters worse, the war drums were the constant undercurrent behind all this frantic media hype or for a lack of better term, paranoiac exercise. It seems that in Egypt facts and fiction have come to be one and the same or perhaps readily exchangeable goods. It is hard to credit the sort of remarks alleging that the GERD will have an impact on the Giza pyramids. 

The IPoE and its findings: ‘no harm’ or ‘significant harm’        

The recent diplomatic frenzy and the accompanying media fanfare are fundamentally aimed at undermining the findings of the International Panel of Experts (IPoE). It has been said time and gain that the IPoE was established with the intent to ease the fear and mistrust of Sudan and Egypt that the construction of the Dam would not pose significant harm. The composition, particularly the inclusion of international experts had the rationale of giving it more objectivity and the highest level of expert knowledge available in various fields of dam construction. Consonant with Ethiopia’s own studies, the IPoE came up with a report that proved that the dam would not pose any appreciable harm on the two downstream countries rather it would benefit all. It further recommended Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to implement recommendations that would be carried out by Ethiopia unilaterally and the three countries in tandem. The Egyptian response to the report was at best lukewarm, with suggestions that the report was inconclusive (it isn’t), and claims that Ethiopia had denied documents to the Panel (it didn’t). It was very clear the argument about “inclusiveness” was a deliberate effort to undermine the findings of the IPoE.  Indeed, nothing captures the idea of Egypt’s downplaying of the report than its refusal to accept the Panel’s clear conclusions of ‘no harm’ and its apparent claim of ‘significant harm’, for which the Panel provided no support whatsoever. 

Attempts to mislead and hoax opinion starts in earnest   

Following the completion of the Panel’s report, the three states began discussions in Khartoum on implementing the recommendations. The first two meetings of the water ministers went more or less well. At the third meeting, however, difficulty arose. The Egyptian delegation proposed that a new international experts’ committee should be established parallel to the national committee of experts that all three countries had agreed should be set up to oversee two further studies recommended by the Panel. It also argued this international committee could provide advice not only on the final report but throughout the conduct of the two recommended studies. It rejected Ethiopia and Sudan’s suggestion that seeking the advice of any new international experts should be done on the basis of consensus, as well as their suggestion that new international experts’ group should be established after the submission of the national committee’s report in order to provide expert advice if the ministers failed to agree on any specific issues. Ethiopia and Sudan were in agreement on this stance. The Egyptian delegation refused to accept this position. Indeed, in a complete reversal of the agreements reached in previous sessions, the Egyptian delegation then also demanded that the national committee should discuss a document titled “Principles of Confidence” beyond the agreed mandate to follow up implementation of the recommendations of the IPoE. The idea behind the proposal of discussion on “principles of confidence” is nothing but undermining the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA); the first basin wide treaty signed by six riparian states including Ethiopia. Given the fact that most of the principles were incorporated or the issues are answered in the CFA, the proposal of discussion over the “principles of confidence” is nothing short of reopening negotiation over the CFA.

That said, Ethiopia and Sudan‘s position with regard to the hiring of a new group of the international experts was a position taken on the basis of reason and cogent argument. They argued against the establishment of an international experts’ group while the national committee was still carrying out its activities because no job could be specified for the international experts while the national committee was meeting. In addition, the two recommended studies would be carried out by international consultants overseen by the national committee. There could be no reason to hire additional international consultants at the same time. 

Accusing Ethiopia of obstinacy? Unmasking the real motives

Perhaps the most important and proximate cause for the paranoia of Cairo and repeated reference of Ethiopia’s obstinacy lies on the ulterior motive of heightening the importance of the results of the hydrological simulation modeling studies and socio-economic environmental impact by making the findings of the IpoE pale in terms of the decisiveness in assessing the impact of the dam on the downstream countries. This is easily discernible in the claims of Egyptian authorities to give adjudicatory power akin to arbitral body to the international experts committee they sought to establish in the water ministers meeting on January 4 and 5 in Khartoum. The proposal is an obvious case of attempt to reverse the findings of the IPoE.

However, the truth of the matter is , IPoE recommended the study of hydrological modeling primarily to conduct the studies with simulation model the three countries could agree on. This however does not mean that Ethiopia has not conducted its own studies or the studies were deemed unacceptable by IPoE.  Indeed, Ethiopia’s own study, which was conducted on internationally accepted simulation model, proved that the Dam would not pose appreciable decline in the flow of the water to downstream countries. Similar studies conducted by the Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office, ENTRO, the World Bank, the International Water Management Institution and others showed comparable result. 

The reason behind the recommendation relates to the very mandate of the IPoE. Since IPoE is mandated to promote confidence building, the recommendation is intended to serve the same purpose by enabling the three countries to practically redo the studies through mutually agreed simulation models. The same is true with the socio-economic and trans- boundary environmental impact assessment studies. The recommendation behind the studies is related to the sources of data. Ethiopia had already produced the studies based on the secondary data as far as impact on Egypt and Sudan is concerned. Several studies by World Bank and other similar institutions confirmed the findings of Ethiopia’s studies that the impact of the construction of the dam is negligible. The reason again here is not with the findings rather it is to make the study on primary data in Egypt and Sudan. The recommendation is well placed, since conducting such study is trans-boundary in nature which in turn means accessing primary data requires the cooperation of the three countries. In conclusion, the new studies will make no difference as far as the findings of the IPoE are concerned. The IPoE report has confirmed that the dam design is in accord with international standards. It has also confirmed that dam safety issues are well addressed in the design with recommendation of updating of design documents which Ethiopia recently finalized. More importantly, it has proven beyond any doubt that the construction of the dam poses no significant harm on downstream countries. More on to it, the IPoE never called for the halt of the construction of the dam to conduct the two studies. Further, it was also agreed by the three countries that the conduct of the studies will be made while construction continues in the terms of reference that established the IPoE, which makes such demands unfair. Having said, the demand for the halt of the dam and the whole gamut of diplomatic and media frenzy is bound to be equated as a game of dupe in Egypt or elsewhere and nothing else.

Samuel Addis holds a law degree from AAU. He occasionally writes on local and regional issues. He can be reached at samalemayehu@gmail.com  


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