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Exclusive: Egypt stalls latest talks on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

The Egyptian delegation blocked any progress in the meeting by tabling unreasonable, inequitable and unjust proposals and preconditions.

“Egypt’s intransigence in maintaining its demands has blocked progress in this meeting.”

Addis Standard staffs

Addis Abeba, December 04/2019 – Egypt has once again stalled the ongoing talks on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a source close to the matter told Addis Standard.

The Ministers of Water Affairs of Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan met in Cairo on 2-3 December 2019, the fifth in its kind aimed at addressing issues on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) since May 15, 2018.

In the latest round of meeting held in Cairo the three countries were supposed to discuss issues on the six topics related to the filling and operation of the GERD identified in early October 2019 during the  Khartoum meeting of Ministers of Water Affairs.

Following the instructions of the leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia at the Sochi Russia- Africa sideline meeting on 24 October 2019, a dialogue was hosted by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President of the World Bank Group, David Malpass, in Washington D.C. in the presence of the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the three Countries. In addition, the Foreign Ministers were also received by President Trump at the White House. During the meeting, the four remaining technical negotiation resumed as a continuation of the previous five technical experts and three ministerial meetings.

Based on these the Ministers of Water Affairs of the three countries, with representatives from US Government and World Bank experts as observers, resumed discussion on the six topics, which was held on 15-16 November 2019 in Addis Abeba. “Huge progress was made during this meeting such as organized the issues in tabular matrix, identified issues of convergence and divergence, reached consensus on most important issues,” the source who wanted to remain anonymous told Addis Standard.

Cairo meeting

As a continuation of the Addis Abeba meeting, it was expected that in the Cairo meeting, during 2-3 December 2019,  the ministers of water affairs would reach consensus on the remaining important issues and resolve differences. However, “Egypt’s intransigence in maintaining its demands has blocked progress in this meeting.”

Addis Standard has learnt that during the technical discussions, Ethiopia offered on the minimum release from the GERD during filling and some detail topics about the operation of the dam after the first filling. Ethiopia also underlined the significance of cooperation between the three countries during drought and prolonged drought situations which is important for the three countries to support one another. additionally, “Ethiopia has prepared useful mitigation measures on how it would help using its operation rules, that wouldn’t have been available without GERD”, said our source, adding that “Ethiopia’s view and proposal is balanced, just and reasonable which is anchored on achieving win-win situation among the three countries based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization.”

A second source who also participated in the meeting told Addis Standard that noting the multiple benefits of the GERD and describing it as an “asset to the region, especially for the downstream countries,” the Sudanese Minister also expressed his country’s view of the GERD and presented an operation plan that considered the interest of the three countries based on the hydrological data of almost one hundred years,” the source said. “Such a move by the Sudanese side was appreciated by Ethiopia.”

However, the Egyptian delegation blocked any progress in the meeting by tabling unreasonable, inequitable and unjust proposals and preconditions. Ethiopia rejected Egypt`s request as “none other than trying to impose its unreasonable wish on the two countries.”

The Ethiopian delegation is said to reject the notion that “rather than focusing on the critical issue of filling and operation of the GERD, Egypt attempted to impose, mainly on Ethiopia, unfair water allocations based on colonial era and bilateral exclusive “agreements” that have always been rejected by Ethiopia.”

At the center of this is Egypt’s request to link the operation of the GERD and the High Aswan Dam, the objective being maintaining 165m above sea level of the latter. Ethiopia sees such a request to maintain the water level of the High Aswan Dam or for that matter to any level as “unjustified, unreasonable and unscientific”. “It is tantamount to make the GERD subservient to the High Aswan Dam which Ethiopia and Sudan have no control and a dam which is fed by other inflows such as the Tekezze, Baro-Akobo and the White Nile, in which most flows come from Ethiopian highland,” the second source said.

Further Egypt requested for a minimum guaranteed flow of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the GERD, which make the request again unscientific, unreasonable. Ethiopia maintains Egypt`s requests are non-adaptive and non-cooperative in its approach and goal. “The request of Egypt considers as if Ethiopia has no legitimate share on the waters of the Nile and is based on an assertion that the entire flow of the Blue Nile belongs to Egypt. A country contributing 77 Billion or 86% of the Nile flow is denied to use its water by another country which contributes almost nothing to the flow.” Ethiopia also maintains as unjust the fact that a downstream country, that has access of 98% electricity to its people, “trying to deny the source of the water country that has almost 70% without electricity.”

Egypt and its claims have therefore blocked the three countries from reaching understanding and consensus on the filling and operation of the GERD in the latest round of talks, seen by Ethiopia as nothing “a concealed motive of making Ethiopia endorse 1959 agreement.”

“During the meeting it was clear that Egypt did not want the culmination of this process with win-win gains for all the countries. Such a delaying tactic is aimed at pushing the process to a political one in search of a political solution for a technical problem that should be solved technically and scientifically,” the second source, who also wanted to remain anonymous said.

It is to be recalled that during the dialogue hosted by the U.S government, the three countries have reached at “a consensus” to finalize the trilateral technical discussions by January 15, 2020. “If an agreement is not reached by January 15, 2020, the Foreign Ministers agree that Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles will be invoked,” said a joint statement released after the dialogue.

As was the meeting in Addis Abeba in mid-November, the latest talks in Cairo also took place in the presence of observers from the U.S. and the World Bank. “The hope for a successful meeting which could have produced a breakthrough is dashed by Egypt under its leadership as a host country.”

Ethiopia maintains it has always been cooperative, transparent and considerate of the situation in the region and accommodative of requests from downstream countries since the inception of the construction of the GERD.

While repeatedly expressing its commitment to reach at “a cooperative and reasonable understanding” on the filling and operation of the GERD, Ethiopia considers its rejection of what it sees as Egypt’s attempt to deny it of its “legitimate and natural right of using the waters of the Nile” as an appropriate action.  

Other Ethiopian experts close to the mater maintain that in this hydropower project Ethiopia should not have gone to this kind of discussion in the first place, but simply inform the downstream countries and take good care of the filling of the dam not to cause significant harm. Ethiopia has already extended the length of the filling period to seven years. AS

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