Wednesday 30 September 2020
I wrote – Rana Osama:
The American “Foreign Policy” magazine criticized the Ethiopian manipulation in the negotiations of the Renaissance Dam, saying that as long as the dam remained a tool in the hands of Ethiopia to control the Blue Nile, “the negotiations are doomed to failure.”
In an analysis by Dr. Mohamed Helal, a visiting professor at the Harvard Law School of America, she pointed out that for nearly a decade, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been negotiating over the dam. Unfortunately, no agreement resulted in these negotiations. Packages of technical reports were written, dozens of statements were issued, and hundreds of meetings were held with Heads of State and Government, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Water and Irrigation, Water Scientists and Engineers, Lawyers and Litigants, Foreign Mediators and International Observers. Yet little has been provided – except for the 2015 Declaration of Principles, which provided a legal framework for organizing negotiations – amid this diplomatic turmoil.
The reason these efforts failed, according to the analysis, is that there is a fundamental difference in the purpose of these negotiations. Egypt is pursuing an agreement based on a simple and mutually beneficial trade-off: Ethiopia should be able to generate hydroelectric power from the GERD while minimizing damage to downstream communities in Egypt and Sudan. In return, Ethiopia aims to exploit these negotiations; To confirm control of the Blue Nile, the largest tributary of the Nile, and to reshape the political terrain of the Nile Basin.
The classic puzzle of transboundary streams is that downstream countries, with their fertile valleys and abundant deltas, often build developed economies based on the banks of rivers before the upstream mountain states began to develop the need and ability to exploit these shared natural resources. This is especially evident in the Nile Basin. Throughout its history, Egypt, which is primarily a desert oasis of 100 million people, has relied entirely on the Nile for its survival. On the other hand, Ethiopia, a country rich in water upstream, has recently started tapping many of its transboundary rivers as a vehicle for development by building hydroelectric dams.
According to the report, “reconciling Ethiopias development needs with the imperative of Egypt’s survival is not an insurmountable challenge. However, the impasse is that upstream developments always affect downstream countries, and could expose millions of people to the devastating repercussions of potential water shortages.”
And he warned of this threat, it becomes particularly acute in the crisis of the Renaissance Dam, which, when completed, will be the largest hydropower dam in Africa with a storage capacity more than twice the capacity of the Hoover Dam in the United States. If filled and operated without an agreement with Egypt and Sudan, it could have disastrous effects on the livelihood of downstream communities.
On the ground, when Ethiopia unilaterally began filling the dam in July by rapidly reserving nearly 5 billion cubic meters of water, Sudan suffered from disruptions to its drinking water supply systems and hydropower production facilities. (As evidence of growing concern over Ethiopias decision to fill the dam and lack of progress in the negotiations, the United States announced a temporary “suspension” of part of its aid to Addis Ababa).
The analysis reaffirmed that reconciling Ethiopias development needs with the imperative of Egypt’s survival is not an insurmountable challenge. In February, the United States brokered an agreement that did indeed reconcile the two. It enabled Ethiopia to rapidly and sustainably generate hydroelectric power from the dam while reducing its harmful effects. However, while Egypt accepted this agreement and signed it in its initials, Ethiopia rejected it.
Since then, two rounds of negotiations have taken place between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, attended by observers from the African Union, the European Union and the United States. During these talks, Egypt and Sudan proposed multiple solutions based on a win-win formula to ensure that the Renaissance Dam produces hydroelectric power while minimizing its negative impacts. Even so, Ethiopia remained stubborn.
The reason is that, for Ethiopia, these negotiations are much more than just the GERD and its economic value. Indeed, the dam is a tool in Ethiopias attempt to exert unrestricted control over the Blue Nile; To free itself from the restrictions of international law that apply to all riparian countries that share international water courses, and to force Egypt and Sudan to divide the waters of the Blue Nile and the waters of the Nile on the terms of Ethiopia, according to the analysis published on the website of the American magazine.
He pointed out that the hidden Ethiopian motives were reflected in the proposals of the Addis Ababa negotiator throughout the talks that took place this year, including such as the text that I sent to the United Nations Security Council in June. These proposals demonstrate, according to the analysis, Ethiopias unwillingness to conclude a legally binding agreement – rather, it has refused to call the instrument being negotiated an “agreement”.
It also refused to include any binding dispute settlement mechanism and instead suggested resolving disputes through negotiation and mediation, and for Ethiopia, these negotiations revolve around much more than the GERD and its economic value.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government calls on Egypt and Sudan to sign a document that grants it the right to unilaterally amend the terms of an agreement on the dam. It insists that any such agreement must give Ethiopia the absolute right to undertake more development projects and amend the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Agreement to accommodate new water stations in the future. However, this would effectively require Egypt and Sudan to relinquish their rights to the banks of the river and turn themselves into hydrological hostages to Ethiopia.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia argues that Egypt and Sudan should join the Cooperative Framework Agreement, an ineffective and divisive treaty that was designed a decade ago to manage the Nile’s waters, but has since lacked the support needed to enter into force.
Moreover, Ethiopia insists that any agreement regarding the dam must be terminated if Egypt and Sudan do not agree to allocate certain shares of the Nile water to the riparian states of the White Nile, the other major tributary of the Nile, within a decade – even though the ancient Nile does not flow through Ethiopia. itself.
In short, Ethiopia seeks to create a hydrological schedule by dictating the distribution of river water and ignoring geography facts that made Egypt’s long survival dependent on the Nile.
On the other hand, Egypt’s position was principled and realistic. It recognizes Ethiopias inalienable right to enjoy the benefits of the Blue Nile and to undertake future development projects. However, Egypt believes that international law should govern any future projects on the Blue Nile. Moreover, Egypt realizes that it will be impossible, in these negotiations, to overcome the decades of disputes over the legal and institutional infrastructure that governs the Nile Basin.
Therefore, Egypt seeks to achieve the possible by working to reach an exclusive agreement on the dam. According to the analysis, it is expected that a technical agreement will organize a single project on one tributary of the Nile by specifying the details of filling and operating the dam. It will not deprive Ethiopia of its right to undertake future development projects nor will it undermine the rights of downstream countries. It will also transcend intractable issues, such as those related to the Cooperative Framework Agreement, which has corrupted the Nile Basin for decades.
“The game of Ethiopian power will be zero,” he said, stressing the need for Addis Ababa to avoid the policy of imposing fait accompli or exploiting the river’s wealth by dictates. Doing so, she said, would only inflame tensions and undermine stability across East Africa.
In order to maintain peace in an already volatile region, the analysis argued that Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan must avoid a scenario in which one country threatens the existence of downstream communities or turns the dam into a “sword of Damogli”.
The African Union, the European Union and the United States recommended urging the parties to exercise flexibility and encourage Ethiopia to conclude a legally binding agreement that would enable the country to achieve a return on its investment in the Renaissance Dam while protecting downstream communities, and then laying the foundations for broader cooperation in future development projects in the Nile Basin.