Dam on the Nile: Ethiopia plays on all fronts

It is a real “at the same time” strategy that Ethiopia is deploying about its immense Renaissance barrage at the heart of a strong tension between the country of the Nobel Peace Prize Abiy Ahmed and Sudan and Egypt. This Saturday, Ethiopia has indicated that it intends to start filling the reservoir of its gigantic dam on the Nile “in the next two weeks” … while committing to try to reach a final agreement with Egypt and the Sudan during this period, under the aegis of the African Union. The press release, quoted by AFP and published Saturday morning by the office of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, partially contradicts the statements, Friday evening, of the Egyptian and Sudanese leaders assuring that Ethiopia had agreed to postpone the setting up water from its dam until an agreement is reached.

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A dam causing great tension

The large Renaissance dam (Gerd), which is to become the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, with a production capacity of more than 6,000 megawatts, is a source of great regional tension. If Ethiopia sees the 145-meter-high dam as essential for its development and electrification, Sudan and Egypt fear that it will restrict their access to water. Egypt, which sees the project as an “existential” threat, last week called on the Security Council to intervene. A new Council meeting is scheduled to take place on Monday. On Friday, the leaders of the three countries met during a videoconference organized and chaired by the Head of State of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, President in office of the African Union.

In the evening, the services of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi reported on a “legally binding final agreement aimed at preventing any unilateral action, including the impoundment of the dam”. Same tone on the side of Khartoum, where according to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, it was “agreed that the impoundment of the dam would be postponed until an agreement is reached”. But in a press release Saturday morning, Addis Ababa does not mention a postponement as such and seems to stick to its schedule while saying it is ready to continue discussions for a final agreement.

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Tripartite discussions

“Ethiopia plans to start filling the Gerd within two weeks, during which construction work will continue. It was during this period that the three countries agreed to reach a final agreement on the few outstanding issues, “said the Ethiopian statement. Tripartite discussions on the commissioning and management of the dam had resumed earlier in June, the main sticking points remaining the operation of the facility in drought and the mechanisms for resolving any disputes.

Read also These tough negotiations about the great dam on the Nile

Ethiopian criticism

Ethiopia has been reluctant to involve third parties in the process, particularly after the US administration attempted mediation at the request of Egypt, which ended in February in failure, Addis Ababa accusing in particular the United States of favoring Egypt. The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed’s government has also criticized Egypt for detailing its grievances in a letter sent in May to the United Nations Security Council, a move described as an attempt to “exert pressure diplomatic missions ”.

Read also Dam on the Nile: a compromise outlined between the parties

The African Union in the game

In its statement on Saturday, Addis Ababa welcomed the involvement of the African Union in the dossier, reaffirming that “African questions must find African solutions”. The Sudanese authorities said on Friday that the technical committees of the three countries will try to reach a final agreement within two weeks. “The resumption of tripartite technical discussions on filling and management rules of the Gerd, as well as the involvement of the African Union, are more than welcome developments,” said William Davison, of the organization, to AFP. International Crisis Group. The researcher considered “appropriate that the AU now facilitates discussions” and added that the United Nations should take over only as a last resort. The Nile, which flows over some 6,000 km, is an essential source of water and electricity for a dozen countries in East Africa. Egypt gets 97% of its water needs from this river.

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