Since the beginning of 2019, The Conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia over Renaissance dam has witnessed unprecedented rapid developments that put it again in the forefront of regional issues.
This return came as a result of successive Egyptian efforts to resolve the stalled tripartite negotiations, which were met with repeated Ethiopian delays, while the construction rates of the dam accelerated after being hindered for a period due to political tensions and executive and administrative problems.
This situation requires a reassessment of the current Egyptian negotiating position, as well as an assessment of the Ethiopian chances of completing GERD construction on time.
The Current Crisis of Negotiations
Since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018, Ethiopia’s position in the GERD negotiations has become less hostile, but this new Ethiopian approach has not produced any positive development on the ground.
In an effort to move the situation on hold, a tripartite summit meeting has been held during the African Union summit in February 2019, during which it was agreed to resume the meetings of the Joint Technical Committee to expedite the final agreement.
An expanded meeting was scheduled to be held in Khartoum before the end of February, but was postponed at the request of the Ethiopian side to set a new date after two months, which was also postponed due to political developments in Sudan.
On July 25, the Egyptian President received the Ethiopian Foreign Minister with a message from his Prime Minister stating that he is looking forward to boosting Egyptian investments in Ethiopia, activating bilateral agreements and continuing close bilateral coordination to achieve stability in the African continent and the region, including the support of the Sudanese people.
The message also affirmed Ethiopia’s commitment to resume the tripartite negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to implement the Declaration of Principles on the Renaissance Dam in order to reach a final agreement on the rules of filling and operating the dam in a manner that takes into account the interests of the three countries.
As a response to the Ethiopian message, the Egyptian steps to reach a final agreement were accelerated. On August 2, the Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation handed over to the Ethiopian counterpart the Egyptian view on the rules of filling and operating the Renaissance Dam during the talks held at the Ethiopian Ministry of Water, in order to resume the extended meetings that were scheduled for August 19 and 20.
As a response to Ethiopian demand to reschedule the meeting, Egypt Supreme Committee for the Nile headed by the Prime Minister reviewed the successive phases of negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the Renaissance Dam, to determine Egyptian adequate reaction to Ethiopian uncooperative attitude. The Supreme committee came up with a number of important outputs, most notably the emphasis on completing the negotiations according to a strict timetable, in order to reach a final agreement on the rules for filling and operating the dam.
However, the two rounds of negotiations in September and October did not lead to any tangible progress. This situation pushed Egypt to overcome traditional frameworks, to hold the international community to its responsibilities in the crisis as shown in the President’s speech to United Nations General Assembly meetings. Egypt has already received some positive feedback of this new approach, especially from the United States, although both Sudan and Ethiopia have declared their rejection of foreign mediation in principle.
International and regional context of the crisis has a great ability to affect its future. These contextual considerations provide Egypt with several opportunities:
– The unstable political situation that may eventually lead Ethiopia to adopt a more rational and balanced foreign policy towards various regional issues including the issue of water sharing among the Nile Basin countries.
– The political changes in Sudan and the important opportunities that may result therefrom in the formulation of new balances in tripartite negotiations.
– The decline of the Ethiopian wave of regional openness, and the resurgence of the natural disharmony in the Horn of Africa between Ethiopian and Eritrean policies.
– Continued traditional patterns of the role of the Middle East parties in the Horn of Africa.
In the same time international and regional context of the crisis, impose number of restrictions on Egypt’s position in the renaissance dam negotiations:
– Accelerated construction rate of the dam, which reflects Ethiopia’s intention to impose its vision about the size of the reservoir and filling rate.
– Ethiopian repeated postponements of negotiations aimed at buying time while wasting the opportunity for Egypt to adopt other options.
– The ambiguity of the situation in Sudan, especially with the new transitional arrangements that provides Sudanese transitional government an excuse of being unable to consider renaissance dam issue as a priority.
– The accelerated US withdrawal from the Horn of Africa, as a result of its increasing reliance on Middle Eastern agents to impose relative stability, reducing the chances of US intervention to play an effective role in renaissance dam crisis.
In the face of all these important developments, Renaissance Dam crisis calls for urgent efforts in determining practical alternatives available to Egypt at the present time, and the optimal mechanisms to implement them, as well as paving the way to consider new non-traditional alternatives.
This article was published first in: The Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, The Gran Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Crisis: dimensions, Repercussions and Future Courses, Especial Edition, October 2019.