As Ethiopia continues to receive applause from the rest of the countries in Africa, for singlehandedly (without foreign funding) together with its people, constructing a $5-billion mega-power plant, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt is doubling on efforts to fail it.
The dam, whose construction is now 90% complete, when fully done, will produce more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity and become Africa’s largest hydroelectric power generator and the world’s seventh-largest dam.
Since the start of its construction in 2011, downstream countries Egypt and Sudan have raised concerns of their safety and indeed, several trilateral meetings spearheaded by the continental body, African Union (AU), have been held. Various treaties on the same involving the three States have also been signed.
Indeed, Ethiopia is progressing well in completing the dam. Between July and August, it will conduct the fourth filling of the reservoir.
However, I was sadly dismayed a couple of days back when I saw the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, during the recently concluded Arab League meeting in Cairo, accusing Ethiopia of continuing to “unilaterally and uncooperatively” fill the dam.
He said: “The continuation of Ethiopia’s unilateral practices can potentially carry a grave danger for Egypt which suffers from a unique water scarcity and because of its near total dependence on the river Nile.”
Later, the meeting issued a resolution on Ethiopia to show “flexibility” on the GERD issue. Shoukry would later threaten Ethiopia with an “all options are open” declaration.
Now, whereas this is NOT surprising because Egypt has since 2011 when Ethiopia broke ground on the $5-billion Dam been turbid about the project, it is shocking that a country that was fully involved and party to the Declaration of Principles (DOP) on the GERD by the three Eastern Nile States (Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan), is turning around to accuse Addis Ababa of unilaterally taking decisions on the usage of Nile waters.
The DOP was signed on March 23, 2015, in Khartoum, so, it is not correct to claim that Ethiopia has not engaged other countries on GERD.
In fact, Egypt endorsed the reality that the dam is in existence including appreciating the safety measures undertaken by Ethiopia which are clearly indicated in Principle VIII of the DOP.
Principle VIII provides that: “The three countries appreciate the efforts undertaken thus far by Ethiopia in implementing the IPoE recommendations pertinent to the GERD safety. Ethiopia shall in good faith continue the full implementation of the Dam safety recommendations as per the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) report.”
Again, Egypt acknowledged the safety measures Ethiopia is undertaking as stated in Principle VII of the DOP.
It states that: “Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan shall provide data and information needed for the conduct of the Technical National Committee (TNC) joint studies in good faith and in a timely manner.
So, recognition of the dam and the safety measures Ethiopia is undertaking were fully given by Egypt in 2015 when it signed the DOP and so, it is hypocrisy for Cairo to speak otherwise. Why is Egypt shying away from the agreement it was party to?
Also, as a way of rooting for African solutions to African problems, the AU has been engaging and continues to engage the three countries to resolve the outstanding issues. I find it rather disturbing for Egypt to run to Arab countries and rally them to engage in a matter involving a purely African water body and three African countries.
On several occasions, Egypt has taken the GERD issue to the UN Peace and Security Council by mobilizing the League of the Arab States unnecessarily internationalizing the matter.
One wonders: Is the Arab League passing a vote of no confidence in the ability of Africans and the African Union to provide solutions to their problems? Is the Arab League being the spokesperson of one of its members, Egypt? Even before reaching this ‘resolution’, on Ethiopia, did the Arab League listen to Addis Ababa’s side?
Such misguided ‘resolutions’, not only undermine the sovereignty of Africa and its people but also threaten regional peace, stability and the progress already attained through internal mechanisms to resolve the issue.
It should be remembered that the trilateral negotiation on the GERD is conducted with Ethiopia’s initiative and Addis Ababa has severally stated that it is fully committed to the negotiations in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable win-win outcome. Why is Egypt not highlighting these ongoing efforts by the African Union?
Is it becoming a fashion that every time a positive step towards reaching a compromise on GERD happens, Egypt must rise to frustrate it with reference to its historical rights in the Nile waters?
Egypt is being selfish and only seeking to maintain the status quo in the flow of the Nile water as indicated in the 1959 agreement (to which Ethiopia was not a party) – Egypt wants to remain the dominant Riparian country using the Nile for development projects, thus informing its lack of good faith and cooperation to resolve the matter.
This lack of goodwill is even provided for in its constitution that the water belongs to Egypt and Egyptian authorities have the right to defend or protect that Principle.
Article 44 of the Egyptian constitution of 2014 is the case in point. The article provides that the Government of Egypt should protect the historical rights of the Nile.
So, negotiations are done with Egypt, a country that has a clear position in its constitution of protecting that historical position, a demonstration that other Riparian States can not utilize the Nile water without Cairo’s permission.
In other words, for Egypt, the use of the Nile water by other countries would endanger its share of the Nile water which it claims under the 1959 treaty which Ethiopia was not a party.
What is the Principle now?
Egypt believes that the Nile River is its historical property and that no any other country or person has a right to touch a drop of it. This is the reason they are not willing to reach a win-win situation – they are conditioned by that provision in their constitution.
Ethiopia is not to blame for the delay of the negotiations on GERD, Ethiopia is not an obstacle to negotiations as Egypt frequently alleges.
Negotiations require cooperation, goodwill, and compromise from all sides in the dispute which we are not seeing from Egypt’s side, save for Cairo’s rants at the UN, Arab League meetings and unsubstantiated cries to the United States and the West.
The Principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of water resources must be fronted to reconcile the two countries since it has become a cornerstone of the UN water convention.
It is a fundamental doctrine guiding all international water-related agreements. The Principle is the best tool for achieving justice in shared water resources and it is the best means of resolving conflicts but Egypt is not ready to accept it.
Egypt has got to accept the fact that the Nile River, the longest watercourse in the world has 11 Riparian countries, which are now waking up to utilize this natural resource for energy in order to better their nationals, they ought not to seek permission from Egypt to use the Nile water, at least there is no agreement to that effect.
For example, when fully operational, the dam will address the quest of the basic electricity demand of 65 million Ethiopians who suffer due to the lack of electricity. Ethiopia’s current total energy production does not meet the more than 110 million and growing population that requires an increasing amount of food, a growing economy, and expanding urban centers and industries demanding more and more energy.
It is a fact that GERD does not consume water. Water only passes through to generate electricity
Egypt and Sudan too will benefit from this project. It will protect Sudan against devastating floods and the effects of water shortage during drought and dry periods. Sudan will also receive a regulated flow of water thus operating it’s water infrastructure optimally.
For Egypt, it will benefit from water conservation at the GERD instead of the wastage of billions of cubic meters of water to evaporation and in downstream flood plains. The GERD also helps to prevent future spillage that overtops the Aswan Dam.
But, even given these developmental benefits, Egypt still insists on frustrating the construction of the dam. Of course, as earlier stated, Egypt knows that no harm will be caused by the power plant but instead wants to use it as a ‘scarecrow’ towards countries that may wish to establish similar projects on the Nile.
See, if Egypt succeeds in failing GERD, it will have achieved its objectives of conveying a message to other Riparian countries that the River Nile is “a no-go area” for them without Egypt’s approval. It will actually set a precedent for other upstream states, which is unacceptable. There is no way colonial agreements on the Nile can bind countries to were not a party.
In conclusion, therefore, African countries ought to move in fast and conclusively reign in on this matter, since it poses a threat on regional safety, and undermines Africa’s progress and development.
The writer is a Ugandan Journalist with a passion for current African affairs. He visited GERD in August 2022.