Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

More meetings, no outcome

Is Ethiopia using technical meetings over the Renaissance Dam to buy time while it imposes new realities on the ground,  asks Doaa El-Bey  
 

tripartite committee
tripartite committee
Al-Ahram Weekly

The tripartite committee, comprising representatives from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, concluded its sixth meeting without reaching agreement over technical studies of the controversial Grand Renaissance Dam. The only thing the participants did agree on at the end of the three day-meeting in Cairo was to  
 
 within two weeks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.  
 
Egypt has made several good will gestures, said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. It signed an agreement on the declaration of principles and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has visited Addis Ababa and addressed the Ethiopian parliament. “Yet Ethiopia seems content to holding meeting after meeting without reaching any conclusion. They are wasting time, which is not in Egypt’s interest since it only helps Addis Ababa impose new realities on the ground.”  
 
Soon, he warned, Egypt will find itself negotiating about the impact of a dam that has already been built.  
 
Hani Raslan, head of the Sudan and Nile Basin countries studies programme at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies , says even the technical negotiations are starting from a wrong premise, since their aim to show the dam poses no dangers to Egypt.
 
“Even if the studies showed that the dam will decrease Egypt’s quota by 10 billion cubic metres Ethiopia would claim that this does not pose a danger to Egypt. Addis Ababa doesn’t even recognise Egypt’s current quota of 55 billion cubic metres in the River Nile,” Raslan told Al-Ahram Weekly.   
 
The meeting which concluded on Friday was attended by 12 experts, four each from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, and representatives of the two European consultancy firms contracted to study the impact of the dam, and discussed the findings of the consultancy firms.  
 
The Khartoum meeting is expected to be attended by the irrigation ministers of the three countries.  
 
Raslan hold out little hope that the Khartoum meeting will lead to an agreement. He believes it would be more constructive for Egypt to withdraw from technical discussions and press for a political solution.
 
He suggests calling for a summit of the three states. “It may well not achieve anything solid but it will at least provide an opportunity for us to highlight Ethiopian intransigence.”  
 
Then, says Raslan, Cairo could notify the UN Security Council and African Union of Egypt’s stand.  
 
Raslan is critical of the rosy picture Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazi has drawn in statements issued alluding to “progress” made during the meetings.  
 
Addressing the Cairo meeting, Moghazi said:”More than 250 million citizens in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia are looking forward to the outcome of the meeting in order to maximise the benefit of the Nile River, achieve common interests and avoid disputes and conflicts.”  
 
In April, following lengthy deliberations, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia managed to select two consultancy firms – one French, one Dutch – to undertake studies of the environmental, social and economic impacts of the construction of the dam. In March they signed a declaration of principle committing themselves to safeguarding the national interests of all three states.  
 
The declaration of principle is supposed to be followed by separate agreements regulating the generation of electricity by the dam’s turbines and fixing the capacity of the reservoir behind the dam. Within 15 months of the declaration being signed additional agreements resolving all outstanding issues should be in place.  
 
The dam, scheduled for completion in 2017, will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant. The first two turbines are expected to begin generating in September.  
 
The multi-billion dollar mega project on the Blue Nile is expected to be capable of producing 6000 Megawatts annually.
 
Egypt fears the massive project will reduce its access to Nile water. While Ethiopia repeatedly says this is not the case it has failed to produce any technical backup for its assertions.  
 
Shares of Nile water were fixed by treaties in 1929 and 1959. The first gives Cairo and Khartoum the right to veto projects in the upstream countries that could affect their share of water.  
 
The 1959 agreement, signed between Egypt and Sudan, confirms Egypt’s annual quota of 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water, and Sudan’s share of 18.5 billion cubic metres.  
 
The Blue Nile is the source of 85 per cent of the water used in Egypt.  
 
Egypt boycotted a 2010 meeting of Nile Basin states to protest the signing of the Entebbe Agreement which seeks to negate earlier treaties on Nile water share. Cairo has subsequently moved to improve its relations with Nile Basin states in the hope diplomacy will resolve any conflicts over access to water, and last month participated in the 23rd annual meeting of Nile Basin countries.
 
Foreign Minsiter Sameh Shukri has been at the forefront of moves to refocus Egypt’s foreign policy towards its African neighbours. In recent months he has visited South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Uganda.  
 
“All these visits are welcome. But unless they resolve the crucial dam problem they are just political pleasantries,” warns the diplomat.

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