Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Political push

Doaa El-Bey examines attempts to lend impetus to negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Al-Ahram Weekly

While the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam technical track is at a standstill, the political track may have been given a boost this week by Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri’s one-day visit to Sudan.

Shukri met with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Ghandour to discuss ways to boost bilateral relations. Shukri’s visit was intended to prepare the ground for a presidential meeting to be convened in Cairo at which President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Bashir will attempt to coordinate their stands towards a host of regional and international issues.

“One aim of the meeting will be to strengthen Egyptian-Sudanese-Ethiopian relations,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid.

Sudanese media reported that Shukri’s trip was a precursor to President Al-Sisi himself visiting Sudan to discuss, among other things, Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam. Cairo has not confirmed that the visit will take place.

“The technical track is progressing agonisingly slowly,” said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. “Technical studies will not be concluded before the end of the year at the earliest, yet experimental partial operation of the dam begins in July. The results of the studies may even appear after the dam is fully operational.”

Water expert Maghawri Shehata argues that Cairo must now focus on the political track in the hope of reaching agreement over two key issues: extending the timeframe for the filling of the reservoir behind the dam and fixing protocols regulating the dam’s annual operation.

Shukri’s visit is not the first attempt to push forward on the political track. Al-Sisi and Bashir met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemarian Desalegn last month. During the summit the three leaders discussed ways to reinforce trilateral cooperation across the political, security and economic fields. They also agreed to create a common fund for the implementation of development projects.

Cairo’s main bone of contention — the Renaissance Dam and its impact of Egypt’s share of Nile water — was not broached at the summit held on the sidelines of the Africa 2016 economic forum in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Al-Sisi and Desalegn also met on the sidelines of January’s African Union summit in Addis Ababa where they did discuss the dam. During the meeting Desalegn reiterated Ethiopia’s position that the dam would have no detrimental impact on Egypt whatsoever.

Meanwhile, several rounds of talks on the technical track have been held. The last tripartite technical talks convened in February in Khartoum. During the meeting Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia discussed offers by French firms BRL and Artelia to carry out impact studies. No decisions were reached and the meeting ended in a request for more information from the French technical consultants.

The three countries did manage to agree to meet again in Addis Ababa to sign contracts with the French consultants but no date was set and the contracts will only be signed after “outstanding technical issues are resolved”.

BRL and Artelia are being commissioned to conduct two studies, one on impact of the dam on water flow to Egypt and Sudan, the second on the environmental, economic and social impacts of the dam. The studies could take up to 12 months.

The Renaissance Dam has long cast a shadow over relations between Cairo and Addis Ababa. Egypt has repeatedly expressed concerns that the dam will reduce the amount of Nile water flowing into Egypt while Ethiopia insists the dam’s main purpose is to generate electricity and this will not negatively affect Egypt’s share of the Nile.

In December the foreign and irrigation ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed the Khartoum Agreement, which stipulates that the process of filling the reservoir behind the dam can begin only after all technical studies are complete. It also allows field visits to the construction site by Egyptian and Sudanese experts.

In a confidence-building measure in March 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a declaration of principles on the dam that included the provision that none of the signatories would harm the interests of the others.The dam, when completed, will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant with a storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres of water.

It is expected to begin partial operation by the middle of this year. Egypt depends on the Nile for 95 per cent of its water needs, the vast majority of it sourced through the Blue Nile.Under a treaty agreed in 1959, Egypt receives 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water while Sudan receives 18 billion cubic metres.

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