That the tripartite talks on the Renaissance Dam ended in stalemate earlier this month came as no surprise.
“Throughout the last four years of negotiations, Ethiopia has not shown no inclination to compromise and reach an agreement on the filling and operation of the dam,” says a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Egypt has no options left except to ask for international intervention.”
Mohamed Ezz, from the Nile Foundation for African and Strategic Studies, agrees that international intervention is now needed, though he hopes the meeting between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed scheduled to be held on the sidelines of the African-Russian summit in Russia later this month, may help reduce tensions.
“Summit meetings — whether bilateral or trilateral with Sudan — have in the past helped ease the situation. There is a possibility the summit could return negotiations to the right track.”
The Russian-African summit will be held in the Black sea resort of Sochi on 23 and 24 October.
Abbas Sharaki, a professor of political science at Cairo University, does not rule out the possibility negotiations will receive a boost following the Al-Sisi-Ahmed meeting in Russia, though for that to happen the two leaders will have to ask their negotiating teams to adopt a more flexible approach. In the meantime, he sees international mediation as a timely option to try and break the deadlock.
“Washington has called on all parties to act in good faith and reach an agreement that preserves their rights. Egypt welcomed the statement, and Ethiopia and Sudan may be willing to accept US mediation. Russia might also try to play a mediating role, given it is hosting Al-Sisi and Ahmed.”
Sharaki believes Egypt should take the issue to the UN Security Council.
“Egypt’s case is backed by previous Nile water agreements and the Declaration of Principles signed in 2015. It would be very easy to argue the dam is far too big for its stated purpose.”
Egypt’s call for international arbitration to help reach a “fair and balanced” following the failure of the latest round of talks was given a cool reception in Addis Ababa.
“Why do we need new partners? Do you want negotiations to continue indefinitely?” Ethiopia’s Minister of Water and Irrigation Seleshi Bekele was quoted as saying.
Ahmed adopted a less abrasive tone. A day after the talks ended he tweeted: “Ethiopia stands ready to resolve any differences and outstanding concerns by consultation among the three countries. The government of Ethiopia will strengthen its efforts to make the ongoing trilateral dialogue a success. It expects a similar commitment from the two downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan.”
President Al-Sisi reaffirmed that Egypt is committed to protecting its water rights in the River Nile.
“Egypt will continue to take the necessary political measures, within the framework of international law, to protect these rights,” he said on his official Facebook page.
During the UN General Assembly in New York last month President Al-Sisi called on the international community to play a “constructive role” and urged all parties to be flexible in negotiations over the dam so that an agreement can be reached that serves everyone’s interests.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri has repeatedly voiced Egypt’s frustrations with delays in the negotiations and the failure to reach any agreement. He raised the problems over the dam in bilateral meetings with his European, African and Arab counterparts on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and expressed concern over the way negotiations had continued to stall.
Shoukri also briefed Arab foreign ministers attending last month’s Arab League meeting in Cairo on the difficulties Cairo is facing in the negotiations.
This week, Deputy Foreign Minister for African affairs Hamdi Loza reinforced the briefings in meetings with the ambassadors of Germany, Italy and China. Companies from all three states are working on the Renaissance dam.
Loza expressed Egypt’s unhappiness that work on the dam was continuing despite the fact that economic, social and environmental impact studies have yet to be conducted and, in violation of the Declaration of Principles and international law, no agreement over the filling of the reservoir and operating processes of the dam has been reached.
Loza also met with European and African ambassadors to Egypt.
Ethiopia has continued to insist the dam will not disrupt Nile flow.
Though the dam was initially scheduled to be complete by 2020, in August 2018 Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Ahmed announced that unforeseen delays had pushed the completion date back by several years. Under the new timetable, Addis Ababa expects the dam to begin partial operations next year, and to be complete by 2023.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.