World Bank can be key player in reaching final deal over Nile dam: Analyst

Ayat Al Tawy , Tuesday 5 Nov 2019

'It is not unlikely that the bank's active involvement will speed up the conclusion of a final binding agreement over pending technical issues, Ayman Salama, professor of international law told Ahram Online

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. Picture was taken September 26, 2019. (Reuters)

The World Bank Group could play a major role in sealing a final binding agreement between Egypt and Ethiopia to resolve points of contention over a giant hydropower dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River, an analyst has said.

The bank's president, David Malpass, will take part in US-mediated talks between the two countries and their mutual neighbour Sudan in Washington on Wednesday after Egypt called for an outside mediator on the standoff over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Cairo regards the issue as a national security matter as it fears the massive $4 billion upstream project on Ethiopia's section of the river would drastically cut its water supply. Ethiopia says the dam, which is about 70 percent complete, is central to its economic development and its plan to be a regional power hub.

"It is not unlikely that the bank's active involvement will speed up the conclusion of a final binding agreement over pending technical issues," Ayman Salama, professor of international law and member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA), told Ahram Online.

The World Bank Group's Independent Evaluation Group is concerned with studying costs of dams built on transboundary rivers, as well as assessing the economic, social and environmental impacts resulting from them, meaning the group will act as a "direct technical mediator" on the issue and is the "most competent" international body to do so, according to Salama.

Major technical points of contention between Cairo and Addis Ababa include operating the dam, the rate of filling its reservoir and the draining process.

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a “declaration of principles” cooperation deal in Khartoum in 2015, which is a "framework agreement" meant to serve as a basis for negotiations, Salama explains. It must be followed by "technical executive accords" to find a resolution to the dispute, he added.

Sudan has less at stake in the conflict. It looks to benefit from the power generated by the dam, which will also help reduce silt and sedimentation in the country.

With Addis Ababa and Cairo being two of the key allies of Washington in the fight against terrorism, and given the two nations' economic ties with the US, besides Sudan's wish to be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, Egypt has made the right call for mediation, Salama says.

Although the US State Department has been engaging with involved parties over the past years, the Treasury Department will lead on the issue this time.

Nigeria’s vice president said last month that the speaker of Egypt’s parliament asked the West African country's leader, Muhammadu Buhari, to help mediate the dispute, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to help mediate the feud.

The latest round of talks between the three countries collapsed last month, and Ethiopia had previously rejected Cairo's request for a mediator.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was quoted in local media last week as saying that he hopes the forthcoming meeting would "formulate a binding legal agreement to achieve the interests of three countries."

"Any mediation, whether technical or political, cannot impose a mandatory solution on disputing parties, but rather offer a consensual alternative" to break the deadlock.

The only way out for Egypt, Salama says, is "negotiations and mediation."

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