Disavowing Nile water agreements compromises sovereignty over GERD’s Benishangul, Sudan tells Ethiopia

Ahmed Morsy , Saturday 1 May 2021

The selective disavowal of international agreements for propaganda and domestic political reasons is a harmful and costly approach, Sudan said

File Photo: This satellite image shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia. AP

Sudan denounced on Friday the Ethiopian statements that reject accords on Nile water shares, urging Addis Ababa to commit to the international agreements it signed as “an independent state."

Disavowing these agreements means “compromising sovereignty” over the Benishangul region on which Addis Ababa is building the controversial dam, Khartoum stated.

The Sudanese statement was made by its Foreign Ministry in response to the recently repeated statement by Ethiopian officials rejecting “colonial agreements” of Nile water shares, declaring it is “unacceptable” for Sudan and Egypt to use these historical agreements as reference points while negotiating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) crisis. 

The Anglo-Ethiopian treaty was signed in 1902 between the United Kingdom – representing Egypt and Sudan – and Ethiopia – represented by Emperor Menelik II of Abyssinia. While the agreement has prohibited the Ethiopian construction of any waterworks across the Blue Nile that would affect the river’s natural flow, it has granted sovereignty of the then Sudanese Benishangul region to Ethiopia.

“The Ethiopian claim that the relevant agreements are an insignificant colonial legacy is an explicit fallacy of historical facts, indicating that Ethiopia was an independent, sovereign state and a member of the international community at the time of the conclusion of those agreements, while Sudan was subject to bilateral colonialism (of the Ottomans and the British),” Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said.

The established norm in international relations is the commitment of states and governments to international agreements and treaties signed by the regimes and previous governments, read the Sudanese statement.

“We would like to draw the attention of our neighbour Ethiopia to the fact that such selective disavowal of international agreements for propaganda and domestic political reasons is a harmful and costly approach that does not help to reach a negotiated agreement acceptable to all parties,” Sudan said.

Rather than the 1902 agreement – which remains the most authoritative instrument defining the water rights of Khartoum, Cairo, and Addis Ababa – Ethiopia in 1993, also as a sovereign and independent state, signed with Egypt the Cairo Cooperation Framework pledging not to implement water projects harmful to the interests of the other, and to consult over projects to reduce waste and increase the flow of Nile water.

Ethiopia was not party to other Nile water accords such as the 1929 agreement between Egypt and Britain, representing Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Sudan. The deal allocates 55.5 bcm of water to Egypt and 18.5 bcm to Sudan. Nor did Ethiopia take part in its 1959 supplementary agreement which confirmed Cairo and Khartoum’s annual quota and allowed the construction of Egypt’s Aswan High Dam.

Sudan and Egypt have been negotiating with Ethiopia for a decade now to reach a comprehensive and legally binding agreement over GERD but to no avail.

Talks have repeatedly stalled due to Addis Ababa's refusal to include an international mediator to bridge gaps between the negotiating parties and its insistence to pursue guiding terms rather than a legally binding agreement as has been the norm in international agreements on the management of transboundary water resources, such as the River Nile.

Sudan stressed that the “irrational complacency in using these misleading claims and disavowing previous agreements also means compromising Ethiopia’s sovereignty over the Benishangul region, which was transferred from Sudan under some of these agreements.”

Moreover, the Sudanese ministry told Ethiopia in Friday’s statement that the introduction of other issues into the discussion other than the subject of negotiation, which is the filling and operation of GERD, is not productive and has no aim other than to continue obstructing negotiations in pursuit of imposing de facto policies that do not serve the issues of good neighbourliness and the security and stability of the region.

Ethiopia, which has been building the $4.8 billion mega dam on the Blue Nile in Benishangul since 2011, has been trying since last year to include a new water shares agreement in the GERD negotiation with the rejection of Egypt and Sudan – the downstream countries.

In its letter sent on 12 April to the United Nations Security Council, Khartoum stressed that the three countries "need to urgently conclude a comprehensive agreement before Ethiopia begins the disastrous second filling process of the dam."

Addis Ababa aims at collecting around 18.4 bcm of Blue Nile water in GERD's reservoir during the second filling scheduled for July – as it has said with or without reaching agreement with the downstream countries – up from the 4 bcm it secured last year.

In response, Khartoum has noted that it would take legal action if Ethiopia moves forward with the second filling of the GERD without first signing a legally binding agreement as such scenario would threaten the lives of millions of Sudanese people living downstream the dam, jeopardise the operational safety of its dams, and consequently risk Sudan's national security.

This is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation among riparian countries that share an international waterway and constitutes a fundamental violation of the existing international legal obligation, the Sudanese letter to the UN body said. 

Khartoum concluded the Friday statement by saying “it is better for Ethiopia's interests and options for its present and the future prosperity of all the countries and peoples of the related region to count on joint work based on common interests, and not to spend its attempts to escape from its internal problems by creating enmities with Sudan or other countries in the continent.”

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