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African committee on GERD to present report to AU head within one week

Ahram Online , Saturday 27 Jun 2020
A general view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. (AFP)
A general view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. (AFP)

A recently-established African committee formed to deal with the issue of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will present its report to the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) and President of South Africa Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa within one week, a statement by the AU said on Saturday.

The AU statement said the Bureau of the Assembly agreed to augment the Tripartite Committee dealing with the GERD issue, which consists of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. The committee was augmented with the participation of observers, namely South Africa in its capacity as Chairperson of the AU, members of the Bureau of the AU, and experts from the Commission, with a view to addressing outstanding technical and legal issues.

The AU held on Friday an emergency online summit of leaders of the three countries chaired by Ramaphosa to revive the deadlocked negotiations over the $4.8 billion GERD after the last round of negotiations had failed to produce an accord last week.

During the meeting, the participants agreed to reconvene in two weeks from the date of issuance of this communique to consider a report on the outcome of negotiations of the outstanding issues concerning the GERD.

The meeting of the Bureau was held pursuant to consultations undertaken by Ramaphosa with the three negotiating parties concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), namely, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, the statement said.

"The Bureau of the Assembly and participating heads of state and government welcomed the intervention of Ramaphosa and expressed their deep gratitude for his initiative to bring together the three parties to the GERD in order to find a negotiated solution on outstanding matters," the AU said.

According to the AU statement, all the members of the AU Extraordinary Bureau of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government participated in the video-teleconference meeting, including Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Felix Tshisekedi, President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, and President of Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The teleconference also saw the participation of the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) Moussa Faki Mahamat.

The Bureau of the Assembly noted that the three negotiating parties are founding members of the former Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the African Union (AU), and have contributed significantly to the unity, integration and the development of the continent. They further noted the potential of the GERD project for Africa.

With regards to their respective positions pertaining to the GERD matter, the Bureau of the Assembly was addressed by the Egyptian president and the two prime ministers of Sudan and Ethiopia during its Friday's meeting.

The Bureau expressed its deep appreciation for the positive and constructive approach displayed by the three parties in finding a peaceful, negotiated settlement on all outstanding matters, and emphasised the importance of a win-win outcome in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation

The statement added that the AU Bureau received with appreciation a report from AUC head Mahamat, which, inter alia, noted that "more than 90 percent of the issues in the tripartite negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have already been resolved."

"The Bureau of the Assembly decided to lend renewed impetus to the tripartite negotiations and urged the three parties to expeditiously work towards finding a mutually acceptable and amicable solution on the outstanding technical and legal issues in the negotiations process," the AU statement said.

It also welcomed the commitment by the three parties to refrain from making any statements or taking any action that may jeopardize or complicate the AU-led process aimed at finding an acceptable solution on all outstanding matters.

Accordingly, the Bureau of the Assembly and the participating heads of state and government requested that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) take note of the fact that the AU is seized of this matter.

The UNSC is scheduled to discuss the GERD dispute in an open session on Monday.

The Egyptian presidency issued a statement on Friday saying that "the technical committee will try to strike a deal within two weeks," and that it was agreed upon during the AU summit to "refrain from taking any unilateral measures, including the filling of the dam" before an agreement is reached.

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdouk also echoed the same conclusion on Friday, saying the three leaders have agreed to “postpone the filling of the reservoir until an agreement is signed."

This development comes against the backdrop of Ethiopia's previous assertions that it would begin filling the dam’s reservoir in July, even after the latest round of talks with Egypt and Sudan had failed.

Earlier on Wednesday, Sudan said in a letter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that it is “deeply concerned” about Ethiopia’s decision to start filling its controversial dam on the Blue Nile without prior agreement with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

Khartoum believes that the unilateral filling of the dam, located around 15 km from the Sudanese border, could “cause substantial risks” to Sudan and endanger the lives of millions of people living downstream. It also fears the GERD will put the operation of its Roseires dam at risk if not properly designed, filled and operated.

Sudan's letter to the UNSC came after Egypt sent a letter to the UN body on 19 June requesting its intervention to resolve the dam, stressing that filling the dam without a deal would “threaten international peace and security.”

Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water, fears the dam will significantly diminish its water supply, which is already below scarcity level.

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