Khartoum’s benefits from GERD can't be achieved without a binding legal agreement: Sudan

Ahmed Morsy , Wednesday 2 Dec 2020

Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas says he sees no direct impact of the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on the GERD negotiations

Ethiopia said on 21 July it had hit its first-year target for filling the GERD (photo: AFP)

Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas stressed on Wednesday that his country’s great benefits from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) cannot be achieved without signing a binding legal agreement, a statement by the Sudanese ministry said.

Egypt and Sudan have been in talks with Ethiopia for years now to reach a legally binding agreement on the filling and operating of the $4.8 billion near-complete mega dam, which Ethiopia has started building on the Blue Nile since 2011. 

During a meeting organised by the ministry, the Sudanese statement said Abbas renewed his country’s adherence to the African Union's (AU) sponsorship of the negotiations of the GERD on the condition that the methodology of negotiations be changed and that the AU experts be given a greater role to bridge the gap between the three countries.

Abbas, according to a separate statement by the Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) on Wednesday, told reporters following his ministry’s meeting that he didn’t see a direct impact of the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on the GERD negotiations, stressing Sudan's insistence on continuing negotiations.

The war in the Tigray region between Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government troops has been ongoing for a few weeks now. It, according to Reuters, has killed hundreds and probably thousands, sent refugees into Sudan, enmeshed Eritrea, impacted a peacekeeping mission in Somalia, and heightened frictions between Ethiopia's myriad ethnic groups.

Sudan has recently decided not to take part in the latest tripartite ministerial meeting on the GERD, which was scheduled for 21 November, in objection to the above mentioned conditions saying that the "method followed in negotiating during the past rounds has proven to be unproductive."

Accordingly, Abbas announced later that negotiations have been “paused indefinitely.”

The paused round of negotiations came in response to a call from South Africa's foreign minister to discuss how to reach a mechanism to revive negotiations halted earlier in November.

On 4 November, which saw the latest session of the previous stumbled round of AU-brokered negotiations, Egypt also highlighted the lack of consensus on the methodology of negotiations.

In its irrigation and water resources ministry statement at the time, Egypt said that it has become clear during that day's tripartite discussions on the Ethiopian dam that there is no compatibility between Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa on the methodology for completing the negotiations within the next stage.

While the earlier round of AU-sponsored talks between the three countries came to an end in August as a result of disagreements on the rules for filling and operating the hydropower project that culminated in non-binding guidelines proposed by Ethiopia which were rejected by Egypt and Sudan, both of whom seek a legally binding agreement.

That round of AU-sponsored talks was launched in July after negotiations between the three countries reached a deadlock last year, as did negotiations sponsored by the US and the World Bank in February.

Despite the current pause on negotiations, Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation, and Energy Seleshi Bekele said on 26 November that Ethiopia will start generating power from the GERD in June 2021.

Ethiopia says the 6,000-megawatt dam is key to its development and hopes to become Africa’s biggest electricity exporter with this being the continent’s largest dam.

On the other hand, Cairo that has more than 85 per cent of its Nile water flow from Ethiopian highlands fears the massive hydropower project will significantly diminish its crucial water supplies - which is already below scarcity level -  while Sudan fears it could endanger the safety of its own dams.

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