Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan’s foreign and irrigation ministers kicked off a scheduled two-day meeting on Tuesday under the auspices of the US Treasury and the World Bank.
The officials were in the US capital ostensibly to put the final touches to an agreement on the framework for filling and operating GERD.
This week’s meeting was preceded by a technical meeting in Khartoum on 22 January. During the two-day talks in Sudan the delegates penciled a draft agreement and followed up on negotiations that took place between the foreign and irrigation ministers of the three countries in Washington the week before.
The 13-15 January meeting in Washington was the third since negotiations started under US sponsorship. The three countries agreed the dam should be filled in stages during the rainy season in July and August, in an adaptive and cooperative manner that takes into consideration hydrological conditions and the impact of the filling on downstream reservoirs.
After nearly 10 years of negotiations this was regarded as a breakthrough.
May 2010: Nile Basin states sign the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement, aka the Entebbe Agreement. Egypt and Sudan refuse to sign, arguing the new agreement does not protect their historic share of Nile water.
The Entebbe Agreement was meant to replace the 1929 and 1959 Nile Water agreements which allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres of water to Egypt and 18.5 billion to Sudan and gave them the right to veto any projects upstream.
April 2011: Ethiopia begins construction of the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, 20km from the Sudanese border.
May 2011: A popular diplomacy delegation visits Ethiopia and the two countries agree to resolve their differences and widen cooperation.
September 2011: Cairo and Ethiopia agree to form an international committee to study the impact of the dam on Egypt and Sudan. The committee begins its work in May 2012.
May 2013: The committee issues a report calling for more studies to assess the impact of the dam on downstream countries.
June 2013: Negotiations come to a halt following the 30 June Revolution. When President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi comes to power in June 2014, Cairo and Addis Ababa agree to resume negotiations.
August 2014: Egypt and Ethiopia agree to implement the recommendations of the 2013 report and choose two consultancy firms to conduct the required studies.
September 2014: Water ministers from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan sign an agreement to form a tripartite committee to hold regular meetings to study the dam and oversee the work of the consultancy firms.
October 2014: The tripartite committee selects a French and a Dutch consultancy firm to conduct the studies.
March 2015: Leaders of the three countries sign the Khartoum Declaration of Principles which sets out 10 principles to be adhered to. They include not causing significant damage to any of the three states and cooperating to reach a timetable for filling the dam’s reservoir and its operating protocols.
The declaration states the three countries should agree the guidelines for the initial filling of the dam’s reservoir and its operation policies in tandem with the construction of the dam. It also states the guidelines can be adjusted from time to time according to conditions.
July 2015: In the seventh round of tripartite talks, held in Khartoum, the three countries agree on the principles governing the work of the consultancy firms.
September 2015: The Dutch consultancy firm withdraws, citing concern over the absence of guarantees the work will be impartial.
December 2015: Foreign ministers from the three countries sign the Khartoum Agreement restating their commitment to the Declaration of Principles. A month later French engineering consultancies Artelia and BRL are chosen to undertake impact studies. They are expected to complete their work within a year.
May 2016: Ethiopia announces more than 60 per cent of the dam is complete.
May 2017: The French consultancy firms issue their first preliminary report.
October 2017: Egypt’s water minister visits the site of the dam. Cairo accepts the preliminary report. Sudan and Ethiopia express reservations.
November 2017: The 17th round of tripartite talks is held in Cairo. After disputes over the preliminary report Egypt says the talks have failed.
December 2017: Egypt suggests the World Bank becomes a party to negotiations.
January 2018: Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn pays a three-day visit to Egypt during which a number of cooperation agreements are signed. Although the visit was expected to ease tensions Desalegn rejects Egypt’s suggestion the World Bank become involved soon after he returns to Ethiopia. Sudan backs Addis Ababa.
January 2018: President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi meets his Ethiopian and Sudanese counterparts on the margins of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa. They agree to resume tripartite negotiations.
February 2018: Tripartite talks are postponed as unrest in Ethiopia leads to the sudden resignation of Desalegn. Abiy Ahmed is appointed to replace Desalegn in March.
April 2018: The three countries hold the first nine-party meeting attended by the ministers of irrigation and foreign affairs and the intelligence chiefs of the three states. They discuss the impact of the dam on the water shares of Egypt and Sudan. The meeting concludes without an agreement.
5 May 2018: A tripartite meeting takes place in Addis Ababa between the irrigation ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. During the meeting the three countries submit their observations on the technical report issued by French consulting firms Artelia and BRL.
15 May 2018: The three countries hold the second nine-party meeting attended by heads of intelligence, ministers of foreign affairs and irrigation in Addis Ababa. A document fixing the mechanism for organising future meetings is issued.
The document establishes a National Independent Scientific Research Study Group (NISRSG) to “discuss means of enhancing the levels of understanding and cooperation among the three countries… through addressing equitable and reasonable utilisation of shared water resources while taking all appropriate measures to prevent the causing of significant harm.”
June 2018: Prime Minister Ahmed visits Egypt and reassures President Al-Sisi that he wants only to aid development in Ethiopia without harming the Egyptian people.
“Egypt’s share of the River Nile will be maintained... and even increased,” Ahmed tells a news conference in Cairo after talks with Al-Sisi.
August 2018: Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and General Intelligence Chief Abbas Kamel visit Addis Ababa to meet Ahmed and deliver a message from President Al-Sisi.
September 2018: The NISRSG holds a meeting in which Ethiopia proposes the timetable for filling the reservoir be determined by annual studies of the floods and rainfall in each year.
The scientific group briefs irrigation ministers on the latest recommendations on the timeframe to fill the dam’s reservoir during a meeting held in Addis Ababa.
After the meeting Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati says the three countries have reiterated their commitment to continuing talks in order to reach a satisfactory agreement on the timing and method of filling the reservoir as per the Declaration of Principles.
February 2019: Al-Sisi, his Sudanese counterpart Omar Al-Bashir and Ahmed call for negotiations to be accelerated at a tripartite summit held on the sidelines of the 32nd session of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.
June 2019: In a meeting with his Ethiopian counterpart Gedu Andargachew, Shoukri calls for negotiations to be fast-tracked.
August 2019: The Minister of Water Mohamed Abdel-Ati hands a proposal outlining Egypt’s vision of the filling and operation rules of the Dam to his Ethiopian counterpart Seleshi Bekele during a visit to Addis Ababa. In the proposal Egypt officially requests that the dam be filled over a period of seven years and that Ethiopia release a minimum of 40 billion cubic metres of water annually.
Bekele says the proposal will be discussed in a September meeting though other Ethiopian officials reject it as “not practical”.
September 2019: A ministerial tripartite meeting is held in Cairo and ends without agreement.
September 2019: During the UN General Assembly in New York President Al-Sisi calls on the international community to help Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia reach a resolution. Addressing the UN General Assembly Al-Sisi said the international community should play a “constructive role” in urging all parties to be flexible in negotiations in order to reach an agreement.
October 2019: The last round of ministerial tripartite talks is held in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia refuses to discuss Egyptian proposals to resolve the problematic issues of filling and operating the dam.
Egypt declares that tripartite talks with Sudan and Ethiopia have reached a deadlock and calls for international mediation to help reach a “fair and balanced” agreement.
23-24 October: President Al-Sisi meets Prime Minister Ahmed on the sidelines of the African-Russian summit.
October 2019: The Donald Trump administration sends an invitation to the foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to meet with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and president of the World Bank Group David Malpass to discuss the dam. The meeting is scheduled for 6 November.
6 November 2019: The first Washington meeting issues a joint statement. The three foreign ministers set a timetable for meetings to resolve outstanding issues and stressed “joint commitment to reach a comprehensive, cooperative, adaptive, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation of the Renaissance Dam and to establish a clear process for fulfilling that commitment in accordance with the 2015 Declaration of Principles.”
They agree to hold four rounds of negotiations and set mid-January as the deadline for reaching agreement.
November 2019: The first round of negotiations is held in Addis Ababa.
December 2019: The second and third rounds are held in Cairo and Khartoum. After the second round the three ministers head to Washington to attend the second Washington meeting and report to the US Treasury and World Bank on progress so far.
9-10 January 2020: The fourth and final round takes place in Addis Ababa. All four rounds ended without agreement.
13-15 January 2020: The three foreign ministers hold their third meeting in Washington with Mnuchin and Malpass.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.