Dams and more: Peace projects in Africa

Doaa El-Bey , Thursday 26 Aug 2021

Egypt’s involvement in the construction of a massive dam in Tanzania sets a benchmark for cooperation on the continent of Africa

Peace projects in Africa
The Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station and Dam

The Arab Contractors, working in cooperation with El-Sewedy Electric company, successfully installed the first turbine in the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station and Dam project in Tanzania last week.

The $2.9 billion project, a partnership between Tanzania’s Electric Supply Company and the two Egyptian companies, is an example, says former deputy foreign minister Mohamed Hegazi,of the benefits that can accrue when Egypt offers its expertise to other African nations, especially in the field of water resources. The dividends, says Hegazi, include enhanced security, and he sees “no reason why the Blue Nile states cannot follow the same integrational approach provided the political will is there”.

A total of nine turbines, with each a capacity of 2,115 megawatts will be installed. When complete, the dam is expected to have a storage capacity of 34 billion cubic meters (bcm), covering an area of 1,200 km2.

Egypt and Tanzania have a history of strong ties since diplomatic relations began in 1964, following the formation of the United Republic of Tanzania. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Tanzania in August 2017 gave a major boost to bilateral ties, and in January 2018 Egypt and Tanzania signed the contract to construct the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station and Dam on the Rufiji River. Construction work began in mid-2019 and is scheduled for completion next year.

The continuing work on the Tanzanian dam, in an atmosphere of cooperation, is in stark contrast to the failure of negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). While Cairo and Khartoum continue to push for a diplomatic solution to the latter, embedded in a legally binding agreement, Addis Ababa is determined to drag its feet.

“Cooperation over the Julius Nyerere Dam shows once and for all that Egypt is in favour of building developmental projects in African states as long as measures are taken to ensure the interests of all involved parties are preserved,” said a diplomat who preferred to remain anonymous.

So far, a decade of tripartite negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have failed to reach agreement on the filling and operation of GERD. Visits by Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra to the three states in late July and early August resulted in Algeria being given the green light to play the role of mediator, a development welcomed by both Cairo and Khartoum. Addis Ababa, meanwhile, asked Algiers to play a role in “correcting” what it described as Arab League misperceptions about the GERD.

But “unless this, or any future, initiative comes with a clear timetable attached. it will probe another time waster,” warned the diplomat.

“The Tanzanian hydroelectric power station,” he added, “points an alternative pathway for countries in need of electricity who might otherwise import power from GERD’s surplus.”

When completed, GERD is intended to be the largest dam in Africa. It will have a storage capacity of 74bcm, cover an area of 1,874 km2, and is expected to produce 13,629 gigawatts of electricity annually.

Last month Ethiopia declared the second filling of the dam complete. It did not disclose the amount of water retained, though experts believe it could not have exceeded four bcm, far less than the target of 13.5 bcm previously announced by Ethiopian officials.

Abbas Sharaki, professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, says that so far Addis Ababa has been unable to complete even the first phase of the GERD. Addis Ababa had initially announced that the dam would have two working turbines, producing 750 megawatts, 40 months after laying the foundation stone on April 2011, meaning August 2014.

The UN Security Council met in early July to discuss the ongoing dispute over the GERD between Ethiopia on the one hand, and Egypt and Sudan on the other. Tunisia submitted a draft resolution to council members which it hoped would be discussed during the session and later put to a vote. Ethiopia slammed the session as an “unhelpful distraction” to the African Union (AU)-led negotiating process and the Security Council, as had been expected, returned the ball back into the AU’s court.

The July meeting was the second time the Security Council has met to discuss GERD. During the first session, convened on 29 June, 2020, it advised the parties to return to AU-led negotiations. The talks, held under the auspices of the AU throughout last year, failed to secure an agreement on the dam’s filling and operations.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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