GERD: Talks need to resume urgently

Doaa El-Bey , Thursday 3 Feb 2022

What is needed to restart tripartite negotiations and reach an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

GERD: Talks need to resume urgently
Satterfield with Shoukri

The importance of kick-starting stalled tripartite negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was highlighted during the recent visits to Cairo of Senegal President Macky Sall and US Special Envoy for Horn of Africa David Satterfield. The subject is also expected to be raised on the fringes of the two-day African Union (AU) Summit, scheduled for 5-6 February.

During Sall’s visit, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi emphasised to his Senegalese counterpart the importance of reaching a “legal, fair, balanced and binding” agreement that governs the filling and operation of the dam, “within an appropriate timeframe, without any unilateral measures”.

At the joint press conference held after the meeting, Al-Sisi reiterated that Egypt’s position “is based on the Nile River being a source of cooperation and development and an artery of life bringing the peoples of the Nile Basin countries together”.

President Al-Sisi and President Sall also agreed to enhance coordination and consultations over the GERD file in light of Senegal’s chairmanship of the AU, which begins this month, said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. “But Unless Addis Ababa has the political will to engage in constructive negotiations that aim to reach a deal, I cannot see any difference between AU-sponsored negotiations under Senegal’s chairmanship and those held in the last two years when South Africa and Congo were in the chair,” he said.

Mohamed Hegazi, former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister, described Sall’s visit as strategically important. He pointed out that Senegal will host the World Water Forum in March, and that Dakkar is a partner in two of the most important international organisations for water cooperation in Africa - the Senegal River Basin Development Organisation and the Gambia River Basin Development Organisation. Both groupings offer a successful example of regional cooperation in managing rivers.

“We hope that during his chairmanship of the AU, President Sall’s long experience in common water management can help promote cooperation between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia,” Hegazi told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Sall’s visit came a few days after that of David Satterfield, the newly appointed US special envoy for the Horn of Africa.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said that during his meeting with Satterfield he had underlined the urgent need to resume talks over the filling and operation of GERD in line with the UN Security Council’s presidential statement issued in September last year.

Satterfield’s tour in the region began on 24 January and ends on Friday, by which time it will have included Kenya, Egypt, the UAE, Turkey, and Israel. Last month he visited Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Ethiopia.

The veteran diplomat, and one time US ambassador to Turkey, was appointed as the US special envoy early in January, replacing Jeffery Feltman.

“Although Sudan has been the focus of Satterfield’s first tours of the region, they may pave the way for a more active US role in GERD issue,” said the anonymous diplomat.

The need to restart of negotiations became more pressing after Ethiopia disclosed plans last month to fell 17,000 hectares of forest around the dam ahead of the third filling of the reservoir. Ahead of the second filling in July last year 4,854 hectares of land were cleared.

The Ethiopian press has also carried reports that the dam is ready to start testing its power generation capacity.

Cairo and Khartoum have repeatedly rejected Ethiopia’s unilateral filling of the dam before a binding agreement on GERD’s operation is reached.

Tripartite negotiations on GERD stopped in April last year after Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia failed to reach an agreement, ahead of the second filling of the dam which Ethiopia implemented in July. The first filling was in July 2020.

Egypt fears that continued filling of the dam in the absence of any stipulations enshrined in an agreement will reduce the flow of Nile water on which Egypt depends. Sudan is worried Ethiopia’s unilateral actions will endanger its own dams.

With the AU Summit imminent, hopes are rising that it will herald a revival of AU sponsored tripartite talks under the chairmanship of Senegal.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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