Last week, Ethiopia and Sudan announced they had reached a new agreement on ways to peacefully resolve their differences. A statement issued by Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council (TSC) stressed the importance of reaching a final agreement over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) via dialogue between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia.
While details of the agreement and a time frame for resolving differences have not been disclosed, a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said the package will cover the long-running dispute over Al-Fashqa, a contested fertile border region that has caused a surge in tensions between the two countries in the last few years, and support the implementation of a separate, earlier agreement signed between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The peace treaty, signed last month between the government of Ethiopia and the TPLF, saw both parties agree to a permanent cessation of hostilities. Tension over Al-Fashqa, meanwhile, escalated in December 2020 when Sudan deployed its army to take control of the area.
“Any peaceful resolution of conflicts and differences is in the interest of the whole continent… If they manage to resolve the dispute over GERD in a way that benefits both states it will certainly work in Egypt’s interest,” said the diplomat.
“Egypt has long been striving for a legally binding agreement that respects international treaties and is in the interest of Cairo, Khartoum, and Addis Ababa.”
Abbas Sharaki, professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, said the agreement between Sudan and Ethiopia could throw a stone into the stagnant water of stalled negotiations.
“The flooding season ended mid-September and Ethiopia is preparing for the next filling. We should aim to reach an agreement before the fourth filling next July,” he said.
In a meeting with Sudan’s GERD negotiating team early this week, TSC Vice President Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo said settling the GERD file can only be achieved through dialogue.
The team briefed Dagalo about the latest developments and the Khartoum-Addis Ababa agreement was reached just days before Dagalo met Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen in Khartoum.
The meeting was held on the sidelines of an Intergovernmental Authority on Development Ministerial Council meeting in Sudan, which is the current chair of the regional bloc.
Egypt has long been pushing for a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam. On the sidelines of COP27, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi re-asserted Egypt’s stand which aims to secure the interests of all the parties and preserve Egypt’s water security.
A week before COP, during a speech at the Arab Summit in Algeria, Al-Sisi stressed the importance of continuing to urge Ethiopia to demonstrate political will to reach an agreement on GERD, and highlighted the importance of adhering to the presidential statement issued by the UN Security Council in September.
During the Fourth Arab Water Conference last week, the Arab League (AL) also reiterated the importance of reaching a legally binding deal.
Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Hani Sweilam said during the conference that for Egypt water is a matter of national security.
The two-day water conference was organised by Palestine at the AL’s headquarters under the banner Arab Water Security for Life, Development, and Peace. Ministers of water resources as well as delegations from Arab countries and concerned regional organisations, attended the meeting.
Sudan and Egypt fear that the massive dam, which is Africa’s largest, could diminish their share of Nile water. The two downstream countries have repeatedly called on Addis Ababa to sign a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam which secures their water rights and protects their peoples’ interests.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly