GERD: Square one

Doaa El-Bey , Wednesday 27 Sep 2023

The latest talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam fail to make progress.

File Photo: The Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) saw one of its 13 turbines started power generating on Sunday, February 20, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)


The second round of the recently revived trilateral negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) concluded on Sunday in Addis Ababa. No substantial progress was made, according to a statement issued by the Egyptian cabinet.

“The talks highlighted Ethiopia’s tendency to backtrack on agreements previously reached between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan within the framework of the negotiation process. Addis Ababa rejected all the compromises and technical arrangements proposed internationally, though they met Ethiopia’s interests without encroaching on the rights and interests of the downstream countries,” said Irrigation Ministry Spokesperson Mohamed Ghanim.

Ethiopia concluded the negotiations by accusing Egypt of undermining the agreement on the Declaration of Principles (DoP).

“It is regrettable that Egypt’s continued insistence on maintaining an exclusionary colonial-era-based treaty, monopolistic utilisation and self-claimed water quota has prevented substantive progress in the negotiation,” read the statement issued by the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry one day after the talks ended.

Nader Noureddin, professor of land and water resources at Cairo University, described the statement as “neither legal, nor objective”.

It is Ethiopia that undermined the DoP by ignoring Article 5 which states that national experts from the three countries must agree on the rules for the filling and operation of GERD, said Noureddin. Addis Ababa has also dragged its feet on establishing compensation mechanisms in the case of GERD causing harm to downstream states, and overlooked the article which calls all issues on which the delegations fail to agree to be referred to the three countries’ heads of state.

“Cairo is asking for its acquired, not colonial, quota, the water that has been reaching Egypt for thousands of years via the natural flow of the river. It wants Ethiopia to agree to a minimum amount of water to reach Egypt each year. But Ethiopia has set its sights on monopolising Nile water, ignoring the fact that it is an international river,” said Noureddin.

Speaking during the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday in New York, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri reiterated Egypt’s rejection of Ethiopia’s unilateral actions on filling GERD. He told delegates there was no room for the mistaken belief that Ethiopia can impose a fait accompli “when it comes to the lives of over 100 million Egyptians.”

The first round of the recently revived trilateral negotiations was held in Cairo last month. Following the talks Ethiopia announced it had completed the fourth filling of the GERD reservoir. At the time, Minister of Irrigation Hani Sewilam said the announcement had cast a shadow over the ongoing negotiations and posed a threat to their success.

Ethiopia stored 24 billion m3 (bcm) this year, equivalent to half the Blue Nile’s flow in an average year and more than Sudan’s annual quota.

Abbas Sharaki, professor of geology and water resources at Cairo University, pins little hope on the negotiations given that Addis Ababa wants non-binding guidelines rather than a legally binding agreement.

“Ethiopia refuses to recognise Egypt’s water share, and negotiations seem to be going in a completely different direction when it comes to water sharing. Addis Ababa has said it wants to invite all Nile Basin countries to discuss their shares of water, which means negotiations could last forever,” said Sharaki.

Talks were revived following the meeting of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on the sidelines of Sudan’s Neighbouring Countries Summit in Cairo in July. During the meeting, both leaders agreed to finalise an agreement on the filling and operation of GERD within four months.

The talks are the first since negotiations sponsored by the African Union collapsed in April 2021 and a third round of negotiations is scheduled to be held in October in Cairo.

Although Noureddin pins little hope on the talks, it is essential, he says, to hammer out an agreement on future filling. Addis Ababa declared a few days ago that it will fill the dam with 22 bcm next year and “it has already disclosed that it will start building another dam in 2027, something likely to cause further tension in the talks”.

Sharaki argues Egypt should take the file to the Security Council for a third time, not as a water issue but as “an existential threat to millions of Egyptians”.

Egypt referred the dispute to the United Nations Security Council in 2020 and 2021. In September 2021, the Security Council issued a statement calling for a resumption of negotiations led by the African Union to reach a “binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD”.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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