CAIRO: Five days of negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over a multi-billion dollar dam megaproject have seen nothing but disagreement, according to one of the parties involved in the talks.
Meetings to resolve the dispute were held under the auspices of the African Union (AU) for technical and legal teams from the three countries to try to bridge some points of disagreements, but the discussions did not result in anything new, a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation said.
The ministry added that, other than the disputes over the rules for refilling the dam after periods of prolonged drought, when the dam would be at the lowest levels of operation, Egypt was adhering to the application of certain rules for refilling but that Ethiopia was pushing to apply the same rules for the first filling, which added a burden to the High Dam in Egypt.
Egypt, which is almost entirely dependent on the River Nile for its fresh water, fears the dam will diminish its water supply, which is already below scarcity level.
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Ethiopia hopes that the massive $4.8 billion megaproject on the Blue Nile will allow it to become Africa’s largest power exporter.
The Egyptian ministry statement also said that Ethiopia refused to include the annual operating curve of the dam by agreement and was determined to change the operating rules in a unilateral manner, a stance rejected by Sudan and Egypt.
On Wednesday evening, the delegation of each country met separately with AU observers and experts in order to reach a compromise.
In light of the negotiations Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed confirmed that his country would not harm Egypt regarding the Renaissance Dam. He added that it would start filling the dam to take advantage of the heavy rain season, saying the disagreement with Egypt over the operation and filling of the dam would be resolved.
“We will not deprive Egypt of water and we will reach an agreement soon,” Ahmed added.
Muhammad Al-Sebaei, a spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources, said there remained disagreement on a number of issues between the countries and that no progress had been made.
Al-Sebaei added that, if Ethiopia remained insistent over its demands and the points that it wished to implement, an agreement would not be reached.
“Next Sunday is the deadline for the end of the Renaissance Dam negotiations, in the event that a new variable does not appear.”
Former Egyptian minister of irrigation, Mohamed Nasr Allam, told Arab News that there were aspects that must be taken into account by the Ethiopian side during the negotiations. Among these were, he explained, not to harm Egypt and Sudan’s share of the Nile waters according to historical agreements. Allam said that if Ethiopia objected again to historical agreements, then Egypt must resort to the International Court of Justice.
The previous round of negotiations failed to produce an accord due to Ethiopia's refusal to enter into a legally binding agreement and its announcement that it would begin filling the dam this month with or without the approval of the two downstream countries.
Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said that Egypt should use its good international relations, especially with China and Russia, to pressure the Ethiopian side.
Chinese companies were involved in building the Renaissance Dam, and China was in charge of building the electricity network that would transfer the generated energy from the dam to other parts of Ethiopia. “So, without cooperation from China, the construction of the dam and the associated electricity projects will suffer,” El-Sayed told Arab News.
According to El-Sayed, Russia had relations of strategic importance in protecting the dam. It had provided Ethiopia with the knowledge and equipment in the nuclear field by building a nuclear power plant and reactor, which was “very significant” for any country looking to be a nuclear power as well as helping in the field of energy and armament.
He advised Egypt to inform China and Russia that their interests in the country were determined by the extent of their assistance in helping with the Ethiopian position.
“Egypt is important to China in implementing its ambitious project known as the Belt and Road Initiative, which crosses Egypt on the way to Europe. It is very beneficial to China. Russia has major investments in Egypt that exceeds its investment in Ethiopia,” El-Sayed added.