Renaissance Dam meetings held to bridge negotiation gap

Special Renaissance Dam meetings held to bridge negotiation gap
Water flows through Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 August 2020

Renaissance Dam meetings held to bridge negotiation gap

Renaissance Dam meetings held to bridge negotiation gap
  • It is the latest stage in talks about the multi-billion dollar project

CAIRO: Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met Tuesday in another effort to resolve the Renaissance Dam crisis.

The meetings between the three countries’ representatives were aimed at resolving outstanding issues and bringing their divergent views closer together.

It is the latest stage in talks about the multi-billion dollar project. The three nations have been involved in dam talks since 2011, but are yet to reach an agreement due to tensions between Addis Ababa on one hand and Cairo and Khartoum on the other.

Cairo and Khartoum are seeking to sign a binding and legal agreement for all parties in order to set clear texts for the rules about filling the dam, while Addis Ababa wants a non-binding agreement.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is being built around 15 kilometers from Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, has become a major source of discord between the three countries. Egypt fears the dam project could lead to water shortages upstream, while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety.

According to the Sudanese Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din Ismail, the latest meetings were aimed at unifying the texts of the draft agreements submitted by the three countries and drafting them in one document by their representatives and facilitators from the African Union (AU).

Ismail said that the unified document would be submitted to South Africa’s president, who currently heads the AU, to review the document and consider the possibility of it becoming the basis for the agreement between the three countries.

Remote meetings have taken place in the past few days with the participation of the Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of irrigation and foreign affairs. South Africa said that a semi-draft of the agreement between the three countries appeared to be a solution to the crisis and great progress for negotiations.

Mohamed Nasr Allam, the former Egyptian minister of water resources and irrigation, said that Egypt was looking for a legal agreement that Ethiopia was to fill and operate the dam, but not to build on the river except with prior notification, adding that Ethiopia wanted water domination of the sources of the Nile Basin.

He said that the agreement must be binding and contain a clause with a clear legal instrument for resolving disputes. The attempt to come up with a unified draft by the AU was a constructive step, according to Allam, but Addis Ababa needed to adhere to the rules of the negotiation in order not to waste time because Cairo knew what it needed and how to obtain it. 

He expressed his belief that the coming days would witness fresh progress if Ethiopia did not continue its intransigence in the negotiations.

Abbas Al-Sharaqi, an expert in water resources at Cairo University, said that Egypt was seeking rules for the filling of the dam, specifically next year, and linking it to the hydrological conditions and the state of rain in order not to be negatively affected. 

The long-running row between the three countries has caught the attention of Pope Francis, who said last week that he was following the status of the negotiations. He called for dialogue and for the three countries to act for the good of their people.