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Ethiopian minister upbeat about dam talks with Egypt

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy Alemayehu Tenegu says negotiations with Egypt and Sudan over the Renaissance Dam are improving.
Boats sail on the river Nile in Cairo June 12, 2013. Most of Egypt's population live clustered around the Nile valley and delta, and the river is both a vital resource for the country's citizens, and a potent national symbol. In a recent dispute with Ethiopia over the construction of a dam upstream, Egypt's foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr underlined the country's reliance on the river's waters: "No Nile - no Egypt," he said. Picture taken June 12, 2013. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS SOCIET

CAIRO — Negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia over the controversial Renaissance Dam are “improving perfectly,” according to Ethiopian Minister for Water and Energy Alemayehu Tenegu.

On the sidelines of the technical negotiations among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia regarding the Renaissance Dam, the minister explained that his country is planning on being the No. 1 energy exporting country for eastern Africa. He told Al-Monitor in an exclusive interview that Ethiopia is relying on loans and international donations as well as the mobilizing of the Ethiopian national economy to implement these projects.

Tenegu mentioned the political and technical undertakings made by the Ethiopian government since day one of the dam’s construction; not to damage the countries at the mouth of the Nile, in addition to the attempts to have a constructive dialogue with Egypt.

“We design our dams in a way that does not harm the countries of the mouth. This is our main principle for building dams,” he said.

Tenegu noted that the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia is far from degenerating into open conflict regarding the Nile waters, instead referring to past tensions as a difference in opinions.

Ethiopia could not hold tripartite meetings with Egypt and Sudan because of the political uncertainty in Egypt before the election of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Tenegu said. “There were certain complications for the Egyptian delegation before the new president. This is why we were unable to have tripartite meetings to seriously discuss the matter and reach the level of negotiation we now have. It is obvious that there is a political support from the Egyptian side, and this is why things have started to move forward,” he said.

The text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  Negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the Nile water and the Ethiopian dam often stumble upon certain conflicts. How do you see the general ambiance of this round of negotiations that started in Khartoum back in August?

Tenegu:  Talks have been increasingly improving since the Khartoum negotiations. We were able to select a team of national experts who will choose an international consultancy office, to finish the two studies regarding the dam’s geometrical safety, in addition to its social, economic and environmental effects. In general, things are improving perfectly.

Al-Monitor:  Do you expect the current technical negotiations with Cairo to result in an honest agreement between both countries over the Renaissance Dam, or will the talks end as usual, without reaching an agreement?

Tenegu:  We never had any struggles or conflicts. It was simply a disagreement such as in all normal negotiations. I hope the talks resume with the same ambiance and goodwill.

Al-Monitor:  Does the technical delegation have enough political support to succeed in the negotiations?

Tenegu:  The Ethiopian delegation always had clear support and political undertakings, and so did the Sudanese delegation. Until now, these undertakings still stand but there were certain complications for the Egyptian delegation before the new president. This is why we were unable to have tripartite meetings to seriously discuss the matter and reach the level of negotiation we now have. It is obvious that there is a political support from the Egyptian side, and this is why things have started to move forward.

Al-Monitor:  During your visit to Egypt, you met with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. How do you evaluate that meeting?

Tenegu:  The meeting was a call by the president to ensure cooperation between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, during which he discussed specific issues related to our cooperation in taking care of the Nile and the people of our countries, whose number reaches over 200 million. Sisi told us that the Nile water issue is the responsibility of the ministers of water in all three countries.

Al-Monitor:  Ethiopia is now adopting an ambitious strategy to produce and export energy. How well do you expect this to work?

Tenegu:  The Ethiopian strategy is based on expanding regionally the Ethiopian electricity networks into the countries of eastern Africa. We have started to connect the lines with Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya. These lines can be connected to other countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. We also have a plan to connect the lines between South Sudan, Yemen and Djibouti. However, our strategy goes beyond these borders, to export the Ethiopian energy to the countries of the Middle East.

Al-Monitor:  Does this strategy basically rely on building dams on the Nile and other water resources in Ethiopia?

Tenegu:  We have several resources and they are all clean and renewable energy sources. We are developing our capabilities to produce energy from water, wind, solar power and organic oil. We also plan to reduce 50% of our carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030.

Al-Monitor:  Ethiopia has many economic issues. From where does the government get enough funding for these ambitious plans?

Tenegu:  We initially fund our projects through our national economy. Loans and donations might also be important but we don’t want to rely on them to develop our energy expansion. We are mobilizing our national resources to implement these projects.

Al-Monitor:  There are studies that warn about the climate change over the Nile basin, especially with the expansion of dams. Do you have certain visions that deal with the climate change problems?

Tenegu:  Indeed, we have the Climate-Resilient Green Economy strategy. We are the first to have such a strategy in Africa. We have started to interpret it into a three-year plan to achieve growth by relying on clean energy, in addition to launching several projects to have protection against the effects of climate change.

Al-Monitor:  The Entebbe agreement is still pending between the countries of the Nile’s headwaters and the countries of the mouth, which are refusing to sign. Do you intend to renegotiate the controversial items in the agreement with Egypt and Sudan?

Tenegu:  The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) is now at the ratification stage for the parliaments of the countries that signed on it. Two countries have already finished the ratification stage and the rest are expected to be done with it before the end of this year. Sudan has now returned to the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) but Egypt is still refusing to discuss that again. We call on Cairo to reconsider its position and I really hope it does. It is very important that Egypt and Sudan return to the initiative and sign it, because it would significantly help in the managing of the water in the Nile basin, as well as assuring that the water resources would be used fairly to have a win-win situation without harming any one of the countries, which is the main purpose of the agreement. In the event that either Egypt or Sudan decide to sign and join the agreement, Ethiopia would respect that decision.

Al-Monitor:  After Cairo and Khartoum stopped their action in the NBI, many legal and administrative problems blocked the work of the Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office (ENTRO). Is Ethiopia asking Cairo to ratify a new agreement to structure the cooperation between the Eastern Nile countries?

Tenegu:  The Eastern Nile countries held a meeting last year in Addis Ababa and began to form a base for cooperation. Several main items were agreed upon, initially signed and ratified by both the Khartoum and Addis Ababa governments. However Cairo is still refusing to do so but we have indeed resumed our work at the ENTRO.

Al-Monitor:  Did you mention these remarks during your talks with the Egyptian officials?

Tenegu:  Personally, since the agreement was signed, I have been asking the Egyptian officials to sign to carry on with the work and cooperate with each other in the projects proposed for the ENTRO.

Al-Monitor:  During the Egyptian minister of water’s visit to Ethiopia in September, he said that there are still Egyptian concerns about dams on the Nile in Ethiopia, other than the Renaissance Dam. How accurate is this?

Tenegu:  We are currently working on building one dam, which is the Renaissance Dam. We started negotiating with Egypt and Sudan to have a trust between each other regarding the issue of the dam. This is why there are no concerns about building other dams in Ethiopia since we design our dams in a way that does not harm the countries of the mouth. This is our main principle for building dams.

Al-Monitor:  There are always tensions when discussing the issue of the Nile water and Ethiopia in the Egyptian media. Did you notice this during your visit to Cairo?

Tenegu:  I only met with journalists and officials but I did not have the chance to meet the residents. However, the general ambiance was good and I did not feel any negative vibes toward Ethiopia.

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