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Ethiopia rejects Arab League call for UN to intervene on Nile dam

Ethiopia plans to fill the dam's reservoir again this summer despite Egypt's objections.
AMIR MAKAR/AFP via Getty Images

Ethiopia’s government rejected a resolution passed yesterday by the Arab League inviting the United Nations Security Council to help resolve the regional tensions over Addis Ababa’s Nile dam project.

“The Arab League of States should know that utilization of the Nile waters is also an existential matter for Ethiopia,” the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “It is about lifting millions of its people out of abject poverty and meeting their energy, water and food security needs.”

The ministry said the dam is part of Ethiopia’s “legitimate right to use its water resources in full respect of international law and the principle of causing no significant harm.”

Egypt’s government sent a 95-page letter last week to the UN Security Council detailing the history of the dispute and again calling on the international community to help reach a peaceful settlement.

Cairo’s latest appeal now has the backing of the 22-member Arab League, which, following a meeting in Doha on Tuesday, issued a communique calling for the UN Security Council to moderate renewed negotiations.

Ethiopia’s government accused Egypt of attempting to “unnecessarily politicize” what it called “an African issue.”

Egypt fears the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam may dangerously reduce its share of the Nile River. The desert country has a population of nearly 100 million and already recycles more fresh water than any other country in Africa, receiving far less rainfall than its upstream neighbors Ethiopia and Sudan.

Both Egypt and Sudan have demanded Ethiopia commit to written guidelines about filling and operating the dam, but officials in Addis Ababa have offered less binding proposals.

Ethiopia’s government has rejected Sudanese and Egyptian proposals to bring international mediation into the GERD dispute in recent months, leading to renewed tensions earlier this year as the latest round of talks in Kinshasa fell through in April.

A decade of negotiations has so far failed to resolve the dispute. Ethiopia completed the first filling of the dam’s reservoir last summer and is preparing for a second stage despite Cairo’s objections. The GERD, Africa’s largest dam, is expected to reach full electricity-generating capacity by 2023.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has turned to diplomacy and exercising military power to build leverage against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government in recent months, staging war games with Sudan’s military, building defense and intelligence ties in East Africa and issuing ominous warnings.

The crisis has the keen attention of the US administration, which brought on veteran diplomat Jeffrey Feltman as the United States' first-ever emissary to the Horn of Africa region in large part to help de-escalate the tensions.

Other emerging crises in the region, particularly a bloody border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia and extensive violence against civilians by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, have threatened to further unravel peace in the Horn of Africa, a region of growing strategic significance to the United States.

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