KHARTOUM, Sudan — Disputes and disagreements erupted again between Egypt and Ethiopia concerning the Nile River dam construction, after both countries failed to reach an agreement governing the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in their initial negotiating session. The attempt at dialogue quickly ended, while the crisis of trust between the two countries resurfaced as their fears that the other might appropriate the Nile’s waters became evident.
Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese ministers of water resources met in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Sunday, Nov. 4, to begin the first round of negotiating sessions set to deal with the Renaissance Dam, as well as to consult with each other on the mechanisms needed to complete it, and how to implement the recommendations of an international committee of technical experts. The latter concluded its activities on May 27 after studying the effects of the dam on the water security of Egypt and Sudan.
The meetings began with an opening session, attended by Al-Monitor, in which the ministers of water resources from all three countries spoke about the prevailing spirit of cooperation and contentment, as well as the principle of mutual good will and a desire to prevent harm to others. Egypt's minister of irrigation affirmed in a speech that Egypt would not stand against development in countries of the Nile Basin, as long as it did not adversely affect it. The Ethiopian minister countered that his country would not cause harm to any downstream countries, meaning Egypt and Sudan.
Attitudes quickly changed, however, once the closed sessions began and disagreements mounted. As a result, the meetings were suspended and a new date for negotiations was set for Dec. 8.
“We were taken aback by Ethiopia’s attempts to impose its agenda on us during the meetings, while it outright failed to recognize the international committee’s recommendations pertaining to the dam. Disagreements revolved around how to establish a committee or body through which the three countries would work to implement those recommendations,” an Egyptian diplomatic source who participated in the meetings told Al-Monitor.
“Egypt is of the opinion that it is necessary for Ethiopia to acknowledge that there are problems associated with the dam and that it will have negative effects on Egypt. Clear conditions must be set, and Ethiopia must commit to abide by and never circumvent them. This is why Egypt has insisted on the presence of international experts who would serve to validate Egypt’s position before the international community, though Ethiopia has objected to this,” added the source who requested anonymity.
Egyptian concerns about the Renaissance Dam are confined to its technical specifications, the size of the projected structure and the holding capacity of the reservoir attached to it, which might negatively affect the flow of water into Egypt and decrease the rate of electricity production at the Aswan Dam. Furthermore, Ethiopia did not submit sufficient studies concerning the dam’s safety and its ecological and social impact.
“We were surprised by Ethiopia’s rejection of our proposals during the meeting. We cannot support the dam without added proof of good intentions from the Ethiopian side. All options are open before Egypt, if Ethiopia does not acquiesce to our conditions,” another Egyptian source present at the meetings told Al-Monitor.
“We do not want to characterize the negotiations as having failed. We will give ourselves another chance to talk and better clarify everybody’s points of view,” Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohammed Abdel Moteleb, further told Al-Monitor.
Ethiopian Minister of Water and Energy Alamayo Tegno, in a statement given to Al-Monitor after the meetings, said: “The decision to build the Renaissance Dam is resolute, both by the government and the Ethiopian people. We are in complete agreement with Sudan about all the details pertaining to the completion of the dam. Egypt will certainly come to understand this and espouse our position.”
“What is currently taking place is a dispute and not a difference in opinion. We have repeatedly affirmed our intention not to harm any other country. Financing difficulties will not hinder our efforts, since the Ethiopian people are mobilized in favor of building the dam. Ethiopia has now become one of the world’s 10 fastest-developing countries,” Tegno continued.
Cairo is currently mulling taking a number of quick steps prior to the second session of negotiations scheduled for Dec. 8. In this regard, Egypt’s political leadership seemed comfortable with the matter when the Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi announced before the first session was held that the Renaissance Dam could bring prosperity to Egypt. This is in direct contrast with Egypt’s stance during negotiations.
An Egyptian diplomatic source told Al-Monitor that Cairo’s options right now revolve around maintaining international pressure and preventing foreign funding of the dam project to slow construction until an agreement can be reached with the Ethiopians. Egypt will also make public the official report prepared by the international committee of technical experts, which shows that the dam will have a negative impact if it is built according to the current planned dimensions.
“Continuing to follow the technical track in negotiations pertaining to the Renaissance Dam between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia will lead nowhere. A political agreement must be reached, and an official mechanism established by the senior leaders of all three countries, through which direct negotiations are held until each country’s positions and decisions can be clearly defined,” the source affirmed.
As the tug of war between the Egyptian and Ethiopian delegations intensified during the first negotiating session, Sudan fully and unreservedly adopted the Ethiopian position. None of the Sudanese delegation members wanted to comment about the meetings, though Sudanese Minister of Water and Energy Osama Abdallah issued a very brief news statement. In it, he said that an atmosphere of honesty and brotherhood prevailed over the meetings, while they all tried to find the best avenues to move forward. He added that they would meet again to reconsider the matter.
The door is still open to all possibilities and the upcoming negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia about the Renaissance Dam could either succeed or fail. Available information, however, seems to indicate that disagreements and a lack of confidence still prevail between the Egyptian and Ethiopian sides, with Sudan joining the latter’s camp to safeguard its interests and receive a part of the ensuing benefits. Egypt, on the other hand, has failed to clearly state whether it will participate in building the dam, despite the positive statements issued by the country’s political and diplomatic leadership in this regard.
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