30 December 2017

East Africa: Egypt Proposes to Exclude Sudan From Dam Talks

Photo: Addis Fortune
Sameh Shoukry, Egypt's foreign minister (left), and his counterpart, Worqneh Gebeyehu (PhD) during the press briefing held last Tuesday at the premises of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Amidst tense negotiations over of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt submitted a new proposal of excluding Sudan from the talks and introducing a neutral party, i.e. World Bank (WB), in the arbitration.

The proposal was sent by Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and delivered to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn by Sameh Shoukry, Egypt's foreign minister last Tuesday, December 26, 2017. Shoukry arrived in Addis in the preceding week to conduct regular consultation held among foreign ministers of both countries. This was the fourth of its kind.

The discussion focused on trade, investment and terrorism, according to Meles Alem, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).

On arrival, Shoukry met his counterpart Worqneh Gebeyehu (PhD) and other senior officials, at the latter's office where the two briefed both local and international members of the media for 21 minutes.

Throughout the briefing, Shoukry has been mentioning that Egypt should come up with a new proposal for it is concerned over the delayed negotiations.

Egypt, in a tense situation with both Sudan and Ethiopia, proposed for Sudan's exclusion from the negotiations and to proceed with Ethiopia only, a country that shares its view on the issue as "a matter of life or death". Currently, the construction of the Dam, which was launched in 2010 with 4.8 billion dollars, has reached 63pc completion and is expected to be filled next year.

About two months ago, Sudanese foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, told Russia Today, Egypt fears that Sudan will be able to use its full share of the Nile upon the realisation of the Dam. The incident demonstrated the strain between the two nations.

Another point of debate among the three countries was Ethiopia and Sudan's refusal to approve the draft inception report of the lead consultant, BRL Ingenierie, made on hydrological simulation model and environmental and socio-economic impact assessment of the Dam. The Dam is expected to hold 74 billion cubic metres of water and generate about 6,000MW of electricity.

BRL was hired by the Tripartite National Committee (TNC) for the assessment, and it subcontracts Artelia Group to undertake 30pc of the evaluation. The two companies were meant to assess the Dam's hydrological simulation model during the filling process, and environmental and socio-economic impact on the Nile riparian countries with a delivery deadline of December 2017.

The two countries refuted the proposal claiming it was prepared without considering the baseline and the terms of reference (ToR) it was provided with.

"Egypt wants the baseline of the study to be 55.5 billion cubic metres, and Ethiopia believes it is unfair," a diplomatic source told Fortune.

The Egyptian officials, on their part, claim that Ethiopia is reluctant to commit to a Nile water-sharing agreement signed in 1959.

Amending the 1929 agreement of water allocation amounting 48 billion cubic metres and four billion cubic metres for Egypt and Sudan consecutively, the 1959 accord allocated 55.5 billion cubic meters and 18.5 billion cubic meters of water, correspondingly.

"Ethiopia is not obliged to commit to this agreement, to which it was not a party at all," Taye Stke-Selassie Ethiopian ambassador to Egypt told Al-Ahram last Wednesday.

Due to this, the approval of the draft inception report is held without any approval or rejection.

"The case Egypt has with Sudan is completely different with Ethiopia's case, and it is necessary to differentiate the two," replied Shoukry in Arabic to a question from a foreign media correspondent last week.

Worqneh on his part has been stressing the essence of including Sudan in the negotiations in Tuesday's press conference.

"Any negotiation and discussion over the dam will be held in Sudan's presence," Worqneh told the media.

"Egypt believes that the World Bank is neutral and decisive, and it could facilitate negotiations among the two, devoid of any political interpretation and manipulation," said Shoukry, who stated that the issue legitimately concerned his people, 96pc of which live in a desert and rely on the Nile Valley.

Ethiopia's stand over the two proposals of Egypt seems polarised. Letting WB become an arbitrator in the discussion between the three or excluding Sudan from the debate is unacceptable for Ethiopia, according to sources close to the case.

"Ethiopia stands firm that the three parties could handle any disagreement over technicality, whether by ministers or by heads of state without the intervention of a third party," disclosed the diplomat.

Ethiopian experts also questioned the neutrality of WB over the case, listing points such as possible influences from former senior Egyptian officials in the Bank like Ismail Serageldin (PhD) who was a vice president and stated the Bank's stand over upstream countries.

The proposal came amidst Prime Minister Hailemariam's scheduled visit to Egypt in January. The tour was initially planned in December but was rescheduled. Just after the announcement of the PM's visit, members of Egyptian parliament were signing petitions opposing his trip.


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