Ethiopia: Will Tigray Conflict Deter the GERD?

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd), under construction since 2011 (file photo).

Egypt has taken all diplomatic measures to urge Ethiopia not to proceed with its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) but all pleas (and threats) have fallen on deaf ears.

By July this year, Ethiopia had begun the second filling of the GERD.

The GERD, with a capacity of 6.45 gigawatts will be Africa's largest hydroelectric power plant and the world's seventh-largest dam.

At this magnitude, the immensity of the problem it is to those for and against it is big. This colossal problem may very well drive the Horn of Africa country into the eye of a storm especially with regard to the fight for the scarce water resource.

Egypt and Sudan, the two downriver countries that are against the dam, have been trying to talk Ethiopia out of this magnanimous project for years now. The last result, after Ethiopia, announced a second filling of the dam was to call on the UN Security Council to intervene because it is now a regional security issue.

Only days from a planned sit down with the UN Security Council, what has Ethiopia done? You guessed it, proceeded with initiating the second filling of the dam. Now that the talks have been held, Ethiopia is still not planning to stop.

From the look of things, given the outcome of the just ended UN Security Council sit down with the parties concerned, the UN cannot help much but again call for talks to reach a mutual agreement.

To quote Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa; "Each of the countries sharing the Nile waters has both rights and responsibilities, and the use and management of this natural resource require the continued engagement of all nations involved, in good faith, with a view to reaching common ground."

"There is room to move forward" in the spirit of cooperation, compromise and good neighbourliness.

Early July, Egypt said it received an official communique from Ethiopia announcing the start of the second phase of filling the dam.

As expected, Egypt is up in arms against what it describes as a 'unilateral measure' and warns that the move is "a violation of international laws and norms that regulate projects built on the shared basins of international rivers."

Ethiopia is however pushing aside the concerns of Egypt and Sudan arguing that the volume of the Nile will not be affected because the filling is strategically done during the heavy rains season (July and August).

However, Egypt maintains that Ethiopia is ignoring all international laws governing the sharing of water bodies and endangering regional security because it is taking "a policy of intransigence that undermined our collective endeavours to reach an agreement."

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was blunt in his warning to Ethiopia to desist. He made it clear that 'his government would not tolerate any moves that would reduce Egypt's share of water from the Nile,' reported Al Jazeera.

"... all options are open should Egypt's share be touched," he warned.

Brink Of War: Egypt Appeals To UN Security Council Over Nile Conflict

Is the War In Tigray Related To GERD?

Ethiopia's Tigray is riddled with war and famine, though the government has pulled off the federal troops and declared a unilateral ceasefire. Tigray remains under siege, international media reports. It is feared that close to or even more than 900,000 people are facing famine.

The war hit region cannot get humanitarian supplies because there is a shutdown of telecommunications and power supply.

In June, the Voice of America reported that a bomb had gone off at a market in Tigray at about 1 pm, right when the market would be at its busiest time. At least 43 people were killed and dozens of others wounded.

This was June 22, a day after Ethiopia held its sixth national elections and a fortnight from the commencement of the second filling of the GERD.

Will fighting in Tigray deter Ethiopia's GERD plans?

Probably not, but it has brought the country under international scrutiny. Critics have also raised concerns with the announced landslide win by the ruling Prosperity Party. It should be noted that these elections were postponed at least two times owing to COVID-19 and security reasons.

However, in the north, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) went ahead and held regional elections almost a year ago heightening tensions between the TPLF and the federal government.

While the tiff between TPLF and the federal Prosperity Party is seen as purely political since the two are born of the same Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, there are concerns that the recent surge in conflict could have some fuel in the GERD already tense situation.

Nile Wars: Will AU succeed where UN Security Council failed?

It seems that the Nile waters dispute is viewed as an African problem rather than a global peace threat issue.

Nothing supports this fear as this statement by a high ranking UN Security Council issued when Egypt and Sudan turned to this global body for peace security for assistance in the failed Nile waters dispute with Ethiopia.

France's ambassador to the UN said the parties should work with the African Union and reminded everyone that ... 'the council itself can do little apart from bringing the sides together.'

And bring the parties together it did... "Egypt resorted to the Security Council to... confirm the Security Council's jurisdiction over the GERD as it relates to international peace and security as well as preventive diplomacy," Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told press in the wake of the meeting and helpfully the statement also made its way to the hearts of the UN security council '... as it relates to international peace and security.'

But in the argument of African solutions to African problems, the issue has been left to the AU to resolve. In that meeting, a draft resolution was submitted by Tunisia on behalf of Egypt and Sudan and among other things requested 'a stronger role for observers in negotiations and allowing the council to provide proposals and solutions on the issue.'

Pushing on the democratic and peaceful front, the diplomat; "... continuation of Egypt and Sudan's pursuit of a peaceful solution relied on the negotiating framework and support for the African track, while calling for the participation of observers to provide expertise, solutions and proposals to break the stalemate in negotiation."

How it will all pan out remains to be seen, however, Ethiopia is meanwhile proceeding with the second filling of the dam and it is unclear what the AU can do about it that the UN Security Council could not.

On the sidelines of the mounting tensions, Egypt has provided alternative energy solutions to would-be buyers of the GERD surplus power output. The move is seen as an option to deter Ethiopia since the country plans to export most of the energy from the dam.

Among other things, Egypt has funded solar farms in the Horn of Africa and is building major hydropower plants in Tanzania, a key East African power consumer that would indeed turn to Ethiopia's GERD short of increasing its own domestic output.

There may be a glimmer of hope yet: during the UN meeting it was pointed out that 'a draft agreement now exists, and 90 per cent of technical problems have been resolved, he asserted, while cautioning that, pending a final accord on all elements, the African Union has requested that all sides abstain from taking positions that could further complicate the negotiations.'

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