April 14, 2024

Prologue

A matter of life or death, this is how the Egyptian and the Sudanese officials have been describing the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). But it seems that the dilemma goes back far before the recent political deadlock that started even to be a public opinion either in Egypt, Sudan, or in Ethiopia. The following publication is a chronological representation of the key events surrounding the crisis. Through factual analysis, this report firstly addresses the standing positions of the parties involved, namely, The Arab Republic of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Secondly, attempts to underline key peace alternatives to crisis mitigation.

TIMELINE

1929 – 1999 PUTTING THE LEGAL BASIS FOR THE NILE. 2

2011 – 2013 CONSTRUCTION OF THE GRAND ETHIOPIAN RENAISSANCE DAM AND THE ETHIOPIAN HYDROPOWER SECTOR. 2

2014 – MALABO DECLARATION. 4

2015 – DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES AND KHARTOUM DOCUMENT 4

2016 – TECHNICAL MEETINGS 5

2018 – 2019 SUICIDE OF THE ETHIOPIAN PROJECT MANAGER AND GEOPOLITICAL NEGOTIATIONS 5

2020 – ETHIOPIA’s FAILURE TO CONDUCT A COMPREHENSIVE ACCORD. 7

2021 – THE RECENT TRILATERAL NEGOTIATIONS 7

Appendix……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….10

 

 

1929 

  • 7  May 1929, in an exchange of letters with Egypt’s semi-independent administration, the British government recognized the “natural and historical right of Egypt to the waters of the Nile” and agreed that upstream developments should “observe” these rights.
  • 8 November 1959, Egypt and Sudan signed a bilateral agreement that allocates the entire river’s water to the two countries.
  • 22 February 1999, The Nile Basin Initiative formed. The partnership of Nile riparian states aimed to provide a forum for the cooperative development and management of the Nile waters, including a new multilateral treaty.

2011 – 2013 Construction of The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and The Ethiopian Hydropower Sector

  • 2 April 2011, construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was initiated in Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia, 45 km east of the Sudanese border and 2,500 km south-eastern of the Egyptian Border[1]
  • With a primary objective of mitigating regional imbalances in electricity production, it was anticipated to operate with an installed reservoir of 74 billion cubic meters of water allowing the dam to generate 6 gigawatts of electricity which amounts to 200% of Ethiopia’s power supply[2].
  • The project was estimated to cost around USD 4.8 billion excluding transmission and distribution grids, such cost was mainly financed through Ethiopian bonds that were issued both in domestic and international markets, as well as foreign capital injected by several Chinese banks[3].
  • Construction works were handled by the Italian contractor, Salini Impregilo (changed later to “Webuild”), which is accountable for the construction of three other dams on the Omo River and Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The process involved another two firms namely, the Italian Tratos Cavi SPA and the French Alstom which were responsible for providing cables and turbines, respectively[4].
  • The regional impact of (GERD) was questioned by the global community regarding the fact that such a dam might entail negative consequences on neighboring beneficiaries such as Egypt and Sudan.
  • The International Rivers Organization (IRO) reported that the political environment surrounding the hydropower sector in Ethiopia was highly oppressive and risky where the Ethiopian civil society was deprived from participation in the consultation process[5].
  • Several Ethiopian parties were susceptible to government prosecution and hence, subsided from questioning the geopolitical convenience of the proposed dam. For instance, in June 2011, the Ethiopian journalist, Reeyot Alemu was prosecuted, and death threats were received by (IRO) staff for raising concerns[6].
  • 15 May 2012, an international panel of experts was established to assess the socioeconomic and environmental studies conducted on the (GERD).
  • The panel involved Egyptian, Sudanese, and Ethiopian representatives as well as international experts in the field of water resources[7].
  • Late May 2013, following the fourth meeting in Addis Ababa in November 2012, a preliminary report was delivered to the three involved governments.
  • The report was censored from the public, however, both the governments of Egypt and Ethiopia discussed key findings of the report in a differential manner where on the one hand, the Ethiopian government stated that the dam design, according to the report, complied with international standards without neither mentioning such standards nor the constituent criteria, and indicated that the dam will entail beneficial outcome to the three countries without harming the regional water supply[8]. On the other hand, the Egyptian government emphasized the report’s recommendation of readjusting the dam’s size and dimensions[9].

2014– MALABO DECLARATION[10]

  • March 2014, Ethiopia announced that 32% of the construction of the Dam had been completed.
  • 28 June 2014, the Malabo declaration was issued by the Egyptian president El Sisi and the Ethiopian prime minister in the form of a statement guaranteeing that Ethiopia can develop the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam without any possible damage affecting Egypt.

2015 – DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES AND KHARTOUM DOCUMENT

  • December 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed the declaration of principles on the Renaissance Dam, Khartoum Document. This declaration included 10 principles[11]:
  1. Principle of cooperation
  2. Principle of development, regional integration, and sustainability:
  3. Principle of not causing significant damage:
  4. Principle of fair and appropriate use:
  5. The principle of the dam’s storage reservoir first filling, and dam operation policies.
  6. The principle of building trust
  7. The principle of exchange of information and data:
  8. The principle of dam security
  9. The principle of the sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of the State:
  10. The principle of the peaceful settlement of disputes
  • The Khartoum document was signed by three parties, which is a legal document that aims to resolve the differences between the three countries about the Dam.

 

2016 – AGREEMENT ON TECHNICAL STUDIES[12]

  • January 2016, Ethiopia rejected a proposal that was made by Egypt about increasing the water holes in the Dam to four holes. Ethiopia rejected this proposal and said that the dam does not need to be redesigned to increase the holes.
  • December 2016, the three countries signed the final contracts for technical studies on the impact on dam downstream countries.

2018 – 2019 SUICIDE OF THE GERD PROJECT MANAGER AND GEOPOLITICAL NEGOTIATIONS

  • January 2018, Sudan recalled its ambassador from Cairo after Egypt’s rhetoric soured as the dam construction continued, though the ambassador returned to Egypt two months later after tensions cooled.
  • April 2018, Ethiopia appointed a new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who has been touted as a reformer.
  • May 2018, Negotiations reached an important breakthrough with a tripartite agreement regarding the dam.
  • Though other agreements had been signed previously, political officials in each country hailed the May 2018 deal as the most significant to date. Under the deal, each country agrees to meet every six months on a rotating basis in their respective capital cities to discuss recent developments with the dam, though these meetings failed to occur as scheduled due to anti-government demonstrations in Sudan beginning in December 2018. A tripartite fund for the purpose of development projects was also established and a scientific research group was formed to study the impact of the dam on water resources[13].
  • Manager of Ethiopia’s $4 billion Nile dam project committed suicide, as the construction on the dam has stalled over the apparent suicide of the dam’s project manager in 2018, strikes by workers protesting insufficient wages, and the replacement of contracting companies because of delayed progress, all of which have occurred as Abiy attempts to implement reforms[14]. Although the date of completion remains unknown, Egypt’s water scarcity raises additional political implications hampering the negotiations process. Political officials have described the dam as a “life or death” situation for Egypt and declared a state of emergency due to its shortage in water flow, which environmental experts have attributed to climate change, outdated irrigation techniques, and overpopulation. Egypt’s water insecurity, coupled with the threat of a filled dam, has led to additional crop imports, especially those that are water-intensive in production. Egypt’s wheat imports project to reach an all-time high for the country in 2019 with over 12,500 metric tons projected to be imported, maintaining Egypt’s status as one of the top importers of wheat worldwide.
  • Despite the previous agreements and construction difficulties regarding the dam, minimal geopolitical developments occurred surrounding the mega-project in 2019, primarily due to the Sudanese revolution. Negotiations between the three countries came to a halt upon the rise of anti-government protests and eventual overthrow of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019[15].
  • The deadlocked negotiations and increasingly harsh rhetoric from Ethiopia prompted the United States to intervene and mediate discussions between the three countries in November 2019, where the three countries agreed to hold additional meetings in Washington and resolve the dispute by January 15, 2020.

 

 

 

2020 – ETHIOPIA’s FAILURE TO CONDUCT A COMPREHENSIVE ACCORD[16]

  • December 2020, “We have a plan to start filling on the next rainy season, and we will start generating power with two turbines,” Ethiopia’s Water Minister Seleshi Bekele said in September 2019.
  • “The GERD construction is now 78% complete,” he said, adding the talks focused on the rules and guidelines of the first filing and annual operation of the dam.
  • In a press release issued after the virtual meeting, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said it accepted a working document put forth by the AU experts that provide for crucial points for continued talks. Sudan accepted the document, while Egypt “categorically” rejected it.
  • It said most outstanding issues were agreed upon, while difference persisted on the point of future use by Ethiopia of the Nile waters.
  • The three countries have been in talks under the mediation of the AU since June last year after the Washington rounds of negotiation aided by the US and the World Bank broke down.

2021 – THE RECENT TRILATERAL NEGOTIATIONS

  • Egypt and Sudan argue that Ethiopia’s plan to add 13.5 billion cubic meters of water in 2021 to the dam’s reservoir on the Blue Nile is a threat to them. Adding to that, the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said in televised comments that “all options are open” should Egypt’s share be “touched.” He urged Addis Ababa to cooperate with Cairo and Khartoum to avert sliding into conflict. In April 2021, Delegations from the three countries were meeting in the Democratic Republic of Congo hoping to break a deadlock in negotiations over the dam problems. Ethiopia’s claims discussed the importance of the dam to its economic development and power generation, while Egypt fears that this will imperial its Nile water supplies. Along with Sudan’s concerns regarding the dam safety and water regulation flows through its own dams and water stations[17].
  • Ethiopia is insisting on filling the reservoir behind their giant hydropower dam again, after seasonal rains, starting this summer, which is the move that was opposed by Sudan and Egypt. As the Egyptian foreign minister said in a statement “These negotiations represent the final opportunity the three countries must seize in order to reach an agreement … before the upcoming floods season,” Adding to that, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said there would be “inconceivable instability in the region” if Egypt’s water supply were affected by the dam[18]. However, Ethiopia has refused to accept the recent Sudanese proposal to invite international mediators to resolve the 10-year-old dispute, as Sudan has been pushing for an international quartet made up of the AU, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), and the US, to mediate and break the deadlock, due to what it described as the “ineffectiveness” of last year’s negotiations under the AU and Egypt backs the Sudanese proposal. Although the AU, the US, and the EU participated in the previous AU-sponsored negotiations as observers, the Sudanese proposal aims to introduce the UN to the talks and turn the four parties into mediators rather than mere observers[19].
  • The AU-sponsored trilateral talks in Kinshasa were attended by Congolese President Tshisekedi in his first bid, as chairman of the AU since February, to resolve the dispute. Egypt has described the talks in Kinshasa as the “last chance” to revive the GERD negotiations before Ethiopia executes the second filling of its mega-dam. El-Sisi’s comments came in response to a continued deadlock in the talks, as Ethiopia continues to insist on moving forward with a second filling of the dam — set to take place in July — despite the objections of Egypt and Sudan to such a move in the absence of a legal binding deal[20].
  • The second filling aims to collect around 18.4 billion cubic meters of Blue Nile water, up from the 4.9 billion cubic meters secured during the first filling last year. Egypt and Sudan have consistently pursued reaching a legally binding agreement on the rules for filling and operating the dam to resolve the dispute. Nevertheless, Ethiopia has repeatedly refused to sign any legally binding agreement. The two countries (Egypt and Sudan) followed an approach that seeks to undermine the AU-led process and to take the matter out of the African platform,” said a statement issued after talks concluded[21].
  • “At the conclusion of the meeting, Ethiopia supported the draft communique submitted by the AU Chairperson with minor adjustments,” it said. “However, Egypt and Sudan rejected the draft demanding observers’ role to replace that of the three countries and the AU.” Another unresolved issue has been hammering out legal resolution mechanisms for future disputes between the three countries[22].
  • APPENDIX
  • (Social Media’s Posts/Tweets Related to the Crisis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Ethiopia’s biggest dam to help neighbours solve power problem. News One. 17 April 2011. Retrieved from: https://archive.is/20120322030951/http://www.inewsone.com/2011/04/17/ethiopias-biggest-dam-to-help-neighbours-solve-power-problem/43904

 

[2] The bitter dispute over Africa’s largest dam: Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are struggling to share water. The Economist, 4 July 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2020/07/02/the-bitter-dispute-over-africas-largest-dam

 

[3] The River Nile: A dam nuisance. Egypt and Ethiopia quarrel over water. The Economist. 20 April 2011.

Retrieved from: http://www.economist.com/node/18587195/

 

[4] Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project. Webuild. 17 January 2014.

 Retrieved from: http://www.salini-impregilo.com/lavori/in-corso/dighe-impianti-idroelettrici/grand-ethiopian-renaissance-dam-project.html

[5] Hathaway, T. (2008). What cost Ethiopia’s dam boom. A look inside the Expansion of Ethiopia’s Energy Sector: International Rivers, people water, life. Retrieved from: https://archive.internationalrivers.org/sites/default/files/attached-files/ethioreport06feb08.pdf

[6] Yacob, B. (2013). Imprisoned Ethiopian Journalist Win the 2013 UNESCO-World Press Freedom Prize. ECADF.

 Retrieved from: https://ecadforum.com/News/imprisoned-ethiopian-journalist-reeyot-alemu/

 

[7] International Panel of Experts on Renaissance Dam. GRAND MILLENNIUM DAM EXPRESSION OF ETHIOPIA’S COMMITMENT TO THE BENEFIT OF ALL THE COUNTRIES OF THE NILE BASIN. 20 May 2012. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20130428065951/http://grandmillenniumdam.net/international-panel-of-experts-on-renaissance-dam/#comment-1203

 

[8] INTERNATIONAL PANEL OF EXPERTS ON GERD RELEASES ITS REPORT. INSIDE ETHIOPIA – NEWS, VIEWS, ANALYSIS, INTERVIEW. 22 June 2013. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20130622161809/http://www.insideethiopia.net/,00,00,00/00,00,61.htm

 

[9] Berhane, D. (2013). Egypt: The report modifies Renaissance dam’s size, dimensions. Horn Affairs.

 Retrieved from: https://hornaffairs.com/2013/06/02/egypt-the-report-modifies-renaissance-dams-size-dimensions/

[10] Hartono, P. (2021). International natural resources dispute: the case of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam between Egypt and Ethiopia (Doctoral dissertation, Universitas Pelita Harapan). Retrieved from: http://repository.uph.edu/id/eprint/14142

 

[11] Salman, S. M. (2016). The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam: the road to the declaration of principles and the Khartoum document. Water International, 41(4), 512-527 Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02508060.2016.1170374

[12] Osama, S. (2019). A chronology of key dates in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis between Egypt and Ethiopia; Al-Ahram online.

Retrieved from: https://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsPrint/352222.aspx

 

[13]  TIMEP Brief: Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. 12th September 2019. THE TAHRIR INSTITUTE FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY (TIMEP).

Retrieved from: https://timep.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/GERD-IssueBrief12-9-19.pdf

[14] Maasho, A. (2018). Manager of Ethiopia’s $4 billion Nile dam project committed suicide: police. Reuters. Retrieved from: Manager of Ethiopia’s $4 billion Nile dam project committed suicide: police. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-dam-idUSKCN1LN1LL

[15] Mutahi, B. (2020). Egypt-Ethiopia row: The trouble over a giant Nile dam. BBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-50328647

 

[16] Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt discuss filling, operations of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, 3rd of Jan 2021. 

Retrieved from: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/ethiopia-nile-dam-talks-resume-after-month-long-hiatus/2097208

[17] Three-way talks over Nile dam fail in Kinshasa. 6th April 2021. TRTWorld. Retrieved from: https://www.trtworld.com/africa/three-way-talks-over-nile-dam-fail-in-kinshasa-45665

 

[18] Latest round of three-way talks over Ethiopian dam fail in Kinshasa, says Egypt. 6th April 2021. Alarabiya News. Retrieved from: https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2021/04/06/Latest-round-of-three-way-talks-over-Ethiopian-dam-fail-in-Kinshasa-says-Egypt

 

[19] Egypt’s Sisi Warns of Potential for Conflict Over Ethiopian Dam. 7th April 2021. USNews. Retrieved from: https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-04-07/egypts-sisi-warns-of-potential-for-conflict-over-ethiopian-dam

 

[20] Egypt says latest round of GERD talks are “last chance” before second dam filling. 5th of April 2021. REUTERS.

Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/ozatp-us-ethiopia-dam-idAFKBN2BS0J0-OZATP

 

[21] Kinshasa meetings between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over GERD dispute extended to Tuesday. 6th of April 2021. Ahram Online.

Retrieved from: https://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/408565/Egypt/Politics-/-Kinshasa-meetings-between-Egypt,-Ethiopia-and-Sud.aspx

 

[22] Latest round of three-way talks over Ethiopian dam fail in Kinshasa, says Egypt. 6th April 2021. Alarabiya News.

Retrieved from: https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2021/04/06/Latest-round-of-three-way-talks-over-Ethiopian-dam-fail-in-Kinshasa-says-Egypt