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By: Doaa El-Bey
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday 18/2/2020 that it could be "months" before the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is resolved.
Pompeo's statements came as a surprise considering that only a few days before, following the conclusion of the latest round of negotiations in Washington on 12 and 13 February, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a joint statement issued by Egypt, Ethiopian and Sudan, the US Department of the Treasury and the World Bank had said that “The United States, with technical support from the World Bank, has agreed to facilitate the preparation of the final agreement for consideration by the ministers and heads of state for conclusion by the end of the month”.
Pompeo, speaking at a press conference Tuesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, said "a great deal of work remains, but I'm optimistic that over the coming months we can resolve this". Pompeo was on a three-nation Africa tour that also included Senegal and Angola before he was scheduled to head to the Middle East.
“The talks in Washington saw a serious attempt to reach a final agreement. But it is obvious there are still differences, something the Ethiopian minister of irrigation underlined when he stated more work is needed for the agreement to be ready by the end of this month,” said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.
The foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are scheduled to fly back to Washington by the end of this month to sign the final agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
During the most recent round of talks the ministers of the three countries reviewed progress achieved by their technical and legal teams and reaffirmed the importance of transboundary cooperation in the development of the Blue Nile and their commitment to concluding an agreement.
A statement issued by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the final agreement would be prepared by the US and the World Bank and presented to the three countries. It is expected to include details of the filling of the dam and its operating process in times of drought.
In earlier talks, scheduled in Washington for 28 and 29 January but which were extended for two extra days, the participants had agreed that the technical and legal committees should continue to meet to hammer out outstanding differences and prepare a final agreement to be approved by the parties’ foreign ministers and ministers of irrigation on 12 and 13 February and signed by their governments by the end of the month.
The two most controversial points in negotiations have been the timetable for filling the dam’s reservoir and its operating protocols. Ethiopia wanted a four-year timetable for filling the dam, Egypt said this would be too short, especially in the event of drought, and argued that a minimum amount of water reaching Sudan and Egypt must be set.
When tripartite negotiations failed to produce an agreement in October Egypt reiterated its calls for international mediation. Ethiopia initially resisted the idea: it was only when Washington stepped in and offered to host the talks that Addis Ababa agreed.
A roadmap was drawn with the three countries which provided for four meetings to be attended by the US Treasury and the World Bank as observers. It set mid-January as the deadline for an agreement.
On 15 January the US Treasury Department announced that the three countries had reached a consensus on principles. After three days of intensive talks in Washington the ministers also agreed the filling of the reservoir should be executed in stages during the wet season, generally from July to August, and undertaken in a cooperative manner that takes into account the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and potential impact of the filling on downstream reservoirs.
They also agreed to include mitigation measures for Egypt and Sudan during dry years, periods of drought and prolonged drought.
Issues that the parties still need to agree include details of the dam’s operation during periods of normal rainfall, precise mechanisms to guarantee the implementation of the final agreement and a mechanism to resolve disputes.
“The operation of the dam will be an ongoing process for years to come. It is important to agree a mechanism for resolving differences that might occur over the implementation of the agreement in the future. Given the role that they have recently played, the US and the World Bank are widely considered as suitable arbiters,” said the diplomat.
Disputes over the filling and operation of the dam began in 2011 when Cairo expressed fears that GERD would restrict the flow of Nile water on which Egypt is almost entirely dependent.
Addis Ababa repeatedly denied the dam would harm Egypt though no impact studies were undertaken, and insisted GERD was essential to Ethiopia’s economic development.
A number of historic agreements protect Nile water rights. A 1902 agreement obliges Addis Ababa “not to construct or allow any work to be constructed across the Blue Nile which will arrest the flow of water” except in agreement with Britain and the government of Sudan.
A 1959 treaty stipulates Egypt’s share of Nile Water at 55.5 billion cubic metres and Sudan’s at 18.5 billion cubic metres. The treaty reaffirmed Egypt’s right to veto any construction projects that could impede the flow of Nile water.
In 1993 Ethiopia pledged not to harm Egypt’s water interests and in 2015, following a series of tripartite talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, the three countries signed the Declaration of Principles stating they will cooperate to reach an agreement on guidelines for filling the dam’s reservoir and its annual operation.
Following yet more rounds of talks, Egypt declared negotiations had failed in October last year.
The dam will begin partial operation by July this year. Ethiopia hopes to complete the dam by 2022.
By: Mostafa Ahmady
The writer is a former press and information officer in Ethiopia and an expert on African affairs.
Addressing the opening session of the 33rd African Union ordinary summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi made a keynote announcement on finding more effective African solutions to African problems, most importantly the scourge of terrorism. Al-Sisi — who handed over chairmanship of the continental body to South Africa after a year of intense Egyptian activities that culminated in putting into effect, at last, the African Free Trade Area Agreement, in a bid to further inter-African trade — did suggest hosting a summit in Egypt for another effective mechanism in favour of a more stable Africa: a unified African force to be tasked with countering terrorism across the continent.
The proposal is aimed at finding a sustainable means for confronting the mounting security challenges posed by terrorists, particularly in the Sahel and Sahara region, West of Africa and in Egypt’s western lawless neighbour, Libya. Egypt’s western frontier has recently seen an influx of foreign terrorists carried to Libyan shores by Turkey, particularly after the infamous accord signed unilaterally between the Tripoli-based government of Fayez Al-Sarraj, whose mandate based on the provisions of the Moroccan-sponsored Skhirat Agreement has already expired, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The security deterioration in Libya serves as a direct threat, mostly to Egypt’s national security given the roughly 1200-kilometre-long border with Libya, but also to most Sahel and Sahara countries, let alone the African continent as a whole. Non-African powers are heavily meddling in the internal affairs of one of the top five financiers of the African Union (in 2005, AU member states decided that the top five big economies in Africa should contribute 75 per cent of total funding resources. The list comprises Libya, Nigeria, Algeria, South Africa and Egypt). This is at the time the continental bloc seems helpless in face of the imminent threat Turkey is posing to the stability and security of an important African nation, one which, under late leader colonel Muammar Gaddafi, hosted the famous Sirte Summit in 1999 that triggered the launch of the African Union to replace the Organisation of African Unity.
President Al-Sisi suggested that the unified anti-terrorism force would fall under the Peace and Security Commission, the most powerful of all the eight commissions of the African Union because it is the only body that has the power to interfere, even militarily when needed, to maintain peace and security in all member states.
Cairo is surely not looking for leadership out of the proposal; rather, for the creation of a less bureaucratic and more powerful mechanism to fight terrorism to the bitter end, particularly as it hits hard economies which cannot sustain the fight on their own, such as Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Mali. Those five nations formed together in 2017 the Group of Five for the Sahel. Still, they have not cleared the danger so far. As terrorist groups, affiliated with the Islamic State group, continue to attack police and army premises in Mali and Burkina Faso, one of the worst humanitarian crises has emerged in the Sahel region, leaving 1.5 million homeless.
In January this year, UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel Mohamed Ibn Chambas briefed the UN Security Council on the “alarming” humanitarian crisis in the region. The most serious finding of the report he submitted to the council was that the continued attacks by terrorists on civilian and military targets “have shaken public confidence”. The latter is the ultimate target of terrorists and as a result people have left their homes and terrorist groups have gained more ground. The tally of casualties can further explain the situation. According to the UN envoy, a surge in casualties can be noticed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, with the number doubling fivefold since 2016 from 770 deaths to 4,000 in 2019 alone. Mr Chambas has rung the bell, warning that terrorist attacks have greatly destabilised countries in West Africa.
President Al-Sisi’s call is a quick response to the UN envoy on the need to take action now, because of the inability of governments there, be it finance or lack of qualified and well-trained personnel to finish the job, which threatens their very existence. Countries which have the means to stand up firmly in the face of terrorism, such as Egypt and Algeria, suffer from deadly terrorist attacks. They both understand the need for a joint action in sharing of information and high coordination, which can both be attained under a unified force.
Moreover, studies have revealed that Africa is home to 64 active terrorist organisations, the most dangerous of which that have connections to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda are Al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Al-Shabab is the main reason of instability in war-torn Somalia with endless attacks on AMISOM (the African Mission in Somalia) and government premises. The terrorist group is also active in Kenya, particularly in Garissa, the border town with Somalia and claimed responsibility for countless atrocities in the country. Boko Haram, the Nigerian Taliban, has been causing much mayhem in northern Nigeria, trying to impose an ultraorthodox version of Islam.
Oddly enough, however, and while commenting on the call of the Egyptian president, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita burst onto the scene, speaking to Russian Sputnik on the proposal. Morocco, absent from joint African action for more than three decades only to come back in January 2017, said through Bourita that the country would prefer a common African “vision” in which all countries would participate “independently” but without being under the umbrella of a unified force militarily.
All the concerns of Morocco and other AU member states can surely be discussed if they heed the call of the Egyptian president and put their cards on the table in good faith. A decisive win over terrorism needs more than a “vision”. It necessitates an end to living in ivory towers, forging realistic approaches so that African countries, plagued with terrorism, can fight hammer and tong. The creation of an African force tasked with countering terrorism would help solicit funds either from African coffers or from those powers concerned with realising peace and security in the continent. African peoples have suffered the most because of ethnic violence, outbreaks of epidemics, a lack of basic human needs, and foreign exploitation of natural and even manpower resources. Instability and insecurity owing to frequent acts of terrorism impedes African peoples from leading the better lives the untapped huge potentials of Mother Africa make possible.
Instead of doubting and dawdling while lives are lost on a daily basis, African leaders have an opportunity to win the battle on terrorism. They need to set aside narrow differences and join ranks — something the African Union has been struggling to realise for many years. When there is no security, there will never be development, and should African leaders not work on a powerful mechanism for sustainable peace, the African Union 2063 Agenda will never materialise.
Real danger is engulfing the Sahel and Sahara region in particular as terrorists have remobilised there after they all but lost the battle in Syria and Iraq. They are seeking safe haven and given the unfortunate prevalence of radical thought among average Muslims in certain African nations, it will be easy for terrorists to recruit from young and the endless cycle of violence will never halt. In the absence of a powerful medium to confront terrorist groups, it may be a matter of time before the Islamic State group declares Africa its new caliphate!