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GERD Cooperation Prevails over Antagonism

Emnet Ermias


Last week, Ethiopia Sudan and Egypt succeeded in breaking the deadlock regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam. The three agreed on the selection of a second consultant firm and reaffirmed their commitment to the Declaration of Principles signed on March.

The Tripartite National Committee (TNC) had selected the French BRL Group and the Dutch Deltares company to be the consultancy firms to carry out the technical studies agreed on for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).  The two consultancy firms were supposed to submit a joint action plan until May, after which Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were scheduled to sign contracts.  Their study was to cover the hydraulic, financial and social impact of the dam on the three countries within eleven months. 

Nonetheless, the Dutch Deltares company withdrew from the work. Therefore, the TNC had to pick a new firm and set a timetable. However, the TNC was not able to settle differences. Therefore, senior officials from the three countries had to meet to resolve differences.

On Dec. 6-7, the Foreign Ministers and Water Ministers of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt met in Khartoum. During this meeting, the ministers discussed regarding the status of the two studies to be conducted as per the recommendations of the International Panel of Experts or IPOE.

It was acknowledged that there is a delay in the commencement of the two recommended studies. Therefore, they agreed to replace Deltares by the French firm Artelia. They also agreed to deliberate on the concerns of the three countries regarding the GERD Project in the upcoming meeting. The deliberations continued on Dec. 27-28 between the Foreign Ministers and Water Ministers of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt in Khartoum, Sudan.

At the end of the meeting, the Ministers finalized the decision on the recruitment of the French firm Artelia and deliberated the concerns raised by the three countries regarding the GERD and also reiterated their commitment to the implementation of the Declaration of Principles signed by the leaders of the three countries in March 2015.

In addition, the Ministers agreed to undertake efforts directed at building confidence and goodwill. Accordingly, Ethiopia invites different groups from both Sudan and Egypt to visit the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Hence, the Ministers of Foreign and Water Affairs of the three countries signed an agreed minute on the above mentioned points and pledged to follow up the process at a regular basis to ensure positive atmosphere and continued and strengthened cooperation.

The issues might seem small. Indeed, there is no much new. However, the success in breaking the impasse and move forward in the spirit of cooperation is important in the context of the years long mistrust and difficult politics of the Nile waters.

Ethiopia has been showing its commitment to cooperation and principles of good neighborliness from the beginning. Whereas, there were misunderstandings and outdated views among some politicians in the region. Some Egyptian media, scholars, and some officials have fanned various issues at different time and tried to create tension and dispute between the two governments and peoples concerning GERD.

However, there had been a conviction from the side of Ethiopia that is ‘it is not always necessary to respond to each and every destructive message on their media’. At the same time, making all the necessary efforts to reveal the truth to all concerned.

The GERD project was planned with such constructive and rational spirit of goodwill. Even when the GERD was launched on April 2, 2011, a historic day for Ethiopia, Meles took time to urge the adoption of rational mind-set. He explained:

“The benefits that will accrue from the Dam will by no means be restricted to Ethiopia. They will clearly extend to all neighboring states, and particularly to the downstream Nile basin countries, to Sudan and Egypt.

The Dam will greatly reduce the problems of silt and sediment that consistently affect dams in Egypt and Sudan...The GERD Dam will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing the wastage from evaporation that has been a serious problem in these countries. It will in fact ensure a steady year-round flow of the Nile.

This, in turn, should have the potential to amicably resolve the differences which currently exist among riparian states over the issue of equitable utilization of the resource of the Nile water.”

The same attitude was reiterated ever since. Among the first such overtures, the first one was to the 48-person delegation, named “Egyptian People’s Diplomatic Delegation”, sent to Addis Ababa following the launch of the project.

It is to be recalled that in May/2011, Egypt sent a delegation comprised of presidential candidates, independent political activists, representatives of different political parties and movements, members of parliament, politicians and other public figures. The Public Diplomacy Delegation met with the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi and received the following pledge.

The Prime Minister stressed that he had seen several models of dams and that he was keen to choose the model that generates electricity only and does not remember running water in irrigation of agricultural land.

“I say to the Egyptians that this dam is beneficial to Egypt and the Sudan and will not hurt in any way. Yet, in order to reassure the Egyptian people and thereby eliminate all the doubts created by former regime of Egypt, I accept the formation of a committee of experts, consisting Ethiopians, Egyptians, Sudanese and other foreign experts, to examine the dam project and to make sure it will not cause any damage to Egypt and Sudan.“

Ethiopia proposed the establishment of the IPoE and, through it, to consult and share information with the Egypt and Sudan. Indeed, this was unprecedented in the Nile basin and also in other international watercourses, in the absence of a specific agreement to determine the use of international watercourses.

The move was meant to build confidence among the three countries and intended to encourage constructive actors in downstream countries and strengthen a spirit of mutual cooperation. The hope was old-fashioned downstream will use the opportunity to escape the delusional mindset that permeated its public discourse and Nile policy for long.

However, when some Egyptian pundits and media started to claim that the dam project was stopped or will be stopped. Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately made it clear that: by issued a statement stating:

“some[media outlets] tried to read too much into Prime Minister Meles’ assurance that...experts from both countries to come to see just how advantageous the project would be to downstream countries. There were suggestions that Ethiopia had agreed to freeze the project...This is absolutely erroneous. Ethiopia was making a goodwill gesture, involving no formal overture to the Egyptian government....

It certainly does not mean Ethiopia is giving up on the Dam project. Ethiopia believes that a clear understanding of the benefits of the Dam will further facilitate cooperation between the two countries.”

Similarly, a week later, when the Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Abdel Aziz Sharaf visited Addis Ababa; Meles Zenawi reiterated during a joint press conference that: “the construction of the dam won’t be delayed even for a single minute.”

Indeed, Ethiopians continued building the dam. Ethiopians from all walks of life were contributing their salaries, buying bonds and expressing their support for the project. The workers in the GERDP site backed by a committed leadership had been building the dam 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

At the same time, the IPoE was established with ten experts (two Ethiopian, two Sudanese, two Egyptian and four international experts figures), as per Ethiopia's pledge and then started work.

The following year, in 2013, the IPOE had finished its work and prepared a final report, while the GERDP had reached a river-diversion stage. The river diversion works included a 120 m wide, 1,100 m long diversion channel excavated on the right bank of the river, discharging wet season flows 14, 700 m3/s) and 4 box culverts located at the dam foundation level on the left bank of the river, capable to discharging the dry season flows (2,700m3/s).

The diversion work resulted in some foolish talks in the Egypt media, especially, when the former President of Egypt called opposition parties for a dialogue on the report. In that supposedly “secret” meeting, where some of the participants are said “unaware” that it was being live transmitted on TV, they were seen suggesting measures such as sabotaging the dam, destabilizing Ethiopia, aiding insurgents, launching direct military attack, etc.

It was an international scandal that made people think the President is mismanaging the country, the Nile issues and acting softly. In an apparent attempt to show strength and assertiveness, the President and his top officials stepped up their rhetoric officially asking Ethiopia to halt the dam in the following days, culminating with President Morsi saying the alternative is our blood.

Indeed, the diversion of the river was a signal that Ethiopia was committed to the project. It was also a clear signal that Ethiopia will press ahead with the project no-matter what Egypt says, without closing the room for joint efforts if necessary.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia did not attempt to politicize the water diversion process and the mixing of the Nile issue with domestic politics in Cairo. Instead, Ethiopia urged for restraint and for the implementation of the report of the IPOE.

When the final report of the Experts was released later that month, it confirmed Ethiopia's prudence in designing the GERDP. The final report, which was signed by all members of the IPOE attested that: "The Government of Ethiopia provided the necessary GERDP related hard and soft copy documents for review by the IPoE starting at the launch meeting up to the 6th meeting of the lPoE. A dedicated web page was established to facilitate documents sharing among lPoE members".

The IPOE also commended Ethiopia's full cooperation. The IPOE said in its final report that Ethiopia provided more than the necessary documents and data: "153 documents have been submitted to the lPoE by Ethiopia during May 2012 to May 2013, of which 103 are drawings, 7 are maps, and 43 are reports. The IPoE reviewed 12 Reports, of which: 2 are environment and socio-economics documents, 3 are water & hydrology documents, 7 are dam engineering documents".

Ethiopia immediately accepted the report and issued a statement saying:

“the report indicates that the design of the GERD is based on international standards and principles....The report showed that the Dam offers high benefit for all the three countries and would not cause significant harm on both the lower riparian countries.

Ethiopia retreated her commitment stating, “The panel of experts has suggested additional assessment on the possible impact of the GERD as well as proposed ideas that would help the basin countries’ benefit better from the Dam. The government would carefully assess the report by the panel of experts and facilitate cooperation forums to work together with lower riparian countries for common benefit”.

A month later, when the Foreign Minister of Egypt came to Ethiopia, the same spirit of cooperation was reiterated. As it had been pointed out in the joint statement:

“With regard to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, both ministers agreed, as per the Terms of Reference of the International Panel of Experts, to immediately initiate consultations among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, on how to move forward with the implementation of its recommendations, including the recommended studies to be conducted.

Both Ministers, in a spirit of brotherly relations and mutual understanding, agreed to embark on consultations at the technical and political levels, with the participation of the Republic of the Sudan, to implement in a speedy manner the International Panel of Experts’ recommendations.

It did not take much time for the Sudanese to endorse the GERDP. At a workshop organized by the International University of Africa and Ethiopian Embassy in Khartoum to discuss the effects of the Grand Renaissance Dam last year, Saiffudine Hamad Abdallah, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources of Sudan, said that:

“Sudan can make maximum use of this Dam, which will reduce clay [sediment in Sudanese dams], whose removal costs millions of dollars.... the Dam will provide water at fixed levels that will help irrigated agriculture, especially in the wake of shortages of rain across the regions of the country”.

Finally, Egypt started talking about setting up a mechanism for the implementation of the recommendations of the IPoE.

After several meetings among Ethiopia's Ministry of Water and Energy, Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources and Sudan’s Minister of Water Resources and Electricity as well as discussion sessions involving the Foreign Ministers - the three countries managed to prepare a framework for the implementation of the recommendations made by the International Panel of Experts.

A Tripartite National Committee (TNC) was established with four members from each of the three countries to follow up and conduct the studies recommended by the International Panel of Experts. The first meeting of the Tripartite National Committee (TNC) was held in September last year. The TNC, as well as the Ministers, also visited the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project site.

After the visit to the project site, Mutaz Musa Abdalla Salim, Sudan’s Minister of Water In a joint statement issued at the end of the TNC meeting, the three Water Ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan said they had witnessed the successful deliberations and accomplishments of the first meeting. They said the TNC meeting “will forge and strengthen trust and confidence among the three countries.” They stated their belief that the meeting was “a good start and step forward to discharge our responsibilities and the expectations of our people and the region.”

The next milestone was reached in Khartom last March, where the heads of the three countries signed the Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, acknowledging that:

The Three Countries appreciate the efforts undertaken thus far by Ethiopia in implementing the IPoE recommendations pertinent to the GERD safety.

Ethiopia shall in good faith continue the full implementation of the Dam safety recommendations as per the IPoE report.

Moreover, the government of Egypt unequivocally accepted several terms and principles of cooperation that it has been refusing for decades. It agreed on the principle of sovereign equality and territorial integrity for the optimal utilization and adequate protection of the Nile River.

I – Principles of Cooperation

• To cooperate based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, win-win and principles of international law.

• To cooperate in understanding upstream and downstream water needs in its various aspects.

IX – Principle of Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

The Three Countries shall cooperate on the basis of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, mutual benefit and good faith in order to attain optimal utilization and adequate protection of the River.

The acceptance of the principle is a manifestation of the rights and responsibilities of the riparian states in their utilization of the Nile waters. One of the benefits of the GERD for the region is, of course, that it will encourage, expedite environmental conservation, and play a crucial role in the improvement of both the quality and quantity of the Nile waters.

Another central point in the Declaration is the Principle of Peaceful Settlement of Disputes. It reads:

X – Principle of Peaceful Settlement of Disputes

• The Three Countries will settle disputes, arising out of the interpretation or implementation of this agreement, amicably through consultation or negotiation in accordance with the principle of good faith. If the Parties are unable to resolve the dispute thorough consultation or negotiation, they may jointly request for conciliation, mediation or refer the matter for the consideration of the Heads of State/Heads of Government.

By acceding to this principle, the three countries have opted for an internal mechanism for peaceful settlement of disputes. In effect, the signing of the Declaration of Principles has brought the three countries closer together. It provided the basis for cooperation in the Nile Basin and it is in line with the objectives for development of the region.

Indeed, the agreement included the optimal utilization and adequate protection of the Nile River as the Principle of Equitable and Reasonable Utilization stating that:

IV – Principle of Equitable and Reasonable Utilization

• The Three Countries shall utilize their shared water resources in their respective territories in an equitable and reasonable manner.

• In ensuring their equitable and reasonable utilization, the Three Countries will take into account all the relevant guiding factors......

Indeed, the challenges of cooperation are not over. As described at the beginning the selection of consultant firms and implementation details have been a source of debate recently. However, as the three countries have made much progress in terms of building the mechanisms for cooperation and peaceful settlement of disputes, the issues were settled without creating a diplomatic crisis. This was unthinkable just a few years ago and demonstrates the prudence of the judicious path of cooperation that Ethiopia followed from the beginning.

As Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, in an interview with the Turkish News Agency, Anadolu News Agency a while ago, it is necessary to have win-win relations to utilize the common resource of the Nile. He said

“That resource is common to all of us. Ethiopia has to benefit, and Egypt also has to benefit. I think we have no reason to harm Egypt, and Egypt has no reason to deny our right to development. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a dam of great economic significance and not only for Ethiopia, but also for other countries – Sudan, Egypt and other African countries as well.”

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