GERDP at Four: Heading for a New Chapter in Nile Cooperation

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GERDP at Four: Heading for a New Chapter in Nile Cooperation

Workenesh Abera

April 5, 2015

Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia are celebrating the fourth anniversary of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project - GERDP. The GERDP, under construction on the Blue Nile, located a few kilometers from the Ethio-Sudan border, is now more than 42% complete and expected to start generating about 600MW power by 2015 and reach 6000MW ultimately.

The vital role of the GERDP has in expanding electricity; public revenue; accelerating industrialization and advancing the overall economic transformation have made it a high priority venture among the government and the people. Indeed, the peoples of Ethiopia from all walks of life and age groups mobilized to support the dam by all means and realize its timely completion.

The benefits of the dam are not limited to Ethiopia. As explained on several occasions, the dam would reduce the level of siltation at Aswan Dam and protect it from the danger of flooding. Egypt has been releasing water from the dam to the desert to reduce its level. Had they not released the water, it would have risked the dam and also flooded Cairo. The GERD would prevent such threats from occurring as it controls the flow of the water. Thus, once the Renaissance Dam is filled with water, the water flow would be regular hence it prevents such types of disaster. This by itself would bring about various benefits to Egypt.

As the former PM Meles Zenawi highlighted in April 2011, during the launch of the GERDP, it will also have huge benefits for the downstream countries. The Prime Minister said:

"The Dam will greatly reduce the problems of silt and sediment that consistently affect dams in Egypt and Sudan. This has been a particularly acute problem at Sudan’s Fosseiries dam which has been experienced reduction in output.

When the Dam becomes operational, communities all along the riverbanks and surrounding areas, particularly in Sudan, will be permanently relieved from centuries of flooding. These countries will have the opportunity to obtain increased power supplies at competitive prices.

The Dam will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing the wastage from evaporation, which has been a serious problem in these countries. It will in fact ensure a steady year-round flow of the Nile. ….

Based on that calculation, as the Prime Minister noted at the time, Sudan and Egypt should have considered covering some of the costs of the entire GERDP.

Nevertheless, there were misunderstandings and outdated views among some politicians in the region. Some Egyptian media, scholars and some officials have fannned various issues at different time and tried to create tension and dispute between the two governments and peoples concerning GERDP.

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.

Now, things have started changing for the better.

On the eve of the celebration of the GERDP's 4th anniversary, Ethiopia's effort for regional cooperation, to circumvent change suspicion and misunderstanding, to advance mutual cooperation, trust and confidence is has made significant headways.

Two weeks ago, the leaders of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt signed a landmark Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam with the aim of promotion of trans-boundary cooperation and regional integration. The signing ceremony of the agreement was held in Khartoum and by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and President Omer Hassan Elbashir.

As stated in the text of the agreement itself, the three leaders put their signature in the spirit that:

"Mindful of the rising demand of the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Republic of Sudan on their transboundary water resource, and cognizant of the significance of the River Nile as the source of livelihood and the significant resource to the development of the people of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan...."

This is the same spirit that was demonstrated by Ethiopia since the launch of the GERDP. Indeed, Ethiopia continued making a goodwill gesture every time since then.

A month after the launch of the GERDP, when the Egyptian people were misinformed and confused by irresponsible politicians and journalists, Ethiopia went half way to accommodate the Public Diplomacy Delegation to boost mutual trust and assure the sisterly people of Egypt.

The “Egyptian People’s Diplomatic Delegation”, which came to Ethiopia in April 2011, consisted 48 people and comprised three presidential candidates, independent political activists, representatives of different political parties and movements, members of parliament, politicians, jurists, public figures, members of the academia, media representatives and members of the Youth Movement of the Egyptians Revolution former parliament members, community leaders, journalists and other public figures from Egypt.

When the Public Diplomacy Delegation met with the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi, it received a warm reception and pledge demonstrating Ethiopia's commitment to long-term mutual trust and cooperation.

It was reported by the Arabic publication of Ahram on May/2011 as following:

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 hurts 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.

Although I am sure of that, I sure you I am ready to modify the project if the Committee concludes to the contrary.“ He added, “this decisions is taken now come out of respect for the Egyptian people and the revolution and the delegation of public diplomacy and to reassure the Egyptian people for whom we have all the respect and appreciation”.

When the 1st anniversary of the GERDP was celebrated, 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, an International Panel of Experts was established with ten experts (two Ethiopian, two Sudanese, two Egyptian and four international experts figures), as per the Prime Minister's pledge and had started work.

When the 2nd anniversary came around, the Panel had finished its work and prepared a final report, while the GERDP had reached a river-diversion stage. As reported by the state-owned newspaper Ethiopian Herald in the first week of April/2013:

“What makes the completion of its construction insight is the fact that the two major activities that are crucial in accomplishing the project are well in progress.

First, the river diversion works. [The work includes] 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).

Then again, the major section of the dam would be the reservoir, which would be realized by the construction of a concrete gravity dam, a gated spillway and a rock-fill Saddle Dam with an emergency spillway in correspondence of its right abutment.

On the second anniversary, it was also announced that the construction of the concrete gravity dam, will soon be commenced following the completion of the water diversion work.” 

In line, with these public statements and the project timetable, the water diversion work conducted in May 2013. It was on May 28, 2013 that the Ethiopian government officially announced that it conducted diversion of the river to make way for the dam construction, which is a common task in the process of any dam construction work.

The diversion work resulted in some foolish talks in the Egypt media, especially, when the then 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 the 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 wakeup call for some Egyptian pundits who used to believe that Ethiopia would not make much progress in 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 join such madness and the attempts 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 [International Panel of Experts]. As the official website of the Foreign Ministry of Ethiopia reported at the time, dring a meeting between Dr. Tedros Adhanom and an European official:

“Dr. Tedros expressed his concern over the path that Egypt appeared to be taking. He stressed that Ethiopia was building the Dam to address its burgeoning energy demands. It had repeatedly made clear that there would be no appreciable harm on Egypt.

In order to address the concerns of lower riparian countries, Ethiopia had taken the initiative to establish an International Panel of Experts, Dr. Tedros said, and the panel in its report had made quite clear that the Dam would not harm the lower riparian countries.

Dr. Tedros suggested that Egypt’s current efforts to politicize the re-routing process were being made because it knew the report of the International Panel of Experts would be positive.

Ethiopia wants to get on the right track, starting with the report of the International Panel which had explicitly stated that the Dam would offer significant benefits to Egypt. Dr. Tedros also emphasized that Ethiopia would never halt or delay construction of the Dam.”

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 testimonies, 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 only 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 with 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.

“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.

In this regard, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia welcomed the Egyptian initiative to begin consultations amongst the Water Resources and Foreign Ministers of the three countries, at the technical and political levels, to ensure the implementation of the above-mentioned recommendations.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister expressed Egypt’s concerns regarding the possible effects of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Egypt’s water use.

The Ethiopian Foreign Minister, on his part, assured his Egyptian counterpart that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which will be used for power generation purposes, is being built in a way that addresses Egypt’s water security concerns.

In such context, both Ministers agreed to take into account the developmental interests of Ethiopia as well as the water security concerns of downstream countries.

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.

In this context, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia reiterated Ethiopia’s previous position, which is committed to a win-win approach as the basis for future cooperation.”

It didn't take the Sdanese 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 following up on the implementation of the recommendations of the Experts' Panel

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 craft a framework for the implementation of the recommendations made by the International Panel of Experts.

Now, the Egyptians have reached the point where are starting to a sing to a similar tune with the collaborative spirit of Ethiopia. Indeed, they acknowledged in the In the Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam signed two weeks ago 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.

The agreement did also acknowledge the significance of the River Nile as the source of livelihood and the significant resource to the development of the people of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. Moreover, the government of Egypt unequivocally accepted several terms and principles of cooperation that it has been shying away from for decades.


The three countries also 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. This crucial point demonstrates the level of trust and confidence that the three countries are reaching.

In effect, the signing of the Declaration of Principles has brought the three countries closer together. It provides the basis for cooperation in the Nile Basin and is in line with the objectives for development of the region.

Indeed, the agreement included 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.

The three countries have yet to sort out the specifics, especially on the completion and implementation of the additional impact studies to be conducted. However, the latest agreement had been a landmark in the protracted diplomatic struggle concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam.

As the President Abdel Fatteh El SiSi said, addressing a joint session of the FDRE Parliament last month, “from the onset of our civilizations, we have drunk and shared the waters of the Nile. The river has been passing through the veins of generations of Egyptians and Ethiopians as blood. This shared resource should be a reason for greater cooperation and regional integration rather than conflict and animosity."

That has been the position of Ethiopia all along. Now, the spirit being reciprocated by the President of Egypt made the 4th anniversary of GERDP a historical moment with twofold significance.



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