Egypt’s Foreign Ministry perspectives on GERD are full of distortions


Egypt’s Foreign Ministry perspectives on GERD are full of distortions

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry perspectives on GERD are full of distortions


(MoFA)  March 2014 - Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a long statement on Monday last week (March 17) regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). From the Spokesperson office of the Ministry, and entitled “Egypt’s Perspective towards the Ethiopian Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam”, it contains a surprising number of factual inaccuracies and distortions which need correction, not least in order to underline the central fact that Ethiopia’s interest in developing the GERD arises from its legitimate interest to develop the Nile Waters to which it contributes more than 86%, in accordance with the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization,


The statement opens with a factual inaccuracy relating to what it claims is Ethiopia’s view of the impact of the GERD on downstream countries. It says: “Ethiopian officials claimed at the beginning that the downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) would not be harmed and in fact would benefit from project. However these statements were then changed gradually to reflect the recognition of the GOE that the dam would have impacts on the downstream countries, but those impacts would be mitigated through water saving projects in South Sudan.”  This is simply untrue. Ethiopia’s position towards the GERD has been entirely consistent during the three years during which construction has been going on. Launching the construction of the GERD, then called the Millennium Dam, the late Prime Minister Meles made an historical speech summing up the position of Ethiopia regarding the Dam and its benefits. Detailing the multifaceted benefits of the GERD he said: “Equally, 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.” He added that the Dam would greatly reduce the problems of silt and sediment that has consistently affected dams in Egypt and Sudan. Indeed, this has been a particularly acute problem at Sudan’s Rosseiries dam which experienced a significant reduction in output as a result. Meles said “When the Millennium 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 Millennium Dam will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing 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.”


This is exactly what Ethiopia has continued to point out. Ethiopia’s position remains quite clear and unchanged as far as utilization of the Nile waters is concerned. Ethiopia’s stand is embodied in the Comprehensive Framework Agreement which enshrines the concept of equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile waters. Nor has Ethiopia ever suggested, for example, that the water passing through South Sudan should be used to supplement a decline in water volume reaching Egypt from Ethiopia. It is not something that would ever be favored by Ethiopia.


The Egyptian statement, though it duly acknowledges the establishment of the International Panel of Experts and its composition, is wrong in its explanation of the Panel’s mandate. In the first place the Panel was established to build confidence among the downstream countries, to ensure transparent sharing of information, investigate the benefits of the Dam and the impact on downstream if any, and make recommendations for future consideration by reviewing the design documents. Given this wide mandate, portraying the Panel as no more than a mechanism launched solely to review the impact of the Dam is hardly accurate. The Egyptian statement deliberately omits an important element of the agreement establishing the Internal Panel of Experts, that the study should be conducted while the construction continued. It also ignores the fact that the Panel outlined the benefits accruing from the Dam, benefits that were consonant with Ethiopia’s own studies.


Its account of the impasse reached in the meetings is also highly misleading. Egypt’s suggestion was to create a new Panel of Experts, parallel to that already agreed upon, that is a second panel of experts to review the report of the first panel for the ministers. This was seen by both the Sudan and Ethiopia as unreasonable and unnecessary. Over and above this was the additional outrageous Egyptian demand that the opinions of new panel of international experts should be binding as if it was an arbitrary tribunal. This was totally unacceptable and Ethiopia, of course, rejected it and continues to do so. The Egyptian suggestion for “Principles of Confidence Building” was totally out of agenda in a meeting to discuss the Panel’s recommendations, and the “principles” which involved requesting Ethiopia to accept Egypt’s claims for water security, were rejected by Ethiopia – and strongly criticized by the Sudan.


The statement, apparently deliberately, falsifies the findings of the International Panel of Experts. In the first place, the allegation that Ethiopia denied documents to the Panel members is untrue and the Panel nowhere suggests this occurred. Nor is it true that Ethiopia deliberately delayed the completion of design documents until after the launch of the Panel’s report. This claim shows complete ignorance of the process involved. The nature of the Engineering Procurement and Construction contract makes preparation of the design documents a phase-by-phase undertaking. Ethiopia, as indeed the Panel recommended, has finalized the updating of the design documents from level one to level two as the project progressed and in line with the EPC contract. In any case, this had no relevance to the Panel’s studies of the design documents and had no effect on the discharge of its mandate. Indeed, the Panel’s report unequivocally confirmed that the design of the GERD fulfilled international standards on dams.  


The comment that the Panel’s findings suggested that the Hydrological and Reservoir Simulation Study showed “detrimental impacts on Egypt’s water demand and High Aswan Dam Hydropower generation” is a serious distortion. In fact, the study is praised by the Panel for meeting international standards and the Panel had no issue with its findings. The reason the Panel recommended a further simulation study was in order for the three parties to conduct a study with a simulation model that all three parties agreed on. The socio-economic study was also recommended in order to add further primary data collected from Egypt and Sudan. 


The Egyptian Ministry complains that the Water Ministers’ meeting to consider the recommendations of the Panel was delayed and regrets continuation of the construction of the dam during this. In fact, according the report itself, the Panel’s recommendations were to be implemented while the construction of the dam continued. As regard, complaint over delays in the Water Ministers’ meeting, this had nothing to do with Ethiopia. Following the June 18 visit of the then Foreign Minister of Egypt, Mohamed Kemal Amr, to Addis Ababa it was agreed to hold a meeting of the Water Ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to discuss ways to implement the recommendations of the Panel as soon as possible. It was at that point that President Morsi was removed and Egypt fell into political turmoil, and presumably as a result there was no response to the invitation, sent on July 26, for a meeting on August 6.  A second invitation was sent on August 26. Egypt finally responded to agree to a meeting for October 20. This, however, did not materialize due to the unfortunate flooding in Khartoum. It was not until November that the first session of the Water Ministers’ meeting eventually took place. The delays were nothing to do with Ethiopia.


The Egyptian statement then goes on to accuse Ethiopia of breaching the 1902 Agreement between Britain, made on behalf of its colony (Sudan), and the Emperor Minelik, the then ruler of Ethiopia. This is an assertion made in complete disregard of the nature and content of the agreement. It is actually a border agreement with one single provision with regard to the Nile, and it merely commits Ethiopia not to “arrest the flow” of the Nile. This does not, of course, commit Ethiopia, as a riparian state, in any way from using the Nile water. Even if this agreement can be regarded as still valid in any way, a highly dubious contention, its relevance to GERD, as a hydropower dam which does not arrest the flow of the river, is hard to justify . Equally, as the agreement was a bilateral treaty between Ethiopia and Sudan to which Egypt was not a party, Egypt cannot invoke it against Ethiopia. Egypt here displays its usual glaring and deliberate distortion of fact, ignoring elementary rules on the international law of treaties, Moreover, the Geneva Convention on the Law of treaties (1969) applies only to treaties concluded after the coming into force of the Convention, not to treaties, even if relevant, concluded over a hundred years ago. Curiously enough, the Egyptian statement makes no reference to either the 1929 nor the 1959 Egypt/Sudan agreements, to neither of which was Ethiopia a party, and which equally therefore can have no relevance.


The Egyptian statement does invoke the 1993 memorandum of understanding signed between the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and former President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarek, noting that this commits both parties “to engage in any activity related to the Nile waters that may cause harm to the interests of the other party.” This, of course, is only a framework memorandum that cannot be invoked by either side against the other. Equally, if it applies, it applies to both sides.  More importantly, given the fact that the GERD does not and will not cause any appreciable harm to downstream countries, the suggestion that it is in breach of the memorandum of understanding is no more than an attempted public relations exercise.


This statement from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry suffers from substantial misrepresentation and from a series of totally wrong assumptions about the GERD. The development of the GERD can only be understood from the basis that it is firmly grounded on the principle of equitable utilization of the Nile waters. It is regrettable that the Egyptian Spokesperson’s Office should issue such a distorted statement about the GERD and the International Panel of Experts and its findings. Ethiopia has been consistent and will remain committed to dialogue and cooperation, and in its desire for a win-win agreement which will fulfill Ethiopia’s developmental needs, the interest of the Sudan and the concerns of Egypt, as well as provide for the agreed development of the Nile Basin under the Comprehensive Framework Agreement.


To conclude: one point has to made absolutely clear, namely that the Tripartite Ministerial Talks on GERD talks can continue only within the framework of the final report of the International Panel of Experts (IoPE), the implementation of which is, and always has been, the sole subject of the talks. As such, extraneous and irrelevant tissues have no place in the talks, however much the Egyptian Government might try otherwise to gain points with the Egyptian public.


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