Making GERD center of cooperation not contention

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reached the Oval Office and came under the “scrutiny ” of the most powerful man in the world, the US President, thanks to the relentless efforts of the Egyptians in their unwarranted politicization of a benign development agenda. The good news, though, is the GERD talks are back on track with the resumption of technical discussions among the tripartite group.

But I could not help chuckling when I learned one of the questions paused by the President to the Ethiopian delegation headed by the Foreign Minister was something to this effect: why don’t you develop and utilize other alternative sources of power instead of the Nile? For sure, this is not a question born out of ignorance or naivety. It is a loaded question.

“Just had a meeting with top representatives from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to help solve their long-running dispute on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, one of the largest in the world, currently being built. The meeting went well and discussions will continue during the day!” twitted the President after he had talks with delegations from the three countries.

The million dollars question here is how even-handed is The White House “in help solving the long-running dispute on GERD”.Of course, the president has reportedly promised to personally make an appearance in Ethiopia when the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is completed and inaugurated. Time will tell whether this is just a diplomatic nicety or a genuine wish.

The last week’s news from Washington is not something that could be described as a breakthrough in the GERD dispute; rather it is a renewal of commitment by the tripartite to settle their differences by reaching a consensus for the resumption of the trilateral technical discussions to reach comprehensive agreement within roughly two months.

The special nature of this round of GERD talks is the presence of the Americans and the World Bank not as a negotiator but observer/ facilitator to create a constructive dialogue among all parties. Likewise, the Americans and the World Bank will maintain their “observer” status in the remaining four technical meetings held at Water Ministers level at Addis, Cairo, Khartoum, and Addis consecutively, the first of which, the 6th round, has already taken place last week here in Addis Ababa.

ENA has quoted the Ethiopian water minister as saying “the meeting is vital in enabling the three countries to [reach agreement] on filling and operation of the GERD per the Declaration of Principles signed to ensure equitable utilization of the Nile Water. This technical meeting for the first time involves observers from the U.S. government and the World Bank, and this arrangement will help us for successful completion of technical deliberation openly and cooperatively and to continue and ensure the mutual benefits.”

If an agreement is not reached at the end of the four meetings by the coming January, the foreign ministers of the three countries agreed that Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles, Principle of Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, will be invoked. The “Declaration of Principles”, DOP, is a document that was signed by Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia in 2015 to facilitate a peaceful resolution to potential disputes between the Nile basin countries over the Nile water.

It consists of 10 core principles that call for respect of water use, a cooperation of international experts, agreement on the GERD’s operation policies, and the purchasing of energy supplied by the dam. Article 10 of DOP states that if the parties are unable to resolve the dispute through consultation or negotiation; they may jointly request conciliation, mediation or refer the matter for the consideration of the heads of state/ heads of government.

Reporting on the Washington consensus the national news agency, ENA wrote: “foreign ministers agreed to work towards reaching an agreement by January regarding the filling and operation of GERD. They reaffirmed the significance of the Nile in the development of the three countries, and the importance of trans-boundary cooperation. The ministers also reaffirmed their joint commitment to reach a comprehensive, cooperative, adaptive, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement.”

And yet, signing an agreement to commit oneself to carry out a certain task is one thing; but living up to the commitment and implementing the task is quite another. That is to say, there is still a lingering doubt this commitment will be observed and implemented. This doubt squarely rests on only one of the tripartite members—Egypt. The presence of observers in the remaining technical discussions is in a way desirable to get a first-hand witness in identifying the culprit in case of failure to reach an agreement.

If the Washington Accord is to bear fruits and lead to a comprehensive agreement, Egyptian authorities should be able to see that negotiating is not imposing one’s selfish interest and pushing for its full acceptance; rather it is a willingness to provide wise concessions to create a win-win situation for all parties. Besides, the Egyptians have to adapt themselves to the reality that GERD is not a political rather a developmental undertaking that would transform the lives of Ethiopians and would expedite economic development and integration in the northeastern African block.

Last week various scholars have expressed their converging views on this issue. ENA has quoted an Economic Analyst as saying major success stories of regional integrations around the world are based on the establishment of a platform for cooperation and integration. Likewise, GERD would play a crucial role as a power provider to neighboring countries for the realization of regional integration.

Another researcher in Hydro-politics at Addis Ababa University has reportedly said that Ethiopia was a key country in a way to integrate the Horn of Africa and other neighboring countries as it was the economic and political powerhouse of Africa. “Now is the time when most of the neighboring countries need electricity due to the dynamism of their respective economies.

Connecting in power networks would have a multiplier effect on the regional economy including industrial development and market links as power remains critical shortfall across the continent. The power integration has the prospect for facilitating and nurturing common market and supporting the regional organizations like IGAD and COMESA to unlock other potentials.”

The past week was not only an eventful time for GERD Politics but also GERD action – The face slab of GERD’s saddle dam, which is said to be a milestone in the entire GERD project, has been completed last week. It was reported that the completed upstream face of the saddle dam, particularly the face slab covers an area of more than 330,000-meter square. The saddle dam is 5.2 kilometers and has an average height of 50 meters.

The completion of the saddle dam’s face slab will have paramount importance in accelerating the construction of the main project by shifting the workers from the saddle dam to the central construction site of GERD. The overall construction of GERD has reportedly been over 68.5 percent completed. GERD is expected to generate 6,450 MW a figure that well exceeds the total sum of the country’s current power generating capacity which is 4,260MW.

The Ethiopian Herald Sunday Edition 17 Novebmer 2019

 BY SOLOMON WASSIHUN