No more beating of war drums over GERD

BY MENGISTEAB TESHOME

The latest talk on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was held in Kinshasa under the new convener and chairperson of the AU President Felix Thisekedi of the DRC. The meeting held on 4- 6 April was set to take stoke of the negotiation under the auspices of the AU and chart a way forward.

Despite the efforts of Ethiopia to propose a format of negotiation that accommodates the concerns of Egypt and Sudan, the meeting ended with no substantial outcome. The two lower riparian countries rejected the draft communiqué prepared by the Chairperson of the AU.

No surprise, Kinshasa is yet another instance where the two lower riparian countries obstruct progress and plant a pretext to reject the African Union-led process. Both Egypt and Sudan have been sabotaging the AU-led tripartite negotiation. Since the advent of July 2020, Sudan scuttled the trilateral meetings nine times – presenting incoherent and contradicting excuses. This tactic by officials of Sudan is unworthy of the name and stature of the Republic of Sudan in international relations.

On the surface, the disruption of the negotiations and the three great countries not being able to resolve their issues is not fathomable. However, it shall be noted that the conducts explain the policy positions of the two lower riparian countries on the Nile. Egypt and Sudan are accustomed to imposing their wishes and monopolizing the river Nile with complete disregard for the rights of the source countries. The GERD that disrupts the illegal and obsolete status quo is not welcome by these two countries. Reaching a fair agreement that complies with accepted international principles is a defeat for the two. Both are unequivocal in stating, they will take all measures against a state that touches a drop of Nile water. They have declared their commitment to preserving their “historic right”. Hence, the problem is not the negotiation format. The issue has nothing to do with the role of observers. Rather, the rift is on the divergent policy position on what the countries could consider being an acceptable agreement. For Ethiopia, an acceptable agreement ensures the equitable and reasonable use of the Nile setting aside the status-quo of water use of the self-claimed share over the resource. On this basis, any approach that threatens to impose the unacceptable or pressure Ethiopia into submission has no place.

Literary, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed his stand and vowed to take tough measures following the failure of the latest round of talks over Ethiopia’s Nile dam. After the talks that ended last Sunday in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, al- Sisi warned that not even a drop of Egyptian water would be taken, and that ‘all options are open. He warned the region would fall into unimaginable instability if its water share is affected.

The construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam started over a decade ago, to provide electricity to Ethiopia and export the surplus to neighbouring countries. This, without a doubt, is a noble initiative. However, the Egyptian government fears that the mega-dam may reduce water flow into the country. Egypt relies on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its water needs.

Khartoum is on Cairo’s side, and has warned that any unilateral decision by Ethiopia to fill the dam will affect Sudan’s “national security” and have “regional repercussions”. Ethiopia plans to collect 13.5 billion cubic meters of water in July, but the two countries are against the move.

Needless to say, the three countries have good intentions. They want to use the Nile waters for the good of their people. However, it is worth reminding them that the Nile does not belong to them alone. The waters of the longest river in the world belong to all the 11 countries through which it passes.

For that reason, Ethiopia is to criticize the colonial pact that gave Egypt 55.5 billion cubic meters of water and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic meters. All countries along the Nile basin have a right to tap and flourish from its waters.

That said, commonsense must prevail. This shared resource must be used responsibly by each of the countries. None should threaten the lives of those downstream due to its interests. The Ethiopian dam is important, but it must not snuff out life downstream.

In the same vein, Egypt and Sudan should not feel more entitled to the Nile than the rest of the countries. They must desist from issuing threats of violence over the Nile waters. There is a need for a middle ground in this dispute. While Ethiopia should be allowed to fill up its dam, it must do so responsibly. Not even a single person downstream should suffer as a result.

The failure of the Kinshasa negotiations is not the end of the road. Egypt and Sudan’s suggestion for a binding pact over the filling of the dam backed by the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, is a good idea. But threatening war is not. Dialogue, however elusive, is the only road to a permanent solution.

We had witnessed that Egyptian foreign ministry Sameh Shoukry notified the second round water filling of the GERD could not harm Egypt. In my view, this is a great step and what Ethiopia had been waiting to hear, as well signifies that Ethiopia stand is justified and fair.

As the Nile water is owned by 11 countries each should act in more professional and scientific justification and the right to develop.

It is high time to resolve difference through diplomatic approaches, not confrontations and warmongering and drumming it and trying to bring own covert agenda from somewhere should be over, we all Africans and we should keep on apply “African solutions to African problems”.

The Ethiopian Herald 18 April 2021

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