Cairo, Feb. 18 — The ongoing political unrest in Ethiopia is likely to affect the pace of its negotiations with Egypt on the technical studies related to Ethiopia’s under-construction giant dam on their shared Nile River and its post-construction filling process.
While Ethiopia and Sudan eye massive benefits from the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt is concerned it might affect its 55.5-billion-cubic-meter annual share of the Nile River water.
“Flexibility of Ethiopia’s dam talks with Egypt depends on the degree of political instability there,” said Amany al-Taweel, director of the African Unit at Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
She explained that the situation regarding the dam issue will remain the same as long as the Ethiopian government is able to handle the unrest and restrict it to the level of ineffective protests, even if they continue for a long time.
“If protests escalate to a point of overwhelming the state institutions, this will surely affect the dam talks and the GERD construction rate might slow down due to possible disorder and confusion,” the expert told Xinhua.
Egypt’s ties with Ethiopia have seen ups and downs since the latter started the dam project in April 2011 while Egypt was suffering turmoil following an uprising that toppled veteran President Hosni Mubarak.
When Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi took office in 2014, he showed understanding of Ethiopia’s aspiration for development through the GERD that would produce around 6,000 megawatts of electricity to the country.
In March 2015, the leaders of upstream Nile Basin country Ethiopia and the two downstream partners Egypt and Sudan signed an initial cooperation deal on the principles of sharing the Nile River water and the construction of the GERD, which will be Africa’s largest dam upon completion.
“Since Sisi came to office, he has adopted a cooperative, win-win approach of handling the GERD issue,” said Taweel, citing the positive results of the latest visit of Ethiopia’s outgoing Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn to Cairo and the convention of the Ethiopian-Egyptian joint cooperation committee.
“So, we cannot describe the bilateral relations between Egypt and Ethiopia as tense in general, but they are just at odds when it comes to the dam issue,” she added, describing the Ethiopian position regarding the dam negotiations as “ambiguous and evasive.”
Ethiopia’s current protests have been triggered by the country’s two biggest ethnic groups Oromia and Amhara who say that they have for years been marginalized by the government.
The presidents of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have recently met in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on the sidelines of the 30th African Union summit and agreed to avoid misunderstandings by joint cooperation on common interests.
The meetings of a tripartite technical committee on the GERD have been fruitless over the past sessions and a new ministerial meeting scheduled for Feb. 24-25 in the Sudanese capital Khartoum has been delayed upon Ethiopia’s request due to its current political instability.
Egypt expressed understanding of Ethiopia’s request to delay the upcoming tripartite negotiations, yet the Egyptian Foreign Ministry urged for immediate address of the GERD issue “to reach solutions that maintain the interests of all.”
“The Ministry looks forward to the adherence of the timeframe determined by the three leaders to settle the existing technical disputes; especially as the Renaissance Dam issue affects the interests of the peoples of the three nations,” said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid in a statement Sunday.
Egyptian veteran diplomat Ahmed Haggag, former assistant secretary-general of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), explained that Ethiopia hosts several ethnic groups with different languages, which makes it difficult to run the country’s affairs from the center in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia has been facing incessant protests since 2016, especially in the three most populous regional states of Oromia, Amhara and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP).
“Oromia constitutes to about 40 percent of Ethiopia’s population and Amhara to some 25 percent and they feel marginalization by Dessalegn’s government,” Haggag, also Egypt’s former ambassador to Kenya, explained.
Haggag believes that the ongoing political instability in Ethiopia is likely to delay the pace of negotiations regarding the dam.
“Dessalegn’s resignation may lead to delaying the GERD negotiations, as upcoming tripartite ministerial and technical meetings to be held in Khartoum have already been delayed as per Ethiopia’s request.” the ex-diplomat told Xinhua.