Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

rasaasaDiplomatic efforts were in full swing this week to resolve Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over building the Renaissance Dam. Doaa El-Bey looks at the developments

The visit of Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr crowned the diplomatic efforts.

“Any diplomatic efforts are welcomed by all standards,” Mustafa Al-Guindi, a founding member of the Popular Diplomacy initiative, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “The resolution of the present dispute must be through dialogue and not confrontation or war. We will be able to resolve any differences through finding common interests between the two states,” Al-Guindi, who is currently visiting Uganda, added.

The aim of his visit is to discuss with the Ugandan officials the impacts of other dams to be built on the White Nile in Uganda. “Some people say that these dams would not affect Egypt. However, to avoid repeating the same scenario, we have to discuss this issue and make sure that they will not affect Egypt before it is too late,” he said.

Sakina Fouad, a journalist and prominent writer, cast doubt that Amr’s visit on its own could ease the tension. “Any diplomatic efforts must be supported by the state. It should be linked to an official vision, plans and suggestions to deal with the crisis,” she told the Weekly.

Ethiopia is not in need of rhetoric at present, she added, it wants plans that match up with the status of Egypt. And that means that our highly respected experts in the fields of irrigation should be part and parcel of these plans.

Amr described the talks with his Ethiopian counterpart Tedros Adhanom as “clear” and “constructive”.

The two ministers issued a joint statement at the end of their meeting on Tuesday in which they reiterated their commitment to boost bilateral relations and coordinate efforts to reach an understanding regarding all pending issues between the two states.

Regarding the Renaissance Dam, the two officials agreed to start immediate consultation with Sudan on how to implement the recommendations of the tripartite committee and prepare the needed studies required in its report.

Adhanom emphasised in the statement that the dam is built in such a way that takes into consideration Egyptian concerns regarding water security. In that respect, the two officials agreed that special consideration would be given to Ethiopian development needs as well as the Egyptian and Sudanese concern about water.

Amr and Adhanom agreed on the importance of continuous dialogue. Thus, Adhanom accepted an invitation to visit Egypt soon. A date has not been set yet.

The last leg of Amr’s tour was Sudan during which he met with his counterpart Salah Wansi and the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and updated them of the outcome of his visit to Ethiopia.

Amr’s visit was described by a diplomatic source as an exploratory visit that would be followed by several high level visits to discuss the possibility of the implementation of the recommendations of the tripartite report on the Renaissance Dam. “The report is the starting point according to which we can start political dialogue,” he added.

The visit is likely to diffuse the crisis and pave the way for negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on how to deal with the repercussions of the Renaissance Dam and the tripartite report.

It is also expected to ease the tension that resulted from the war of words that erupted after Addis Ababa decided to divert the Blue Nile in preparation of building the controversial Renaissance Dam.

In a meeting attended by political figures earlier this month, President Mohamed Morsi warned that “all options are open” regarding the dam.

That was followed by strong statements made by some of the attendees. Unaware that the event was being aired on live television, Egyptian figures suggested taking measures like launching a military attack to stop Ethiopia from building the dam and supporting local rebels to destroy the dam project.

Morsi’s speech later added fuel to the fire. During that speech, delivered to an invited audience of Islamists, he repeatedly stressed that Egyptians would not tolerate any encroachment on their historic quota of Nile water and reiterated that all options were on the table.

Fouad regarded the official reaction to a crisis of that size as catastrophic. Officials have left the crisis until it has gone out of control, now they look as if they are trying to take the train after it left the station, she said.

That file had been the responsibility of the present prime minister for six years — when he was minister of irrigation, Fouad added. Even when the president decided to handle it, he held a catastrophic meeting with opposition figures.

“Why did he not invite the highly experienced experts that Egypt has in the field of irrigation and building dams? Why did he not establish relations built on mutual respect with the African states as Gamal Abdel-Nasser and his predecessors did?” Fouad wondered.

Al-Guindi questioned why the president did not invite the members of the popular diplomacy delegation to that meeting which he also described as catastrophic. “The MB wants to establish their own delegation that, of course, does not represent all the active political trends. If they had invited the popular diplomacy delegation, it would have represented all the active political powers including the MB,” he said.

Al-Guindi and Fouad were members of the popular delegation that visited Uganda and Ethiopia in 2011 after the January Revolution and managed to convince the two states to postpone the ratification of the Entebbe agreement.

“We convinced the two countries to adjourn the ratification of the agreement until the political situation in Egypt settles down. However, we can convince them to wait for another six months or even more because Egypt is still in a state of revolution,” Al-Guindi said.

Ethiopia declared its decision to divert the Blue Nile last month, paving the way for the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam. The move aroused fear and absolute concern among Egyptians regarding the impacts of the dam on the flow of Nile water to Egypt. Egypt gets 95 per cent of its water needs from the Nile.

Ethiopian officials have attempted to dispel fears regarding the dam’s potential impact, stressing the project would ultimately benefit all the Nile Basin states and would not affect Egypt’s share of water. However, the report issued by the tripartite committee did not rule out any harm to Egypt as a result of building the Renaissance Dam. It recommended further studies.

Various international bodies have recently interfered to ease the tension between the two states since Addis Ababa decided to divert the Blue Nile.

Catherine Ashton, European Union foreign policy chief, visited Egypt Tuesday to discuss the Ethiopia dam row and Syria crisis with President Morsi, and other figures.

Ashton aimed from the visit to hear the Egyptian perspective in the hope of offering a solution that might ease tensions between the two states.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also asked Morsi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in a phone conversation late last week to hold dialogue to resolve grievances over the disputed Renaissance Dam.

The African Union urged both sides to hold an open discussion to resolve the row.

“It would be important to… look at how we can have a win-win situation in a new context, not in the context of the colonial powers, but in the context of pan-Africanism and African renaissance,” the AU Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told a news conference earlier this month.

South Sudan also made an initiative earlier this month to mediate between Cairo and Khartoum on the one hand and Addis Ababa and the other Nile Basin countries that signed the Entebbe agreement on the other hand. An initiative was handed to Egypt’s minister of irrigation who promised to submit it to the presidency for consideration.

However, the diplomatic track is expected to be long and arduous because there are various issues of difference between the two countries. First, the two states agreed to start consultations on implementing the recommendations of the tripartite committee, but they did not agree on a certain timeframe and whether the building of the dam would stop until the consultations and studies are finished.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry clearly said last week the country has no intention of suspending the construction of the dam.

However, the Egyptian stand in that matter was clear as Magdi Amer, deputy of Egypt’s foreign minister and coordinator and the Nile water file put it in a news conference held Saturday.

The tripartite report said that Egyptian fears are justified, and recommended further studies to be carried, he said.

“Many factors depend on when the recommended studies will be conducted and finished. And that should be done in a very short time, in order to decide on the next step,” he added in a press conference.

He reiterated concerns regarding the height and storage capacity of the dam, the quantity and quality of water and a possible collapse of the dam because of the nature of the soil in the dam’s location and other geological factors.

The two countries also differ over signing the Entebbe agreement. Ethiopia wants Egypt and Sudan to sign it but Egypt emphasised that it would not sign it.

Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Bahaaeddin clearly stated this week Egypt is not bound by the Entebbe Agreement ratified by Ethiopia.

“Egypt will not sign the agreement unless [certain] points of contention are modified,” Bahaaeddin said.

The main point of contention, according to Amer, is prior notification; that is Egypt should be notified before the construction of any project aimed at using River Nile water.

Amer underlined that Egypt is not against developmental projects in Nile Basin countries, citing Egypt’s approval of the Tekizi Dam in Ethiopia after verifying that it will not have a major effect on Egypt’s share of the Nile.

Amer also emphasised in the press conference that Egypt has a clear stand from the agreement. “We do not regard it as a complete agreement as there is a very important part in it concerning water security that the parties failed to agree on. Thus they put it as an annex to the agreement to be agreed on later,” he explained.

Ethiopia’s 547-member parliament unanimously endorsed the Entebbe Agreement last week, to be the first country to ratify the agreement signed in Uganda in 2010.

The Entebbe Agreement is meant to replace the 1929 and 1959 colonial-era agreements that awarded Egypt and Sudan a water share of 55.5 and 18.5 billion cubic metres of the River Nile.

Ethiopia is one of five countries that signed the Entebbe agreement. The other countries are Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi; they signed early 2011.

South Sudan will sign it later this month. The Republic of Congo has not expressed a will to sign at present, but it can take that decision anytime.

The Blue Nile provides Egypt with 85 per cent of its annual share of the Nile water. The Renaissance Dam is one of four dams planned to be built on the Blue Nile.

The reservoir behind the proposed dam will contain 74 billion cubic metres of water. Ethiopia plans to fill the reservoir in five years, which could cause Egypt a reduction in water of over 20 per cent, contributing to the country’s existing water shortages.

According to Egypt’s National Planning Institute, the country will likely need an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050, on top of its current quota, to meet the water needs of a projected population of 150 million.


By Rasaas