Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia - Photo by Eric Mil
CAIRO – 15 January 2018: Amid ongoing disagreement between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (EGRD), Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will arrive in Cairo on Wednesday accompanied by a high-profile delegation to attend the sixth meeting of the joint Egyptian-Ethiopian Higher Committee. The last meeting was held three years ago and tackled several fields, including education, health, agriculture and fisheries.
Desalegn is expected to meet with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and deliver a speech before the House of Representatives. The Ethiopian delegation will include Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu and Ethiopian Ambassador to Cairo Taye Atske-Selassie.
The Renaissance Dam issue will be on top of the discussions between Sisi and the Ethiopian prime minister. The prime minister is expected to state his country’s stance regarding the proposal Egypt made in December to have the World Bank act as a neutral mediator in the tripartite talks concerning the technical studies of Ethiopia’s grand dam.
Arrangements before the meeting
According to sources, there are ongoing talks between the Egyptian and Ethiopian sides to find a solution to the dispute over GERD's technical studies before the upcoming visit of the Ethiopian Prime Minister to Cairo.
The sources pointed out that the joint committee's next meeting in Cairo will focus on cooperation in regional, continental and international issues, in addition to signing a number of agreements in the field of industry and minerals.
The meeting's agenda
The sources said that a series of bilateral meetings between the concerned ministers in the GERD issue from both countries will be held on Wednesday at the headquarters of Egyptian Cabinet.
The ministers will put the joint committee meeting's agenda and arrange cooperation procedures. Afterwards, the Ethiopian Prime Minister will meet a number of Egyptian ministers before holding the bilateral summit in presence with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Thursday.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister in Khartoum
On the other hand, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu visited Sudan on Sunday to deliver a written message from Desalegn to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
During a press conference in Khartoum, Gebeyehu said that Desalegn's letter is related to the two countries' efforts to boost cooperation in issues of mutual concern in the region.
During the visit, Gebeyehu met his Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Ghandour and discussed several topics in political and economic fields.
Controversy over the Declaration of Principles
In March 2015, the leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed the "Declaration of Principles" in a step to put an end to the four-year dispute over Nile water sharing arrangements among Nile Basin countries.
The 10-principles declaration was the foundation that further agreements should be based on and was one of the first steps on the path of “understanding and rapprochement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Egyptian diplomatic sources pointed out that the current dispute was caused by the Ethiopian and Sudanese sides' misinterpretation of the Declaration of Principles. They said that Ethiopia is trying to twist the principles in a way that serves its interests without any obligations, while Egypt aims to limit the harmful effects that may be caused by the dam.
The sources expected that the coming visit will witness an end to the crisis, otherwise the situation will be more complicated.
GERD Tripartite National Technical Committee
The 17th round of GERD Tripartite National Technical Committee dispersed from a meeting in Cairo in November 2017 without reaching agreement on the "inception report" prepared by two French firms, BRL and Arterlia, on their technical studies of the dam's potential impact on Egypt and Sudan.
Ever since this latest unsuccessful meeting, there has been strong word coming from the Egyptian side.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah Al-Sisi said that “Nile is a matter of life or death to Egypt.” A catchword that Sisi repeated at a recent inauguration of a fishery in Egypt.
In 2011, Ethiopia started the construction of the 6,000-megawatt Renaissance Dam over the Blue Nile River, one of the major sources of water that forms the Nile River downstream. Concerns have risen in Cairo and Khartoum over the negative impact the Ethiopian dam will have on their historic Nile water share, amounting to 55.5 billion cubic meters in Egypt only, in accordance with the historic 1959 agreement with Sudan.
However, Ethiopia stressed that the dam will not have any negative impact on Egypt or Sudan; the two countries opposed the dam’s construction from the very beginning. Even though, Sudan changed its stance towards the dam in 2013, expressing support for its construction, and claiming that it is going to serve the interest of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt.
President Omar al-Bashir claimed that his country’s approval for the construction of the Ethiopian dam was driven by economic not political reasons.
Addis Ababa was pleased by Sudan’s support to the new dam project and welcomed Bashir several times on its territory. The Sudanese president's remarks about the GERD seemed to be a bargaining chip to secure Addis Ababa's support before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has issued an arrest warrant against Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
In July 2017, Sudanese Media Minister Ahmed Bilal asserted that Egypt and Sudan share strong links and a long history of unending relationship, adding that Khartoum will not harm Egypt's national security. Bilal pointed out, in a press conference at the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo, that the filling of GERD’s reservoir should be applied in cooperation with downstream countries to minimize potential negative impacts.
In late December 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry visited Ethiopia to meet with his Ethiopian counterpart in a bid to break the current stalemate affecting the negotiations concerning the establishment of the Renaissance Dam.
On a similar note, Ethiopian Minister of Water and Irrigation Salehi Baqal revealed last week while reviewing the ministry’s performance before the Ethiopian Parliament that the negotiations on the Grand Dam are based on a notion of fair distribution of water, adding that 63.87 percent of its construction works were complete.
Egypt has previously announced its approval of the report prepared by PRL Consulting on the guidelines that should be followed when conducting studies on the effects of the dam; however, Ethiopia and Sudan rejected the findings of the report, crippling the continuation of the studies necessary for the establishment of the dam.
Since May 2011, Cairo has voiced its concern over how the dam can reduce the country’s annual share of Nile water. The real average consumption of water in Egypt is 105 billion cubic meters, and we get only 55.5 billion cubic meters from the Nile. The remaining 80 billion cubic meters are covered by the reuse of wastewater.
Egypt’s average water per-capita is expected to drop from 663 cubic meters per year to 582 cubic meters by 2025, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Addis Ababa, however, claimed that the dam is necessary for Ethiopia’s development and will not harm downstream countries.