Int'l, regional entities hasten to urge deal before Ethiopia unilaterally fills massive dam

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Wed, 24 Jun 2020 - 03:39 GMT

Workers and machinery are seen at Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam as it undergoes construction on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. Picture taken September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Workers and machinery are seen at Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam as it undergoes construction on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. Picture taken September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

CAIRO - 24 June 2020: The U.S. has reaffirmed its support for “a fair and equitable agreement that balances the interests” of Ethiopia and the two downstream nations, while the Arab League said the water security of Egypt and Sudan, members of the league, are integral to the Arab national security.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made his Tuesday comments in a phone call with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. They discussed negotiations on filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and efforts to reach a legal agreement.

In Cairo, the Arab League announced after a summit at the level of foreign ministers on Tuesday that it refuses any action that affects the rights of any of the three countries. The minsters expressed their serious concern regarding the stalling of the Renaissance Dam negotiations.

Sudanese Water Resources Minister Yasser Abbas said in a Wednesday press conference that any lack of coordination or data exchange with Ethiopia may put the Sudanese dams at risk.

"It takes a political will to resolve the dam issue... a legally biding agreement on the filling of operation of the dam should be reached without tackling water shares" Abbas said, as his country refused an Ethiopian documented presented at the latest round of talks giving Ethiopia complete hegemony over the Nile.

Instead, he asserted, the dam can be "an initiative of regional cooperation between the three states where Ethiopia is the source of energy, Sudan is the source of food and Egypt is the source of industrial investment along with an economic zone to enhance this integration."

Meanwhile, after Cairo and Addis Ababa both sent letters to the United Nations Security Council accusing each other of failing the negotiations, spokesperson of the UN secretary-general Stéphane Dujarric said the UN is closely observing GERD developments and statements by the three concerned countries.

“It's important to underscore the importance of the 2015 Declaration of Principles for the dam, and that the declaration emphasised cooperation based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, the win-win aspect and the principles of international law,” Dujarric said on Monday.

The regional and international reactions come after Ethiopia said it would begin filling the dam in July and that it is not obliged to reach an agreement with the two downstream countries first, in violation of international law.

Egypt sent two letters to the UNSC, one in June to update the council with the outcome of the almost decade long negotiations, and another on Friday to request intervention.

Ethiopia later sent a letter to the UNSC on Monday, accusing Egypt of violating the 2015 Declaration of Principles for reaching out to the council, claiming the act violates article 10 of the declaration.

The said article states that “the three countries may jointly request for conciliation mediation.” But it also continues that they otherwise may “refer the matter for the consideration of their heads of states and government.”

Egypt only wants the UNSC to bring Ethiopia back into “balanced” negotiations, and does not seek any “coercive action” by the UNSC, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told AP on Sunday.

Sudan's water resources minister, Abbas, said any country is entitled to resort to the UNSC, his country considering sending a letter to the council.

Marching against an imaginary enemy

For the past six years, Egypt has not once spoken about a military action, but instead worked on convincing the Egyptian public with Ethiopia’s right to building the dam, Shoukry told AP on Monday.

For Ethiopia’s part, however, it has been stoking "antagonism" between the concerned countries, he said. The social media accounts of Egyptian news outlets are packed with angry comments by Ethiopians who call for war, "remind" Egyptians of so-called wars they lost against Ethiopians and claiming "divinely" bestowed ownership of the Nile waters.

In October 2019, soon after winning the Nobel peace prize, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responded to threats that were never brought to the table by the Egyptian officials.

He said before the parliament his country is “ready to mobilise millions of its people” for a war if need be, AP reported.

“There are some talks about the use of force, we need to assert that there is no power that would prevent Ethiopia from establishing the GERD. If some fire a missile, others could use bombs, this is not an interest of any of us,” AP quoted Ahmed as saying.

As late as March 12, Ethiopian Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Adam Mohamed, said during a visit to GERD that his army was ready to defend the dam against any military action and respond to the source of attack in the same fashion.

Egypt finds filling the dam unilaterally an existential threat to Egyptians’ right to life itself. Egypt depends on the Nile for 95 percent of its water resources, unlike Ethiopia that has other water resources besides the Nile. Ethiopia says it is in dire need of the power it hopes to generate from the dam, but the Egyptians and Sudanese emphasize this can be done without harming other African communities.

On June 13, after Ethiopia presented “a troubling” document to Egypt and Sudan, who both rejected it, spokesperson of the Ministry of Water Resources Mohamed al-Sebaei said Ethiopia’s position “does not reflect the spirit of cooperation and good-neighborliness that should prevail in relations between African brotherly nations or between countries that share international water resources.”

He said the document constituted “an attempt to establish a fait accompli. Ethiopia’s position is that Egypt and Sudan should either sign a text that would make them hostages to Ethiopia’s will and whim, or accept Ethiopia’s decision to unilaterally fill the GERD.”

In his interview with AP on Monday, Shoukry said that if the UNSC could not bring Ethiopia back to negotiations, "we will find ourselves in a situation that we will have to deal with,” adding that "when that time is upon us, we will be very vocal and clear in what action we will take.”

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