Tensions rise again as US-Egypt agreement on Nile dam excludes Ethiopia

Ethiopia issued a protest on Saturday over claims by the US that an agreement had been finalised on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) at meetings in Washington, without Ethiopia being present.

Ethiopia last week pulled out of the talks at the last minute, saying it needed more internal consultations. 

But Egypt and Sudan attended the meetings over 27-28 February, hosted by US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and World Bank president David Malpass, that were meant to finalise the agreement.

At the conclusion of the talks Friday, the Treasury Department issued a statement saying that had been achieved.

"The United States believes that the work completed over the last four months has resulted in an agreement that addresses all issues in a balanced and equitable manner, taking into account the interests of the three countries," the statement said.

"This process has built on the prior seven years of technical studies and consultations between the three countries, and the resulting agreement, in our view, provides for the resolution of all outstanding issues on the filling and operation of the GERD."

It said Egypt had signed the agreement, and called on Ethiopia to do the same "as soon as possible".

Tensions have been simmering since 2011 over the 6GW GERD, set to be Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile, a Nile tributary, because it pits Ethiopia’s desire for energy security against Egypt’s fears over water security.

Egypt relies on the Nile for nearly all its water and has been alarmed at Ethiopia’s planned schedule for filling the reservoir.

The US got involved in the dispute in November last year after Egypt requested mediation, and has hosted several rounds of talks.

On Saturday, Ethiopia hit out at the latest development, insisting no agreement had been reached.

"The ‘text’ reportedly initialed by the Arab Republic of Egypt in Washington D.C. is not the outcome of the negotiation or the technical and legal discussion of the three countries," Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday published on Facebook. 

"Ethiopia does not accept the characterization that the negotiation on the Guidelines and Rules on the First Filling and Annual Operation of the GERD (Guidelines and Rules) is completed," it said, adding that it would start filling the GERD as construction proceeds in accordance with principles set out in a 2015 Agreement on Declaration of Principles.

Egypt’s foreign ministry responded, saying: "What has been reached in the recent round of Washington meetings came due to Ethiopia’s deliberate absence and is fully consistent with the international law."

Image: Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a Russia-Africa Summit, October 2019 (The Kremlin/CC BY 4.0)

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