Hani al-Gamal – Cairo
Sudan and Ethiopia have agreed to start a new round of talks on the latter’s Nile River dam under sponsorship from South Africa, the current chair of the African Union.
During a virtual meeting of the foreign and irrigation ministers of the three states on January 3, Egypt called for reaching an agreement on the dam as soon as possible before Ethiopia starts the second phase of the filling of the dam reservoir.
Ethiopia’s Nile River dam has been at the center of tensions between Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa for almost a decade now.
The multibillion dollar project is expected to significantly trim the amounts of water Egypt gets from the river, its only source of water. It will also pose environmental dangers to Sudan. Nevertheless, Ethiopia says the project is important for its economic development and improving the living conditions of its people.
The three states have been locked in fruitless negotiations over the dam, which is being constructed over the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River, since 2011.
Egypt wants to reach a legally binding agreement with Sudan and Ethiopia on the filling and the operation of the dam.
It involved the United States, the United Nations Security Council and finally the African Union in the talks, but all to no avail.
Cairo accuses Addis Ababa of wasting time until the dam is an irreversible fact on the ground.
Ethiopia said on June 5 last year that it had completed the first stage of filling the dam reservoir. It will start the second phase of the reservoir filling shortly.
At a meeting on the 3 January Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called for a broad discussion on contentious issues between the three countries.
This discussion, he said, should not overlook the historical rights of downstream states. He warned against imposing any status quos on Egypt and Sudan.
Observers in Cairo referred, meanwhile, to the importance of the presence of a legally-binding agreement between the three countries before Ethiopia moves ahead with filling the dam reservoir and completing the dam’s construction.
“This agreement is a very important issue,” Mustafa Salem, a professor of international law at al-Azhar University, told MedyaNews.
He said the agreement would give Egypt the right to take whatever escalatory measures it sees fit in case of Ethiopian non-abidance by its terms.
“Egypt will have to do this to preserve its water rights,” Salem said.
The foreign and water ministers of the three states are expected to hold another virtual meeting by the end of this week. The meeting will be headed by South Africa. It will discuss the results of talks between the three states during the past months.
The Sudanese Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources expressed, meanwhile, concern over the lack of a clear roadmap for negotiations in the coming period.
Sudanese political analyst Omar Sheila underscored the importance of the presence of unanimity between the three countries.
Ethiopia, he said, urgently needs to demonstrate that it wants to reduce any harm from the dam to both Egypt and Sudan.
“Addis Ababa can do this by implementing the Egyptian and Sudanese demands,” Sheila told MedyaNews.