by Hani al-Gamal – Cairo
Sudan has decided to pull out of talks on the Grand Renaissance Dam constructed by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile. The Ethiopian project will have adverse consequences for downstream states, Egypt and Sudan.
This is why the Sudanese declaration of withdrawal from the talks has shocked everybody and given insights into desperation inside Sudanese decision-making circles at Ethiopia’s conduct throughout negotiations over the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam. Sudanese irrigation expert Ahmed al-Mufti said his country’s withdrawal from the talks underscores its frustration. “Ethiopia has shown no flexibility all through the negotiations”, al-Mufti told MedyaNews. “The negotiations themselves have not produced any positive results”.
Ethiopia started constructing the dam almost a decade ago, having spent hundreds of millions of dollars on it. The Ethiopian government states that the dam is necessary for its economic development and the welfare of its people. Nevertheless, Egypt and Sudan have expressed concern that the dam would reduce the amounts of water arriving to them from the Nile River. The three countries have been locked in negotiations to reduce harm from the project for a decade now. However, the negotiations have produced nothing, despite mediation by the United States and the African Union.
The ongoing round of negotiations on the dam has been taking place under African Union auspices. Nonetheless, Sudan says it will not be part of these negotiations any more. Al-Mufti said his country has fears from the harmful effects of the dam. “It negotiated in the past period to reduce these harms”, he said. During the last meeting on the dam, representatives of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed to prepare a report about the means of advancing the talks and referred it to South Africa, the current chair of the African Union.
Diaa al-Qosi, a former advisor to the Egyptian minister of irrigation, accused Ethiopia of failing to display a gesture of goodwill. “Egypt was ready to offer logistical support to Ethiopia, especially in the generation of electricity from the rains”, he told MedyaNews. He added that Cairo was also ready to help Addis Ababa construct a series of small dams to generate electricity without negatively affecting the flow of Nile water to downstream states. Outgoing American President Donald Trump urged the three states recently to reach a deal. In a phone conversation with interim Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in late October, Trump said Egypt could end up bombing the Ethiopian dam.
Egypt receives 55.5 billion cubic meters of water from the Nile annually. However, this amount of water is more than 20 billion cubic meters below national needs.
This is why there is deep concern in Cairo over the possible effects of the dam on water security. Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia signed a declaration of principles in 2015, wherein they vowed to turn the Nile into a force for cooperation, not contention and follow peaceful means to resolve contentions over the river. Nonetheless, several observers have noted that Sudan’s withdrawal from the talks provides insights into the fact that these peaceful means are not working as Addis Ababa overlooks Egyptian and Sudanese concerns.