Date: Tuesday, 17 April 2018
Yet another tripartite meeting, yet another failure to reach agreement over the Renaissance Dam, reports Doaa El-Bey
The Khartoum negotiations between representatives from Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia on the Renaissance Dam were transparent but did not lead to anything solid, Minister of Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati told Al-Ahram newspaper this week.
“We will resume talks in line with instructions from the leaders of the three countries to reach an agreement by 5 May,” he added.
The meeting, attended by the three countries’ foreign ministers and intelligence officials, was the first to be held since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power.
“Constructive, detailed and important,” was how Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Ghandour described the talks, while stressing that controversial issues need patience and political will to be resolved.
“We underline that the patience and will were present, but we need more time to agree,” he said.
Nader Noureddin, a professor of water sciences at Cairo University, said the latest round of negotiations showed Ethiopia appeared as intransigent as ever though “perhaps there is room for agreement by early next month.”
Mohamed Hegazi, a former deputy foreign minister, said water negotiations were an extended process that needs determination and perseverance. “The failure to make progress in one round does not mean the whole process is doomed to fail,” he said.
He expects participants to report back to their capitals and return with compromises.
The main sticking points remain the timetable for filling the reservoir and the operating protocols of the dam. Both issues were referred to the next tripartite technical meeting of the three states for which no date has been set.
Time is crucial for Egypt, said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. “We expect to have studies in our hands that prove without doubt that the dam will not harm Egypt or Sudan before the partial generation of electricity starts later this year.”
“Addis Ababa rejected the 2013 report prepared by an international committee that concluded the studies already made of the impact of the dam were inadequate. It has refused to allow international parties to be party to the talks and it has rejected Egypt’s suggestion the World Bank mediate the negotiations,” says Noureddin.
The Khartoum meeting was scheduled following Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir’s brief visit to Egypt last month. The visit was seen by observers as an attempt to resuscitate ailing bilateral Sudanese-Egyptian relations.
The leaders of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia met on the sidelines of the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa in February and agreed to remove all obstacles in the way of tripartite negotiations. They set a one-month deadline to draw up ways to end the stand-off over the construction of the dam.
Earlier, in January, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with then Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Cairo. Shortly after Desalegn’s visit Ethiopia opposed Cairo’s proposal the World Bank be involved in stalled technical negotiations, saying that it was still possible to reach agreement through cooperation and with the spirit of trust among the involved parties.
Noureddin believes World Bank mediation would have contributed to resolving the current deadlock.
Tripartite negotiations have been on hold since November when the 17th round resulted in disagreements over the report on the environmental and economic impact of the dam on Egypt and Sudan, commissioned from French consultants. Last week’s meeting was an attempt to reach a consensus on the report.
Hegazi believes there is still room for compromise in the tripartite negotiations.
“Agreeing a period of seven or even 10 years for filling the reservoir will help. Filling it in two stages — as Egypt and Uganda agreed when the latter built the Owen Dam — would also be a welcome step,” he said.
Construction of the Renaissance Dam is already 60 per cent complete and it is scheduled to begin partial operation later this year.
Egypt has repeatedly expressed fears the dam will reduce the supply of its much needed Nile water quota. Ethiopia claims the project will not harm Egypt but has yet to produce any studies in support of the assertion.