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The Grand Ethiopian Millennium Dam and the Cooperative Framework Agreement: A View from Ethiopia and Egypt: Part I

May 28, 2013

Zerihun Abebe Yigzaw

One of the most significant roles of international summits is its usage as a podium to facilitate conference diplomacy and it helps leaders, politicians and policy makers of different states to meet large number of counterparts at once. Following the celebratory summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to celebrate its 50th anniversary AUas a regional body dozens of heads of states and heads of governments of African countries gathered in Addis. Leaders and politicians from other countries as well as key figures were the attendants. This has helped leaders to discuss various issues in the sidelines the jubilee and they did. One of the active attendants since assuming power is President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. Unlike Hosni Mubarak who denied to appear in any OAU/AU summits following the assassination attempt on his life in 1995 in Addis Ababa, Egypt`s Mohammed Morsi since last year attended AU summits. The group running Egypt since the February riot that led to Mubarak`s forced resignation has made it clear that it admits the previous regime`s wrong doings in denying Africa where Egypt`s life line rests in. His main issue beyond the AU summit was the issue of the Nile and he met leaders from the Nile Basin.

On the sidelines of AU anniversary summit the Islamist president of Egypt Mohamed Morsi met with Ethiopia`s prime minister Ato HAilemariam Desalegn and South Sudan`s president Salva Kirr. In line with this,  Ethiopia`s state minister to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Berhane GebreChristos while talking to reporters also stated about the Nile issue specifically about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Despite the Ethiopian government has made it clear long ago that the construction of the GERD on the Abbay-Nile River will not have negative effect on downstream states, following the meeting of PM Hailemariam and President Morsi and remarks of State Minister Berhane GebreChristos, the Egyptian media has been reporting about the issue by misquoting the leaders. This was followed by the remark of the Egyptian Minister of Water and Irrigation who said that “Talks broached the subject of the Renaissance Dam project and the Ethiopian prime minister emphasized his country’s eagerness to prioritize Egypt’s interests above their own” following the meeting of the two leaders. This misquote and misunderstanding of Egyptian media is seen also in their reporting about the International Panel of Experts on the GERD and Egypt`s view of the Dam in Ethiopia. Such narratives invite/pull us to scrutinize what the Egyptian policy makers and people in the media are thinking of the GERD in one hand and the Cooperative Framework Agreement on the other hand. As I clearly stated in one article what is important for Egypt to maintain the flow of the Nile is to engage with Nile riparians in trust and real multilateral engagement for cooperation and integration than cunning and divide and rule. But Egypt is still on the same boat but changing tactic and language so as to return the old game on the Nile and maintain the 1959 pseudo-agreement. How? Before we go to the details let us a little discuss about the Ethiopian view of the Cooperative Framework Agreement on the Nile (CFA) and what it means by the construction of the GERD will not negatively affect downstream states.

Ethiopia`s View

The plan for the GERD of Ethiopia has its roots from the study of the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) of 1964 which proposed the construction of a series of dams along the Abbay-Blue Nile River so as to generate tremendous hydroelectric power and to be used as water storage for downstream states (USBR 1964).Twenty-nine irrigation and hydropower projects were identified in the study. Nonetheless, it was the Fincha Dam only which was implemented and none other than that until recently. Among the hydropower dams proposed were Border, Mabil, Kara Dobi and Mendaia. The Border dam is around what the GERD is constructed on. The Border Dam proposed by the USBR and the GERD both are 21 Kilometers far from Ethiopia`s border with Sudan. After that USBR study of the 1960s, the current government of Ethiopia undertook a massive study on the water resources of the country and out of which Abbay River Basin Integrated Development Master Plan Project is the most intensive and broad one which is completed in 1998. The detailed master plan discusses tremendous issues and the economic potential of the Abbay-Blue Nile Basin.

The four dams on the Nile USBR

Image 1: The four dams proposed by the USBR 1964 

Thus, the GERD is selected due to the economic necessity that forced Ethiopia to utilize its untouched and unutilized natural resources. Ethiopia has a potential of producing about 45000 hydroelectric power out of which the Abbay-Blue Nile Basin alone has a potential capacity of producing 30000 megawatts of electricity. The economic factor is evident and self-explanatory. But the GERD for Ethiopia is beyond that as the Abbay River has the socio-cultural, political and psychological implication to the Ethiopian people. For obvious reasons the Abbay-Blue Nile is a transboundary watercourse and taking into account the interest of other states who shared the River is important issue so as to utilize the shared resource cooperative manner. Out of good faith and sense of brotherhood the government of Ethiopia has called downstream Egypt and Sudan to form an International Panel of Experts to study if the GERD has negative impacts. Nonetheless, from the Ethiopian side the GERD has no any negative impact on the downstream states as it is predominantly designed to generate hydroelectric power. No matter what the decision of the IPoE will be, Ethiopia will continue the construction of the Dam, as Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Water and Energy of Ethiopia declared on May 2012.

Despite a multi-billion dollar project which needs external funding Ethiopia is constructing the GERD from domestic funding. It is the people of Ethiopia by cash contributions or buying of bonds that the Dam is being constructed. External funding for the dam is impaired due to the objection from downstream Egypt claiming that the dam will affect water flow reaching Egypt. Besides, the Nile Basin lacks any basin wide governing treaty that regulates water management and utilization. The only multilaterally negotiated treaty is the Cooperative Framework Agreement of the Nile (CFA) but so far it is signed by six upstream states (Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda). Downstream Egypt and Sudan has declared to join the treaty unless a water quota allocated for them without the consent and consultation of upstream states is respected disguised in the name of water security.

Ethiopia`s and other upstream Nile states position on the CFA is very clear and unambiguous. They have signed the agreement because the CFA declares the equitable and reasonable utilization of the Nile waters where all riparian states are equal and no riparian is entitled for veto power. It would be for the good of all riparian states if the CFA is signed and ratified by all. Ethiopia is one step closer to ratifying the CFA. As clearly stated in Article 42 of the CFA, following its ratification six states it will come in to force and the signatories will establish the Nile River Basin Commission (NRBC)-a permanent inter-governmental organization on the Nile which will work towards implementing the CFA and make sure that the waters of the Nile is shared and used by the riparians in equitable and reasonable manner.

From the above narration we can understand that the CFA and the GERD are two different things from the Ethiopian point of view and they are indeed. The GERD is a unilateral project of Ethiopia as far as no downstream state is interested to take part in the construction. The CFA on the other hand is a multilateral treaty making process to govern the management and utilization of the Nile waters which nullifies the so-called “previous”, “old agreements” which has no any acceptance by upstream riparians as the pseudo-treaties are either colonial or bilateral. Nonetheless, the recent media report of the media and speech of Egyptian officers is surprising and astonishing. The Egyptians are stating that, “Egypt not opposed to Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam” as far as it will not reduce “Egypt`s share” on the Nile. The Egyptian media further reported that as mentioned in the beginning of this Article, that “Ethiopia has stated that its “Nile dam will not impact Egypt’s water share”. This is the usually cunning tactic of Egypt to monopolize the Nile waters by any means which we shall discuss. To be continued Part II.

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