Impasse in Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Negotiations with Egypt

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Landsat 9 satellite image of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam reservoir Jan.8, 2023. Source: USGS
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On Tuesday, Egypt announced that the recent discussions regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) have been unsuccessful. Cairo argues that the GERD could diminish its crucial share of Nile water, jeopardizing millions of jobs in agriculture and upsetting its delicate food balance. A legally binding agreement between Cairo and Addis Ababa regarding the dam’s filling and operation remains elusive.

The government of Egypt continued the line of maintaining all options on the table, a vailed threat to Ethiopia that “it reserves its right under international charters to defend its water and national security if it comes under threat,” according to the Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry said in a statement. A ministry statement also said, “The meeting concluded without success as Ethiopia persistently rejected any of the proposed technical or legal compromise solutions that would safeguard the interests of all three countries.”

Ethiopia maintains that the hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile is vital for the nation’s development and poses no threat to Egypt. Ethiopia has resisted entering into a legally binding agreement, asserting that recommendations should be adequate, and has rejected Cairo’s proposals for international mediation. Ethiopia contends that previous Nile water sharing agreements made during the colonial era in the 20th century were unfair, largely benefiting Egypt.  

Without giving further details, Egypt’s ministry said, “The Arab Republic of Egypt emphasizes that it will now closely monitor the filling and operation of the renaissance dam,”. In response, Ethiopia’s Foreign ministry said, “Egypt maintains a colonial era mentality and erected roadblocks against efforts towards convergence.” It added by saying, “Egypt has issued a statement that violates the UN Charter and the Constitutive Act of the African Union.”

Both countries said they remain committed towards reaching a negotiated deal. Meanwhile Ethiopia is nearly finished with the construction of the dam, reaching a height of 620 meters. Most important, the dam’s electromechanical work has been progressing with additional five energy generating turbines to be installed in 2024. Electricity generation capacity, which began two years ago is set to increase in the coming months. For Ethiopia this achievement is an issue of national pride.

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