Scanning through the proposals and resolutions on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), by the Arab League summit during its Friday meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, leaves you wondering why the Arab world seem to be hell-bent on frustrating Africa’s socio-economic transformation.
The GERD is the largest Hydroelectric project in Africa currently being constructed on the Blue Nile river, which originates from the Ethiopian highlands, with a capacity of producing 5150 MW. The project is entirely funded and run by the government of Ethiopia and her nationals both within and outside the country.
Now at more than 90% complete, and with the fourth filling of the dam’s reservoir coming later this year between July and August, the $5-billion project is hope to Ethiopians who through its energy production, consider it as a turning point to the country’s economic problems as it will address among others, unemployment and the quest for basic electricity demand by the 65 million Ethiopians who suffer due to the lack of electricity.
Egypt is against the project on grounds that it will allegedly endanger its water share that it acquired in the 1959 treaty. The treaty, which Ethiopia was not part of, allocated 66% of the river’s flow to Egypt. Cairo also claims GERD is unilaterally constructed – that is, it is being constructed without the permission of Egypt, and that the dam is a threat to Egypt’s safety.
African Union (AU), the continental body, is ably leading the negotiations with an aim of reaching a three-way agreement on the dam’s filling and operation. This however seem not to be a priority for Egypt, which based on its actions, is opting to frustrate all talks held under the auspices of the AU.
This explains why Cairo is concentrating much on internationalizing the matter and making it a security threat, and, after discussing the issue in the Council of Arab Foreign Ministers meeting in March, in a statement, after the Friday Summit in Jeddah, the Arabs resolved to order Africans (Ethiopia and the rest of Africa) to refrain from the ‘unilateral’ filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
First, it is a mistake by Egypt to undermine the role of African Union and its efforts to amicably resolve the matter by always inviting the Arab League and the UN to intervene yet AU negotiations are ongoing.
It is also a grave mistake for the Arab League to think that they can determine the development direction Africans want for our countries. The Nile is a purely an African water body, fully found in Africa and whatever issues arise around it must be addressed by Africans under the mantra of African solutions to African problems.
Look, Ethiopia is not a member of the Arab League but it is at the center of this matter. How do you then sit in Jeddah to give orders and directives to countries that are not party to you? This actually violates our sovereignty as Africans, and the African Union must rise to reject this bull-dozing by the Arab world.
It is not proper for the Arab League to want to act like they are the spokespersons of Egypt. Why not let Africa solve its problems without interference? When has the African Union ever directed Saudi Arabia or Syria or any other Arab country on how to develop themselves? Could there be sinister motives Arabs Arabs are harboring against Africa and its people?
The Friday Summit also called for negotiations in good faith in order for the three countries to urgently reach a fair and balanced legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the Ethiopian dam, and that such an agreement should ensure the joint interests of the three countries, including the water rights of Egypt and Sudan.
But it is on record, Ethiopia has consistently called for open and unbiased discussions on the use of the Nile waters, based on the Principle of equitable and reasonable utilization of trans-boundary water resources.
In other words, the Arab League did not communicate anything new, they simply flip-flopped on the matter yet they know the truth. All it had to do was to school Egypt that its monopoly on Nile waters is unrealistic, and that Cairo has to appreciate the fact that all riparian countries have the right to using the Nile for their development.
GERD is not a threat to Egypt’s waters because it is a dam. A hydropower dam does not take water out of a river system. GERD mainly enables the regulation function so that electricity generation from the infrastructure is uniform throughout the year.
This implies that as a hydropower dam, the GERD does not consume water but instead the water continues to flow downstream uninterrupted. To prove this, the third phase of filling of the dam’s reservoir was successfully done and the project is moving as scheduled yet water remains sufficient in the river system.
Water flow to downstream has never been interrupted. The peak inflow flood that could cause damage to downstream is attenuated by the dam.
Claims by Egypt are a Hoax
Egypt’s claims are not based on practical facts, but rather rooted in its historical pride of wanting to dominate the Nile waters as well as who and how it is used.
It should be noted that Egypt claims a historic right to the Nile dating from a 1929 treaty that gave it veto powers over construction projects along the river.
A 1959 treaty boosted Egypt’s allocation to around 66 percent of the river’s flow, with 22 percent for Sudan. Ethiopia which is source of about 85% of the Nile waters, was not party to those treaties and does not see them as valid.
There is no agreement or law that requires Ethiopia to seek permission from Egypt to use the Nile water. Under international law, Ethiopia’s right to construct the GERD is fully respected.
There is an expression of Ethiopia’s right on equitable and reasonable utilization of common water resources which is not subject to any agreement with Egypt. Ethiopia has never gone into any agreement with Egypt in the past on River Nile.
There is no international treaty limiting Ethiopia’s right to make use of Nile Water. Any argument against such a right should certainly be based on a treaty which is currently not there between Ethiopia and Egypt, thus making the 1959 treaty which Egypt frequently invokes not applicable.
Egypt’s water policy is fundamentally to ensure the status quo in the flow of the Nile water as indicated in the 1959 agreement. Article 44 of Egyptian constitution of 2014 provides that the Government of Egypt should protect the historical rights of Nile.
Ethiopia and Sudan are negotiating with Egypt which has a clear position in its constitution of protection that historical position, meaning other Reparian States could and can not utilize the Nile water without Cairo’s permission.
In other words, for Egypt, the use of the Nile water by other countries would endanger its share of the Nile water which it claims under the 1959 treaty.
The Arab League and calls to the UN to intervene in matter, are part of the extensive diplomatic campaign Egypt is currently engaged in against the project. Cairo is decampaigning the construction of GERD, with a motive of persuading Ethiopia to subscribe to Egypt’s domination of the Nile water in exchange to Egypt’s approval of the dam.
It is likely that should Egypt succeed in failing GERD, it will have achieved its objectives of conveying a message to other Reparian countries River Nile is “a no go area” for them unless if approved by Egypt, it will actually set a precedent for other upstream states.
Egypt endorsed the dam, why the turn around?
Egypt was party to Declaration of Principles (DOP) thus fully endorsing the dam, explicitly downplaying claims that Ethiopia has not engaged other countries on GERD.
Cairo endorsed the reality that the dam is in existence including appreciating the safety measures undertaken by Ethiopia which are clearly indicated in Principle 8 of the DOP.
It is surprising what Cairo turned around to castigate the project it endorsed. Ethiopia has a right to construct the dam, to make use of its water and to develop infrastructure projects in the country. These are rights Egypt is working hard to violate yet there is no treaty or agreement between them and Ethiopia.
Consultations were widely done and found safe, and that the Contractors for the GERD are World Class companies with experience spanning decades in different countries building dams. There is no doubt about their expertise and capacity.
By signing the DOP in 2015, Egypt acknowledged the safely measures Ethiopia is undertaking since there is a clear provision to that effect in the DOP (Principle 7 paragraph one).
Claims of unilateral construction untrue
In the first place there is no treaty limiting Ethiopia’s right to build a water related infrastructure within its territory. The Egyptians have been building their own projects for several years utilizing the water resources and no riparian country has interfered with it.
GERD is not a unilateral project. According to the DOP, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed in Principle 5A that the development of guidelines and rules on the filling of the GERD would be taken in parallel with the construction of the dam.
So you can not tell the other party to stop the project whose development is parallel to the construction. The provision meant that discussions can proceed as the construction also progresses.
Why is fighting GERD fighting Africa’s development?
As earlier stated, Ethiopia’s current total energy production does not meet the more than 120 million and growing population that requires increasing amount of food, growing economy and expanding urban centres and industries demanding more and more energy, and so GERD becomes the turning point and a dependable solution to these demands.
But, its benefits are not only to Ethiopia, it will serve the rest of the countries on the continent. For example, in neighbouring Djibouti, more than 400,000 people need electricity, which GERD will serve at probably a fair cost.
In Sudan, the GERD provides ample protection against devastating floods and the effects of water shortage during drought and dry periods. It will help Sudanese water infrastructure to be operated optimally as they receive regulated flow.
This means that more electricity could be generated from existing infrastructure and adequate and regular water could flow in the river downstream throughout the year to enable reliable water supply for people, agriculture, and the ecology.
The GERD also brings more energy to the already interconnected systems of Sudan and Ethiopia as well as to others.
Egypt also benefits from water conservation at the GERD instead of wastage of billions of cubic meters of water to evaporation and in downstream flood plains. The GERD also helps to prevent future spillage that overtops the Aswan Dam.
The GERD as a clean renewable energy source would help to reduce emission that could avoid up to 10.6 million tons of greenhouse gases if it were produced from fuel, coal or gas plants.
The development of the GERD plays an important role in meeting and increasing renewable energy generation share towards Sustainable Development (SDG) Goal 7 and better water management of Goal 6 of the SDGs, as well as meeting many targets of Africa’s Agenda 2063.”
For the Nile region and for all its citizens, the GERD has a potential to stabilize energy mix. Hydropower, due to its nature of flexible operation and suitability, can be put in operation in a matter of minutes and can enhance harnessing of other energy sources of solar and wind energy that are variable depending on weather and climate.
That is how important this project is to not only Ethiopia, but also the region and Africa at large. Any attempts to frustrate it other than looking for a win-win situation should be rejected by all the African people as we strive to change our socio-economic story.
The writer is a Ugandan Journalist with passion for current African affairs