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Ethiopia has taken more than its share of "confidence-building measures"

By Mekonen Dagnew
Tigrai Onlne - January 06, 2014

The third round of trilateral meetings between the water ministers of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan in Khartoum was concluded today without striking a deal on the The third round of trilateral meetings between the water ministers of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan in Khartoum was concluded today without striking a deal on the agenda.

The three ministers - Ethiopia's Ministry of Water and Energy Alemayehu Tegenu, Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel Moteleb and Sudan’s Minister of Water Resources and Electricity Moataz Moussa - have met three times since last November to discuss on the implementation of the recommendations made by the International Panel of Experts.

The failure of the third round of talks conducted yesterday and today may not be irreparable. As the second round brought agreement on issues that were disagreed in the first round, the next round of talks might break the deadlocks of the third round talks.

However, today's news from Egypt media about the latest talks contains some important points.

Daily-news-Egypt reported today: "Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources said on Sunday that a deal on the implementation of recommendations by an expert panel on Nile River water sharing was not reached during the third round of trilateral meetings.....”

In a statement the ministry said that two key points were discussed, but that Ethiopia’s stance remains unchanged. The first point of debate focused on an Egyptian recommendation for the formation of an expert panel with representatives from Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa that would monitor the building of the dam and ensure that the recommendations of independent expert panel are followed. A second Egyptian recommendation called for establishing certain principles guaranteeing the rights of affected states. Both points were refused."

Whereas the state news agency MENA wrote: "Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan failed to reach an agreement in the tripartite negotiations regarding the construction of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance dam....

Ethiopia has refused to discuss the terms of "confidence-building measures", which Egyptian officials say must be changed in order to avoid reduction of Egypt's Nile river water share."

Though the details of the discussions and the points of disagreement are not fully disclosed, the afore-cited statements b Egypt officials indicate the irrational fears and demands that we heard for the last three years. Since the launch of the Grand   Ethiopian   Renaissance dam project, Ethiopia has been taken all sorts of "confidence-building measures".

Let's take a brief look at the major milestones of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam, now 30% complete has passed since April 2011.

Official Launch of the Project

When Ethiopia officially launched the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam project in April 2, 2011, the   Egyptians   who   were still occupied with the revolution that ousted Mubarak a month earlier were taken by surprise.

That gave the impression that Ethiopia came up with the project after the downfall of Mubarak - a conspiracy theory often heard in Cairo and reiterated by some foreign media as well.

To the contrary, records show that most of the issues pertaining to the dam project had been the subject of intense study as far back as 1935 and include companies from USA, Sweden and others.

A US and Ethiopian joint project, titled: USA-Ethiopia Cooperative Program for the Study of the [Blue Nile] Basin, (1959 – 1964), produced a comprehensive report on the hydrology, water quality, hypsography, geology, sedimentation, mineral resources, land resources, ground water and the local socio-economic situation.

That study proposed four dams downstream with a total holding capacity of 51 bcm as the annual rate. The master plans for the Blue Nile [Abbay], Tekeze [Atbara] and Baro-Akobo basins were completed in the 1990s, according page 166 of the same book.

Recent planning activities include: In October 2008 ‘extensive surveying had been conducted; in September 2010 studies for a Hydroelectricity plant had been completed; in Nov. 2010 the final study was completed and submitted to government.

Ethiopia's first move to assure Egyptians

The news of the dam project caused a media hype in Egypt. Though it attracted little media attention, Egyptian scholars and politicians publicly mulled about military strikes and sabotage at that time both in conferences held in Cairo and on the media.

Finally, however, Egypt sent a 48 person delegation named “Egyptian People’s Diplomatic Delegation”. The delegation was headed by Moustafa El Gendy and comprises three presidential candidates, independent political activists, representatives of different political parties and movements, members of parliament, politicians, jurists, public figures, members of the academia, media representatives and members of the Youth Movement of the Egyptians Revolution former parliament members, community leaders, journalists from Egypt and other Arab countries and other public figures from Egypt.

The Public Diplomacy Delegation met with the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi and received the following pledge (as reported by Ahram Arabic in May/2011):

The Prime Minister stressed that he had seen several models of dams and that he was keen to choose the model that generates electricity only and does not remember running water in irrigation of agricultural land.

“I say to the Egyptians that this dam is beneficial to Egypt and the Sudan and will not hurt in any way. Yet, in order to reassure the Egyptian people and thereby eliminate all the doubts created by former regime of Egypt, I accept the formation of a committee of experts, consisting Ethiopians, Egyptians, Sudanese and other foreign experts, to examine the dam project and to make sure it will not cause any damage to Egypt and Sudan. Although I am sure of that, I sure you I am ready to modify the project if the Committee concludes to the contrary. “

Ethiopia gave Egypt time to elect a new government and sign the CFA (the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement). However, the Ethiopian government made it clear that the formation of the Experts Panel should not be taken a decision to stop or delay the dam. A week later, at the end of the visit by Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Abdel Aziz Sharaf, a joint press conference, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi reiterated that “the construction of the dam won’t be delayed even for a single minute.”

International Experts re-affirm the dam's benefits

The International Panel of Experts was established months later and started work, while Ethiopia continued building the dam 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Some of the Egyptians seem to have been too busy with political and economic turmoil to follow-up the matter. Others might have thought Ethiopia would not be able to make much progress on this 4 billion dollar project without foreign finance.

That may be why; they didn't pay attention when Ethiopia's officials repeatedly indicated since February 2013 that the diversion of the river is to be conducted soon.

It was reported on the state-owned newspaper Ethiopian Herald in the first week of April/2013 that:

“What makes the completion of its construction insight is the fact that the two major activities that are crucial in accomplishing the project are well in progress. On the second anniversary, it was also announced that the construction of the concrete gravity dam, will soon be commenced following the completion of the water diversion work.”

In line, with these public statements and the project time-table, the water diversion work was conducted.

On May 28, 2013, the Ethiopian government officially announced that it conducted diversion of the river to make way for the dam construction. A common task in the process in any dam construction.

However, confusingly, some Egyptian officials started expressing “shock” and “surprise”. Three days later, the International Panel of Experts' held its last session in Addis Ababa and issued its final report the same week. Ethiopia issued a statement saying:

“The report indicates that the design of the GERD is based on international standards and principles....The report showed that the Dam offers high benefit for all the three countries and would not cause significant harm on both the lower riparian countries.

Ratifying the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA)

The Nile basin countries, except Eritrea and South Sudan, founded the Nile Basin Commission, later Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), in 1999, with funds from World Bank, aiming ‘to establish a diplomatic protocol for evaluating the fair use of the river for agricultural and energy projects’. The Commission paved the way for the drafting the ‘Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), for the equitable sharing of the Nile waters.

As one water expert eloquently elucidated: “CFA has, however, faced a serious impasse as a result of the introduction of the concept of ‘water security’. The introduction of this non-legal, indeterminate, and potentially disruptive concept is, indeed, a regrettable detour to a virtual blind-alley. The justifications for this fateful decision are totally unfounded and specious. The decision rather makes sense as an unwarranted move pushing into further obscurity the already intractable Nile waters question, at best, and a logical cul-de-sac in the decade-long negotiations which have arguably fallen prey to the hegemonic compliance-producing mechanism of ‘securitization’ sneaked in under the veil of ‘water security’, at worst”.

However, despite the resistance from Egypt (a confused Sudan), the CFA was signed by six countries from May 2010 up to February 2011 (Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi). Though Congo didn't sign yet, it has expressed its willingness. Though the CFA gives one year time – until May 2011 – for Nile basin countries to sign, 6 of the 9 countries had signed the CFA by May 2011 (which is the minimum number of signatories needed for the ratification process can start).

However, there was no indication that Egypt and Sudan would sign by the time-frame. Even if they sign, the CFA doesn't give water quota rather provides an arrangement for cooperative utilization of the river. Therefore, both the process of persuading them to sign and working-together after the signing will be a time-taking process as long as a 19th Century mind-set persists.

Therefore, last May, Ethiopian Parliament passed a law to ratify the CFA and make it part of the domestic law today with a unanimous vote. Thereby establishing the first genuinely multilateral treaty regarding the Nile, stipulating for the equitable sharing and utilization of the waters.

Talks of war on live TV

The hype that began with the news of the river diversion was further heightened when the President called opposition parties for a dialogue on the report.

In the “secret” meeting, where some of the participants were said “unaware” that it was being live transmitted on TV, they were seen suggesting measures such as sabotaging the dam, destabilizing Ethiopia, aiding insurgents, launching direct military attack, etc.

The meeting and its airing on TV demonstrated that Egypt's officials had no real and sensible game plan for the Nile water issues. It was an international scandal that led people think that the President is mismanaging the country, the Nile issues and acting softly.

Therefore, he made a short-sighted political calculation that he should join the hostile rhetoric. He said: “If our share of Nile water decreases, our blood will be the alternative”.

However, the heightened rhetoric in Egypt caused suspicion among pundits as it was not based on any clear reference to the report or any-other scientific basis rather simply on the river diversion. Moreover, it was a clear signal that Ethiopia will press ahead with the project no-matter what Egypt says, without closing the room for joint efforts if necessary.

Whatever the objective might have been, it was clear that the rhetoric cannot last forever. Thus, Cairo sent her foreign Minister that week to Addis Ababa. The much-publicized visit was stated in the following paragraph of the joint statement:

“With regard to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, both ministers agreed, as per the Terms of Reference of the International Panel of Experts, to immediately initiate consultations among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, on how to move forward with the implementation of its recommendations, including the recommended studies to be conducted.

The passing of PM Meles Zenawi

On September 2011, several unhelpful remarks were read from officials and experts, speaking anonymously and publicly, to Egyptian newspapers and others. it seemed some "old styled" officials in Cairo thought that the new Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, his colleagues and the rest of the country will not be as committed as Meles to continue building the dam. It began in August when Meles was in Hospital.

Bikya news reported at the time citing an unnamed Egyptian ministry of water and irrigation official that with the combination of Egypt’s new President Morsi and the potential of seeing a new leader in Ethiopia, they hoped the tension over Nile River water could be resolved. “I believe that there would be more maneuvering with a new leadership in Ethiopia because there would be the ability to communicate and not be seen as antagonistic”.

Many Ethiopians asked if the commenter doesn't know the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam is a dream of generations not a personal issue of Meles.

Saudi Prince makes negative remarks

Prince Khaled bin Sultan, deputy Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, came out of nowhere and made ear-piercing statements about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam.

Speaking at the Arab Water Council meeting in Cairo Egypt, the Prince said:

"The [Grand] Renaissance dam has its capacity of flood waters reaching more than 70 billion cubic meters of water, and is located at an altitude of 700 meters and if it collapsed then Khartoum will drown completely and the impact will even reaches the Aswan Dam".

"Egypt is the most affected party from the Ethiopian Renaissance dam because they have no alternative water source compared to other Nile Basin countries and the establishment of the dam 12 kilometers from the Sudanese border is for political plotting rather than for economic gain and constitutes a threat to Egyptian and Sudanese national security".

"There are fingers messing with water resources of Sudan and Egypt which are rooted in the mind and body of Ethiopia. They do not forsake an opportunity to harm Arabs without taking advantage of it".

"The establishment of the dam leads to the transfer of water supply from the front of Lake Nasser to the Ethiopian plateau, which means full Ethiopian control of every drop of water, as well as [causing] an environmental imbalance stirring seismic activity in the region as a result of the massive water weight laden with silt withheld in front of the dam, estimated by experts at more than 63 billion tonnes".

Firstly, it was none of his business as his country is not located in the Nile basin. Secondly, Egypt and Sudan are not under Saudi Arabia's protectorate rather sovereign countries with their own renowned water experts.

Therefore, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry summoned the Saudi Ambassador in Addis Ababa and demanded explanation about Prince Khaled bin Sultan's unacceptable and shocking remarks.

The Ambassador claimed the remarks do not reflect his government's position and promised to bring clarification from his government. Few days later, the Saudi Arabia Foreign Ministry issued a conciliatory Statement.

Sudan backs the dam

Sudan’s confused stance began to change after it became clear the dam is to be realized.

Sudan's Agriculture and Irrigation Minister, Dr. Abdulhalim Al-Mutaafi re-affirmed Sudan's support for the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which he called "a model of development for the region".

The Minister noted that resistances from Egyptian over the dam are political issue and a technical one. He explained:

“Some Egyptian politicians have used the issue as a political instrument to pressurize their opponents.” Otherwise it is known that the building of the dam is beneficiary for downstream countries as it enables them to receive regulated free water".

The Minister advised that that the dam construction should be executed with a sense of cooperation and mutual benefit for Sudan and Egypt which badly need the Nile water for agricultural development and on the other hand, Ethiopia needs it to generate electric power. Otherwise, nobody will benefit from individual utilization of the waters.

Egyptian scholars' politicization of science

The root of the problem, however, lies in the politicization of science among Egypt scholars. Professors who should lead politicians into rational and science-based approach are often found misleading the governments of Egypt.

A demonstration of such flawed role of some scholars in Egypt is the recently published a statement titled "Cairo University’s report on Ethiopia's Great Renaissance Dam".

It was first posted in Arabic on Facebook by Dr. Nader Noor El Din, then translated and published on several websites of Egypt. Dr. Nader Noor El Din is a member of “Group of the Nile Basin” (GNB) formed by professors from the Department of Irrigation and Hydraulics, Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University.

The purpose of the “Group of the Nile Basin” (GNB) is stated as "to support the effort of Government and the decision makers facing these serious escalating water threats" by conducting "analytical studies of the Ethiopian Dams, prepare and implement numerical water models to study the side effects of these dams and collecting all recent scientific studies in this field".

Despite these noble objectives, the 3-pages long statement parrots the usual misconceptions and unscientific fears and demands that are usually writing by laymen on Egyptian newspaper and websites.

Indeed, Ethiopia continues demonstrating an unwavering commitment to good date.

Despite all the ups downs in her relations with Egypt; Ethiopia honored her pledge to immediately implement the recommendations provided b the Report of the International Panel of Experts last May.

This week Ethiopia announced that it has finalized most of the recommendations made specifically to her by the Panel.

The Minister for Water, Irrigation and Energy, Mr. Alemayehu Tegenu, affirmed that most of the recommendations have been finalized in accordance with the directions suggested by the IPoE. He noted that most of these were essentially related to the engineering, procurement and construction elements (EPC) of the GERD project. In fact, the very nature of EPC contracts demands periodic and phase-by-phase review of design documents based on up-dated findings of hydrological, geo-technical and geological work as construction proceeds.

In other words, most of the recommendations were made not because of any faults found in the design but were related to the periodic nature of the studies. Indeed, in that regard, since the IPoE’s term ended before the preparation of the Level 2 design updates and reports, one of the recommendations was that these should to be prepared as part of the follow-up process. Accordingly, Ethiopia did in fact prepare the Level 2 reports as part of the relevant engineering, procurement and construction contracts, in effect anticipating the recommendations of the IPoE."