Ignoring calls and warnings from both Sudan and Egypt, Ethiopia reaffirmed it still had plans to move forward with the second phase of filling its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) when the rainy season begins in July.
Ethiopia’s blind resolve to fill its hydropower project continues to baffle many, especially after talks recently held in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, having failed in achieving any progress on re-launching negotiations on the filling and operation of the GERD.
Addis Ababa outright rejected concessions made by the two lower Nile Basin countries: Egypt and Sudan. During the three-day talks in Kinshasa, Egypt had even tabled a proposal that would have facilitated reaching a binding legal agreement within eight weeks.
Nevertheless, Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele told a press conference that Ethiopia would continue filling the dam's massive reservoir during the upcoming rainy season, which normally begins in June or July.
“As construction progresses, filling takes place,” Seleshi said, adding that his country will not “deviate” from its plans to fill the dam.
Analysts have suggested that Ethiopia’s tenacity means the country has adopted a strategy focused on forcing a fait accompli in which the GERD is filled without first acknowledging the national interests of Egypt and Sudan.
This could push Cairo and Khartoum towards tough options like resorting to the UN Security Council, seeking justice through international law, or even war.
Othman Mirghani Al-Hussein, editor-in-chief of the Sudanese Al-Tayyar newspaper, has argued that war cannot be ruled out given the growing tensions at borders with Ethiopia.
Nevertheless, chances of armed conflict breaking out remain very small, he noted, adding that floating the idea of going to war can also be serving as a useful tactic for influencing the course of dam negotiations.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, time and time again, had warned that all options were on the table should Ethiopia take actions that adversely affect his country’s share of Nile waters.
Sisi even said that violating Egypt’s waters was a “red line” that would affect the stability of the entire region.
“No one can take a drop of water from Egypt,” the leader reaffirmed during a televised speech in March this year.
Sisi’s stern warning was followed by units of Egyptian Air Force and commandos holding war games with Sudanese troops.
The Egyptian military said the drill, Nile Eagles-2, was held in northern Sudan and had finished.
“The exercise aimed at achieving the maximum use of participating assets in planning and executing air operations and testing the readiness of the forces in carrying out joint operations against targets,” the military said.
To observers, the timing of the military drills means Egypt and Sudan could be preparing for a war scenario.
But for the time being, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, during a recent visit to Qatar, ruled out military action to stop Ethiopia from filling the dam.
“There is no room to talk about the military option. We are now talking about political options,” Mahdi told reporters in Doha.
Similarly, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed previously dismissed resorting to armed conflict by saying that his country did not want war with Sudan.
“Ethiopia also has many problems, and we are not ready to go to battle. We don't need war. It is better to settle it in a peaceful manner,” Abiy told parliament in remarks translated into English for a live TV broadcast.
The filling and operation of the GERD has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Addis Ababa broke ground on it in 2011. Since then, Egypt and fellow downstream nation Sudan have tried to persuade Ethiopia to enter a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.