The joint US and African efforts to resolve the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) crisis are racing against time, as Ethiopia insists on implementing the second filling next July, while Egypt and Sudan reject any partial solution.
US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman concluded on Monday his tour to Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia where he met with the Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation, and Energy Seleshi Bekele, in the presence of the Ethiopian GERD negotiating team.
Bekele briefed the special envoy on the process of building the dam and the tripartite negotiations, explaining that the GERD is a source of cooperation and helps achieve regional integration.
Feltman, who was recently assigned to his post, asserted that he will focus on resolving the dispute. He is expected to hold talks with UN and African Union (AU) officials in Addis Ababa.
Cairo views the dam on the main tributary of the Nile River as an "existential threat", warning that it will have a negative impact on its limited water share, while Khartoum fears that the GERD will affect its dams. They are both insisting on an agreement that regulates the filling and operation.
The US envoy’s tour coincides with AU efforts, which sponsored the stalled negotiations between the three countries launched in July last year, to reduce tensions.
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, who chairs the African Union, conducted a similar round of talks in an attempt to resume negotiations.
Tshisekedi put forward a new initiative to bring the parties together and reach a solution before the second filling.
Addis Ababa announced in 2020 that it had completed the first phase of filling the dam, achieving its target of 4.9 billion cubic meters, which allowed the testing of the first two turbines of the dam. This year, it is targeting filling an additional 13.5 billion cubic meters.
The dam is expected to become the largest hydroelectric power station in Africa, with an expected capacity of 6,500 megawatts to meet the needs of Ethiopia’s 110 million people.
A spokesman for the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said that the construction and filling of the dam would proceed according to plan, adding that Addis Ababa is determined to make fair use of the Nile's resources without harming the two downstream countries.
Over the past weeks, Ethiopia reintroduced an old proposal, by signing a procedure agreement on the second filling only and offered to exchange data of the second filling. However, Egypt insists on a binding legal agreement.
President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has told Tshisekedi that his country would not accept a compromise of its water security over the ongoing dispute.
Sisi stressed the need for a legally binding deal that preserves Cairo’s water rights and averts further tensions and instability in the region.