Al-Sammani Awadallah – Khartoum
The talks over GERD have raised fears among all of Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia as each has its reservations towards the process of the second filling.
Ethiopia is insisting to go ahead in the filling even if no agreement is reached among the three countries; but Sudan and Egypt felt the danger of the Ethiopian step.
The recent coordination between Sudan and Egypt stirred the stalled waters in the talks over GERD as the UNSG, António Guterres, announced the readiness of the organization to provide the support and participate in negotiations process led by committee led by the AU according to the call of the AU Chief.
A statement issued by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Shukry informed Guterres that it is necessary to launch serious negotiations under the auspices and the participation of international parties to reach a just, balanced commitment on the second filling and operation of GERD.
Shukry said in a phone call that his country agreed on the Sudanese proposal regarding the formation of a quadruple committee led by Democratic Congo as head of the AU in this round besides the UN, EU and USA to mediate in the negotiations.
This coordination forced Ethiopia to retract from its stance, as the Ethiopian Minister of Water and Irrigation announced during his meeting with the delegation, that his country is committed to reach a resolution on GERD, adding that Egypt is aspiring that Congo leads the mediation besides the African resolutions on the African issues through the tripartite negotiations.
On the other hand, the Egyptian Foreign Minister and his Sudanese counterpart, Mariam Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi, emphasized in their meeting a few days ago in Cairo the importance of reaching a legal, committed agreement over the filling and operation of GERD.
The Egyptian Minister pointed out to the importance of reaching an agreement that serves the interests of the three countries and preserves the water rights of the two countries (Egypt and Sudan); besides limiting the risks of the project on the downstream countries.
Sudan and Egypt affirmed that they have political will and serious desire to achieve this goal as soon as possible. They called on Ethiopia to express good intension and involvement in effective negotiations to strike a deal.
Ethiopia is insisting to start the second filling of GERD next July, while Sudan and Egypt are sticking to reaching an agreement before the filling step to preserve their annual share of River Nile waters amid stumbling talks led by the AU since months.
Ethiopia is constructing the dam on the Blue Nile which joins the White Nile in Sudan to form the River Nile which crosses to Egypt.
Ethiopia sees that the dam is necessary to achieve economic development, while Egypt considers it as a vital threat as it gets 90% of irrigation water from the River Nile.
Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan entered into negotiations that have been going on for the past 9 years without reaching an agreement on the filling of GERD.
The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and his Sudanese counterpart Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, affirmed during their last talks in Khartoum their rejection to any unilateral resolution on GERD aiming at imposing a fait accompli.
The spokesperson of the Egyptian presidency announced that Sudan and Egypt agreed to reject any unilateral procedures stressing on the importance of coordination between the two countries as downstream countries which will be directly affected by the second filling of GERD.
The two countries stressed on boosting the bilateral, regional and international efforts on the principles of the filling to reduce its negative aspects on Sudan and Egypt.
The Presidential Visit
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who visited Sudan in a one-day official visit, affirmed after his meeting of the head of Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, that they also discussed recent Sudanese moves to extend state sovereignty on its eastern borders with Ethiopia, which come within the context of Sudan’s respect for international agreements.
On GERD issue, Al-Sisi and Al-Burhan affirmed the necessity of returning to serious and effective negotiations with the aim of reaching, as soon as possible and before the next flood season, a just, balanced and legally binding agreement.
From November 2019 until mid-2020, the United States and the World Bank were leading the mediation, despite Ethiopia feeling the Trump administration was partial to Egypt.
When Egypt was about to move the issue to the United Nations (UN) Security Council, all three disputants were persuaded to instead hand it to the African Union (AU) – to ensure an ‘African solution for an African problem.’
As AU chair for 2020, South Africa effectively took over the mediation.
It was more impartial than the US, but in the end could not resolve the impasse either. Earlier this year, Pretoria referred the dispute to the AU for a decision on the way forward.
Ethiopia believes the AU-led negotiation over the GERD will bring a win-win solution to all”, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti told a press conference in Addis Ababa.
“The tendency to invite various parties as mediators to the issue while the AU-led negotiation has not been finalized is demeaning the efforts of the AU.”
Ethiopia would have to approve the new arrangement since it needs to be agreed by consensus.
Whether a third mediator could resolve the protracted dispute is an open question.
The EU and US were already observers to the AU-led mediation and would probably continue to defer to the AU if the continental organization wanted to remain in the driving seat.
Pretoria has not yet reacted officially to the Egypt–Sudan proposal for a quartet to take over mediation from South Africa. However, some officials are believed to be quite well disposed to the idea – as long as the AU remains in charge of the process.
It will clearly take much leverage from the three non-African forces in the quartet to shift these stalled negotiations.
Egypt fears any significant loss of the waters on which it is almost entirely dependent, while Sudan fears potential damage from a release of too much water from the dam.
Both seek a legally binding agreement that would control the release/retention of water in the GERD.