The Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya Meles Alem Tekea speaks on the choppy Nile waters talks and the Grand Renaissance Dam.
Why is the Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) project so important to Ethiopia?
The GERD is a flagship project for Ethiopia as it is related with its struggle to survive as a nation by eradicating poverty. The Nile River in Ethiopia is indispensable.
The potential of the river is huge. Out of Ethiopia’s 45,000MW hydroelectric potential, two-thirds is in the Nile Basin, which makes the construction of the GERD a necessity.
Ethiopia has more than 65 million people (out of total population of 114 million) with no access to electricity, and the demand for energy is increasing by 32 per cent each year.
To create jobs, to achieve the sustainable development goals and to ensure each and every Ethiopian lives a decent life by having access to education, health services and expansion of transport like railways, energy security is key.
The project is being established on the largest tributary of the Nile, and downstream Egypt is worried. How does the project take into consideration downstream concerns?
There have been studies since the late 1960s up to the start of its construction. The GERD is well thought out. A number of studies, even by non-Ethiopian scientists, assert that the construction of a dam in the Blue Nile gorge is in the best interests of downstream countries, notably Egypt, as it can be used as a water bank during drought.
Ethiopia had carried out independent studies when it decided to construct the dam. The pre-feasibility study was conducted by the Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office, in which Egypt and Ethiopia took part. Egypt’s worries are unfounded because Ethiopia has addressed or accommodated many of its concerns.
Technically and hydrologically speaking, Ethiopia could fill the GERD in two to three years. But, accommodating Egypt, Ethiopia made the filling stage-based, which would take four to seven years.
Recently, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have held talks in Washington. Addis Ababa did not send a representative to the last session. Why?
Ethiopia had notified ahead, both the host of the meeting, the US, and also Egypt and Sudan that we were undertaking national consultations, and requested that the meeting be postponed.
Unfortunately, and regrettably, the Secretary of the Treasury of the US, as the host, went ahead with the meeting without the major actor Ethiopia, and issued a unilateral statement.
US later asked parties to sign the contract, which Egypt did. Your country has rejected the contract. Are there concerns that the US is putting undue pressure on you?
Since November 6, 2019, the US, represented by the Department of the Treasury and the World Bank Group, were participating in the tripartite negotiations of the GERD as observers. Observers and have a clear mandate—to observe.
At the meeting of the three countries with the observers in Washington DC on February 13, 2020, the Secretary of the Treasury announced that “the US will facilitate the drafting of an agreement that the three countries will sign”.
Ethiopia outright rejected it and clearly stated that it is for the three countries to draft an agreement based on their negotiations. But the US Secretary of the Treasury went ahead and overstepped the observer role.
In a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, Ethiopia made its position clear that it is not the observer’s mandate to draft and send the agreement. Ethiopia does not recognise this.
Second, the negotiations between the three countries are not yet concluded. Third, the attempt of pressure was not acceptable as Ethiopia’s interest was not accommodated. How can Ethiopia accept a document that it does not acknowledge and has undermined its national interest and sovereignty?
What happens if the US-led negotiations end without a deal?
Our belief is that through genuine negotiations we can reach a win-win solution. The most important approach, therefore, is to invest and have frank discussions on the most critical issues by focusing on first filling and annual operation of the GERD.
What is complicating matters is the obstinate stance from Egypt to perpetuate colonial era privileges that Ethiopia and the rest of the water source countries rejected.
Egypt wants to continue as the sole and self-proclaimed owner of the waters of the Nile by attempting to maintain a water volume of 55.5 billion cubic metres of water annually. This zeroes the water share of all upstream countries of the Nile, be it Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, DR Congo or Uganda. This is not acceptable. Hence, co-operation is the only way out and is in the best interests of all the countries.