Kenya and peers in the Nile Basin want the African Union to continue mediating in the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), fearing external influence may derail the search for a deal.
This week, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt failed to reach a final agreement on how to utilise the dam without affecting the amount of water reaching the lower riparian states. But the three countries admitted they had reached “an understanding” on most issues.
At a meeting of the African Union Bureau of Heads of States on Tuesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the three countries should continue working through the AU as each one’s interests will be assured.
“This process has vividly shown that ‘African solutions to African problems’ is the way to go. We can resolve our disputes through negotiations and mediation within the framework of the African Union,” the President said, according to talking points shared by State House on Tuesday.
The Bureau, which is chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also includes leaders from Kenya, Rwanda, Mali, Egypt, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Nile Basin includes 10 countries, who either share the water or contribute to the world’s longest river. They include Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.
But the three countries — Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan — have bickered over the dam, Africa’s largest and which could produce up to 6.4GW of power when complete. Ethiopia put up the facility on the Blue Nile, which contributes 85 per cent of the River’s water.
Last week, Ethiopia began filling the dam even as Sudan and Egypt claimed the volume of water in the Nile had gone down significantly.
On Thursday, Ethiopia said it had completed the first filling, arguing it was a natural step to utilise the current rainy season.
“GERD, as much as it marks Ethiopia’s renaissance, symbolises the bountiful dividends of cooperation in Africa,” a statement from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said.
“Ethiopia remains committed to the principles of equitable and reasonable utilisation of the Abbay River and the obligation to prevent the causing of significant harm to the downstream countries.”
Kenya, however, cautioned that unilateral decisions in future could jeopardise the search for a solution. “I urge all stakeholders to continue adhering to the commitment and to refrain from taking actions or making statements that may jeopardise the negotiation process and reverse the gains made so far,” President Kenyatta said.
The fear among the Basin countries is that any derailed talks could easily slow down any other bid by other countries to exploit the River at a time water is becoming scarce in the region.
DRC President Felix Tshisekedi, whose country is also planning to expand a hydropower generating dam on the Congo River, warned neighbours may fail to utilise the benefits of the project should disputes remain unresolved.
The AU, through chairperson Ramaphosa, is attempting to resolve a dispute that had initially involved the US as an arbiter without success. Washington had earlier in the year drafted an agreement which Egypt signed, but Ethiopia rejected arguing it had been bullied. Addis Ababa, in fact accused Washington of dictating terms, and favouring Egypt.
Dr Mumo Nzau, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a governance and security expert, told the Nation the most sustainable solutions on the Nile will have to involve all riparian countries.
“A very important principle is one of basin-wide management where we see countries cooperating more, working towards consensus on the control and exploitation of the common resource,” Dr Nzau told the Nation.
“Any negotiations with lower riparian states should also involve upper riparian states in the interest of mutual co-existence. Ethiopia should involve other countries so that the environmental, social and human security aspects of the project are not affected.”
The three countries have agreed on most things, except guarantees on volume of water to be released downstream should droughts prolong. They have also failed to agree on whether arbitration on disputes relating to the dam should be binding. Ethiopia refuses use of previous treaties to resolve the issue.
But Addis Ababa argues the dam, financed through voluntary contributions from locals, could benefit neighbours with surplus electricity. Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya Meles Alem Tekea said there “has been desire” from neighbouring countries to import the power the dam will produce.