Nile dam talks stall again as countries disagree on AU experts’ role

Wednesday January 13 2021
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

An aerial view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River in Guba, northwest Ethiopia, in this picture taken on July 20, 2020. PHOTO | AFP

By The EastAfrican

The African Union brokered negotiations over Ethiopia's Nile dam project ended without a breakthrough at the weekend as the three countries disagreed on the role of experts.

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan had resumed talks at the weekend on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). However, they failed to agree on the way forward for further negotiations that could eventually lead to a final deal.

Yasser Abbas, Sudan's Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, late on Sunday said the ministerial meeting could not agree on a change in the negotiating process to expand the role of the AU experts.

Sudan suggested expanding the role of the African Union experts in the talks, but Egypt and Ethiopia rejected the proposal.

“The meeting failed to make any progress because Sudan insisted that experts appointed by the AU be mandated to propose solutions to contentious issues and finalise a draft agreement,” Egypt's Foreign Ministry said.

Cairo and Addis Ababa argued that the experts were not qualified to carry out the task.


“The African Union experts are not specialists in the engineering and technical fields relevant to managing water resources and operating dams,” Cairo said.

Addis Ababa did not immediately react to the latest standoff.

Naledi Pandor, the Foreign Minister of South Africa – which is the current chair of the African Union – voiced her “regret that the talks reached a dead end”, according to the Sudan News Agency.

One week earlier, the three countries had agreed to hold further talks to agree on the filling and annual operation of the reservoir.

But the latest virtual meetings between foreign and water ministers “failed to reach an acceptable agreement to resume negotiations”, Sudan’s state-run SUNA news agency said on Sunday.

Khartoum has hoped Ethiopia’s dam will regulate annual flooding, but has also warned that millions of lives would be at “great risk” if no agreement was reached.

Ethiopia and Egypt however have agreed to continue the talks, but Sudan declines. As a result, the issue is being referred back to the chairman of the African Union for further advice.

Negotiations have been ongoing for years in Addis Ababa, Khartoum, Cairo and Washington, but a final agreement is yet to be reached.

The construction of the hydroelectric dam, which Ethiopia is constructing along the Nile river near the Sudanese border, has reached 78 percent completion.