Talks on Nile dam end, again, as parties disagree on methodology

Tuesday November 10 2020
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Talks between Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt have broken off. PHOTO | AFP


Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt last Wednesday abruptly ended their resumed talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, signalling another deadlock in long-running negotiations on how to fill the hydropower facility.

Instead, the ministers of water resources in the three countries agreed to return to the African Union for a way forward, after disagreeing on what role the experts assigned by the continental body will play in the talks, the basis of negotiations and the time-frame.

The ministers had begun talks last Sunday but were unable to make any tangible progress on negotiation methodology and a timetable for it.

The information coming out of the talks was that parties failed to agree on the divergent points, with each side sticking to their guns.

Sudan maintained its position of refusing to negotiate according to the previous methodology of giving experts a fringe role. 

Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yassir Abbas said that Sudan will continue to negotiate as guided by the AU, but under a new basis, to reach a satisfactory agreement for all parties on the filling and operation of the GERD.


He said the pending technical and legal issues are limited and can be agreed upon if there is political will from all parties.

Mr Abbas said Sudan will negotiate if assured of safety of its water facilities, especially since the Al-Rusayris Reservoir Lake is only 15km from the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.

The previous round of negotiations had adopted the methodology of merging the draft agreements for the three countries. However, it led to more divergent issues, leading to parties disagreeing on what to include in the drafts.


Later, that methodology reduced the points of contention to five technical points and three main legal issues, including how to resolve disputes. Sudan, however, wanted the drafting matter to be left to a joint legal committee, saying that parties should focus on building common ground instead.

Both Ethiopia and Sudan have expressed willingness to negotiate under the AU chairperson’s patronage, but Egypt objected to the proposal of a bigger role of the AU suggesting continuing negotiations through previous frameworks of parties’ enhanced control of the agenda.

The Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources stated: “It became clear during the discussions that the three countries did not agree on a methodology for completing the negotiations in the next stage.”

The last rounds of negotiations sponsored by the AU ended on August 28, without any progress. 

Meanwhile, Ethiopia continues to build the dam, in accordance with the right granted to it by the co-operation agreement signed in 2015. Sudan and Egypt accuse Ethiopia of starting the filling before an agreement on how to do so. 

Observers say Ethiopia's recent demand to link the Renaissance Dam to an agreement on water sharing represented an obstacle to the progress of negotiations.