US Special envoy visits Gulf countries, plans Kenya trip in shuttle diplomacy

Friday June 04 2021
Jeffrey Feltman and Antony Blinken.

US Special envoy Jeffrey Feltman and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. PHOTO | COURTESY


The US has sent its Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa on another round of shuttle diplomacy meant to secure an agreement on the use of the Nile waters in the region.

Jeffrey Feltman began his weeklong engagements on Monday, travelling to the Gulf countries of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. He will travel to Nairobi by June 6.

A statement from the State Department on Wednesday said that Feltman will meet senior officials in these countries “to discuss cooperative approaches to supporting a stable and prosperous Horn of Africa, including a resolution of the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that is acceptable to all parties.”

Feltman in May visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, the four countries involved in the main crises in the Horn, including a tussle over the use of the Nile. He said he was visiting the countries to address what the US called interlinked security issues in those countries.

“The Special Envoy’s travel underscores the Administration’s commitment to lead a sustained diplomatic effort to address the interlinked political, security, and humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa, and he will coordinate US policy across the region to advance that goal,” the Department said last month.

Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have disagreed on how to fill the GERD, which could be Africa’s biggest hydropower generation plant with a capacity of 6400MW of power when complete.


Ethiopia had planned a second filling of the dam this month, which Egypt has protested. At a joint press conference in Djibouti, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi said unilateral filling of the dam could jeopardise regional stability by hurting interests of countries that depend on the Nile.

Al-Sissi was making a first ever official visit to Djibouti by an Egyptian President since the Horn of Africa country’s independence from France in 1977.

Although Ethiopia, the biggest source of the Nile waters, and Egypt, the biggest consumer of the waters, have met under the African Union, they failed to agree on a final deal, and talks collapsed in April in Kinshasa.

Egypt has reached out to the UN and the US to help mediate, but Addis Ababa says the matter should not be internationalised by bringing in non-African parties.

Sudan argues there needs for a formula of filling the dam so that it can manage its own smaller dams on the Nile. Egypt on the other hand says faster filling will significantly affect the amount of water reaching its territory, affecting irrigation-dependent farming.

Ethiopia which argues it has sovereign rights to use the River for its own development says it will reject any outside entities coming in to mediate, if not the African Union-led process. An earlier draft mediated by the US was rejected by Addis Ababa who accused Washington of favouring Cairo. Cairo initialled on the document, while Sudan and Ethiopia refused to attend.