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Disputes over the Nile Dam project could lead to military conflict

Negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the disputed dam at Addis Ababa on the Nile have reached a political dead end amid growing concerns that the crisis could turn into a military conflict.

The latest round of negotiations, which ended this week, did not reach an agreement.

Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy Seleshi Bekele said on Wednesday that his country would continue to fill the dam’s massive reservoir in the coming rainy season, which usually begins in June or July.

“As construction progresses, filling takes place,” Bekele said. “We do not deviate from it at all.”


It sparked an angry response from neighboring Sudan, whose irrigation minister warned that his country is ready to harden its position in the dispute.

“For Sudan, all possibilities are possible, including return [the matter] to the UN Security Council and hardening policy … (if) Ethiopia starts another filling (of the dam) without agreement, “Yasser Abbas told reporters.

Sudanese independent journalist Mohamed Mustafa told The Media Line that the three countries’ failure to reach an agreement was due to all parties being suspicious of each other.

“The main contentious issues are the binding legal agreement. Ethiopia fears that the agreement will limit its future water projects; while Sudan and Egypt insist on signing an ‘agreement’,” Mustafa said, adding that another fixed point is “the period of filling of the dam and how to operate during periods of drought. “

Egyptian fears that the dam will endanger its share of the river’s water led President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to issue a stern warning to Ethiopia last week, saying his country’s part of the Nile is “untouchable”.

William Davison, senior Ethiopian analyst at International Crisis Group, told The Media Line that an Egyptian and Sudanese “early agreement on how to work together on the second filling would have prevented the rise in diplomatic tensions we see now and reduced the chances of harm” in Sudan as a result of the process. “

Sisi’s rhetoric has raised speculation that a military confrontation is imminent.

Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, told The Media Line that the increased rhetoric is intended for domestic consumption.

“Much of the rhetoric we see around the dam from all sides is more directed at the internal audience than at the other parties. For Ethiopia and Egypt in particular, these issues have aroused deep nationalist sentiment, and both leaders are using this issue to strengthen their own political views, ”he said.

Hudson adds that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is under enormous internal pressure, including riots from several regions of the country as well as national elections in June, and this has played a role in his stance.

Davison says a military confrontation will not yield the best results for the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan.

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“The best way for Egypt and Sudan to sustainably secure their required water supply is by formalizing cooperation with Ethiopia. An air strike could delay the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, but it would be hugely damaging and risky, and it would not “In addition, Ethiopia would not be willing to cooperate with Egypt, so it is not at all clear how it would be in Egypt’s interest,” he said.

Martin Plaut, a visiting senior fellow at King’s College Department of War Studies in London, told The Media Line that so far “it is a political issue.” But Plaut warns of where these countries are headed, saying “I’m scared in the end, a military problem.”

Plaut, who for decades reported on the Horn of Africa and southern Africa as a journalist, says that Sisis’ repeated talk of a possible military strike may have put itself in a quandary.

“He is now in a situation where he did nothing but give lots of threats, and honestly we must now see if he will follow through. Someone has to act; something has to happen. If you make threats and they are empty, you seem to be weak, ”he said.

Ethiopia began construction of the 4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Dollars in 2011. When completed, it will be the largest hydropower plant in Africa as well as the 7th largest dam in the world. The mega dam has a capacity of 74 billion cubic meters.

In its strongest statements to date, Sisi warned that if Ethiopia begins its second filling of the reservoir this summer, the region will face “instability that no one can imagine.”

“No one can take a single drop of water from Egypt, and whoever wants to try it, let him try,” Sisi also said. “No one imagines it will be far from our abilities.”

Mustafa believes Sisi’s recent talk of war is intended as a “threatening message to Ethiopia.”

“The possibility of war is not yet on the table and carries many risks. Perhaps the next step will be to resort to the UN Security Council,” Mustafa said.

Egypt and Sudan have called on the United States, the United Nations and the European Union to mediate in addition to the African Union (AU), which sponsored this week’s talks, but Ethiopia is strongly opposed to international intervention and says AU mediation is sufficient.

“They believe they have a stronger negotiating position with the AU at the helm. As host of the AU headquarters, Ethiopia has significant influence with the AU and believes they are likely to receive more equitable treatment during the AU mediation,” Hudson said, noting that domestic conflicts in Ethiopia influenced its decision.

“Because of the actions of the government in Tigray, we have seen the United States, the European Union and the United Nations take a very tough stance on Abiy and go so far as to threaten him with sanctions,” he said.

The government of Addis Ababa has labeled the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), long the dominant party in Tigray, as a “criminal clique.” It began a military breakdown of the group last November, which some have called an ethnic cleansing.

With the news of atrocities committed by Addis Ababa’s federal troops, Hudson says Abiy suspects that the international community may have “problems separating these issues”, forcing him to accept a compromise on the dam that will hurt his chances in the June election.

Egypt is concerned that once the dam is fully operational, it will cut off Cairo’s supply of Nile waters, covering about 97% of its water needs. Last year, Sudan said the filling process caused water shortages, including in the capital Khartoum.

Ethiopia says power produced by GERD will be crucial to meet the development needs of its 110 million inhabitants.

But Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi told reporters on Tuesday that Addis Ababa “directly threatens the people of the Nile basin and Sudan.”

Khartoum and Cairo claim that the massive water reservoir poses an existential threat.

“We are talking about taking into account all 250 million souls living in the three countries and their interests,” al-Mahdi said.

Davison warns that if countries do not reach an agreement that puts everyone’s concerns at ease, the results will be catastrophic.

“The dam carries risks for downstream countries if there is no cooperation, but if there is, there is no reason for the dam to cause significant damage. Therefore, all parties fail to make the necessary concessions to compromise the risk from the project, “he said.

More talks are scheduled for later this month.

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