Egypt: Ethiopia Rejecting ‘Fundamental Issues’ on Nile Dam

June 15, 2020 Updated: June 15, 2020

CAIRO—Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on June 14 said talks would continue later this week to resolve their dispute over a Nile River dam that Ethiopia is constructing, even as Cairo accused Addis Ababa of rejecting “fundamental issues” at the heart of the negotiations.

While Ethiopia wants to begin filling the dam’s reservoir in the coming weeks, Egypt has raised concerns that filing the reservoir too quickly and without a deal could significantly reduce the amount of Nile water available to Egypt. Both countries have made clear in the past that they could take steps to protect their interests, should negotiations fail, and experts fear a breakdown in talks could lead to conflict.

The talks resumed last week via video conference after months of deadlock and will start up again on June 15, statements from the three main Nile basin countries said on June 14.

However, the most recent negotiations have been punctuated by strong comments from both Egypt and Ethiopia.

Egypt’s Irrigation Ministry said in a statement late on June 13 that Ethiopia is looking to renegotiate a number of points of contention, which “demonstrated that there are many fundamental issues that Ethiopia continues to reject.”

Irrigation Ministry spokesman Mohammed el-Sebaei accused Ethiopia of bogging down the talks with a new proposal he called “concerning.”

A day earlier, Ethiopia’s deputy army chief had said his country will strongly defend itself and won’t negotiate its sovereignty.

Talks came to an acrimonious halt in February, after Ethiopia rejected a U.S.-crafted deal and accused the Trump administration of siding with Egypt. At the time, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said it would use “all available means” to defend “the interests” of its people.

Construction of the $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile is over 70 percent complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia’s 100 million people. Egypt seeks to protect its main source of fresh water for its large and growing population, also more than 100 million.

“The Ethiopian proposal aims to scrap all the agreements and understandings reached by the three countries during the negotiations spanning nearly a decade,” el-Sebaei said on June 13.

The Irrigation Ministry statement said the contentious issues included Ethiopia’s “total” rejection of addressing technical issues related to the mitigation of droughts. It also said Ethiopia rejected “the inclusion of a legally binding dispute resolution mechanism.”

Ethiopia’s Water and Energy Ministry said on June 14 el-Sebaei’s comments were “regrettable.” It said that if the ongoing negotiations failed, it would be because of “Egypt’s obstinacy to maintain a colonial-based water allocation agreement that denies Ethiopia and all the upstream countries their natural and legitimate rights.”

Egypt has received the lion’s share of the Nile’s waters under decades-old agreements dating back to the British colonial era. Eighty-five percent of the Nile’s waters originate in Ethiopia from the Blue Nile, which is one of the Nile’s two main tributaries.

Ethiopia has said it plans to start filling the dam next month, at the start of the rainy season.

By Samy Magdy