US Restoration of Foreign Aid to Ethiopia Signals New Course
By Salem Solomon
Negotiations between the three Nile River countries hit an impasse over how quickly Ethiopia would fill the dam’s reservoir and what mechanisms would be put in place to stop the filling in the event of drought or water level drops.
“It’s certainly a stop-start process, and I think one of the dynamics that recurs is that the parties come together, and they stitch together something, which is more of a kind of political agreement than it is any sort of technical or legal agreement,” analyst Davison said. “And of course, when you have a political agreement that opens up whatever text they’ve agreed on for different interpretations.”
Egypt relies on the Nile for roughly 90 percent of its fresh water and is concerned that the dam and its reservoir, with a capacity of 74 billion cubic meters, will diminish its water supply. Egypt has warned that it could lose about 22 percent of its water flow making thousands of acres of farmland unusable.
In July, as negotiations were ongoing, Ethiopia began filling the dam leading to angry denunciations from Egyptian leaders.
Ethiopia has said it will fill the dam over four to seven years.
Mirette Mabrouk, director of the Egypt program at the Middle East Institute, said there is a disagreement between the parties over whether Ethiopia has the right to unilaterally begin filling the dam.
“The very, very least one would expect that the negotiations would be over before Ethiopia started filling unilaterally,” she said. “Ethiopia has always said it has always maintained that it does not need the agreement of Egypt and Sudan to start filling. That’s directly contradicted by Egypt and Sudan, who say that the 2015 Declaration of Principles agreement signed by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan specifically says that shouldn’t have unilateral action on the filling.”
Mabrouk said tensions remain high between the countries, but she does not think a military confrontation is inevitable.
“Nobody wants that kind of conflict,” she said. “But I do think that if Egypt and Sudan have their backs up against the wall, it may be a final option. But Egypt understands very, very well that any military option is really not going to be in anyone’s favor.”
But the diplomatic efforts could move slowly.
“There will be a pause in the talks, there will be some consultations,” Davison added. “But don’t forget that there is a lot of pressure from the international community, not just the African Union, but also the EU and the U.S. and other stakeholders for the parties to stay at the negotiating table.”