News Roundup: Diplomatic efforts intensify under “existential” threat of Dam filling

Rachel Brooks

May 9, 2021 


Above right, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi has been selected as the African Union mediator this year. He moves to intensify diplomatic efforts along with the U.S. envoy as the threat of unilateral steps over the GERD issue increases with Ethiopia’s eagerness to fill the GERD reservoir. 

Image credit: “File:PHOTO DU JOUR DU MARDI 16 AVRIL 2019 (47568170682).jpg” by MONUSCO Photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Tensions surmount as the date for the deadline of filling the GERD reservoir is drawing nearer. A recent analysis by Peter Fabricius in the Eurasia Review noted that Ethiopia will “almost certainly” proceed with the plan of a second filling of the reservoir as the rain season approaches. Ethiopia reports taking “advantage” of the plentiful upcoming rain season to fill its gigantic reservoir and generate activity in the enormous hydropower plant, see Ethiopia Press Agency

Arab News reports that the issue of water shortages potentially caused by the GERD filling is an “existential one.” Arab News quoted Egyptian President El-Sisi who said these words to the U.S. diplomat. 

Egypt has braced a major water crisis in recent years. Sudan, The New Arab reports, is currently undergoing a “major water crisis” determined by an analysis of water shortages in Khartoum. This comes ahead of Ethiopia’s eager plans to proceed with filling the reservoir during the rainy season. Local Sudanese citizens told The New Arab that their situation was “catastrophic” as they were being forced to purchase water barrels at a higher cost due to the current shortage. 

Status of negotiations, the U.S. envoy talks to Sudan 

The Egypt Independent reported on May 8 that the U.S. envoy had met with Sudanese officials in Khartoum to discuss GERD issues. 

U.S. Envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman held talks with the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources. Feltman’s mission includes addressing the political tensions created by the Tigray conflict, a civil war between the Tigray region and the Ethiopian federal government, and issues of the GERD. Egypt and Sudan have demanded a legally binding agreement placing conditions on filling and operating the GERD. Ethiopia is reportedly avoiding a binding agreement, which has led to a stall in negotiations. 

Western media reported that Feltman’s mission took him to Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea to visit all nations directly engaged in the GERD dispute and Tigray crisis. Feltman was quoted saying that the Biden administration was “serious in settling such a sensitive issue.” The U.S. had earlier warned each state in the “tripartite issue” to refrain from taking “unilateral” steps, with tensions explosive on all sides, and having ripple effect potential throughout the Continent. 

The Africa Union-led talks in Kinshasa on April 5 failed to make headway. On May 8, the African Union-led a diplomatic shuttle mission over the GERD Dam. The Nation reported that Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, also the current chairman of the African Union (AU), met with the Egyptian President in Cairo to discuss the GERD. No immediate details were available on the substance of the AU leader’s most recent round of talks, but it was reported that the AU leader was “sounding out” the presidents of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on a proposal to end the GERD dispute.  

As the filling draws nearer, the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry visited South Africa, Tunisia, Kenya, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to present Egypt’s case. Egypt looks to the United Nations Security Council, and then to military defense as the final resort if the position of Nile-dependant Egypt is not heard. Egypt had aimed to turn to the Security Council before South African President Ramaphosa intervened and encouraged Egypt to refer to the African Union as the mediator. 

Egypt has been dashing to develop strategies to overcome water shortages. Al-Monitor reported that, with its preexisting water crisis, and bracing for the impact of a depreciated share of the Nile flow, Egypt has braced to put limits on the cultivation of “water-intensive crop species.” 

Regarding Egyptian research into water crisis and quality control 

Egypt has faced a quality control crisis for its water which demands increasing new research and innovation to accommodate the need. In 2017, the Journal of African Earth Sciences posted a research paper regarding Egypt’s research into the evaluation of collected fog and rainwater as a new resource for irrigated agriculture. The African Earth Sciences journal noted that alternative resources were needed in Egypt to face water shortage and water quality deterioration. 

EcoMENA likewise reported that Egypt had been suffering from a recent “severe water crisis” as of August 2020. The research outlet cited severe “water scarcity” in recent years was caused by “uneven water distribution.” EcoMENA noted that Egypt relies “heavily” on the flow of the Nile for its water distribution. As of summer 2020, Egypt reported a sustained annual water deficit of around 7 billion cubic meters. This was due to a population explosion as well as inefficient irrigation. 

Preparing for everything 

Egypt has not merely accepted the threat to its way of life, already challenged by years of the water crisis. France 24 reported this past week that Egypt had purchased 30 Rafale fighter jets from France, which will be financed through a 10-year loan. France 24 reported Egypt as a “bulwark of stability” as the conflict in its neighbor Libya continued. Yet, Egypt appears to brace for the impact of certain increased regional instability as the path forward for the GERD project, with a stall on negotiations, rolls on.