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Talks to resume on Ethiopia’s Nile dam amid rising tensions

Jan 03, 2021
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Negotiations were due to resume on Sunday over a disputed dam Addis Ababa is building on the Nile as relations between the three African nations sour over deadly clashes on the Ethiopian-Sudanese border and a war of words between Egypt and Ethiopia.

On Thursday, Egypt’s government summoned the Ethiopian charge d’affaires in Cairo to protest comments made by Dina Mufti, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman, in which he accused Egypt of using the dispute on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to cover a host of internal problems.

The diplomat, according to a statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, was told that the comments constituted a “blatant and unacceptable transgression” and a were a provocation designed to conceal “Ethiopia’s own repeated failures.”

The almost-completed hydroelectric dam is viewed as an existential threat by Egypt which, together with fellow downstream nation Sudan, have been trying to persuade Ethiopia to enter a legally-binding deal on the dam’s operation and mechanisms on handling future disputes and persistent droughts.

The upcoming talks, sponsored by the African Union, will be held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, a practice that was first introduced last year. The talks, which will be held at ministerial level, will end a month-long hiatus.

Recent tensions between the three nations – which have a combined population of 250 million – means an agreement is even farther away than previously thought.

Sudan has its own quarrel with Ethiopia, which has ramped up after troops from the two neighbours had a series of deadly clashes over a longtime border dispute that has flared just as Ethiopian federal forces were fighting separatist rebels in the restless Tigray region. That conflict, which began in November, has forced tens of thousands of mainly Tigrayans to flee their homes and find refuge in Sudan.

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed has strongly hinted that Egypt was trying to drive a wedge between his country and Sudan, where the military component of a transitional government is close to the Egyptian leadership. On Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi and Sudan’s head of state, Gen. Abdel Fatah Al Burhan, spoke on the phone.

Presidential spokesman Bassam Rady said the Egyptian leader assured Gen Al Burhan of Egypt’s “full support of Sudan” because of the “close bond between the national security” of the two countries.

For nearly a decade, the three nations have held seemingly endless rounds of negotiations without making a breakthrough or drawing closer to an agreement, a situation that is posing a threat to stability in a strategic part of the world. For Egypt and Sudan, what is at stake cannot be exaggerated.

The Nile meets nearly 95 per cent of Egypt’s water needs. A significant drop in its share of the river’s water could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and the disruption of its sensitive food supply.

For Sudan, the absence of co-ordination on the operation of the dam built a short distance away from its border could potentially spell disaster for its eastern breadbasket region through flooding and the disablement of its own hydroelectric Nile dams.

Updated: January 3, 2021 08:15 PM

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