The fourth round of trilateral negotiations involving Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) ended this week in Addis Ababa, without an agreement.
The fourth meeting since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi initially agreed to a resumption of negotiations in July 2023, the latest sit down in the Ethiopian capital failed to meet the leaders’ promise of a resolution before the end of the year.
A joint statement on the leaders of the negotiations said the negotiations held December 17-19, 2023, were futile.
During a press briefing Wednesday, Sileshi Bekele (Ambassador), Ethiopia’s chief negotiator and advisor on GERD, told journalists that while there has been agreement on some issues, others are still a point of contention.
He said that despite directions to conclude the negotiations in a four-month period, Article 6 of the negotiation document posed problems forcing a delay.
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Article six outlines terms for water management during periods of drought, and six experts from the three countries could not reach an agreement on the matter, said the Chief Negotiator. He said the article needed careful and thorough review.
Negotiators had put off discussions on Article 6 during the third round of talks in Cairo a few weeks ago, hoping to reach an agreement in Addis Ababa. However, the subject was the cause of huge differences between negotiators, according to Sileshi.
The article stipulates that, in the case of drought in downstream countries (Sudan, Egypt), water is to flow directly from the reservoir, and the severity of the drought could oblige Ethiopia to lower reservoir levels to less than 625 meters.
“We will not jeopardize Ethiopia’s future development aspirations, and we will not guarantee a permanent figure for the release of water either during the drought season or the rainy season until water division is made clear through agreement,” said Sileshi.
The negotiations ended with Egypt announcing to discontinue the talks, according to Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs weekly summary report released on Friday December 22, 2023.
“Considering the importance of painstaking discussions to reach an agreement, Ethiopia and Sudan insisted on the continuation of the negotiations. Yet, Egypt insisted on terminating the process. Egypt`s unilateral decision to discontinue the negotiations is an unfortunate development considering the possibility of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement through these tripartite talks is within reach,” reads MoFA’s report.
Following the conclusion of the fourth round, a media report quoting Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation said the talks did not yield results due to Ethiopia’s persistent refusal to accept any of the technical or legal compromise solutions that would safeguard the interests of all three countries.
On the other side, the Ethiopian government said an agreement remains out of reach because of Egypt’s static and irrational demands.
In a statement released December 19, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said negotiations on the guidelines and rules for the first filling and annual operation of the GERD are meant to enhance confidence and build trust among the three countries, adding that it is not meant to foreclose Ethiopia`s rights to the utilization of the waters of the Nile.
The statement went on to say that Ethiopia will continue to utilize its water resources to meet the needs of present and future generations based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization.
The statement criticizes Egypt for having maintained a colonial-era mentality and creating roadblocks against efforts toward convergence.
The Ministry also accused Egypt, following the negotiations, of issuing a statement that violates the UN Charter and the Constitutive Act of the African Union – noting that Ethiopia rejects the misrepresentation of its positions by Egypt.
Other articles in the negotiation documents seem to imply a water-sharing deal based on colonial agreements, which Ethiopia refuses to discuss as per the 2015 Declaration of Principles, Ambassador Sileshi told journalists.
According to Ethiopian officials, Egypt is implicitly supporting an article that seeks an equal share of the water, which is unrealistic.
”But Ethiopia believes in brotherhood, to release even more than the rainwater we receive in one season, but we still don’t want something that harms Ethiopia and its future generations by approving Egypt’s approval for the colonial-era agreement of water sharing,” said Sileshi.
‘‘No need for propaganda and media campaigns; it is not important. This needs genuineness and commitment for equality and trust,” said Sileshi.
There are speculations that Egypt will resume efforts to pull negotiations away from the purview of the African Union following the failure of the fourth round of talks.
“Holding talks for the sake of talks is not in anyone’s interest. Talks need to be productive and showing genuine commitment is one way of ensuring that. This commitment of Ethiopia has barely been reciprocated by Egypt throughout the just concluded trilateral talks. Not only has Egypt taken part in these talks half-heartedly, but it has also worked against the success of the talks. The statements Egypt issued before and after each round of talks indicate this lack of genuine interest and commitment to reach an agreement. Egyptian negotiators also did not display a serious commitment to reach an acceptable solution,” reads MoFA’s report on Friday.
The Ethiopian government also blames Egypt for trying to undo the achievements made over the previous negotiations. “Besides, Egypt tried to use the platform, as it indicated in its official statements and remarks in the negotiation process, to “maintain its water security”-euphemism for colonial era water allocations which Ethiopia unequivocally neither recognizes nor accepts. Notwithstanding the gains made, it is because of this ill-intended desire and approaches that a breakthrough has not been achieved during the four rounds of talks.”
Recent reports also reveal that Ethiopia and Egypt had appealed to the United Nations Security Council on the issue of GERD.
However, the future of the negotiations remains clouded in doubt and secrecy.
According to the Ambassador, the GERD construction progress has reached 94 percent, while the concrete construction is set to be finalized by the end of June.
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