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Has Egypt succeeded in wooing US and other western powers over dam on the Nile?

Egyptian diplomatic breakthrough to Western Powers over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that tilted the balance of power regarding Blue Nile Waters in Ethiopian favour – was highlighted by US suspension of US$234M development aid to Ethiopia in October. However, for Ethiopia, the main theatre is Africa, whose diplomatic results are still mixed…

Egypt has succeeded in wooing US and other Western powers, by portraying herself as victim of Ethiopian manoeuvres. London based, Nature Magazine dated October 16, 2020, laid out how GERD with installed capacity could suck in 74 billion cubic meters(bcm). This is the annual flow of Blue Nile that supplies 85% of Egypt Water requirement. GERD is also capable of reducing Aswan High Dam reservoir from 76bcm to 47bcm, according to the magazine.

Another western agency; Manchester University projected that GERD can cause escalation of Egyptian water deficit from the current 35 bcm to 45bcm.The already water stressed nation of 80m, drastically reduced acreage devoted on rice-a highly water-consuming crop-from 1.76m to 750,000 to save 3bcm.Consequently, the mood of this increasingly thirsty nation, borders to water panic, a potentially destabilizing factor.

The Egyptian Establishment considers GERD dam as an existential security threat for which Egypt cannot sit gentlemanly. Muhammed Nasr Eldin Allam, Professor, Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University, and ex-minister of water resources and irrigations explains.

“GERD constitutes an intolerable infringement on Egyptian national security, where Egypt cannot standby as Ethiopia empowers itself to control the destiny of Egyptian people”

Egypt was caught off-guard by Ethiopia that began constructing a dam in 2011 when this 80 million state was engulfed in political upheavals that brought down President Hosni Mubarak. Ethiopia redesigned the project so that its reservoir can hold between 76 and 81 billion cubic meters, according to media reports..

The coming of Al-sisi government found the project going full throttle.

Also read: Ethiopia to press ahead with Africa’s biggest hydropower dam

In July 2020 Ethiopia began to fill the reservoir that now holds 3bcm and has expressed desire to fill it as soon as possible.

Egyptian diplomatic focus on Western powers was partly to have Western powers use their financial and political leverage to bear down on Ethiopia. Institutions like the World Bank, IMF and EU take Egyptian concerns seriously. Besides the West put at premium Egyptian strategic importance in Middle East region.

However, Ethiopia is less concerned about what West thinks. After all Ethiopian diplomats in Kampala say GERD was built largely from domestic savings. Moreover, Ethiopia regards Africa as crucial in her calculus. Nile Basin states can also be roused to fight for equity in water sharing and to regard any development aid from Egypt as means of entrapping them…

So Egypt has to debunk the Ethiopian conspiracy theory regarding motivation of Egyptian development aid. Hence Egyptian diplomatic thrust is to approach African states individually, prioritizing those that target those that can have an axe to grind with Ethiopia.

Take Kenya for instance that endured disaster of Ethiopian unilateralism in constructing Gibe Hi Dam across Omo river.

Egypt has also focused on DRC and fully backed President Felix Tshisekedi to become next AU Chairman in January 2021. DRC has the potential to generate power and can become counterweight to Ethiopia in exporting power to regional states.

And Egyptian diplomatic effort has ensured that the 2010 Entebbe Agreement does not become a binding document. Though six states of the 11 agreed in principle the issue of water equity among the NBI states, only four have ratified the treaty. It requires six for it to become a binding document. This is where the Agreement has stalled.

Egypt, thus is giving diplomatic effort a chance, and whose results are increasingly becoming visible.

So far issues of common agreement between Ethiopia and Egypt are emerging. Ethiopia has agreed to Egyptian position of extending filling of the reservoir from three years to seven. Ethiopia also agreed not to use GERD reservoir for consumptive purposes.

Both sides are also approaching the methodology in tackling sticking issues in a cautious manner.

Whilst Egypt prefers to resolve all issues related to the Dam like water sharing modalities and conflict resolution mechanism resolved in a single agreement, Ethiopia wants on a case by case basis.

Original article on Taarifa Rwanda

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