African Union urged to step in and settle Egypt-Ethiopia dam dispute

Addis Ababa objects to foreign involvement in Nile dam row after Egyptian appeal for Arab League intervention

The vast dam project on the Nile remains a source of contention between Ethiopia and Egypt. EPA
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Ethiopia will continue building its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile river, its Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, despite continuing protest from Egypt.

The comments appeared to respond to Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday calling on Arab nations to step in to settle the dispute over the dam.

An Ethiopian statement said that as "the Nile is an African river”, the dispute therefore must be settled through the African Union.

Mr Shoukry addressed an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Wednesday during which he invited the member states to put pressure on Ethiopia to stop its “unilateral and unco-operative practices and embrace the necessary political will to accept one of the compromise solutions offered on the negotiating table”.

Thursday's Ethiopian statement stressed that the dispute must stop being presented before non-African bodies such as the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League.

“It is an African dispute and its solution will be Africa,” it said.

Cairo, which fears that the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will jeopardise its share of vital Nile water, the primary source for the country’s 104 million population, has continuously appealed to foreign actors to mediate in the dispute with Addis Ababa.

However, this was the first time the Egyptians had brought the issue before an Arab coalition.

After repeated negotiations, the last round of which took place in 2021, both sides have thus far failed to reach a binding agreement on the dam’s operation. Addis Ababa hopes to use the dam to generate and sell electricity to its power-starved Nile-basin neighbours. It has repeatedly asserted that the dam is a necessity as 60 per cent of its people live without access to power.

Ethiopia has consistently refused to be bound by an agreement but said it was open to “recommendations” from Egypt on the running of the dam. It maintains it has rights over the river’s main tributary, the Blue Nile, due to its origin at the country's Lake Tana.

Mr Shoukry later said at a Wednesday news conference that Ethiopia must be made to realise that there is a joint Arab position on the dispute and that Addis Ababa has bilateral interests with Arab nations that it must safeguard.

“The dispute over the Renaissance Dam is linked to Arab national security,” he said.

Cairo has also completed a number of infrastructure projects for Nile-basin countries in a bid to gain their support in the dispute with Ethiopia.

In December, the Julius Nyerere dam, an Egyptian-made project in south-east Tanzania, underwent its first filling, which was lauded as a milestone in Egypt’s effort to bolster its foothold in Africa.

Additionally, Egyptian companies are building a number of other projects in Nile-basin countries including two solar power stations in Eritrea and another in Uganda.

Updated: March 09, 2023, 10:13 AM