Egypt and Sudan to 'work closely' on dam dispute

The two nations are at odds with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly (R) welcomes his Sudanese counterpart Abdalla Hamdok upon his arrival in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on March 11, 2021.  Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia have been locked for almost a decade in inconclusive talks over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which broke ground in 2011.  / AFP / Selman Elotefy
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Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi on Tuesday agreed to “work closely” on the protracted dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project.

Mr Hamdok’s visit to Cairo took place less than a week after Mr El Sisi flew to Sudan on a milestone visit, capping Cairo’s intense courting of its southern neighbour after years of tension during the rule of dictator Omar Al Bashir, who was removed in 2019.

A presidential statement said the pair agreed their two countries should “work closely at this critical moment” to secure the involvement of regional and international powers in the pursuit of a resolution.

“The declared intention by Ethiopia to go ahead with a second filling leaves us very little to deal with the issue,” Mr Hamdok, standing next to the Egyptian leader, told reporters after the meeting. “But we are filled with hope that during this little time, we can manage to see the filling go ahead in a way that’s agreed upon.”

On March 4, the two countries signed a military co-operation agreement that crowned a series of joint war games and high-level visits amid pledges by the Egyptian military that it would rush to Sudan’s aid if needed.

Egypt and Sudan also intend to build a cross-border railway link, include energy-starved Sudan into Egypt’s power grid and start major agricultural and trade projects.

Years of negotiations between downstream Egypt and Sudan and Ethiopia over the hydroelectric dam have failed to produce a legally binding agreement on how much of the river’s water Addis Ababa should release during years of drought as well as on mechanisms to resolve disputes and govern its filling and operation.

The dispute has taken on added urgency since Ethiopia declared it would go ahead in July with a second and much larger filling of the dam, regardless of whether an agreement with Egypt and Sudan was in place.

A border dispute between Ethiopia and Sudan that led to a series of deadly clashes starting in December has fuelled tension in the region, with a full-blown border war now a possibility.

“We emphasise the preservation of the historical rights and interests of the two nations, so long as our brothers in Ethiopia are not hurt by that,” Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli told reporters after his Sudanese counterpart met Mr El Sisi.

“We are not against development in Ethiopia. We actually support it, but on condition that it does not hurt our two peoples.

“We are confident that this glorious river extends a hand of prosperity and progress to the three peoples,” he said.

Sudan insists that Ethiopia must share data on the operation of the dam to avoid flooding in its eastern region and avoid the disruption of work in its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the source of more than 80 per cent of the Nile's water.

Egypt fears the dam will rob it of a significant chunk of its share of the river’s water, on which it is heavily dependent. It has called the dam an “existential” threat to its 100 million people.

Ethiopia, whose highlands are home to the source of the Blue Nile, says the power generated by the dam will pluck millions of its people out of poverty and give it a surplus of power to export.

Negotiations between the three nations over the dam broke down late last year, and Sudan and Egypt now are demanding that a quartet of the US, UN, EU and the African Union join the negotiations when they resume as mediators.

Ethiopia has rejected the idea, arguing that the dam is an African problem that should be resolved by Africans alone.

Mr El Sisi on Tuesday said that while Egypt wanted the dispute resolved through diplomacy, it will not be negotiating indefinitely