Editorial: Technical Talks on GERD must and will succeed

1 Nov 2019

On 11thOctober 2019, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed. A first for the nation, the awarding of the 100thedition of the Prize is deserved recognition of Ethiopia’s indefatigable commitment to the mutually reinforcing causes of peace and reconciliation.

These commitments are further evidenced by Ethiopia’s role in the ongoing tripartite talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Since before the launch of the project in 2010, Ethiopia has consistently championed the right of all countries on the Nile to equitably and reasonably utilise its waters. In particular, this position was embodied by Ethiopia’s role in the establishment of the first and only all-inclusive basin-wide institution in the history of the River – the Nile Basin Initiative – and in its ratification of the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA). Ethiopia has remained an unflinching advocate for greater cooperation, negotiation and compromise on the Nile, in particular – a hallmark of our approach to all international challenges.

There are countless examples of this, but the case of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, is revealing. To begin with, the Project, though identified within Ethiopia as a potential development on the Blue Nile as early as the 1960s, owes its most recent genesis to the Eastern Nile Joint Multipurpose Project (JMP) programme launched by Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in 2005. The GERD site project was confirmed as offering significant benefits to all three countries, but the JMP process was abandoned by Egypt, forcing Ethiopia to pursue the project nationally.

Ethiopia’s desire to see the GERD to fruition has since seen it take a number of unprecedented steps to enhance trust, encourage dialogue and promote peace amongst Eastern Nile neighbours. In the first of these moves, Ethiopia, as part of the IPoE initiative, voluntarily invited technical experts from both Egypt and Sudan, as well as a group of independent international experts, to assess the impacts, if any, of the Dam. Upon the acceptance of the recommendations of the IPoE for further studies, Ethiopia together with Sudan and Egypt, hired two international engineering firms to conduct the remaining studies while tripartite technical consultations continued.

File Photo: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed with Egypt’s President Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi

In March 2015, these engagements yielded the Declaration of Principles on the GERD Declaration of Principles (DOP), signed in Khartoum by leaders from the three countries. In addition to the long-established international water principles on reasonable and equitable use, and the causing of no significant harm, the DOP also established principles of cooperation, development, trust-building and the peaceful settlement of disputes. In an effort to operationalise the principles of the DOP and allay the remaining concerns of the downstream states on the first filling and operation of the GERD, Ethiopia initiated the establishment of a National Independent Scientific Research Group, the NISRG, comprised of five technical experts from each country who have engaged in a series of tripartite technical talks aimed at developing options for the filling and operation of the GERD. Thus far, the NISRG has held five meetings, with Ethiopia displaying the degree of flexibility required to satisfy all countries.

Though there have been some bumps along the way, there must be acknowledgement of the nine-year journey to arrive at this point. Thanks, in large part, to Ethiopia’s longstanding commitment to cooperate, negotiate and compromise, the three countries are on the cusp of forging a win-win consensus on the GERD. This agreement should not be jeopardised by a return to short-termism or zero-sum approaches. The technical challenges of filling and operating the Dam can only be resolved through the existing mechanisms of cooperation, as embodied by the work of the NISRG to date.

The rights of one hundred million Ethiopians to live in dignity and security, cannot be compromised. A dignity that can only be secured by the extrication of our nation from the cruel cycle of poverty, fuelled by its current underdevelopment.

The Ethiopian Government has a duty to responsibly utilise all the resources at its disposal, including Nile waters, to meet the present and future needs of the citizens it represents.

Proposals intent on compromising the ability of the Government to fulfil this duty of care have no place in the good-faith negotiations we are currently engaged in with our neighbours on the Nile.

The awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to a citizen of the Nile should embolden and inspire our proud nations to settle these talks in the spirit of mutual respect and empathy – providing African solutions to African challenges – and empowering millions of lives as a result.

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