Date: Wednesday, 05 July 2017
July 4, 2017 - Despite the calm over Ethiopia's grand dam project, Egypt is still trying to use its advantage to control the technical process at the heart of the Ethiopian Dam, according to an article published on Madamasr.
Cairo has recently submitted a draft of a general statement to the basin members regarding Ethiopia's earlier commitment to fill the dams reservoir over a period of five years. The Egyptian government sees the five-year period as less than ideal. According to sources at Egypts Foreign Ministry, the real battle in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam talks will be fought over the timeframe in which the dam will be filled. It is a battle, the sources say, which Egypt has to win decisively by pushing the time period to seven years, if it hopes to minimize expected damage.
According to diplomatic sources, the draft of the formal statement submitted in Uganda was only part of Egypts wider aims to intervene in the political process surrounding the dam's construction.
Earlier this year, Ethiopia sought to persuade Egypt to sign a bilateral agreement that would have cemented terms to fill the dam over a five-year period. It was a proposal that Cairo had initially judged to be sensible, before the majority of concerned parties agreed that Cairo should not go forward with an agreement that would have stemmed any remaining legal right to contest Ethiopias lack of commitment to the cooperative framework on the technical procedures of the construction of the dam and the test filling of its reservoir.
Ethiopian sources, as cited in the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, state that Addis Ababa is preparing to begin to fill the Renaissance Dams reservoir next July over a five-year period, without waiting for the completion of the technical study conducted by the French consulting companies, which is trained on testing the dam's effect on the water flow from the Blue Nile to the High Dam lake.
This decision has not gone unaddressed by the Egyptian government. A source at the Foreign Ministry tells Mada Masr that deputy Foreign Minister Hamdy Loza summoned Ethiopias ambassador to Cairo, Taye Atske-Selassie, in early June to send a sharp and clear message regarding Egypts anger at Addis Ababas retreat from its commitment to postpone filling the dam until after an understanding has been reached on a number of technical issues related to the construction of the dam, its capacity and storage mechanism details.
According to the source, the decision to summon Atske-Selassie was meant to serve two goals: First, it was intended to send a clear message that Cairo is alarmed by Ethiopia beginning the trial phase; and second, it aimed to prevent Cairo from shifting its position from containment to escalation, which is the reason the issue was not tackled in the media through the Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
According to a Foreign Ministry authority working on the Renaissance Dam file who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, Foreign Minister Sameh Shokry is also aiming to prompt a realignment in the Nile Basin, by affecting change in the position of a sufficient number of member states in the Nile Basin Initiative to re-launch the initiative on a new basis that would see members agree on two issues. First, that none of the member states can start a project on the banks or the pathway of the river without the consensus of member states; and second, that any projects launched by a member state without prior warning will be suspended.
The points which Cairo believes it can garner support from its Nile Basin neighbors remain general, and include seeking to maximize the benefit of Nile resources through joint projects, and talk of the right of all people on the banks of the Nile to life, development and mutual benefit.
The proposal was met with strong support by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, according to the Foreign Ministry source familiar with the Renaissance Dam file, and the result of Shoukrys communication with the Nile Basin countries. The source says that Museveni spoke directly with Sisi days before the summit, promising continued support until an agreement that ensures Egypt is immune to an acute water crisis is reached before Ethiopia begins the process of filling the reservoir in the summer of 2018.
The ministry source, however, says that Museveni's efforts in support of Egypts proposal amounted to little, as the majority of the Nile Basin countries stand behind Ethiopia, for reasons that range from the possible benefit they might secure through favorable electricity export prices the new dam will facilitate to setting a precedent that they could cite if they wanted to pursue water projects on the Nile in the future without having to notify Egypt.
Official figures indicate that Egypts annual per capita water consumption has fallen from 2,526 cubic meters in 1947 to 663 cubic meters in 2013, placing the country below the United Nations water security line. The UN forecasts that Egypt will be in a state of water scarcity by 2025, when average consumption will fall to 500 cubic meters per capita.
Egypt announced its decision to freeze its membership in the Nile Basin Initiative in 2010 after five upstream member states signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement that would reallocate Nile water quotas without Egypts involvement. The parties to the agreement asserted that the framework by which Egypt is allocated 56 billion cubic meters of water per year was signed in the 1950s, before most of the concerned states gained their independence.
The five signatories to the NBI in 2010 were Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. The following year, Burundi joined the agreement, taking the number of Nile Basin Agreement members states party to the NBI to six and thereby ensuring a majority that could push for a new framework agreement, a move which Egypt rejects to come into effect once each country's parliament adopts the international deal.