By Desta Gebrehiwot
With Sudan dilly-dallying over the latest Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Tripartite (GERD) talks, experts cast their doubt if Khartoum’s actions represent the country’s genuine interests while signaling potential intervention and pressure from a third party.
Sudan’s latest behaviors are stark departures from its previous approaches which the country has been sticking to for years, according to experts as they put forth a strong argument that third parties are pushing the country into having ill-disposed positions over the talks.
Talks over the colossal dam have been broken several times mainly due to the actions of Egypt and Sudan, protracting the chance of producing any meaningful agreement among the three countries. Particularly, the latest talks have been stalled as Sudan falter on the AU led negotiation presenting various concerns and demands. But many label Sudan’s acts as unjust and invalid spearheaded by a third party’s interests in an effort to push back any possible deal.
At the heart of controversies is the role of mediators and observers under the auspicious of the African Union in the dam talks. The three riparian countries failed to agree on the role that the African Union, the European Union, and the United States can play in ending the eight-year trilateral talks over the filing of the Grand Renaissance Ethiopian Dam.
In a press release, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) stated that the virtual meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ministers of Water Affairs of the tripartite countries was conducted on 10 January 2021. The meeting was presided over by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa and Chairperson of the AU Executive Council. After weeks of the statement, the delegation of Sudan insisted on having bilateral meetings with AU assigned experts rejecting trilateral meetings of the parties.
Yet, on last Sunday’s meeting, Sudan refused to have the bilateral meeting with the AU assigned experts as proposed by the AU chair, putting enhancement of the TOR of the experts as a prerequisite, says a statement from Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Sudan is breaking away from its years of approach in the talks under the new leadership. Perhaps its internal matters are playing to the GERD talks which are resulting in consistent flipping on its stand. The country is maybe working to ensure the interest of Egypt in exchange for the possible lifting of sanctions imposed by the US, says an expert under the condition of anonymity.
“Khartoum has been caught between US pressure for making peace with Israel and the quest for the lifting of sanctions. The quickly changing Sudan’s varying positions are the result of these factors “Under the principle of scratch my and I will scratch yours, Sudan is trying to side with Egypt in return for the lifted sanctions.”
Egypt does not have trust in African institutions and it rather sees benefits by aligning with Middle East countries. Egypt had no option but to join the AU brokered talks, however, it is dragging its feet to disrupt any possible win-win agreement. It wants the AU to play a passive role or become a weak party in the negotiation, he added.
“Unlike, Egypt, Sudan has more respect for African institutions but the country has come under the influence of other countries.”
Since recently, things have gone awry with Sudan. Though Sudan is a close neighbor to Ethiopia, its recent actions that would fracture its relation with Ethiopia are emboldened by Egypt. According to Dr. Yilma Sileshi, lecturer of Hydro Engineering at Addis Ababa University said that even if GERD brings lots of benefits to the country, the country is now engaged in hostile activities as a result of the consequential and unholy alliance it has entered with Cairo. Sudan and Egypt’s recent inconsistencies on the talks are not of coincidences rather a well-calculated joint move to deter the construction of Ethiopia’s flagship project.
The two countries’ alliance has become a setback to the tripartite talks over the GERD, a project that supplies Sudan with cheap electricity and curtails flooding risks. Ethiopia has no legal mandate to negotiate over its sovereign project. The negotiation in fact was introduced to create trust among the downstream countries and clear confusion. If things remain the same from both sides, Ethiopia has no option but to go ahead with the construction.
The role of any third party should be neutral and impartial to the negotiating parties. It will be a mistake, and hence, damaging if any third party becomes biased to one or another negotiating party. In a situation of negotiations, third parties may offer a good office to support and promote fair conduct of the negotiations between the parties. There is no benefit for any of the parties in delaying the talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a dam which in fact was carefully conceived, designed, and constructed, said Prof. Yacob Arsano, Hydro-Politics Lecturer at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Addis Ababa University.
“It is obvious that Ethiopia cannot afford to further delay or postpone the country’s development plans. There are clear indicators that both Sudan and Egypt will benefit from GERD’s completion. Hence, there is no benefit for Sudan or Egypt by delaying the on-going GERD talks,” according to Prof. Yacob.
Negotiation over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been ongoing for over years now yet no deal has been produced mainly due to Egypt’s actions that continue till this day. The latest talks come to an end without an agreement as Egypt rejected the proposal presented by AU assigned experts.
In fact, the issue of GERD has dominated the diplomatic sphere in the Nile Basin region with Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt finding themselves at loggerheads. Despite the fact that most of the agendas on the filling and operation of the dam are agreed upon, the tripartite negotiations have failed to bring a final or comprehensive agreement. And, On Monday, the scheduled virtual meeting of Ministers Water Affairs of Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan could not be held due to the non-attendance of the delegation of Sudan, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ethiopia has notified this development to the chairperson of the AU Executive Council.
In spite of the failed talks, Ethiopia has remained an ardent supporter of the diplomatic approach to settle differences on the GERD issues. While Africa Union also has also announced that its experts will back the negotiation through presenting scientific alternatives, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation has reaffirmed that lately that amidst differences, Ethiopia will continue to strengthen diplomatic conversations while preserving the next generation’s interest. Ethiopia has clearly announced that non-African solutions could not end the disagreement and demands to strengthen the role of African experts and institutions as its foreign policy prioritizes Africans. Ethiopia’s positions are clear and strong when it comes to African institutions.
source Ethiopian Herald,