Ethiopia to start filling contentious Nile dam in two weeks as AU takes over negotiations

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam under construction

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have agreed to an African Union-led negotiation to resolve the outstanding issues in the operationalisation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

In a Bureau of AU Heads of State meeting convened by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the AU chairman, the three countries agreed to postpone the filling of the GERD reservoir “until after the signing of an agreement” and negotiations to begin at the level of the technical committees to reach at an agreement within two weeks, which is proposed by Ethiopia.

The meeting was attended by President Abdel Fattah-Al Sisi of Egypt, Ethiopia PM Abiy Ahmed, Sudan PM Abdalla Hamdok and AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki.

“The leaders underscored that the Nile and the GERD are African issues that must given African solutions… The meeting set directions on the way forward. Accordingly, the three countries have agreed to conclude the negotiation and try to reach and agreement within the next two weeks,” a statement by Ethiopia’s Office of the Prime Minister on Saturday said.

Ethiopia, however, appears adamant it will go ahead with the filling of its $5 billion hydro dam after the two weeks.

“Ethiopia is scheduled to begin filling the GERD within the next two weeks, during which the remaining conduction work will continue. It is in this period that the three countries have agreed to reach a final agreement few pending matters,” the statement said.

When complete, the Grand Renaissance Dam, which Ethiopia is building, will be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power plant.

Its construction began in 2011 on the Blue Nile tributary in the northern Ethiopia highlands, from where 85 per cent of the Nile’s waters flow.

However, the mega dam has caused a row between Egypt and Ethiopia, with Sudan caught in between, which some fear could lead to war.

The US has been mediating the matter.

The meeting also resolved to inform the UN Security Council that the AU has taken over the matter.

AU member states as well as those of the Bureau have been urged to offer technical support for the negotiations.

The three countries were also urged to stop escalating the matter through the media.

Why is it contentious?


At the centre of the dispute are plans to fill up the mega dam as Egypt fears the project will allow Ethiopia to control the flow of Africa’s longest river.

Hydroelectric power stations do not consume water, but the speed with which Ethiopia fills up the dam’s reservoir will affect the flow downstream.

The longer it takes to fill the reservoir, which is going to be bigger than Greater London with a total capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, the less impact there will be on the level of the river.

Ethiopia wants to do it in six years.

“We have a plan to start filling on the next rainy season, and we will start generating power with two turbines on December 2020,” Ethiopia’s Water Minister Seleshi Bekele said in September last year.

But Egypt has proposed a longer period – so that the level of the river does not dramatically drop, especially in the initial phase of filling the reservoir.

Three-way talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over operating the dam and filling its reservoir have made no progress in more four years – which the US has now been trying to mediate.

Seleshi has accused Egypt of having no intention of reaching a deal.

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