“There is nothing that interrupts the flow of water to the up-streamers”

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This week, the Houses of Peoples' Representatives (HPR) heard the report on the progress of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the Ethiopia's flagship project spearheaded by the Ministry of Water, Energy and Irrigation (MoWEI).
Alemayehu Tegenu, minister, updated parliamentarians not only on the current progress of the dam construction but also on the work of the International Panel of Experts and the tripartite negotiation with Sudan and Egypt. Feke Ahmed, trans-boundary water project head at MoWEI, accompanied the Minister. According to his report, 30 percent of the construction has been completed so far.  A concrete filling plant for the saddle dam is being planted and will be completed very soon, Alemayehu said. “When we see the construction of two saddle dams, both are progressing well at this stage. The saddle dam on the right side alone has a height of 50 meters and a length of 5.2 km.”
“Being the highest supervisory body of the Renaissance dam, MoWEI has played a crucial rule in coordinating and establishing the international panel of experts that would assess the impact of the dam for riparian nations. We are working together with the Ethiopian diaspora, those backing our right to use the water. Various activities have been carried out to gain support for the construction” the minister reported. “The work we have done in the diplomatic front is quite apparent in the case of Sudan. We have already secured strong support from upper-stream countries. We are delivering appropriate information and reports to them in relation to the dam. We are also working on strengthening the position of the upper stream countries. The Nile basin cooperation is working at technical and ministerial levels,” Feke added.
The report also calls on the public and parliament to advertise the position of the Ethiopian government on the Nile issue and, to foil any counterproductive campaign against the Ethiopia's plan to build the GERD.
After Feke’s report, the Speaker of the HPR, Abadula Gemeda, opened the floor for MPs. Following are a few selected questions and the response given by Alemayehu.

Question: Recently, various media reported Egypt’s interest to build the dam jointly by quoting its Prime Minister during a meeting held in Kuwait City. What does this imply? Is there any truth behind the report? And what political meaning does such a proposition have?
Alemayehu Tegenu: Regarding the bilateral talks between Egypt and Ethiopia in Kuwait, leaders of the two countries discussed many issues pertaining to the Nile. From the Egyptian side, the content of the tripartite talks among water ministers of the three countries in Khartoum was of interest. Most importantly, our objection to the idea that proposes the panel of experts to be incorporated into the joint committee was raised by the Egyptian leader. Since it was the interest of the Egyptians for the committee to incorporate members of the panel of experts, our prime minister was  asked by his Egyptian counterpart why Ethiopia objected idea. On our part, we have already made it clear to our leader why we were opposed to the proposal and hence the prime minister clearly articulated our stance on the matter. Apart from that, why Ethiopia could not accept the Egyptian proposal to monitor the dam project jointly was also clearly stated in the discussion. All in all, we can say that our longstanding stance on the Nile came out at this discussion.

When we scrutinize members of the international panel of experts, they mostly comprise western countries with only one coming from South Africa. These western experts are from countries that are usually against our ideology. They were once trying to hurt our interest, though they eventually turned in our favor. Egypt also had been struggling to select these experts from the very beginning. What was the rationale behind you to pick them as member of the experts? Apart from Egypt desire to recruit them, what was the reason that you did not try to select more experts from our friendly nations in the east, like China?
Regarding the question why we did not push for the composition of the international panel of experts to incorporate experts from our strategic friends instead of being dominated by the experts from the west, from the start, the only condition we had was just the independence of the panel. We were not looking for a panel that included our friends or excluded those that are not; we only demanded its independence. All we needed was for the experts to reflect only their professional opinions. We only wanted their pure professional view in their respective disciplines: engineering, economics, social environmental and the like. So, we focused on their curricular vitae whether they are capable to assess the impact of the dam for the all the countries involved. To begin with, it left absolutely no room for possible disagreement between the countries concerned. Apart from that, a lot of wrangling and disagreement was encountered at the panel session. Luckily, we already had made enough preparations to rebuke any negative sentiments and one-sided opinions, and set the record straight on the panel. Finally, I think agreeing to purely independent professional panel had paid off for that in a way that the report was one that brought out the truth that we had always tried to make known. Also, some of issues that were mentioned on the reports, for instance, one pertaining to engineering procurement construction contracts were issues that we were thinking of implementing.

The diplomatic effort you had is very commendable and the request you made to this parliament to support the dam is appropriate. But is there a clear way that you are able to translate your effort into a practical result?
On the diplomatic front, I can say that it is being handled with extra care. In fact, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a new directorate under the ministry to deal with diplomatic matters concerning trans-boundary resources. In addition to that we have also incorporated two senior ambassadors in the national team of experts to expert the necessary push on the diplomatic front. To gauge the work that is being done on the diplomatic front, it will suffice to see the progress in the ratification of the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) among the signatory countries. So far, Rwanda and Burundi have ratified the CFA, while the document has reached the parliament in both Kenya and Tanzania for possible ratification in the near future. With regard to Uganda, the process is rolling. However, they said that they are waiting  until there is a formal government in Egypt. The diplomatic work with riparian states in this regard is done at three different levels. The first one is the relationship at expert level, while the other two are at ministerial and head-of-state levels. So, apart from ratification of the CFA document, these diplomatic efforts at multiple levels can also be used to evaluate the diplomatic work that is being done. However, apart from the MoFA, national panel of experts and my ministry, all of us, including this parliament, have a responsibility to publicize the position of Ethiopia on the Nile waters. In various international venues Ethiopia's rights to use its water resources should be made known. When we say we should use our water, it should also be clear that we intend to use the water with due consideration to the rights of downstream nation to do the same. This is also important locally, especially when MPs go back to their respective constituencies.

What is the understanding of the international panel of experts towards Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract? Of course, it’s flexible and good from our side, how do they evaluate it?
With regard to engineering procurement construction contract, the international panel of experts do have a good understanding as to what EPC really is. EPC contract incorporates studying the project, design it and constructing, which makes it well suited to deal with issues that might rise along the process. However, points raised by the Egyptians like the project was not adequately studied was a deliberate attempt to foil the projects’ name. Knowing that EPC’s approach, which is designed to tackle and make corrections while working on the project, the Egyptians tried to use a diversionary argument which says a dam of this size should not leave any doubts; the study of each and every impact should have been completed before any sort of work had started. But, the recommendation of the experts shows that they knew what EPC is and that we not persuaded by such arguments.

Meanwhile, we have noted that the Egyptian media and their scholars were performing better than our respective sides. The Egyptian side were making better effort than ours’ to defend Egypt's interest. Similarly, as compared to Egyptians, our diplomatic effort was not able to go beyond the regular diplomacy. What would be your reaction on the matter?
With regard to the Egyptian media, we have to note that, when we say Egyptian media, we are referring to 30 and 40 media houses that carry a story about the Nile one way or the other. As much as possible, we try to evaluate what they write in these outlets every day. When it is deemed necessary, we try to counter wrong and false information that is being disseminated by these media outlets. This is also the same for our Egyptian counterpart. They too monitor activities in our media outlets. As far as we are concerned, we think that the Nile is a national issue which means it is equally owned by both the public and independent media in Ethiopia. Although the public media have exerted considerable effort to publicize Ethiopia stance on the Nile, there seems to be a lot remaining from the side of the independent media in Ethiopia. We understand that the Egyptians have done a lot of work in creating awareness that reflects the views of their government. In this regard, the Ethiopia media should play its role in terms of reaching the Egyptian people, and make it known that the Ethiopian government and people do not have the desire to take away its source of water. It should be advertised that our only intention is to put a dent on poverty. While doing that we are also aware that Egyptian people have the need to use the water of the Nile too. And, we are asking to develop this resource with this mutual benefit in mind. For instance, it has to be known, Ethiopia do not own any irrigable land between the dam and the Sudan where the water continues its journey upstream. There is nothing that interrupts the flow of water to the up-streamers. It is used for power generation, after that we have no use for it. Plus, the dam will also help regulate the water for up-streamer countries. The Egyptian people should have this information. Hence, though we are expected to give adequate information for local population as well, the basic work should be about making sure Egyptians know the facts of the mater.

On the basis of this, since the Egyptians are expressing their stand in various ways, they are working hard by leaking information to openly campaign against us. So don't you think that it’s naive to think they can simply accept our request?
On the other hand, we do not naively believe that Egyptians would accept what we are saying automatically. What we are working on is the trust and cooperation between countries. We can admit that we have actually made progress in some areas, and this can be encouraging to pursue cooperation. Let alone at this stage, we have negotiated with Egypt for 10 years before CFA, and still Egypt did not accept the agreement; still we hope they will come around. It can be remembered that Sudan also had the same stance when it comes to CFA. But now Sudan have returned to CFA and is expected to sign this agreement in a very short time. So, the best course of action is to call on Egypt to cooperate.
Thus far we have good cooperation with Sudan, and will hope to continue this. The way we see it, Sudan will benefit from both Nile and Tekeze dams, since the main irrigable land in the region is found nowhere better than in the Sudan.

Still, Egypt does not want to see the dam to be built. They also try to propose preconditions but all these are unacceptable from Ethiopia's side. What should be its fate at the end? What will be your next step and what will the study reveal?
There are also a few rumors saying that the upstream countries have the desire to participate in the dam construction. Officially, I do not know of any request from a country for such joint ownership or participation in the dam construction. Anyway, as the late prime minister had said Ethiopians are the sole engineers, financiers and owners of this project. I have come across this same question in Khartoum from members of the press. But, we have underlined this same position to the Sudanese press as well.   (Ethiopian Reporter)