Ethiopia's position on the Tripartite Ministerial talks remains consistent

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Mekonen Dagnew (August 29, 2014)

The fourth Tripartite Ministerial Meeting of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) held in Khartoum was completed successful. Prof. Dr. Hossam Eldin Mohamed Moghazy, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation of Egypt; Alemayehu Tegenu, Minster of Water, Irrigation and Energy of Ethiopia; and Ambassador Mutaz Musa Abdalla Salim, Minister of Water Resources and Electricity of Sudan, attended the meeting which took place this week in Khartoum.

The joint statement of the three Ministers stated that they reached an agreement to establish a technical committee to conduct the two additional studies as recommended in the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) report.

It is to be recalled that the IPoE’s Final Report reconfirmed that:

"The design and construction of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam has been properly based on international design criteria and standards, codes, guidelines and engineering practices. The Panel’s report also showed that the GERDP will not have a significant impact on the downstream countries and that it will in fact, provide major benefits to all three countries.

The Panel did also recommend two further studies be carried out in the context of the Eastern Nile System. These were a water resource system/hydropower model and a trans-boundary environment and socio-economic impact study. It suggested these should be done through an agreed arrangement of the three countries, employing international consultants chosen through an international bidding process.”

As a result, the three Ministers met on November, December and January to make arrangements for the implementations of the recommendations. However, the third round of trilateral meetings held on January failed to reach agreement due to irrelevant and unacceptable demands made by Egypt that was then rejected by Ethiopia and Sudan.

Since then, the tripartite Water Ministers’ talks were frozen. However, recently, hopeful signs started to be seen from Egypt side.
Last June, on the margins of the 23rd African Union Summit in Malabo, Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, and the new Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi held discussions covering a wide range of bilateral, regional and continental issues.

High on the agenda was the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and Prime Minister Hailemariam reaffirmed Ethiopia’s determination to ensure the project provided mutual benefit. He repeated his assurances that the construction of the Dam would pose no significant harm to Egyptians, as has been clearly stated by the report of the International Panel of Experts, emphasizing that the construction of the Dam is solely for power generation.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi renounced the past practices of former Egyptian governments to try to destabilize Ethiopia and declared that his administration would not continue these “obsolete practices.” On the contrary, he vowed to oppose any anti-Ethiopia forces bent on destabilizing the country. Prime Minister Hailemariam welcomed and commended the new Egyptian administration’s will to cooperate and to encourage collaboration.

In a joint statement on the outcome of the discussion, read by Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, and Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to enhance bilateral relations based on the principles of cooperation, mutual respect and the achievement of common interests.

They also agreed to start preparatory work for a Bilateral Joint Commission with the aim of implementing this within the next three months. The two sides agreed to respect the principles of dialogue and cooperation as the means to achieve the necessary win-win scenarios and provide priority to establish regional projects to meet the rising demand for water and to mitigate water shortages. Both countries also agreed to respect the principles of international law and immediately resume participation in the Tripartite Committee on the Grand Renaissance Dam. This would allow for the implementation of the recommendations of the International Panel of Experts (IPoE). It would also provide for acceptance of the joint technical studies recommended in the IPOE final report throughout the implementation phase of the project. The joint statement also revealed that a decision had been taken to form a Higher Committee to look at all dimensions and elements of the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt at bilateral and regional levels in the areas of politics, economics, social affairs and security.

After reading the joint statement, Dr. Tedros Adhanom stressed the meeting would open a new era of partnership between Ethiopia and Egypt. “This is a very good beginning, as we have been saying Nile should be a symbol of cooperation and collaboration”, he added. Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, said the meeting had provided an opportunity for both leaders to demonstrate their commitment to development to the peoples of Ethiopia and Egypt. He also noted that the spirit in which the discussions had been conducted on both sides and the substance of the discussions pointed to a more positive future, replacing the troubled past relationship.

The new positive signs from Cairo enabled the resumption of the talks and the fourth Tripartite Ministerial Meeting was successfully held this week.

As usual, some Egyptian media are misrepresenting the nature and content of the agreements reached. They claimed that:
"Ethiopia agreed to be bound by the findings of the consultancy company".

"Ethiopia will finish the first phase as scheduled by September 2015 and will then take into consideration the findings of the consultancy agency."
"the dimensions or length of the dam needed to fill its reservoir as these items will be the responsibility of the committee."
"Egypt's approval of the dam is pending upon the results of international studies that all three countries agreed upon during the meetings."
"all three countries have agreed to wait for the results of the international committee that we agreed upon," the minister explained to MENA."
"the Ethiopian side has agreed that all parties should abide by the results of the advisory committee".

These statements are misleading and inaccurate from several angles.
First, Ethiopia has always been willing to implement the recommendations of the IPOE.
In fact, last year, the Minister for Water, Irrigation and Energy, Mr. Alemayehu Tegenu, affirmed that most of the recommendations have been finalized in accordance with the directions suggested by the IPoE. He noted that most of these were essentially related to the engineering, procurement and construction elements (EPC) of the GERD project. In fact, the very nature of EPC contracts demands periodic and phase-by-phase review of design documents based on up-dated findings of hydrological, geo-technical and geological work as construction proceeds.

In other words, most of the recommendations were made not because of any faults found in the design but were related to the periodic nature of the studies. Indeed, in that regard, since the IPoE’s term ended before the preparation of the Level 2 design updates and reports, one of the recommendations was that these should to be prepared as part of the follow-up process. Accordingly, Ethiopia did in fact prepare the Level 2 reports as part of the relevant engineering, procurement and construction contracts, in effect anticipating the recommendations of the IPoE."

Secondly, Ethiopia's current position is consistent with her previous stance. As it is to be recalled, the reasons for the break-down of the third round of Tipatriate Ministerial talks were explained by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time. The Ministry, prompted by the misleading claims on Egypt media, issued a statement on January with the aim of providing the true and accurate account of the proceedings of the tripartite meeting and elaborating the background and current status of the Tripartite Water Ministers’ talks.

The statement revealed that the matters discussed at the Third Tripartite Meeting focused mainly on two issues tabled by the Egyptian delegation.
The first of the two issues was:

The setting up of an international panel of experts. Egypt proposed that a new international panel of experts (IE) should be set up in parallel to the establishment of the committee of national experts and that this should start work at the same time with the committee of national experts. In the event that there were differences among members of the committee of national experts, the three Water Ministers should resolve the matter and if they failed, the differences should automatically be referred to the proposed IE, to provide a technical opinion for the ministers. In addition, the IE would also assist the committee of national experts. Egypt’s final point was that this international panel of experts should not be established by consensus.

Ethiopia made it clear it did not see any justification for employing an additional international panel of experts in addition to the international consultants that would carry out the two studies recommended by the IPoE. However, for the sake of compromise and in the interest of promoting cooperation, the Ethiopian delegation agreed to the employment of an international panel of experts under certain conditions. The first was that the committee of national experts should prepare the procedures for the employment of the IE and the rules of procedure for its functioning. Secondly, that the IE should be engaged after the completion of the two studies. It also said that in the event of differences over issues raised in the final report of the two studies, the ministers should resolve them amicably and only if the ministers failed to do this to refer the matters to the IE to provide a technical opinion. The final point was that the IE should be chosen by consensus of the three ministers.

The Egyptian delegation did not provide sufficient explanation or justification why an IE should be engaged in parallel to the establishment of the agreed committee of national experts. It argued that the IE could resolve differences among members of the committee of national experts and even suggested the IE could act as an adjudication body whose decision should be binding on the three countries. These arguments were found illogical and deemed unacceptable by the delegations of both Ethiopia and Sudan. Egypt then withdrew them and put forward the alternative that the role of the IE should be that of technical assistance for the committee of national experts, but the delegation failed to suggest any situation in which the IE could play such a role. Indeed, in a situation where the two studies recommended by the IPoE are going to be undertaken by international consultancy firms and the necessary follow up made by 12 national experts from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, the reason for Egypt’s insistence on employing additional international experts is not clear.

The second issue tabled by Egypt referred to “principles for confidence building”. The statement elaborated:

The principles referred to issues that contradict the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) which Ethiopia has recently ratified and which has also been signed by six other upper Nile riparian countries. Ethiopia declined to discuss these so-called “confidence building principles” as they were irrelevant to the agreed agenda of the meeting and to the mandate of the delegations present. The delegations of Ethiopia and Sudan repeatedly explained to the Egyptian delegation that the mandate and the agenda of the Third Tripartite Meeting was to establish appropriate mechanisms to follow-up the implementation of the IPoE report and to resolve issues that had not been agreed at the two earlier meetings. They also made it clear that confidence building measures should be expressed in action and not in meaningless phrases that had nothing to do with the issues at hand.

The Ethiopian delegation underlined the fact that the Ethiopian Government had made an unprecedented move in opening up the GERD project, in providing over 150 study and design documents for the two downstream countries and providing opportunities of project site visits. The Government had also shown its commitment to openness by accepting the report of the IPoE and in implementing the recommendations related to dam engineering and safety in a timely manner as well as agreeing to jointly conduct the two studies recommended by the IPoE. All these are very practical confidence building measures. Anything similar on the part of Egypt has been lacking.

Thirdly, the agreement reached this week is nothing but consistent with the IPOE report and the position of Ethiopia in the previous rounds of the Tripartite Ministerial meetings.

As explained by spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry Amb. Dina Mufti, the Ministers agreed to form a committee consisting 12 members, four from each country, to conduct joint assessment about social and environmental impacts of the dam on downstream countries.
The establishment of the group and conducting joint assessment on the dam will be a good opportunity for Ethiopia to prove that the dam wouldn't pose any negative impact on the downstream countries.

Similarly, the joint statement of the Ministers states that the proposed Tripartite National Committee (TNC) comprising four experts from each country will conduct the studies recommended by the Panel. The studies will cover a Water Resources/Hydropower System Simulation Model and a Trans-boundary Environmental and Socio-Economic Impact Assessment.

The TNC will conclude its work within six months starting from the 1st of September and the studies will be implemented according to an agreed timetable by International Consultancy Firms as per "Draft Scope of Work" presented in the IPoE final report.
The Ministers also agreed on the nomination of International Experts who would be able to provide technical opinions in case there are disagreements among the Ministers over the outcome of the two studies.

At last, it shall me noted that Ethiopia’s approach to the GERD Project, as it has repeatedly emphasized, is essentially based on the principles of four pillars: a win-win approach, equitable and reasonable utilization, no significant harm and genuine cooperation. The sole objectives of the GERD are poverty eradication and enhanced regional integration.

Energy generation from the GERD will enhance regional and economic integration through power interconnectedness, demonstrating regional cooperation, trust and confidence building. In addition, among the major benefits to downstream countries, GERD will hold back a very substantial element of the huge quantities of sediments carried by the Blue Nile.

This will significantly increase the reservoir capacity of the Aswan High Dam as well as protecting irrigation canals and equipments from damage in both Sudan and Egypt. It will check the destructive floods that have so often hit downstream countries by regulating the flow of the Nile throughout the year and will support the flow arriving at High Aswan Dam.

GERD, in fact, will have multi-fold beneficial applications throughout the region. Its completion and success will provide a source of hope, power and prosperity for the region and a very real symbol of regional integration.

As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a few months ago:

The GERD is a flagship project of the Government and people of Ethiopia. The project is based on detailed studies by internationally renowned consultants and the decision to commission the construction of the project was made after fully ascertaining the project’s technical and socio-economic viability.

The People and Government of Ethiopia are financing the GERDP. The GERDP will be completed as planned and no one should be under any illusion that the resolve of the Ethiopian people will weaken or change.