Client Alerts

Client Alert: Egypt backs Sudan’s new proposal on Nile River Dam

Volterra Fietta Client Alert
23 March 2021

Introduction

On 6 February 2021, the Sudanese Supreme Committee of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (“SCGERD“) held a meeting, headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdouk (“Prime Minister Hamdok“), during which it was decided that Sudan should seek to involve the African Union (“AU“), the United Nations (“UN“), the European Union (“EU“) and the United States of America (“US“) as mediators in Ethiopia’s dispute with Sudan and Egypt regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (“GERD“).  The SCGERD’s request for a quadripartite mediation comes at a moment where negotiations between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the GERD have stalled and Ethiopia has announced its intention to conduct a second filling of the GERD in July 2021.

On 24 February 2021, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Sameh Shoukri (“Minister Shoukri“), announced Egypt’s support for Sudan’s proposal to involve the AU, the UN, the EU and the US as mediators in the GERD dispute.

On 15 March 2021, Prime Minister Hamdok wrote to the AU, the UN, the EU and the US to formally request their mediation in the GERD dispute.  In his letters, Prime Minister Hamdok expressed concern over Ethiopia’s stated intention of filling the GERD reservoir unilaterally for a second year, deeming this a threat to Sudan’s national security.  There has been no immediate response from the UN, the EU and the US regarding Sudan’s proposal and its endorsement by Egypt.  Ethiopia has recently indicated its opposition to adding mediators to the existing, AU-led process but has yet to comment on Prime Minister Hamdok’s formal call for external mediation.

 

Background

Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia have been locked for almost 10 years in inconclusive talks over the filling and operation of the GERD.  Relations between these three States have become increasingly strained, especially after Ethiopia began filling the GERD reservoir after the summer rains last year despite demands from Sudan and Egypt that it should first reach a binding agreement on the GERD’s operation.  Ethiopia envisages that the GERD, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023.  However, Sudan has voiced fears that the GERD could increase the risk of flooding and affect the safe operation of its own Nile River dams, if Ethiopia operates the GERD without coordinating with it.  Meanwhile, Egypt views the GERD as a potential threat to its freshwater supplies, more than 90 percent of which come from Nile waters.

Since last year, the AU has been mediating the talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the GERD dispute.  The latest three-way talks between these three States were held on 10 January 2021, in the presence of observers from the EU, UN and US, but failed to achieve any progress.  The dispute largely centres on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three States would settle any future disputes.  Egypt and Sudan also want a legally binding agreement to control the dam’s filling and operation, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines only.

 

Sudan’s proposal and Egypt’s support

On 6 February 2021, the SCGERD met to discuss the ongoing stalemate regarding the GERD negotiations with Ethiopia and Sudan’s proposal to bolster the AU mediation process by turning it into a quadripartite mediation track in which the UN, the EU, and the US are involved, along with the AU, as mediators instead of mere observers.  The meeting was held in the presence of Sudan’s Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, in addition to the Director of General Intelligence, the Director of Military Intelligence, the Ambassador of Sudan to Ethiopia, and members of Sudan’s negotiation team in the GERD dispute.  During this meeting, the SCGERD approved the proposal to seek a quadripartite mediation track for the GERD dispute.

Sudan’s proposal comes amid increased tensions between Addis Ababa and Khartoum in recent weeks following skirmishes at the Al-Fashaqa border region, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan.

On 24 February 2021, the Minister Shoukri announced Egypt’s support for Sudan’s proposal to involve the AU, the UN, the EU and the US as mediators in the GERD dispute.

During his 6 March visit to Sudan, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (“President el-Sisi“) warned against Ethiopia conducting a second filling of the GERD reservoir and rejected attempts by Ethiopia to ” impose a fait accompli and control the Blue Nile through unilateral measures that do not take into account the interests and rights of the two downstream countries”.

On 2 March 2021, in a joint press conference in Cairo, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Sudan called on the UN, the EU and the US to agree to a proposal that they act as mediators in the GERD dispute, along with the AU.

On 12 March 2021, Prime Minister Hamdok, visited Cairo to secure Egyptian diplomatic support for Sudan’s proposal.  During this visit, the Government of Egypt “renewed its support for the Sudanese proposal to stop direct talks and establish international mediation”.  On 15 March 2021, Prime Minister Hamdok wrote to the UN Secretary-General, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo who is acting as the Chairperson of the AU, the EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the US Secretary of State, requesting their mediation in the GERD process.

There has been no immediate response from the UN, the EU and the US regarding Sudan’s proposal and its endorsement by Egypt.  Ethiopia has recently indicated its opposition to adding mediators to the existing AU-led process after the floating of the idea by Sudan but has yet to comment on Prime Minister Hamdok’s formal call for external mediation.

 

Conclusion

Egypt’s strong support for Sudan’s proposal seems to confirm the growing cooperation between both States with regards to their dispute with Ethiopia concerning the GERD.  Indeed, the rapprochement between Sudan and Egypt and their joint position in favour of Sudan’s mediation proposal coincides with the first visit to Sudan by an Egyptian President since the removal of former President Omar al-Bashir nearly two years ago.  Egypt’s backing of the Sudanese quartet mediation proposal is a continuation of its efforts to diversify the scope of active participants in the resolution of the GERD dispute such that it includes non-African States and regional organisations.

It has been now more than two months since the three-way talks between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia stalled.  In the absence of an agreed course of action between these States, the GERD threatens to create a lasting rift between Ethiopia on one hand and Sudan and Egypt on the other hand – as downstream Nile basin States.  Sudan’s mediation proposal could constitute a way out of the present stalemate, especially if the AU, the UN, the EU and the new US administration engage promptly and actively with the three disputing States in trust-building endeavours as a prelude to eliciting the necessary concessions from these parties in order to reach a durable mediated solution.

 

For further information, please contact:

Robert Volterra (robert.volterra@volterrafietta.com)

Álvaro Nistal (Alvaro.Nistal@volterrafietta.com)