GERD Dam talks: Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt talks mired in uncertainty

Sudan expressed frustrations as negotiations stalled, while Egypt and Ethiopia blame Sudanese objections for the recent impasse. 

Another round of talks aiming to break the stalemate over the GERD Nile dam has broken down. Construction of the US$5 billion GERD dam on the Blue Nile has brought about unease among Egypt and Sudan since 2011, as both countries worry about its effect on freshwater supply downstream. 

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Ethiopia began filling and operating the reservoir in July facing stiff opposition. Despite the endless back and forth between diplomats and negotiators from the three countries, they have failed to reach an acceptable agreement that can resume negotiations. 

Khartoum strongly objected to the January 8 letter sent from Ethiopia to the African Union expressing intent to fill the dam for the send year in July (about 13.5 million cubic meters of water) regardless of the outcome of negotiations. 

Also read: All you need to know about the GERD dam

In a publicly shared tweet, Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas expressed displeasure in the talks he describes as a “vicious cycle of circular talks” that seem to go on “indefinitely”. He also pointed out the negative impacts of the dam’s construction on drinking water solutions in Sudan. 

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In separate statements, Ethiopia and Egypt both seemed to blame Sudan for stalling the negotiations. According to the Ethiopian foreign ministry, Sudan objected to the terms of reference of the African Union observers despite previously insisting on the participation of those experts. The refusal to include AU experts in the meeting effectively halted the negotiations. Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s foreign minister, currently chairing the African Union, expressed regret in the deal reaching a dead-end. 

Ethiopia has prioritized the construction of the GERD dam as a vital pillar of the country’s economic and energy independence. As Africa’s second-most populous nation, Ethiopia intends to utilize the power generated to admit half of its population to the national grid. Egypt has been against it from the start citing adverse effects on the water security of countries downstream. 

Sudan’s geographical position puts it in a peculiar situation where they can benefit from the dam while at the same time worry over other dams within their borders.