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Updated Feb 28, 2020

Another round of talks is taking place in Washington, D.C. about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the Blue Nile, this time to reach agreement on the rules for filling rates and operating procedures for the dam. Tripartite talks being brokered by the US and the World Bank between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia have been ongoing, but Ethiopia will not be attending the latest meeting, announced Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s special envoy, Hailemariam Desalegn, on February 25; instead, Abiy wishes to sign the deal only after Ethiopian general elections on August 29.


Why It Matters

In Ethiopia’s absence in Washington, D.C., it’s doubtful the deal will get signed. The construction of the dam is a long-held dream of Ethiopian authorities, as Africa’s second-most populous country is also one of the least electrified. Before talks began, threats of military action were issued between Egypt and Ethiopia, raising fears of a regional conflict breaking out that would dramatically destabilize the Horn of Africa.

A successful diplomatic resolution of this dispute will serve as a critical model to emulate for future disputes between nations over water rights. Climate change has already jeopardized steady access to water across the continent and is expected to get worse as dry seasons grow longer and droughts become more frequent, raising the specter of future resource conflicts over dwindling water supplies.


A Week Is a Long Time in Politics

Desalegn’s announcement that Ethiopia will skip the talks in Washington, D.C., came after he met with the head of Sudan’s transitional Sovereignty Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, on February 25, two days before the scheduled Washington meeting. 

Desalegn had met with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo on February 22, but a source within the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation told The East African that they had no prior warning of Ethiopia’s decision to miss the next round of discussions. 

Yasser Abbas, Sudan’s minister of irrigation and water resources, has said that the draft deal submitted by the US and the World Bank resolves the vast majority of the issues between Ethiopia and Egypt. Egypt was worried the dam could threaten water access if Ethiopia filled the GERD reservoir too quickly, whereas Ethiopia wants a shorter timeframe to fill so it can deliver on its energy promises to its people.

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