Defying Egypt And Sudan, Ethiopia Hits Second-Year Target For Filling Nile Mega-Dam

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a worker goes down a construction ladder at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

 

Ethiopia said Monday it had attained its second-year target for filling a mega-dam on the Blue Nile River that has stoked tensions with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

“The first filling already was done last year. The second one is already done today. So today or tomorrow, second filling will be announced,” an official told AFP, adding there is now enough water stored to begin producing energy.

Water Minister Seleshi Bekele later confirmed the milestone, which officials had earlier predicted would come in August.

In a post on Twitter, he attributed the accelerated timeline to “extreme rainfall” in the Blue Nile basin.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been at the centre of a regional dispute ever since Ethiopia broke ground on the project in 2011.

Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a threat because of their dependence on Nile waters, while Ethiopia deems it essential for its electrification and development.

Talks held under the auspices of the African Union (AU) have failed to yield a three-way agreement on the dam’s filling and operations, and Cairo and Khartoum have demanded Addis Ababa cease filling the massive reservoir until such a deal is reached.

But Ethiopian officials have argued that filling is a natural part of the dam’s construction process and cannot be stopped.

Energy generation

The UN Security Council met earlier this month to discuss the project, although Ethiopia later slammed the session as an “unhelpful” distraction from the AU-led process.

Egypt claims a historic right to the Nile dating from a 1929 treaty that gave it veto power over construction projects along the river.

A 1959 treaty boosted Egypt’s allocation to around 66 percent of the river’s flow, with 22 percent for Sudan.

Yet Ethiopia was not party to those treaties and does not see them as valid.

In 2010 Nile basin countries, excluding Egypt and Sudan, signed another deal, the Cooperative Framework Agreement, that allows projects on the river without Cairo’s agreement.

The Nile’s main tributaries, the Blue Nile and White Nile, converge in Khartoum before flowing north through Egypt to drain into the Mediterranean Sea.

The process of filling the GERD’s reservoir began last year, with Ethiopia announcing in July 2020 it had hit its target of 4.9 billion cubic metres.

The goal for this year’s rainy season — which had been announced before the first cycle was completed — was to add 13.5 billion cubic metres. The reservoir’s capacity is 74 billion.

With the second-year target hit, the dam can run the first two of its 13 turbines, Seleshi said Monday on Twitter.

“Intensive efforts are being made for the two turbines to generate energy,” Seleshi said, adding that “early generation” could be realised “in the next few months.”

‘National symbol’

The $4.2-billion dam is ultimately expected to produce more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity, making it Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam and more than doubling Ethiopia’s electricity output.

Ethiopia had initially planned output of around 6,500 megawatts but later reduced its target.

The first two turbines should produce 750 megawatts of electricity, increasing national output by roughly 20 percent, said Addisu Lashitew of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

It is “a significant amount” for an economy that frequently faces power shortages and is sometimes hobbled by power rationing, he said.

The milestone would also have “political implications” for a country going through “a very difficult time” in no small part because of the eight-month-old war in its northern Tigray region, Addisu said.

“The dam is seen as a national symbol, a unifying symbol. It’s one of the very few things that bring together people from all walks of life in Ethiopia,” he said.

“Definitely the government will try to extract some political value from the second filling.”

AFP

African Union Chair Visits Sudan For Talks On Nile Dam

In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

The new chair of the African Union arrived in Sudan on Saturday for talks over Ethiopia’s controversial Nile dam, state media reported. 

The one-day visit by Felix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, came as Sudan and Egypt push Ethiopia for a binding deal over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam.

Ethiopia says the electricity the structure will generate is important to its development, but downstream Egypt and Sudan fear for their own dams and vital water supplies.

Last month, the DRC hosted negotiations between the three countries but the talks ended without a deal.

Tshisekedi met Saturday with Sudan’s head of state Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, and foreign minister Mariam al-Mahdi, according to SUNA news agency.

“Talks mainly focused on differences between upstream and downstream countries over the Renaissance dam,” the agency reported.

During the talks, Mahdi voiced “strong rejection of unilateral steps” by Ethiopia, which began filling the dam’s reservoir last year.

Addis Ababa has said it will proceed with further filling this year regardless of whether a deal is reached.

Cairo views the dam as an existential threat, while Khartoum fears its own dams could be harmed without a deal.

Also on Saturday, US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman held talks with top Sudanese officials over the GERD as well as Sudan-Ethiopia border tensions.

Feltman underscored “the importance of leading the negotiations under the umbrella of the African Union with the involvement of the international community,” Sudan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Relations between the two countries have soured in recent month over Al-Fashaqa, a fertile border region where Ethiopian farmers have long cultivated land claimed by Sudan.

The two sides have traded accusations of violence and territorial violations in the area.

Tshisekedi took up the rotating presidency of the AU in February after a one-year stint by South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.

AFP

Ethiopia Says Rising Waters At Mega-Dam A ‘Natural’ Part Of Construction

In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

 

Ethiopia on Wednesday acknowledged that water levels behind its mega-dam on the Blue Nile River were increasing, though officials said this was a natural part of the construction process. 

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011, with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan worried it will restrict vital water supplies.

Addis Ababa has long intended to begin filling the dam’s reservoir this month, in the middle of its rainy season, though it has not said exactly when.

Cairo and Khartoum are pushing for the three countries to first reach an agreement on how it will be operated.

The latest round of tripartite talks overseen by the African Union has so far failed to resolve the dispute.

“The GERD water filling is being done in line with the dam’s natural construction process,” Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water minister, was quoted by state media as saying Wednesday.

He did not, however, say whether Ethiopia had taken steps to store the water in the reservoir, which has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres.

Ethiopia is in the middle of its rainy season, and an official at the dam site told AFP this week that heavy rains meant the flow of the Blue Nile was exceeding the capacity of the dam’s culverts to push water downstream.

“We didn’t close and nothing is done. It looks like, when you see some photos, it looks like the river is getting higher and higher because of the amount of water coming from upstream, which is above the charging capacity of the culverts,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A separate official, an adviser at the water ministry who also insisted on anonymity, stressed that water continued to flow downstream.

“As the construction progresses, the water level behind the dam also will rise, so that’s what’s happening, nothing more,” said the adviser.

Ethiopia has long insisted it must start filling the dam’s reservoir this year as part of the construction process, though filling will occur in stages.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reiterated the point in an address to parliament earlier this month.

“If Ethiopia doesn’t fill the dam, it means Ethiopia has agreed to demolish the dam,” he said.

“On other points we can reach an agreement slowly over time, but for the filling of the dam we can reach and sign an agreement this year.”

Nile Dam Dispute Spills Onto Social Media

 In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

As Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan struggle to resolve a long-running dispute over Addis Ababa’s mega-dam project on the Nile, some of their citizens are sparring online over their rights to the mighty waterway.

For nearly a decade, multiple rounds of talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have failed to produce a deal over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Anxiety has mounted in downstream Sudan and Egypt, which fear for their vital water supplies after upstream Ethiopia declared plans to start filling Africa’s largest dam reservoir in July.

As tensions have run high in the political arena, they have also amped up online.

In one widely viewed video originally shared on TikTok, an Ethiopian woman pours water from a pitcher into two cups representing Egypt and Sudan.

She fills Sudan’s cup to the brim but only pours a trickle of water into Egypt’s, before emptying the water back into the pitcher.

“This is my water. When I give you water, it’s my call, not yours,” she says.

In response, an Egyptian woman created a compilation of the video and one of her own in which she knocks down a dam-shaped block structure with the Ethiopian flag superimposed on it before triumphantly downing a cup of water.

The video had been viewed more than 55,000 times on Instagram by Wednesday.

Social media “platforms are powerful,” said Wubalem Fekade, communications head at the intergovernmental ENTRO-Nile Basin Initiative.

“People on the social media platforms aren’t accountable, so it’s easy to disseminate unverified, incorrect, false, even conspiracy theories,” he said.

But, he added hopefully, “when used creatively and judiciously, they can help defuse tensions”.

-‘Psychological war’-
The online row over the dam has been particularly heated between Egyptian and Ethiopian social media users.

Egypt has long enjoyed the lion’s share of the Nile water under decades-old agreements that were largely viewed by other Nile basin countries as unfair.

On Twitter, Egyptians echoed authorities’ fears that Ethiopia’s dam would severely cut their country’s supply of water from the Nile, which provides 97 percent of the arid nation’s water needs.

“We will never allow any country to starve us” of water, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris wrote on Twitter.

“If Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we, the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war,” he threatened.

Egyptian cartoonist Ahmed Diab has weighed in with a drawing of an outsized Egyptian soldier, rifle slung over his shoulder, facing a diminutive Ethiopian man with the dam in the background.

“You idiot, try to understand that I care for you… ever heard about the Bar Lev Line?” the soldier tells the Ethiopian, alluding to Egypt’s military strength in referring to the Egyptian destruction of an Israeli defence line along the Suez canal in 1973.

Diab called the cartoon part of a “psychological war”.

“Besides a show of military might and strong media discourse, arts can boost people’s morale,” he said.

For their part, Ethiopians have rallied behind their country’s mega project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation.

On social media, they have rejected any conditions of reaching a deal before filling the dam.

Filling the dam should not be held “hostage” to an agreement with Cairo, Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohamed wrote on Twitter.

“If agreement is reached before the filling begins in the coming days, it’s great. If not, the filling should begin and the negotiation shall continue,” he said.

Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, insists the dam will not affect the onward flow of water and sees the project as indispensible for its national development and electrification.

– ‘Healthy discussions’ –
Khartoum hopes the dam will help regulate flooding, but in June it warned that millions of lives will be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.

In a letter to the United Nations Security Council, Sudan raised concerns that water discharged from the GERD could “compromise the safety” of its own Roseires Dam by overwhelming it and causing flooding.

Omar Dafallah, a Sudanese artist, depicted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overseeing the water flowing from the dam through a faucet to fill a jug held by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The drawing also shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with a large water container, waiting in line.

Last month, Egypt also appealed to the UNSC to intervene in the crisis — a move Sisi said underlined his country’s committment to a political solution.

Egyptian lawmaker Mohamed Fouad views the online debate as a way to “break the stalemate” in the diplomatic talks, “so long as they remain within the boundaries of healthy discussions”.

 

AFP

Militants Attack Church And Police In Egypt

egypt-1Islamist militants hit Egypt’s two largest cities on Sunday with a bombing in Cairo and an attack on a church in Alexandria, leaving one policeman dead and seven people wounded, security sources said.

In a separate incident, the leader of a militant group that has targeted police and soldiers around the capital was killed in a fire-fight with security forces early on Sunday, the interior ministry said.

Egypt is facing an insurgency based in North Sinai that has killed hundreds of soldiers and police since the army toppled Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

Most militant attacks have taken place in the Sinai Peninsula, a remote but strategic region bordering Gaza, Israel and the Suez Canal. Smaller-scale bombings have become increasingly common in Cairo and other cities.

A bomb explosion on a bridge leading to the upscale Cairo district of Zamalek, which hosts many embassies, killed one policeman, the interior ministry said. Two more officers and a civilian were injured.

According to the Interior Ministry and Security sources, the policeman was shot dead during an exchange of fire at an apartment in Giza, near Cairo.

The force of the bomb, which the sources said was planted in or near a car, injured several more people on the May15 Bridge.

On Saturday, two bombs exploded near a police station in the residential Imbaba district across the Nile River from Zamalek, causing no casualties.