African Union Talks Give Egypt, Ethiopia Time to Resolve Nile Dam Dispute

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Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan said they are committed to further African Union-led talks over Ethiopia’s mega dam on the Nile River, easing tensions that could recur in less than a year if an accord on water management isn’t concluded.

The nations pledged to give lawyers and other experts involved more time to discuss the agreement on how quickly the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s 74 billion cubic-meter reservoir can be filled, given the potential effect it will have on water flow through Sudan to Egypt.

“It feels like they’ve kicked the can down the road,” said Louw Nel, a political analyst at Paarl, South Africa-based NKC African Economics.

Tensions reached a peak last week amid reports that Ethiopia might have closed the gates at the dam, a step Egypt had warned could threaten regional stability if it was done before signing an agreement.

Egypt, which depends on the Nile River for most of its water needs, is opposed to any development it says will significantly impact the flow downstream — a position echoed by Sudan. Ethiopia is developing a 6,000-megawatt power plant at the dam, and has asserted a right to use the resource for its development.

Statements that followed the Tuesday meeting led by AU Chairman and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, were carefully worded not to portray any nation as an absolute winner or loser. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Ethiopia achieved the target for the first-year filling due to seasonal rains. Egypt’s presidency and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok released statements stressing the continuation of talks relating to a comprehensive agreement.

Abiy said the negotiations among the leaders reached a “major common understanding” that paved the way for a “breakthrough agreement” on the filling of the reservoir. In a statement read on the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corp. on Wednesday, he said Ethiopia can begin testing and producing power with two turbines, with a target to operate at full capacity by 2023.

Ethiopia’s statement saying they’d reached common understanding “seems to suggest they didn’t reach consensus on too many things,” Nel said. But tensions have eased possibly until next year, he said.

 

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