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Sudan’s Irrigation Minister: ‘Negotiation methodology reason for GERD talks failure’

November 9 - 2020 KHARTOUM
Aerial view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (MoFA Ethiopia)
Aerial view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (MoFA Ethiopia)

Sudan’s Irrigation and Water Resources Minister, Yasir Abbas, says that the failure of Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia to agree on the negotiation methodology and the role of the African Union experts led to the end of the last round of negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)* under the auspices of the African Union on November 4. El Gedaref state has joined Kassala in closing borders with Ethiopia’s strife-torn northern Amhara and Tigray regions.

As reported by Radio Dabanga last week, the three countries again failed to reach an agreement about the GERD after a week of negotiations. The Ministers of Water Resources of the three countries agreed to return the file to the African Union (AU).

Speaking after the meeting of the Sudan’s High Committee for the Follow-Up the GERD File headed by Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok yesterday, Minister Abbas said that the meeting secured the need to reach an agreement to ensure the safety of the operation of the Roseires Dam in Blue Nile state, which is a short distance from the Ethiopian dam.

The High Committee will work to support the Sudanese negotiating position to reach a satisfactory and binding agreement on the first filling and operation of the dam.

Border closed as tension mounts

El Gedaref state government decided to close its borders with the Amhara and Tigray regions of Ethiopia from Thursday evening until further notice, and the citizens of the border strip must be careful of the repercussions of tensions within neighbouring Ethiopia.

Omar El Degeir, Chairperson of the Sudanese Congress Party, one of the leading forces of the Forces for Freedom and Change, called for an urgent Sudanese move based on a unified national strategy to deal with the crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray in a way that helps the sisterly neighbour to overcome it and besiege its repercussions on Sudan.

El Degeir called for popular action, proposing the formation of a good offices committee of Ethiopian, Sudanese and African personalities, under the auspices of the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to contribute to defusing the crisis in Ethiopia, calling for swift action and initiative before the crisis worsens more than it is now.

He said that the internal war in Ethiopia would cause destabilisation of neighbouring countries in the East African region, including Sudan. He considered what is happening in Ethiopia a national security issue for Sudan.

He added that Sudan’s borders are relatively long with Ethiopia, and it witnesses commercial and agricultural interactions and partnerships between the citizens of the two countries in addition to tribes spread over the two countries.

The decision by El Gedaref to close the borders follows a similar decision by the Kassala government on Thursday.

Tigray rebels

The Government of Ethiopia declared a State of Emergency and the launch of a military operation in the opposition-controlled Tigray region, located at the borders of Eritrea and Sudan.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that the Council of Ministers decided to impose the State of Emergency in the region for a period of six months. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) held local elections in September that the Addis Ababa government considers illegal, which entrenched an ongoing stand-off between the rebel movement and the government.

The Prime Minister’s office also ordered the army to take offensive measures against the TPLF on Wednesday, accusing it of attacking the offices of the Defence Forces Northern Command stationed in Mekele, the capital of Tigray, with the aim of seizing artillery and military equipment there.

* Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

In March 2011, Ethiopia announced its plans to build a large dam at the Blue Nile, in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, about 15 to 40 kilometres east of the border with Sudan, as a jointly funded, owned, and operated project between the three countries. Egypt and Sudan vehemently opposed the proposal. They claimed adverse effects on their Nile water rights and interests.

Khartoum later softened its position. Cairo, however, has warned that Ethiopia will not be able to unilaterally fill the dam without consequences.

Egypt relies on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its water. The Blue Nile contributes approximately 85 per cent to the volume of the main Nile River.

In March 2015, the countries signed a Declaration of Principles in Khartoum as a basis for negotiations, but no breakthrough on the use of the Nile waters has been made since.

Addis Ababa began filling the reservoir in August, after indicating on several occasions that, even without an agreement, it would do so. This prompted new speculation on whether the three countries will be able to find common ground.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), when finished in 2022, will have a reservoir with a volume of more than 74 billion cubic metres, and a hydroelectric generating capacity of 6,450 megawatts.

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