Tensions are simmering in North Africa after Egypt and Sudan recently accused Ethiopia of blocking negotiations to reach an agreement concerning the large hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia has built on the Blue Nile, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Ethiopia began the construction of the GERD in April 2011. The main purpose of the $5 billion project is to address the country’s acute energy shortage, which has led to approximately 65% of Ethiopia’s population currently not being connected to the grid. In August 2020, Ethiopia reportedly announced that 75% of the GERD dam project was completed.

The final phase of the dam’s filling is scheduled for August 2021. When completed, the dam is expected to generate up to 6,000 megawatts of electricity for Ethiopia. 

At the heart of the conflict is who will control the flow of the Nile, Africa’s longest river and a crucial lifeline for all the concerned countries, where water remains a scarce resource. The water issue is particularly crucial for Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 90% of its water. Sudan and especially Egypt fear that the Ethiopian dam project will negatively affect the flow of the Nile’s water to their respective territories.

As a result, there are growing concerns that the dispute over water can trigger a regional war. 

On Tuesday, the Arab League said it supports the Nile water rights of its member states Egypt and Sudan. Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit also urged Ethiopia to respect Egypt’s and Sudan’s Nile rights.

“Ethiopia must deal rationally to ensure the rights of Sudan and Egypt in the waters of the Nile. The Arab League has a resolution to support the rights of Egypt and Sudan in the waters of the Nile,” Gheit said.

On Jan. 26, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry addressed the GERD dispute and last year’s U.S.-brokered negotiations in the Egyptian parliament. 

“Ethiopia rejected the deal and boycotted the negotiations in Washington and started to unilaterally fill the dam without an agreement on the rules of the GERD filling and operation,” Shoukry said. 

Sudan’s Defense Minister Yassin Ibrahim accused Ethiopia of delaying the prospects of reaching a binding agreement on the Ethiopian dam project. 

“Currently, we are trapped in a vicious cycle of negotiations,” Ibrahim told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television on Jan. 25. “Sudan has no demands other than participating in the administration of the dam project and sharing information.”

On Saturday, Ethiopia accused Egypt and Sudan of obstructing the GERD Dam negotiations. 

“After a consensus was reached with Egypt on the proposals of the African Union experts, Sudan withdrew,” said Ethiopian Irrigation Minister Celchi Bekele. 

Several countries are seeking to mediate amid escalating tensions between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. On Jan. 21, the ambassadors of Italy and the U.S. to Sudan praised Sudan’s suggestion to establish an exchange data mechanism between the conflicting countries.

In addition, the British ambassador to Sudan stressed the importance of reaching a compromise acceptable to all the involved countries. The United Arab Emirates and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also expressed interest in resolving the ongoing water dispute.

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