Ethiopia weathers US, Egypt pressure over national dam project

Ethiopia weathers US, Egypt pressure over national dam project

Following the recent stalemates in the negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), after Washington ordered Ethiopia not to pursue the storage and filling of the GERD; Ethiopia has been reacting to the US’s conclusions calling it “biased and one sided.”

In an exclusive interview with The Reporter, Sileshi Bekele (PhD), Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy blamed the US government, the self-turned negotiator represented through the State Department of Treasury, for its unfaithfulness in the last legs of the GERD negotiations.

According to the Minister, despite Ethiopia’s disinterest to request the involvement of a third party in the process, the US via Egypt’s demand, assumed a mediator’s role. Ethiopia stressed the involvement of the US should be limited to a facilitator and an observer’s role, and then agreed to convene in the US brokered talks; which Sileshi recalls as working against the 2015 Declaration of Principles (DoP), Article 10, which Ethiopia had signed together with Sudan and Egypt. Only the three countries have to agree to seek the involvement of a third party when negotiations fail to produce any fruitful outcomes.

However, Egypt as often as it does, breached the agreement and went to Washington without letting Ethiopia and Sudan know of its intentions to involve the US.

During the recent UN assembly, Egypt made a statement about the GERD which Sileshi described as a “special episode” and said “We suspected that they have met with President Donald Trump as we have read in the press. Egypt made its own individualized statement during the UN session. The US government as well made its own statement on the GERD. Since we were provoked, our President Sahlework Zewde has countered those statements during the assembly.”

Earlier, President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Prime Minister Abiy (PhD) had met in Russia. But according to Sileshi, a letter was sent to Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew requesting him to join the Egyptians in Washington and have discussions on the GERD.

“Apparently, President Trump gave the order to his Secretary of Treasury and President of the World Bank Group to seat with the three countries. From our side, during the discussions with President Trump, we explicitly expressed our concerns and also stated our tasks was to hold four rounds of meetings and a deadline, then to conclude the discussions,” Sileshi noted, since that was the agreed upon protocol.

Since November 6, 2019, with a clearly stated and differed stance of Ethiopia, the four meetings went through. The meeting where “The US expressed its interest to provide political support and reviews of the process came-up during the December 9, 2019, January 12 and 13, 2020 meetings.  Those were the processes where we ended up dry, following the interference by the Secretary of Treasury,” Sileshi explained.  

“At first they agreed to remain as observers but later assumed a meditators role and then acted as a decision maker for us. Unfortunately, their decisions were not backed by science and we informed all the US institutions including the WB, that the numbers we initially agreed with the Egyptians were actually put aside and a new detrimental craft of ill-learnt document was independently prepared and was put in front of us to sign,” Sileshi said. 

Nevertheless, the construction of the GERD, Shileshi said is progressing well. Ethiopia is accelerating the construction phase and is approaching to begin storing an initial volume of some 4.9 billion cubic meters of water soon. Water storage is expected to begin by the coming rainy season, in the months of July and August.

“With the stored amount of water, we will start generating and commissioning two turbines by February and March of next year,” said the minister.

The expected level of the water volume to be stored at the dam will reach around 565 meters above sea level. However, the optimal water volume is around 625 meters or higher, as the height of the dam is 640 meters. The storage of the full 700 meter volume will be realized when the volume exceeds 625 meters. However, during the early generation process with the two turbines, which will produce 750 megawatts of electricity; will be when the volume of water stored in the dam reaches 575 meters.

Currently, the GERD has reached a 72 percent total completion stage in the construction process. The electromechanical part of the dam has reached a 42.3 percent completion while the recommenced hydro steel structure component, which had some setbacks in previous undertakings, has reached 20 percent. [Reporter]