For the last three years, since the launch of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam we have seen numerous articles that are factually inaccurate and logically flawed. To rebut all such erroneous comments is difficult, if not impossible, as well as time-wasting.
However, the recent press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt entitled "Egypt’s Perspective towards the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam Project (GERDP)" was one of the few detailed statements from the government of Egypt in the past three years. Regrettably, it was full of misleading claims and a disappointing one to all who have been working to bring a regional cooperation based on mutual benefit and good neighborliness.
Moreover, these kinds of statements are likely to be used as "reference" by other writers who may be ignorant or careless of the realities. Therefore, the recent press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt deserves a detailed retort.
As we will be show below, the statement consist mega-errors of facts and flawed arguments.
The statement started claiming that:
Ten years ago within the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), the three Eastern Nile Countries (Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan) jointly agreed to study their national plan projects through an agreed mechanism which was named the Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program (ENSAP). A regional power trade study was conducted, in which two sites in Ethiopia were identified for potential dam projects,
What happened to the NBI? The statement doesn't say anything! Indeed, the Nile basin countries, except Eritrea and South Sudan, founded the Nile Basin Commission, later Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), in 1999, with funds from World Bank, aiming ‘to establish a diplomatic protocol for evaluating the fair use of the river for agricultural and energy projects’. The Commission paved the way for the drafting the ‘Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA), for the equitable sharing of the Nile waters.
However, the CFA faced resistance from Egypt; while it was warmly endorsed by six Nile basin countries from May 2010 up to February 2011 (Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi). Though Congo didn't sign yet, it has expressed its willingness.
As one water expert eloquently elucidated: “CFA has, however, faced a serious impasse as a result of the introduction of the concept of ‘water security’. The introduction of this non-legal, indeterminate, and potentially disruptive concept is, indeed, a regrettable detour to a virtual blind-alley. The justifications for this fateful decision are totally unfounded and specious. The decision rather makes sense as an unwarranted move pushing into further obscurity the already intractable Nile waters question, at best, and a logical cul-de-sac in the decade-long negotiations which have arguably fallen prey to the hegemonic compliance-producing mechanism of ‘securitization’ sneaked in under the veil of ‘water security’, at worst”.
Egypt's statement makes no comment on this important aspect of the NBI. The statement raised the NBI only because it wanted to claim that Ethiopia has abruptly departed from it. However, Ethiopia has been the most loyal of NBI members, even is she has no legal obligations to. That was with a belief that Egypt will ultimately join the cooperative framework.
The statement claimed:
Unexpectedly, and without any prior notification, the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) declared in February 2011 its intention to construct a new dam on the Blue Nile named “Project X”. This declaration led the Norwegian government to cancel the studies of the additional dams due to the unclarity of Ethiopian plans and preferences.
By the end of April 2011, Ethiopia announced unilaterally the construction of a large dam on the Blue Nile called “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” (GERD) with a height of 145 m, storage capacity of 74 BCM, installing capacity of 6000 MW, and a total cost of US$ 4.78 billion.
This claim is both illogical and inaccurate.
In the first place, the Norwegian study was never interrupted as the dam under study is far away from the GERD and Norway as a responsible development partner wouldn't cancel studies for an unrelated reason. In fact, the construction of the Mendeya dam that was under study will be launched in 2015.
Indeed, few were informed of the launch of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project until weeks before its date of launch on April 2, 2011. The government announced it on the media only weeks earlier. But that doesn't mean cast doubt on the legitimacy of the projects.
Among the citizens of Ethiopia, there is no difference of opinion on generating hydro-power from dams, while harnessing the Blue Nile for national development has been an aspiration of generations of officials, professionals and ordinary citizens. In fact, the public's support was demonstrated in the Tana Beles and Tekeze projects - built on tributaries of Blue Nile. The target of achieving 10,000 MW generating capacity by 2015 was already endorsed in mid-2010 as part of the 5-years Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). It was also stated on the annual plan of EEPCO for year 2009/2010, though as labeled "project x" without reference to Nile.
Having this strong public mandate on its hands, the question of whether to keep the preparations and launch date of this project secret or not, is a matter that can justifiably be determined based on national security considerations. In the 12 months preceding the launch of the project, Ethiopia was conducting an election, then forming government, then seeking donor's pledge for the GTP.
With regard to the absence of notification that the Egyptian statement complained about: Firstly, Ethiopia has no treaty obligation to seek permissions from Egypt. Second, the impacts of dams on downstream countries have been a subject of study and discussion for at-least a decade in the context of successive Nile basin initiatives and annual conferences.
Thirdly, and no less importantly, prior notification is an act of good will gesture based on reciprocity. As Egypt never consulted Ethiopia on studies prior and after building dams and related projects on Nile, it cannot demand that from Ethiopia. After all, reciprocity is a fundamental component international relations as well as social life.
The statement has more incomprehensible claims. It said:
Ethiopian officials claimed at the beginning that the downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) would not be harmed and in fact would benefit from the project. However, these statements were then changed gradually to reflect the recognition of the GOE that the dam would have impacts on the downstream countries, but that those impacts would be mitigated and compensated through water saving projects in South Sudan.
In the first place, as the Egyptian have learnt from the disastrous Aswan dam project, human endeavors are, unlike God's work, are not immune from negative impacts. Therefore, no one said the GERD is a God's work. For example: Ethiopia had to relocate a few dozen households from the GERD site. That is an impact.
However, the question is whether those impacts can be mitigated and avoided with careful planning and cooperative regional work. In line with that whether the benefits outweigh those mitigation works. The answer is a bold YES.
As the former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said during the launch of the dam, "the benefits that will accrue from the Dam will by no means be restricted to Ethiopia. They will clearly extend to all neighboring states, and particularly to the downstream Nile basin countries, to Sudan and Egypt. The Dam will greatly reduce the problems of silt and sediment that consistently affect dams in Egypt and Sudan. This has been a particularly acute problem at Sudan’s Fosseiries dam which has been experienced reduction in output. When the Dam becomes operational, communities all along the riverbanks and surrounding areas, particularly in Sudan, will be permanently relieved from centuries of flooding. These countries will have the opportunity to obtain increased power supplies at competitive prices. The Dam will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing the wastage from evaporation which has been a serious problem in these countries. It will in fact ensure a steady year-round flow of the Nile. This, in turn, should have the potential to amicably resolve the differences which currently exist among riparian states over the issue of equitable utilization of the resource of the Nile water."
"In other words, the Millennium Dam will not only provide benefits to Ethiopia. It will also offer mutually beneficial opportunities to Sudan and to Egypt. Indeed, one might expect these countries to be prepared to share the cost in proportion to the gains that each state will derive. On this calculation, Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project."
Similarly, the International Panel of Experts attested in its final report (which is a consensus report signed by the representatives of the three countries Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan and the four international experts), that the design and construction of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam is based on international design criteria and standards, codes, guidelines and engineering practices. Moreover, it re-confirmed that the GERD does not have significant impact on the downstream countries and in fact will provide huge benefits to all the three riparian countries, namely Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.
The statement claimed:
Former Prime Minister, Dr. Essam Sharaf, Prime Minister of Egypt at the time, agreed with the late Ethiopian Prime Minister “Meles Zinawi” during an official visit to Addis Ababa in May 2011, to establish an International Panel of Experts (IPOE), composed of two National members from each of the three countries, in addition to four international experts, in order to provide sound review/assessment of the potential impacts of the project on the two downstream countries, and any associated benefits to be expected.
Egypt's statement went further to misrepresent the final report of the International Panel of Experts.
In truth, it was upon the initiation and invitation of the government of Ethiopia that the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) was established. Moreover, Ethiopia has also shown its commitment by accepting the report of the IPoE and is implementing the recommendations that are related to dam engineering and safety in a timely manner and agreed to jointly conduct the two studies recommended by the IPoE.
The Egyptian statement deliberately omits an important element of the agreement establishing the Internal Panel of Experts, that the study should be conducted while the construction continued. It also ignores the fact that the Panel outlined the benefits accruing from the Dam, benefits that were consonant with Ethiopia’s own studies.
As the response from Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry pointed out: Egypt's statement, apparently deliberately, falsifies the findings of the International Panel of Experts. In the first place, the allegation that Ethiopia denied documents to the Panel members is untrue and the Panel nowhere suggests this occurred. Nor is it true that Ethiopia deliberately delayed the completion of design documents until after the launch of the Panel’s report. This claim shows complete ignorance of the process involved. The nature of the Engineering Procurement and Construction contract makes preparation of the design documents a phase-by-phase undertaking. Ethiopia, as indeed the Panel recommended, has finalized the updating of the design documents from level one to level two as the project progressed and in line with the EPC contract. In any case, this had no relevance to the Panel’s studies of the design documents and had no effect on the discharge of its mandate. Indeed, the Panel’s report unequivocally confirmed that the design of the GERD fulfilled international standards on dams.
The comment that the Panel’s findings suggested that the Hydrological and Reservoir Simulation Study showed “detrimental impacts on Egypt’s water demand and High Aswan Dam Hydropower generation” is a serious distortion. In fact, the study is praised by the Panel for meeting international standards and the Panel had no issue with its findings. The reason the Panel recommended a further simulation study was in order for the three parties to conduct a study with a simulation model that all three parties agreed on. The socio-economic study was also recommended in order to add further primary data collected from Egypt and Sudan.
The narrative of the trilateral ministerial meeting on Egypt's statement was similarly detached from reality. In the meetings, Egypt’s suggestion was to create a new Panel of Experts, parallel to that already agreed upon, that is a second panel of experts to review the report of the first panel for the ministers. This was seen by both the Sudan and Ethiopia as unreasonable and unnecessary.
Over and above this was the additional outrageous Egyptian demand that the opinions of new panel of international experts should be binding as if it was an arbitration tribunal. This was totally unacceptable and Ethiopia, of course, rejected it and continues to do so. The Egyptian suggestion for “Principles of Confidence Building” was totally out of agenda in a meeting to discuss the Panel’s recommendations, and the “principles” which involved requesting Ethiopia to accept Egypt’s claims for water security, were rejected by Ethiopia – and strongly criticized by the Sudan.
The Egyptian Ministry complains that the Water Ministers’ meeting to consider the recommendations of the Panel was delayed and regrets continuation of the construction of the dam during this. In fact, according the report itself, the Panel’s recommendations were to be implemented while the construction of the dam continued. As regard, complaint over delays in the Water Ministers’ meeting, this had nothing to do with Ethiopia. Following the June 18 visit of the then Foreign Minister of Egypt, Mohamed Kemal Amr, to Addis Ababa it was agreed to hold a meeting of the Water Ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to discuss ways to implement the recommendations of the Panel as soon as possible. It was at that point that President Morsi was removed and Egypt fell into political turmoil, and presumably as a result there was no response to the invitation, sent on July 26, for a meeting on August 6. A second invitation was sent on August 26. Egypt finally responded to agree to a meeting for October 20. This, however, did not materialize due to the unfortunate flooding in Khartoum. It was not until November that the first session of the Water Ministers’ meeting eventually took place. The delays were nothing to do with Ethiopia.
As Ethiopia repeatedly urged, it is in the interest of all concerned countries that Egypt changes course and engages in discussions in good faith rather than aiming at short-sighted propaganda.
Ethiopia's commitment to mutual benefit and good neighborliness is not a knee-jerk decision rather an outcome a scientific, prudent and developmental foreign policy.