World, Africa

Will Nile dam negotiations end in peace or war?

Failure of talks raises concerns about possibility of military confrontation between Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia

Adel Abdel Rahim, Bahram Abdel Moneim  | 12.04.2021 - Update : 12.04.2021
Will Nile dam negotiations end in peace or war?


The latest round of negotiations in Kinshasa, Congo, between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has failed to make a breakthrough on reaching an agreement, with the three countries trading accusations about which side stalled the talks.

Cairo and Khartoum have lately forged a closer stance on the matter with Egypt endorsing Sudan’s proposal for a quartet mediation to include the African Union (AU), the EU, the UN and the US.

Ethiopia has rejected the proposal, insisting on the AU-mediated talks. Addis Ababa also announced plans to proceed with the second-year filling of the dam reservoir in July.

At the heart of the Nile dam impasse lies Egypt and Sudan’s insistence on a 1959 colonial period agreement between Egypt and Sudan, which gave Cairo 55.5 billion cubic meters of water, while reserving 18.5 billion cubic meters for Khartoum.

Ethiopia has been vehemently opposed to that colonial agreement, saying it lacks inclusivity and denies the right of other riparian states to use the water for their respective national development.

War threats

Following the stalled talks in Kinshasa, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned Ethiopia that his country would not allow a “single drop” of its water to be taken and that all options “are open” to deal with the Ethiopian dam crisis.

Meanwhile, Sudan's Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Yasir Abbas warned that any unilateral move by Ethiopia to fill the dam will affect Sudan’s “national security” and will have “regional repercussions”.

With the sharpening of the statements from the three sides, the Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation, and Energy Seleshi Bekele extended a formal invitation on Saturday to Sudan and Egypt to nominate dam operators to exchange data before a second filling of the GERD begins in July.

Both Egypt and Sudan rejected the Ethiopian offer for data sharing, demanding it is preceded by a legally binding agreement.

"It is clear that the Ethiopian offer is an attempt to ease Sudanese, regional and international pressure on Addis Ababa,” an official with the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Anadolu Agency. He added that any sharing of information without a binding legal agreement is like “a grant or charity” Ethiopia offers which it can cancel whenever it wishes.

What next for Egypt and Sudan

On Saturday, Sudan’s chief negotiator in the Nile dam talks, Mustafa Hussein Al-Zubair, called on the AU to change the negotiation mechanism and methodology, noting that his country will not participate in ‘barren’ negotiations that have proven to be futile.

He reiterated Sudan’s call for the formation of a quartet of international partners – the AU, EU, UN, and the US – to take part in mediation efforts. Ethiopia has already rejected the offer last month.

With the failure of the latest talks in Kinshasa, Sudan and Egypt have left the “door open” for other options if Ethiopia unilaterally proceeds with its second filling of the dam.

Analysts believe that a military option, though difficult, is a possible option that Sudan and Egypt may pursue to preserve their national interests.

Al-Sisi has recently hinted at the possibility of a military confrontation, saying "any harm to Egypt's [Nile] water will affect the stability of the entire region”.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Sudanese political analyst Abdullah Rizq noted the close rapprochement between Sudan and Egypt at this stage of the protracted conflict over the dam and the two countries’ recent joint air exercises as worthy of attention.

Rizq believes that Sudan will fight alongside Egypt against Ethiopia in case a military option is pursued citing the two countries shared “vision, position, and interest.”

"The failure of the Congo negotiations means among other things the failure of attempts to pressure the Ethiopian side, which is described as stubborn regarding making concessions," Rizq said.

Rizq has pointed at Ethiopia’s readiness to fight back in case a war breaks out and urged all parties to “continue with negotiations in good faith, away from the language of threat and the clatter of arms".

*Translated from Arabic by Ibrahim Mukhtar

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