Ahram Online looks back at the important milestones of the decade-long talks over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia that reached a deadlock six months ago and are soon-to-be resumed under the sponsorship of the African Union at an undisclosed date.
FILE PHOTO: Water flows through Ethiopia s Grand Renaissance Dam as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. REUTERS
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry expected on Friday 1 October 2021 the GERD talks to recommence soon between the three parties after they reached a deadlock in the latest round of the AU-mediated sessions in April and later elevated the issue to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in July.
Shoukry, however, criticized in a media statement the recent Ethiopian official statements, describing them as “prevaricating” and “lacking in credibility”.
Sudan, from its side, made it clear in late September to US Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman that it would not participate in any future talks on the GERD if they do not include the filing and operation policies of the dam.
Khartoum also refused to resume the talks with the same methodology used in previous talks, which has proven to be ineffective.
Both Cairo and Khartoum are on the same page, however, demanding Ethiopia to sign a legally binding agreement on the filing and operation of the dam, which Addis Ababa has been building on the Blue Nile since 2011.
The statements came as the UNSC issued a presidential statement in September calling for the resumption of talks between the three countries under the umbrella of the African Union within a timeframe to reach a legally binding agreement.
On the other hand, Addis Abbas, which already has its own share of domestic woes from a civil war in the Tigray region to the recently-imposed international sanctions, has made it clear that it won’t sign any “agreement which potentially affects its future development.”
Below is a timeline in ascending order on the important milestones of the decade-long dispute from 2010 when the GERD was known as the Grand Millennium Dam, and until now.
2010: The Millennium Dam’s construction plan, Entebbe agreement
May 2010: Ethiopia announces it will construct a multi-billion-dollar dam, the Grand Millennium Dam on the Blue Nile River.
Nile Basin states sign the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement, AKA the Entebbe Agreement, except for Egypt and Sudan, which claim that the agreement does not protect their historic share of the Nile’s water.
The Entebbe Agreement was meant to replace the 1929 and 1959 Nile Water agreements that allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres of water to Egypt and 18.5 billion to Sudan and gave them the right to veto any projects upstream.
Egypt signs an agreement with Sudan to preserve their historical rights in the Nile water.
June 2010: Egypt raises the issue to the United Nations and the African Union.
November 2010: Ethiopia announces the dam’s designs are finished.
2011: A revolution in Egypt, dam construction begins
February 2011: Hosni Mubarak steps down in February in the face of a mass uprising.
March 2011: A day after the Millennium Dam project plan is made public, a $4.8 billion contract is awarded to the Italian company Salini Castratory.
April 2011: The dam’s foundation stone is laid by Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi. In the same month, the Millennium Dam (originally Project X) becomes the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
May 2011: An Egyptian popular diplomacy delegation visits Ethiopia and the two countries agree to resolve their differences and widen cooperation. Ethiopia offers to share the dam plans with Egypt so that the latter could study how the dam would affect it.
September 2011: Cairo and Addis Abba agree to form an international committee to study the impact of the dam on Egypt and Sudan.
November 2011: The first meeting of the tripartite technical committee including the irrigation ministers of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia was held after a proposal from Ethiopia’s prime minister.
An international panel of experts (IPoE) from the three countries, supplemented by four international experts, is established.
The IPoE produces a report, based on agreed terms of reference, covering, among other things, the safety and stability of the dam, hydrological studies, and its environmental and social impacts.
2012: New Egyptian president, Cairo calls for cooperation
July 2012: Egypt’s late Islamist President Mohamed Morsi visits Ethiopia to discuss African cooperation and the GERD. It was the first visit for an Egyptian president since 1995, as late President Mubarak never visited Ethiopia after the 1995 assassination attempt by Islamist extremists in Addis Ababa.
According to analysts, the assassination attempt had already overshadowed Egyptian Ethiopian relations.
August 2012: Ethiopia’s strongman PM Meles Zenawi, who ruled the country for two decades dies, and is succeed by foreign minister Hailemariam Desalegn a month later.
2013: Another revolution in Cairo, Addis Abba diverts the Nile
March 2013: According to a statement by the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir tells the Ethiopian ambassador to Sudan that his country supported the GERD project.
April 2013: Al-Bashir and Morsi meet in Cairo to affirm Egypt and Sudan’s alliance in the face of challenges posed by the Entebbe Agreement.
May 2013: The committee assigned by the tripartite committee to study the impact of the dam on the downstream countries issues a report calling for more studies as Ethiopia announces that it began to divert the flow of the Blue Nile to build the GERD.
June 2013: The Ethiopian Parliament ratifies the 2010 Entebbe agreement. At the end of the month, Cairo witnesses mass protests on 30 June demanding the ouster of President Morsi.
2014: New President for Egypt, Malabo Declaration, and selecting the experts
March 2014: Ethiopia declares that 32 percent of the GERD’s construction has been completed.
June 2014: President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi sworn into office. The newly elected president meets with the Ethiopian prime minister and issues the Malabo Declaration in the form of a joint statement guaranteeing that Ethiopia can develop the dam while diminishing possible damages affecting Egypt.
August 2014: Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia agree to implement the recommendations of the 2013 report and choose two consultancy firms to conduct the required studies.
October 2014: The tripartite committee selects a French and Dutch consultancy firm to conduct the studies.
2015: The Declaration of Principles and Khartoum Document
March 2015: The leaders of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia sign the Declaration of Principles on the Renaissance Dam, which included 10 basic principles.
July 2015: In the seventh round of tripartite talks, held in Khartoum, the three countries agree on the principles governing the work of the consultancy firms.
September 2015: The Dutch consultancy firm withdraws from the task, citing concern over the absence of guarantees the work will be impartial.
December 2015: Foreign ministers from the three countries sign the Khartoum Agreement, restating their commitment to the Declaration of Principles. French Artelia Consultancy chosen in the meeting to replace Deltares to conduct the dam’s studies.
2016: Rejected dam holes suggestions, 60 percent of the dam completed
January 2016: Ethiopia rejects the Egyptian proposal to increase water holes in the Renaissance Dam from two to four, saying that the dam doesn’t need to be redesigned to increase the holes.
May 2016: Ethiopia announces more than 60 percent of the dam is complete.
September 2016: Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan sign the final contracts for the long-awaited technical studies on the impact on downstream countries of the giant dam that Addis Ababa is building.
2017: Failed negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia
May 2017: French consultancy firms issue their preliminary reports after a delay due to disagreements over the baseline to be used to assess the GERD’s impact.
October 2017: Egypt accepts the preliminary reports but Sudan and Ethiopia express reservations.
November 2017: The 17th tripartite technical committee meeting on the GERD at the ministerial level, held in Cairo, fails to reach an agreement on the adoption of an introductory report on technical studies of the GERD.
2018: Summit meetings as well as agreement and a regime change in Ethiopia
January 2018: During a three-day summit visit to Cairo, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn rejects an Egyptian request to get the World Bank involved in the GERD talks as a technical party with an impartial view to decide on the differences in work of the Tripartite Committee.
In the same month, President El-Sisi agrees with his Ethiopian and Sudanese counterparts on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Abba to resume tripartite negotiations.
February 2018: Protests in Ethiopia lead to the sudden resignation of Desalegn, and the GERD talks are postponed.
March 2018: Abiy Ahmed is appointed as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, replacing Desalegn.
April 2018: The three countries hold the first nine-party meeting attended by the ministers of irrigation and foreign affairs and the intelligence chiefs of the three states.
They discuss the impact of the dam on the water shares of Egypt and Sudan. The meeting concludes without an agreement.
May 2018: A tripartite meeting takes place in Addis Ababa between the irrigation ministers of the three countries. During the meeting, the three countries submit their observations on the technical report issued by French consulting firms.
Ethiopia is delegated to communicate feedback from the three countries on technical issues to the French consultancy BRL Group. The email is never sent.
The three countries hold the second nine-party meeting in May in Addis Ababa. A document fixing the mechanism for organising future meetings is issued.
The document establishes a National Independent Scientific Research Study Group (NISRSG) to “discuss means of enhancing the levels of understanding and cooperation among the three countries… through addressing equitable and reasonable utilisation of shared water resources while taking all appropriate measures to prevent the causation of significant harm.”
June 2018: Ethiopia’s PM Ahmed visits Egypt and reassures President El-Sisi that he wants only to aid development in Ethiopia without harming the Egyptian people.
September 2018: The NISRSG holds a meeting in which Ethiopia proposes the timetable for filling the reservoir be determined by annual studies of the floods and rainfall in each year.
After the meeting, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Mohamed Abdel-Ati says the three countries have reiterated their commitment to continuing talks to reach a satisfactory agreement on the timing and method of filling the reservoir as per the Declaration of Principles.
2019: GERD goes to the UNGA then to Washington
April 2019: Sudanese strongman Omar Al-Bashir and his regime are ousted following protests across Sudan.
September 2019: New round of negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on the filling of the GERD reservoir and its rules of operation is launched in Cairo at the request of Egypt after months of suspension.
The negotiations fail after Ethiopia rejects Egypt’s proposal over the filing of the dam, saying that it puts its sovereignty in question.
At the UNGA’s 74th session on 24 September, Egyptian President El-Sisi and his Ethiopian counterpart Sahle-Work Zewde address the GERD problem.
El-Sisi calls for international intervention in the GERD negotiations and emphasises that the “Nile’s water is a matter of life and an issue of existence for Egypt.” Zewde assures her country’s commitment to reaching a deal over the GERD.
October 2019: During the first round of talks in Addis Abba, Ethiopia refuses to discuss Egyptian proposals to resolve the problematic issues of filling and operating the dam.
Egypt declares that tripartite talks with Sudan and Ethiopia have reached a deadlock and calls for international mediation to help reach a “fair and balanced” agreement.
The White House issues a statement calling the three countries to reach a “cooperative, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement”
The second round of talks is held in Khartoum between the ministers of irrigation of the three countries. It, according to the spokesperson of the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Recourses, reached a dead end due to the “intransigency” of the Ethiopian side.
The Donald Trump administration sends an invitation to the foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to meet with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and president of the World Bank Group David Malpass to discuss the dam. The meeting is scheduled for 6 November.
November 2019: The first Washington meeting issues a joint statement. The three foreign ministers set a timetable for meetings to resolve outstanding issues and stressed “joint commitment to reach a mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation of the dam and to establish a clear process for fulfilling that commitment in accordance with the 2015 Declaration of Principles.”
They agree to hold four rounds of negotiations and set mid-January as the deadline for reaching an agreement. The first round of talks is held in Addis Abba.
December 2019: The second and third rounds are held in Cairo and Khartoum. The three ministers head to Washington to attend the second Washington meeting and report to the US Treasury and World Bank on the progress thus far.
2020: A failed agreement in DC, first filling of dam, and Egypt seeks UNSC help
January 2020: The fourth round takes place in Addis Ababa. All four rounds end without agreement.
February 2020: Ethiopia pulls out of the final meeting, where a deal was to be signed calling for more time for internal consultations.
After holding bilateral talks with Egypt and Sudan, the US releases a statement saying it believes an agreement has been reached.
Sudan declines to formally consent to the text, leaving Egypt as the only country to sign the deal.
March 2020: Sudan registers an official objection to a resolution proposed by Egypt to the Arab League supporting both Egypt and Sudan in the dispute on the grounds it was issued without consultation with Khartoum. The resolution passes without Sudan’s signature.
April 2020: Ethiopian PM Ahmed announces that his country will start filling the GERD’s reservoir during the coming rainy season in June-July or September. Ethiopian officials say the construction of the dam is 72.4 percent complete.
Ethiopia offers a partial agreement to both Egypt and Sudan that only covers the first stage of the GERD filling, which both downstream countries reject.
President El-Sisi and Sudanese PM Hamdok send letters to Ethiopia’s premier rejecting his proposal for a transitional agreement on the initial filling of the GERD in mid-July.
May 2020: Egypt submits a 17-page letter to the UNSC protesting Ethiopia’s actions and demanding that it halt construction until an agreement is reached. Addis Ababa sends a letter to the UNSC saying Ethiopia has no legal obligation to seek Egypt’s approval to fill the GERD and blames Cairo for the deadlock in talks.
June 2020: Ethiopia announces that it will commence the filling of the dam unilaterally in July with or without an agreement. Egypt seeks UNSC intervention, describing the situation as “an imminent threat to international peace and security.”
Ethiopia responds in another letter to the UNSC, in which it avoids mentioning the earlier announcement of filling the dam without an agreement and criticizes Egypt for building the Aswan High Dam 50 years ago.
After mediation from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, chair of the African Union (AU), the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan speak by phone and agree to resume talks.
Sudan and Egypt say Ethiopia agreed to hold off on filling the reservoir as negotiations continue, while Ethiopia makes no mention of a delay.
July: Trilateral talks resume via videoconference under the AU’s auspices. Observers from the EU, US, AU commission, and legal and technical experts attend the talks, but no consensus is reached at the technical and legal levels.
Egypt wants clear policies about the filing of the reservoir during periods of prolonged droughts, while Sudan wants any binding agreement to have a comprehensive mechanism for resolving future disputes.
Again, the talks reach a deadlock.
December 2020: Military clashes erupt between Sudanese and Ethiopian forces and Ethiopian-backed militias over the Al-Fashaga border region. Tensions between the two countries increase.
2021: New US administration, New AU Presidency, back to the UNSC
March 2021: Egypt supports Sudan’s suggestion to have a quartet mediation committee composed of the United Nations, European Union, US, and AU to mediate between the three African countries over the filling and operating of the GERD. Ethiopia rejects the suggestion.
“No one can take a drop of water from Egypt,” President El-Sisi says in remarks over the continued deadlock in the negotiations with Ethiopia over the disputed GERD.
“If it happens, there will be inconceivable instability in the region that no one could imagine,” the Egyptian president says, stressing that his message is “not a threat.”
Ethiopia’s PM Ahmed announces that his country will go on with the second filing of the GERD in July 2021, the start of the rainy reason, adding that Ethiopia may lose USD 1 billion if it does not go with the second filing.
April 2021: A new round of talks is held in Kinshasa between the three countries under the auspices of the AU and ends in a deadlock after Ethiopia rejects the suggested timeframes.
US President Joe Biden’s administration appoints veteran diplomat Jeffery Feltman as the special envoy for the African Horn, with the GERD pinned at the top of his agenda.
May 2021: Ethiopia starts the second filing of the dam without an agreement with Egypt and Sudan.
July 2021: The UNSC holds a meeting in New York to discuss the latest developments on the GERD at the request of Egypt and Sudan.
Tunisia, the only non-permanent Arab member in the UNSC, presents a draft resolution to the 15-member council, calling on the three countries to finalise the text of a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD within a period of six months.
September 2021: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the chair of the AU in 2021, presents to Egypt a vision and a plan to resume the GERD talks.
The UNSC issues a presidential statement based on the draft resolution presented by Tunisia in July calling the three countries to finalise s settlement that is a “mutually acceptable and binding agreement on the filling and operation” of the GERD “within a reasonable time frame” under the umbrella of the African Union.
Egypt and Sudan welcome the UNSC’s resolution while Ethiopia rejects it, claiming it is not binding.
El-Sisi says that Egypt is still “committed to working to reach — in the nearest time possible — a fair, balanced, and legally binding agreement” on the GERD in his speech in front of the 76th United Nations General Assembly meeting “UNGA”.
The GERD file is among the central points Shoukry speaks about in his meetings with his counterparts and officials from around the globe on the sidelines of the UNGA meetings.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres affirms the importance of resuming dialogue on the GERD with a spirit of reaching a compromise in his meeting with Ethiopian foreign minister.
October 2021: El-Sisi affirms Egypt’s continuous support for the DRC and its efforts to fulfill its vital responsibilities in overseeing African issues.