Ethiopia: GERD Is A Gait Accompli, So It’s Time To Get Real – Analysis


By Peter Fabricius*

With the fourth annual filling looming in June and construction about 90% complete, the contentious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and hydro-electric power plant on the Blue Nile seems to have become a fait accompli, despite Egypt’s misgivings.

So it’s surely time for Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan to turn from threats, bluster and high-handed nationalism towards cooperating to help make this huge reservoir work for the greater good of all.

GERD has slid off the regional and international radar screen for the past few years, because of distractions such as COVID-19, the war in Ethiopia and the turbulent transition in Sudan, which recently flared into vicious fighting between two military generals. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, head of the Sudanese Armed Forces, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti), head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, are also the head and deputy of the Sovereignty Council running Sudan.

It’s been a while since any serious negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have taken place – at least visibly.

Meanwhile Sudan, initially on Ethiopia’s side in the dispute, before switching to Egypt, now seems to have returned much closer to Ethiopia. This is apparently partly because of progress by Ethiopia and Sudan in resolving their rival claims to the fertile border region of Al Fushqa. Sudan, it’s also been suggested, has begun to appreciate the value the GERD could have in mitigating the annual flooding along its section of the Nile.

It’s not quite clear, though, how the outcome of the current fighting in Sudan might affect its GERD position. Jemima Oakey, Azure Strategy water specialist, says we don’t know if a triumphant Hemedti might try to claim Al Fushqa, thereby derailing any understanding with Ethiopia on GERD.

Meanwhile though, it’s clear that Egypt has grown more isolated in its fierce opposition to the dam, which it still presents as an existential threat because of its almost total dependence on the Nile’s waters. Around 97% of Egypt’s population of 106 million people live along the Nile and depend on it as a source of fresh water.

During over a decade of construction, Egypt has intimated that it will do whatever it takes to stop completion – hinting even at military action. As recently as March 2023 Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Cairo Talk that, ‘All options are open, and all alternatives remain available,’ for dealing with the dispute. This was widely interpreted as meaning the military option was still there.

Most analysts dismiss this possibility. William Davison, Ethiopia specialist at the International Crisis Group, told ISS Todaya military attack ‘was never likely and now it would be highly unlikely.’ Such an attack would result in massive flooding of Sudan’s Blue Nile River, an eventuality Egypt would not contemplate.

The fourth annual filling of the dam is looming in June and construction is about 90% complete

Yet no substantial negotiations seem underway. Over the years various countries and institutions such as the United States, World Bank and African Union (AU) have tried to break the impasse, without success. Not much seems to have happened for a while.

The AU is probably still the official mediator but doesn’t seem to be active on the file. Egypt has accused Ethiopia of automatically referring to the AU whenever any issue arises. But only, Cairo suggests, because it knows the AU will do nothing, thus preserving the status quo and allowing Ethiopia to continue building and filling the dam unimpeded.

Davison notes, however, that the United Arab Emirates has hosted some rather covert meetings over the past year or so, complementary to the AU effort, the last apparently in December. ‘Apparently there were some quite constructive, more technical discussions. But no signs of a breakthrough in the form of negotiating any form of a tripartite agreement.’

Davison said with the imminent fourth annual filling, the dam was becoming a fait accompli. ‘And so it becomes less and less likely Ethiopia will make the concessions Egypt requires.’ Cairo’s demands have mainly been for a legally binding agreement on water flows, particularly in drought years, and assurances that Cairo and Khartoum will be consulted before Ethiopia embarks on any other dams on the Nile. Davison believes the possibility of a pause or downsizing of GERD, which Egypt has wanted, seems to have passed.

It’s been a while since any serious negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have taken place

The fact that Egypt had managed to keep its own Aswan High Dam mostly full over this period also seems to have defused tensions over GERD, though this might have been largely good luck due to relatively healthy rainfall during the GERD filling period so far, he says.

The massive instability in Ethiopia and now Sudan over the past two years has clearly been a distraction from negotiation efforts, allowing Ethiopia to continue unhindered to establish GERD as an ever more immovable fact on the ground. This rather unsettled situation suggests the three parties need to kickstart negotiations with a new mandate, or at least a new attitude, based on the reality that the GERD isn’t going away.

Egypt should stop making threats and start thinking about the positives GERD could offer. Conversely Ethiopia should be less fiercely independent in its management of the dam and more responsive to Egypt’s and Sudan’s need for assurances about their vital water supply.

This could be the basis for a more scientific and less political and confrontational approach.

Egypt should stop making threats and start thinking about the positives GERD could offer

Hagen Koch, a Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research senior scientist, told Deutsche Welle that, ‘Great benefits could be derived if Egypt’s Aswan High Dam and Ethiopia’s GERD were operated together.’

He said because the Aswan High Dam’s reservoir, Lake Nasser, lay at a much lower altitude than GERD, where temperatures were higher and covered four times its surface area, evaporation from Lake Nasser was much higher. So it made sense to store more water in GERD than in Lake Nasser, making more water available to both countries.

Oakey likewise suggested to Arab News that Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia set up a data-sharing agreement to manage water flows from GERD. This agreement could include guaranteed water releases during droughts. That would be a way of obliquely approaching Egypt’s demand for greater certainty about its water supply. Ethiopia though has consistently rejected being bound in any way.

Clearly the Blue Nile, though a vital Ethiopian resource that could potentially supply electricity to the 60% of Ethiopians who now lack it, is a common and vital resource for all three countries. So its management demands collaboration, not confrontation, however such cooperation is framed.

*About the author: Peter Fabricius, Consultant, ISS Pretoria

Source: This article was published by ISS Today


The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) partners to build knowledge and skills that secure Africa’s future. Our goal is to enhance human security as a means to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity. The ISS is an African non-profit organisation with offices in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal.

11 thoughts on “Ethiopia: GERD Is A Gait Accompli, So It’s Time To Get Real – Analysis

  • April 29, 2023 at 7:29 pm

    Why Ethiopia need to consult either Egyptian or Sudanese (or both) in order to build more dams upstream? Neither of them consulted Ethiopia when they built their dams. If there are people who think they don’t need to consult Ethiopia since they are the last countries down the stream, then guess what, it could be considered as a good neighborhood and friendship. Ethiopia have the right to build as many dams as they can to move their people out of poverty.

    Signing any binding agreement is NOT acceptable for Ethiopian people, not just for the government. The GERD project is not associated with any government in Ethiopia, it is a project by Ethiopians for Ethiopians. If the government even think about signing a binding agreement, then that would be the last of it. The project might be realized by PM Meles Zenawi, continued by Haile Mariam and Abiy, but the plan was made during the reign of HM Hailesilasie, 70-80 years ago. All in all, it is the Ethiopian people’s project rather than the government’s.

    • April 30, 2023 at 11:41 am

      GOD bless Ethiopia 🇪🇹 and everyone else it’s good hope for Africa more Love for Ethiopia.

    • April 30, 2023 at 12:54 pm

      That colonial treaty they keep running back to it! Alas, it requires all the riparian states not to anything with the waters of Nile without first consulting Egypt! Even states upstream to those sharing Lake Nyanza (Victoria) are bound so. The best way they’re handling it is by ignoring it, and they increasingly do so, but has Egypt been affected? not that is known of! Let them remain with their: Egypt is Nile and Nile is Egypt!

      • May 2, 2023 at 4:58 am

        A real development project with vital and equal services, and future economic Sustainability.

    • April 30, 2023 at 1:41 pm

      Thank you for bringing the fact to the whole wide world. It is high time to collaborate and not fight.

    • April 30, 2023 at 4:02 pm

      An agreement framed something like a letter of intent, showing consideration to the preferences of neighbouring people who are, by accident of history, in other countries, would not exactly kill anyone. Goodwill is a highly valuable thing, sometimes in very tangible form. It would not remove Ethiopia’s right to do what it needs to do.

  • April 30, 2023 at 7:52 am

    if only they could think of having a series of penstocks and power stations cascading from GERD to lake Nasser.
    the would have a dedicated amount of water conserved with no evaporation or percolation… and the drop of near 500 meters would generate massive amounts of power for each country downstream giving Sudan and Egypt a huge boost in power production.
    Egypt should see should the Sudan.

  • April 30, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    It’s all about african and all things remainning constant,utilization fron renewables resources particularly water and wind requires huge budgetary allocation and how difficualt its.4that matter,ethiopia started hidase dam or gerd after 65 yrears both countries consumed properly.even if the sources of nile is ethiopia and kenya ethio didn’t utilized due to constraints of both of countries particularly filled with rationa thinking and positives positive the end an excessive amount of 2b exported.thanks for ur great honety.

  • April 30, 2023 at 7:50 pm

    Good outlook. But it needs eyes,ears and a rational mind to consider looking at your perspective. Clinging on Colonial mind doesn’t give a chance for tango.

    • May 1, 2023 at 9:57 am

      Ethiopia has a right and a demand to use its owen resources for the benafit of its citizen.

  • May 4, 2023 at 5:05 am

    No county knows what water scarcity and what real drought mean more than Ethiopians, however we suffered to that extent we didn’t ask god to guarant us from his reserve for the feuter drought season, So how could Ethiopia guarant Egypt for drought season ???


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